***Part One***
Word Count: 2,062

She felt eyes on her and while she shouldn't care, she broke her kiss with Brent. She wasn't doing anything wrong, but when she saw West staring daggers at them from the other end of the hall. Well, she felt a little guilty.

"You okay?" Brent asked.

"Yeah, just," she shrugged. "I'm not out to hurt anyone."

"I get that," he said, tucking some of her hair behind her ear as he brushed her cheek with his hand. "It's one of the things I like about you. A lot of girls would be out to do whatever they could to let their ex know they moved on. I mean, you said you dated him back in high school."

"Well, yeah, but it's not as easy as that and he's not stupid."

"No," he said, glancing in West's direction. Claire tugged on the front of his jacket to stop him from looking all the way at him.

"Stop it. He'll know we're talking about him."

"As if he doesn't already?"

"Well, maybe not," she said and leaned in to give him another kiss before heading to class.

"Ah good covert measures."

"If you say so," she said.

Doors shut throughout the hall, professors could be heard beginning their lectures from the few that remained open, signaling they were both - well, all three of them if she included West - late for class. Not that professors really said too much, just rolled their eyes. Claire was getting used to that, she seemed to have become a pro at being fashionably late for classes.

Western Civ. had turned into one of her easiest classes of the semester due to the sudden death of the professor within the first two weeks of class. A series of TA's rotating in and out was making it rather easy. Class plans were difficult to follow when musical teachers was being played. Not that it was a cakewalk, she still had homework and stuff but TA's tended to be a little easier.

She took her seat in front of Brent, setting the textbook and notebook for the class on her desk as yet another TA assessed the class. He looked a little old to be a TA, but she knew there were people the same age as her parents going to college so she couldn't really judge.

Brent leaned toward her. "Don't forget to meet me at the Union."

"What?" she asked, turning a little to look at him?

"I told you I was going to buy you lunch today," he said, giving her cheek a quick kiss. "I have to stop at my car first to get my wallet, I left it in the glove box, but I'll meet you there."

"Oh, right, yeah, I won't forget," she said.

She doubted she'd be trusted with a car again anytime soon so she was stuck eating at the Union or brown bagging it except for those rare days she was able to go off-campus with someone who had a vehicle. Brent didn't always have money to go to lunch somewhere off-campus so even though he had a car they spent most of their time between classes together on-campus.

She settled into her seat again, catching the professor watching them. His gaze was pretty intense, so much so she found herself shifting in her seat a little.

IWhoops./I

"Good morning, class. It's nice to see most of you can be timely," he said, eyes directed at her and Brent.

IDouble whoops./I

"First of all, I should introduce myself. My name is Dr. Adam Monroe and I will be your professor for the rest of the semester. And if you're going on to take the second semester portion you'll see me there, too."

"Yes," he said in response to the few audible groans at the idea that there was now a permanent teacher assigned to the class. "And with that, please once again adhere to the attendance and tardiness expectations that you would for your other classes."

"Since I'm new not only to your school but to Costa Verde, let's take a few minutes to introduce ourselves so I know who everyone is."

Claire was one of the first with her last name being Baxter. She gave the basic outline without revealing too much. Moved here from Texas, on the football team's cheerleading squad, and hoped to go out east somewhere for college next year, but was happy here for now.

Brent with his last name being Whistler was one of the last. He was a lifelong resident of Costa Verde, was in ROTC, and was going to actively serve once he was done with school. Claire had known that, but it was still a little weird to hear him say it. She'd known guys in Odessa with plans of going into the military after high school, but most of them were guys who couldn't afford college. Or didn't have the intelligence to advance past high school.

"A worthy endeavor," Dr. Monroe said in response.

"Thank you," Brent said.

"Used to be a time it was expected of a young man, service to God and his country. That's gone to the wayside for the most part, and I realize I could probably get in trouble for mentioning God in class now. So don't go home telling your parents that you have a zealot as your new professor. I assure you I am not. It is in fact part of our history. Since this is a Western Civilization course and not an American History course it's probably a better topic for when I have a US History course to teach."

"My enlistment is completely voluntary."

Claire saw a look of respect cross the professor's eyes before he called out the next classmate's name. After Brent came Dana Young and then Alex Zachary. Introductions were done. Being a local college, Claire knew most everyone in her classes at least by sight. Some were older than she was so she didn't know them being new to town, but the ones her age she did.

