When a series of events (which you can read all about ONE WEEK from today!) leads to Alex accompanying Kelsey on a campus tour of Louisianna State University, he finds himself once again sailing over the boundary of typical Teacher to Student interaction and settling into his role as her port in the storm.
He whipped around, seeing her standing frozen to the asphalt, her bag in front of her as it had been this morning when she entered the dining room, but he could see her knuckles were white from clutching the handles so hard. Her face was white under her makeup and her eyes looked terrified. He had the sudden sense that she was ready to bolt at the slightest provocation.
He didn’t say anything, merely took a step towards her, eyes searching hers and he was only aware that he had reached for her arm when her hand clutched his wrist in a death grip. She started shaking her head, looking down at his chest.
“I… I… I don’t wanna do this. I’m not…” She swallowed hard and he could feel the anxiety radiating off of her. “I can’t. I’m not dressed properly.”
Alex blinked at her. “You what?”
“My outfit; it’s all wrong,” she exclaimed as she looked down at herself. “My shoes don’t match and this belt looks stupid. It’s going to get hot what am I going to do with this cardigan when it gets hot? I need to go back and change.”
Alex let out a soft breath of laughter as he laid his hands on her biceps gently, his eyes finding hers and holding them.
“You look just fine.”
“My hair. It’s awful,” she said reaching to touch the start of the braid that wound over her crown like a headband. “It just wouldn’t lay right this morning no matter what I did.”
“Your hair is fine.”
“This dress! What was I thinking with this dress? It’s purple! Could I be any more of a brown noser?” Her voice had risen an octave and Alex was fighting a smile.
“Your dress is…” he looked down at her, his fingers tightening infinitesimally as he took in the rapid rise and fall of her breasts under the buttoned bodice. “I like your dress. Everyone here is wearing purple. I am wearing purple.”
“Oh my god we fucking match,” Kelsey exclaimed taking in his lavender button-down and sand colored chinos.
“We do not match,” Alex said calmly and Kelsey vibrated with her whine, her body bouncing from the stress of the situation and Alex snorted a laugh.
“My left eye looks weird,” she muttered, bringing a hand up to poke at the rim and he grabbed her wrist.
“That is the weirdest thing I’ve ever heard.”
“I couldn’t get the wing right. It makes me look cross-eyed. I have to go back and fix it.”
Alex grabbed her face in his hands, forcing her to look at him and all movement stopped, her big brown eyes locking on his ocean blues, calm as a flat sea. “Kelsey your wings are perfectly symmetrical. You are beautiful.”
Kelsey gasped at his words and realized this was the first time he’d ever told her that with her clothes on. He seemed to be making this realization at the same time and he pressed his lips together in an embarrassed smile. He released her face and fought a shiver as her fingertips slid against his inner wrists wanting to keep his hands there but unwilling to risk him telling her to let go.
Alex cleared his throat, his eyes holding hers again. “Kels, it’s okay to be nervous.”
“I’m not nervous.”
“Yes, you are.”
“I’m poorly dressed.”
“No, you’re not.”
Kelsey eyed him skeptically, feeling the aura of calm he was weaving around her and swallowed, looking past him to the student center.
“There are so many people.”
“You’ll get used to it.”
“It’s obvious I’m not a student here. Everyone is going to be looking at me like I’m some kind of dorky intruder.”
“No, they won’t.”
“What if I trip up the stairs?” she murmured, chewing her bottom lip.
“I’ll catch you.”
Kelsey’s eyes snapped to his and waited for him to laugh and tell her she wasn’t going to trip up the stairs. Except he didn’t. He just stood there, looking at her calmly and in that moment she honestly believed that if she were to trip he would keep her from hitting the ground. He always managed to show up at just the moment she needed him. Why would that stop now? She swallowed hard.
“Okay?” Alex asked and watched her suck in a deep breath.
“Yeah okay, I’m ready.” She nodded, glancing nervously past him again and he gave her a rare smile.
“If you start to get overwhelmed just look at me okay?” he said his eyes holding hers and she nodded, wanting so badly to hold his hand but settled for brushing the back of her hand against his as they made their way up the walk to the Student Center.
The Physics of Leaving releases January 31st, 2018 in ebook and paperback on Amazon.com