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Read Limits. Part 3

Limits. is a Webnovel completed by Steph Campbell.
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“Your present,” she murmurs.

And I hold my breath for my future.

The page of swords.

“Your future.” Marigold looks at these cards, the ones that make me want to vomit, and her smile is pure sunshine.

“Marigold, maybe we need to reshuffle,” I beg. “Maybe I didn’t concentrate the way I should have. This looks really bad. Like, super bad.”

“This is wonderful,” she says, laughing softly. “I’ve been reading your cards for years, Genevieve, and I don’t think I’ve ever had such a hopeful reading.” She draws a finger over the Death card. “Don’t feel nervous. This is, first of all, in your past. Secondly, Death is so misinterpreted. Death is the sign of rebirth. New life. In your reading, this means that there was something in your life that is gone. A hope, a dream, a path you were going to pursue. But you can’t be sad it’s gone, because it’s all about renewal. A door closed for you, Genevieve. It closed very firmly. And a new one is opening wide.” Marigold’s face is shining with happiness in the flickering firelight.

“That’s great, Marigold,” I say, tracing a finger over the angry, bloated face of the devil on the middle card. “But what is this all about? The devil? How can that possibly be good?”

“Don’t let the ugliness of this card fool you.” She puts her finger on the card and slides it until it meets mine. “You are bound by something, held back by something, and that’s all about to change. Everything that had you shackled and kept you down is all about to be washed clean. You’re about to embark on a powerful journey, and it’s going to lead you in directions you never even imagined. Your entire world is about to break wide open in the best way, Genevieve.”

My heart is pounding. The blood hisses and pumps through me, filling me with an intense adrenaline. “This one?” I ask. “It’s a dark haired man, right? Younger? Maybe college aged?”

Marigold picks the card up and studies it for a few long beats. When she finally speaks, her voice is strong and sure. “The page of swords is a dark haired young person. A person who’s about to face some challenges and conflicts that will take a great deal of strength and endurance to overcome. A person who’s about to realize his-or her-true worth.”

I wonder what challenges Adam is about to face. I wonder how I can help him. Because that’s what I’m about to do. I’m about to revive my life, let go of my past, and break away from everything that’s held me back for so long. I’m about to be brave and pursue my path fearlessly.

I’m about to ask Adam Abramowitz on a real date.

Tuesday at one fifteen, I’m sitting in the In-N-Out, suddenly nervous as h.e.l.l about everything. I tap the toe of my adorably high heel, tug on my tiny shirt, and check my makeup in my phone. I look good. Really good. Adam said I should have some confidence, and here I am, being all confident.

Right?

I watch as his car pulls up and he gets out, wearing his usual TA uniform of khakis, random sci-fi t-shirt with a b.u.t.ton-down over it, and hiking boots. I guess they’re hiking boots. I don’t wear shoes that don’t make me six inches taller and three times s.e.xier. Preferably while they glitter.

“Hey.” He waves when he sees me and walks over.

It’s like I suddenly don’t know what to do with my hands or what to say or how to stop smoothing my skirt and touching my hair.

“Hey.” I try to smile, but I feel stiff and unsure. “So, um, are you hungry?”

“Starving. Why don’t I order? You can find us a seat?” He squints at me like he’s wondering why I’ve suddenly become an idiotic mute.

“Yes. Yes, I’ll find us a seat.” I start to walk to the tables, and he catches my hand and draws me to his side. My skin heats up and my lips tremble. The way he dresses is all neat and nerdy professor, but the way he smells? It’s this wild mix of cologne and something I can’t put my finger on. Something that smells like leaning too far over the side of a bridge feels. Or the way the ocean sounds when it crashes during a storm. He smells the way I want to live, and I can’t inhale him fast enough.

“What do you want me to order you?” His eyes are clear green under dark eyebrows that lift a little bit. Because he’s laughing at me.

“Whatever you’re having,” I say.

“Double-double? Extra onion?” One side of his mouth quirks up at the side.

I don’t like raw onions. “Perfect.” Because I want to kiss him, so it’s a rule your breath should match. Right?

I’ve done this dozens of times with guy’s way more intimidating and out of my league than Adam. Why does this feel so specifically strange?

