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April 22, 2016

 

                Marcus and Abby drew the attention of the rest of the party-goers a few turns into their second game of Scrabble. After their first go culminated in a solid draw, Abby challenged him to another game, and now the two of them are neck and neck. Half of their fellow tutors must be standing around the table, cheering on the game and waiting with bated breath to see who will win.

                Abby has been considering her current move for the past five minutes; Marcus is very obviously clicking his fingers on the table but she’s not letting his impatience faze her.

                “Hang on, what if you—” Abby looks up from her letters and gives Thelonious a stern look. His face falls immediately. “Sorry, I know, it’s your game, go ahead.”

                She smirks and nods before looking down again, but finally she sighs and nods. “Okay, I think this is my best option.”

                Most begrudgingly, she lays out four of her remaining seven letters around some vowels already on the board, creating the word, ‘jargon.’ “Don’t forget the triple word tile,” she instructs Sinclair as he adds the points to her score. “That makes 42 more points for me.”

                A few of the other tutors let out quiet gasps. She’s just milked some pretty bad letters for all that they’re worth—Marcus will have to do something pretty impressive this next turn, or he’s probably going to lose when Abby uses her last three letters.

                He blinks down at his letters for a few moments before glancing at the board and back to his letters again.

                Then Marcus turns his gaze upward and he catches Abby’s eye, sees her watching him. He bites his lip carefully as he considers her. Finally, he selects two tiles and sets them on the board.

                “‘Huge?’” Abby asks, not bothering to hide her surprise. “Seven letters and the whole board in front of you and that’s what you came up with?”

                Marcus shrugs. “I couldn’t see anything else.”

                Far be it for her to argue with him, then. She leans forward onto her elbows and considers her final three letters for another eternity. Finally, she lays them all out. ‘Blitz.’ One or two people nod, impressed.

                It’s not a surprise when Sinclair tallies up the points and Abby has beaten Marcus by a hefty margin. And she can’t help giggling, but she smiles and graciously shakes his hand. Then, as she stands up to go into the kitchen for a glass of water, she catches sight of the other letters that are still sitting in front of Marcus.

                “Hang on,” she says immediately, stilling Marcus’s hand before he can sweep away the board. She looks between Marcus’s remaining letters and the board several times, processing all of his options. “Holy shit,” she says at last. “You’re such an asshole.”

                “What? What’d he do?” Several people are pressing forward at once, hoping for an explanation.

                “I didn’t do anything,” he counters immediately.

                Abby stares at Marcus mutely for a few moments. His eyes are wide, and he looks to be genuinely concerned that she might be angry with him.

                She turns on her heel and walks away without saying another word.

 

--

 

6 months earlier: October, 2015

 

                Thanks to his politics miderm, Marcus only barely makes it to the Writing Center in time for his shift. He slides into a seat in front of one of the computers at exactly noon, catching the eye of Thelonious, who is finishing up his report on his last session.

                “Made it in just under the wire,” Thelonious remarks with an amused smirk.

                “Moroney is going to be the death of me,” is all he says in response.

                Thelonious lets out a low, understanding hum; he’s plenty familiar with the agony of this particular professor’s exams.

                “Do you have a client right now?”

                “Not since I checked last night… why, is someone waiting on me?” He types his log-in info into the scheduler, and as it loads, both of them glance over to the waiting area at the front of the Center. It’s empty.

                “Looks promising,” Thelonious chuckles.

                But two seconds later, Marcus’s schedule loads. “Fuck,” he mutters.

                “What, what is it?”

                “Some First Year Studies student took my free appointment.”

                Thelonious leans over and squints at the screen. “Check past reports, see if she’s been in here yet. Maybe she’s a decent writer.”

                Marcus has already opened the report page in a new tab and logged in. His search of the girl’s name offers no results.

                “Guess I’ll have to wait to find out,” he murmurs. “What about you, where’s your standing?”

                “She’s got some tournament for tennis, so we met earlier in the week.”

                “Nice.” He look back at the screen, blinks at it for a few seconds. “Isn’t it weird that we complain so much about something that we actually enjoy doing?”

                But Thelonious is not looking at Marcus anymore. He’s staring back at the waiting area, his eyebrows raised slightly as he says, “Hi, do you have an appointment scheduled?”

                Marcus spins around, already bracing himself for a stressful 45 minutes. Then he catches sight of the girl who’s standing at the front desk and he has to work very hard to keep his expression neutral.

                “Yes, my name’s Abby, I scheduled an appointment with…” She glances down at her phone. “Marcus?”

                He feels his mouth go dry. “That’s me. Go ahead and fill out the sign-in sheet and then we can get started.”

                She smiles. “Alright.”

                Marcus can feel Thelonious’s eyes on him and he makes the mistake of looking over to him. “She’s cute,” Thelonious mouths.

                Rather than agreeing or disagreeing, Marcus shrugs. He grabs his water bottle and rises to his feet to meet Abby at the front desk. She finishes filling out the sign-in sheet at the same moment that Marcus reaches her and they smile at one another. “Good to meet you, Abby. We can sit anywhere you like.”

                Abby glances at the circle of empty tables, hesitating for only a brief moment before she shrugs and moves to sit down at the table closest to them. Marcus double-checks the sign-in sheet to ensure that she filled it out properly, then he joins her at the table.

