Barry skidded around the corner, hoping not to be late for his first day of Criminal Profiling. He made it to the small lecture hall, grabbing a seat on the end of the first row, and a moment later the professor walked in. Barry paid attention during the lecture, jotting down notes and contributing when he could.
He noticed, though, how attentive the woman next to him was, how eager to contribute and how studious and thorough her notes were. She was blonde, hair pulled back in a loose ponytail, a soft flannel tucked into the belt of her jeans. He couldn’t help but notice she had pretty handwriting, even if he couldn’t decipher all of her shorthand.
He lingered after the lecture, taking his time putting away his books and papers, hoping to make smalltalk. She noticed him glancing over at her repeatedly and spoke up: “Can I help you with something?”
“What? No! Sorry,” he fumbled, embarrassed at being caught. “I just liked what you had to say in class. Some of the arguments against going with the easy or obvious profile.”
“Thanks,” she nodded, smiling back at him.
He hesitated for a moment, but decided to go for it. “I was wondering if you wanted to study together sometime. We could bounce project ideas off each other, get started on that final paper.” He trailed off, shrugging, releasing it could have sounded like a stupid idea.
She simply nodded again though, an amused smile playing at her lips. “Sounds great. Next week? I want to come up with a few topic ideas first.”
Barry nodded, relaxing. “I’m Barry, by the way,” he said after a moment, realizing they’d skipped introductions.
“Patty,” the woman said, slipping her bag over her shoulder. “See you next class!”
Patty and Barry had exchanged phone numbers at the next lecture, and agreed on a night to meet up. Unfortunately, he’d gotten held up at home, helping Iris pick out an outfit, and he made it to the library ten minutes late. Patty had texted that she’d grabbed them a study room and he found her downstairs, notes and research books already scattered across the table.
Patty looked up when he opened the door, taking in the guilty look on his face. “Sorry I’m late,” he sighed, dropping his bag down and taking out his own materials.
She shrugged. “No big deal. Gave me time to get organized...and take over most of the table.” There was a teasing lilt to her voice, and Barry found himself laughing, guilt receding.
“Iris - my…,” he faltered a moment, never sure the simplest way to label Iris, “my roommate - wouldn’t let me out of the house until she’d decided on an outfit. But it’s not like she ever listens to my advice anyway!” he added ruefully.
Patty laughed, eyes crinkling at the corners, and Barry felt his heartbeat flutter in his chest. “She got a hot date tonight?”
An unreadable look flashed across Barry’s face, and for a moment Patty wondered if she’d misunderstood, if Iris was a romantic entanglement and not a simple roommate. But it was gone before Patty could decipher it, and Barry shook his head. “Not exactly. There’s a family dinner tonight, and let’s just say things are complicated.” That was putting it mildly, he thought, but his family situation had always been hard enough to explain to strangers, even before Iris found out about Wally. And it wasn’t his story to explain, not until Iris and Joe had more time to adjust.
Clearing his throat, he tried to switch the topic back to something academic, pulling out his notes. Two hours later though, after they’d both tentatively decided their research topics, he couldn’t help suggesting they grab a late dinner at the diner near campus before he headed home.
They walked across campus together, slipping into a corner booth when they arrived at the diner. They traded stories from undergrad - terrible teachers, research opportunities, parties that had gotten a little out of hand, and everything in between. They’d both paid their checks and still they sat there talking, until Barry checked his watch and realized with a start that he had an early class in the morning.
“Shit,” he mumbled, accidentally interrupting Patty in the middle of a story about her awful roommate freshman year. She stopped, raising an eyebrow at him in concern, and he smiled apologetically. “I didn’t realize how late it’s gotten, and I’ve got a class in the morning. I’ve really gotta go,” he admitted regretfully.
Patty pulled out her phone to check the time, shock crossing her face as well when she realized it was past midnight. “Oh my gosh, I had no idea. I did not mean to keep you here this late.”
He shrugged, brushing it off. “No, I had a great time. And I want to hear more about this terrible roommate of yours. Maybe we could do this again sometime?” He slipped his hands in his pocket as he asked it, nervous but not sure why.
Patty gave him a sly grin. “On one condition.”
“Next time it’s an actual date.” She said it full of confidence, but Barry could see the question in her eyes and her hand fidgeting with the strap of her bag.
“Yeah, yeah, I’d like that,” Barry agreed, letting out a nervous laugh. Patty grinned then, leaning in to kiss him on the cheek, before turning back around and heading out the door to the bus stop. Barry gathered up the rest of his things, grateful for the surprise turn his night had taken.