He lets go of my hand and waits for me to walk away before he orders. I sit at the tiny red table and wait for Adam to come back. He does, bringing two c.o.kes and fries with the burgers. I’m glad we don’t have to stumble through talking, since I’ve been making such a mess of that lately. I take a big bite of burger and cringe when the acidic snap of onion fills my mouth with its pungent flavor. A white ring falls onto the wax paper my burger was wrapped in, and I glare at it.

“Genevieve?” Adam puts his burger down and I do the same with mine. He points to my burger. “Why would you order onions if you don’t like onions?”

“I…” I want to kiss you. On the mouth. With my tongue. Because the way you sucked icing off my finger and the way you look at me and the way you never stop fighting for me make me think we’d be awesome together if we were brave enough to take a chance. “I didn’t realize how much I don’t like them, I guess,” I say instead.

“May I?” He points to my burger and I just nod. He lifts the bun, looks at me, and says, “I washed them. Promise.” He hooks a finger through the onions and pulls them off my burger, deposits them on his, and smiles at me. “Better, right?”

I pick up the burger and bite into it. Now it’s all savory and crunchy minus the acidic onion punch. “Perfect.”

“Good. As an added bonus, there won’t be any annoying undergrads hanging around asking me a million questions after lecture. So there’s one plus to onion breath, anyway.” He takes a huge bite, and I feel a little sting of jealousy. Who exactly are these undergrads who hang around to ask Adam questions?

As soon as I ask myself the question, the answer presents itself, clear as a freshly wiped window pane. Just because it took me weeks to see just how amazing Adam is doesn’t mean my cla.s.smates have been so dense.

“How have your cla.s.ses been?” I ask, even though it feels weird because we never talk about his cla.s.ses or work. Not that it makes any sense to feel guilty: the time I spend with him is specifically about my calculus work. But, still. I could have at least asked at some point. What kind of self-centered monster am I?

“Cla.s.ses? I’m, like, two weeks behind on grading, but that’s not too weird. I like to think I help them build character by making them wait to get grades back. Or maybe they just think I’m a huge d.i.c.k. Probably that.” He meets my eyes when I laugh, and for some reason, the laugh sticks hard in my throat. “Um, speaking of cla.s.ses, I had a chance to stop by Eidelberg’s office. I did a summer workshop with him. Anyway, I pulled a few strings on behalf of my very favorite tutee, and he offered to let you do this.”

Adam wipes his hands on a napkin and pulls a thick stack of stapled papers out of his bag, then slides them across the table to me.

I barely have time to look at them before my eyes start swimming. “What are they?”

“I’m not going to sugarcoat this for you, Genevieve. These are differential equations that you really need to apply multiple techniques to if you have any hope of solving any of them. And, seriously, they’re not worth much credit. He’s not handing you free points here. But, if you complete this packet and it’s done well, that last C will be pushed up to a B-.” He leans back, arms crossed, and waits for my answer.

“You did this all for me?” I ask. My gut feeling about him was so d.a.m.n right. And Marigold’s reading? It’s all making so much sense now. How could I have been so stupid for so long? Why did I waste so much time?

“Well, Eidelberg did this for you,” Adam says, picking his burger back up. “And, actually, no one did anything for you yet. You’ll wind up doing this for yourself. And, no lie, these are going to be torture. They actually scare me a little. But if anyone can do them, you can.”

“What if I need some help?” I ask, batting my lashes just enough so he almost chokes on the enormous bite he just took.

He swallows and clears his throat. “Help. Right. Part of the deal is that I only offer you very minimal tutoring on this. Which is fair, really. You don’t need a ton of help from me. And this is extra credit, so it’s supposed to make you sweat a little.”

Not the response I was looking for.

I wanted him to say, Help you? I’ll do anything you need, Genevieve. Anything.

He’s raising an eyebrow my way from across the table. “Problem?”

I narrow my eyes at him. “No.” We’re quietly chewing for a few seconds before I finally say, “You know what. Kind of yes. I mean, you’re my tutor, Adam. I’m not asking for you to do the work for me, but you could have offered to give me a hand. You’re just throwing me to the wolves here.” I flip some of the pages up and the most excruciatingly scary differentials flutter in front of my eyes.

