A glance at the schedule reveals that Summer Lovin’ is opening the show. Crap. I would’ve preferred to be somewhere in the middle of the pack. Opening a fashion show is a lot of pressure.
“I want us to start the night with a bang,” he tells me, winking again. “Your swimsuits will do that, I suspect.”
Ew. Why does he say things like that? Paired with the sleazy wink, his words make my skin crawl.
“Whatever you think is best.” I paste on a cheerful smile. “So we’re all set?” I want nothing more than to leave this man’s office.
He smiles back. “All set.”
Relief floods my belly. I hop to my feet and pick up my Prada tote. My head is down as I tuck the schedule into my bag, so I don’t see Laurie round his desk. When I lift my head, he’s standing about a foot away from me. Which is a foot too close.
I hastily take a step back. “Anyway, I’ll see you Wednesday.” We’re having another lecture this week so he can return our midterms and discuss the final paper. “I’m excited to get my midterm—”
“How long are we going to keep fighting this?”
I blink, and he’s no longer one foot away. It’s a mere inch now. And his long fingers are caressing my cheek, unleashing a flurry of shivers—and not the good kind. I’m too stunned to push his hand away, and my brain is still stuck on the throaty question he’d voiced.
Keep fighting this? Is he for real? Does he think his pervy feelings are reciprocated? That we’ve been engaged in some forbidden love affair this entire semester?
“Summer,” he says thickly, and I don’t miss the flare of passion in his eyes.
I gulp. Hard. And then I lick my lips, because they’re suddenly so dry that they’re sticking together, and I need them to unstick if I’m going to get any words out.
Only, Laurie mistakes the lip-licking for a green light. To my horror, his head dips toward me, his mouth nearly landing on mine before I plant both hands on his chest and forcibly push him away.
“I’m sorry,” I blurt out. “I don’t know what you think is going on here, but…” My hands shake wildly as I shove my purse strap over my shoulder. “I have a boyfriend.”
And even if I didn’t, I wouldn’t kiss you if my life depended on it, you sleazy slime bag.
Hear, hear! Selena agrees.
Laurie smooths out the lapel of his pinstriped blazer. “I see,” he says tightly.
“Yeah, I’m sorry—” Why am I apologizing? I take a breath and remind myself that I have nothing to be sorry for. And that I shouldn’t have to use a boyfriend as an excuse. “But even if my boyfriend wasn’t in the picture, I still wouldn’t be interested. It would be inappropriate—” Stop it, Summer! Again with the excuses? Anger builds in my gut. Why do we do this as women? Why do we feel the need to justify why we don’t like someone? “I’m also not interested in you that way,” I finish firmly. There. No more excuses.
His jaw clamps tight. His eyes burn with something I can’t decipher. It’s not quite anger. Definitely not hurt or shame.
I think it might be betrayal.
“I’m sorry if I led you to believe otherwise,” I add, even though I’m confident I didn’t send him any signals to indicate I wanted him sexually.
One eyebrow arches slightly. “Are you done?” he asks in a tone cold enough to refreeze the snow that’s recently begun to melt beyond his windows.
“I guess so,” I mutter.
“Then I’ll see you in class, Summer.”
I leave the office, and the door shuts behind me. Not a slam, but he definitely closes it harder than necessary. I stand in the hallway for a moment, stunned by what just happened. I snap out of my trance when my phone vibrates with an incoming text.
FITZ: At the computer lab working on code. Break time. Wanna meet for lunch?
* * *
ME: Sorry, bb. About to walk into meeting with my advisor. See you at home xoxo
I’m not sure why I lie to him. I just don’t think I can see him while my stomach continues to burn with humiliation. I’m suddenly questioning every discussion in class, when Laurie would nod in agreement at something I’d said, or praise me for a particular observation. Was it all bullshit? Just him pretending that he found me intelligent and insightful so he could get into my pants?
Of course he was pretending, you idiot. On what planet does any professor think you’re intelligent?
