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Jordan shrugged and started making his way to a table. As they walked, Paul’s eyes were drawn to a woman.
Woman was an understatement. Her name was Stacy Ailman, and she was beautiful. She had long blonde hair and beautiful brown eyes. Paul’s eyes drifted down to the pale-white halter top she wore, and the secrets the criss cross of cloth barely contained.
Then he stepped right into one of the cafeteria’s support beams. His tray of food slammed into his body. His head bounced off the cement pillar. His pride was crushed under a mountain that had somehow fallen onto him.
His vision flickered for a moment before he realized he’d fallen on his butt, covered in food. His stomach growled as if reprimanding him for wasting the meal he’d just finished preparing.
“Are you ok?” Jordan had set his food down and rushed to help Paul up.
Stacy was laughing with a group of other women at the idiot who’d just embarrassed himself.
Paul tried to fling what he could off his shirt. “I’m fine.”
“What happened?” Jordan followed Paul’s eyes to Stacy. “Ooooh.” He chuckled for a moment before he managed to cover his mouth with his hands. “Sorry dude, but that’s funny.”
Paul couldn’t blame his best friend for laughing. He honestly couldn’t focus long enough to be angry about it. Stacy was still staring. Well, I have her attention.
He took a deep breath and made his way over to her table. Jordan started whispering at him. His friend seemed to get louder as Paul got closer.
The look Stacy gave Paul when she realized he was heading her was wasn’t the most encouraging. It felt like she was investigating an ugly dog that was cute to look at, but not worthy of petting.
“So I’m going to need about $40,” Paul said. He had no idea what he was doing, but he was determined to use this opportunity to talk to her no matter how horrible it was.
“What?” Stacy asked.
“To replace my shirt,” Paul explained. “It’s your fault.”
“My fault?” Stacy looked at the women to her left and right as if they could offer insight to the situation.
“Yeah,” Paul said. “You’re so beautiful I can’t look away.”
Her jaw dropped as the women around Stacy started chuckling.
“Seriously,” Paul said. “You should have some sort of warning sign that you ware. Danger, looking at me may cause loss of attention and possible collisions with stationary objects.”
The women kept laughing, but Paul couldn’t shut himself up.
“Not that the stupid sign would do any good. I couldn’t look away from you for a second to avoid a pillar, so looking away for a sign wouldn’t really have happened, but it might have given you some sort of legal loophole to work around.”
Paul wasn’t sure laughter was the reaction he was supposed to go for, but Stacy wasn’t laughing like her friends. In fact, she started to look a little angry.
“So you’re a pervert, staring at me, and that’s my fault?” she finally asked.
“I’m pretty sure Van Gough wasn’t angry people looked at his paintings when he hung them up,” Paul said. “Besides, I’d sooner avoid looking at the sun on a nice day than look away from you. In fact, it is a nice day. The sun is out. I still can’t take my eyes off you.”
The peanut gallery gave another round of chuckles.
“So I’m not pervert for having eyes,” Paul said.
“But it’s my fault you can’t control them?” Stacy asked.
“Yeah,” Paul said. “I mean I suppose on a genetic level you could blame your parents, but Zeus and Persephone would probably just shrug as if it couldn’t be helped.”
The giggles from the ladies grew into outright laughter.
“Who are you?” Stacy asked. Is it just me, or is she honestly a little amused? Paul thought she was fighting a smile. He honestly had no idea what he was saying.
“You can link your PID to my account, Paul Autumn. I’m usually in the science building, so you can drop off cash if you prefer.”
“That explains the smell,” one of the girls around Stacy muttered.
Right. He’d been working more than a day straight.
“Standing by Stacy, a flower would smell like crap,” Paul said.
Stacy jerked back at the sound of her name. Ooops.
“So you’re a pervert and a stalker?” she said.
“You’re head of the cheerleading squad, class representative, and we have the same biology class. I’m not a stalker,” Paul replied. “You, however, could probably do with a bit of courtesy in learning the names of people you’ve literally had study group with.”
Her eyes dropped for a second, and Paul felt jealous of the white floor tiles. Why should they get her attention?
“Ohhh,” Paul said. “Surprised to realize that you might be a little oblivious?”
She looked up at him, but he cut her off. “I can’t blame you. It’s not like the sun can really notice how many retinas it burns because people stare at it, and you’re much more beautiful than some stupid ball of gas.”
The girls around her giggled again.
This wasn’t exactly how he thought getting to know a woman should go. In fact, Paul was pretty sure conversations should involve more than passing insults, but it’s what he had to go with.
“Anyway, Let’s make the balance due sixty, because you also made me drop my food. I’m going to go eat now. You can bring payment whenever you have the money available.”
Paul walked away. He was about to get another tray of food when he saw a cafeteria worker cleaning up the mess he made. Paul changed direction and started helping.
The worker smiled at him as they swooped up the food with a large, white towel. Paul smiled back when the work was done.
“Thank you!” the worker said.
“It wasn’t your fault,” Paul replied. “You shouldn’t have to clean up other peoples’ messes.”
Paul finally collected another tray of food and made it back to Jordan. Paul barely set his tray down when Jordan started laughing.
“What was that?” he asked between guffaws. “Are you some sort of poet or a comedian?”
“Hey, I talked to her,” Paul said in his own defense.
“Well, you insulted her a lot, but in a strangely romantic way,” Jordan admitted.
“Yeah, that probably could have gone better,” Paul said finally digging in to the food.
He’d shoved everything he could into his mouth when he noticed a shadow. He looked up to find Stacy standing in front of him.
“You helped him,” she said.
“Who?” Bits of food flew out of Paul’s mouth as he asked the question. Smooth guy. Real smooth.
Her eyes glanced at expelled debris and back to him. Paul tried to swallow the rest and promptly started to choke. The coughing that followed was a disgusting mess that made Paul wonder if he should consider avoiding women for the rest of his life. Jordan, thankfully, handed Paul a napkin that he used to avoid more gross embarrassment than he’d already earned.
“The custodian,” Stacy said. “You cleaned up with him.”
Paul got himself together and tried to wipe himself up to at least appear human. “Well, I mean he didn’t make the mess.”
“Oh,” she said. “I remember. That was my fault.”
She smiled, and Paul suddenly forgot where he was. She had to use some sort of special tooth paste or something. Teeth just weren’t that white.
Paul shrugged, trying to regain the momentum he’d had. “That’s my view of the situation.”
“Fine.” Stacy held up a folded piece of paper and set it on what might be the only clean spot of the table left. “Clean yourself up. You look horrible.”
She walked away before Paul could respond. It was probably fair. He’d done the same thing. Paul looked down at the paper.
He reached out and picked it up. It was a building and a time. Apparently there was a sorority party scheduled for that evening. Did he just earn a date? Did that actually work?
“Huh,” Paul said.
“That was so weird,” Jordan said.
“I’ll admit it,” Paul said, “but at least it worked.”
… To be continued …