Math Lab Fantasy

Image of Long Story Short Award - 2022
Image of Short Fiction
"Did you clock in?" The other secretary's voice cuts into my thoughts. I blink, "yes, I- uh huh," came my distracted response. My focus isn't on the schedule, or even on the monitor directly in front of me detailing the various math tutors that should be coming in this hour.
No, my gaze is riveted on the clock on the far side of the math lab. The thin red hand ticks slower than usual. It is precisely 11:54, which means that in approximately two minutes, he'll walk up to the desk and ask to check out the differential equations textbook.

One of the math tutors walks into the office, "how was your weekend?" He asks as he picks up a small whiteboard and marker. I answer without looking at him, "good, yours?" He starts talking about some book he read and I nod, my gaze fixed on the hallway through the glass windows separating the math lab from the rest of the building.
Why hasn't he come yet? Maybe his class got out late. "And when she discovered his true identity there was this major plot twist because..."
Is he still talking about that book? Does he realize I'm not even paying attention? I see a flash of blue in the hallway, a navy jansport backpack.
My heart speeds up a bit as I recognize the boy connected to the backpack. I glance back to the clock which reads 11:56 and I smile, realizing he's consistent despite my previous doubts.
His chestnut hair is particularly wavy today and it sweeps to the right side of his forehead as he turns and holds the door open for a classmate. I absently wonder what it would feel like to run my fingers through those brown waves.

He's walking toward the secretary desk now, a small smile playing on his lips and lighting up his hazel eyes. "Hey, how's it going?" He asks as he swings his bag off his shoulder and moves to take out his ID.
"Say something you idiot!" My mind screams at me. I open my mouth, but no words come out.
"Can I check out the three-thirty-four textbook?" He asks, pushing his ID card across the desk, when I fail to make conversation like a normal human being.
"I... good... yes, you... yes" I'm painfully aware that I'm stammering yet I can't seem to stop. I turn towards the textbooks behind me, hoping he doesn't see the pink flush that I can feel rising to my face. I grab the textbook and scan it, along with his ID, before giving him both.
"Thanks," he says with a smile. My visage mirrors his without my consent and as he walks away I realize I'm staring at the back of his head with a stupid grin plastered on my face.

"Sooooo, what's the deal with diffy-Q guy?" The other secretary asks me, yanking me from my trance. I lean back in my chair with a heavy exhale, "diffy-Q?"
I can practically feel her rolling her eyes in my direction. "Differential equations. He checks out that book every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at around twelve-"
"Eleven fifty six, actually," I cut in.
She narrows a glance at me, one of her delicate gold eyebrows rising in a challenge. "Okay," she finally consents, "eleven fifty six. But it's almost worse that you know down to the minute. Have you even actually talked to him? Ever?"
I shake my head, "of course not. I couldn't be that bold. Besides, you're assuming I like him or something..." She crosses her arms, "you are a terrible liar. And you're in denial. You were staring at him like he invented happiness and-"
I scoff, interrupting her accusations, "no, I-" My words die before they leave my lips. She's right. "Maybe I'm slightly interested in him," I finally admit, recognizing that refuting her claims will only cause more embarrassment, of which I have had enough already.

"You should give him your number when he brings the textbook back!" She exclaims, her voice getting higher on each word until she was practically squealing.
I shake my head vigorously, "oh no, that's not happening." She crossed her arms in front of her chest, "why not?! What do you have to lose?"
I raise an eyebrow, "my dignity?" I supply sardonically, "or perhaps a tiny, insignificant thing called hope?" She huffs in a show of dramatics as she sharpens a yellow-orange pencil.
The shavings perfume the air along with the hand sanitizer a student had just pumped out of the bottle on the other side of the secretary desk. I breathe in the sharp scent that is somehow unique to the math lab office as I look across the room to where "diffy-Q" sits next to one of the rolling whiteboards containing a half erased linear algebra problem.
He bites the end of a black pen as he stares down at a graph paper notebook covered in markings. He must be pretty smart to be in such a high level math class, I muse silently. And he's so cute when he's focused...
I realize too late the other secretary is talking. "I'm sorry, what'd you say?" I ask sheepishly. She narrows me with a withering look and I sink lower into the cushioned black swivel chair. "I said you're never going to get a date just by staring at him," she says pointedly.

I don't respond, but I do think about what she said for the next forty five minutes or so. I stare at my human development reading on my laptop, knowing that I should be taking notes, but unable to think of anything other than the boy in the blue backpack, diffy-Q, he whose name I wish I knew.
I'm lost in my thoughts until the clock hits 12:50 and many of the students start to pack their things, getting ready for 1 o-clock classes. I know diffy-Q is among them, he's got somewhere to be at 1 and never stays past 12:52.
I look up from my laptop as he approaches the desk, textbook in hand. The other secretary slides a pad of sticky notes in my direction with a pen and hisses, "write your number!"
I take it, my hands shaking as I swiftly trace out the digits that would give me a chance to see diffy-Q outside of this sacred, but tortuous, hour three times a week. He reaches the desk and sets the book in front of my computer.

"Thanks," I say, scanning the barcode as I grip the pink note in my other hand. I turn around to place the book on the shelves behind me, taking a fortifying breath. Call me, I rehearse in my head. No, that's so juvenile. How about, we should do something sometime, here's my number...
Yeah, that's much better. I give a miniscule nod as I swivel back toward the desk.
When my eyes drink in the new scene, my heart plummets to my stomach and it takes everything in me to prevent my jaw from following.
There's a petite blonde girl sidled up next to him with her arm draped playfully across his shoulders, her eyes trained on me as if she knew of the pathetic pink square now balled up in my fist.
My fingers slowly uncurl and the sticky note drops to the ground, bouncing once, as she plants a kiss on his cheek.

He smiles, "sweet of you to surprise me, babe. Now we can walk to lunch together." She takes his hand and they turn towards the doorway leading to the rest of the math building, their joint hands swinging between them.
I sit down with a bit more force than is probably necessary and my shoulders slump forward. "Hey..." comes a placating voice from beside me.
"I don't want to talk about it," I snap, trying to keep the sharpness in my words from giving way to disappointment. I ignore her shock over my unusually prickly demeanor. I don't care overly much at the moment.
I finish my shift, clock out, and walk home, leaving my math lab fantasy there behind the secretary desk crumpled up in a pink sticky note.