Andi Burton was so deep in thought, she didn't hear anyone coming up behind her. The feeling of someone's hands on her shoulders nearly made her scream out loud, but she was aware enough of her surroundings to control herself. She spun around angrily, ready to confront whoever startled her.
"Geez, Tara, you nearly scared me half to death!" she hissed at her friend.
Tara giggled softly as she pulled up a chair next to the shaking woman. "I didn't realize you were studying so hard," she whispered. She looked over Andi's shoulder at the textbook her friend had been reading. "Art history...good stuff, huh?"
Andi tucked some stray strands of her pale pink hair behind her ears and sighed. "Not really, but I have to learn it anyway. This book is practically ancient, I have to be careful with it." She frowned down at the large tome in front of her. "Sometimes I wonder why I'm even bothering getting this degree in fine arts, barely anyone's going to college these days."
"I've thought about it, but I'm almost done. It would be silly to drop out now. Besides, I do want to learn everything I can about painting so I can get even better at it." She smiled slyly. "You'll be glad to know me when I'm famous."
Tara laughed out loud and earned herself a glare from the stern librarian. "If you ask me," she whispered, "you're better off going outside and painting rather than sitting around in this stuffy old building."
"You're probably right." Andi closed the book and headed for the circulation desk. As the facts she had just read and ideas for new artwork fought for prominence in her mind, she neglected to take notice of her surroundings and slammed right into a tall, purple-haired gentleman. The textbook was knocked out of her hands and his own book, along with a folder full of papers, scattered across the floor.
"Oh! Excuse me! I'm...I'm so sorry!" the man stuttered.
Andi bent down to help him gather his belongings. "Hey, don't worry about it. It was my fault." She put the pile she had collected on top of his and glanced at the book that he had picked up. "Applied Genetics," she read off the cover. "Very impressive," she said with a smile.
The man blushed slightly. "It's an older book, so I couldn't access it from the lab, and - "
"Shh!" The librarian interrupted him and glared at the duo.
Andi slid her art history book across the desk at the elderly woman and ignored her angry stare. "Let me buy you a cup of coffee, it's the least I can do after I made a mess out of your things," she whispered. "You can tell me more about this book and this lab of yours."
The stranger looked slightly confused, as if he wasn't accustomed to people actually wanting to hear about his work. Without saying another word, he walked with Andi out of the library, completely missing the impish wink she gave her friend on her way out.
The friendly student led her new companion into the small cafe that was adjacent to the library. She ordered two cups of coffee and instructed him to find them a table. After digging around in the pockets of her short skirt for the necessary meseta, she procured the hot beverages and sat down across from the object of her curiosity.
"Sorry about that old witch in there, she's like that with everybody." She stuck her hand out across the table. "I'm Andi."
"Gabe." Though his reply was terse, he accepted the handshake.
"Nice to meet you, Gabe. I haven't seen you around here before, are you a new student?"
He chuckled. "No, I actually graduated from the Zema branch of the Motavia Academy a few years ago. I work at the Biosystems Laboratory now."
"Wow, you must be really smart!"
Gabe blushed slightly. "Smart enough, I guess."
"What brings you to Paseo?" Andi inquired.
"As I was saying before I was interrupted by the 'witch', I needed to look up something in this book, but as it's pretty old, I couldn't access it from the lab's computers. Zema's library didn't have it, so I hoped I would have some luck here," he explained.
"Well, I'd say that my luck has just turned. Running into someone like you gave me just the study break I needed." she said with a big grin.
The shy biologist returned the smile. "Forgive me for asking, but isn't Andy usually a boy's name?"
"I spell it with an 'I' at the end."
She raised an eyebrow at him, pretending to be annoyed by his patronizing of her. "It's actually short for 'Deandra', which I never really thought suited me. I only use it on official documents and when I sign my paintings because I like the way it looks."
"Why don't you think it suits you? It's a pretty name for a pretty girl." The color in Gabe's cheeks deepened as he realized what he had said out loud.
"Aw, thank you," she giggled. " Aren't you sweet?" She grabbed a spare napkin and, using a pen she produced from her pocket, signed her name with a flourish. "There, 'Deandra Burton'. Hold onto that, it'll be worth a lot of money someday."
"Gee, thanks. I'll treasure it forever." He went along with the joke and tucked the napkin into his shirt pocket. "So you're an artist?"
"Yes, but not enough people know that yet."
"What do you like to paint?"
"Mostly abstract art," she answered, a dreamy look coming into her green eyes. "I like to take something, anything, and change it around to fit my own perceptions."
"I guess we sometimes do things like that at the Lab. Right now, we've only been able to alter the DNA of simple organisms, but it seems like we're making new discoveries every day."
Andi was genuinely impressed. "I bet that's a lot harder than just throwing some paint on a canvas."
"I don't know, I doubt I'd be able to paint anything noteworthy. Maybe the outside of my house, but that's about it."
The smiling student checked her wristwatch and immediately scowled at its display. "Damn, I'm supposed to be in my next class in about five minutes." She stood up from her chair and took her half-full coffee cup. "So I guess you'll be heading back to the laboratory soon."
