“Yes,” I said brightly, laying the crumpled map out flat on the folder they’d given me when I first arrived. The perky blond who handed it to me at the registration table said that it contained everything that was now important to my life. “Yeah, I do need help. Can you tell me how to get to Beginner Italian in Theatre 2291?” This made the guide’s eyebrows shoot up and I bit my lip nervously. Why did this seem so surprising to him? Had I made the wrong choice? Back in high school, I’d never been good with languages; I’d begun taking French with Simon and switched to Spanish so I could have help from Nova, who grew up speaking it. Here at Everground University, I was required to take two full semesters’ worth of language classes, though. I didn’t think that Italian would hurt me that much, especially since Nova and Simon volunteered to take it with me, but what if this turned out to be the absolute worst idea I’d ever had?
“Wow. You know, I didn’t really peg you for a girl who would be interested in Italy,” he said, shielding his light brown eyes from the sun that had peeked its way from behind the clouds for a moment. “France, maybe, or Fiji, but never Italy.”
“What’s wrong with Italy?” I asked, putting my hands on my hips. I didn’t look like a girl who’d be interested in Italian culture? I wasn’t sure if it was a compliment or an insult, but I decided that confrontational was the way to go. “I happen to like Italy. A lot of great things came from there.” Like…pizza. And some form of art that Simon would be more than happy to tell me about.
“You’ve been?” he asked, again surprised.
“Not yet, but who’s to say that I don’t want to go one day? And I’ll ask again, what’s wrong with Italy?” The guide glanced at his wrist- and the expensive watch that adorned it- before frowning.
“If you want my full and completely biased answer, you’d have to skip the first day of Italian. And you’ve got Gergins, which means if you do choose to skip, he’ll hate you forever. Of course, if you want to talk later about Italy, I can get you there on time just fine. What’s your choice?”
“I’ll go to class,” I said automatically, causing the guide to chuckle. I frowned slightly, wondering what I was doing that was so amusing to him.
“Those automatic responses you have now are going to get a lot slower before the semester’s over. I can guarantee you of that. Now let’s go; we need to get you moving.” His hand brushed against my lower back, pushing me forward as I kept up with his gentle pace. It lingered for a minute and I realized that either my hips were abnormally small or his hands were really big; the tips of his fingers brushed against one of my hip bones while his palm rested on the other side.
Then, suddenly, the touch was gone. We kept walking across campus, our hands brushing against each other occasionally. Each time they did, I nervously fiddled with the strap on my bag and he ran a hand through his short hair. “So, I didn’t catch your name,” he said slowly, trying to make conversation..
“It’s Mina,” I said quickly. “My name, it’s me…” I winced, to the apparent delight of the guide, and sighed before smiling nervously. “Hi. I’m Mina Percival. And you are?”
“Ezra,” he said, shaking my hand. “Ezra Payne. What’s your major, Mina Percival?”
“I’m undecided. Haven’t really thought about the future that much. Just trying to get from point A to point B, you know?” He nodded.
“Taking it slow. I can respect that.” Oh, he didn’t even know. The things that nearly dying will do to a person are incalculable. “I’m in linguistics, myself. The inner workings of a language have always fascinated me. Imagine, we all got together and gave things words. Just…incredible.” I could see the light shining in his eyes as he spoke and smiled to myself. It was clearly readable on his face how much interest he had in linguistics. I only hoped I could find something to be that passionate about one day.
He took a step back from me as we reached the front of Windsor Hall. “And this is where I leave you.” He turned to leave and I bit my lip before shouting after him.
“Hey! Ezra Payne!” I hurried down the stairs, nearly tripping in the process. Damn these cyborg legs that moved too fast for me to keep up. He eyed me up and down, as though he were judging me, and I pushed a strand of hair behind my ear.
“Need something else from me, Mina Percival?” he asked, raising an eyebrow. “You’re going to be late if you wait much longer.” As if on cue, the bell at the top of the tower rang loudly for the new hour and I winced. Crap.
“Yeah, I know. I was just going to say that you should try and run into me sometime. I promise I won’t try to kill you with my bag again.” I ran to the top of the stairs quickly and slammed the front door behind me. Taking a second to gather my breath, I closed my eyes and let what I just did really sink in.
I flirted with a guy. I hadn’t flirted with a guy since I was sixteen. It was…weird. Fun and exciting, but definitely a foreign feeling. The bell rang once more and my eyes flew open as I sprinted down the hallway until I reached the assigned room. Luckily, Nova and Simon had gotten to the lecture theatre earlier than I had ; they’d snagged seats close to the middle of the large room and saved a seat for me inbetween them. Just as I sat down, Professor Gergins slammed the doors shut and grumpily walked to the podium at the front of the room. From there, it was one straight trip to boredom, with connecting stops at puns, useless anecdotes, and toupee city.