“Why would she do that?” Connor asks. “You two are together, right?”
“Newly together. We’re trying to work through some things.” Wow, Lo doesn’t lie. Does Connor Cobalt have magic truth dust that he sprinkles on people? Or maybe it’s too hard to lie to his brutal honesty.
“So, where’d you go?” Connor nudges.
“A bar down the street.”
I wish I could eavesdrop for another twenty minutes, but I do need to pass the class. I pad further down the hallway and make my presence known.
Lo spins around on the bar stool, holding the neck of his beer. When Connor turns, I notice an identical Fat Tire in his own hand. He can drink and study? Is he a superhero or something?
“Feeling better?” Lo asks with concern, hinting at a lie he must have used for Connor’s benefit.
“It was probably all the caffeine,” Connor tells me. “If you’re not used to Red Bull and coffee together, it can upset your stomach. I should have brought some antacids.”
The tops of my ears warm in a rash-like red, never wishing to hear someone talk about my indigestion—fake or not. And the fact that Connor’s tutoring methods involve cycles between caffeine and antacids is mildly disconcerting.
“You’re flushing oddly. Do you have a fever?” Connor asks, not embarrassed by anything. Maybe he thinks other people are immune to that sentiment too. For me, not so much. My shoulders cave forward, like a turtle creeping back into its shell.
“She does that a lot. You embarrassed her,” Lo says with an edging smile. Attention to my humiliation only brightens my shade of red.
“Can we just…go back to studying?” I pop open my Diet Fizz and sit on the other stool beside Connor.
“I like that plan,” Connor says. He turns to Lo. “You want to join? You could probably use it. You’re looking at a high sixty. And high or not, an F is still an F.” A high sixty? I frown. I should have known Lo wasn’t doing well in class and that he frequently skips others. The signs are there, but I’m too preoccupied in my own business to notice. Now that I do, I’m at a loss of how to help. I’m not even sure he’d appreciate my prodding.
“I guess I have nothing better to do,” Lo says.
I hide my surprise, which quickly turns to pride. I want nothing more than Lo to succeed, and that actually means he has to try on his own terms. Baby steps.
By the evening, my skills rest at a solid C-status, and Lo is in the mid-B range. Connor looks pleased and actually smiles when he grades my problem sets now. Lo pries off the top of his twelfth beer, not hiding the fact that he consumes alcohol a little too regularly. When he switches to bourbon, he rejects his thermos and pours it into a clear glass. I thought Connor would make a comment about Lo’s drinking habits, but he never says a word. The only time he brings up alcohol is to ask for a second beer.
Twenty minutes later, Connor gathers the work books together in his arms, balancing a large graphing calculator on top.
“How much do I owe you?” I ask, fumbling in the basket by the foyer for my checkbook.
“Save your money. I’d rather write these hours down as voluntary. It gives me more community service credentials.”
Lo smiles into a swig of beer, more amused than peeved. In fact, he’s taken the rude comments pretty well. Maybe he finds Connor endearing like me. Or as endearing as a pretentious honor student can be.
“Halloween is tomorrow,” Lo addresses Connor. “Do you know any good costume parties? Lily wants to go to one.”
He’s considering going out? I almost jump up and down in excitement. “It’s Lo’s birthday,” I add quickly, too thrilled to hold it in.
Lo shoots me a dark look, but I smile. Nothing can bring me down. Not if we’re finally going to a party as a couple.
Connor flashes his pearly whites. “Your birthday is on Halloween? That’s f**king awesome. As for parties, I know about five people throwing them.” Not surprising. Connor has made it quite clear that he has many connections, pocketing them everywhere he goes. “I wasn’t planning on going since most of the hosts are affluent pricks, but I’ll make an exception and take you both to the least shitty of the bunch.”
“Why make an exception for us?” I ask. Then my face lights up. “Am I your favorite student?”
He shakes his head. “Hell no. But you did pad my resume, so don’t go finding another tutor. And honestly…” His eyes dart between Lo and me with a growing smile. “Fizzle and Hale Co., you both still haven’t realized who I am. And I have a good feeling you wouldn’t give a shit if you knew.” He wanders, books in arms, towards the door. “Good luck tomorrow. I’ll call you, Lily, about the party.”
Lo turns to me and with the tilt of his head, he says, “Who the hell is Connor Cobalt?”
I feel like I should know.
One Google search later, we find information regarding our new friend.
Richard Connor Cobalt is the son of a multi-billion dollar corporation that owns smaller companies involved in paints, inks, and magnets. Unlike Hale Co., Cobalt Inc. brands their products with the smaller subsidiary names like MagNetic and Smith & Keller Paints. So I feel a little less stupid for not realizing his family’s prestige.
