Part Two: Chapter Seven

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One day after class, when the other students and Professor Green have already left, Aria blocks his way by propping her arm across the doorway.

“Hey,” she says, not moving her arm. On the underside of her wrist, he notes a tribal tattoo.

“Hey.” He waits, wondering what she could have to say to him after pretty much ignoring everyone in class for the past few weeks. In truth, he has ignored her back—if there’s anyone in their class who the old Atlas Rollins would have had a crush on, it’s Aria, and Mary would kill him if he spent any time with her and jeopardized his new coolness level. Mary must be away from the mic, since she doesn’t immediately start whispering for him to stop talking to the indie chick with purple hair.

“Why do you do that?” She waves her hand in the direction of his seat in class.

“Do what?”

“Act dumb.”

His heart pounds. “What do you mean?”

Aria rolls her eyes. “Come on, Atlas. I took a class over the summer, and I saw you sneak into the library with a stolen student ID card and read for hours in the fiction section. I even saw you reading some of the assigned books for this class before you got the syllabus. So I know that when you laugh at a joke about this class that one of the clones makes, or empathize with Esperanza about reading Cliff’s Notes, you’re just playing a part. You also didn’t dress like a tool before September. So why now?”

He purses his lips. He likes her brutal honesty—it reminds him of his sister—but he cannot jeopardize his mission for a girl.

“Listen. Ditch class and spend an hour with me,” Aria says when she finally drops her arm. “You have Environmental Chemistry for Non-Majors, right? I’m actually in that class too, but all the notes are online, so I don’t go.”

“I don’t know if I should…”

“Trust me.” She puts a hand on his arm, like Esperanza did the week before, and this time tingles flow through his body. Atlas takes out his ear piece, wraps it in tissues, and puts it in his pocket.

 ***

Aria takes him to an old book shop in Dupont Circle, a place Atlas has seen during his late night romps with Mary, Max, and Jordan but has never been allowed to enter. She takes him all the way to the back, the poetry section, and begins to take books off the shelf and pile them in her arms.

“You look like a madwoman,” Atlas says as she practically throws the books into her arms. Despite his misgivings about disappearing with Aria, the book shop comforts him; it smells like the library back home used to smell, dusty and full of history.

“Well good thing you’re the only other person in here to witness it.” She doesn’t slow down until there’s too many books to carry, then puts the stack on the ground and sits down next to it.

Aria pats the space on the floor next to her. “Come on.”

“Are we allowed to just sit on the ground?” Atlas looks around for a manager.

“It’s fine, I know the guy really well and he doesn’t care if I sit in here for hours. Come on.”

Atlas takes off his blazer and folds it, then sits down and places the blazer across one knee. The carpet is thin and scratchy, and he leans back onto one of the built-in shelves to get more comfortable.

“Close your eyes,” she tells him.

“Why?”

“Do you always ask this many questions? Just do it!”

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