Friday, December 15, 2017

The Study Group - Part 7

This is the final installment.  To start at the beginning, find Part 1 here.

“You’re not going to try to talk me out of it?”
Annie stopped what she was doing to question Mallory.  “Why would I try to talk you out of having a headache?  That’s not even possible.”
“No, I mean talk me out of skipping the movie.  Don’t you want me to tag along to keep Jake from having ideas about it being a date?”
Annie was putting away the clothes she’d washed that day.  She opened a drawer to drop in the last shirt.  Then she turned around to face Mallory with her arms crossed.  “There are several things wrong with what you just said.”
Mallory smiled and said, “Oh, good… I feel a speech coming,” with heavy sarcasm.
A laugh tried to come out in response, but Annie squelched it.  “First of all,” she said, “I am not a child.  I don’t need you to babysit me or Jake.  Second of all, I’m not the sort of person who would ask my friend to suffer through a movie when she’s not feeling well just to help me avoid an awkward conversation with a guy.  And lastly…”  She paused to figure out how to say she was glad Mallory decided not to come without saying she was glad Mallory decided not to come.  “Well, I might not be as against Jake having ideas as I used to be.”
“Oh!”  Mallory got excited before she put her hand to her forehead, an indication of how poorly high-pitched noises and headaches went together. 
“If he hasn’t given up,” Annie added.
“Uh… he invited you to the movie tonight.”
“He invited both of us.”
Mallory answered with an exasperated sigh.
“I know,” Annie said.  “I’m just nervous, okay?”  It did seem a little unnecessary when Jake had been so persistent.  But Annie was invested now.  She couldn’t help worrying that she’d rejected him one too many times.
“Have fun,” Mallory said.
“Thanks.”  Annie put on her coat and grabbed a neatly folded blanket.  She hugged it to her chest as she went downstairs to meet Jake.
He was early.  Jake was standing just inside the lobby door with a Cleveland Browns blanket draped over his shoulder.  He was staring out the window and hadn’t noticed Annie yet.
She walked towards him with ridiculous concentration.  She wanted to hurry because he was waiting.  She didn’t want to hurry and seem overeager.  Then again, overeager might be a good thing after all the times she’d said they’d only ever be friends.  But she couldn’t move her arms.  She’d look funny walking fast holding a blanket.  Walking slowly and casually would make a better impression.  Not too slowly though.  The guy wasn’t even looking at her while she deliberated her steps. 
Jake turned as she got close and smiled with surprise.  “Where’s Mallory?” he asked.
“She’s not coming,” Annie said.  “She’s not feeling well.”
“That’s too bad.”  Jake looked as though he meant it, which was good.  Compassion was good. 
Annie gave herself a mental kick for wanting him to look happier at the change in plans.
He looked more uncertain than anything.  “You’re still coming?” he asked.
“Sure.”  Annie wiggled the blanket that should have made her intention clear, then she joked, “But it better be a good movie.”
Jake laughed.  “No promises.  Other than the fact that we can leave any time you want.”  He turned and took a step to open the door for Annie.
She walked out more relaxed than before.  Jake was a nice guy.  She was going to have a nice time.  But they were not going to watch a movie.  Instead of finding students gathering on the lawn, they began to pass people bundled or carrying blankets going the opposite direction.
One of those people, a girl with short black hair, said, “Are you two headed to the movie?  They’re not doing it.”
“It’s canceled?” Jake asked.
“I don’t know,” the girl said.  “No one seems to know anything.  It’s just not happening.”  She continued past Annie and Jake to catch up to her friends.
Jake stopped and faced Annie.  “Are we going to turn around?”
