Thomas’s dark stare bored into Colton, as if he could see right through him. “I need your … cooperation with something, and in return, I can make sure you pass your classes.”
There was some irony that Colton was skipping class to try to put off his potential tutor who wanted to negotiate him passing the classes he skipped. “What, like take my tests for me?”
Thomas snorted delicately and raised a pointy brow with the air of a Victorian nobleman. “No, Colton, but I don’t have much of a social life. I can devote enormous resources to teaching you the material. Are you an auditory learner? Visual? Kinesthetic? I can help you break down your learning style and tailor study strategies for your needs. It’ll be the easiest learning you’ve done. I’m a boss. But I need your help too.”
How did he manage to sound so confident when he was basically confessing to being a loser? It was as if he’d embraced his own geekery and weaponized it for use against his betters.
“If I wanted to learn the material, I would.” Colton shrugged as he adjusted his backpack. “And I’d learn it faster without having to block you out.”
Everyone could use Colton’s help in one way or another. Were he the sort to lend a hand, he’d probably get nothing else done. At the very least, he had to know what it was Thomas wanted so he could tell him no and then maybe they’d be done with this. “You’re beyond help, but what do you think I could possibly do for you?”
“You gave Rose Ryan my phone number.” The way Thomas said her name, he might as well have been saying Aphrodite or Venus. “We’ve been texting. Things are… developing. But she thinks I’m you, and if I tell her who I am, she’s going to bail on me. I need this, Colton. It’s your doing anyway. Take responsibility.”
“How would I know your phone—” As the memory returned of the random girl that very irritating morning returned to him, so did the phone number. There it went again, rattling around in his brain. A little faded, maybe. He was less certain of the numbers now than he had been, but there it was.
Colton chuckled and shook his head. Even if he tried to lie, by now his cheeks were so hot it was probably obvious that he remembered doing it. “What do you mean things are developing? You’re not being weird and telling her it’s me, are you?”
“I didn’t tell her that. You told her that. You gave her your number, but it was mine. You lied to her, and now I’m making you look good by being a decent human being to her. I mean, aside from the nudes…” Thomas smirked and gave Colton the kind of look that suggested he’d made an enormous mistake.
Colton gasped and stared at Thomas in horror. “You sent her nudes?”
He eyed Thomas up and down then shook his head. “No way she’d believe your nudes were me. No way she’d keep talking to you if she saw,” Colton gestured at Thomas. “Unless she’s an idiot.”
But God, what if the rumor got out that there were nudes of him? Even if they were obviously not him, his dad would probably hear about it.
“Who said I sent the nudes? Although, not that it’s your business, my business is very respectable. With some creative cropping, she’d be very impressed with ‘you’.” Thomas laughed from his belly, eyes crinkling at the corners. He looked like an evil cherub. Like a cherub just hellbent on fucking Colton’s life right up.
“Oh God, I don’t need to know that.” Colton held his hands up in defense as the images popped into his head. “You can’t accept nudes from her as me. I would never take advantage like that. I …”
For once, Colton was utterly speechless as he stared at Thomas in horror.
Thomas laughed again, throaty and delighted, and shook his head. “Oh man, I really got you going. I didn’t accept nudes! As if Rose Ryan would send anyone nudes. She’s the definition of perfection. She’s not going to put something like that into the world and risk her reputation. Do you know how shitty people are to women of color who express their sexuality? To any women? You probably didn’t ace Gender Studies, but you can trust me on that.”
Then Thomas sobered and narrowed his gaze on Colton appraisingly. “Look, man, you put yourself in this situation. The only way out is through. I want you to go to her volleyball game on Friday with me. Introduce me and then, I don’t know. I just…”
Suddenly Thomas’s cherubic face turned haunted, lips turning down at the corners and making his dimples stand out in dismay. “Listen, Colton, I know it doesn’t mean anything to you, but it would mean a lot to me. I just want to get my foot in the door. I need her to just look at me for once instead of right through me. I’m not who people assume I am. I’m…” Thomas sighed and his tongue flashed over his lips. “There’s more to me. I feel like Rose could see it, if I could just get an in.”
Colton realized he had clutched his chest, much like his mom did when she was hearing news that shocked her. He was flooded with relief that there were no nudes. He definitely didn’t want to be in the middle of some incel revenge porn scandal. He didn’t know that it was worse or better for women of color, but he did know how a lot of men regarded women who sent nudes.
He hadn’t thought any of it through when he gave Rose Thomas’s number. He’d just thought Thomas would correct her and everyone would go on with their lives.
This had gotten complicated.
He didn’t know Rose, but he had kind of put her in this situation. Maybe there weren’t nudes yet, but if Colton walked away from this situation and allowed it to continue, who knew what would happen?
Plus, Thomas looked so darn pathetic. There was probably no chance that one introduction was going to set them up and fix everything, but that wasn’t his problem.
Colton needed to find a way to extricate himself from this situation without finding himself in the middle of some nerd-on-nerd violence. He exhaled. “All right. Friday night I go to her game and we pretend to be… friends? I just decided I enjoy my tutor so much that I’m dragging him along to sporting events?”
“Well, yeah. She can assume I’m your wingman. You have to admit, standing next to me, you look extra good.” Thomas’s self-deprecating little smile didn’t do much to erase his pitifulness. “Just make it plain I’m a cool guy, and I’ll take it from there. You’re not interested, or you wouldn’t have given her my number, so just let her know you’re only interested in friendship, and I’ll fend for myself.”
“My wingman. I don’t need a wingman.” Colton rolled his eyes but accepted the premise. “All right, fine. For one night only, I need a wingman to get a girl who approached me.”
It didn’t matter. He just needed to wash his hands of this situation. “Just, try not to be weird, okay? I’ll let her down easy after the game and you can just … whatever.”