Monday afternoon, the raspy wind snarled Katherine O’Brian’s long hair and reddened her face as she quickly walked into the building. She pulled her gloves off and blew on her hands for a few seconds before weaving her way through the thick crowd in the college’s hallway. It was the first night of class and she was nearly late.
She looked around the classroom self-consciously; she seemed to be the oldest person in the room. Well, that’s what you get for putting off college. You get to take classes with kids barely out of high school.
All the desks had been placed in a circle and the professor was moving from one student to another, having them introduce themselves. Katherine’s eyes widened when the teacher got to the man directly across from her.
The day before she’d stopped at a nearby Starbucks. After placing her order, she’d casually looked around. Her eyes had met those of a woman sitting across the room. When the woman smiled, Katherine had blushed. She was a he, dressed in drag.
Slap on some eye shadow and a pair of high heels and that’s the guy I saw yesterday
, minus the dress
Once everyone had introduced themselves, the professor began talking about the term project.
“You’ll be working in pairs, and this assignment is worth seventy percent of your grade, so obviously you’ll need to work together to do a good job.”
Katherine quickly looked at her syllabus. There it was: the class term project. Very writing-intensive. Even PowerPoint slides were required. This was why she’d put off taking the class—writing wasn’t her strongest subject.
“You’ll find your partner listed there,” the professor continued, pointing toward the chalk board, to which a piece of paper was taped.
After all the details of the project had been covered, class was dismissed. Katherine quickly looked at the paper on the board. Oh, this just gets better and better. She looked around for her new partner, but he was speaking to the teacher.
I’ll talk to him about the project on Wednesday
She hugged her book to her chest and walked toward the exit. When she dropped her purse and stopped suddenly to pick it up, she heard a deep voice.
Katherine looked up—and up—to the face that went with the deep voice.
“Sorry,” she said, “I didn’t realize you were behind me.”
He was smiling. Not that it matters, but of all the men in the class, why do I get the one that wears dresses?
“I’m Scott Mitchell. We’re partners on the project.”
She turned back and held out her hand. “I’m Katherine.”
As he pulled on his coat, he said, “I was wondering if maybe you wanted to go get something to eat or drink, to talk about it.”
Katherine stalled by moving closer to the wall, as if to let other students hurry past. Her first instinct was to say no, but then she remembered her resolve to do well in the class.
They started walking outside together.
“There’s a Starbucks near here,” he said. “We could meet there.”
Coffee was always the magic word for Katherine, or chocolate.
“Sure, I’ll see you there.”
As she sat in her car waiting for it to heat up, she noticed her hands were shaking slightly. She looked at her reflection in the rear-view mirror. Jeez, it’s just a guy. Get a grip.
They arrived at the same time. The hard part came after they’d gotten their drinks and sat down. Katherine could hardly put two words together; it had been a long time since she’d had a decent conversation, especially with a man. After a few minutes, Scott broke the silence.
“So, how about that project?” he said, a little too loudly. Katherine flinched and turned pink. When she answered, the words flew out. “Going to be an avalanche of work: slides and an oral presentation, thousand words each. A monster.”
“Yeah,” said Scott, “and not really what I expected from a history course. Doing a biography from birth to death is a big deal, especially with all the details the professor wants. Do you have any ideas who we should do it on?”
“How about van Gogh?” suggested Katherine.
“He committed suicide, didn’t he?”
Scott sighed. “Well, I don’t know. I’d just prefer to do the biography on someone I can respect. For me, it’s hard to respect anyone who kills themselves. Seems so cowardly.”
“That’s very presumptuous of you,” said Katherine. “To assume the man was a coward because he killed himself. And such a generalization. Sometimes people are just in pain, and that’s the only way they see to end that pain.”
Scott held his hands up defensively. “Sorry. Didn’t know you were such a fan of van Gogh.”
Katherine rolled her eyes. “That’s what you take away from what I said?” Jeez, this guy’s hot, but what an idiot
Scott tipped his cup forward and backwards, side to side. Katherine held her cup to her lips, blowing on the coffee. Judging by the attention their cups received, Starbucks’ coffee had never tasted so good. Scott sat up, leaning forward, his arms folded in front of him. He seemed to take up the whole table. Katherine sat back in her chair.
“We should probably plan on getting together at least a few times during the week,” he said.
The prospect of seeing him so often filled Katherine with both dread and excitement – dread, because she wasn’t sure she even liked him, and excitement because his baritone voice made her unwilling heart flutter, and his mahogany eyes made her blush. He’s right, though, she thought, if I’m serious about getting a good grade, this project will need a lot of attention.
“You’re probably right,” she answered, her eyes avoiding his. “When do you want to meet?”
“How about tomorrow at the library,” Scott replied. “The one on Virginia Street near the mall, does five thirty work for you?”
After exchanging numbers, Katherine stood. “I should go,” she said. “It’s getting late.”
They walked out together, Scott holding the door for her.