She stared at him, also at a loss.  “Well… I don’t know.”
“I wonder what happened.”  Jake tipped his head to the side.
“I, uh…”  Annie found herself trying not to laugh at the helplessness with which they both seemed to be facing this minor hurdle.  The library was right in front of her.  “Let’s go to the library instead,” she suggested.
Annie fell into step next to him.  The walk was quiet.  She figured it was only a matter of time before he asked what they were going to do at the library because she had no idea what they were going to do.
They entered the building with neither of them mentioning a plan.  There were several study tables along the far side where their group typically met on Thursdays.  Only a few people sat in that area, but Annie motioned Jake to the elevator.  There was more study space on the 6th floor, and she hoped to find that empty.  It was a Saturday after all.  The space appeared deserted as they exited the elevator.  There were shelves along the walls that could hide people.  It was extremely quiet and the tables were all unclaimed.  Annie walked past all of them to the window.  She looked down to the lawn where the movie was supposed to be shown.  Three blankets were spread out with students milling about between them.  “I guess those guys couldn’t think of anything else to do either,” she observed.
When Jake didn’t respond, she turned to see that he was not right behind her.  He’d dropped his blanket on one of the tables and was standing at a computer catalog.  The screen was blank, and he seemed to be doing something next to the keyboard. 
Annie put her blanket on top of his and walked towards him.
He turned around before she reached him.  He had folded one of the slips of paper into a tiny airplane.  He tried to fly it to her, or at her.
The paper plane did an immediate nosedive and hit the ground hard between them.  They both laughed.
Then Jake raised his eyebrows and said, “Can you do better?”
“Probably not,” Annie admitted.  “But I’ll give it a shot.”
She took a piece of paper and folded a little airplane while Jake straightened the tip of his.  Then they stood next to each other and flew them at the same time.  Jake tossed his more gently and it flew farther than the first time.  Annie’s flew towards the ceiling before it crashed right next to her.  “That was not better,” she said.
“Not yet.”  Jake jogged over to retrieve his plane.  “Let’s see who can land one on that table first.”
“That table?”  Annie pointed to the one right in front of her.
“No, that one.”  Jake pointed across the room.
“Does it have to be a pretty landing?”
Jake smiled.  “It only has to stop on the table.”
“All right.  But I’m making a new one.”
“Not me.”  Jake squeezed the tip of his plane to flatten the crease.  “I’m sticking with this one.  I’m going to call it Crisp Wings.”
“Crisp Wings?”  Annie bit her lip against a laugh.  “That sounds like a cereal.”
“It’s not like I’ve given it a lot of thought, but it’s a fine name.  What are you calling yours?”
Annie was working on her new plane.  She flipped it over and pressed down the second wing.  Then she smiled teasingly and said, “Victor.”
“That’s going to be a terrible name when it loses.”  Jake tossed his plane towards the agreed upon table.  It landed under the table next to it.
“I think you mean if it loses,” Annie said.  She aimed Victor and flew it softly.  It went sideways and about half as far as Jake’s, which only made her enjoy the name more.  They both flew their planes at least ten times before Jake managed to land his on the very edge of the table.
He raised an arm in celebration.  “I can’t believe you doubted Crisp Wings.”
Annie laughed again at the name.  It definitely took any sting out of losing.  “Let’s make it harder,” she said. 
“Are you sure you want to do that?”
Annie just nodded.  She grabbed four large books off the nearest shelf and arranged them on the table so that their spines formed a rectangle.  “You have to get a plane in here.”