Gabe nudged his heavy textbook that was sitting on the table. "I figured I'd stay overnight here in Paseo, copy the information I need from this book, and just return it tomorrow. I wouldn't want the witch coming after me and threatening me with late fees."
Andi laughed. "No, we wouldn't want that."
The flush returned to the biologist's cheeks as he fought to maintain eye contact with the pink-haired coed. "Maybe I could return the favor and buy you a cup of coffee tomorrow?" he softly asked.
"I thought you'd never ask," she answered coyly. "I'll come here tomorrow morning at nine o'clock so I don't keep you in Paseo too long." As he accepted the invitation, another glance down at her wristwatch caused Andi to mumble some unladylike words under her breath. Remembering her present company, she straightened up and smiled sweetly. "It was a pleasure meeting you, Mr..."
"Thompson." Gabe's face remained slightly pink. "It's actually Dr. Thompson."
"Oh, excuse me." She took the opportunity to return his prior teasing. "It was very nice talking with you, Doctor Thompson."
"The pleasure was all mine, Deandra," he returned, matching her tone.
Andi couldn't help but laugh again. "I'll see you tomorrow. Enjoy your textbook."
The following morning, Gabe was already waiting for Andi at the small cafe. She greeted him with a big smile as she joined him at their table, smoothing her flowered dress as she sat down. "Did you have fun reading all night?" she asked.
"No 'good morning'?"
She shrugged, but continued smiling. "Why waste time on silly small talk?"
"Fair enough." A mischievous twinkle came into Gabe's eye. "I returned the book to the library before coming here. I hope you don't mind I had a little rendezvous with the librarian without you."
Andi dramatically feigned shock and disappointment. "Well, there goes all the fun plans I had for today!" she sighed.
"Don't you have classes later?"
"The university doesn't hold classes on the weekend, silly."
"A college student is awake this early on a day without classes? I'm flattered."
"As well you should be." Andi looked out the window and watched as a gentle breeze ruffled the petals of a few stray flowers planted outside the cafe. "I have an idea," she said. "Let's skip the coffee and I'll show you around the campus, there's no use in wasting this beautiful day." Before Gabe could respond, she grabbed him by the hand and pulled him out into the bright sunshine.
The grand tour concluded at the library where they had first met. Andi sat down on a bench outside the doors and invited Gabe to join her. "Sorry I couldn't take you to any of the science labs, but to be perfectly honest, I don't know where they are," she apologized.
"That's okay." The purple-haired man squinted into the near-blinding sunlight. "I had fun seeing all the educational buildings, it brings me back to my college days. I'm glad you took the time to lead a boring, old man around."
She gave him a playful shove. "You're not old or boring. In fact..." She dropped her voice down to a whisper. "You're one of the more interesting people I've met in a long time. Try not to let that go to your head."
"I wouldn't dream of it, I'm also one of the most humble people you'll ever meet," he joked. "But I find it hard to believe that you can't find people to amuse you in a university setting."
Andi rolled her eyes. "All these college guys are dull beyond belief. They're either constantly drunk and hanging out of windows during their loud parties, or they have their nose permanently in a book, all day every day."
"I'll admit to falling into the latter category."
She pretended to look him up and down. "Yeah, I bet." A slightly more serious look came over her face. "It's not like there's even a huge number of students here anymore. I've been told that the enrollment rate has been declining steadily over the past number of years." She frowned. "I guess with Mother Brain taking care of everything, not a lot of people feel the need for higher education."
"That's a shame," Gabe said sincerely.
Not one to dwell on depressing subject matter, the bubbly student immediately switched topics. "Hey, I know what would be fun!"
"I'm sure you do."
"Always," she said, and stuck her tongue out at him. She tucked her legs up underneath her and faced him, so he could fully see her excitement. "Since I showed you around this branch of Motavia University, why don't you take me to the Biosystems Lab? I've never been inside a laboratory before!"
Gabe smiled at her enthusiasm. "I'd love to, but I don't think I could get clearance to get you inside."
"Why not? What's wrong with me?" she asked indignantly.
"There is absolutely nothing wrong with you," he said as he gently patted her shoulder. "We just have a lot of ongoing experiments that sometimes contain dangerous materials, and only people with the proper training are allowed into the labs." Gabe wasn't sure if his explanation was sufficient, as Andi still appeared to be sulking. "I may have a viable solution."
"I can do my very best to describe it to you and you can paint it the way you think it should be."
Andi chewed on her bottom lip as she considered his proposition. "I accept your offer," she solemnly stated.
The studious biologist had never been especially confident around women, but the energetic, outgoing pink-haired woman in the patterned sundress had caused him to drop his guard just slightly. "If you'd like, you can meet me in Oputa next weekend. Even though I can't bring you to the lab, I'll hope I'll be able to maintain this facade of being interesting to you."
"I can't think of a better way to spend a weekend." She nudged his arm. "I'll even wake up early again for you."
"Twice in a row! I'd better think of something good for us to do."
"I have faith in you."
The pair continued to converse about various subjects until Gabe realized he needed to be heading home. Andi walked with him to the teleportation station and promised to be in Oputa in exactly one week's time. As he stepped into the portal, she gave him a little wave and blew him a kiss before he vanished into the air.