And Connor is right. His wealth doesn’t change my perception of him. He may be using us to solidify a spot at Wharton, but he does so through tutoring, not badgering me for a reference from my father. If anything, I think more highly of him. He could ride his name all the way to the top. I’m sure he does take advantage of his connections, but there’s genuine hard work and drive to be the best.
Also, if Connor willingly spends 48 hours cramming for a random girl, without monetary compensation, I wonder how many close friends he actually has. Maybe none.
After my test, I take a seat in a comfy, slightly overused, chair in the chatty study lounge. I dial my sister’s number.
One ring passes before she answers. “What’s up?” Background noise crackles through the speaker. “Hey, watch it!” Rose yells at someone. She puts the receiver back to her ear, her voice more present. “Sorry. I’m walking on campus, and some a**hole threw a Frisbee at me. I’m wearing heels and a fur coat. That does not scream, I want to play.”
“He probably thought you were cute,” I say with a smile.
“Yeah, well I’m not a dog that will jump up at the sight of a toy.” She sighs heavily. “Why’d you call? It must be important.”
“It’s not,” I say.
“I just assumed, since you were the one to initiate the call.” She sounds a little distracted.
“If now’s a bad time, I can call later.”
“No, no, no. I’m just crossing traffic. Cars will hit pedestrians even if we use crosswalks. You know how it is.” That I do. Reckless driving and too many bodies trying to reach the other side of the street—it makes for a very dangerous combination.
“Well, I decided to hire a tutor for econ.”
“Oh, that’s great. How’d your exam go?”
“Eh, not sure. Hopefully I passed.” I bring my feet up on the chair cushion. “You know the tutor though.”
“What,” she deadpans. “Who?”
She shrieks. I have to hold the phone away from my ear. “That mother fu…” She continues her string of expletives ending with, “a**hole, he’s tutoring you?”
“You know, my team beat him at the last Academic Bowl tournament, but he was obsessed with the fact that he knew some 18th century British philosopher who influenced Freud. He wouldn’t shut up about it.” She’s foaming at the mouth. “He’s so annoying, but you probably already know that.”
“Mmm-hmm.” Better not take sides on this one.
“You should dump him and find someone else.” She pauses. “It’ll probably do wonders to his ego. You know, I’m always available.”
At this, an incoming call starts ringing, disrupting my talk with Rose. I glance down and see CONNOR COBALT in big letters. Uh… “Hey, Rose, I’ll have to call you back. We’ll talk more later. Someone’s on the other line.”
“Lo? You’re seriously going to hang up on me for him right now.”
“No, actually it’s—”
She gasps. “No. You are not ditching me for Richard.”
I laugh at his real first name. “I’ll talk to you later. He probably just wants to know how I did.”
“Lily,” she warns.
“Bye, Rose,” I say quickly, switching lines. “Hi, Connor.”
I sigh. The exam was hard, and I have no idea whether I passed or tanked. “An A,” I joke.
He sounds like he’s walking hurriedly on campus, places to go, people to see. Hey, kind of like Rose. I inwardly smile. “You’ll make an A in econ when I piss glitter, but if you feel confident about it, that’s what matters.”
“About tonight, I’ll swing by your place around ten, and my driver can take us to the party from there…” His voice trails off, distracted. “Hey, Lily, your sister is calling me.” Oh my God, she is not.
“I hung up on her to talk to you,” I say quickly. “How does she even have your number?”
“She probably called someone who has it,” he says, not sounding surprised at all. “I should answer this.”
“I’m not scared of her,” he laughs. “See you tonight, Lily.” My phone beeps, going silent.
Lo exits the classroom from across the hall and waves to me. I stand and follow him out of the building. We make a conscious effort to not talk about grades or the exam, lest it ruin the mood and Lo’s birthday.
When we reach the Drake, I hide inside the guest room, clumsily putting on my old superhero costume. I avoid all mirrors. The leather fits more tightly than I remember and my whole midriff is exposed to the world.
I sit on the bed, hunched over to hide my skin.
The door creaks and Lo sticks his head in. “Hey there.” He enters, proudly adorning red spandex with black sides, a large belt around his waist, and a giant X on his chest. He looks badass, especially with the way the sleeves are cut at the bicep, showing off his sharp muscles.
“You look like a wilted flower,” he tells me. Before I can protest, he lifts me by the h*ps off the bed and holds my wrists from covering my bare stomach. “You’re hot, Lil,” he whispers in my ear and then kisses me on my temple.
“Where’s my cape?” Despite the soft kisses on the nape of my neck, I can’t think of anything but the outfit.
“X-23 doesn’t have a cape.” He sucks my ear lobe, and his hand slides down the leather, to my thigh and then…
I gasp. “Lo…” I grip his arms tight and bite my lip.
He twirls me around and aims me towards my floor length mirror. Sneaky. “If you’re uncomfortable, you can change. I’m not forcing you to wear it, but you do look beautiful. See.”