But Belle must remember the acne-scarred, loner, pre-alpha version of Derek because her sour-pickle gaze follows him as he takes a seat spitting distance down the row in lecture. She’s still blonde, smooth as vanilla frozen yogurt, a flavor to please everyone. Why does she condescend to attend a Social Anxiety lecture? Cue eyerolling and gum snapping sans her usual entourage.
Hairy-eared, bespectacled Dr. Lieberman intones, “Let’s refer to our notes on Jane Chamberlin’s article referencing Dr. Wilcox’s study. Hands up if you worry what others think.” Hands flutter skyward. “If you avoid speaking in class.” Derek raises his. “Have had trouble making friends in this new environment.” Belle’s French-manicured hand shoots up, a flashing beacon for shipwrecked sailors.
“Good, you’re human.” Laughter, hands drop. “Let’s talk nature versus nurture and how anxiety has kept us alive as a species in these scary times.”
Derek taps away on his Mac. Belle hunts and pecks on her Surface laptop. Lecture over. Derek slips his Mac into his backpack, slings it over his shoulder, rises to file out. Throat cleared behind him.
He turns. She flicks her wispy bangs from her face. She’s dipped the bottom of her bob in pink and it matches her Chinook-chapped cheeks. “I didn’t get all the notes. Not as fast a typist, I guess. Can I borrow yours?”
His heart in his mouth, like he’s chewing on the sun. Coughs. “Sure.”
“Guess I owe you.”
“You can buy me a tea. $0.50 goes to United Way today.” He’s grown cojones, even as his hand shakes holding the door for her.
“I did NOT picture you as a tea guy.” Belle and her perfume lead the way down labyrinthine corridors to the food court.
Derek waves to Eric, or Eldak the Black Guard. Eric gives two thumbs up so hard he might’ve sprained them. His tray hoisted, he jogs over. Derek turns his back on Eldak and finds a cozy table for he and Belle.
“My goddess.” Eric puts his tray down and bends at the waist.
“You know him?” Derek asks.
“Stats. He borrows my homework.”
Derek can’t breathe. Wants to smite Eldak with his Battleaxe. The walls close in, any moment the floor will open, and blackness will suck him down into the Infinite Layers of the Abyss.
“He calls me Resting-beyatch-face.”
“And she calls me Nerd-eric the Lesser.”
Derek fades nearly away, his powers drained as a wall rises between him and them. He conjures Liebermen’s CBT spell. Breathe, replace negative thoughts with realistic ones. Exposure.
“I guarantee you a better name if you join us for D&D,” Derek the Great says.