(Read the previous scenes here.)
Liesel could tell, even before she settled into her seat for the Cairo Accords lecture, that the guy who always sat next to her had something he wanted to say. No empathy needed; she could read it in his posture, much more upright than his usual slouch, and the way he kept looking at her sidelong. But she’d been delayed on her way to class by a call from her mother, and there was no time for him to say anything before Professor Banerjee brought up the display and began lecturing.
She hoped he wasn’t going to ask her out. Robert wasn’t the type of guy who interested her—and besides, Michele’s flirting had continued well after Carmen stopped eating lunch with them. They’d gotten together the previous night to talk about the possibility of forming a Wiccan circle, if they could find enough other students they wanted to include, but the conversation had continued for a good hour and a half after that, long after Liesel should have gone home.
Well, if he did, she would do her best to let him down gently. So she made a point, when the lecture was over, of packing up her things slowly enough that he wouldn’t feel rushed to get the words out before she walked away.
“Er,” Robert said, and cleared his throat. His eyes were on the students in the row in front of them, plainly waiting for them to move and give him a bit of privacy.
Liesel did her best to seem neutrally pleasant, not too encouraging. “Yes?”
They’d spoken enough before and after this class that she knew the uncertainty he showed now wasn’t usual for him. “I . . . have a favor to ask,” Robert said, with the tone of one placing a heavy weight very carefully on a table, and waiting for the legs to break.
It piqued Liesel’s curiosity. This didn’t sound like the start of a proposition. “I’ll help if I can,” she said cautiously.
Robert let his breath out in a gust. “It’s my roommate who needs the help. No—wait—that doesn’t sound right at all—” He caught Liesel’s expression, and threw his hands up to fend off the conclusion he probably assumed she was drawing. “This is a friendly favor, nothing more! Only dinner. Gods and sidhe—that still sounds wrong.”
Liesel suppressed a laugh; it wouldn’t help Robert any. “Deep breath. Start at the beginning.”
He took her advice literally, at least where the breathing was concerned. “My roommate. I am attempting to broaden his social horizons, and he—after a certain degree of, shall we say, resistance—has agreed. I wondered if you might join us in Earle tonight.”
“Just me?” Liesel asked.
“I thought to start small,” Robert admitted. “Though if you have another you’d like to bring along, I defer to your judgment.”
She clipped her bag shut, thinking. Three could be awkward; if they didn’t hit it off, there might be too much silence. Or she and Robert would spend the entire time talking, leaving the other guy out. “I could invite my own roommate.”
The fall quarter was young enough that a lot of freshmen were still sitting down to meals with random people, hoping to make new friends. Kim had made some connections through the Divination Club, but she probably wouldn’t object to this experiment. Robert asked, “What’s she like?”
“Mature,” Liesel said. “Her parents are kind of high society, so she’s used to making small talk with strangers. It sounds like that might help.”
Robert’s sigh of relief told her she’d hit the mark. She doubted she was the only person he knew well enough to invite to dinner; it therefore followed that he had a reason for choosing her. And the most likely reason was her empathy. She could smooth over any rough spots in the conversation—and Kim, she thought, could do the same.
“That sounds excellent,” Robert said. “Shall I see you both at seven, then? Splendid.” He grabbed his bag, gifted Liesel with a florid bow, and fled.
(“Welcome to Welton” is a series of teaser scenes. Teasers for what? The answer to that, my friends, is coming on September 18th. Check back each weekday for a new scene!)