The auditorium was uncomfortably quiet, in that way all classrooms are twenty minutes before the lecture begins. Every shuffle of paper and click from the AC unit in the corner was amplified. There was only one student who arrived before Mia took her seat in the very back corner, and a few more that drifted in every five minutes or so.
Like most others, Mia chose to occupy herself with her phone, rechecking her course schedule to see if she was in the right place and where she needed to go next. As she was mentally mapping this out, the device vibrated in her hand and a text popped up. It was from Blaire.
Thought this might interest you.
In the moment between seeing Blaire's name and opening the link attached to the text, Mia silently panicked. Something extreme must have happened if Blaire was initiating conversation after a month of silence. Neither her nor Noah had even bothered to ask what was wrong, so Mia assumed they didn't care, or perhaps didn't even notice, that she was avoiding them.
Then she opened the attachment, finding only a digital flyer for a scuba diving program. Her interest was immediately piqued. According to the fine print, the first few lessons would take place in the indoor pool at a nearby gym, starting roughly one month from today. Those would lead into practice dives at Seawall beach. In December, the final test would be a few hour's drive south to…a shipwreck.
An excited grin started forming at the corner of Mia's lips before she remembered why she hadn't done any of this yet: the cost. Then, she noted that the program specifically advertised itself as cheaper than the university scuba classes—and there was still time to sign up!
"You look happy."
Surprise replaced her smile as she turned to the right, looking up, up, up….and there he was.
"Kalos…! Wow, you're…actually in the same class as me."
Her neck was relieved from craning as he slid down into the desk beside her, seeming quite pleased himself.
"Yes, I am. Unless this isn't Intro to Psychology with Dr. Sharma?"
"No, no, it is…" The coincidence was odd but not unwelcome. Whether for note-sharing purposes or to stifle boredom, it was always better to share a class with a friend. Wait—was that what they were? Friends?
Maybe just friendly acquaintances, she thought.
"So what's got you so happy?" He looked down towards her phone, where the flyer was still open on the screen. "Scuba lessons?"
"Yeah, I've been wanting to do it forever but the classes here for it are so ridiculously expensive. I think I can pull this one off, though."
"Really? I would've thought it would be a requirement for a marine biology major, like they'd give the lessons for free."
This made her snort, and he seemed to realize his mistake, turning away sheepishly. "Guess that's a bit much to expect, given all the equipment and everything….well, how did you find out about it?"
"My uh…my roommate sent the link to me. Kind of surprising since we haven't been talking for a really long time—"
Her jaw tensed as her mind caught up with her mouth, effectively shutting her up before she spilled any other unnecessary details. Personal drama wasn't a good topic to bring up with mere acquaintances….but Kalos just leaned closer, apparently intrigued.
"Uh…well…" She planned on lying, blaming the whole thing on a squabble about household chores or the rent, but then she made the mistake of meeting his eyes. There was genuine interest in them, as well as a hint of concern in the way his brows furrowed. It seemed he would be on her side no matter what she said.
"Someone was…harassing me." There was a heavy pause as she debated coming out and saying the real word for it, but decided to minimize the truth, at least for now. "She and uh…my other roommate didn't believe me. I overheard them talking about me making it up for attention, so…I've just been keeping my distance."
"They sound like terrible friends."
Before she could note that she hadn't called either of them 'friends' at this point, he was shifting her attention with a question: "Harassing you how?"
Her lips pursed as her brain tried to squeeze everything that had happened over the summer into a concise, unalarming summary. As it turned out, that wasn't an easy task, and as she was about to shrug it off completely, she was saved by Dr. Sharma beginning class.
Throughout the next fifty minutes, Mia's usually laser-like focus was broken repeatedly by the feeling of being watched. The first time it happened, a prickly sense of unease rose in her gut, and her thoughts started to race.
Is there something on my shirt? Is my bra showing too much? Did any of my drawings slip out from my notebook? They're a little weird, maybe someone's staring at that—no, no, they're definitely out of view. Wait…is he here, watching me?
