Cara Michaels’ Picture Choice: Both
“Ugh, enough.” Ian slapped his book closed, sending a cloud of unused-book dust billowing through the air. He slouched in the wooden library chair.
I glanced up from my studies on Paleolithic sea life—this particular tome as dry as the specimens displayed throughout the Marine Sciences wing—in time to see Ian flash the smile that launched a thousand hormones. Even I couldn’t claim total immunity, and I knew his brand of jackassery quite well.
“Come to the beach with me.”
I rolled my eyes.
“C’mon, Thalia. Live a little.”
“We are not going to pass this lab midterm if we slack off.”
“We should get bonus points for studying the real thing.”
“Except we’re studying the ancient thing.” I should get bonus points for not murdering my lab partner. “You just want a break.”
“Don’t you?” He pinched the bridge of his nose, chest heaving in a melodramatic sigh. “We’ve been at this for hours. Besides which, we pass everything with flying colors. You’re the darling of Marine Sciences.”
“Yeah, but you aren’t.”
He laughed, getting shushed by those closest to us.
“Trust me. Come Monday morning, I will cede to your wisdom in all fishy things.”
A sidelong look at the clock showed he wasn’t exaggerating about our time spent buried in the books. We did have the rest of the weekend to prepare for the exam.
“Okay. Yeah.” I held up one finger. “But, we’re here at eight A.M. sharp tomorrow.”
“Yes.” Ian gave a quick fist pump as he stood. “Deal. Let’s go.”
We gathered our backpacks and left. Ian caught my hand and tugged me into a loping run, setting the librarians to hissing at us. Ian waved and I clapped my free hand over my mouth to stop a snorting giggle. He heard me though and sent a wicked grin over his shoulder.
He led me through the packed parking lot to an ancient, but well-kept Impala. I cocked my head to one side.
“Is this thing purple?”
“Royal Plum.” He shrugged and opened my door. “My grandmom picked it out when she and Pops bought it in ’67. I kinda like it.”
I slid onto the bench seat and buckled up.
Ian drove like he conducted the rest of his life—fast and loose—and had me thanking every deity I knew by the time we made it the three miles to the shore. I stepped out onto the still concrete like a sailor touching land for the first time in months, my legs trying to interpret how to stand on something not in perpetual motion. Ian snickered at me, the jerk.
“Don’t mock me.” I held my hand up, palm out. “You turn a drive to the beach into a qualifying run for the Indy 500.”
He held out his arm as we rounded the hood.
“Opening my door. Offering your arm. Careful. Your inner gentleman is showing.”
I curled my hand around his bicep, noting the solid muscle beneath his shirt, and found myself acutely aware of him as a man, not just a lab partner who drove me to drink. He topped me by an easy six inches.
“I’ll keep your secrets if you keep mine.” His smile made me almost miss the meaning.
“What secrets do I have?”
“Let’s find out.”
My heart jumped a beat. I did have secrets, but so long buried now no one could hope to know. Especially a college Casanova. Half the time he surprised me by simply knowing my name.
The shore breeze ruffled the skirt of my long dress.
“Or maybe we’ll find something cool to take back to the professor.”
“There’s nothing from the Paleolithic here, you dork.”
“Oh, I know.” He helped me step up onto the rocks lining the shore. “But I found something better. Something older.”
“You were never a scout.”
“True. But it’s the sentiment.” He leaned down, startling me as his lips brushed my temple. “You’re so damn smart. Scary smart. And you absorb everything the prof throws at us like a sponge. So I knew on day one I’d lucked out to be your assigned partner.”
“I’ve got a knack for science.” What the hell was this?
“A bit more than a knack, I’d say.” As we climbed along the rocky shore, his pace slowed. He scanned the area, never quite looking at me. “Sometimes it’s like you know more than the prof. You mutter things. Correcting him. And I’ve seen your notes. You know way more than he even dreams of, I think.”
Did I do all that? Damn it, I’d gotten careless. I let my hand drop away from his arm, but he just caught it and twined our fingers.
He guided me up onto a larger rock, jumping back as the tide rushed in, soaking the dark fabric of my dress until I could barely see where one ended and the other began. He stared up at me, the gleam in his eyes enough to set my pulse racing.
“Why am I up here?”
“You’re even more beautiful here. The sea gives you a glow.”
“Now you’re saying I’m beautiful, too?” Maybe he’d been hit on the head recently. “Do I know you anymore?”
“You do this funny thing in lab, too.”
“When you think no one is watching. And I know you think I never pay attention to you.” The line of his jaw tensed, though his voice stayed casual. “I didn’t mean to pay attention.”
“So why did you?” I didn’t have to ask what he’d seen. This part, I knew.
“The water moves with a wave of your hand. Like it knows you. Obeys you. The tank fish follow you when you come in and when you leave.”
I laughed, hoping it didn’t sound as forced as it felt.
“Do you come to lab high or something?”
“No.” Hot color stained Ian’s cheeks. “You go by, Thalia. But your real name is Thalassa. I saw it on your papers.”
“So Thalassa is this goddess of the sea. Older than Poseidon, even.”
“And I think she’s working on a Master’s in marine paleontology.”
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Cara Michaels is the author of the Gaea’s Chosen sci-fi romance series and host of the #MenageMonday flash fiction challenge.