My dearest Hatter,
It was late, and I had to sleep. Aunt Beatrice caught me up and sent me to bed. I am hiding up in my bedroom now, instead of sitting in the den. I hope Auntie Bee doesn’t find me this time, as it’s nearly twenty past midnight. But I find I can only write you in the dead of night; any other time, and I could be caught. Asked, what are you writing? You know I don’t like to lie, so it would be difficult to avoid the subject. I am trying to write by candlelight, but the flame keeps flickering out. If I turn on the light overhead, it will buzz and wake up Auntie Bee. She’s such a light sleeper. It’s quite cute, even slightly annoying since I must hide up in my room. Speaking of which, my room is in the attic. It’s a bit creepy. I always did hate attics and basements, and now I’m living in one for the days I spend here during the holidays.
Sorry, I had to look where I left off. So, after that brief chat we had, I headed back to my room on campus; I lived at the school, on the ground floor, the Pond building, room 107. Right outside my balcony door was a beautiful pond of average size. Trees circled it and the building, separating it from all the other buildings. I thought it was lovely. But I am so distracted—let me continue.
There was a student registrar board with all of our names and room numbers in the building, but every professor had access to them from their logins on the school computers. I didn’t know this, however. So, as I collapsed onto my bed to sleep away two hours, my bedroom phone rang. Nobody called me, ever, so I figured it was Auntie Bee.
“Aunt Bee, you know I have class right now, but I’m pretty sure you’re psychic. How did you know my class was cancelled? It hasn’t even been announced on the class website yet.”
“Because I, um, I cancelled it,” came Mister Alley’s voice on the other line. I just about dropped the phone.
“Mister—Mister Alley?” I had to make sure.
“Y-yes, it’s me. Um. I just wanted to apologize, again, but for a different reason. I’m terribly sorry if I made you feel uncomfortable in any way the last time we talked. Which, um, which was about twenty minutes ago. Yes. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to be so unprofessional, and it won’t happen again. I suppose I was just, well, um, a bit flustered by Miss Robson.”
I breathed a laugh into the receiver. “Mister Alley, it doesn’t matter. I wasn’t uncomfortable or anything, I’m fine. I’m a big girl, I can handle it.”
“Yes. Um, well then. I guess I should leave you to—”
“No, no, it’s fine, Mister A. Was that the only reason you called me? The only reason you looked up my number, which was probably very difficult to find, seeing as how there are several dorm buildings, and thousands of students.”
“No—yes, um, no! Yes!” He couldn’t make up his mind. I laughed again.
“I’m just pulling your leg, Mister Alley. Sorry.”
“N-no need to be sorry, Miss Peregrine.”
My laughter faded, and all I could hear was his slightly frantic breathing over my own. He was exhaling through his nose, which I grew to love (you know how I always bugged you about that, to breathe quietly through your mouth, instead of like an angered rhinoceros). I cleared my throat to break down the awkward wall that had formed suddenly between us. But then again, everything about Mister Alley was awkward.
“Have you, um, have you started reading the assigned book yet? For m-my class?” he asked rather forced.
I inspected my nails, a bit shy to answer. A bit embarrassed. I had not only started it, but I had finished it, as well—and bookmarked the most important metaphors and quotes. “Uh…Yeah, I started it. It’s, uh, it’s great so far,” I fibbed.
But he sounded elated to hear that. He sighed with relief and I could imagine him playing with a loose thread from his sweater. Or, well, something to that likeness. He was always fiddling with his hands. Something horrible formed in my mind, and I had to rub at my eyes to get rid of it. I perched on the edge of my bed, crossing one leg over the other. I tugged at the hem of my skirt to cover my knees.
Hatter, I don’t know, maybe you can imagine it, but I could honestly feel the electricity bouncing between us. As if I was in front of him. As if I could smell his faint cologne, and watch his gaze dance about my face, searching for…I don’t know what.
It was his turn to clear his throat, now, and I knew the phone call would end any second.
“Do you—” we both started in unison.
“Oh, sorry, you go first,” I offered him quickly. I waited eleven seconds, I counted, and seven quick breaths of his before he continued.
“Would you like to meet me at a cafe?”
God, Hatter, the way he had said the entire sentence, it was like music to my foreign ears. I wanted to scream and shout with joy, but, obviously, now was not the time. He was still on the other line.