                “So is this your first time in the Writing Center?”

                “Yeah. My First Year Studies professor is requiring it, so…”

                He nods. “Sure. Well, just to give you some idea of how this will work, you and I will spend the next 45 minutes or so working on whatever writing assignment you brought in today. We can do brainstorming, outlining, revisions, editing… whatever you need.”

                “Okay. I have a full draft of a paper, and it’s due in two days, so maybe we can just edit.”

                Marcus has heard this from clients more times than he can count, and especially from freshmen. Always so confident that they’re coming in for some minimal sentence-level editing, only for him to quickly realize that their structure is iffy or, even worse, their argument is nonexistent.

                “Why don’t you read the introduction aloud and we can come up with a list of priorities based on that,” he offers.

                “Sounds good.”

                He is already bracing himself for sloppy sentences. Maybe starting off with a bad quote or an overused proverb in a tacky attempt at a hook. He’s already anticipating a shoddy, potentially nonexistent thesis statement, already expecting to have to flip back to the conclusion to sort through what her intended argument is.

                Yet somehow, he finds himself stunned. This freshman has brought in some of the most solid academic writing that he’s ever read—it’s probably better than the stuff he’s seen by most of his coworkers.

                Obviously there are improvements to be made, little things that she probably can’t pick up on simply because they’re her own common quirks and she’s too close to notice them. But she’s receptive to his comments and the session flies by.

                If she was cute before, by the end of the appointment, he thinks that she’s positively stunning. He could talk to this girl for ages. She’s smart and opinionated and she’s not afraid to fight him on his suggestions in order to maintain the integrity of her writing. More than once, she wins him over to her side.

                He can’t remember a time when he was quite so eager to get someone’s phone number.

                But of course he asks her to fill out a client feedback form and lets her walk out the door, because regardless of what he might want, he’s at work and even flirting with a client is frowned upon.

                The moment the door closes behind her, Thelonious whistles. “Holy shit, Marcus.”

                Marcus tries to ignore this as he begins to fill out his report.

                “I can’t believe I just had to witness that with my own two eyes. I don’t think she even realized how much you were drooling over her.”

                “I was not drooling,” Marcus mutters at his computer screen.

                Thelonious snorts. “I didn’t know she was really your type, though. I’ve only ever seen you checking Sinclair out.”

                “When have you ever seen me checking Sinclair out?”

                “Every time you spend way too long admiring his outfits at weekly meetings. But that’s nothing, I guess, because I’ve never seen you behave anything like you did just now. I was trying to figure out whether Dawn would have loved or hated how you worked during that session—I certainly couldn’t follow you half the time, but she seemed to be on it, so I guess that’s what matters.”

                “She was… very clever,” Marcus says, swallowing sharply.

                He realizes that he’s typed the exact same sentence twice and he hurriedly backtracks, praying that Thelonious doesn’t catch how distracted he is, how carefully he’s picking his words.

                “Are you going to ask her out if you ever see her outside the Center?”

                The question surprises Marcus because the thought had not even occurred to him. Maybe he could. If he saw her in the caf someday, or while walking to class…

                Except then he processes how ridiculous it would be. She’s cute and smart and so far out of his league that it’s mildly ridiculous.

                “Nah.”

                “I hate you,” Thelonious grumbles, shaking his head. “You’re gonna regret it. Anyway, I’m going to head over to class. Hope the rest of your shift is good.”

                Marcus does not tell Thelonious – or anyone else, for that matter – but he does silently promise himself that if he ever does run into Abby around campus, he will try to get her number. It seems like it would be worth it to at least try.

                His opportunity arises less than a week later, when he spots her a few people ahead of him in the sandwich line at dinner. But in the moment… his mouth goes dry. His mind is blank. His pulse is racing and he can’t move from his spot for anything in the world, not until the caf worker catches his attention.

                Abby is lost in the crowd and she doesn’t come to the Center again all semester, be it to work with him or anyone else (not that he spends much time checking; he’s just curious). He doesn’t see her around campus, either.

                He kind of hates himself for lacking the confidence to reach out to the girl with whom he had one of the most enriching conversations of his college career.

 

--

 

January, 2016

 

                The moment Marcus walks into the Center for the semester’s first meeting, David lights up. “Marcus, hey!”

                “David!” Marcus doesn’t bother with putting his stuff down at a table, instead rushing over to the donut spread that David and a few other tutors are standing over.

                “It’s great to see you,” David says. He reaches out and gives Marcus a quick one-armed hug before moving away to add another donut to his plate. “How was break? I saw that you and your parents went to the Bahamas.”

                Marcus nods as he peruses the selection. “Yeah, it was their 25th wedding anniversary but they wanted me to come with them on the trip. I mostly hung out on the beach while they relaxed at the spa, so it was pretty nice. How about you?”

                “Nothing too exciting. We went to my grandparents’ house for Christmas and I watched a lot of X-Files.” He steps away from the table and pats Marcus on the back again. “I’ll save you the seat next to me, alright?”

                “Got you.” Marcus’s eyes are still on the donuts as he struggles to decide between a sugar twist and a vanilla Long John.

                He finally decides to take both and rushes around to David’s table, where he slides into his open seat.

                “Do you know how many trainees we’ll have this semester?”