"Thank you for the introductions. As I said, I'm Dr. Monroe. I've been more of a researcher to this point, but thought I'd try my hand at teaching when I found out they were having some difficulty finding a full-time replacement for Mrs. Ziggler. Now, don't go thinking that means I'm going to be an easy target. I assure you I know my stuff and will know who's done the homework."

IGreat./I

And with that, he went into a lecture about life during war. Whether it was for Brent's benefit since he'd mentioned going into the military or just a coincidence Claire didn't know. It had to be a coincidence, as if he'd know anyone in the class was going to be enlisting and have a lecture prepared for that.

She had to admit, he held her attention the rest of the class. There were a couple of times she thought for a second or two that he was talking specifically - and only - to her. Silly notion. Brought on, no doubt, by the fact he was the first teacher she'd ever had that made her take notice of the fact that he was incredibly nice looking.

Oh, sure, she'd had cute teachers before, but that was when she was like twelve and thought that her dad was a cute guy, too. Totally different in the way she took in Dr. Monroe. She'd never been one of those girls that crushed on a teacher. His sandy blonde hair was worn just a touch too long on top and in back, though the sides were shorter. A little wavy, too. His eyes were blue and very striking, especially when they seemed focused on her. Something that he did that a lot. Or so she thought anyway. It was brief and he did it so casually she couldn't be sure. She just didn't see him focus on anyone else in particular as he lectured.

And after the first couple of times she stopped taking such copious notes and looked, wondering if it was just her imagination. He was probably just making sure she and Brent were paying attention to him and not to one another, except he didn't really ever look at Brent.

The class was soon over and she took Brent's offered hand when they walked from the room together.

After school, Brent drove her home as he'd been doing the past week. It beat taking the bus that was for sure. With transfers it could take over two hours to make it home if she missed a connection. Her mom was home, which was not unusual this time of day, and her dad was out of town today.

"Hi Mom," Claire said.

"Hi. How was your day?"

"It was good. New Western Civ. professor finally."

"Oh?"

"Yeah, gave an interesting first lecture but other than that I don't know if he's very good or not."

"Well, I'm sure if the college hired him he'll do fine."

"Oh, right," she said, shrugging her backpack off and setting it on a chair in the kitchen as she did every day. In fact, she'd been doing the very same movement for so long it was automatic. She came home from school and went to the kitchen where her mom was fixing dinner. They talked about her day before she got started on her homework.

"Hi Brent," her mother said. "It's nice to see you again."

"Hi, Mrs. Baxter, you too."

"Did you two want something to eat?"

"No, we're fine. Just going to do some studying."

"All right," she said, going back to the laundry she'd been folding before they'd come home. "I'm broiling pork chops for dinner tonight, Claire. You're welcome to join us Brent there will be plenty since Claire's father isn't home."

"I can call my mom and see if she has anything special planned."

"It's up to you," she said, leaving them alone after that.

"So, what do you think the odds are of our skating through Western Civ. class now?"

"I think they went down pretty drastically. He seems pretty intense," Claire said.

"Yeah, I got that, too. Probably has something to prove if this is his first actual teaching job."

"Great," Claire said, echoing the same thought from earlier in class. "Just what I need."

"Well, you have me to help."

"I know, but I can't count on you to help me pass the class. It was just kind of nice having one class I didn't have to try so hard in."

"It was," he agreed.

She got them each a soda with glasses and ice as he took his books out of his backpack. It was nice having someone to study with. It was how they started going out to begin with. They had four classes together and when she kept running into West on campus he'd been there to help her keep focused when her mind was on other things.

Like the dirty looks West shot her when he thought she wasn't looking. She had no doubt he knew that Brent came here every day after school. They could have gone to his house. Both of his parents worked so they could have been alone, but other than the kissing they did, Claire wasn't ready to tempt things by being completely alone with him for hours.

"Are you going to stay for dinner?" she asked casually. He had a couple of times. She didn't get the impression his mom cooked dinner a lot. Not sit-down dinners like her mom did.

"I can if you want me to."

"Your parents won't care?"

"Nah. So, I can stay if it'd make you happy."

"Sure. Mom won't mind. Dad's out of town like she said, but Lyle will be here so it won't just be us and Mom."

"Your dad travels a lot, doesn't he?"

"Yeah," she said with a shrug.

"And you said he works for a paper company."

"Yeah, well, you know, they have a home office just like other companies with branches around the country."

"Oh right. I just never realized paper products was that big of a deal."

"Well," she said, thumbing through the extensive textbook for their History class. "Just look at how many trees went into making this book."

"Good point."