Taking the concrete steps two at a time, Anthony Russell hurried to the front door of the Language Building, which he opened with barely a yank. He was late, and he knew it.
“God, please don’t let her leave. Please,” he begged as he all-but ran down the hall to the Conference Rooms. “She’s my last chance.” With no pretense, he yanked that door open and strode into the room.
“May I help you?” the secretary, sitting primly at the desk, asked.
“I’m here…” Anthony glanced around for anyone who looked like a tutor that he could introduce himself to before she left. “For tutoring.”
“Oh, yes. Mr. Russell, how nice to meet you,” the secretary said with a warm smile. “I watch all of your games.”
“That’s nice,” he said without really hearing her comment. Then he stopped himself. “I mean…uh…thank you…Do you…uh…know where I am supposed to go by any chance?”
“Oh, yes. The end of the hall. She’s been here awhile.”
“Thank you.” Anthony turned down the hallway. She’s been here awhile. She’s been here awhile. Great! Awhile? Awhile? What is that? Ten minutes? Fifteen? This was not the way he had wanted to start out.
At the end of the hall, he pushed the door open with one shove, and half-an-instant later heard the crash on the other side as the door hit a chair that was standing too close.
CRASH! The girl seated at the tiny table jumped up so fast, she knocked her own chair to the floor as well, and when it hit the floor, she jumped again.
“Oh, man,” Anthony said as embarrassment swept over him. He held a hand up to calm the all-out panic in her face. “I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to scare you. I am so sorry.”
A fall of wavy brown hair followed her motion as she reached down to yank her chair from the floor.
“Here, let me get that for you,” Anthony said, mortified by his clumsiness. As he crossed the room in one stride, he slung his books onto the little table. But just as he reached for her chair, he heard the first book hit the floor on the table’s other side, and then from his vantage point looking under the table, he saw the papers from his notebook slide from the table to the floor with a slow-motion waterfall effect.
“Oh, no.” He righted her chair in one sweep and quickly knelt down under the table to retrieve his wayward belongings. He pulled the last paper off the floor and got his feet under him to stand, but he didn’t judge the table right and smacked his head on the edge of it.
“Ow!” he yelped, rubbing the skin at the top of his head. Putting a hand above him to judge the table, he stood slowly, making sure to leave plenty of room between his head and the table this time.
She’s going to think I’m a complete idiot. He stood to face her and braced himself for what he knew was coming. He couldn’t even look her in the eye.
“Hi,” he finally said, holding out his hand, his gaze glued to the floor, “I’m Anthony Russell.”
Heather stood in dumbfounded silence. She had never seen anything like this before—EVER!
“Hello,” she said, shaking out of the shock and trying very hard to sound professional. “I’m Heather Nolan. It’s nice to meet you.” She extended her hand to shake his.
“Ms. Nolan, it’s nice to meet you,” Anthony said as his hand smothered hers.
“Oh, please, call me Heather.” The words had to choke themselves past the derision in her throat. How could she be nice to this creep? After all, he was 20 minutes late, and then he almost scared her to death! But her parents had taught her well, and she was polite to a fault. This guy wasn’t going to make her change now.
“You can call me Anthony,” he said with a slow, shy smile that glimmered in his dark eyes.
Heather ran a hand down her skirt to either smooth it out or to get her palm dry again, she wasn’t quite sure which. “Well, Anthony, you make quite an entrance.”
Anthony ducked his head and squeezed his eyes closed. He glanced back at the door. “Would you mind if I try that again?”
“Again?” Heather asked in confusion.
“O…Okay. I guess so.”
“Great! Just a second.” He grabbed up his books, righted the other chair, and disappeared outside.
Heather was amused in spite of herself.
This time the door opened slowly—very slowly, and Anthony entered smoothly, books in hand, looking every bit the ultra-cool basketball star he obviously was.
“Hello.” He extended his hand. “I’m Anthony Russell.”
“Hello, Mr. Russell,” Heather said, taking his hand. “It’s nice to meet you. I’m Heather Nolan.”
“Nice to meet you, Ms. Nolan,” Anthony said formally. “And please call me Anthony.”
“Okay, Anthony. You can call me Heather.”
“Okay, Heather. I really appreciate you waiting for me. I’m sorry I’m so late.”
“It’s all right,” Heather said, wishing it wasn’t so easy to be polite to him. “Just don’t make a habit of it.”
“I won’t,” Anthony said with that same slow smile, and this one went all the way into and through the deep, near-black of his eyes. “I promise.”
“Good. Now, how can I help you?”