                “I think we’ve got eight. I know I heard Thelonious and Diana talking about how a few of them are freshmen, which has Dawn really excited.”

                Marcus hums, indifferent. “She should hold off on getting excited until she sees for sure who can actually make it through training. Even if they’re good writers, a lot of trainees can’t handle everything else that comes with tutoring.”

                “Jeez, try not to be so pessimistic. If they’re here, it means they’ve got potential.”

                “C’mon David, training’s hell. I doubt a single one of us didn’t think about quitting at some point in the process.”

                At that moment, the tutor at the next table over, Charles, gets David’s attention and the two of them begin chatting. Marcus uses the opportunity to look over the room and get a glimpse at some of the new trainees. One of them is standing at the food table talking to Dawn, who seems unimpressed by this girl’s attempt to butter up her new boss. He recognizes a boy who started to train the semester before, but who left before even getting to the co-tutoring portion of training.

                Then the door opens and Abby walks in.

                He’s considered, more than once, that it’s probably a little pathetic how much he’s thought about some freshman girl who he tutored once. After he blew it the one time he saw her around campus, he’d spent a rather absurd amount of time considering what he would say to her if he ever got a second chance.

                All of those plans fly out of his head when she claims the empty seat besides Aurora two tables over. Instead, the only thing running through his mind, over and over, is, I hope she makes it through training in one piece.

                Every semester he picks his favorite trainees, the ones who he quietly roots for. He knows that all the tutors do it, even if they don’t discuss it.

                So far he’s had a 75% success rate of favoring the ones that stick around, but more than any of the other kids he’s taken a liking to, he is inexpressibly eager to see Abby succeed. And not just because maybe he can work up the courage to ask for her number at some point before he fucking graduates.

                Dawn initiates the meeting by asking all of the tutors and trainees to go around the circle and introduce themselves. “Go ahead and tell us your name, grade, major if you have one, and something exciting that you did over winter break.”

                Marcus’s attempts to pay attention to the trainees’ introductions largely fail—it always takes him ages to learn people’s names and he has trouble motivating himself to commit them to memory if they might be gone in a week or two. But once Aurora has finished talking about the Fall Out Boy concert that she went to over break, they get to Abby and he is all ears.

                “Hi everyone, I’m Abby. I’m a freshman and I’m about to declare a double major in neuroscience and biology. Over break, I mostly just… hung out with my dog and watched a ton of Netflix.”

                “Anything in particular?” one of the other trainees asks.

                She hesitates. “I dabbled in a lot of things, but I did finish How to Get Away with Murder the day before coming back.”

                There are general murmurings of approval and one or two people try to ask her about her opinion on plot twists from the show, which briefly derails the meeting. All very standard.

                Marcus doesn’t say anything particularly substantial: “My name is Marcus. I’m a junior, politics major with a philosophy and English double minor, and I went to the Bahamas with my parents over break.”

                “Explains why you’re so tan,” Dawn says with a small smile. A small smile, but a large victory for him.

                Regardless, he just chuckles and nods vaguely. Not really knowing how to respond, he just says, “Yup.”

                God damn it, now Abby’s going to think he’s aloof.

 

--

 

                “But you are aloof,” Indra says under her breath.

                “No, you’re aloof!” He realizes that he’s spoken too loud and he lowers his voice so that their professor won’t call them out for talking during his lecture. “I’m just… a bit difficult to get to know sometimes.”

                She blinks at him, stony-faced. “Remember that time Dawn called you into her office because a client said they felt like you hated their writing?”

                “That’s because they couldn’t write for shit.”

                Indra groans. “But they’re not supposed to know you think that. And you and I both know how that client picked up on it.”

                Marcus rolls his eyes, but he can’t help cringing as he admits defeat. “It’s because I seem aloof.”

                “Yup. Luckily for you, you know that you and Abby can volley back and forth pretty well. Just talk to her and she’ll see you’re not a total asshole.” She looks away from him quickly and uses her computer screen as a reflective surface to check her hair. “What do you think of the purple? I still can’t decide if I like it. I was trying to decide between purple and blue…”

                “Purple is perfect. You had blue earlier last semester, so you should keep mixing it up.”

                She smiles and nods. “That was my thought too. Also, Ashley hated purple, so…”

                “Of course, of course. Nothing wrong with being a bit petty right now.”

                Indra checks herself over one more time before looking back at Marcus. “Do you have any shifts with her?”

                “What, with Ashley?” Indra’s ex-girlfriend (if that’s even the proper term; “fuck buddy” might be more appropriate) most certainly does not work at the Writing Center. She coerced Marcus into looking over one of her papers once and it was absolutely miserable.

                “No, with Abby, Jesus Christ.”

                “Oh.” He pauses, trying to visualize the schedule. “I don’t remember, I’ll have to double check.”

                She holds up her hand and crosses her index and middle fingers. “Here’s hoping, for both our sakes. The sooner you stop worrying that she might hate you, the better.”

 

--

 

                Marcus finds that, most luckily, he is working a shift with Abby. He thanks God that Thelonious is the member of the leadership team that she’ll be working with that shift—he always hates how over-the-top and smug Diana is when she’s working with a trainee, and Dawn still hasn’t decided who she’s going to promote while Nia is abroad, so for now those are the only two options.

