Never Sweeter (Dark Obsession #1)(9)

By: Charlotte Stein

Even more astonishing: he sometimes referred to a book Harrison had put on their reading list. That was open on his broad knee, too, just beneath the pad. And when he got to a certain point, he ran a finger underneath a particular line. Like the line was vital.

Like all of this was vital.

It made her wonder seriously terrifying things, like what if he’d always been this creature underneath? Certainly he reacted differently from the Tate she knew when he noticed her presence. He almost jumped up, spilling everything off his lap in the process. Then, when he realized how this looked, he tried to hide it. He snapped the book shut—The Monstrous-Feminine, she saw, and tried not to goggle—and flicked the cover of the notepad back over.

But he did it all very poorly. He lost pages; he screwed others up. His bag refused to take everything all at once, and more things spilled all over the ground.

As they had once for her, about a thousand years ago.

Now she was supposed to laugh and say look at the nerd studying—only she couldn’t bring herself to do it. The words cleaved to the roof of her mouth. Even simpler ones were a struggle, in this brand-new and baffling territory. But she eventually got them out.

“Are you trying to take Harrison’s class in this stairwell?”

He took a while to answer her.

So long, in fact, that she could see the lie before he said it.

“I have no idea what would give you that impression.”

“The…fact…that you…are clearly trying to take his class in this stairwell. Those are the hipster kid’s notes, right? I see his name there—Bartleby Winnamaker.”

He immediately tried to cover the ornate writing at the top of the page with his thumb, but the damage was done. And he knew it. He even rolled his eyes in that way she remembered from various classes, when he mispronounced a word or answered a question wrong.

Come on Tate, it seemed to say. Get it together.

And then he tried to do just that.

“Maybe he was just helping me out. Maybe my eyesight is super bad and I need someone to see the shit Harrison scribbles on the board in his crazy small handwriting.”

“I think your problem might be that you’re trying to read his crazy small handwriting from outside the lecture hall. Maybe even farther than that—you’re never there when I come out.”

“You said you wanted me to not be there when you come out.”

“That isn’t how I remember our conversation at all.”

“Oh holy fucking fuck, am I lamplighting you again? How do I keep doing this?” He threw up his hands, while she did her best not to roll her eyes and correct him. Gaslighting, she wanted to say. The term was gaslighting. “Look, okay I know you did not exactly say that—you said stay away. So I have stayed away. I have stayed as far away as I can humanly get without slipping into another dimension.”

It was on the tip of her tongue to say something snarky back. Something like I wish you would slip into another dimension. It was what she would have told him back then, after all. Yet when she went to, something happened. The words caught in her throat. They got all tangled up in that eye roll he just did and his expression now: like someone trying to scale the sides of a glass building after a sudden rainfall.

And his expression then, in the video when he had carried her. The one that she had refused to believe was concern, but had to now. Everything he was doing just kept bludgeoning that realization in harder, until her insides ached with it. Her mind spun with it. Much longer and she was going to vomit.

“When I said that I wanted you to stay away, I definitely didn’t mean that you should miss lectures to accomplish that. At the very least I didn’t mean that you should try to take down information from those lectures in a stairwell.”

“There’s nowhere else I can go. Bartleby won’t let me take his notes back to my dorm building because they come back smelling like pot.”

“Well, there is this thing called a library. And last time I checked that place was drug free.”

“Ha fucking ha. I can’t do this in the library.”

“Because that’s where nerds go?”

“No because that’s where you go. Like all-the-time-constantly-twenty-four-seven in the library. If I go there I might as well turn up for class.”

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