Text to Pepe Gerault:
Hello, this is Josephine, the English tutor from yesterday. I have a couple of notes for you.
1. After you left, I investigated the usage of “hometown” vs. “home town,” and discovered that either usage is acceptable in adjective form. My sincerest apologies for any confusion that I have caused.
2. The rule for adjective order in a sentence is: a) opinion b) size c) age d) shape e) color f) origin g) material h) purpose.
3. Thank you for your patience with me yesterday. I wasn’t in top form and I failed to answer your questions correctly. If you need further assistance there is a senior—Robert Kravitz —who works the evening shift on Thursdays. I’m told that he has swallowed the Chicago Manual of Style and can always cite usage rules on the first try.
Best of luck! —Josephine
* * *
Text to Josephine Allister:
Chaton—Thank you for these rules. I thank my a) cute b) little c) young d) slender e) brunette f) American g) English tutor for putting up with my bad writing.
I don’t know if Robert Kravitz should have swallowed that book because that sounds uncomfortable. And anyway I have a double practice on Thursdays. Which days of the week do you work? I should like to bring you my next essay as soon as I write it.
* * *
Text to Pepe Gerault:
I work Monday, Wednesday and Friday from two to seven-thirty. But the tutoring center is open seven days a week, and there is always an English tutor on duty.
* * *
Text to Josephine Allister:
Magnifique! I shall try to find you on Monday. Hockey practice makes everything difficult, so I may need to wait until Wednesday. Cheers, chaton!
* * *
Email to the Work-Study Jobs Office
Re: Job placement
Dear Ms. Allen—
You had mentioned that English majors sometimes work for professors. I would like to add my name to the list of interested candidates. I am currently working in the tutoring office, but finding all the new faces a little challenging for an introvert. Also, it’s my dream to work with Professor Sarky. She is really inspiring and I would love to assist her.
Thank you for keeping me in mind,
* * *
Email to Josephine Allister
Re: Job placement
Dear Miss Allister,
I am happy to put you on the waiting list for a professor’s assistant job. But those are in high demand. Meanwhile, perhaps the face to face interactions at the student center will help prepare you for other challenging work!
All my best,
* * *
These days, each tutoring shift is more difficult than the last.
Sometimes Pepe shows up with an essay for me to read, and sometimes he doesn’t. Either way I become a fidgety, nervous wreck wondering if he’ll appear.
Or is that nervous, fidgety wreck? I can’t think when I’m watching the door of the tutoring center. It’s like waiting for the jump scare in a horror movie.
Some days he doesn’t show, and I go home relieved, but strangely disappointed.
Other times he sits down in front of me, handing over an essay with limitless errors. The next half hour is always a trial, as my poor, stuttering brain tries to clean up the literary equivalent of a major oil spill while my hormones shift into overdrive.
Twelve bucks an hour doesn’t seem like enough anymore. I should get hazard pay for the way he limits my executive function with his muscular body and his throaty laugh.
It’s bad. Really bad. Last week I almost wrote “biceps” in the margin of his essay instead of “bilingual.”
Two weeks have passed since our first, disastrous encounter, and I’m biding my time with only twenty minutes left on my shift. There’s been no sign of Pepe all afternoon.
But then the door swings open and I know even before I look up that it’s just admitted a set of wide shoulders in a hockey jacket.
With forced casualness, I mark my place in The Complete Works of Shakespeare and close the book. Meanwhile, my heart leaps up and down like a frisky puppy.
Pepe Gerault pulls out the chair in front of me and sits. Then a big smile spreads across his broad face. “Salut, Josephine.”
My senses begin to hum just from the sound.
“Comment ça va?”
“Bien,” I manage. “Et toi?” And now all my French is exhausted. So I just stare at him for a minute, like a ninny. My eyes land on the slant of his masculine jaw, where dark scruff seems to be a permanent fixture. The color deepens at the cleft in his chin. I’d spent much of last week wondering what it would feel like to run my hands over that rugged face.
I don’t know why that turns me on. It just does.
Then he removes his Harkness Hockey jacket to reveal… The tightest T-shirt I have ever seen. He must have painted it on.
Now he’s just fucking with me. I’m pretty sure.
But it’s working. His handsome mouth is moving, and I can barely concentrate on the words that are coming out. “So, Jhosephine,” he says in that sexy voice. “Can you help?”
“Of course,” I slur.
He slides another essay across the table, and I pick up my red pen. Today’s topic is Holiday Traditions. I get to work, finding all the little inconsistencies. “Hmm…” I say, crossing out a verb. “We’ve been over mass nouns. The word family takes the singular verb form, not the plural.”
“Désolé,” he says with a smile. “I get it next time.”