“Y-yeah, sure! Sure, Mister A. That’d be cool and stuff. Should I bring my books?” My hands began to sweat. I switched the phone to my other hand and rested the first on my knee. I gripped it so tightly, I was sure it would bruise.
I heard his breathing hitch and I could tell he was regretting the little get-together we would share. “Actually, I—”
“No, no, don’t, come on, you offered, I accepted; let’s do it. I need help with the homework, anyway, so you might as well help me out, prof. That’s your job, isn’t it?” I knew I was whining, that I was being a huge brat, but I desperately wanted to spend alone time with him. True, honest alone time. Where we wouldn’t be interrupted by another bug-eyed student ten minutes later.
He grew silent again. But this time, I couldn’t hear his breathing. He had hung up on me.
“Hello?” I whispered several seconds after, worried he really had.
There wasn’t a reply. It was still silent. I was so angry I just about hung up the phone myself. Tears sprung to my eyes at how this situation had gone so wrong. It wasn’t supposed to happen like this, Hatter, he was supposed to tell me, ‘Sure, I’ll pick you up in ten minutes, Alice.’ But, instead, he had completely ditched out, not even giving me a reason why. He had hung up on me, and…
“Hello?” I begged desperately, both hands holding the receiver to my reddening ear. I could hear my own breathing through the phone, and I couldn’t stop the tears that had begun to choke me. I felt like an idiot, sitting on my bed, both feet pressed into the carpet; my goldenrod toenails were digging into the threads.
“I’m here,” came his voice, then, and I let out a rushed breath.
I heard him shuffle the phone to his other ear, or so I assumed, and then I heard a door open. Moving breaths, as if he was in a grand hurry to get somewhere. My heart dropped into my stomach’s garden of butterflies.
“I’ll meet you at the Bluebird Inn’s cafe, m-maybe in fifteen minutes?” he asked, still on the move.
I tried to think of where the inn was. I couldn’t place it. “Uh, sure, I’ll see you,” I choked out. I would just Google it. That was my only choice, since I didn’t want to seem like a bigger idiot by asking him where it was located.
He hung up for real this time, as the dial-tone buzzed in my ear, and I pulled the receiver away from my head. I stared at it in my hands, not realizing this action took over four minutes. I replayed Mister Alley’s words in my head over and over, recounting each frazzled breath that he took in my ear. I wanted to hear it again, his breathing, but not just through a phone. Not through an electronic barricade. A shiver rolled up my spine and I checked my watch. I had five minutes to get to this inn, and I didn’t know at the time…but the Bluebird Inn was on the very edge of town. Hatter, he was embarrassed. In that moment, as my heart raced in my throat, I knew that he was embarrassed to be seen with me. I rushed to the mirror that hung in my tiny foyer hall and wiped away the black smears that had formed under my eyes. My cheeks were blotchy from my pathetic crying, and my mascara’d eyelashes were glued together with wet. I would have to deal with it.
I unchained my bike from its stand behind the dorm building and hopped on it. I checked my phone quickly, searching where I had to be in less than ten minutes. I typed the inn’s name into my map application and waited for it to pop up. It was almost fifteen minutes away, and that was with a car. I would take forever to get there, even if I had left ten minutes ago.
I roared through the semi-busy streets of my university’s town. I nearly ran over a mother and her child, which caused me to nearly get hit by a bus. I wouldn’t tell Mister Alley about this. I pedalled as fast as my chubby legs would work, and my feet would occasionally slip off. I had several scratches on my legs, but they weren’t visible due to my woollen tights. They still itched, however, and I knew my calves would have red marks all along them.
I arrived at the inn out of breath and sweaty. I couldn’t see Mister Alley’s car in the parking lot, and I worried horribly. I was so late, checking my watch. At least twenty minutes late from the time we had agreed to meet at. Perhaps he had come and gone, deflated and solemn that I hadn’t showed up on time. I wiped at my forehead with the back of my hand and pulled my curls into a small, unruly pony. I adjusted my messenger bag, making sure I didn’t look as foolish as I felt. I held onto the strap with both hands as I pushed the door open with my shoulder.
I walked through the small foyer, just a simple room with stairs to the left and a huge door to the right. Right in front of the entrance sat a desk with a key shelf behind it. A plump red-headed woman sat at the desk, scribbling in a book of some kind. I stepped up to the desk and saw she was playing sudoku. I waited for her to look up, but I don’t even think she noticed me.
