Excerpt: Love Tactics
Author’s Note: Love Tactics is one of the many stories I’m plotting behind the scenes. Hope you enjoy this excerpt.
by Ingrid Díaz
“Would you go on a date with me?”
Kyra Stevens froze in the doorway. The stack of books she carried, as well as the precariously balanced cup of hot coffee perched upon it, was momentarily forgotten as she stared at her roommate. “Have you lost your mind?”
Alex Rhodes shook her head, a deep frown marring the otherwise perfect features of her face. “She wouldn’t say that.”
Kyra debated whether or not it was safe to step inside the room. Quickly, it became evident that the danger posed by the coffee was significantly more damaging than her roommates’ decidedly random romantic attentions, so she moved swiftly toward her desk.
A soft knock on the open door interrupted Kyra’s next words, and she turned to find a girl she didn’t know peering inside.
“Would you go on a date with me?” Alex’s question was directed at the stranger, and it hung in the air for several – awkward – seconds.
The girl looked surprised, but not offended. “Sorry, I’m straight.”
Alex looked thoughtfully at the wall, contemplating. “That, she might say.” She turned her attention to the computer on her desk, forgetting that there were others in the room with her; leaving Kyra to play hostess.
“Uh, can I help you?” Kyra said, feeling uncomfortable. “I’m sorry about my roommate, she’s …” Kyra couldn’t think of an appropriate adjective, so she settled for, “… prone to eccentricities.”
The girl shrugged as if it were commonplace for random girls to ask her out. “I’m Akira. I’m in the room next door. Figured I’d stop in and say hi.”
Kyra smiled, relaxing now that the awkwardness had passed. “I’m Kyra and that’s …” She glanced at Alex. “… Alexandra. Though she goes by Alex.”
“Nice to meet you both. Guess I’ll see you around.” To Alex, she said, “Hope you find someone that’ll say yes.”
Alex ignored the comment, and Kyra was forced to look apologetic on her behalf.
“What is wrong with you today?” Kyra demanded once they were alone and the door to their dorm room was properly shut. “Did you fall off the top bunk? Hit your head?”
Alex swiveled her chair around to face Kyra. “It’s our second year of college, right? It’s time for a fresh start. Last year, I skated along, barely aware of social engagements, opportunities to meet new people … that’s all in the past. I’m a new me.”
Kyra glanced at the door where an opportunity to meet a new person had come and gone. She dragged her gaze back to Alex. “I see.”
“Today, as I was walking back from the library I saw her.”
“The girl I’m going to ask out.” Alex jumped up from the chair and began to pace. “The me that was me last year never would have even contemplated the possibility of asking a girl out. I mean, the notion, I admit, still makes me a little sick to my stomach, but I haven’t yet passed out. You know what that means? Progress! But I can’t just … you know … do it. I have to pace myself. Approach it scientifically. Research.”
“Research what, exactly?”
“Well, her, for instance. I have to find out what she likes, what she doesn’t like … it will reduce the odds that I will make a fool of myself.”
“Isn’t that called ‘stalking’?”
“I’m also running a series of experiments using surprise tactics to record potential dialogue. So far, I’ve asked out about ten girls in this building and I’ve gotten some fascinating results. One even said yes! That gives me hope. But I can’t be blinded. I’m inputting all reactions into this graph—“ Here she paused to point at the series of charts on the computer screen. “I’m trying to determine a common ground between responses so that I can estimate the most likely answer she’ll give me. If I know what she’s going to say before she says it, then I can prepare accordingly.”
“Seriously?” She blinked at her roommate. “Someone actually said yes?”
Alex picked up a clipboard from her desk and looked through a couple of pages before saying, “Emma. Cute redhead upstairs. Her exact response was, ‘Sure … when?’” She glanced up at Kyra. “Ideal response, actually. But the odds aren’t looking good.”
“And you said…?”
“I thanked her for her time.” Alex returned to her desk and began tapping on her keyboard.
“Let me get this straight. You asked her out on a date, she said, ‘Sure…when?’ and you said, ‘Thanks’?”
The typing continued as Alex talked. “No, that would have been inappropriate. I said ‘thank you’. If you’re truly grateful about something you don’t shortcut it by abbreviating. The extra syllable doesn’t cost anything.”
Kyra stared at the back of Alex’s head for a long time. “And she said?”
“To your ‘thank you’ she said…?”
At this, the typing stopped, and Alex turned. Her blue eyes narrowed suspiciously. “Why do you ask?”
Kyra shrugged and tried not to look uncomfortable as she stared down at the blue rug on the floor. The truth was, she’d noticed the cute redhead during move-in day. She’d thought about offering to help her carry her stuff up the stairs, but chickened out. She’d settled, instead, for loitering outside until the last of the girl’s boxes had been carried away. One of these days, she’d promised herself, she’d go up and say hello. “No reason,” she said to Alex, feeling embarrassed. “Just thought it interesting that she said yes.”
Alex eyed her curiously for a moment. Then she tucked a strand of blonde hair behind her ear and said, “I don’t think she said anything after I thanked her. But I was already walking away so it’s possible I didn’t hear it.”
The chair turned back to face the monitor and Kyra let the subject drop. She remembered the cup of coffee on her desk and took a tentative sip, careful not to burn her tongue as she had done several times before.