She almost leapt out of her seat when she spotted a flash of blonde hair and glasses facing her direction. Before she could go into full panic mode, she realized it wasn't the guy from the party. Also, he wasn't staring at her, but checking the clock on the wall behind her.
Now feeling extremely foolish, she took a shaky breath and tried to calm herself, but couldn't quite shake that paranoid feeling. Where was it coming from? She glanced to her right, only to see Kalos side-eyeing her with a faint smile. Her anxiety dissipated as she shyly smiled back. This happened a couple more times, and only lasted for a moment before he'd return to his notes, and she'd be left wondering if it meant anything.
When class ended, she half expected him to linger, maybe ask her for her number (doing what she failed to do) or walk her to her next class. Instead, he gathered up his things as hurriedly as everyone else around him, flashing another grin and a "See you later!" before disappearing out the door.
There it was again—that strange sense of disappointment. Sighing as she slung her backpack over her shoulder, she refocused her thoughts on where she needed to go next. The incident was put to the back of her mind soon enough.
Mia's routine seamlessly set back in motion once the first day of the fall semester was over. The only sound in the house was the clink of her fork against her plate of pasta, along with the distant hum of the TV in Noah's room. She couldn't remember the last time she'd spoken to him—and had nearly convinced herself she didn't care. Blaire, however…
As if on cue, the knob on the front door clicked, catching Mia's attention in time to see Blaire enter, flushed and sweating as if she'd walked five miles in the humid night air. Her eyes met Mia's a moment after locking the door.
"Hey…" Mia cleared her throat, putting on a small, uneasy smile. "Thanks for that link you sent me. It's looking like I'll actually be able to dive this time."
"Oh. Yeah, no problem. I just saw it on the bulletin board when I was at the gym. Figured it'd help you get your mind off things."
Get her mind off things? Like being terrified by a stranger for months, or being deemed practically hysterical for mentioning it?
"What do you mean?"
"You know, all that stuff over the summer," Blaire waved it off, barely looking at Mia as she grabbed a water bottle from the refrigerator. "Seems like having something to keep you occupied would help with the paranoia."
Eyes narrowed, Mia's lips parted to shoot back a cold retort, but she forced her mouth shut at the last moment. In her experience, anger was a luxury reserved for other people. Coming from her, it was a sign of insanity or weakness—something that would only prove Blaire's point more.
"Right," she said, as calmly as possible while bringing her gaze back to her dinner. After shoveling down a few more forkfuls, she stood, tossing the plate and silverware in the sink. Blaire or Noah could deal with it. She'd done dishes for the past three nights in a row—even if it was out of sheer boredom.
"Uh…you okay?" The words were innocuous, but Mia could hear the accusation in Blaire's tone. Without turning around, she nodded, heading towards her room.
Aching from the lonely void left by her former friends, Mia had little choice but to make new ones. This happened almost without her even thinking about it. In Latin class, she asked her table if they'd gotten the book yet, or if it was even necessary. Two hours later, in her biology lecture, she joked about the professor's Irish accent to the girl sitting next to her. This turned out to be enough to earn herself a partner for their first class project.
She prayed that one of these interactions might form into some connection later on. Deep down though, she didn't expect it.
Then, of course, there was Intro to Psych. Socializing required minimal effort on Mia's part as Kalos was more than happy to greet her first. As great as it was to have someone be so friendly, asking how her day went and such, the lecture wasn't exactly designed to make student conversations easy. After class wasn't much better, as she only had fifteen minutes before her next one. It was time to step things up.
Deciding to reuse one of her tricks from another class, she formulated a plan to obtain that elusive phone number, hopefully without appearing desperate—or worse, creepy.
"That online quiz was super hard," she sighed as soon as Kalos moved in beside her. "I think a lot of it came from the book, but I haven't gotten mine yet, so I'm not sure. Did you get yours?"
