In which Nate tries to score with a magical place.
The sun painted glowing rectangles on the wooden floors of the library. Nate’s eyes were riveted to how the chestnut of Adelie’s hair suddenly had threads of gold woven in.
“You’re staring again.” Her voice had lost her sting as if she’d gotten used to his gaze. Like she’d gotten used to him showing up every Thursday in this room, taking the place opposite from her and studying in silence.
“Your hair shimmered lovely in the light.” The remark won him an almost imperceptible smile. To his surprise, she then shut her book and leant back in her chair, looking into the gardens around the library.
“The weather is too beautiful to be inside.”
“How about taking our notes outside,” he suggested, hoping she would agree. The brown eyes abandoned the window and focused on him. For two heartbeats she just watched him, considering the offer, then her impassive face lit up in one of her breathtaking smiles.
“This is a swell idea.” She closed her notebook and stuffed it into her bag. “Let’s go.”
The weather was indeed beautiful, and for a while, they walked along the garden paths in silence. Bees hummed and from open windows, they could hear teachers’ voices lecturing. Under the oak trees, groups of students were sitting on blankets, discussing problems. All the good sites had already been taken.
“I know a beautiful and quiet place, very secluded. It’s behind the greenhouses.” He had no idea why he told her that, but it made her grin.
“Why doesn’t this surprise me in the least? Of course, you have a private spot for charming unassuming women.”
Her grin got even wider as he tried to look offended. “I haven’t said anything about charming you, have I? But it really is a beautiful place, with a pond and waterlilies.”
She stepped closer to him, eyebrows arched and eyes brimming with the thirst of adventure. “This sounds quaint and pretty. Why don’t you show it to me?”
“Are you not afraid I’m going to try and seduce you?” Two could play this game, and nobody was a better partner in scurrilous teasing than her. She chuckled.
“Over our notes of the history of space travel? Hardly. This always puts me asleep in ten minutes flat.”
“Oh, come on then.” With a laugh, he walked with her towards the greenhouse, built for the non-hardy plants adorning the campus over the summer.
He led her past some trash bins and a compost hill, around a hedge, and then an old structure reminding Adelie of an old bomb crater became visible. It was now overgrown with white and pink blooming bushes. The air was full of the sweet scent of honey. At the bottom, there was indeed a little pond, dotted with pink and purple waterlilies. A steep and stony path went down the slope in a zigzag course.
“Ta-dah!” Nate made a flourish as if he wanted to introduce the scenery to her. “What do you say?”
“It’s beautiful. Like from a fairy tale.”
“Do you want to see the waterlilies from up close?”
She nodded. “Yes.”
Descending wasn’t as easy, though. She carefully balanced on her heels to not slip on the uneven path. Sneaker-clad Nate watched her efforts with unbridled amusement. “Women and their impractical shoes. It’ll take a week until we’re down there.”
She huffed and grimaced at his back. “Oh, excuse me, if I’d known that I’d go mountaineering today, I’d have picked more sensible shoes than these sandaaaaa…” Not looking where she was going inevitably led to her heel catching in a root. Flailing only seemed to speed up her fall. Nate turned around as she squeaked, opening his arms to catch her just in time. “Ooomph.”
“Careful, Princess. Don’t sprain your ankle. You okay?”
Grumbling she peeled herself away from his chest, trying to catch her composure before she had to face his inevitable smirk. “Yeah, I’m okay.”
He offered his arm with a gallant smile. “Allow me to be of assistance, Baroness.”
“Thank you.” She grabbed his shoulder for balance and slipped out of her shoes. “Before I faceplant myself on the ground. Why didn’t I think of this earlier?”
With him to lean on, it was a lot easier to pick her way, and they eventually reached the grassy bottom of the crater-like hollow. It was a truly enchanted place, filled with the hum of insects feeding on the blooming bushes, a duck paddling through the waterlilies and there was even a hidden frog croaking. Adelie pulled out a scarf from her purse to use as a makeshift blanket.
“Ha, I knew this would come in handy!” She sat down, fluffed her petticoats and smoothed her full skirt over her knees. Finally decent and comfortable, she patted the place next to her. “Come and sit here.”
“This is an offer I can’t refuse.” He made himself comfortable beside her.
Cautiously Adelie eyed her companion going through his backpack seemingly without a care in the world. No matter how much Leslie tried to talk her out of it, she enjoyed his company. Nate was pleasant and fun to talk to. He liked motorcycles and books and played rugby for the varsity team. Not to mention that he was easy on the eyes and had manners to match.