I was almost the opposite of Anna. I had a hard time with relationships because it was hard for me to let my guard down. That was why last night had been so completely exhilarating and out of the ordinary for me. I’d never just met a guy and gone home with him. I tended to overanalyze too much. But I guessed the alcohol had lowered my inhibitions, and the fact that I’d wanted to just go crazy hadn’t helped. For just once in my life.
And it had felt magical. Even the sparring with Xavier had elevated everything in my body. I had felt like I was soaring, and the sex had been amazing. I felt like a masochist because a part of me wished that I could have one more night with him—even though he had been a jackass.
“Here are your drinks, girls.” Sebastian walked over to us with a huge grin. “I was scared that you weren’t going to come back in.”
“We’re here.” Anna grabbed her drink and took a huge gulp. She shrugged at me as she saw my look. The ‘no alcohol policy’ was definitely out for her today!
“Thanks, Sebastian.” I gave him a grateful smile, and he nodded his head briefly.
His odd little mannerisms were so noticeable that I wanted to ask him about them, but I figured that maybe that was how Europeans were brought up. He was a lot more polite than any guys I knew back home in the States. Shit, he could give lessons on how to treat a lady—lessons Xavier needed to sign up for.
“So do you?” Sebastian interrupted my thoughts and I looked up at him guiltily, annoyed that I was still thinking of the asshole.
“Sorry, I didn’t hear you.” I made a face and looked around the restaurant lounge we were in. “It’s so noisy in here.”
“No apologies needed.” He bowed his head again and nodded towards the group table. “Shall we make our way back? I think Henrietta wants to make some announcements.”
“Oh, we can’t miss those.” Anna grinned and winked at me.
We walked back over to the table and sat down. I sat next to a girl I hadn’t met yet, Sebastian sat next to me, and Anna sat next to Sebastian. I heard him whisper something to her and she laughed. I smiled to myself as I noticed Jason staring at the two of them. Typical man! Always desiring a woman he thinks someone else likes.
“Okay, great. I think we have everyone here now,” Henrietta said loudly from her position at the end of the table. “Can everyone hear me?”
“No!” a bunch of drunk girls and Jason screamed out, and Henrietta smiled.
“Okay, let’s get started. Welcome to what is going to be the best six months of your life.” Henrietta looked around the table and made eye contact with all of us. “I want everyone at this table to get to know each other tonight. Many of you will be in classes together. Some of you may even sleep together.”
“What?” Anna gasped and looked at me with a shocked expression.
“Ignore her.” Sebastian laughed. “The English can be very blunt in their humor.”
“Where are you from then, Sebastian?” I asked him curiously, but Henrietta gave us a look before he could answer.
“Now, I want us to go around the table and introduce ourselves.”
“Boring!” Jason cried out and the girls next to him nodded in agreement.
It seemed as if Jason was going to be the big man of the group. I wasn’t sure why all the girls were flocking to him. Granted, he was blond and had the surfer look going on. But he also seemed like a big doofus, unlike Sebastian, who was handsome and polite. I couldn’t understand why more girls weren’t trying to flirt with him. I would be all over him if I weren’t still thinking about Xavier.
“Fine, fine. But I want to let everyone know we have a very special member in the group this year. In fact, I think you should all know that...”
“Hey, Henrietta. Why don’t we all just eat and drink and be merry?” Sebastian spoke up this time, and I looked at him in surprise. His voice sounded calm, but there was a hint of aggression there as well.
“But Sebastian, your brother will—”
“Henrietta.” He said her name firmly, and she shrugged before looking around the table with a tight smile.
“Well, that’s it for tonight, folks. Don’t forget, classes start bright and early on Monday morning. Your professors will not be impressed if you are late.”
“I can’t believe that classes are starting already,” Anna groaned and then froze as she saw Jason walking towards us. I gave her a bright smile as if to say, “I told you not to freak out already.”
“Hey, Lola.” He stopped in front of me and flashed his brilliant white teeth. “I was thinking we should be study partners.”
“Huh?” My jaw fell open in shock at his words. I also felt my skin burning up as I felt at least four girls, including Anna, staring at me in jealousy.
“You seem like a bright girl, and I’m going to need someone to go to museums with.” He leaned in closer to me. “Plus, you’re the only one who hasn’t mentioned my Australian accent tonight. I don’t want this year to revolve around my being from Oz. It’s not that exciting. I’m just—”
“Fine, fine, fine.” I nodded and stood up. “Sounds good. I’m sure Anna would love to join us.”
“I don’t know.” She made a face, and I could tell she was upset.
“The more the merrier, right?” Jason shrugged and grinned at Anna. “Maybe we can smoke out while we study.”
“Yeah, that would be cool.” She grinned up at him, and I felt my stomach settle down. Thank God. The last thing I needed was for Anna’s crush to have a crush on me.
The rest of the weekend seemed to drag on. All I could think about was Lola and the distraught look on her face as she’d fled the hotel room. I felt uncomfortable inside. It wasn’t a feeling I appreciated. I went home and started preparing for the next week by looking at the applications I’d received for my assistant position. My mood changed as I read the applications again. Lola’s name stood out bright and shining. It had to be my Lola. I had another chance with her. I needed to have one more night with her. And the next time I was going to get her out of my system. I smiled to myself as I thought about having her in my bed again. Maybe I’d give her a couple of days to rock my world this time.
“Catch you for lunch?” Anna made a face as we paused outside the door to my class. “I better go or I’ll be late.”
“Sounds good.” I smiled. “Have a great day.”
“You too.” I watched her hurry off and breathed a sigh of relief.
