Boning Up: Chapter 1
Carly Neal stared at the big red "F" on her Human Anatomy exam and gritted her teeth. You've made it through four years of college. You can't let this one class break you. Her face grew hot. There was another test tomorrow, but if she didn't do something drastic, she'd fail again.
Professor Harold droned on. She glanced out the window into the early August sunshine, heat and light reflecting off every surface. The brilliance of the day brought her some hope. Anything was possible, wasn't it? She hadn't come this far to let some overbearing professor who couldn't make it in the medical field ruin her chances for a better life.
She should get a tutor. The guidance office had a list, but their rates were exorbitant. Maybe the professor knew someone he could recommend. After today's class, she would ask him.
When class ended, the professor's boring lecture still swirling in her head, Carly made a beeline for the front of the room. "Professor? May I talk with you for a moment?"
"Ah, Miss Neal. I'm in a bit of a hurry. What is it?"
"I'm not doing very well in your class, sir, and I'd like to do something about that before it's too late."
"I am sure you would," Professor Harold said. "But I fear it's already too late to stop the train wreck, Miss Neal. Perhaps you should have come to me sooner and showed some concern. Or better yet, perhaps you should have spent more time studying."
Carly clenched her fists at her sides. She wouldn't have come to him for help if she hadn't already exhausted every other avenue, because Professor Harold was a mean, belittling jerk. But getting in his face was not going to help achieve her goal. She forced a smile. "I have been studying, sir, but I'm not making much headway. I was wondering if you could recommend an inexpensive tutor."
"I believe we're past that point," Professor Harold said as he stacked a pile of books on his desk and pulled on a hat that he probably thought looked good but Carly thought was the finishing touch to his "pompous ass" costume.
A low baritone cut in. "May I have a word, professor?"
Carly turned toward the voice from the back of the auditorium. A handsome guy pushed himself off the wall and strode toward them. He was wearing jeans and a white short-sleeved T-shirt, and appeared to be about her age.
"Brock Larson. I had no idea you were here today!" The professor stepped around Carly and extended a hand.
The young man grinned. "I'm not surprised. You were very involved in your lecture. Just like always."
Carly had to agree, with the words if not the sentiment. Professor Harold was way too impressed with hearing himself talk to notice much of anything else.
"To what do I owe the pleasure, Brock?"
"I stopped by to check if you'd received the paperwork I forwarded last week. If you can see your way clear to providing me a good recommendation, I'm quite sure I can secure that position with Novas Times. Your name goes a long way, sir."
The professor said, "Well, Brock, I'm not sure if I can help you. I have my reputation to consider, my name, as you put it. I am very particular about whom I write recommendations. As much as I like you personally, I can't gamble my reputation."
Brock's laugh startled her as it echoed through the room, perhaps because she'd expected something quite different. A punch in the professor's fat face would not have been out of line, nor would it have been unpleasant to watch. The crinkle around Brock's eyes, though, proved it. He was genuinely amused by the professor. Well, that makes one of us.
"I get it, Professor. Gamble, huh? So let's talk turkey. You love to gamble, and I know it. How much of my money did you win last year in all those poker games?"
She watched the two men for a moment, sighing as the professor turned toward Brock. He no longer appeared to care she was in the room. This is a waste of time. A conversation between a student poker-buddy suck up and his mentor is more than I can stomach at this point. I'll figure this out somehow. She turned to go.
"Wait a minute. Miss Neal, was it?" The young man's voice had a sharp edge, as if he was used to giving orders.
The tone compelled her to stop and listen. "Yes?"
"I have a wager for you, professor." He gestured toward her. "Miss Neal here is searching for a tutor to pass your class." His eyes bored into hers, and she could see trouble brewing behind that crystal blue gaze. "Correct?"
She nodded slowly. "Yes."
"What she needs is a miracle," the professor said. "If she doesn't get perfect scores on the next two tests, she will fail. What does that have to do with your getting a recommendation from me?"
Professor Harold hadn't even bothered to look at her when he spoke. Carly felt her blood burn in her cheeks. It was humiliating to hear him casually discussing her failure with this stranger. There had to be a way to pass the class and shut him up. And when it was over, she would tell him just what part of her human anatomy he could kiss.
Brock said smoothly, "Only someone abundantly intelligent and profusely motivated could help a student pull her grade up that much in such a short time, would you not agree?"
The professor grunted.
"The kind of person you could recommend for any job?" Brock continued.
His easy stance contrasted with the professor's stiff posture. Whatever he was proposing, he was confident. A slow unease moved over her. He hardly spared her a glance as he discussed her fate.
"I'll tell you what, sir. If I tutor Miss Neal, and she aces the next two tests, you give me the recommendation. That's the bet."
The professor laughed derisively, and the sound vibrated in her chest. The smile crossing his face increased her apprehension. But he wasn't interested in her. His eyes were glittering as he considered the bet. "And if she doesn't ace the next two tests, you agree to work for me next year at the rate I offered you last semester?"
Brock stared at her for another moment, then turned to the professor and held out his hand. "That's a deal, sir. When's the next test?"
"Tomorrow morning, the first half of the text. The following morning, the second half." The professor shook his hand with enthusiasm. "Good luck, son. You're going to need it."
Were they even going to ask her? Apprehension gave way to fury. Cursing the two self-important jerks wouldn't help her grade, but letting them turn her into their little bargaining chip was intolerable. And anyway, even if they had politely asked her to go along with this ridiculous plan, there was no way anyone, especially some self-important kiss-ass, could do what he was boasting. Hadn't she already worked impossibly hard to make it this far, which was exactly nowhere? She'd been knocking herself out, trying to memorize whole chapters. But the information just didn't stick in her head. And now, being made the losing chip in this little poker match... no.
She turned and strode from the room, colorful and copious profanity on the tip of her tongue. Their chummy laughter echoed behind her. Furious red flickers of light blurred the edges of her vision.