Jake held his tiny airplane up to show that he was ready.
Annie returned to the computer and picked up three more pieces of paper.  “I’m going to try a few more,” she said.
With extra planes, she didn’t have to retrieve them as often.  Annie got in two or three tries for each of Jake’s.  She still wasn’t getting anywhere near the target.  Neither was Jake.  He insisted on using the same plane until the tip was crumpled beyond hope, then he folded Crisp Wings 2.  It only got a few flights before Annie said, “I give up.”
“Me, too.”  Jake picked up his plane and frowned at it.  “I don’t think the paper wants to cooperate.  It’s not us.”
Annie looked at the books she’d used for a target, intending to put them away.  One was an art book.  She began to flip through the many pictures in its pages.  “Oh, I like this one.”  She stopped at a painting of angels.  Jake came up to look over her shoulder.
A frisson of warmth flooded Annie’s face.  She thought of all the times she’d insisted to Mallory that she’d never be attracted to Jake.  All times she’d been wrong.
“I like when artists draw angels like this,” he said, studying the page.  “More majestic than cute.”
“Me, too.”  Annie lingered for a moment before she turned the page.  She paused again.  This time with puzzlement instead of appreciation. 
“Is that a tree?” Jake asked.
Annie turned the book sideways.  “I don’t think so.”
“Oh.”  He put his finger on some text near the picture.  “It’s underground tunnels.”
“Okay.”  Annie turned another page. 
They continued to discuss the artwork in the book until a disembodied voice said, “Attention students.  The library will be closing in ten minutes.”
Annie looked at her watch.  “The library closes at nine on Saturdays?”
“Apparently,”  Jake said with a shrug.
Annie closed the book.  She took all four of them back to the shelf.  Jake picked up their blankets and met her at the elevator.  They made pleasant chitchat on the way back to Annie’s dorm.  She felt a strange tension grow as their destination got closer.  She knew she’d see Jake again at the study group if they didn’t make other plans.  But it still felt important to say something about getting together again.  It would acknowledge the shift Annie felt in the relationship.
When they stopped at the door, Jake handed her the blanket she’d brought for nothing.  Annie swallowed some butterflies and said, “Do you think they’ll do a movie next Saturday?”
“I hope so.  And I hope you’ll come with me to find out again because this was fun.”  He took a step back and started talking faster.  “I mean, I know this wasn’t a date.  I didn’t mean that.  I’m not trying to be pushy.  I’d just like to spend some more time with you.  Do you want to try again next week?”
Annie let her eyes drop to the ground.  She wasn’t sure how to answer.  Of course she wanted to go with him again.  That’s why she’d brought it up.  But he’d just insisted it wouldn’t mean anything and she didn’t want to agree to that.
“Is something wrong?” he asked.
“No.”  She tried to look at Jake.  Her eyes hovered around his collar where she could see his Adam’s apple moving up and down.  “It’s just… well, I kind of thought it was a date.”
Jake didn’t say anything.
Annie lifted her eyes nervously.
A blank look covered his face.  Then he nodded and said, “That’s good to know,” as he turned to leave. 
Annie gaped after him, wanting to believe he’d done something wrong when all he’d done was crush her ego by not looking thrilled at her change of heart.
He stopped after only two steps and looked back.  “So, uh… next week would be a date, too?” he asked.  His calm appearance was cracking all over the place as his eyes danced and his mouth twitched to hold back a smile.  Clearly, he was thrilled and trying to play it cool.
“Yes,” Annie said.  “See you Thursday?”
Jake nodded.  He would see her at the study group.  Finally, she would see him, too.

