“For the record,” his voice lightens, “I was miserable all night having to listen to her go on about her horses. And if I remember correctly, you did use Jeremy’s short height to your advantage.”
My ears heat and redden at the memory. I use my hands as blinders to shield my mortification. “You’re not supposed to find my past conquests amusing,” I whisper-yell, still blocking my peripheral vision.
His lips quirk. “I love all of you.” He raises my chin with a finger and kisses me so delicately that I wonder who the man is on the other side of me. The tenderness draws me in, and I lose breath in the short moment.
I break away first, not sure if I can last kissing him like this without the promise of wild, passionate sex. He raises his eyebrows, putting his cup to his lips, grinning. Yes, he knows exactly how I feel right now. I’m so transparent.
I change the topic to keep from oozing into the fountain. “Poppy keeps asking me about your birthday. She wants to meet all of our friends at the party they’re supposedly throwing for us—Charlie and Stacey especially.”
He remains calm. “What did you tell her?”
“I told her that she’d hate the party. Too many drunken college students, and she’ll have to meet them some other time. She bought it pretty quickly. Besides, she has no reason to believe we’d create fictional friends.”
“I wish you’d chosen a better name than Stacey. I don’t know any Staceys that I’d ever be friends with.”
“That’s name prejudice and immature.”
“There’s no such thing as name prejudice, but I don’t doubt it’s slightly immature. I have many faults.”
“About your birthday”—I stay on track—“since you’re not passing out at noon, can I actually take you out to celebrate?”
He rips off the last of the champagne label. “I don’t think so.”
“Come on. We can dress up in costumes and go to a party.”
“Why can’t we just stay at home, drink and have sex?”
“We do that every day, Lo,” I say irritably. Since we’ve been together, my late night clubbing customs have disappeared. Unlike Lo, I’m not used to being cooped up in the apartment so much. “There has to be some perks to having a birthday on Halloween.”
He takes a swig from the champagne bottle, thinking. He wipes his mouth with the back of his hand. “I guess we already have the perfect costumes.”
I grin and then immediately frown. “Wait, what costumes?” My stomach flops, and once my embarrassment begins to set in, his face lights up. Oh, I hate him. “No, not the same ones we wore to Comic-Con.” My skimpy X-23 outfit! And his tight, equally revealing Hellion suit. The picture framed on his wall.
“You want to go out so badly, that’s my condition.”
He’s trying to see how much I want it. I inhale deeply. I’ll wear a cape in the front or something absurd to cover me. “Fine. You have a deal.”
“We like making those, don’t we?”
I suppose we do.
“Take these numbers into account, not these.” My tutor gives me a concerned look. “Do you follow?”
My eyes grow wide. “I’m going to fail. Again.”
He taps the eraser of his pencil on the thick economics text and stares at the numbers. His lips draw into a thin line, trying to figure out how to tutor the stupidest girl at Penn. I’m hopeless. It took three more days of solo-torture before I sucked up my pride and emailed Connor to tutor me.
Now I have company in hell.
“Try this one, Lily.” He slides the book to me and points to a big paragraph. Words. Too many words for something involving numbers. Why can’t economics choose between the two? Having both numbers and words in an equation sends a splitting migraine to my skull.
I struggle for another five minutes before I throw my pencil down in a huff. “I swear I’m not doing this on purpose,” I say quickly. “And I know you’re probably wishing I chose someone else.”
He leans back in the rickety old library chair. We’re holed up in a tiny study room with a white board, a long table, a light fixture and one glass wall to remind us that other people do exist. The perk: I can scream in obnoxious frustration and no one will hear my cries but Connor.
Time ticks by, and the sun has already bailed on us. I’m probably keeping my tutor from his dinner or evening plans. I glance occasionally at his thick, wavy brown locks and deep chocolate eyes, scoring high on the Guy-I’d-Like-to-Fuck chart—or the chart I used to have before I entered a monogamous relationship.
The collar to his navy peacoat is popped, the first sign of his preppy status. Honestly, I hoped for some dweeb with glasses and acne. Someone who wouldn’t entice me so much.
“How did you learn about me anyway?” he asks, intrigued. “Referral?”
“You were listed as a tutor on the economics departmental website. I just kind of went for the coolest name. It was between you and Henry Everclear.” No girls, or else they would have been my first choice.
“So you went for Connor Cobalt,” he smiles in amusement. “Connor isn’t my real first name. It’s Richard.”
“Oh.” My arms heat. “I guess that’s not as cool.” I could smack my head at my reply, wishing for something pithy or witty. Instead, I get dumb.
“What’s your full name?”
I glance warily at the clock on his phone, resting on the table beside my book.
He follows my gaze. “I won’t charge extra.”
