In which Andrew didn’t choose Exy but still chose Neil, which meant Neil had to learn how to talk about something other than stick-ball.
warning, mention of implied sexual assault/non-con
Lucy had not anticipated what she was dealt.
Her first day of second year brought a tone of finality to it all: it wasn’t just a year-long dream of terrible decisions and alcohol and chaos. It continued on, and so would she.
Her first day also happened to bring Professor Andrew Minyard, five feet and blond and utterly terrifying.
Introducing the course had started off mundane enough, until Eddie Court – an asshole she’d regretted sleeping with dearly – decided to lean over her shoulder. He never got the chance to say anything because a pencil dotted him squarely in his forehead, so hard that a tiny droplet of blood threatened to bead.
Everyone stared. Shocked, confused, but remaining in complete silence as they – Lucy included – tried to remember if anyone had mentioned anything about the man, whether or not this was normal or out-of-the-ordinary behaviour.
“Name.” He sounded bored.
Eddie rose his fingers to brush his forehead, smearing the tiniest of droplets. He stared at his fingertips, then at Minyard, then at the pencil that had clattered on his desk. Then at Minyard again. “Eddie Court.”
“Court. Christ.” The professor said, with a palpable distaste to his tone. “I will say this once, despite having to repeat it every year, because students seem to get thicker with every new class.” His face was blank. Stone. Lucy had never heard someone utter insults with such apathy. She didn’t know whether or not to be scared or curious: Such a mask was difficult to maintain. “Shut the fuck up, or get the fuck out. Understood?”
Swearing in class. At the students. Completely against protocol.
Lucy couldn’t help but smile. Just a little.
Within weeks, the class had learned how to abide by Professor Minyard’s rules. His previous students were sought out, but they merely grinned at the mention of his name. One student dared to ask another law professor, questioning the teaching methods of the criminology expert. They shook their head, leaning to the professor next to them and sharing a laugh, an inside joke that none of the second years were a part of.
Curiosity won out over fear eventually, and what that said about Lucy, she wasn’t sure. Eventually, he won her respect: The piece of white chalk he’d flung had imbedded itself in her tightly curled hair when she’d fallen asleep at the eight AM lecture on a Tuesday morning.
“You think I want to be here, Rone?”
That piece of chalk rested on her bedside table. Lucy didn’t want to be weird, especially considering her professor hadn’t played Exy since college, but he’d played with Neil Josten and Kevin Day. The Neil Josten, and the Kevin Day. And if she had spent nights watching old Palmetto State Fox games, sitting in awe as she watched him flick balls away from the goal like it was absolutely nothing, no one was going to know.
He was just as apathetic as he had been back then. Lucy had decided he was just emotionless: That didn’t make him any worse at teaching, so it wasn’t really her problem.
And then she became his problem.
Her grades had dropped dramatically low. Andrew stared at the results that he’d just drawn up, picked the paper up off the desk, and leaned back in his chair.
It was a midterm. He’d eyed Lucy Rone’s bad results in the past two mini-quizzes, her surprisingly worsening attendance, and this was enough to force his hand.
Half an hour later, he was convinced this was abnormal behaviour, if her patterns rang true.
Caring, caring. Perhaps the internal monologue would never leave him alone, but he knew better than to listen to it’s mocking tone. Watch yourself turn into Wymack, why don’t you. Call Dan and say you’re taking over as coach of the Foxes.
He almost told himself to shut up, but the chime of his phone snapped him out of his head. It kept chiming and he sighed, picking it up and wedging it between his shoulder and ear, returning to stare at the mark scrawled in the corner of the exam paper.
“Are you going to be here for dinner?”
“Not if you’re attempting to make something.” Neil had improved past the broke-college-student level of cooking skills, but he wasn’t apt enough to cook dinner without some form of disaster.
It hadn’t taken long for Andrew to learn the sound of Neil grinning through the phone. A particular tone of voice, a particular exhale. “It’s already done. Just has to be heated up again.”
