Chapter 1 - Monday
The first day of classes was a stressful one. College was so ridiculously different from high school in so many ways… Not the least of which because now, she was away from home, away from her parents. As much as she hated them, they still provided something familiar, and with that came a small comfort borne from that familiarity that she could enjoy. But now, here away from home and on her own, everything was new and everything was up to her. The large campus, confusing already, was now downright terrifying to walk through with such knowledge. That every success and mistake from here on was hers and hers alone.
Walking into the lecture hall, her arms wrapped tightly around her books, Danielle froze for a brief moment as she stood in the back of the room, considering where to sit. If I sit right up front then I might impress the professor and I’ll get a fairly good view of the board… But isn’t that a bit sycophantic? People might think I’m a teacher’s pet… she thought to herself. If I sit in the back I have privacy on my screen, but my view of the board is worse and that’s where all the slackers sit… After roughly three minutes of this internal struggle, she settled for sitting square in the middle of the lecture hall, shuffling past all the seated students and sitting down in the middle of the middle row, squeezing between two boys and struggling to balance all her books on the side table.
Settling in after a few moments, she pulled out her notebook, pencils and erasers, and looked up ahead, ready and waiting for the professor to start the two hour long lecture. Physics 2 with Calculus… g-d help me, this is going to be painful.
Danielle didn’t notice him until halfway through the class. Between taking notes and filing the syllabus into her binder, she was totally unaware of the other students that sat around her in the lecture hall.
It wasn’t until the snickering behind her started that she gave them any of her attention.
He was seated two rows behind her, his feet propped up on the empty chair in front of him, a disinterested demeanor to his whole posture. He was definitely not worried about being perceived as a slacker. Unlike Danielle, his attention wasn’t at the front of the room, where the TA was droning on about deadlines and extensions. No, he was clearly more amused by her.
As if to drive the point home harder, he tilted his head to her inquiring face. Under his breath to his equally cocky friend she could make out the words “Asian nerd” - and his compatriot audibly chuckled at the remark.
In that moment, Danielle knew she’d met her polar opposite. He had none of the anxiety she was carrying - no hint of first day jitters. He was relaxed, confident and at ease in a way that seemed to loudly convey “I belong here”.
She found herself almost envious of him. For a brief moment, she almost admired him - until the humiliating thought that followed: he’s mocking me.
Her flush of anger must have shown on her face, because the boy caught himself mid grin. His well defined jaw tightened ever so slightly. With just the slightest bit of force, he elbowed his slightly chubby sidekick, halting his chortles and letting him know that the joke was over.
Even in her anger, Danielle couldn’t help but melt a bit when his sharp, blue eyes turned to her with the hint of a puppy-dog apology that must have come from years of charming his way out of trouble.
Her conflicted annoyance was again undercut as he shifted back into his seat, slightly more upright - suddenly very interested at the TA’s explanation of proper notation and document submission. Just in that moment of repositioning, Danielle could see he was in exceptionally good shape.
After a brief moment of her gaze lingering, Danielle suddenly remembered that she was indeed at a lecture and snapped her head back to face the front of the lecture hall, renewing her focus and scribbling down every bit of information she had missed. But no matter how hard she tried to focus, in the back of her head she couldn’t help but think about him. He can’t be that bad a guy, he did tell his friend to stop…
And besides… it would be impossible to deny that he was a cute guy. Even if he was a bit ignorant - despite her appearance, she very much was not East Asian but was of Central Asian Jewish descent, thank you very much. Sure, she had the classic epicanthic folds over her eyes that were stereotypical of Asians, and a flatter, wider nose, but that didn’t change the fact that she was very much not from East Asia in any way whatsoever. She had auburn hair, for crying out loud! And calling her a nerd… Just because she was studious did not mean she was a stereotype! She mentally gave a humf to him. Sure, he might have regretted his actions, but only when he was caught. In her book, he was still a jerk, and one with prejudices to say the least.
With that final thought, she pushed the boy out of her mind and instead devoted her full attention to the lecture at hand, which had just begun in earnest as it moved away from matters of the syllabus and on to the actual physics. The boy, despite leaving the impression that he had, had left her thoughts entirely as she focused on the complex calculations and vectors required of her.
Two hours of exhausting note taking and physics learning later, Danielle was carefully but quickly packing away her things. She had another class right after this one, and didn’t have a moment to waste if she wanted to get a good seat. Unfortunately, she found herself trapped in the middle of the row, as everyone on either side of her entered the aisle at a painfully slow pace, and she groaned in frustration while bouncing on her toes in place, preparing to sprint the first opportunity she had.
A hand on her shoulder stopped her momentum suddenly, bringing her to a grinding halt.
"Hey!" Danielle spun around, nearly tripping over her own feet in the process. "Look, I wanted to say I'm sorry." Her sudden stopping had caught off balance, both physically and mentally, as she realized just who was stopping her. The frat boy, who had been sitting behind her during class. In the flow of students pressing by her to get to the exit, she found herself falling into his arms for support.
"Ben! Don't be such a douchebag!" he said to his friend as he passed by, giving him a dirty look. Ben simply shrugged, as if he didn’t care at all about the rebuke he had just received, and walked right by them, filing out of the room with the rest of the students.
"Sorry, he can be an ass sometimes." The cute boy straightened her out, providing a human shield from the last stragglers from the back of the class. Danielle wanted to be mad at him, to tell him he was an ass, for mocking her like that behind her back. For only playing nice when she caught him. For -
"You should really be more careful in crowds like this," he said, interrupting her internal raging. "A cute little Asian girl like you could get trampled."
She was so astounded at the statement, she was speechless. How dare he! And… I’m not even Asian! She tried to stutter out an explicative, but no words seemed properly fitting to describe his arrogance.
Flushed and struggling to speak, she was still so close she was nearly touching him. She imagined she looked furious, ready to burst with anger. He apparently misread her entirely.
"Heh, it's ok. You don't need to thank me," he smiled, a sly hint of a smirk on his face. "I didn't mean to get you all flustered. Look, I think it's cute when you girls are all tongue tied."
Danielle realized that, standing here, shooting daggers at him with her eyes, ready to burst with the indignity of the situation, this douchebag thought she was SMITTEN with his pompous, white knight act!
"Here." Reaching out and taking the textbook she was clutching against her chest, he flipped open to a random page and tore out one of the corners. "Here's my number. We should meet up sometime," he stated, as if it were an undeniable fact. Danielle let out a weak whimper as he handed back a scrap of her brand new, $300 Physics textbook, defaced with his phone number.
The asshole actually grinned a bit broader at her reaction, once again totally misreading her. "It's really no big deal, you know. I think you're pretty cute," he said, winking at her. "Maybe you could be my - uh - 'nerdy Asian tutor'?"
He gave her a head pat, like she was some kid who'd just gotten an autograph, and exited the lecture hall with the breezy confidence only privileged white guys seemed to possess.
Danielle was left there alone in the class, only the faintest bustle from the hall outside. She stood there, holding her formerly perfect-condition textbook, feeling like she'd been hit by a train.
After a good minute had passed, she finally let out a futile "ASSHOLE!" at the top of her lungs. Startling the half asleep TA at the desk in the corner, her scream otherwise was unheard as she raced off to the next class that she would almost certainly be late to. She only stopped to throw out the number she had been given, although she couldn’t help but feel just the tiniest bit hesitant to do so as she approached the first trash bin she saw outside the lecture hall.
It’s just because it’s from the book, she told herself, crumpling up the paper and tossing it in the bin before racing off to class once more. She hardly thought of the note after that, only once or twice until the next class two days later.