I flush further. I’ve definitely heard that before. “I don’t want to keep you from your plans.”
“Oh no,” he says with a laugh, setting down his Starbucks coffee. “I don’t have any plans. I’m actually kind of glad you’re a little slow. I’ve been tutoring freshman A-type personalities for the past few months and they whiz through my problems in under twenty minutes. I need tutoring hours for my resume. The MBA program at Wharton is pretty competitive and any extracurricular helps.”
I should take offense to that, but I can’t argue with the truth here. I am struggling. “Well, I may be a lost cause.”
“I’m the best tutor at Penn. I bet you a thousand dollars I’ll have you at least capable of passing your next exam.”
I gape, disbelieving. “That’s in two days.”
He doesn’t even blink. “I guess we’re going to be cramming for the next forty-eight hours.” He checks his watch and simultaneously picks his coffee back up, taking a sip. “You never told me your full name by the way. It can’t be worse than Connor Cobalt.” He flashes a pearly white smile—the same blinding ones that surrounded me in prep school.
His head jerks back in surprise. “You wouldn’t happen to be related to Rose Calloway?”
He grins again. I wish I could tell him to stop. After years of pretending and lying, nothing screams “fake” more than overzealous smiles. “She’s on the Academic Bowl for Princeton, right? We compete against them all the time. She’s wicked smart. I’m surprised you didn’t ask her to tutor you.”
I laugh dryly. “I think you’d have to be built of armor to learn anything from Rose. She’s a tough teacher.”
His eyebrows rise as he finishes off his coffee. “Is that so?” He’s too curious for his own good.
I decide to save him and turn back to my books. “So are you really prepared to lose a thousand dollars?” He may be keen on racking up hours for his resume, but I actually need to learn this stuff.
“My pride is on the line. It costs more than a thousand dollars.” He checks his Rolex watch again. “Do you have a Red Bull at your place?”
Wait? Is he inviting himself over to tutor me?
He sees my confusion as he starts stacking textbooks together. “Library closes in ten minutes. I wasn’t kidding about cramming for the next forty-eight hours. It’s either your place or mine. But I have to warn you, my cat hates girls, and I haven’t cut her nails in a few weeks. So unless you want to be jealously assaulted by Sadie, I suggest your apartment.”
I prefer the Drake anyway. With Lo around, I have less chance to do something moronic. Like listening to my lower brain.
“My place is fine.” I sling my backpack over my shoulder as we leave. “But I live with my boyfriend, so we’ll have to be quiet.”
He whistles. “A junior and shacking up already. That explains a lot.”
He holds open a glass door for me, but I freeze before stepping onto the campus quad. “How so?” Do I wear everything right on my chest? Or is Connor Cobalt so arrogant he believes he has me all figured out in a short study session?
“A lot of girls here are from family money—”
“Wait,” I stop him before he continues. “How do you know I have money?” I glance at my wardrobe. Nothing on me screams distastefully wealthy. I wear a pair of Nike sneakers, track pants and a Penn sweatshirt. If Rose saw my style, she’d have a hernia.
“Calloway,” he says my name with a laugh. “Your daddy is a soda mogul.”
“Yeah, but most people—”
“I’m not most people, and I make an effort to know names, especially ones that matter.”
Uh, I have no idea how to respond to that conceitedness.
He leads me outside into the chilly night. “Like I was saying, most rich girls all tend to do the same thing. Find a guy at an Ivy League who will be incredibly successful, marry early, and have their future set without having to do the extra lifting—straight As, stellar recs, full CVs. I’m not judging. If I was a girl, I’d probably be on the same path. Hell, I’ll end up marrying the type.”
What a horrible generalization. Not all women would throw away their careers at the chance of being taken care of by a man. I could punch him or vomit. Either one seems like an appropriate reaction. I bet he also believes women should only pop out babies. God, Rose would scratch out his eyes if she heard him.
But I’m not as bold as Rose, and it’s too late to find another tutor. So I bury my thoughts and follow this a**hole outside.
* * *
“Lo!” I shout, walking through the door with Connor trailing behind. “Lo!” When he doesn’t answer the third time, I presume he’s left the apartment entirely. I shoot him a text and hope he’s not too sloshed to feel the vibration.
We set camp at the bar counter. I pour through three different books, making slight progress but not enough to count as a success. On the problems Connor dishes out, I get twenty-five percent correct. That number has yet to fluctuate.
Two cases of Red Bull and a pepperoni pizza later, it’s eleven o’clock and Lo still hasn’t returned home. My phone sits lamely on the counter, and I glance at it, expecting to see a missed call. I told Lo about my tutoring session, and we went wild this afternoon. Maybe he thought he satiated me enough, so he planned to ditch me tonight and do his own thing.