                Sinclair is also working then, and when Marcus comes in after lunch, Sinclair and Abby are sitting with their backs to the computers, chatting together.

                “Hi everyone,” he says as he reaches the computers. He tries to keep his voice even as he asks, “How are you all doing?”

                “Great,” Sinclair and Abby say at the same time, each giving him a smile.

                Meanwhile, Thelonious sighs. “My client bailed on our session, so I’m trying to figure out what to do with Abby this hour. Sinclair thinks he has a client, but just so I know my options, do you have a standing scheduled?”

                “Oh. Uh. Yeah, I think so. Let me check. If I do, do you want to take them?”

                “I might. We’ll see how it goes. Just hold off on getting started until I let you know what I’m thinking.”

                While Thelonious keeps pacing between the Center and the back room, Marcus takes the open seat next to Sinclair. As he’s logging onto the scheduler, Sinclair nudges him. “Marcus, Abby, have you guys formally met yet?”

                “Yeah, I actually tutored her once last semester.”

                Her eyes widen slightly and her lips quirk into a smile. “Oh wow, you remember that?”

                Marcus nods. “Sure I do.” He hesitates, then: “I was glad to see that you’re training this semester. I think you’re a great writer.”

                Abby smiles even wider. “I’m alright. Thank you, though. I’m really excited that I have the opportunity to work here.”

                Sure, her and Marcus both.

               

--

 

February 2016

 

                Marcus is in the back room retrieving his next standing appointment’s folder when Abby comes in from the hallway behind him.

                “Should I be scared about my mock session?”

                He jumps, startled. “Christ. Hi, Abby, I didn’t realize you’d gone outside.”

                “Oh, I’m sorry.” Her brow furrows and she reaches out toward him sympathetically, although she doesn’t actually touch him.

                “It’s fine, it’s fine.”

                Since training started a few weeks ago, Marcus has increased his comfort level around Abby. He doesn’t feel particularly awkward around her anymore, and they’ve had more than one substantial conversation before and after shifts (substantial meaning anything more than a brief, “How are you?” exchange, but Marcus still thinks it’s a win). He gets full-on crushes so rarely that he never quite knows how to deal with them at first, but now that he’s settled into it more, it’s pretty okay.

                That said, she’s looking at him with eyes wide, probably doing everything in her power to hide how terrified she is about the mock, and it’s still seeping through. And the thing is, as much as he wants to reassure her that it will be alright, he doesn’t feel like it would be honest. Nearly all tutors have to repeat their mocks at least once.

                So he tries to temper his response. “Your mock…” he starts slowly. “It is going to be a little scary. I don’t want to tell you not to be scared. What I can tell you, though, is that I failed mine the first time around.”

                “You failed your mock? What went wrong?”

                Marcus still can’t help cringing when he thinks about the travesty that was his first mock session. In the initial aftermath, he was so stressed that he actually cried. He’d been so certain that Dawn was going to fire him. He almost quit before she even had the chance to fire him.

                But he didn’t quit, and she didn’t fire him.

                “Pretty much everything that could go wrong. Thelonious was my mock client, and I rambled a lot, I fell silent a couple of times for a while, we didn’t have an end-product that he could use after the session… Also, the thesis was total crap and I forgot to check the conclusion for an argument so we made one up from scratch.”

                Abby stares at him, evidently at a loss for words.

                “I cried a lot afterward,” Marcus offers then, surprising himself. He wasn’t planning on telling her that he cried. Not because he wants her to think that he’s ever cried, but because he’s never before told anyone that he’s cried over the Center.

                “That sure sounds like a shitty session to me,” she agrees at last, her frown finally breaking as she lets a smile peek through.

                “Right. So I don’t want to tell you not to be scared. But… they don’t expect any of us to be perfect. If you want to be here, they’ll let you learn and make mistakes.” He pauses. “Hopefully not in that order.”

                Thelonious appears behind Marcus, coming to grab his standing folder, and stops when he sees Abby and Marcus chatting together. “He isn’t telling you horror stories, is he?”

                “No, of course not.” She looks from Thelonious to Marcus and she smiles at him. “I’m not so nervous anymore, Marcus. Thank you.”

               

--

 

                Marcus is at lunch with Indra when he gets an email from Dawn about the upcoming mock. It contains all the details about what the trainees should expect, which he skims past.

                “Why are you bothering to read that, anyway?” Indra asks. “Haven’t you been through this enough times to know—oh, wait, I know.”

                He looks up briefly from his phone, just long enough to raise his eyebrows at her. “What are you talking about?”

                “You want to see which of your co-workers this girl is supposed to tutor.”

                “That’s ridiculous,” Marcus grumbles. Only two seconds later: “Holy shit.”

                Indra evidently deliberates for a few moments over whether to humor him, but she must be too curious, because she asks, “What?”

                Admittedly, her tone is as flat and unamused as she can make it. Even so, though, she needs to know.

                “Dawn assigned me to be Abby’s client. What’d she do that for?”

                She shrugs. “You said sometimes they ask you to play parts, right? Maybe Dawn wants Abby to see what it’s like to work with a client who has a crush on you.”

                “Christ, stop.” He slides further into the corner of the booth, curling into himself. He casts his gaze across the cafeteria, anything so that he doesn’t have to look Indra in the eye.