I cleared my throat and only then did she look up. “Um, is there a cafe in this inn?” I asked warily.
She smiled at me. “Yes, dear, it’s to your right. See that door there? Just head right on in.” Her voice was kind, but pitiful. I didn’t know why.
I awkwardly walked towards the door, pulling it instead of pushing, yet it clearly said “PUSH” right above the door handle. I glanced behind me, but the woman was back to her game. I shoved it open and slid into the large room.
It was beautiful in there, Hatter; it was really precious. The back wall was one huge window, with stained glass at the top before it changed into a stone wall. The other walls were adorned with little trinkets and paintings of happy, peaceful scenery. The chairs and tables—goodness, they were so quaint and antique, I felt as if I was back in the 1800s. I scanned the room for Mister Alley, but there was no sign of him. It was obvious that I was too late. I had missed him completely, and he probably would never offer me this chance again.
I took a seat in a corner booth with a baby blue table cloth. There was a small ketchup stain off to the left of it, and I poked at it with a finger nail. At this time, Hatter, I had fingernails. I’ve already told you that now, my fingers are just stubby and ragged.
My heart had begun to pound in my ears, hot blood circulating through my too tight veins. I was sure I would cry, but I couldn’t. Not in public; not when there were a few other couples sitting at tables nearby. But…Hatter, I cried anyway. Tears built up at the corners of my eyes and I couldn’t help but let them escape. I had fucked up my only chance, and for this, I was so horribly embarrassed. On Tuesday, my first class of the week with Mister Alley, what would I tell him? The truth, I suppose. That I had missed him at the cafe because I was too slow. That I was desperately sorry for missing our tutoring session, and that I wanted to try it again. But, knowing him, he would tell me he had no time. He was a professor, after all, and being caught with a student outside of class would be bad news for him, and for myself.
I wiped frantically at my cheeks to hide the fact that I was crying, but it wasn’t working. I looked up and around the room to see that the other couples were chattering on like they didn’t even see me. Thank every god, I thought then. I was so glad that nobody was paying attention.
And then, Hatter, then I heard it. Mister Alley had cleared his throat. I hadn’t even seen him enter the room, let alone walk up to the table I sat at. One of his hands was at the back of his neck, rubbing it hesitantly, and the other was in his pullover’s pocket. He had changed into clothes a bit more comfortable, while here I sat in a silk blouse and patterned skirt. I sniffled, wiping my knuckles under my eyes to rid them both of black makeup. I stared at the ceiling and blinked, trying to stop myself from crying.
“Miss Peregrine, are you all right?” he asked quietly, his hand at his neck sliding into his pocket, too.
I looked at him and my brow furrowed, lips forming a weak smile. “Yes, I’m, I’m wonderful. I’m fine. I’m sorry I’m so late, I didn’t know where the inn was, and I don’t have my driver’s license, at least not for England, and I had to ride my bike here, and I’m out of shape, so I could only go so fast, and, and—”
“Miss Peregrine,” he stopped me. I had spat out my lame excuses far too quickly for him to decipher any of it. He was all too serious, and this worried me.
“I’m so sorry,” I choked out, a sob bubbling at the base of my throat.
He nudged his elbow into the air, indicating the seat across from me. “May I?” he asked, shifting his weight from one sneakered foot to the other.
I was utterly confused for a moment before realizing what he meant. “O-oh, yes! Yes, sit, please.”
He feigned a smile and slid into the booth. He kept his hands in his sweater. A green pen was resting behind his ear. Green was his favourite colour, which I had found out two weeks ago during one of our little chats before class.
I could feel him staring at me, but I was far too embarrassed still to look back at him. I picked at the ketchup stain until the scab popped off the table cloth and hit the wall. It fell behind the table. I flinched when it flicked into the air. I stared at the stone wall, not wanting to shift my gaze onto Mister Alley.
“Miss Peregrine, you needn’t be sorry. I can tell you’re distraught. You’re not fine at all, are you? What’s upset you?” His voice was calm and collected, not like it had been on the phone. I finally looked up to meet his eyes, and what I saw in them terrified me. He was so stern looking, so serious, it was frightening. I didn’t want to give him a reason as to why I was upset—at least, not the truth.
