Corey was helping a girl with her algebra homework when Stat Guy walked into the tutoring center. He hadn’t thought he’d see the guy again. He’d seemed pretty spooked last time they talked. To be honest, Corey had been a little spooked as well. He liked to keep his private life private, especially at work, so he’d been thrown off guard when the guy asked Corey about Jack.

Corey refrained from making eye contact. If he were lucky, Stat Guy would end up working with Avani today and there would be no confrontation. Corey had no interest in carrying on the kind of small talk that was expected of people who had mutual friends. Besides, he was still a little annoyed to learn that Jack had been talking about him and no doubt making fun of his cube (which he was pretty damn awesome at solving, thank you very much). Jack was cool, but not the most sensitive of guys.

After explaining for the third time why the quantity (x + a) divided by x was not equal to a, Corey silently rejoiced when the girl said she had to go. He liked his job, and he enjoyed teaching, but some people just didn’t get it. It was frustrating for both of them.

Corey twisted in his chair— first right, then left. He scanned the room to see who might be waiting for help and met Stat Guy’s friendly smile. Crap. He was the only one waiting for help— no getting out of this one. At least statistics was higher-level math. It would be a welcome change from the past three hours of basic algebra. Corey waved him over. “Hey. Welcome back.” He offered the guy a smile.

Stat Guy’s face lit up. “Hi. I was hoping you’d be here.”

“Oh. Well, most of the tutors here have taken statistics. If I’m not here, I’m sure someone else would be able to help.”

“Yeah, I know. Still, I was hoping to see you.”

Corey held his smile, but was unsure how to respond.

“My name’s Brandon. Sorry I left in such a hurry last time.” Brandon rubbed the back of his neck. “I guess I kinda panicked. It was my first time here.”

“Yeah, I figured. It’s okay.” Brandon must’ve been one of those guys who had a hard time asking for help. That was all right; he’d worked with people like that before. “Let’s get started then. You still working on confidence intervals?”

Brandon nodded and opened to the page he’d bookmarked in his textbook.

“When you’re asked to find a confidence interval, there are five things you need to do: define your parameter, check your assumptions, name the procedure, compute the interval, and state your conclusion.”

Brandon blinked a few times, then stared at him blankly. “How do you remember all that?”

“It’s easy. Whenever I hear ‘confidence interval’, I think PANIC.”

“Now that I can do.”

“It’s a mnemonic device. P-A-N-I-C: Parameter, Assumptions, Name, Interval, Conclusion.” Corey wrote down each of the steps for Brandon, then helped him work through a sample problem. He watched as Brandon tried the next one on his own. He didn’t seem to have a solid grasp of the concepts yet, but Corey assured him it would get easier with practice.

Brandon smiled at him again. “Can I carry you around in my pocket?” “It would be a pretty tight fit.”

Brandon’s eyes sparkled. “I’d be okay with that.”

Oh. Oh. Awkward.

He fumbled with his papers when Corey didn’t respond.

“So, keep practicing with those problems,” Corey told him. “You seem to be getting the hang of it. But come back if you need more help. The center is open Monday through Saturday.”

“Thanks. My schedule’s kinda crazy because of baseball, but I’m sure I’ll need some more help. I gotta get a good grade on my next test.” Brandon packed up his stuff and headed out.

It was near closing time, and there weren’t any other students there, so as soon as the door clicked shut behind Brandon, Avani jumped out of her chair. “That boy has the hots for you,” she said.

“What?”

“Please. Don’t tell me you didn’t notice.” She rested her hands over her heart and said in her sweetest voice, “Can I carry you in my pocket?”

Corey rolled his eyes. “He was being friendly. He knows my roommate.”

“Mhm. And how do you explain the way he was checking you out when he first got here? He was practically salivating. He likes you. And he’s totally hot. I’m jealous.”

“Even if that’s true, I’m not interested.”

Corey grabbed his bag and headed out, leaving Avani to lock up. It was a short walk to his dorm, and when he arrived, he found Jack studying. He was sprawled across his unmade bed, reading a textbook. They exchanged cursory hellos, then Corey sat at his desk and booted up his laptop. Within five minutes, Samantha called.

“The answer is no, Samantha.”

“Corey, it’s been a week. What’s your excuse this time?”

He knew she was losing patience with him. She usually only called once a week, but since he’d lost that stupid game and had agreed to her flirting-with-boy demands, she’d been calling or texting every day to find out if he’d done the deed.

“I’ve been busy, Sam. Besides, it’s not that easy.”

She flashed him a look of disapproval. “It’s not that hard, either.”

“That’s what she said,” Jack called out in the background.

Corey glared at his roommate, who still had his nose buried in his book. “You never miss an opening, do you?”

“That’s what she said.”

Corey shook his head and turned back to Samantha. “You see what I have to put up with around here?”

“You poor thing,” she said playfully. “Don’t change the subject. Just walk up to the next guy you see, smile, and pay him a compliment.”

“Other than Jack, the next guy I see will probably be standing in the bathroom, wearing nothing but a towel. Are you trying to get me pummeled?”

“Jack!” she called. “Help me out here.”

Jack lowered his book and looked over, but made no effort to move. “What about Brandon?”

Corey made a quick back and forth motion with his hand, urging Jack to shut up.

“Who’s Brandon?” Samantha asked, her eyes wide. “Corey? Who’s Brandon?”

Great. Now he’d have to answer a zillion questions. Corey hadn’t said anything to Jack about meeting Brandon, which could only mean Jack and Brandon had been talking about him again.

“At least he’s gay,” Jack said. “Probably a safer bet than hitting on some dude in the bathroom.”

“I’m not hitting on anyone!” Corey said, throwing his hands up. “And quit eavesdropping.”

“WHO’S BRANDON?”

Corey sighed and returned his attention to Samantha. “He’s a friend of Jack’s. I met him the other day at work.”

“And he’s gay? Is he cute?”

Corey shrugged.

“Don’t hold out on me, Cor. Is he cute?”

“He’s all right.” But he was more than all right. He was tall with broad shoulders and nicely sculpted arms, and he had short blond hair and big, innocent green eyes. But he wasn’t about to tell her all that, especially not with Jack in the room.

“Sounds to me like you’ve found your guy.”

“I don’t know if I’m even gonna see him again. Besides, I don’t wanna give him the wrong impression. What if he thinks I like him?”

“Oh the horror!” she mocked. “I’m not letting you off the hook. If you don’t get your flirt on soon, I’m upping the stakes.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Oh, I don’t know,” she teased. “Streaking across campus maybe?”

“No, no, no. We’re not doing that again.”

“Again?” Jack said. “When did you go streaking?”

“High school,” Corey muttered. “She was always trying to get me out of my pants one way or another.”

“Hey,” she protested. “As I recall, you didn’t put up much of a fight. The skinny-dipping was your idea, remember? Our boy here’s a bit of an exhibitionist.”

“Dude, I never would’ve guessed,” Jack said.

“Teenage hormones, that’s all,” Corey stated in his defense.

“Well pump up some of those old hormones and flirt with that boy, Brandon. I’ll call you tomorrow.”

“Frak,” Corey mumbled.

“Sorry,” Jack offered in an amused tone.

What was Brandon’s deal, anyway? He could ask Jack about him, but he’d already spent too much time thinking on the matter. He needed to focus on things that were important, like cracking ciphertext for the next round of the cryptology contest.

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