                “Okay, okay, I’m just joking. You said you’ve had some nice conversations these past few weeks, and you tutored her once. Maybe working with you will make her feel more comfortable. I don’t see what the big deal is.”

                He wishes he could articulate it to her. It’s just that, more than ever before, he realizes that his participation in this mock will make him partially responsible for whether the trainee will succeed or fail as a tutor. And he has no doubt that to Abby, it’s not anything noteworthy.

                But he’s stupidly infatuated with a girl he barely knows and he cares about the part that he will play in her future, even if she probably doesn’t.

                “Let’s play One, Two, Three, They’re Yours,” Indra suggests when Marcus doesn’t answer.

                Marcus rolls his eyes. “Right now?”

                “Right now. No more Abby talk until we’ve found a couple of other people in this caf to theoretically date.” Indra mirrors Marcus before he’s even agreed, leaning her back against the wall and facing out into the caf to keep an eye out for the boys and girls walking by.

                “Fine. We can check people out together, but I do this under great duress.”

                She smiles and nods eagerly. “Very good. Ooh, I like him, I’ll take him.”

 

--

 

                There’s not been a single training season that Marcus has been nervous to be on the client’s side of the mock session, but as he sits in the Center watching tutors and trainees filtering in, he feels his heart racing.

                Abby slides into her seat five minutes before noon.

                “Hi,” they say at the same time. Then, Marcus, his voice low: “You nervous?”

                “A little. I’ll consider it a win if I don’t walk out of here crying.”

                Marcus’s eyes widen in surprise, but he is far from affronted—rather, he’s amused by her boldness. “Well, we can’t all be like me.”

                Her lips quirk up. “Nope.”

                “Nope. I’m sure you’ll be much better.”

                She laughs quietly. “You’re just being nice.”

                Is it just him or does she sound uncertain again? Marcus can’t blame her, and he doesn’t want to dismiss her nerves, but he rushes to reassure her nonetheless. After all, it might help a little. “I’m not, though. I saw you co-tutoring this week. You’re on your way, okay?”

                “Thanks.” Abby sighs out the word and he can only hope that she actually believes him.

                He holds his hand out low and she high fives him just in time for Thelonious to announce, “Hi everyone, it’s noon, so go ahead and get started.”

 

--

 

March 2016

 

                Sometime between when Abby is added to the scheduler and the beginning of March, Marcus gets past the dumbstruck, infatuated phase of his crush. He remembers precisely why he hated it when his friends got crushes in high school and, consequently, he stops mentioning their brief exchanges to Indra.

                What he doesn’t tell Indra is that he’s fairly certain that he’s jealous of Sinclair, and try as he might to ignore it, it nags at him.

                He just sees Abby and Sinclair get into so many engaging conversations about the sciences during their shifts and they’re both so smart and so cute and…

                It just makes him wonder whether he has enough in common with her to talk about anything outside of the Center.

                But then Marcus comes in to his 7-9 PM Sunday shift one week to work walk-in hours and sees her chatting with David, only to perk up at the sight of him. “Marcus, hey.”

                “Uh, hi, Abby. Did Dawn move one of your shifts?”

                “No, nothing like that. I have a paper due on Wednesday, and I wanted to look it over with you.”

                “Okay. But you… you know that if another client comes in to work with me, we might not be able to work on it as long as a full session. Are you sure you don’t want to make an official appointment with somebody?”

                She shrugs. “I want to work with you, but your schedule is booked tomorrow, and on Tuesday we work at the same time, so… here I am.”

                Marcus doesn’t quite know what to say. She liked working with him so much last time that she’d take a potentially fifteen-minute session with him over a full 45 minutes with another tutor.

                “I don’t have a client this hour either, so if someone else comes for walk-ins, I can take them,” David offers.

                “Cool. We’ll get started in a few minutes, then.”

                On one or two other occasions, Marcus has worked sessions with his fellow tutors. One of his favorite things about such sessions is that they feel a lot more comfortable and casual—more than any other appointments, sessions with co-workers really feel like a collaboration.

                Now, that was what his first session with Abby felt like, but the feeling is only amplified when they sit down together for this walk-in. More than once, she says something and immediately catches herself, saying, “Hang on, I know what you’re going to say.” And Marcus can’t help smiling.

                After she reads a particular paragraph aloud, Marcus stares at the page for a moment, trying to figure out how blunt he wants to be about a particular clarity error that he’s already pointed out several times.

                Fuck it, she can handle it. “I’ve called you out on ‘this’ at least five times and you blew right by it when you read aloud just now.”

                “Shit, did I really? I promise I’m really trying to keep an eye out.” She leans in close to her paper, scanning through the paragraph quickly, until she finally finds the sentence that begins with “this” and underlines it.

                “I know. We all have blind spots in our own writing, and you’re here because you know that. That’s good, right?”

                Abby nods. “Yeah, I guess. But it’s just… how do you learn how to catch them all?”

                “Who says you do? Thelonious doesn’t, Dawn doesn’t, I sure as hell don’t. I bet if I showed you one of my essays, you wouldn’t even get through the intro before picking up on some pet peeve of yours that I still tend to miss.”

                “No, no, I doubt that. I’ve only just started paying attention to this sort of stuff…”

                He can’t help chuckling. “Okay. We’ll finish up your paper and then we can go over to the computer. I’ll pull up the one I just turned in and see what you can spot.”