“I, uh, I lost my favourite keychain on my way here.”
I blinked. “It’s—it’s true! It was a little Winnie the Pooh keychain, and he held a tiny bunch of pink flowers. My, uh, my best friend gave it to me before I flew here.”
He could see through my heartfelt lies. I felt even worse.
We stared each other down until he blinked slowly. “Where in North America are you from? Canada, or America? I don’t think I ever got the chance to ask.”
“Uh, the US. I’m from Ohio.”
“Do you like it in York?”
I nodded slowly, brow creasing in the middle. I was a little bit confused.
My lips pursed and I pulled them into my right cheek. You know the dimple that forms there whenever I do that? Well, he pulled his hand from his pocket and poked it gently. I nearly died of a heart attack.
I don’t think I breathed for a good whole minute afterwards.
“What’s the real reason you were crying?” he had asked me. My lips returned to the bottom-centre of my face and I stared at the table. I carefully picked at the skin around my thumb with my index finger. I continued to pick at the skin there until a little chunk was caught and dug out. I brought my hand to my mouth and bit it off. This was when I started to bite my nails, I think. You know I had always bitten them before, but I had been good the past few months, huh? I mean, I hadn’t bitten any of them besides my thumb since at least May of this year. Which, hey, was good…considering.
Mister Alley watched me curiously as I chewed on the tiny strip of skin I had bitten off. I could feel his gaze as I stared at the table still.
“Are you hungry?” he asked, his voice tinted with a clever joke.
I looked up and rose an eyebrow. “Oh,” I uttered, realizing why he asked. “No, I’m okay. I don’t like eating much.” I don’t know why I told him that, but I knew it was a huge mistake. It had been. Now, only you and Mister Alley know about my best friend, Ed. But he treats him with care, and I think I’m breaking up with Ed. Slowly, but…Like I said before, I haven’t heard from that bastard in months.
Naturally, though, after someone says something like that, the other person is curious. I could see it in Mister Alley’s eyes that he was desperate to ask about what I had said, but—he didn’t. He eventually nodded and stuck his hand back in his sweater pocket. I huffed a sigh through my nose and picked at my thumb again.
After some time, a waitress, who was all too pretty to be one, asked both of us if we wanted anything. She asked Mister Alley if he wanted a refill of coffee, which made me remember that he must have been waiting the entire time I was driving my bicycle uphill. I palmed my forehead and yanked my fingers down my face. When I asked for an Earl Grey tea, she smiled (teeth showing, oh, how white they were), and quickly skipped off towards the kitchen. I stared at my hands that rested on the table and felt a knot churning in my stomach.
“I’m so sorry that I was late getting here. Uh, like I said, I’m pretty out of shape,” I muttered. Whispering more so to myself, I said, “As you can probably tell…” and then I raised my voice again. “But, uh, yeah. So, I didn’t know where this place was, since I just got here a month and a bit ago, and, well, I’ve been too busy to go exploring. You know how it is, huh?”
Mister Alley just stared, his eyes narrowed slightly. I felt like he was scrutinizing me, trying to figure me out, or something. Hatter, it was such an odd feeling. To have him watch me like he was. I felt like a test subject in a science lab, under a microscope. He seemed to realize he was staring, and he looked away awkwardly. I told you that he was awkward, yeah?
“It’s not a problem, Miss Peregrine. You don’t need to be upset about being late for—for…this.” He held an odd expression on his face, and I couldn’t place it. The closest I got was that of disgust. I felt self-conscious after deciding that that was his expression.
“Okay. Uh…Well, I hope that you don’t think I’m—”
“Here’s your coffee, Em; and your tea, miss,” interrupted the sweet waitress. I kept my gaze on Mister Alley, and I could see the way he looked at the waitress…Hatter, I knew that my intuition was just going haywire, and that he wasn’t interested in a stupid American girl from Ohio. I was, at least, ten years younger than him, and I hadn’t even fully found myself yet. This waitress, she was closer to his age, in her thirties, maybe late twenties…She was gorgeous, and was far more endowed than I was. If you catch my drift. Her blonde locks were half pulled into a tiny bun, the rest, flowing gently over her slender shoulders. She was like a mouse that had somehow turned into a human. I bet her feet didn’t even stink.