He drives me crazy. I wish I was half as relaxed about my shortcomings as he is. “Can I ask you a question?” I surprise us both by setting my red pen on the desk.
“What did you do about term papers last year? You said this was the first term you came to the tutoring center.”
“Ah,” he says, giving me a cheerful nod. “Most classes, it doesn’t matter.”
“It doesn’t?” The professors give him a free pass on bad grammar because he’s an athlete?
Pepe leans over and pulls out a notebook. “Most of my homework is like this.” He flips open the notebook and sets it in front of me.
And it’s…gibberish. Well, it’s written in a language I don’t speak: math. I’m staring down at a proof of some sort. But there are very few actual words. It’s all variables and the occasional greek symbol.
“Math,” I say, suppressing a shudder.
He tells me the exact type, but all I catch is “multi-variable.”
Pepe shrugs. “I take all math and science last year, plus beginning Italian and French lit. First year in a new country. Seemed like English could wait. But now I’ll have English every term until I die.” He grins. “Please don’t quit your job, chaton.”
Chaton. The second syllable drops from his throat sounding low and purely French. It’s his nickname for me, and it means “kitten.” I’ve never asked why he calls me this, because I don’t want to hear him say that he uses it for all his female friends.
My raging crush knows no bounds.
I go back to editing his essay, feeling sheepish. Pepe is a hockey jock and math genius. And—me being me—that knowledge makes both my shame at dismissing him and my lust burn brighter.
He sits back in his chair and folds those muscular arms across his rippling abs. I can see them in my peripheral vision whether I want to or not.
“It’s not that bad,” I say quickly. “And the professor didn’t give you much to work with. Let’s just review all the forms of the present tense in English. And I think gerunds are tripping you up.”
“Thank you, chaton,” he says ruefully. “It will be a long semester. I hate writing. Even in French.”
“Really? I love it, because writing gives me the chance to say exactly what I mean. It’s easier than talking, because I can edit out the stupid shit. It’s so much less embarrassing.”
I know I’ve said too much because his bushy eyebrows lift in surprise. “Talking is embarrassing?”
“It can be.” Like right now.
He shrugs. “Talking I can handle. Writing makes me sweat.”
I try not to think about Pepe sweating, because the image is entirely too appealing. “What comments did the professor make on the last one you turned in?”
Pepe chuckles. “He said I need to broaden my vocabulary. That I use the same words too often.”
“Yeah? That’s an easy fix. Here.” I root around inside my book bag for a moment until I find my old, battered paperback Roget’s Thesaurus. “Here,” I thrust it at him. “Use this.”
For a moment he just stares at the cover. “It’s yours.”
“Sure. But you can have custody for the semester.” It’s a strange offer. My father gave me that thesaurus in ninth grade, the year before he died. It’s not something I should give away. But Pepe and I are becoming friends. At least I think we are. I can loan him a book in his hour of need.
And Pepe looks touched. He opens the front cover, where he’ll spot my father’s name printed in faded pencil. Joseph Allister, Iowa State U.
“Use that if you’re feeling stuck,” I add, “Look up a word. Find a fun way to say whatever you need to say. Even one good one can change the whole piece.”
“Thank you, chaton,” he says with a big smile. “You make essay writing better.”
The praise shouldn’t light me up as much as it does. Did I mention I’m somewhat pathetic?
* * *
Three weeks later, I’m sitting in the student center with Nadia. This is our idea of a big night out—studying in a public place. Tonight we got here a little too late to grab the prime real estate. We managed to snag two armchairs, yet no coffee table. So we’ve turned our chairs to face one another and propped our stocking feet up on each other’s seat cushions.
Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night is open on my lap, but I’m skimming YipStack. My latest post is: The real “walk of shame” is cutting in the snack bar line at the Student Center.
Funny ‘cause it’s true. I have 76 likes and 12 comments already.
As I skim all the other action, something catches my eye. Men’s Hockey Wins Exhibition Game At Northern Mass. Let’s do it again for points, boys!
I sit up a little straighter in my chair. It’s just dawning on me that I could watch Pepe play hockey. I’ve never been interested in sportsball. But attending a hockey game sounds like a fun new way to drool over Pepe without him noticing.
Even though we’ve seen more of each other lately, I still turn into a babbling maniac whenever he sits down across from me in the tutoring center.
How does a girl find the hockey team schedule, anyway?
I’m poking at my phone, trying to answer this question when Nadia nudges my thigh with her toe. It’s subtle. Like she’s trying to tell me something.
I raise my eyes just as a group of guys wearing Harkness Hockey jackets approaches us, heading for the sandwich counter. Nadia knows something of my crush, but she’s never met Pepe.