I’m more than a little freaked.

“Throwing you to the wolves?” He shakes his head, those eyes all deep and green and fixed right on me. “You are one of the wolves, Genevieve. I believe in you. Don’t you get that? I believe you’re going to work your a.s.s off, and, when this packet is done, you’ll have mastered some of the skills you’re already pretty decent at. And, pretty soon, you’ll realize you don’t even need a tutor.”

“That’s very unlikely, Adam,” I say, taking a long sip of soda to cool the furious flush I know is igniting my cheeks. But I suck too many bubbles down my throat and wind up gasping and choking.

Adam comes around to pound his hand between my shoulder blades as I hack and choke, wishing this had all gone down very differently.

In a parallel universe, Adam offered tons of late night tutoring sessions to get me through these merciless differential sets, we wound up meeting at his dorm (where he’d ordered in delicious food and lit candles everywhere…also, he maybe wasn’t wearing a shirt with Yoda on it), things started out strictly business, but, before we knew it, we were kissing. And then kissing turned into something more, and then it was only a matter of time before I was bringing home to meet my parents.

The fantasy ends there, because I’ve stopped choking and Adam is back in his seat, looking worried. “Are you sure you’re okay?”

“Fine,” I sigh. “So I really have to do these all on my own?” I lean forward, letting my low-cut shirt do the work for me.

Adam’s gaze dips and his eyes widen, but he snaps his focus back to my face. “Yes. And it’s for your own good. I’d never tell you to do this alone if I didn’t think you could. Ready for cla.s.s?”

I sigh again and help him pick up the wrappers and empty cups. He drives me right up to my lecture hall and we make it in plenty of time, since he has a faculty parking permit.

“Thanks for lunch.” I smile and tuck my insane Calc extra credit packet safely into the depths of my folder, where I don’t have to look at it.

“No problem at all. So, are we on for Thursday?” He hooks his thumbs along the bottom of the steering wheel and stares at the gauges.

“Sure. Do you eat In-N-Out twice a week?” I look over at him. He doesn’t have a single extra ounce of fat on his entire body. Or, at least, it seems that way. I haven’t seen him undressed.

Yet.

“No.” He moves the steering wheel back and forth a few times like a little boy playing driving. “I’d say it’s more like five or six times.”

“Five or six?” I gasp. “Burgers are delicious, but you’re going to die.” I know it’s not remotely coy, but I don’t care at all. Adam goes out of his way to take care of my academic health. Cooking for him is the least I can do. “You need a meal. Like a real meal with ingredients other than beef patties and fried starches.”

“You’re making some very appetizing points.” He squints at me. “Does Ramen count?”

“Ugh! No!” I laugh.

“SpaghettiO’s?”

“You’re just making me sad now. Listen, what are you doing after cla.s.s?” I watch as his fingers tighten over the steering wheel.

“After this cla.s.s?” he asks, looking at me with eyes that are a little wild. I nod and he stutters. “Uh, one more cla.s.s. At four. It’s over by quarter after five.”

“Perfect. Almost dinnertime.” That will give me exactly enough time to make and pack a meal that will save him from death by fast foods. “Can you pick me up? We can go back to your place.”

“Oh.” He drums his fingers on the steering wheel and looks nervous. “My place? Right. It’s a little…antiseptic.” He leans my way and explains, “Not even because I’m a scientist. They just have this insane asylum vibe going, and, you know, there’s so many amazing places to go around here. Why don’t we go up to Griffith Observatory? Or is that too much like a date?” he rushes to add.

What’s wrong with this being ‘too much like a date’?

“No. Griffith is great. I haven’t been since I was just a kid. This will be fun.” I check my phone. “Okay, I’m going to be to cla.s.s five minutes early today. But I’ll text you my address. Give me your number?”

Adam stutters through the ten digits like he’s lost his mind. I tilt my head to one side and really look at him. His sort of messy dark hair, the green eyes that feel warm on my skin when he looks my way, the jaw that’s kind of shockingly male.

He’s kind of shockingly male.

Maybe it’s just because I always tended to date guys who prided themselves on being rough around the edges, blaring their masculinity like a raw badge of honor, that I didn’t immediately realize how much more of a man Adam is.