The wheels in his mind seemed to be turning for a long moment before he shook his head. Her brow furrowed, both in confusion and disappointment.
"Oh. I was hoping I could maybe borrow yours for next time. How'd you do on the quiz, by the way?"
His eyes lit up at first, then again, he paused. "Uh...not too bad. I don't usually need books for classes."
Glancing down at his noticeably empty backpack, she nodded slowly. "Yeah, I can see that."
Damn. Without a lame excuse to borrow his book or study with him, what was she supposed to do?
"So there's a new collection at the art museum…" Kalos started off in a rushed mutter, clearing his throat before continuing. "I was wondering if you'd go with me tonight, see if it's any good."
Had she heard him right? His darting eyes and nervous smile seemed to confirm it, and her heart skipped a beat. Her lips parted, seconds away from saying yes before she remembered something. Her smile went from excited to apologetic.
"I wish I could, I love going there. But I'm meeting someone around six tonight."
His brow rose, jaw setting into place. "A date, you mean?"
"Oh no, it's just a bio project thing. We're going to the library to find a topic," she waved it off with a small laugh. "I've been kind of out of the dating scene lately."
He wasn't going to let up, was he?
"You really want to know the details?" She asked, and when he gave an eager nod, she sighed and tried to think of a way to explain. "Well, the last guy I dated—Daniel—he was kind of crazy…at least at the end of it. He was the one who dumped me for being 'crazy'…"
Apparently, she was deranged for asking where he'd been when he decided to disappear for days. Or maybe it was for breaking down sobbing when a dog was graphically killed in a film he insisted on showing her—all the while knowing how and why that would upset her. How dare she.
"…anyway, I accepted it and tried to just move on, and we were at this theatre thing—a screening for a TV show—and this girl started talking to me and it was…well, kind of flirtatious. Daniel was giving me death glares the entire time and then apparently started telling everyone these awful rumors about me…"
"What a dick," Kalos muttered.
After giving a nod of agreement, Mia forced a smile and met his eyes again. Now that she'd revealed so much of her dirty laundry, it seemed only fair for him to do the same.
"What about you? You have any psycho exes?"
"Uh…no, no exes…"
Her brows shot up at this. "Wait, no exes at all?"
A red flush rapidly spread across his cheeks, eyes darting everywhere but at her. "No, I meant—well….yes."
Now staring incredulously, she couldn't help but let out a little laugh, earning a sharp look from him before she explained.
"I'm sorry, I'm not making fun of you, I'm just…surprised. I mean, you're what, twenty-two, twenty-three?"
"Just never was that interested in dating. I um…have high standards."
"Yeah, I guess so…" She tilted her head, now wondering if he was more of the hookup type then, but they were definitely not at the point where such a question would be appropriate. Still, something told her he wasn't into casual sex, either.
Maybe he's asexual, she thought. This might've been enough of a conclusion to satisfy her, but she couldn't help but wonder…if he wasn't interested in her like that, then what was his deal? Even considering the unusual way they met, he didn't have to keep sitting directly beside her in class, or talking to her. He also kept stopping by her work. It was only for a few minutes at a time before he had to rush off again, but it wasn't like Ground Up was the only café on campus. He always seemed reluctant to say goodbye after grabbing his espresso. Now, he'd asked her out on a date. Going to a museum exhibit constituted as a date, right?
Don't be so conceited, some people just want friends, she scolded herself before he spoke and dragged her back out of her thoughts again.
"Well, maybe some other time?"
God, he looked so hopeful… Well, ifhe did want to date her, despite a long history of not wanting to date anyone, wasn't that just more flattering? It was a bit hard to believe that she'd meet those 'high standards' of his. Still, the idea that she could be so special made her chest tighten with excitement.
"Sure," she finally said with a bright smile before handing over her phone. "Put your number in it. I'll text you when I'm free."
[AN: As always, thanks for reading and please review!]