“If it’s any comfort to you,” he says, “her new single got retired from TRL.”
I know better than to ask Cooper what he’s been doing watching Total Request Live. Instead, I say, “They retire videos when they’ve spent too long on the list. That means the song’s still totally popular.”
Cooper looks around, clearly seeking a way to change the subject. My office is sort of the reception area for Rachel’s office, which is separated by an attractive metal grate that I’ve been trying to get the maintenance department to replace since I arrived. I’d decorated my area with Monet prints upon my arrival, and even though Rachel had wanted to replace the Giverny water lilies with anti–date rape and community development posters, I had held my ground.
I read in a magazine once that Monet is soothing. That’s why you see prints of his work in so many doctors’ offices.
“Nice place,” Cooper says. Then his gaze falls on the jar of condoms on my desk.
I feel myself turning crimson.
Rachel chooses that moment to hang up the phone and lean out of her office to ask, “May I help you?”
When she sees that the visitor to our office is of the male persuasion, over six feet and under forty—not to mention totally hot—she says, in a completely different voice, “Oh. Hello.”
“Good morning,” Cooper says politely. Cooper is unfailingly polite to everyone but members of his immediate family. “You must be Rachel. I’m Cooper Cartwright.”
“Nice to meet you,” Rachel says. She shakes the hand he offers and smiles beatifically. “Cooper…Cooper…Oh yes, Cooper! Heather’s friend. I’ve heard so much about you.”
Cooper glances in my direction, his blue eyes crinkling more than ever. “You have?”
I wish the floor would open up and swallow me whole. I try to remember what I’ve ever said to Rachel about Coop. Besides the fact that he’s my landlord, I mean. Because what if I said something really indiscreet, like that Cooper’s my idea of a perfect mate and that sometimes I fantasize about ripping his clothes off with my teeth? I’ve been known to say things like that sometimes, when I’ve had too many Krispy Kremes combined with too much caffeine.
But all Rachel says is “I suppose you’ve heard about our troubles here.”
Rachel smiles again, a little less beatifically this time. I can tell she’s mentally calculating how much Cooper’s watch must cost—he wears one of those gadget-heavy black plastic ones—and deciding he can’t possibly be worth a hundred grand a year.
If only she knew.
Then the phone on her desk rings again, and she goes to answer it. “Hello, Fischer Hall. This is Rachel. How may I help you?”
Cooper raises his eyebrows at me, and I remember, in a rush, what Magda had said, about Rachel being Cooper’s type.
No! It isn’t fair! Rachel is EVERYONE’S type! I mean, she’s attractive and athletic and well put together and successful and went to Yale and is making a difference in the world. What about ME? What about girls like me, who are just…well, nice? What about the nice girls? How are we supposed to compete with all of these competent, athletic, shower-taking girls, with their diplomas and their Palm Pilots and their teeny tiny butts?
Before I have a chance to say anything in defense of my kind, however, one of the maintenance workers comes rushing in.
“Haythar,” Julio cries, wringing his hands. He’s a little guy, in a brown uniform, who without being asked to, daily cleans the bronze statue of Pan in the lobby with a toothbrush.
“Haythar, that boy is doing it again.”
I blink at him. “You mean Gavin?”
I glance over at Rachel. She’s gushing into the phone, “Oh, President Allington, please don’t worry about me. It’s the students I feel for—”
I sigh resignedly, push back my chair, and stand up. I’m just going to have to face that fact that where Cooper is concerned, I’m always going to look like the world’s biggest spaz.
And there’s nothing I can do about it.
“I’ll take care of it,” I say.
Julio glances at Cooper, and, still wringing his hands, asks nervously, “You want I should come with you, Haythar?”
“What is this?” Cooper looks suspicious. “What’s going on?”
“Nothing,” I say to him. “Thanks for dropping by. I have to go now.”
“Go where?” Cooper wants to know.
“I just have to deal with this one thing. I’ll see you later.”
Then I hurry out of the office and head for the service elevator, which is reserved for use of the maintenance staff only, and has one of those metal gates inside the doors to keep students out…
Only I know which lever to push to throw the gate back. Which I push, then turn to say, “Ready when you are” to Julio—
Only it isn’t Julio who’s followed me. It’s Cooper.
“Heather,” he says, looking annoyed. “What’s this all about?”
“Where’s Julio?” I squeak.
“I don’t know,” Cooper says. “Back there, I guess. Where are you going?”
From inside the elevator shaft, I can hear whooping. Why me? Why, God, why?
There’s nothing I can do about it, though. I mean, it’s my job. And it will mean a free medical degree, eventually, if I can stick it out.
“Can you work a service elevator?” I ask Cooper.
He looks even more annoyed. “I think I can figure it out.”
More whooping from inside the shaft.
“Okay,” I say. “Let’s go then.”
Cooper, looking curious as well as annoyed now, follows me inside, ducking so as not to hit his head on the low jamb, and I pull the grate shut and yank back the power lever. As the elevator lurches upward with a groan, I put a foot on the siderails and, with a heave, grab the sides of the wide opening in the elevator’s roof where a ceiling panel has been removed. Through it, I can see the cables and bare brick walls of the elevator shaft, and high overhead, patches of bright light where the sun peeks in through the fire safety skylights.
Cooper’s curiosity quickly fades, so that all that’s left is annoyance.