“Can’t really be the judge of my own creation, can I?”
“I’ll be home soon.” Andrew liked the way his mouth curled around the word home.”Lucy Rone. Sound like someone problematic to you?”
“Not particularly. Lucy’s always been the name of that old woman sitting on the front porch, knitting. Five cats, crocheting and all.”
“If old ladies swung heavy sticks at other people, sure.”
Andrew let himself smile. He allowed himself this. The small curl up on his lips. He’d earned that, after all this time. “Sure.”
“What’s wrong with her?”
“Unusually bad performance. Moved from sitting front and centre to back corner. Shit attendance.”
“You’re probably a much better judge of character than I would be, now.”
Because I’ve studied criminal, suspicious and victimised behaviour for a long time, Andrew wanted to remind him. But this was no longer a sore spot for Neil: He no longer needed to read people’s intentions in need to survive, because he was safe. He could let that overly-analytical part of himself behind. It had been almost 12 years since their first win against Edgar Allen. He was still alive, well.
Hard to believe that was partly Andrew’s fault.
Andrew emailed Lucy to visit him before their next class at nine o’clock the next morning.
She was five minutes early, he was five minutes late. He couldn’t say anything about her appearance, considering he was wearing Neil’s jersey under his coat and that he had walked out of the door with a coffee, slippers and nothing to comb his hair with but his fingers.
His students knew not to say anything.
Lucy sported a pair of sweats that had her high school’s initials printed on the front, with a pair of exy sticks embroidered just underneath. Her name was printed on the back pocket, and they only just came down to her ankles.
Exy fan, then. Andrew wouldn’t have guessed.
She didn’t say anything, sparing him a hollow looking before following him into his office. He’d used to share it, until he’d bribed the finicky financial law to move somewhere else. It was entirely his own space, clean and devoid of decoration.
He motioned towards the desk and she leaned against it, clutching the binder to her chest.
Brown skin didn’t usually lose this much of it’s valour, even during winter.
And winters in South Carolina were hardly anything worth mentioning.
She was staring at the floor. Her eyes didn’t move when she nodded.
“All I need is a reason.”
She said nothing.
“It’d probably be easier on you if you told me. I’m your criminology professor: I’ll find out eventually.”
“I’m not on drugs.” She said, quickly, but not so quickly that it was an immediate red flag. An orange flag. Andrew settled back into his seat and propped his ankle on his knee.
“Never said you were.”
Andrew gave her a flat look. “You know who also says that?”
She shook her head.
“Surely someone who still wears her high school’s exy uniform would have an inkling. Yay-high, hair like a fire-engine siren, mouth like one too.”
Her eyes lit up. “I’ve always wanted to ask if he knows that you wear his old Palmetto jersey. I thought he hated you?”
“I hated him.” Andrew corrected her. “I hate him.” He corrected himself. “And he knows.”
She looked wistful. “Cool.”
She looked back at him.
“If there’s a problem, you come to me. Alright?”
Her eyebrows furrowed. “Why?”
“Because you can trust me. I can be a lawyer, a therapist, an advice column, what have you.”
“Can I trust you?”
“When you’re ready to.”
She seemed satisfied enough to nod, murmur a timid thank you, and slipped out the door.
Lucy banged on the door, feeling sick. She couldn’t go back to her dorm, because it made her want to crawl into a corner and be enveloped in a shadow. To be the smallest, most insignificant thing.
She wasn’t sure how on earth her criminology professor was supposed to empathise with her, when he was the human embodiment of a brick wall, but here she was, trembling, feverish, panicked, and knocking on his office door at ten o’clock at night.
He opened the door with a mildly annoyed expression, which flattened out immediately at the sight of her.
She’d only seen him this morning, but that felt like a whole world away now.
She wanted to ask why he was still here, on campus, this late at night. What on earth he could possibly be working on, at ten o’clock on a Tuesday evening. Instead, she blurted: “What does it mean if I didn’t say no?”