I bite my lip to keep from crying. I want to tell my inner critic to fuck off, but I’m too distraught. And there’s no way I’m telling Fitz what happened. He’ll lose his shit if he finds out Laurie tried to kiss me. He’ll probably hunt the professor down and try to throw down, and that won’t help the situation in the slightest.
It’s over now. Laurie made a move, I turned him down. I’ll tell Fitz about it eventually.
Right now, I want to forget it ever happened.
But that’s easier said than done, especially when it becomes apparent that Laurie doesn’t want me to forget.
When he strides into the lecture hall on Wednesday, his gaze seeks out mine almost immediately, and the ice in his eyes sends a chill up my spine. Then he breaks the eye contact and greets the rest of the class with a broad smile.
“Guess what day it is, boys and girls!”
Titters ripple through the room, mostly from the females. In the row ahead of me, Nora whispers something to one of her friends, and they both giggle. She’s actually backed off these past few weeks, her dirty looks and combative remarks slowly abating. I think she’s accepted that I’m Laurie’s “pet” and that no amount of Chanel-bashing is going to make him hate me.
I should give her a heads-up that all it takes to invite Erik Laurie’s hatred is not allowing him to shove his tongue in your mouth.
“As you know, I’ll be returning your midterms today.”
There are excited whispers, intermingled with some groans and worried voices.
“Don’t worry, for the most part you all turned in some excellent work. Many interesting papers in the bunch. Miss Ridgeway, yours in particular was a fascinating read.”
Nora’s head snaps up in shock. This is the first time he’s singled her out to praise her. I can’t see her face, but I imagine she’s probably blushing happily.
“With that said,” he continues, “I did notice that some of you had issues with the basic tenets of essay writing, such as how to correctly cite a source or organize a paragraph. I thought perhaps a tutorial is in order.”
He snaps open his briefcase and removes a laptop that he sets up on the table near his lecture podium. “Now, I’ve found that sometimes in order to teach a student how to do something correctly, it’s useful to show them what an incorrect version looks like. So we’re going to dissect two papers, each of which earned a D-minus, and we’re going to examine why that was.” He winks. “Don’t worry, these are midterms from a fashion history course I taught at UCLA a couple of years ago. I tend to reuse the same essay topics. I blame laziness.”
That gets him more laughs.
He bends over his computer. “Let’s start with this paper on the evolution of New York fashion.”
That’s got to be a coincidence, right? He just said he tends to assign the same topics. Anxiety roils in my stomach as I wait for the essay to appear on the projection screen.
And then it does, and the sick feeling shoots up to my throat, and I almost choke on bile.
A cover page fills the screen for about half a second before Laurie quickly scrolls to the first page.
But half a second is all it takes for me to make out my name on the cover sheet. The date underneath clearly indicates it was written and submitted this semester. UCLA, my ass.
And I’m not the only one who caught it. Ben, my bushy-eyebrowed row-mate, shoots me a weird look. Nora twists around to frown at me before facing the front again.
“As you can see, the student had many issues with basic essay structure. Take a look at her thesis—she’s very clearly told us what she plans to discuss in the essay and in what order. And yet the paragraph that follows doesn’t follow this blueprint…”
And on and on he drones, picking apart the paper I’d spent the last two months slaving over. Crying over. My cheeks get hotter and hotter with each passing second. My stomach gets queasier and queasier. My classmates saw my name on that cover page. Or at least most of them did. They know I wrote it. Laurie did this on purpose, and he’s winking and smirking and having a frigging ball down there as he dissects my work.
“As you can see, the student had all the bones, but none of the meat, if you will.”
Nora snickers. Ben gives me a sympathetic look.
I desperately try not to cry. I glue my gaze to my hands, which are clasped in my lap. I don’t want Laurie to know how close I am to tears. I refuse to let him see that his humiliation ploy worked.
The smug bastard is now pointing out a spelling error I’d missed when I was proofreading. Fitz missed it too.
“This isn’t kindergarten. This is an Ivy League university. Spelling matters, children.”
I shoot to my feet. I’m done. I’ve had enough. My hands shake like branches in a windstorm as I gather up my stuff and hurry to the aisle.