Lauren’s iPod lay on the counter unplugged. It could be a simple oversight, but Lauren sat beside it with the earplugs in her hands daring someone to say something. Pushing up out of the chair, Stella walked toward the testing center. Since no bent head worked feverishly to finish a timed exam, she couldn’t complain about the music disturbing the students and refused to mention it bothered her. For some reason, she felt like it was Lauren’s intention to bother. Why give her the satisfaction?
Sighing deeply, Stella realized she was officially in Lauren’s area; she’d have to make some comment for her appearance. “Any more exams?”
Lauren jammed the jack back into the MPG player, silencing it. “No. That’s it.”
Stella glanced at the monitor clock. Twenty minutes left on the shift. The screen displayed a dating advice website. Lauren’s site selection didn’t matter since she was only supposed to monitor the exams. “You could shut down and leave early.”
Mistrust and suspicion peeked out of her eyes while her lips pinched as if she’d bitten into a lemon. “That would cut me out of twenty minutes.” Her gaze flicked back to Mitch.
Odd that she’d look at Mitch. Technically, Stella oversaw Lauren, not Mitch. “Not really, I can turn off your computer.” Suspicion still flickered in her eyes. “Or maybe you can ask Mitch to do it.”
The idea brought a sly smile to her face. “I’ll do that.” She opened her messenger bag and dumped assorted snacks, water bottle, and iPod into the bag with one swipe.
In an effort to appear busy, Stella moved around the exam center, moving mouses to see if the screens would flicker to life, and then shutting down the unit. Lauren walked over to Mitch’s station and bent down to whisper in his ear. Her actions surprised Stella because she didn’t think the girl had that much boldness. She’d figured wrong.
On a hunch, she went back to Lauren’s computer. An open file materialized with Mitch’s name at the top. It included his schedule, his dorm assignment, his home address, his phone number, and his birthday, which was yesterday.
Talk about a major crush. No doubt, Mitch was supposed to find this little token of her obsession. Knowing how she felt, he’d be equally smitten with her. Stupid middle school plan, although it might work. College was a very lonely time as opposed to the big party most high school seniors envisioned. Instead of alerting Mitch to her find, Stella closed it.
Yesterday was his birthday. What did she do? Nothing, when he’d saved her butt on more than one occasion due to a Cam emergency, which was usually only an emergency in Cam’s eyes. She should do something.
Strolling back to her station, she wondered how she’d bring up the subject. The lights she turned off as she cleared each area announced her location. The third shift used a very limited area. Although the lab was supposed to be open twenty-four hours, very few students burned the midnight oil, probably not relishing a walk back in the dark. Mitch turned at her approach.
“Did you send Lauren over to whisper in my ear?”
Why would she do such a thing? “No, that was all her. I told her she could leave early and she doubted my generosity, even insisted that you close down her computer.”
“Yay. I’m not sure what I did to deserve the honor.” He raised his eyebrows and rounded his lips pretending shock. “Oh well, only fifteen more minutes. This utility scan should finish by then.”
“If so, you got more done than me. I’ll be taking work with me.” Seated in her chair, she turned it away from him. Make it look casual. Staring at her monitor, she asked. “What did you do for your birthday yesterday?”
“Ha! I knew you would look it up. You’re so predictable.”
A backward glance over her shoulder revealed Mitch grinning wide displaying teeth, even the overlapping incisor. Normally, he only smiled with his lips, possibly self-conscious about the tooth.
The predictable label didn’t appeal. She had no desire to confess where she’d picked up the information either. “I asked you what you did. Maybe a cake?”
His smile disappeared as suddenly as it came. “My mom sent me a card with a strange letter in it.”
“What was so strange about it?” At least, he had a parent who wrote to him. Her mother’s scribbled words on pamphlets detailing her fiery end never counted as actual correspondence. Anything had to be better than that.
“Well, ah…” He hesitated for a moment. “I think my mom meant well. It started out that ‘I’m so proud of you being in college’ since neither one of my parents went to college, but then the letter sort dissolved into ranting really.”
Maybe it wasn’t so different from her mother’s missives. “What do you mean?” The changing expressions said more than he did. None of them involved happiness, excitement, joy, or even the milder stepsister, contentment. “Tell me later, I think your file is done.” She nodded in the direction of his monitor.
Stella gathered up the notes for her work tonight. A jump drive saved what she’d already finished. Technically, she should be able to open the file back on her own laptop, although too many times, she discovered what should have worked often didn’t. No reason to take chances. If she pushed it, she might get a few of her assigned duties done.
The computer clock glowed 8:59 as Mitch powered down his computer, and she could hear Simon before he even opened the door.
“Let’s get his party started.” Simon sang as he carried in a pizza box.
Stella wondered how he kept his job with his attitude. The obvious answer involved the lack of college students wanting to babysit an empty computer lab. Everyone had something better to do, even if he or she only wanted to have the appearance of having something better to do. A secret computer party must be in the works. The fact Simon still had a job meant he thought it must be okay, probably relying on no one wanted to spend evenings in the darkened computer lab that turned creepy at night with the occasional ominous unexplained sound. Stella took the third shift once when Simon couldn’t. Never again.
Students who enjoyed attacking hordes of orcs bathed in the blue green flickering light of the monitors with their headphones on silencing the creep of a serial killer didn’t mind the eeriness. The party circuit officially started on Thursday nights, although a handful of pop-up parties occurred during the week staged by serious drinkers.
No doubt the director thought he’d put an end to the impromptu LAN adventures, by having the students involved work different shifts. Seriously, why did adults in charge act so stupid?
Stella stood in front of her desk with her arms folded. “Simon no one sits at my desk. No one.”
Simon placed his pizza box down and waved his hands. “No one, no one. I hear you. Besides, it’s just going to be little old me.” He giggled, giving lie to his statement.
Mitch touched her arm. “C’mon let’s get out of here.”
Simon waved. “Listen to the man, Stella. You kids have fun.” He giggled again making his behavior even more suspect.