The back of my neck tingles. My whole life I’d thought I had a boy’s name. I was used to hearing, “Hey Jo!” But Pepe makes me sound beautiful every time he says it. If only I believed him.
I lift my chin and find his unhappy face waiting for me. “Hello.”
“You have two jobs? That is a lot of working.”
“Um, no.” I’m not expecting the question, and I stammer out my answer. “I, uh, won’t be working at the help center this semester. Only here. For Professor Sarky.”
A furrow develops between his big, furry eyebrows. Pepe is a furry guy. Everywhere. Just remembering that makes my heart skitter. “You will not be tutoring this term?”
Slowly, I shake my head.
“For anyone?” he clarifies.
Blushing, I nod.
“I see.” He doesn’t look happy at all. “I guess I shall have to find someone else who will put up with all my errors.” At that, he gives me a curt nod and leaves the room.
For a second I just stand there feeling shocked. The right comeback takes too long to deliver itself into my brain. Should have thought about that before ignoring my text, asshole!
Ten minutes later I walk home, feeling blue. But I’m stunned to find Pepe waiting for me outside my entryway door, hands jammed into his pockets. I pull up short, my keys in my hand. “What’s the matter? Forget something?” The words sound bitter, damn it. I’d rather not bleed so profusely in front of him.
“Salut,” he says, his voice low. “I just need to know one thing.”
Why yes, I thought it was more than a one night stand. “Okay?”
“Did you even read my notes?”
“Notes? In class?”
He shakes his head, and his dark eyes have lost their easy warmth. “Noh. In your book. The thesaurus.”
“In my thesaurus?” I echo stupidly.
There’s a flicker of light in his eyes that wasn’t there a moment ago. “Yes, chaton. Inside. There are sticky notes. I did not want to write in your father’s book.”
“Sticky notes,” I parrot, my keys still in my hand.
He grabs the keys and opens the doors. “Get the book, chaton. Please. Where is it?”
I follow him inside, and he hands me the keys so I can open my room door. I walk over to my desk where I’d tossed the offending thesaurus on the morning I left town. Now I pick it up and wipe dust off the cover. Inside I find a sticky note on the very first page.
Chaton—last night was amazing, and I will miss you terribly. I’m sorry I have to dash to Quebec now. That was not good planning. As I have already suspended my USA phone service until January here is my Canada number…
“Oh,” I say loudly.
When I turn around, Pepe is leaning against my door, a hand over his eyes. “I am sorry. I wanted to make a nice gesture but I did not guess you would not find it.”
“Oh, shit.” A half-laugh, half-sob leaps out of my chest.
“No I’m sorry. I thought…” Swallowing is difficult. “It’s just…I texted you. And got no answer.”
He winces. “I shut it down whenever I’m in Canada, to save a hundred bucks. It goes back on in three days. Would have been worth the cash to avoid this misunderstanding.”
An errant tear escapes from one of my eyes and I flick it away, hoping he won’t see it.
Too late. “Oh, no!” He crosses my little room in two strides and cups my face in two hands. “Don’t be sad.” He kisses my cheekbone where the tear landed, and then the other one, too. Then he wraps his arms around me. “Not sad, okay? This semester we are not sad.”
“Okay.” I take a deep, shaky breath of his woodsy scent. “That was…stupid. I just saw the book on my doorstep and I thought…” I can’t even say it aloud. I thought it was such a forgettable night for him that he couldn’t get away fast enough.
“I am sorry, too. What a silly thing. I thought maybe you regret me afterwards.”
Me? What a crazy idea. “Never,” I whisper. To think that Pepe--Mr. Confidence--would think I didn't want to see him again. And that it would hurt his feelings, too. But this sort of misunderstanding isn't possible unless both people are vulnerable. Maybe awkwardness and insecurity aren't just for me, after all? That's something to think about later. “We should start over.”
“Rip up the rough draft and start fresh.”
He hums against my forehead, kissing me slowly there. The sensation of his lips against my face is so good that it makes my eyes burn. “No—Let us not edit out the part on your bed. Or drinking wine with pizza. It was all very nice up until the last part.”
“True,” I say, nuzzling against his cheek. “You’re in charge of revisions.”
His hand skims down my back, cupping my butt. He gives me a little squeeze. It feels so good I bite my own lip. “I want to start now.” His naughty hand lifts the hem of my jacket and circles at my lower back. “But I have class in fifteen minutes.”
“We could skip,” he says softly, and he dips his head to kiss my neck.
“Skip…the first class of the semester?” my inner nerd girl protests.
“Noh?” He laughs, and I feel the low vibration in my chest. “Ah, well. I have a team dinner after practice. But then may I visit you?”
Pepe sighs into my hair. “I waited three weeks to see you again. I suppose I can wait another few hours.”
