Sarah Williams knew she was late as she ran towards Remington Hall. Exactly 11 minutes and 48 seconds late if she had to be more precise. Her flats weren't exactly appropriate for running, but then there was that big cliche about beggars and choosers.
For a few seconds she considered just skipping the class for the day, but she knew that today was the day partners were being chosen for the research project that was worth 20% of her grade in her graduate level Women in Literature course. She needed a kick-ass grade in order to get into the teaching fellowship she wished to pursue at Oxford.
Hopefully Holly would tell Professor Eubanks that they would work together on the project. She already started brainstorming ideas and couldn't wait to get feedback from her friend. Anything to avoid having to work with, well, she didn't want to think of him. If she didn't think of him then the universe would know that she wasn't down for taking any of his crap. He had been the splinter in her skin since day one - something that was sometimes harmless if left alone, but annoying nonetheless.
Well, he wasn't really harmless. He was annoying, smug, and filled with self-importance. He always had to have the last word, and there were days Sarah thought he deliberately focused only on making her feel like she wasn't worthy of being in their upper level class, even though his academic "malice" was directed towards just about everyone in the seminar type class. Everyone in the class loathed him, maybe loathe is a strong word, but he seemed to get off on the fact that no one cared for him.
Sure, they all exchanged numbers, but Jareth Kingston was never part of the group texts inviting everyone out for drinks and buffalo wings. Hell, Jareth Kingston would probably frown upon such "plebeian" things. He seemed like the type who wouldn't be caught dead at some dive bar that served tap beer.
He wasn't an idiot, and that frustrated Sarah more than anything. He had interesting points and knew his stuff, but if someone deserved a slice of humble pie, Jareth Kingston needed the entire pie. No, he probably needed two or three of them.
"Crap!" Sarah shouted more to herself than anyone as she nearly tripped on the steps that entered the building. After checking to make sure the she didn't drop anything, she quickly walked towards the lecture room her class met in three times a week.
"I'm only about 12 minutes late. That's not so bad." Sarah told herself.
Sarah opened the door, hoping to sneak in quietly, but the obnoxious squeaking of the door prevented that from happening. All fifteen members of the seminar, including the professor, stopped what they were doing and stared at her slightly disheveled appearance.
"Ah, Miss Williams, thank you for investing in your education today." Dr. Eubanks said.
He was by no means an old man, but he fit the stereotypical mold of any college professor who was securely on the tenure track. His sweaters were probably in fashion back in the 80s, but who was she to judge considering she till thought peasant tops were fashionable.
"I'm so sorry Dr. Eubanks. I promise it won't happen again." Sarah said, trying to catch her breath before taking her usual seat around the discussion table.
"That's fine. Unfortunately, your classmates already caucused and you've been assigned to work with Mr. Kingston."
It was then that Sarah noticed all of her classmates faces, including Holly's. They looked at her with a mix of sorry you will have to suffer through this along with better you than me.
Looking up at the last un-partnered person in her class, Sarah saw the smug smile of her classmate/rival/all around pompous asshole, Jareth Kingston. She didn't care if the entire world heard her when she spoke,
"I'm so sorry Sarah." Holly begged as the two walked out of the room.
"It's no big deal. I'm just going to have to work with the biggest asshole on the campus. It's what I get for being late."
"Well, if it's any consolation, I told Dr. Eubanks that I wanted to work with you, but well, you know how he is."
"The one day I'm tardy!" Sarah said.
"Why were you tardy Miss I'm Always At Least Five Minutes Early?" Holly asked as they headed towards the sandwich shop they sometimes visited for lunch.
"I must have forgotten to set my alarm last night. I was chatting with my brother, and I just lost track of the time. I missed Professor Albarn's class this morning too, but I can easily catch up with that. It's just, ugh, Jareth Kingston!"
Holly didn't say anything as they walked into S & P Sandwiches. As the two waited in line to place their orders, Sarah was distraught. What would their topic be? Given the track record between the two, he would probably shoot down every idea she presented. The dread was already beginning to settle in the pit of her stomach.
"Maybe I could drop the class." Sarah blurted out as Holly was ordering her meal.
"Are you serious?"
"Okay, that was stupid. Do you think I could get him to drop the class? Maybe if I annoy him too much he'll beg Dr. Eubanks to work alone."
"You really don't want to work with this guy, do you?" Holly asked.
"I don't see you offering to swap places!" Sarah said.
Sarah's stomach was in knots, and she knew that lunch wouldn't help it. Deciding to skip out on it, she followed Holly to their usual table before continuing,
"He's impossible! You've seen him in class! I bet you every one else in that seminar was thanking their lucky stars that they didn't have to work with him."
"Well, he did ask to work with you."