                “You’re… you’re serious,” she says slowly.

                “I sure as hell am. Now, you still only caught one ‘this.’ There’s another one in your transition sentence, so let’s fix it.”

                Just as he promised, they finish looking over her paper and, once he’s wrapped up by going over her end product – “I can’t believe you’re actually giving me a list of the things I’m doing wrong.” – they sit down at one of the computers together. By this time, nearly an hour has passed and David is preparing for his 8 o’clock client.

                “Hey guys. That was some session. As ridiculous as it sounds, your ten-minute argument about that em dash was a highlight of my evening.”

                Marcus smirks slightly to himself as Abby tells David, “I feel very strongly about my em dashes.”

                While Marcus is opening his email and pulling up his paper, he asks, “How was that girl who came in? I feel like I’d be exaggerating if I said you worked together for ten minutes.”

                “She was fine. Just a paragraph-long assignment, so it only took a few minutes to pick apart once she read it aloud.”

                “If that isn’t the ideal walk-in,” Marcus says with a laugh. Then he turns to Abby, sliding his chair away from the computer so that she can scoot closer. “Okay, go ahead. Look at that and tell me the second you see anything you don’t like.”

                Even though she looks at him skeptically, she turns to look at the screen.

                He watches her carefully, scrutinizing her intent expression. Her brow is furrowed, and her lips are moving slightly as she mutters the words to herself. She’s really taking her time, reading so slowly to absorb everything.

                Then she jolts in her seat, sitting up higher and looking at Marcus in surprise. “You like to put subordinate clauses in weird places.”

                “Yeah, I do,” Marcus agrees, nodding slightly. He can’t help the way his smile widens. “I still mess that up sometimes. Why, did you find one?”

                She points at a sentence and he squints at the screen. “Shit, that’s pretty awful, isn’t it?”

                “It really is.” Her lips quirk up as she looks over at Marcus. “I guess I sort of see what you mean.” Then, after a brief pause: “Can I, uh, keep looking?”

                David swats Marcus in the arm. “Hey, man, you’ve got a client.”

                “Alright, alright, I got you.” He looks at Abby. “Feel free to stick around and give me as many notes as you like.”

 

--

 

                Marcus feels like he’s going to vomit when he gets an email from Dawn later that week about the session that he did with Abby.

                “I can’t read it,” he declares as soon as he sees the subject line. “I’m too nervous. Read it for me, please.”

                Indra looks remarkably unimpressed. “You don’t honestly think that it’s something bad.”

                “What if it is?”

                She rolls her eyes and holds out her hand for his phone.

                “‘Marcus, can we meet at some point later this week? Over the course of this semester, many of the new tutors have identified you as a source of great inspiration, a remark which I heard most recently from Abby. As such, I would like to discuss—’ Holy shit, Marcus, I think she’s thinking about promoting you.”

                “What? That’s… no, I don’t believe it. Let me see that. She wouldn’t tell me something like that over email,” he says. Indra slides his phone back across the table and he skims over the brief email. It’s too concise to give much of anything away, which is entirely his boss’s M.O.

                “No, but she’d hint at it. I guess having a crush on that girl has paid off.”

                He sighs. “Are you just calling her ‘that girl’ to antagonize me?”

                Indra stares at him hard. “No, I’m calling her ‘that girl’ because I just saw her at the soda fountain and figured you wouldn’t want me to let anything slip.”

                “Jesus Christ, what?” Marcus starts to adjust his hair, catches himself, and immediately settles his hands back in his lap.

                “She’s not coming in this direction, don’t worry.” Indra settles her face in her hand. “I can’t believe you thought I’d do something so shitty as to refer to the potential love of your life as ‘that girl’ just to antagonize you.”

                “Well, now you are definitely antagonizing me.”

                Her stony expression cracks into the briefest of smiles.

 

--

 

                 Marcus is in the pasta line at dinner one evening when Abby comes up behind him, her backpack over her shoulder and a bowl of soup in hand. “Hey, Marcus, would you mind if I joined you for dinner tonight?”

                It takes nearly five seconds for him to process this question in its entirety. “What? You want… uh, yeah, that would be great.”

                Which is how, five minutes later, he finds himself sitting across from Indra at their usual booth, but with Abby by his side. Indra is the most genial he thinks he’s seen her in ages, asking Abby loads of questions about her classes and her double major.

                “Neuroscience and bio? That’s a pretty cool combination, what are you thinking of doing with it?”

                Almost always a dreaded question, but Abby lights up when she hears it. “I’m going to become a doctor. I’d love to eventually do some charity work through Doctors Without Borders or something of the like.”

                “Oh, Jesus, no wonder you and Marcus get along so well,” Indra says with a dramatic eye roll that Marcus suspects is more for Abby’s benefit than anything else. She points between the two of them with her fork. “It’s people like you that make everyone else look bad.”

                “How come, what does Marcus want to do?” Abby looks back and forth between Marcus and Indra, her mouth quirked into a small frown.

                “I’m planning on going to law school so that I can become a pro bono lawyer.” He rushes to speak so that Indra can’t overtake the conversation with some additional sarcastic remarks about how much of a do-gooder he is.

                “Really? That’s… that’s so awesome, Marcus. I didn’t even know you were planning on going to law school.”