Mister Alley watched her leave, his eyes never leaving the back of her head. He was so proper, so gentlemanly. It made me almost sick. How could a man the likes of him, ever want anything to do with me? Me, the girl with a food problem, yet who was still well over 150 pounds standing at 5’3”; me, the girl who had too many freckles to count, and a nose far too small; and me, the girl who hated herself more than she hated anyone else. How could anyone, let alone such a perfect man, want me? It was obvious to me, so, so obvious it hurt, that Mister Alley wasn’t interested in me. I knew it from the start, but I had dug a hole too deep that any bright, startling light seemed like a godsend. I was, and still am, monstrously pathetic.
Mister Alley’s gaze fell upon me once more, but it seemed too distant, too cold. Like he had regretted ever inviting me for a drink. I knew it was true, because he wasn’t leaning towards the table like I was, but was pressed up against the back of the booth. He wasn’t interested in me at all. I had read all of the signs, or what I thought were signs, wrong. All of his words, his actions, they were all distorted and viewed through a kaleidoscope of all too eager hope. I was just some creepy, foreign girl who had fallen under the charm of a professor that would only ever see me as a silly child, desperate to get his attention.
“Miss Peregrine,” Mister Alley hushed, his eyes wide and fearful.
I blinked wildly, pulling myself from my thoughts. “Huh?”
“Your thumb, it’s bleeding,” he exclaimed as quietly as he could, pointing at my thumb.
I looked down at it, my own eyes widening at the sight. I instantly popped my thumb into my mouth and sucked on it like an infant. When I realized what I was doing, I ripped it from my mouth and got a napkin. I tried folding the napkin around my thumb, but it wouldn’t stay. Mister Alley huffed a sigh and took my hand and the napkin in his. He carefully wrapped it around my thumb and patted my knuckles gently afterwards.
“Does it hurt? You were picking at it furiously. Are you sure you’re not upset about something?”
My left eye twitched and I shook my head frantically. “No, no! I’m fine. Really. I’m fine. I’m just worried about the homework. Is it okay if I ask you some questions about it?”
“That’s why we came here, right? For me to tutor you.”
I deflated. “Oh. Uh, yeah.” I felt horrid. I was certain now that he would never share my feelings.
A couple stood up and left for the register to pay for their meal. I watched them go, the woman’s hand slipping into the man’s. He pressed a kiss to her temple, and I felt so jealous I wanted to rip out my hair and eat it. Hatter, I couldn’t bear to look at another happy couple, while I had had no one my entire life. I know I only lived for twenty years, but I was one hundred percent sure that I would never get to experience having a significant other. It was terrible, how jealous I got.
Mister Alley cleared his throat and followed my crazed stare at the laughing couple. “What’s the matter? Please, just tell me, Miss Peregrine,” he begged. His voice was soft, not stoic or icy anymore. His eyes fell upon mine, and they were soft, as well.
I rolled my eyes and pulled a humourless smile. “It’s nothing. You’d laugh.”
I shoved my cheek in my palm and rested my elbow on the table. “No, you’d laugh. Everyone does. Or you’d lecture me. Everyone does that, too.”
Mister Alley sat up straighter and placed his left hand over his heart. “I bet you the Queen’s jewels that I will not laugh, nor will I lecture you. Whatever you have to say, I will consider how you feel, and tell you what I think accordingly.”
I blushed. I could feel cherry red bubble up my chest and across my collarbones. I buttoned up my blouse so he couldn’t see how truly embarrassed I was. “Okay.”
“Thank you,” he said quietly, watching my hands rest on the table.
“Uh, well, I’m just—I’m jealous. You know? Of…people. Who have other people. I—God, I feel so stupid. I can’t talk to my professor about how desperate I am for a boyfriend.”
I risked a glance to Mister Alley, and I could see him mulling over my words. I thought I could see a light sheen of sweat break out across his forehead, but I was imagining things. I tore my glance away to stare at my hands, too.
“I don’t think that’s such a horrible affliction. To want somebody,” he finally replied.
I had been taking a sip of my tea, and I choked on it when I processed what he had said. “If only if it were that simple. But it isn’t,” I told him, wiping my mouth with the back of my hand. My eyes still felt puffy from all my crying earlier. I could feel the back of my eyes burn, the threat of tears imminent.
