Meryl Davis was annoyed. The statistics problems due tomorrow were fighting her tooth and nail, the sorority house had run out of club soda, and Charlie would not stop sending her patently ridiculous texts. And yet, she couldn't just turn her phone off -- they were hoping to find out Grand Prix assignments today and Igor and Marina had promised to call when they got the news, no matter what time it was.
Her phone dinged. Damn it. She picked it up to send Charlie another all-caps threat to his manhood, but discovered that the text wasn't from him.
It said: I want to build a catapult that will slingshot me to your front door.
Ryan. Meryl smiled. Her smile muscles felt like they had atrophied during the several hours of furious studying she'd done since dinner, when Charlie's thoroughly absurd story about Shibs and his pencil collection had made her laugh for about ten minutes straight.
You should, she typed back, and it should also do linear algebra.
A few seconds later came: As you wish. :)
Meryl laughed, delighted, and sent Ryan a smiley face in return before going back to her calculations.
Meryl was not a morning person. She was especially not a morning person after only three hours of sleep, and most especially not when those three hours of sleep had consisted primarily of tossing and turning as she dreamt about probability and ballistae and farm boys-turned-pirates. They were nice dreams, overall, just not especially restful.
Plus, they still hadn't heard about Grand Prix. Argh.
Luckily, her coffeemaker had specifically been chosen with her hatred of mornings in mind. She set it up every night as part of her evening wind-down, and in the morning all she had to do was punch the one, big, obvious button to get it to produce an enormous travel mug of Kona to down on the way to the rink. Her sorority sisters had been strongly cautioned that if they ever interfered with her morning coffee, she could not be responsible for the consequences. She loved them, but coffee.
She punched the button and hopped up onto the counter to wait.
She had a long day ahead of her. Rink, class, lunch with Molly and Lauren to talk about Tri Delt stuff, another class, off-ice meeting with Charlie and Igor and Marina, home for dinner with the girls, anthro project research. All while running back and forth through the warm, sticky air of Michigan in June.
She pulled out her BlackBerry and typed: Wish I could be part of your world.
A minute or two later came Ryan's reply, just as her coffee had finished percolating: Come on in, the water's fine.
A few seconds after that: We would even give you some fins to swap for those pretty little feet!
And then: Okay, that sounded a kinda creepy. But you know what I mean.
She smiled into her coffee mug. Yeah. She did. You could come be part of my world, she told him.
Then she hopped off the counter, grabbed her duffle bag (packed last night, of course), and headed to the rink.
It was, indeed, an extremely long day. But there was a high point -- a new Grand Prix event to go to! She and Charlie were going to Cup of Russia (for the first time!) and Skate Canada, and it was going to be awesome. It was nice to have another shot at Russia -- thirteenth at Junior Worlds in 2004 was not exactly a stellar introduction, but she and Charlie were so much better now. And this year they were going to place better than fourth at Skate Canada, too, if Meryl had anything to say about it.
She made a note to herself to buy some new guidebooks for Moscow.
Moscow! Maybe Johnny would give her some tips. She was smiling so wide she could feel her cheeks aching by the time she arrived home.
Just as they were sitting down to dinner, Katie jumped up and exclaimed, "Oh, I forgot!" before darting out of the room.
She came back holding a single red rose in a pretty, white ceramic vase. "This came for you, Meryl."
"Oooooooh!" went everyone in the room, as Katie handed Meryl the vase.
For My Belle, said the card. There was no signature.
Katie leaned over to read the card, then laughed. "Someone knows you well."
After dinner, she went up to her room, shut the door, placed the rose in its vase carefully on the far corner of her desk, and pulled out her phone to text Ryan. Thank you for the rose. It felt a bit inadequate, but everything else she considered saying seemed too ridiculous, even for her.
A minute later, the reply: Welcome :)
And then: It was my pleasure.
And right after that: btw, you have a long weekend for July 4th, right?
Yes. Why? Meryl had planned to spend it working on her anthro project, but she probably didn't need the whole weekend. Especially not if she accelerated her timeline this week.
Oh, no reason.
Mmm-hmm, she sent back. Who knew what he meant by that.
Meryl tried not to let her imagination run away with her.
It sounded good, though. Really good.
"So when are you and Ryan going to stop flirting and start getting it on?" Charlie asked her the next day. "I mean, I'd appreciate it if you didn't tell me any details, but inquiring minds want to know. And by inquiring minds, I mean me. And Tanith and Ben and Alex and Maia and Trevor and--"
"I don't know what you're talking about," interrupted Meryl. She had no interest in knowing who else was attempting to keep track of her love life.
"Right, yeah, nothing at all is going on," Charlie said, nodding. "You guys never talk, you barely know each other, sneaking off together in Paris last year totally didn't happen--"
"We just got coffee," Meryl interjected.