                Indra kicks his shin lightly under the table and he looks up just in time to see her raising her eyebrows at him just slightly, but he just waves her off. “Yeah, I haven’t really talked about it with anyone except my advisor. And Indra, of course, she’d kill me if I kept anything from her.”

                “Damn straight.”

                Abby nods vaguely. “Right. So you guys are dating, yeah?”

                Silence for a brief moment, but then both Marcus and Indra let out spluttering cackles. “Dating?” Indra exclaims between breathless chuckles. “Dear God no.”

                “Then why—”

                “Marcus only ever worries about other people and it really pisses me off, so I make him vent to me. It’s apparently a real imposition.”

                “It really is,” he agrees.

                “Sounds like you’re a good friend,” Abby says, her features brightening as she smiles gently at Indra. “So you’re not dating, but I’m still curious: how did you meet?”

                He squints at Indra thoughtfully for a moment. “I’m trying to remember, did we first talk in class or at Pride?”

                “Class,” Indra immediately supplies. “But it was because I recognized you from the one meeting I went to and I remembered that you seemed cool.”

                Marcus holds his hand up in a mock attempt to conceal his next comment from Indra. His voice low, he tells Abby, “She’s bluffing, she thinks I’m pretty lame. I think she just wanted to hang around another bi person.”

                “There is also that,” Indra agrees.

                Abby chuckles. “I’ll be right back, I’m going to get some more soda.”

                Once Abby has left the booth and had a reasonable amount of time to get out of earshot, Indra says it. “I like her. I guess you can date her if you want.”

                “I think whether she wants to is more important here.”

                Indra smirks and nods. “Fair enough. You can date her if she wants.”

                Right. And as much as he knows he’s probably being too tough on himself, he has trouble imagining why Abby would want to date him.

 

--

 

April 2016

 

                For a majority of the semester, Marcus has been able to keep his crush on Abby secret from the rest of their co-workers. Thelonious probably wonders, or at least suspects, because he saw how flustered Marcus was after the first session he worked with her in the fall.

                But then Marcus is working with David in the library one day when Abby comes up for a few minutes to chat with them, and after she’s walked away, Marcus mumbles, “She looks so cute in that skirt.”

                It takes him a moment to even realize that he said anything aloud.

                Then it takes him a moment to realize that David heard him, but he catches sight of David’s raised eyebrows and it’s not even a question.

                “Cute, huh?”

                Marcus tries to brush it off. “Uh, yeah, don’t you think?”

                “Hadn’t really noticed.” Brief pause. “Do you like her or something? Do you like like her?”

                “Jesus Christ, we aren’t in middle school.”

                David giggles into his hand. “We might as well be from the way you’re blushing. I always figured you wanted to date Sinclair, but now I feel ridiculous, I should have figured.”

                “I don’t want to date Sinclair!” Marcus exclaims, exasperated. A few people at the surrounding tables glance over at them and he lowers his voice immediately. “And with Abby, it’s just… it’s no big deal.”

                He can hear Indra’s voice in his head, making some snarky comment about how talking about a girl every day for four months certainly qualifies as a big deal.

                “Sure,” David says slowly. “Well, I don’t know if I believe you, but we don’t have to talk about it if you’re embarrassed. Let me just say, though, that I think you two would make a great couple.”

                “Noted,” Marcus mutters through gritted teeth.

 

--

 

                Marcus is in the back room, grabbing his standing folder, when he sees Abby come in out of the corner of his eye. She comes and stands by the file cabinet, leaning against it and smiling at him. “Hi Marcus. Did you have a good weekend?”

                “Yeah, it was great. Indra and I went downtown to the symphony.”

                “Oh yeah? What did you hear?”

                “Some Dvořák and Wagner. She and I both love the Romantics, so we couldn’t resist.”

                Abby smiles. “Of course you like the Romantics.”

                He raises his eyebrows, brushing his hands through his hair awkwardly. He hopes that she can’t tell how flustered he feels. “I mean, yeah. What do you mean by that, exactly?”

                “I don’t know, you just seem like someone who would. Nothing good or bad meant by it, it’s just a thing.” She apparently can tell that he’s feeling slightly embarrassed and unsure because her eyes get softer. “I like the Modernists,” she offers.

                Then he gets it, gets the unexplainable feeling that she must have also experienced because that makes all the sense in the world. Of course she likes the Modernists.

                So he grins wide. “What about you, how was your weekend?”

                “Fine. My parents came up and we got dinner.”

                “No way!” Marcus lets out a heavy sigh at the thought of his own parents, who are too far away to come to campus except to move him in and out of his dorm each school year. “I’m jealous. I haven’t seen my parents since Christmas.”

                Abby frowns sympathetically before clearing her throat and pushing her hair out of her eyes absent-mindedly. “Also, um, speaking of my parents, my birthday’s at the end of the month and they want to take me and some of my friends out to dinner. Would you like to come? I know it’s during finals and all but—”

                “Yes.” Both of them seem startled by how eager he sounds and Marcus immediately backtracks. “Yeah, that would be really nice.”

                “Good. Cool.”  She gives him an emphatic nod. “Do you maybe want to give me your number so that I can text you once we’ve solidified the details?”

                Her phone is in his hands and he’s typing his details into it before he realizes precisely what’s happening. “I’ll text myself so that I know this is you,” he tells her as he finishes typing his number.