The End

I hope you enjoyed this short story.  Annie and Jake appear as minor characters in They See a FamilyCheck it out to see where they are eleven years later.

Monday, December 4, 2017

The Study Group - Part 6

“He’s going to ask you out again today,” Mallory said.
“No, he’s not.”  Annie pulled off her hat and smoothed down her hair.  It wasn’t quite as cold as she expected.  “Saturday wasn’t a date so there’s no again, and I brought my little brothers.  I think that was a good hint of where I stand.”
“But you had fun.”
“We did.  As friends.”
“So you’d agree to do something with him again?”
Annie sighed and opened the door to the library.  “Not the way you say it.  You make ‘do something’ sound like a betrothal.  Besides, he’s not going to ask me out in the middle of the study group.”
“It’s just going to be four of us today.  Aaron is taking Hannah out for her birthday.”
“Oh, yeah.  Still… we’re here to study.”
Mallory snorted.  “You don’t have any homework this week.  You’re here to hang out with Jake and make him fall for you even more.”
Annie issued a playful shove in response.  She wasn’t going to argue against a relationship with Jake yet again.
He and Carlos were already at their usual table.  They sat at opposite corners.  Carlos had his back to the girls as they walked up and was laughing at something Jake said before Annie was close enough to hear.  She took the seat next to Carlos and was about to ask what was so funny.
Mallory leaned close and made a sniffing noise in Annie’s ear.  It was a jab about her obviously smelling Carlos, which she hadn’t even been thinking about.  She gave Mallory a look that she hoped conveyed significant displeasure with her mock sniffing.
Jake smiled at either the sound effect or the reprimand.  There was a lack of amusement in his eyes though that made Annie uneasy.  She felt a sudden need to explain that she’d only sat next to Carlos out of habit.  The thought caused several others to trip into a pile in her head.  First was the knowledge that she had in fact taken the seat next to Carlos out of habit.  Next was the idea that she wanted Jake to share that knowledge.  Last was the dawning understanding that something had changed.
Somewhere between giving her mom flowers and treating her little brothers like friends, Jake had formed a connection to Annie.  It wasn’t anything like a lifelong bond, but it was enough to make Annie curious about a stronger connection.  Curious and… interested.  She unzipped the backpack at her feet and started pulling things out to cover her unexpectedly flustered state.
“What are you doing?” Mallory asked.
“I’m… getting ready.”
“For what?”  Mallory was sending her a concerned look.  “You said you didn’t have any homework tonight.”
Annie was going to say she was getting ready to study.  Surely she had something she could review.  But Carlos spoke first.
“You don’t have homework?” he said.  “Great.  You can help me with this awful poem.”
Jake groaned.  “Well, she’s got to be better than me.”
“Yeah,” Carlos said.  “He wanted me to rhyme sunset with not yet.”
“What?” Annie laughed and looked at Jake.  So did Mallory.
He shrugged.  “You didn’t give me much to work with.  Tell them what you have so far.”
“I’m supposed to write couplets about something in nature,” Carlos explained.  “I have ‘I’m sitting by the window to watch the sunset.’”
There was a pause before Mallory said, “That’s it?”
“I’m not a poet,” Carlos said.  “Do you think if I wrote a few more random lines I could get half credit for half couplets?”
“Yet could work.”  Annie gathered some thoughts.  “I’m sitting by the window to watch the sunset.  I realize it hasn’t started yet.  The sky is still blue.  Uh… lots of things rhyme with blue.  Someone help me.”
Mallory tried.  “The sky is still blue.  The grass is covered with dew.  I guess it’s still morning.”  She looked around the table for a suggestion.
Jake said, “How about… This very long wait will be boring.  But if I sit all day I bet… I might get to see the sunset yet.”
“We already used yet,” Mallory said, trying to keep a straight face.
Annie was also working to swallow a laugh.  It wasn’t only awful because they’d used yet, and Jake’s face said he knew it, too.
“We did.”  Jake winced again.  “That was so terrible.”
Carlos was writing it all down.  “But it’s pretty close guys.  I’m just going to change the last two lines to ‘But I have nothing else to do, maybe I’ll watch the sun rise, too.’”
Annie didn’t think that was much better.  At least it was something Carlos wrote himself.
He closed that binder and opened a different one.  “On to statistics,” he said.  “That class always has the most homework.”
 When he shifted to a new subject, Annie caught a whiff of that nice cologne.  She still enjoyed the scent, but it was like smelling cookies.  Nothing personal.  She asked Mallory if she wanted to study Geology, the one class they had together.  Jake finished the assignment he’d brought and took Annie’s textbook to let the girls compete to guess vocabulary words.
Carlos finished his statistics, and they all began to pack up.  The four of them walked away from the table together.  “Wait one minute,” Mallory said.  “I want to check out a book while we’re here.”  She disappeared between two shelves of fiction.
“See you next week.”  Carlos kept walking towards the exit.
Jake stopped next to Annie.
She felt her stomach turn sideways, then inside out.  The idea that this was a chance for Jake to ask her out was now less unsettling than the idea that he might not take it.
“Are you going home again this weekend?” he asked.
She shook her head.
“Any plans here?”
She continued the side to side movement.  “I don’t know what I’m going to do.”
“They’re doing the first outdoor movie of the year on Saturday,” he said.
“Already?  It’ll be cold.”
“Probably.  People will bring blankets.”
“Do you know what they’re showing?”
Now Jake shook his head.  “Would you be interested in finding out?  I mean, you and Mallory could both come with me to find out.”
Annie smiled at the way he saved her the trouble of inviting another person.  “Will you carry our blankets for us?”
“No matter what year it is.”
She smiled again, more self-consciously because of his reference.  “Okay.  I’ll tell Mallory.”