Liese dropped into her chair and gave her school-issued computer a malignant glare. In need of a diversion, she perused the Internet for new library resources, all the while pondering whether this would be her last day at FAHL. If so, she would at least ensure the library was well stocked with acceptable literature.
A romance novel flashed on the screen: a cut male body, chopped off at the head and below the navel, took up most of the cover. Her brain immediately pasted Ryder’s head onto the body and filled in the missing pieces below the waist. Flustered, she tapped the back button until the image disappeared.
“Get a grip,” she told herself.
“Liese?” Blake startled her out of her self-flagellation.
“Hey! Hi. Hello.” She greeted him with a little too much enthusiasm.
He leaned on the counter and adjusted her Post-it notes so they were stacked perfectly on top of each other—a square rainbow. “You all right? You look a little flushed.”
“Hmm, what? Oh . . . I’m fine.” Liese touched her cheek to find the skin warm beneath her fingers.
“You sure about that? You really don’t look well.” Blake reached out and brushed her bangs out of the way, pressing his wrist against her forehead.
She swatted his hand away. “Blake! There are students present.”
“And? I’m checking for a temperature, not trying to feel up your forehead.”
“Shh!” Liese hissed and shot him an irritated scowl.
Blake raised his hands in what would have been an act of contrition had he not looked annoyingly amused. “Don’t get all testy with me. I’m just a concerned friend, who apparently has a better sense of humor than you.”
Liese settled back in her chair, assuming a relaxed position she didn’t feel. “Sorry, I don’t mean to be witchy. It’s been a rough day, and before you ask, no, I don’t want to talk about it.”
That wasn’t entirely true. She did want to talk to someone, desperately. But no matter how good a friend he’d become, Liese couldn’t risk confiding in Blake. He was too close to her situation.
“That’s cool.” He rearranged her pencils, waiting patiently for her to spill whatever was eating her.
“I’m just preoccupied,” she offered, “and maybe feeling a little under the weather.” This wasn’t a total lie. The nauseous feeling, however, had nothing to do with any contagious kind of sickness.
“Your eyes are kind of glassy. Maybe you should take off early,” Blake suggested, inspecting her closely.
“I have a meeting with Mr. Whitehall after school I can’t miss.” Liese waved her hand and tried to appear unruffled, though her stomach felt like it held a lead weight.
“Oh? It’s only Tuesday. Aren’t those usually on Friday?”
“This isn’t about the literacy initiative,” she replied.
Blake’s upper lip twitched. “Is everything okay? He can be such an asshole.”
He looked around; there were no students close enough to hear their conversation, but he issued a half-hearted apology.
“The principal has been quite supportive of the initiatives I’ve proposed.” She cringed at how defensive she sounded. Blake made frequent negative comments about Mr. Whitehall, but Liese ignored them most of the time.
“Supportive?” Blake’s fingers curled into a fist. “I can’t stand the way he is when he’s around you.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Nothing. Never mind.” He picked up a pen to flip between his fingers. He had to be the most fidgety person she’d ever met.
“You can’t just say something like that and not explain.”
Blake checked over his shoulder, looking for eavesdroppers. Tristan, a tall, lanky boy who helped with set designs for the play approached the desk, book in hand, saving him from responding.
Like most of the students who worked with Blake, Tristan worshipped him as though he were the leader of a drama cult. Blake greeted Tristan with warmth and energy. For a moment Liese wished she felt some kind of attraction to Blake beyond a brotherly kinship. He struck her as a diehard romantic: the kind of man who would make a woman feel like the center of his universe, which did absolutely nothing for her. Romance needed to be tempered with a heavy dose of intensity and a side of unconventional to work for her, something she had trouble finding.
All the “A” types she usually went for had been jerks. She didn’t have a problem with men who were ambitious and liked to take control, but she couldn’t stand being patronized, or talked down to. Lately there seemed to be no shortage of that brand of man, and the other end of the spectrum was just as bad. “Nice” guys who weren’t clingy and overly needy seemed a challenge to pin down.
Blake and Tristan discussed which parts of the set needed work with flailing hand gestures. Liese watched them and tried to find Blake sexy, but failed. Sure, he was good-looking, but he just wasn’t her type. Thankfully, his disinterest in collegial dating meant she had nothing to worry about. When the discussion regarding set placement and the importance of proper lighting ended, Liese checked out Tristan’s book and sent him on his way.
Blake turned to her. “That reminds me, I know you’ve got this meeting with Ryder after school, so I understand if you can’t stay to help with rehearsals too, especially since you’re not feeling all that great.”
“It should be fine,” she reassured him, not at all confident she spoke the truth. He asked her every time if she could make rehearsals as though he expected her to tell him she couldn’t, though she’d never missed one. “I’ll come to the drama studio as soon as the meeting is over, provided it doesn’t run too late.”
A knot of anxiety twisted her stomach. She wondered what her consequences would be, and what a late meeting might mean. She would either be employed or not when she left the building at the end of the day.
“Okay, well, I guess I’ll see you later.” He smiled brightly, oblivious to her internal discord, and sauntered out of the library. After he left, Liese realized he hadn’t ever explained what he’d meant by that comment about the principal’s behavior around her, which gave her something new to fixate on.
After the final bell, Liese took her sweet time shelving the last of the returned books and organizing the stacks at the far end of the library. It shouldn’t have taken half an hour to stock two dozen books. She was stalling. A million possible scenarios ran through her mind, most resulting in her termination. Others resulted in her being naked, underneath Ryder, on his desk. The latter was definitely preferable to the former, but the situation left a lot to be desired no matter the outcome.