                Their hands brush as he’s handing her phone back and in that moment, he distinctly remembers David’s comment about him behaving like a flustered middle schooler.

                He’s about to turn away to walk back into the Center when she says, “Hey, Marcus…”

                “Yeah?” Marcus turns back toward her curiously, catching her eye and trying not to show how floored he is by her intense gaze.

                She hesitates, and for a brief moment, Marcus allows himself to imagine a dozen fanciful questions that she’s bracing herself to ask. Do you want to go out to dinner and maybe make out a lot afterward? is somewhere near the top of the imaginary list.

                But instead: “Are you planning on going to the end-of-the-year party at Dawn’s house?”

                “What? Oh, the party. Uh, yeah, I’m planning on it.”

                “Cool. I’m really excited about it.”

                Him too, suddenly. “Great. I guess I’ll see you there, then.”

 

--

 

April 22, 2016 (cont’d)

 

                Marcus resists the urge to run after Abby for approximately a minute, after which he can’t stand it anymore.

                She’s sitting on the steps of Dawn’s back porch, scanning rapidly through the texts on her phone, but she stills when she hears Marcus open the screen door behind her.

                “Look, Abby, I don’t know what it is that you think I did…” He wants to move a few steps closer, but he can’t tell precisely how angry she actually is, so he remains cautious and decides to leave her a lot of space.

                “Hexapod,” she says, so quietly that he only barely hears it.

                Confused, Marcus’s first instinct is to laugh, but he doesn’t because this feels so very serious. “What?”

                Abby spins around to look at him, and she doesn’t even look mad; she just looks bewildered, her mouth curved into a small frown and her eyebrows curled in. “You could have played, ‘hexapod.’ With a double word score and ‘x’ on the double letter square.”

                Oh.

                He doesn’t bother to insist that he didn’t see it, because he did—he’d arranged his letters in precisely that order when he considered playing the word, so she wouldn’t buy that story for a second. Even if he thought she would believe him, he doesn’t want to lie to her. Not to Abby.

                “Why the hell would you lose on purpose? For all you knew, that word could have won you the game.”

                Marcus stares at her blankly. Finally: “I guess I just wanted to see you win. I thought it would make you happy.”

                This comment only takes her aback for a moment. “What, do you want something from me? Because you could always just ask, you don’t have to butter me up first.”

                “No, no, that’s not…” He only barely suppresses a groan, shutting his eyes and throwing his head back in exasperation. “I didn’t expect anything in return, I didn’t expect you to find out. I just wanted you to win.”

                Abby bites her lip, considering him. Then she pats the empty space beside her on the porch. “Do you want to sit?”

                He is understandably surprised by this change of pace, but he takes it in stride. “Yeah, alright.”

                Neither of them say anything for what feels like an eon. Abby breaks the silence first. “Have I ever told you that my session with you last semester was what made me decide to be a tutor?”

                “What? Really?”

                She nods, her eyes trained on the ground. “Mhm. My FIYS professor had already told me that he recommended me, so even though I was required to go in for class at least once, I basically only talked myself into it because I wanted to get a sense of whether it was a cool place to work.”

                “And somehow I gave you the mistaken impression that it’s great.”

                “Oh, shut up,” Abby says, smirking and swatting at his leg absent-mindedly. “We had such a nice back-and-forth about my paper, and I walked away from it feeling like my paper was leagues better than it would have been otherwise. I figured that if I could be the reason that other people left the Writing Center feeling that way, I’d love it.”

                Marcus tries to ask his next question as delicately as possible. “How’d that work out for you?”

                “Well, at first I thought I was just a shit tutor. I didn’t feel like my clients were leaving with solid products and I couldn’t figure out what I was doing wrong.”

                He is expecting what she says next, because he knows that she is self-aware, but he still feels his mouth go dry when she continues: “I think it was maybe… the beginning of March when I realized that my tutoring wasn’t bad, our session was just really good. We were on the same wavelength but we still disagreed on some stuff so our conversation was… really good.” Abby trails off then. She clears her throat and brushes some nonexistent hair out of her face.

                “Right.” Marcus remembers the way that he felt when he tried to get her to alter a sentence that was in passive voice, and she effectively argued that it was an appropriate stylistic choice. He’d never really bought that it was ever appropriate until she convinced him.

                “Sessions like that don’t really happen often, do they?”

                Perfect combinations of great writers with strong but slightly differing opinions? He shakes his head. “No. I’ve never had a better session than the ones I’ve done with you. Probably never will. Don’t let it go to your head, though.”

                “Too late.”

                For the first time since he sat down, they look up at each other, exchanging tentative smiles. Marcus becomes distinctly aware of her fingers pressing against his on the smooth wood of the porch.

                “Look, Abby, I’m sorry about letting you win, I was just…”

                “I know what you were doing.” Now all of her exasperation with Marcus has faded away. Instead, her tone is positively fond. “But how about this:  just promise me a rematch where you’ll actually try your best.”

                After committing what feels like a remarkable sin, that’s sure an easy consolation. “Yeah, you’re on.”

                She nods agreeably. “Very good.” And as she leans her face in closer, it doesn’t take long for Marcus to take the hint; his eyes are closed and he’s smiling when she presses her lips to his.