I pulled a confused look. “What do you mean, ‘why?’”
“I mean, why isn’t it that simple? You either want somebody, or you don’t. There’s not much else to it. Or is there?” He was staring at me again, Hatter, the way he had stared at me previously. I felt gooseflesh spread across my sleeved forearms. The tiny hairs lining the back of my neck stood up, and I wanted to run from here.
“M-maybe, uh, we should look at the homework…”
“No, tell me. You either want somebody, or you don’t.”
I cleared my throat and looked away. It was my turn to be awkward. He was far too intimidating, with his brilliant blue eyes and strong features. I wanted to run, like I said.
“I do,” I squeaked.
I hadn’t noticed, but he had been leaning in close to the table. I only realized when he sat back against the booth once more. “Okay.”
I looked back at him, only to find him staring intently at me. I couldn’t tell if he was smiling or frowning, but his expression worried me. He was deep in thought. Arms folded across his chest, he tilted his head ever so slightly to the left.
I drank quietly from my tea, the water still far too hot. But I drank from it anyway. I then pulled out my homework notebook, where all of the questions he had written on the board were copied. I flipped to the correct page and ran my finger down the questions. I tapped number five.
“I don’t really understand this one,” I managed.
He tried to get a good look at the writing, but it was still upside-down for him. He stood up from the booth and slid in beside me. I held my breath, not wanting to inhale his cologne. It smelled too pleasant, and I would probably die of embarrassment if his hand—
Brushed mine. It did. His left hand, a tight fist, sat curled on the seat so close to my thigh I thought I would float into space and never come back. His right hand was wrapped around the notebook, his thumb touching my finger.
“Okay, well, I’ve asked you to describe three metaphors of the text we read, it really isn’t that difficult, Miss Peregrine,” he grumbled. I felt anxious, like my lungs would burst. I could taste his cologne on my tongue, and I had the sudden urge to nibble at the crook of his neck just to taste it further. But I imagined every scenario that would then follow, and the want popped like a balloon.
“I, oh, no, I know, but I mean—I don’t get how we’re supposed to describe the metaphors. Like, are we supposed to explain them, too? Or just—”
“Yes, essentially, you must explain them. Is that the only question you have?”
“N-no!” I exclaimed a bit too quickly, causing him to turn his head to stare at me.
“…All right, what else?”
“Uh…Number eight, too. And nine.”
He then explained the questions to me, and I thanked him. He then left the seat beside me and returned back to his original spot. I crossed one leg over the other and the toe of my shoe brushed his leg. Both of our gazes locked, but they quickly fled. He stuck both hands in his sweater pockets again and slunk down in his seat a bit. I apologized and began to scribble out my answers for the questions I hadn’t finished.
“Those would have been d-due today, Miss Peregrine,” he stammered.
I looked up right after I finished crossing all my T’s. “Hm? Oh, uh, yeah. I was going to ask you in class…”
A tiny smile graced his lips. He checked his watch and then his eyes bugged. “Oh, oh no, Miss Peregrine, did you have a class after mine?”
I checked my own watch. “Oh, fuck!” Realizing I had sworn, I covered my mouth. “Shit,” I muttered behind my hand.
He laughed. “Shall I drive you? My car is in the back.”
I looked down at my messenger bag and shook my head. “There’s no point, Mister Alley, that prof hates me anyway, so I might as well ditch.”
He looked really concerned. “Are you quite sure, Miss Peregrine? I can drive you, it’s not a problem—”
“It’s fine. But, uh, thanks.” I felt bad for declining his offer, but I didn’t want to sit in his car, which probably smelled of his cologne, and think of all the things we could do in it while my hands were under my behind.
“All right,” he mumbled, obviously dejected.
I pulled a face and ducked my head. “I’m really sorry, Mister A, I just don’t want to take advantage of you.” When I processed what I had said, I coughed loudly. Maybe he hadn’t heard.
“Take advantage of me?” he asked, shocked. “Miss—M-Miss Peregrine—!”
I scratched at the back of my head and my hair scrunchie fell out. My brown curls fell around my face and I palmed my eyes. I wore my hair scrunchie like a bracelet. Raking a hand through my hair, I found a knot and played with it until it was loose.
“Miss P-Peregrine, you’re hardly taking advantage of me…if I have any brain at all, it is I who is taking advantage. And for that, I apologize. I shouldn’t have asked you here. It was incredulously unprofessional of me.”
