Out of Her League(10)

By: Samantha Wayland

When he wasn’t expecting it. She was clever, he’d give her that. He stared at her, his brain buzzing louder and louder as the murmur of voices around them grew, and Anna and Michaela continued to wait for him to say something. Anything. His legs shook with the desire to just turn and walk away. He might have done it, had Anna not been there.

“We were just headed back to the office,” Anna said helpfully.

Michaela smiled at her gratefully. “Can I walk with you?”

“Sure.” Anna sent Lachlan another concerned look. “It’s just this way.”

The crowd parted as they moved down the stairs. Lachlan didn’t think he was imagining hearing his last name repeated from a number of directions. He’d never made any secret about having two brothers in the NHL, one of whom had pretend-dated Michaela Price, but he hadn’t exactly advertised it, either.

Not that he wasn’t proud of his brothers. He was. Very. There were plenty of idiots on this campus who would find little to respect about professional hockey players, but there were many more who understood the brains and commitment that took. Lachlan had long ago consigned the former to the very large of pool of people he didn’t give a shit about and happily ignored.

“So, do you have another class today?” Michaela asked.

Silence stretched before Lachlan realized she was speaking to him. “No.”

“Great,” she said, her smile not slipping an inch. The small part of his brain that wasn’t totally useless right now could admire how hard she was working at this. “Do you have time for a coffee? Or lunch?”

He almost said no again, but bit his tongue just in the nick of time. He was socially challenged and objectively a total nerd, but even he could see the desperate hope in Michaela’s eyes. He worried, suddenly, that something was going on with Callum.

He tried to say, “Okay,” but it came out more like, “Nhghgn.” Fortunately, he had retained the capacity to nod, so Michaela understood him.

“Great. Do you need to go back to your office first?”

“No, he doesn’t,” Anna said brightly, tugging the box of extra syllabi from his arms and leaving him feeling even more exposed. “I can take these, and you two can go on ahead.” She smiled up at Lachlan. “I’ll catch up with you later.”

Lachlan frowned, trying to make sense of Anna’s face. Then his stomach clenched, because oh, holy hell, was Anna matchmaking?

Anna winked and his face went hot with mortification. Oh, Christ, she was.

“Ready?” Michaela asked.

He nodded, not even bothering to try speaking aloud. He jerked his hand to the left in an attempt to find his manners and steer them toward the nearest gate and out onto the streets of Cambridge. Hopefully there, at least, they wouldn’t be surrounded by so many curious faces.

He didn’t have a destination in mind, but Michaela’s earlier suggestion of coffee sounded good and it was something to focus on. He led them toward the Square and the massive Starbucks in the heart of it. With each step, he wondered if she was going to say something. If she was waiting for him to say something to her. He tried to be subtle and glance over quickly to gauge her expression, but she was always looking back at him, a small smile on her face.

At least she didn’t look appalled. Or alarmed. That was good, right?

Five minutes into their walk, Lachlan stopped worrying about what he was expected to say, gratefully accepting that Michaela was content to remain silent.

This did, however, leave Lachlan plenty of opportunity to notice how many people were watching them as they entered the bustle of Harvard Square. Some people were even taking pictures of them. Or her, really. Lachlan suspected he could be walking along in a clown suit and no one would notice.

“Oh, they’d notice. They’d take it as a sign I was finally cracking up. Or cracking up again, depending on who you asked.”

Lachlan hunched his shoulders in. “Did I say that out loud?”

“The clown suit thing? Yeah.”

“Sorry,” he muttered, wondering if this wouldn’t be less painful for all parties involved if he simply took a hard right out into traffic.

He walked a few more feet, turning over what she’d said again and again, before curiosity trumped his nerves. “Why would my wearing a clown suit be a sign that you’re cracking up?”

Her face remained neutral, but her shrug was weary. He appreciated that kind of eloquent non-verbal communication. He appreciated all non-verbal communication in social situations, now that he considered it.

It didn’t, though, answer his question. He thought about asking again, but pressing her to speak when he could barely manage to string a few words together seemed hypocritical.