"Well, not so much as ask, but more or less, huff and puff about how inadequate everyone else in the seminar is. He said something to the tune of you being the best of the worst in our little bunch."
"Figures, he would go with the supposed lesser of sixteen evils. Seriously though, what am I going to do?"
"Have you talked to him yet about the presentation?"
"You have his number, right?"
"No way am I putting myself out there for… that wannabe aristocrat. He can contact me first."
"Come on Sarah. Knowing you, you want to start delegating tasks and outlining an outline and he seems like the kind of person who just likes to go with the flow and hope for the best."
Holly's order was ready, and as she retrieved it from the counter, Sarah knew that this whole experience would either help to make her academic career or break it.
"At least text him and see what's up." Holly said before taking a bite of her sandwich.
"You're right. Why is it that I feel like I'm taking one for the team?" Sarah asked as she pulled out her phone.
"Because, well, you are. Dylan said that everyone in the class owes you a drink."
"Did you get that in writing?" Sarah asked as she scrolled through the contacts on her phone.
Holly laughed before saying, "You might have to remind them that you're taking the bullet for all of us."
It took Sarah a few seconds because she couldn't find Jareth's number. Then it hit her: she gave him the name "Pompous Ass" on her phone. Scrolling down, she found his number, all the while, trying to think of what she would write.
Hey asshole, what are we going to focus on?
That's a little harsh.
Jerkface, don't ruin this for me. What are we going to do?
That was a little too harsh. Keep it simple. Yes, when in doubt, keep it simple. Holly was lost in her lunch.
"I'm sorry. I'm trying to write this text." Sarah said.
"Girl, I'm wrapped up in a world of melted cheese and honey roasted ham. Don't mind me!" Holly said before taking another bite of her food.
She fired off a text that was professional and to the point.
Hey, it's Sarah Williams. Do you have time to meet tomorrow to discuss this assignment?
She sent the message and rested her phone on the table knowing that the more she thought about it, the more likely she would get into trouble. Seconds later she heard the ding that indicated she received a text.
I'm busy, but I suppose we can get together.
"Oh, and I'm not!" Sarah said out loud without even realizing it.
"Kingston?" Holly asked.
Sarah rolled her eyes, and that answered Holly's question. She heard another ding before she could respond.
Where shall we meet?
What was the most neutral place to meet? Sarah wondered before typing.
Library at 2?
Sure thing, precious.
And that was it. Sarah released a breath, not realizing how nerve racking that was. And what was up with this precious business? No, Sarah wouldn't stand for that.
"Settled it then?" Holly asked.
"Yeah. We're going to meet tomorrow afternoon since his grace deemed me worthy enough to fit in his schedule. Assault is illegal, right?" Sarah asked.
"In all 50 states." Holly said, now checking her phone.
"But if they knew him, then no jury would find me guilty. They'd probably thank me." Sarah said.
"Don't you think you're being a little too harsh?"
"That's easy for you to say. You're not the one stuck with him." Sarah said.
"At the risk of being the devil's advocate, hear him out. Who knows, the two of you might come up with a kick-ass project and this time next year, you'll be in England. Plus, he's hot. Have you not noticed how hot he is?"
"Are you serious?" Sarah asked.
"Come on, I won't judge you if you think it too. Too bad he's an arrogant jerkface."
"I'll pretend I never heard those last few sentences of yours. I've figured out how I'm going to approach all of this. I'm going to call the shots. I'm not going to put up with his snarky and snide remarks. I'm going to stay as far away from him as possible while staying on schedule. I'm also going to make sure that Oxford won't be able to deny me that fellowship."
"Do you have 'I'm also going to get an ulcer' in that list too?" Holly asked.
"Why aren't you a comedian?" Sarah asked, trying to keep a straight face.
"Unfortunately, my calling is academia. Come on, let's roll out. I've got a class to prep for."
After walking out the shop and wishing her friend goodbye, Sarah walked towards Remington Hall. As she was about to enter the building, she saw Jareth Kingston sitting on a bench under an oak tree, alone. There was an open book in his lap, one long leg was crossed over the other. She had to give him credit, he had a habit of being impeccably dressed. His hair was short and one could tell that while he didn't appear to spend a lot of time on personal grooming, he did want to present a certain image of himself to the world.
He was engrossed in whatever it was that was on his lap, and Sarah couldn't force her eyes from him, especially when he brought up a pale hand to his mouth. He unconsciously rubbed his fingers against his lips, lost in the moment. His fingers were long, almost elf like.
As if he knew she was watching him, Jareth looked up and met Sarah's stare with one of his own. Sarah was embarrassed that she was caught blatantly staring at him, but it was easy to walk away when he completely ignored her presence and continued on with his reading.
"Jerkface." Sarah said to herself as she walked into the building.