We were finally back on the right track. I knew as soon as Jason had come up to me at the restaurant that we were going to have trouble. Even though Anna and I were best friends, she was still ridiculously insecure and slightly envious of me. I understood why, but it still hurt me whenever she started ignoring me because guys paid more attention to me than her. And it wasn’t that I was so much more gorgeous than she was. In fact, I thought that Anna was one of the most beautiful girls I had ever known, with her long black hair and intelligent hazel eyes. I felt very boring with my light brown hair and brown eyes. I was of average height and build, and I knew that Anna was slightly self-conscious because she had recently lost a lot of weight.
I slowly walked into the classroom, wanting to take in my surroundings. Everything was so different in London. The building itself was supposedly an old residence of some Lord and everything seemed so grand.
“Lola,” a voice called out to me, and I looked up and saw Sebastian grinning at me.
I walked over to him slowly but quite happily. He looked even more handsome than I had remembered. His green eyes shone at me like emeralds, and he was wearing a plaid shirt that seemed to emphasize the slight twinkles of brown.
“How are you?” He stood up as I reached his seat and pointed to the seat next to him. “Please.”
“Thanks.” I sat down and unbuttoned my jacket. “I’m good. How are you?”
“I’m tired.” He yawned slightly. “Excuse me. I was up all night going through the textbook.”
“Not the entire textbook?” I looked at him in amazement. He didn’t look like he was a nerd.
“My brother will expect no less of me,” he sighed. “And some of these paintings I should know already.”
“Oh, have you taken the class already?”
“No, we own some of them. Well, I don’t own any of them, but my family does.”
“Your family owns some of them?” I grinned at him. “What do you mean? Like prints?”
“No.” He shook his head. “I mean we have some Cezannes and Monets in our dining room.”
“Dining room?” My eyes widened. “You have world-class paintings in your dining room?”
“Well, really it’s the great hall, not the dining room.” He laughed. “And so I should really be top of this class. I’m sure I’m the only one who has grown up with art in their homes to this extent.”
“Hey,” I chided him, “we have some great paintings of dogs playing poker in my house.”
“Well now, I correct myself.” He smiled back at me. “You shall have to tell my brother that you also are an art connoisseur.”
“Your brother? He’s not going to be checking up with you after the class, is he?”
“No, not after the class.” He laughed. “My brother teaches the class.”
“Oh good God. That’s awful.” I rubbed his shoulder lightly. “I’m sorry about that.”
“What can I say?” He leaned towards me and looked directly into my eyes. “It’s not going to be the most fun of classes for me.”
“I bet.” I swallowed hard as I stared at him. He was so good-looking and there was something so familiar about his features. When I looked at him, I felt like I was connecting with someone wise. I didn’t feel a sexual chemistry with him exactly, but there was something about him that intrigued me greatly.
“But such is life. No one ever said it was going to be fun.”
“That’s true.” I nodded in agreement. “That is very true.”
“Good morning, everyone. Welcome to my art history class,” a loud accented voice called out, and I felt each individual hair on my back stand up. “I hope you are all ready for a term of surprises.”
I slowly turned to the front of the class and froze as I saw who the professor was. “Fuck,” I mumbled under my breath, waiting for him to recognize me.
“I am your professor. You may call me Xavier.”
He looked around the room, and I knew the moment that he saw me. His eyes dilated and I saw a flash of shock before it disappeared and he continued surveying the class. He then looked back at me and his eyes narrowed as he saw that I was sitting next to Sebastian.
“Fuck,” I mumbled again as I realized that Sebastian was his brother.
“You okay?” Sebastian whispered at me, and I nodded quickly and gave him a quick smile, hoping that my face hadn’t turned red.
“Let’s get started.” Xavier placed his laptop on the table and stood in the middle of the room. “Prostitutes. Yes, let’s start with prostitutes.”
My face burned a deep red as his eyes met mine and he gave me a cruel little smile. I wasn’t sure where he was going with his conversation, but I was scared.
“What is a prostitute?” his voice boomed, and I felt like everyone was staring at me. “Anyone?”
“A girl who sleeps with men for money,” a boy at the back of the class shouted out.
“But why does she sleep with a man for money?” he responded.
“Because she’s a whore,” the boy responded back and the class laughed.
“How do we know someone is a prostitute?”
A girl near the front spoke up timidly. “She stands on street corners.”
“Yes, some stand on street corners. But what about a woman on a corner symbolizes her as a prostitute?”
“Her clothing,” the guy at the back called out. “Whores usually dress like sluts.”
“Hey, that’s not fair,” a girl in front of me responded. “You can’t call a woman a slut because of her attire.”
“What do you think?” Xavier looked directly at me, and I stared back at him with a blank expression, not speaking. “No opinion?” he continued while staring at me. I shook my head slowly, and he looked at me in disappointment. “Folks, you cannot be shy in here if you wish to pass this class.” He looked away from me, and I looked down at the desk, my face burning in shame and embarrassment.
“Don’t let him get to you,” Sebastian whispered to me. “I told you he’s an asshole.”
“Thanks,” I whispered back, starting to feel annoyed. Who did Xavier think he was?
“I’m sure many of you are wondering why we are talking of prostitutes.” Xavier walked back to the desk at the front of the class. “And I will explain. As most of you know, we are studying Impressionism in this class. The era in art that transformed people’s opinions about the woman’s body as a whole. As most of you should know, Neoclassicism was popular in the second half the nineteenth century. This art was more solemn, classical, and it referred back to the Grecian way of life. The lines were severe, noble, stark, and precise. That is what artists and purveyors were used to, and then along came some upstarts with a new way of painting and portraying the beauty they saw around them. Can anyone name any of the forefathers of Impressionism?”