"And I'm sure all you did was get coffee during the six hours you spent at the Mall of America together during Nats, too."
"Well," Meryl said. "I also did some studying."
"Of course you did," agreed Charlie. "And Ryan just sat there, staring at you."
"Actually, I think he bought us sorbet."
"Right," agreed Charlie again. "And absolutely nothing is going on. At all."
"Exactly," said Meryl. "Nothing at all."
Two days later she had nearly the exact same conversation with Tanith. A week after that, Jeremy sent her a series of mysterious texts that, when she looked them up, all seemed to be lyrics from different pop songs. She deliberately resisted trying to interpret them.
"Meryl!" called Suzanne. It sounded like she was standing at the foot of the stairs. "There's someone here to see you!"
Meryl left her research on her desk, ducked quickly into the nearest bathroom to glance at her reflection in the mirror, then ran downstairs.
Ryan Bradley was standing on the steps of the house, holding a picnic basket with what looked like a folded-up blanket threaded under the handle. He was smiling.
Suzanne looked amused.
As Meryl approached, Ryan set the picnic basket down at his feet and bowed deeply, making a sweeping gesture with his hand.
"O fair one," he greeted her. "I was hoping that you would do me the honor of accompanying me on an outing this afternoon."
"I would be delighted," she replied, beaming at him. "Just give me five minutes!" She ran back up the stairs. Behind her, she could hear Suzanne ushering him into the parlor to wait.
Meryl pulled her favorite sundress off its hanger and zipped herself into it, then shoved her sunglasses, purse, phone, notebook, sunblock, and a white long-sleeved shirt into a beach tote. She also snagged the wide-brimmed straw hat she wore in the summer to keep the sun out of her eyes. She briefly considered her shoe options before going with a pair of strappy black sandals that had a low wedge heel and comfy cushioned sole.
She got back downstairs to find Ryan sitting in the parlor, four of her sorority sisters surrounding him. They seemed to be alternating between interrogating him and laughing a lot.
In the mirror next to the door, she adjusted her hat so it sat at the perfect jaunty angle, curving over her right eye.
Ryan appeared next to her. He picked up the picnic basket from where it sat next to the umbrella stand, and offered her his arm. "Milady?"
"Good sir," she replied, smiling impishly. She hooked her arm through his. "Shall we?"
They ended up on the far side of campus, in one of the many little hidden stretches of grass between buildings. It was Saturday, and the day after the fourth of July on a long weekend to boot, so campus was almost completely deserted.
Ryan unfolded the blanket and spread it on the grass. It looked like the navy blue fleece blanket from Charlie's living room, the one that had once belonged to Shibs but now had to be considered communal property. The guys tended to keep their air-conditioning in overdrive during the summer, so they could wrap themselves in blankets like compact burritos, their eyes the only parts of them visible, and sometimes their hands if they were gaming. Meryl suddenly realized why the car Ryan was driving had seemed so familiar. It was Trevor's. Huh.
Suddenly Charlie's recent barrage of questions about Ryan seemed a lot less random.
"Are you staying with Charlie and the guys?" she asked Ryan. "Because I'm pretty sure that blanket's from their couch."
Ryan grinned at her. "Ah, but is the blanket from their couch magic? Because this one is."
He sat down on the blanket and looked up at her with mock seriousness. "I can show you the world," he said, extending his hand to her.
She smiled wryly. "Shining, shimmering, splendid?"
"That's the one."
She laughed, then took his hand and sat down next to him on the blanket.
In the picnic basket was chicken caesar salad (light on the dressing), hummus with carrots and celery for dipping, a couple of soft rolls, a liter bottle of water, and two thermoses -- chai tea with soy milk for her, iced green tea for him. And there were little individual cups of peanut butter mousse for dessert.
"This was amazing," she told him afterwards, as they walked back across the lawn to where he had parked Trevor's car.
"Only the best for my lady," he said. "But seriously, all I did was look up where the Whole Foods is and then rearrange everything into tupperware and thermoses and stuff.
"Still," she said. She put her hand on his arm. "Thank you."
"Believe me," he turned towards her, met her eyes, and smiled, "it was my pleasure."
She studied him for just a moment, then raised herself up on her toes to kiss him on the cheek. When she pulled back a little, he was staring at her, wide-eyed.
"Meryl," he blurted. "Will you come to dinner with me tonight?"
She kissed him on the other cheek. "Of course I will." Then she flashed a bright smile at him and shouted, "Race you to the car!" before taking off at a run.
When she glanced back a few seconds later, he was running after her, laughing.
She beat him there by barely half a stride. They collapsed against the car, both out of breath but smiling. Between one moment and the next, his face went serious, then he reached out and touched her cheek with his right hand.
She tilted her face up, and he kissed her.
She couldn't stop smiling as she kissed him back.