I scratched at my ear, sucking on my lips. “Mister Alley, no, you’re far too kind, and I’m far too manipulative. I guided you into asking me, remember? I practically suggested it. It’s not your mistake at all, only mine. I should, uh, I should go. I’m really sorry for today.”
“No, don’t be sorry—! Miss Peregrine, please, don’t go; if you are going to, um, ditch your next class, maybe, um, maybe we can continue talking?”
I was already standing, my arms rolling into my jacket’s sleeves. “Uh…about what? I should probably study, I have a test tomorrow in Greek Mythology…”
“Right. Yes, right. Okay.” He was so sad looking, Hatter, I couldn’t leave him like that. I sat back down, a bit too harshly, in the booth.
I stared at him, my mouth hanging open. I breathed lightly, not making a sound. He looked up, almost confused as to why I had sat down again.
“I thought you were—”
“It doesn’t matter. I can study tonight.”
“If you’re sure, Miss Peregrine.”
I nodded, offering him a warm smile. Then the waitress just had to come back, and ruin everything. He watched her collect our mugs and then asked us if we wanted another. I declined. He, on the other hand, had to compliment the coffee, compliment her service, and compliment the uniforms they had to wear here at the inn. And to top it off, he asked for another coffee. I was smitten with jealousy.
When she left to retrieve his drink, he placed his hands on the table. “Miss Peregrine…”
“Hm?” I still had my head facing to the right, but my gaze fell onto the professor. I heaved a sigh. Another loving couple stood up, paid for their meal, and left. Now there was just one other couple, and, well, us.
“She’s a…friend. A friend of mine.”
“You say ‘friend’ like you want to bone her, or something. Oh my God.” I covered my mouth and felt my cheeks grow hot. I prayed to every god that he hadn’t heard me.
He stared at me with slitted eyes. I felt my cheeks grow even hotter.
“I know her from university. We’re old school friends.”
So that explained it. They probably had an intense, most likely sexual, relationship, and here I was, smack down in the middle of it, cock-blocking them. Maybe there were still feelings bouncing between them. She was beautiful, Hatter, any man would be foolish not to love her still. I sighed and stuck my hands in my jacket pockets. I wanted to shrink into a ball of dust and float away on the breeze.
“Miss Peregrine, are you all right?”
“What? Yeah, I’m fine. Why?” I could hear my tone of voice, and I knew I was being far too snippy to be truly fine. The jealousy had got to me.
“From what you said before, about—”
“I’m fine, Mister Alley. Just, can we drop it? Please?” I begged, my voice nearly cracking.
His brow furrowed painfully, and he looked incredibly worried.
“Maybe I should just leave. I feel bad for wasting your time,” I muttered.
“You haven’t wasted my time at all!”
I gave him a look made purely of sarcasm. “Okay.”
I shuffled out of the booth and swung my bag over my head and shoulder.
“Are you having a bad day? Do you need to talk?”
I slumped forward, turning on my heel to face him. “No, I’m perfectly wonderful. I slept well, I had a lovely morning, and a lovely tea just now. I also finished my homework. I’m peachy.”
“Then why are you being so rotten with me? What have I done to upset you? Please, tell me, let me fix it.”
I rolled my eyes and stared at the floor. “It isn’t you, Mister Alley. It’s just—it’s me. I’m—” I laughed, but it got stuck in my throat. “I’m messed up. I gotta go, okay? See you next week, bright and early.”
He stood up from the booth and wrung his hands. “Are you sure there isn’t anything I can do to help you, Miss Peregrine? I want to help, please, let me.”
“No, I’m sorry, you can’t help me; no one can.” I turned and watched the floor as I fled from the inn. I hopped onto my bike and rode off. Quickly at first, as fast as I could; I then slowed.
I made it to the dorm building in under thirty minutes, with just barely ten minutes left in the class I was supposed to be attending currently. I sighed and collapsed onto my bed, curling under the blankets with my jacket and shoes on. I didn’t even care in that moment, Hatter. I was defeated and depressed, and I felt horrible about myself. He seemed to care, but I knew he was just being a kindly gentleman. Not a crushing professor.
In that moment, I felt as though I’d never be loved by another. In that moment, I wanted to die.