He’s quiet, but that’s because listens. To everyone, from his advisors to his lowly tutoring student.

He has a little bit of a dorky mad-scientist vibe going on, but he swept me in his arms like I weighed nothing when I tripped on my heels and growled at me like a testosterone-crazed wild man.

He works, hard. He makes sure little old couples get their kosher treats, even when he wants to run after crazy me. When he finds a girl so tipsy she can barely walk, he gets her home in one piece, makes no attempt to try anything funny with her, and helps her with her problems in Calculus while he’ at it.

He’s a man. The best kind of man. The kind of man I’ve never even attempted to date before.

But I’m more than ready to try now.

I hug my folder to my chest as Adam walks me to cla.s.s, careful to keep a few inches of distance between the two of us. Which is adorable and fine for now…but it’s all going to change tonight.

The Griffith observatory? My poached spinach and walnut pesto chicken? A starry night spent laughing and getting to know each other? Adam won’t be able to keep his hands off of me by the time the night is over. I have a plan.

5 ADAM.

I never leave cla.s.s early, and Shapiro loves to jaw with me about whatever article caught her interest in the latest scientific journal. She’s smart as h.e.l.l, and I can usually stay a good forty minutes after cla.s.s is over just debating the role of physics coaching in extreme sports or whether it makes sense to extend the dietician program so it encompa.s.ses cla.s.ses beyond the physics core. It’s not my specific discipline, but I love getting her take on things in general.

And, with the way my yeast trays are going, I’m beginning to wonder if I might have chosen the wrong focus.

But, today, I can’t spare any time. Because I’m going on a date. I guess. Or not a date. Just two people eating food in a scenic location. Though it’s highly probable that things between Genevieve and the beach b.u.m fizzled, especially after the way he left her the other night. So maybe a date?

I expect Dr. Shapiro to be b.u.mmed when I break the news to her, but she’s smiling wide. “You have-what was that phrase again- a ‘previous commitment,’ is it?”

I rub the back of my neck. “Something like that.”

“Hmm. Does she have a name?” She puts her folders into her briefcase and we leave the lecture hall.

“Genevieve.” Her name sounds beautiful-exotic even-when I say it to someone else.

“I bet she’s lovely. I’m glad you’re coming out of your sh.e.l.l, Adam,” Dr. Shapiro says. “Science is wonderful, but it can be isolating, can’t it? Enjoy your date. You do know that’s what this is, right?” She winks and laughs over her shoulder as she leaves me on the sidewalk.

So it is a date.

I drive back to the dorm and strip off my work clothes. I put on the only decent jeans I own, a dark sweater, and my good sneakers. I use gel. I brush my teeth twice and gargle with mouthwash.

I did eat a double-double with extra onion for lunch.

I follow Genevieve’s directions and pull up at a nice house with a million plants on the wide front porch and a homey, crowded feel, like dozens of people are probably running through it and around it at any given second. Nothing like the neat, Spartan apartment I grew up in. Genevieve flies out the door before I can knock, both hands wrapped around a basket she can barely lift. I get out to help her and she stops short on the steps.

“Wow.” She looks me up and down. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen you in anything but khakis and a b.u.t.ton down.”

I heft the basket into my arms, glad it weighs around a metric ton. I’m starved.

“I’m usually dressed for work,” I explain. She’s wearing another impossibly tiny top that barely covers her. Not that I’m complaining. She looks amazing. But it must be uncomfortable. “Are you sure you want to wear those shoes?”

She looks down at the shoes that are green, like limes, with little bows over the place where her toes poke out. The heels are at least four inches high, and there’s only this tiny green strap around her ankle holding them on.

“Aren’t they cute?” she asks.

“I don’t know how qualified I am to answer that.” I peer down at them, wondering what would possess her to torture her feet that much, no matter how ‘cute’ the shoes are. “I think you look great. But I think you’re forgetting what a hike it is to the observatory. I don’t want you to twist your ankle or anything.”

She smiles brightly and waves her hand back and forth. “It’s not going to be a problem.” She walks to the car, graceful as a gazelle. Of course she only had to walk a hundred feet on a flat, paved driveway.

———-

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Published inLimits.