“We should go to class,” I say. But then I don’t step back.
“We should,” he agrees. But then he kisses me.
Five more minutes are lost as Pepe reacquaints himself with my eager mouth. The slide of his tongue against mine is the most distracting thing I’ve ever known. Harkness College could burn to the ground around us and I don’t think I’d notice.
And I’m not sure I’d care.
At long last he steps back, his face flushed, his eyelids heavy. “I think I just made the day even longer. I need to walk you out before I forget how.”
The thesaurus is still clutched in my hand. I step back and tuck the book into my backpack.
“There are more notes in there,” he says. “I wanted you to have to flip the pages and find them all.”
“That is…” I hesitate, because I’m not used to saying freely what I think of him. “…The sweetest thing a guy has ever done for me. Thank you.” I hold my door open and he follows me out of the building.
“You can tell me if the grammar is bad. Just don’t tell me if they are cheesy.” He takes my hand as we walk across the courtyard toward the gate.
“There is no chance I’ll think they’re cheesy,” I say, my face flaming. “Not if you wrote them.” He makes a happy noise. I can hardly believe we’re holding hands. “Are you really going to take the romance novel class?” I blurt out.
“Bien sur! Why not?”
“Didn’t think it was your style.”
He shrugs, smiling at me. “There is a very cute girl I know who recommends the class. And I get English credits for books that aren’t so hard. I can’t do Chaucer, chaton. My favorite tutor quit.”
I give him an eye roll. “I’ll still read for you.”
“Really?” His face lights up, and he hitches his backpack up on his shoulder. “I think I’ll like the romance books, anyway. One of the books has a hockey player on the cover. Hockey in romance books? Is that a thing?”
“It’s a thing,” I say, blushing. And now I’m embarrassed because…
“Chaton? Did you choose the books for the cart?”
“Um…” Lying seems like a bad idea. But I’m so tempted. “I chose them,” I admit. “I chose a wide selection of books which is representative of modern romance. You can check the hockey book for accuracy.”
He gives me a sidelong glance, and his smile is knowing. “I took the hockey book. We will look at it together.” He squeezes my hand.
“I’m free then,” I mutter and he chuckles.
We part ways on College Street, and I get one more kiss for the road. “Au revoir, chaton. But not for long.”
I walk away.
“Wait!” he bounds after me and pulls a pen from his pack. “My email. So you can reach me before the phone is back.” He writes firstname.lastname@example.org on my hand.
“What is the J for?” I ask.
“Julien. Write me so I have yours.” I get a peck on the lips and then he’s gone.
I have to sprint to my history class, and I’m five minutes late. At least it’s a huge room, and I can sink into a seat in the back row. I’ve walked in during the professor’s opening remarks, just as Pepe did in Professor Sarky’s class. I pull out a notebook, but also the thesaurus.
My bad girl streak is a mile wide today, because I read the rest of Pepe’s notes instead of listening to the professor. Pepe has written:
Writing is not my skill, and it’s four in the morning. So this could be rough. But you have read all my writing before, and while you always find the errors, you never judge me. I like you so much, chaton. I can’t wait to see you again soon. Until then, there are a few more notes in this book, just for you. ~P.
I want to beat my forehead into the little half-desk attached to my lecture hall seat. All that anguish for nothing.
Flipping through the book, I find a sticky note on the page containing “cat.” There’s a smily face beside an arrow pointing to “kitten” and a devilish smily face under “pussy.” But the other notes are sweet. On the page for “beauty” he notes, “all these words remind me of you. I will study them for using later.” On the page for “intelligent,” he writes, “this page is dedicated to Josephine Allister. I notice there is no page for ‘dumb jock.’ Maybe in the next edition.”
But my favorite note is on the page for “fear.” There’s an arrow pointing to its synonym, “timidity.” Pepe writes, “I was wrong to call you timid. I was the timid one. I like you since last year, but I worry that a smart girl doesn’t think much of me. I should send Marie a note of thanks for pushing me in the right direction.”
Right then I vow to stop being tongue-tied. I will tell Pepe how I feel, even if it only comes out sounding half as good as the things he says to me. Not one word of this new history class has made it into my brain, and I don’t even care. I pull my laptop out and surreptitiously email him. Thank you for these notes. They are perfect.
He responds to my message right away. They are all true, chaton. I am reading the hockey book now.
It’s giving me ideas.
Really? For hockey?
No. The hockey is shit. Other parts are better.
There are naked parts. :) I will show you later. Might need your dictionary, though.
The Chaucer one?
Whichever one explains “his pulsing member.”
My gulp of laughter takes me by surprise, and I do a poor job turning it into a cough. It’s unlike me to start a semester by disrupting a class or arriving late. And it’s unlike me to plan a tryst for later tonight in my room.
Yet it’s already the best semester ever.