“Anyone want some?” she asked as she handed Silas the second pair of chopsticks, and a mild negative response rose up.
She smiled as their eyes met, but a faint look of panic in her eyes made him feel as if it was ending. She was there, warm beside him, but they both knew time would pull them apart. She needed him as much as he needed her.
“Maybe we can get extra credit,” Allen said, eyes on a breaded pepper.
Karen sat back from the table in disgust. “Dude. He got shot. He’s not going to give us extra credit. Besides, this isn’t high school. We pay the price and move on.”
“No!” Allen protested, angry now. “I won’t do nothing. There’s got to be a way to fix this.”
Heidi shot Karen a tired look, and the taller woman sat up. “Okay, I can see where this is going,” Karen said. “You can count me and Heidi out of whatever cack-brained idea you have in that head of yours.”
Allen pushed his glasses back up his narrow nose and glared. “Hey! I don’t even have the idea yet. Let me come up with one before you diss it.”
Summer laughed as she angled a fried broccoli between her teeth. “Does it involve a thermonuclear device like your last idea?” she asked around her full mouth.
“That was a good idea!” Allen protested, ears red.
“I can’t afford another screwup,” Ethan said.
“Me, either,” Beth agreed, and Allen’s expression darkened.
Summer leaned toward Allen as she chewed, and Silas felt the coolness slip between them. “Lots of people fail the final,” she said as she used her chopsticks to put a hot pepper on his crumb-strewn plate.
Silas hunched lower in his chair. “Not because of me, they don’t,” he said, but he didn’t know what they could do to make it right, either. He’d already talked to Professor Woo, and there was no extra work, no teaching of classes, nothing.
His head came up as Ethan and Beth stood. “Okay, we’re out of here,” Ethan said, and Beth came around the table to give the women a hug good-bye. “See you guys later.”
But Heidi and Karen had stood as well, making Silas feel as if they were being abandoned. “Us, too,” Karen said. “There’s too many people here. We’re going to another bar where we can sulk in peace. You want to come, Summer? I seriously need to blow off some steam.”
But Summer only settled more firmly against him. “No. Thanks. I’m good here.”
Allen grumbled something unheard, but Silas ignored him, feeling at the same time protective, loving, and depressed. Summer loved him back, and that’s what hurt. This extra semester they now had might seem like a boon, but it would only make the inevitable parting harder. They would graduate. She would move forward in the Opti drafter/anchor program, and he would continue on in academia, developing tools and techniques to keep her safe. From a distance.
No longer hungry, he stuck his chopsticks straight up in a piece of fried onion.
With a final wave, the four left together, probably going somewhere to burn Silas in effigy. Allen was silent, shifting to take advantage of the increased space.
“Are you sure there’s no extra credit we can do?” Allen mused as he pulled the plate of vegetables directly in front of him.
Silas eyed him, then decided Allen could have his dinner if he left his girlfriend alone. “Classes are over,” he said. “It’s done.”
“Not until I say it is,” Allen grumbled, and Silas watched Summer and Allen finish off the plate, vying over the choice bits, their working relationship easy to mistake for attraction. There wasn’t a flicker of jealousy in Silas. He’d figured out long ago that Summer didn’t love Allen. She loved Silas and had chosen to work with Allen because Allen would never risk Silas’s anger by trying to move their working relationship to a new level. She’d been using Allen to keep serious anchors at a distance. But someday she would move on. And Silas had been holding her back.
Silas’s hands clenched. “Summer. I’m sorry.”
Knowing he wasn’t talking about last night, she leaned in to give him a kiss. “I wouldn’t change a thing,” she said, making it worse.
Allen’s expression went sour, fully aware of his part in the trio. “I’m tired of getting shot. How come I’m always the one who gets shot?”
Silas chuckled, his good mood hesitating as a slim, petite woman passed between him and the bar. She was limping, and he stood in a rush, recognizing her voice when she politely refused an unwelcome advance. Summer and Allen stared up at him in surprise. “Excuse me,” he said as he angled his bulk out.
“Who is it?” Summer asked, seeing his gaze on the woman, who was now standing with her back to them as she looked over the music selection at the jukebox.
“I’m not sure,” he hedged, pulse fast as he got free of the table and made his way across the room.
People got out of his way, and he still had no idea what he was going to say when he reached her. In a quandary, he froze. He couldn’t just walk up and say, “Hey, you owe me for screwing up my test grade.”
She stiffened, feeling him behind her. “I’m not a bitch for saying no. I came here to get away from everyone, okay?” she said as she turned. But her peeved expression shifted to one of recognition, and then she flushed the most comely shade of red.
“Hi,” he said flatly.
She recovered fast, running her gaze up and down his more casual clothes once, before leaning in to be heard over the noise. “Thanks for the migraine last night, Dr. Banner.”