But there he is walking towards us, as if I’ve conjured him. He’s laughing with his friends, though, and doesn’t see me. My gaze locks on him like a laser, because I’ve never been cool.
“Nice,” Nadia whispers. “Wow. He’s the one with the super dark hair, right?”
“Shh,” I hiss, nudging her leg with my foot.
But something about our exchange catches Pepe’s eye. I watch with growing alarm as his gaze lands on me.
And then he smiles.
“Oh, my,” Nadia whispers. “Now there is a hunk of man.”
I can’t even shush her because I’m frozen like Bambi in front of a speeding eighteen wheeler. Pepe slaps one of his friends on the back and points at me.
“There she ees!” he yells. “Smartest tutor at Harkness!” He sort of gallops in my direction. I don’t even have time to brace myself before he leans over my chair, scoops me up into his giant arms and sort of whirls me around in a circle two times.
Holy god. It’s a Pepe hurricane. I claw at his arm in fear, but he just laughs.
A moment later I’ve been set back onto my feet. But I’m blinking up at him, my glasses askew, and taking in the sight of three highly amused hockey players behind him.
Also, I’m flushed from head to toe from that incidental hug. Any bodily contact with this boy makes my heart race. If he actually kissed me I might just pass right out. “Hi,” I manage to squeak.
“Dude,” one of the hockey players says from behind Pepe. “This is your tutor?”
If possible, my blush deepens.
“She must be a saint to put up with your ass.”
“Oui,” Pepe says with a broad smile. “Very patient. Jhosephine is the reason I have a B in the writing seminar, not an F.”
“Buy that girl a beer,” says another player.
“At least,” says another. “Pepe—are we gettin’ in line, or what?”
“Goh,” he says, waving them off. His accent is strong even on the one-syllable word. “I’ll be right there.”
His friends give me a wave and move toward the snack line, but Pepe is still standing here in front of me, blowing up my brain. “This is my friend Nadia,” I remember to say, but only because she’s standing beside me now, smiling like a lunatic.
“Bonsoir, Nadia!” he says. “I have a favor to ask, chaton.”
“Whatever it is, I’m sure it will be nooooo problem!” Nadia chirps.
I’m going to have to kill her. It’s a shame because she was a pretty good roommate. Never leaves her dirty laundry on the floor.
“Can I give you my essay right now? We are looking at tape tomorrow and I don’t theenk I can get to you until right before your shift ends.”
“Sure thing,” I say, not looking at my roommate. The wattage of her smile is giving me a sunburn.
“So lucky I ran into you,” Pepe says, digging into his backpack. He roots around, finally emerging with two sheets of paper. “Thank you for this. And maybe I can buy both of you ladies a beer this weekend. Our goalie is having a party after the game against Princeton.” He grins. “You know where the hockey house is? Off campus?”
“We can find it,” Nadia chirps.
“Awesome.” He nudges my elbow. “Do I sound like an American if I say awesome?”
“Totes,” I say in a more or less reasonable voice. But my brain is shorting out as I try to imagine myself at an off-campus hockey party.
“See you soon, chaton! I’ll text you the address.”
And then I’m watching his muscular glutes power away from us, wondering what just hit me.
“Sit,” Nadia hisses, nudging me toward the chair.
I land on top of my Shakespeare book and have to stand up again to grab it from under my butt.
“A party!” she squeaks. “This is going to be epic. That’s the night Pepe will help you out with your little problem.”
“Nadia!” My stomach is suddenly full of buzzing bees. “Please don’t refer to my virginity as a problem.”
Her eyes widen. “But that’s exactly how you referred to it yourself last night.”
“Oh. Right.” Whoops. But in my defense, I hadn’t meant my virginity in and of itself. I’d meant my inability to speak in sentences to any man I was attracted to.
“I have a good feeling about this.” She lets out a happy sigh. “He’s so nice. Like a big man-puppy.”
Before I met Pepe, I wouldn’t have thought that could be a compliment. But I know what she means. He has a kind of happy enthusiasm that’s sexy without ever being scary.
Unless you’re me, and everything is scary.
“We are going to that party,” Nadia says, picking up her Spanish book again. “And I’m going to do your makeup.”
I can’t even think about the party. Lots of people in a loud room? That’s just not my event.
But, hell. I want it to be.
Could it be?
The whole idea makes me break out in goosebumps, and I can’t tell if they’re from fear or excitement. Probably both.
I pick up Pepe’s new essay. I get out my red pen—a new one, because I used one up already, probably on Pepe’s work.
This week’s Sophomore Essays topic is “When I Get Home.”
And when I read the first sentence, all the tingling, zinging hope inside me dies.
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