‘Kenzie, could you just concentrate for half a second?’
Sloan sits on a table in a far-flung corner of the library, opposite Mackenzie. The table between them is hardly small, and almost every inch is covered textbooks and assorted notes. They’ve been here since six – nearly two hours now - and Mac peers blearily over her glasses at Sloan, who, nearly two years younger, is looking at the older girl with something akin to frustration.
Sloan sighs and repeats herself. ‘The three assumptions of neoclassical economics are…?’
‘People act independently when information is available, people maximise utility, while corporations maximize profit and people want more of certain goods based on rational preferences.’
Sloan sits up slightly in surprise. ‘Good – and that means?’
‘It means I’ve learned enough for today?’
Sloan scrutinises Mackenzie for a moment, before relenting – they had been at this for hours, and Mac’s exam wasn’t until next week, after all. The older girl sighs in relief, leaning back in her chair, tipping her head back to expose her neck, and Sloan can’t help but stare. The light smattering of freckles across the top of her collarbone draws Sloan’s eye, and it’s all she can do not to reach across the table to touch them.
But Mackenzie sits back up, and the spell is broken. Sloan clears her throat, rubbing her hands on her jeans in an attempt to join back with reality.
‘So, same time tomorrow?’ Sloan tries not to sound too hopeful, but she can’t quite look away from the junction between Mac’s neck and shoulders, the little pulsepoint ticking away, and it doesn’t quite work.
Mackenzie, wonderfully oblivious, just shakes her head. ‘Can’t, sorry. Brian’s in town and we’re having dinner.’
‘Brian -‘ she pauses, unsure how to finish the sentence: intelligent, attractive, bearded, sophisticated, superior to Sloan in every way…
‘Ex-boyfriend Brian?’ She finally settles with.
‘Yeah,’ Mackenzie says absently, standing up and piling her notes together. ‘Yeah, he called me up and I’m not seeing anyone at the moment so I thought, what the hell.’
Sloan’s heart stops. ‘So it’s a date?’
‘Not exactly, it’s – I don’t know. It’ll be good to see him, anyway.’
‘I’m sure.’ She tries to keep the hurt out of her voice, and very nearly succeeds. ‘So –‘
‘After class on Wednesday?’ Mac finishes, and Sloan’s mouth flickers into a smile.
‘Sounds good – see you then.’
And then suddenly the table is clear, and they’re both standing, bags thrown over shoulders. There’s a moment of awkwardness as Sloan is overwhelmed by the instinct to hug Mackenzie goodbye, but Mac just gives a small wave and smile, then turns to leave the opposite direction that Sloan is heading.
She stands there, for a moment, just watching Mac’s little ponytail bounce its way out the door. Sloan lets her eyes drift shut for a second before opening them again, chastising herself, and turns to walk home. Her stomach turns at the thought of Mackenzie having dinner with her ex-boyfriend, but she knows, really, truly knows, that she has no right to feel this way. Hell, they’re barely even friends.
Mac, upon entering her senior year, decided to take a first year economics course to pad out her journalism major. The only issue was that Mackenzie was terrible at economics. Truly, truly horrible. From what Sloan can tell, she had made it through the first semester of it on a combination of charm and luck. Which wouldn’t have been an issue had she only done that course. But of course, stubborn Mackenzie decided to take another semester of the subject, and it was here that she had sought Sloan’s help.
Sloan had been sitting in the library, trying very hard to ignore the table of freshman talking loudly about their weekends. The all exploded in a fit of laughter and Sloan groaned in frustration, crumping up a piece of paper and lobbing it at them from her desk. The one closet turned to her in annoyance, and made to throw it back, but Sloan cut him off.
‘This. Is. A. Library. For study. Go outside if you’re going to be so damn loud!’ She punctuated it with a bang as she slammed her textbook shut – the economics book made a delightfully loud noise when shut. That table thankfully quietened down as they started packing up their stuff, shooting her reproachful looks. Sloan ignored them, turned back to her notes and - realised they were in the book she had just shut. Rather sheepishly, glancing around to make sure no one noticed, and she slowly opened the book to find her page.
In what can be described as definitely not her finest moment, Sloan yelped, shutting the book in surprise. It banged rather loudly, and of the freshmen turns around and shushes her.
‘Oh don’t you even dare, you know what - aaand they’re not listening…’ she trailed off. ‘Whatever,’ she grumbled, opening the book again, before remembering what had started this whole thing. She turned to her left to see a tall brunette girl, clutching a first year economics textbook to her chest.
‘Sloan Sabbith?’ Sloan nodded mutely, flushing slightly at the thought of being caught being so stupid.
‘Mackenzie McHale – I’m a friend of Will McAvoy’s, and I’m currently doing ECON1002, and, well-’ She made an embarrassed noise in the back of her throat, that, when Sloan’s mind started ticking again, Sloan found utterly adorable, ‘It’s my last semester, and I have to pass it to have enough credits to graduate.’
‘I’m Mackenzie Mc-‘
‘No, I got that bit. What do you want?’
‘I need a tutor. I asked around, and Will says you’re easily the best person in the class, and probably the class above that one, and the one above – anyway, I thought I’d ask. I’d pay you, and everything-‘
‘Um –‘ Sloan hesitated. It’s not that she couldn’t use the money, but then she didn’t really have mountains of free time…
But then this girl, clutching the textbook to her chest like a bulletproof vest, hair tucked behind her ear, bit her lip in a hopeful smile, and Sloan couldn’t help but say yes.
It’s been almost four months now, and not much has changed. Sure, Mackenzie has become significantly better at Economics, and Sloan’s bank balance has steadily improved, but Sloan can hardly say the two of them are friends. Yes, okay, she knows about Mac’s ex-boyfriend, about her life at home in England, but they’ve hardly talking outside of the tutoring sessions.
And then, with finals coming up, and Mac’s determination to pass increases, the two of them find themselves in the library more and more often, and what has started as a passing interest on Sloan’s behalf has steadily developed into something far more serious.
But she’s far too pragmatic to ever think that Mac feels the same way – Mac has shown her interests lie firstly with guys like Brian, and then definitely not with girls like Sloan. And then that’s a whole other thing – because while admittedly she’s not very good at love, she’s watched enough TV to know that going out to dinner with your ex-boyfriend will inevitably spell trouble. But Sloan doesn’t want to cause trouble, and it’s really, really, not her place.
At somewhat of a loose end, Sloan finds herself at the library yet again the next day. It’s dark outside, and there’s thunder rumbling somewhere in the distance. A more dramatic version of Sloan would appreciate having something to set the mood, but as it is, she’d rather just forget about it. Six o’clock comes and goes, and eventually she finds her eyes drifting shut, the pages of notes blurring before her eyes.