She watched her roommate silently; fascinated as she always was be the ever-present look of concentration on the girl’s face. Alexandra Rhodes was brilliant. Insane, but brilliant. She walked in a world that was purely her own. She was also beautiful. More beautiful than she realized which is the main reason Kyra had fallen for her the moment they’d met. Alexandra Rhodes was also unattainable, or at least had seemed that way for as long as Kyra had known her, which is the main reason she’d let her feelings go.
“So who is she?” Kyra found herself asking. For Alex to take notice it had to be someone special. Someone smart, talented in some unparalleled way. “A professor? T.A.?”
Alex let out what sounded like a snort. “Hardly. At least, I’m pretty sure she’s a student.”
“You’re not going to tell me who it is?”
“How can I tell you when I don’t know myself?”
Kyra carried her coffee across the room and leaned against the edge of Alex’s desk. “So it’s just someone you saw randomly. Love at first sight?”
Alex sighed and stopped typing. She leaned back on the chair and stared up at Kyra. “You’re going to think it’s weird.”
“You actually think something was weird? Now you have to tell me. What was she doing? Eating a skunk? Licking a tree?”
Alex cocked her head to the side and crossed her arms. “I’m sorry, and you think I’m the crazy one in this roomationship?”
Kyra sighed, giving up. “What was she doing?”
“Well.” Alex sat up and pushed closed the drawer that held her keyboard. “She was thinking.”
“Yeah, she was sitting on the grass. You know, that nice area by Erikson Hall? She was just sitting there, her back against a tree, thinking.”
“Okay… I don’t get it. Lots of people think.”
“No one thinks. This is college. People are too busy to think. I looked all around that area and I saw people reading, laughing, talking on their cell phones, throwing Frisbees, eating lunch, sleeping, you name it. She was the only one just sitting there, thinking.”
“And that’s compelling to you?”
“Yes! It’s fascinating. It’s mysterious. It’s intriguing. What was she thinking about? Something sad? Happy? Meaningful? Insignificant?”
“Maybe she was contemplating a new haircut? A different shade of nail polish?”
Alex smiled, showing perfect, white teeth. “But it doesn’t matter. She caught my attention. Do you know how often that happens? Never. It must mean something.”
Kyra ignored the pang of hurt in her chest. “So, what’s next?”
“First, I find out her name.”
“And how do you plan to do that?”
Alex smiled again. “Well, that’s where you come in.”
Kyra paused in front of the door, her eyes travelling over the decorations: the names of the occupants written on a bright pink index card, a picture of a beach at sunset. A dry erase board hung at the center, its white surface glimmering under the blue fluorescent lighting . She contemplated writing something instead of knocking. It was easier to communicate through the written word; easier to hide her shyness.
The blue marker hung from a white cord, and she caught it and uncapped it, but couldn’t think of a single thing to write.
The door opened without warning and Kyra nearly dotted the girl’s forehead in blue. “Sorry,” she cried, moving away sharply and causing the marker to break free of its confines. The tack that held the cord to the door snapped away, flying in a random direction and disappearing into the carpet.
Kyra wondered if there was any chance she was living the nightmarish version of that moment. She opened her mouth to speak but nothing came out.
“I’m sorry I startled you,” said the redheaded girl.
Kyra cleared her throat and capped the marker, thinking it a reasonable thing to do. Looking into expectant green eyes would yield nothing but senseless babbling. “I was just going to leave you a note.”
“Me?” Emma sounded surprised.
And why shouldn’t she? Kyra wondered. She doesn’t know me at all. “You don’t know me, but I live downstairs. And … well, I’m roommates with Alex. Alex Rhodes?” Saying Alex’s name gave Kyra enough confidence to glance up, but Emma still looked confused. “Girl who asked you out earlier?”
“Oh,” Emma said, chuckling. “Definitely remember that. Are you here to ask me out, too?”
Kyra knew she was blushing and lowered her head in the hopes that Emma couldn’t see. “I-I … um.” Great, she was stammering. She coughed again. “I just wanted to a-apologize for my friend’s … uh … see, she’s a tad … um … her mind, it works very strangely and she just…”
“Do you usually go around apologizing for your roommate’s behavior?” To Kyra’s relief, Emma sounded more amused than irritated.
Kyra looked up, daring to meet clear green eyes. “You’d be surprised how many times I feel the need to do that.”
Emma offered a smile. “I’m not that surprised, actually.”
Kyra laughed, more out of nervousness than anything else. “Well, okay, then. Guess I can cross you off the list of permanently scarred victims and move on to the next person.” A full sentence. Progress.
“Are you planning to use my marker to cross it off?”
Emma nodded to the marker in Kyra’s hands.
Embarrassment was quick to return and Kyra laughed uncomfortably. “Oh! Sorry.”
But Emma was smiling as she took the marker back. “No worries.” She stepped back into the bedroom and put the marker down, out of sight. Returning to the doorway, she said, “I’ll fix it later. I was just on my way to get dinner before the dining hall closes. I didn’t realize it was so late.”
Kyra moved back and away so that Emma could close and lock the door. “Um,” she started, feeling awkward, “I think the dining hall is closed already.”
“But it’s not even eight yet.”
“Classes haven’t officially started so they close earlier.”
“Damn. I knew I should’ve paid attention during Freshman orientation.”
Kyra grinned, feeling an ounce of confidence returning at the realization that she was one year older than Emma. It was irrational to feel confidence over something so trivial, but she’d take anything at this point. “The… uh… the student center is open until ten, if you don’t mind spending a few dollars on fast food.”
Emma appeared to contemplate Kyra’s suggestion, then shrugged. “Have you eaten dinner yet?”