Too much, too much, too much: She had asked too much of him, a middle aged professor who apparently had two cats and a boyfriend, if the senior’s rumours were true. Criminology professor aside, this was the last thing someone like him would want to be dragged into –
He stood aside and motioned for her to come in. She shuffled by him, arms around her stomach. He shut the door.
Lucy wanted to be sick.
He pulled a pen out of his pocket – professors always had pens on them, didn’t they? – and tore a corner off a piece of paper, scribbling down a phone number.
“This woman helped me.” Betsy. “She can help you, too.”
“You said you could be a therapist.” Lucy hedged.
He sighed, and she’d never seen him so reflective. “I have my limits.”
She nodded. She took the piece of paper. She left.
“Where the fuck is Court?” Andrew leaned on the edge of his desk at the front of the lecture hall, eyeing the empty seat. Second lesson in a row.
Lucy Rone sat in front of it, back straight, gaze steady.
Andrew looked at her. “For how long?”
There was a hesitant smile. “Undetermined. Charges have been pressed against him.”
Andrew drew a long line through Eddie Court’s name on the attendance.
Lucy waited by the door and saw her professor approaching, with the stack of papers in his hands. She was anxious about this mark, more-so than the others. Her dip in performance would be hard to get back up from, but if she could do it in criminology, she could do it in the rest. There was a cluster of students waiting to get their essay’s grade back, but Lucy was first in line.
“Yay or nay?” She asked.
Professor Minyard gave Lucy a flat look, and opened the door.
Lucy promptly had a heart attack at the man beyond the door.
“Feet. Off.” Her professor said, looking flatly at Neil Josten, with his feet propped up on the desk, arms folded. He, too, was wearing a faded jersey of the Palmetto Foxes’ colours, but it was too bunched up for Lucy to read the name.
“Surprise.” Neil Josten said, and Lucy wanted to scream.
“Get your fucking feet off my fucking desk.” Her professor dropped the large stack of papers next to where Neil Josten had propped up his heavy boots. Neil did not get his fucking feet off the fucking desk.
Lucy almost had the nerve to scream: do you know who that is? Do you have any clue how famous he was? But she remembered that the two of them were friends. Sort of. She held her tongue, and let her heart thrum in her chest, happy to be completely ignored.
“Leave.” Professor Minyard flicked Neil in the temple.
Neil smiled. Neil Josten smiled.
Lucy was having heart palpitations.
He slowly drew his feet away from the desk to stand, still smiling. “Have a nice day.”
“You weren’t meant to be here till tomorrow evening, Josten. Explain.”
“You’re busy. Later.”
Lucy watched her professor’s arm reach out to brush along Neil Josten’s forearm as he slid past, and there was a startlingly foreign crinkle of warmth in his eyes.
The back of Neil’s Palmetto jersey read Minyard. A thin platinum ring, identical to the one her professor wore around his neck, clacked against the doorknob as he pushed it open. She remember her professor occasionally wearing Josten.
There was a startling curve of her professor’s lips, an almost smile that made him look almost human.
Neil grinned before slipping out the door.
Oh, Lucy thought, and then she said it aloud.
Her professor turned on her, pointing. “If you dare to ask me for a single autograph, I will fail you.”
Lucy was still smiling.
“If any word about this gets out, I will fail you.” He warned.
“Are you married?” Lucy laughed.
His face was stone.
“Holy shit. Professor Josten-Minyard. Two cats and a husband.”
“It’s Minyard-Josten.” He said coldly. “Get out.”
Lucy got out.
By the next class, everyone knew, despite Lucy not breathing a word. Which meant the entirety of Neil Josten’s personal but still public Instagram account displayed his home life. But that was none of his student’s – or anyone’s– business.
And if Neil started coming in with breakfast on those Tuesday morning lectures during his off season, that was none of their business either.