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The Projects of Life, Book 1
The Love Project book cover

The Love Project

M.J. Padgett

“Wesley!” My roommate’s voice boomed over my alarm clock. “Get up and turn that thing off, or I’ll smash it to bits!” I peeked through one eyelid, hoping to hit the snooze button and try again in nine minutes. Nope, I was already running behind. “Oh, no!” I jumped from my bed and pulled on the first pair of jeans I could find. I pulled a wrinkled shirt over my head, smeared toothpaste on my toothbrush, brushed like my life depended on it, then ran toward the kitchen.

“Again?” Ashley asked. She handed me a partially cooked frozen waffle as I ran past. 

“Uh-huh, sorry! Love you!” I yelled as I stuffed it in my mouth and grabbed my books. She tossed me my bag and keys and opened the door, so I wouldn’t have to slow down. 

I slid into the driver’s seat of my tiny car, glanced at myself in the rearview mirror, and cringed at the sight of the bedraggled woman looking back at me. At least I had time to brush my teeth before darting to class. In my defense, I was up until the wee hours reading Professor Mark Saxton’s latest book on child psychology. I’d waited an entire year to get into Professor Saxton’s Introduction to Modern Psychology course. 

I parked as close to the building as possible, tied my hair into something resembling a bun, gathered my things, and began the jog to the building. I rounded the corner, muttering to myself about how much exercise sucked and ran smack into a brick wall. Maybe not a brick wall, but a tall boy resembling one.

“Easy Wes, we don’t want you breaking anything on the first day of the semester."

His accent made me cringe, not because I thought a British accent was displeasing, but because it was his British accent. Oliver Williams, also known as the boy who couldn’t seem to stop embarrassing me—or trying to kill me.

 

My hatred of all things Oliver Williams began on the first day of the first semester when he accidentally shoved me down a flight of stairs in a hasty attempt to get to the top before his roommate. I wasn’t severely injured, just a tweaked wrist, but my pride was pretty sore. Not three months later, he startled me in the hallway and caused me to spill fruit juice all over my white dress. I looked like a murderer, and I had to sit that way through three classes before I could go home to change. I was also sticky. I didn’t like being sticky. Then there was the time he put a gummy worm down my shirt during a lecture. I screamed so loudly, the entire classroom startled and turned to see what on earth I was shouting about. My face was so red it took a good hour for my cheeks to return to their usual pale color.

 

For all those reasons and more, I could hardly stand to be in the same classroom as Oliver, let alone inside his personal bubble—which I was, because he never missed an opportunity tower over me and literally talk to the top of my head. And that nickname… Grr! It made me cringe!

 

“Stop calling me Wes. My name is Wesley, and I’m kind of in a hurry,” I said and grabbed my books before he did something humiliating to me on the first day of the most important class I would ever take.

 

“Where you headed?” he asked, forgetting we were not friends, and if I was walking straight into Hell, he shouldn’t care.

 

“Intro to Modern Psych. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m running late.”

 

“Me too! Fancy that,” he said, the darn accent grating on my nerves like a cheese shredder over bare knuckles. If it had fallen from anyone else’s mouth, it would have been a pleasant change from the New England accents that filled the halls, but from Oliver’s lips, it was like nails on a chalkboard. I groaned, accepting that I would not graduate from Brown without enduring two and a half more years of embarrassment from Mr. Thinks He’s James Bond.

 

“Fancy,” I said flatly, then turned myself toward the classroom. I didn’t make it two steps before he grabbed my bag and set me in the opposite direction like a little puppet on a string.

 

“It’s this way, Wes. Good thing I was here to keep you from going into the wrong classroom. That would have been embarrassing,” he teased.

 

I mumbled something about him being an idiot and followed him to class. The moment I set foot into the room, I knew it was the wrong one given the instructor was female, and the room was filled with lab equipment. I took one look at the placard on the door—Chemistry Lab—then glared at Oliver.

 

“Oops. Could have sworn the map said—”

 

“You doofus!” I yelled, then turned tail and ran as fast as humanly possible to the room I should have gone to in the first place. I heard Oliver behind me rambling on about how he could have sworn this and could have sworn that, but it did not matter one bit to me. Luckily, I arrived one minute before class was scheduled to begin. I was sweaty and gross, too winded to even say my name if asked, but I had made it.

 

Once in the auditorium-style classroom, I took a seat at the front of the class, the only row available. I didn’t mind; I liked sitting at the front. It helped me keep my focus, not that I would need it in Professor Saxton’s class. I was pumped, so excited to hear what our semester project would be, that I didn’t notice Oliver sit beside me until it was too late to switch seats. I sighed and pulled my book from my bag as I tried to slow my breathing.

 

Every year, Professor Saxton assigned a semester-long research project, and often the results were published in one of the many professional journals he worked with. How awesome would it be to have my work published before I graduated? Very awesome, that’s how. I couldn’t sit still, which admittedly could have been because I’d just run a marathon, or because Oliver’s presence beside me made my fight-or-flight instinct kick in, but I was pretty sure it was from an abundance of excitement.

 

“Good morning class, and welcome to Introduction to Modern Psychology. I’m Professor Saxton, but you are welcome to call me Mark. Many of you have already asked what the semester project will be, and since there’s so much excitement buzzing around the room, I decided to go ahead and begin the day with a little announcement.”

 

He walked over to his desk and picked up a dry erase marker—a bright red dry erase marker that gave me pause. I hated red for two reasons. One, bad grades always glared at me from the top of the page written in murderous red. Two, anything having to do with love was steeped with red. So, for me, red equaled terrible news.

 

“Our semester project will be a little different this year. For the first time ever, I will be pairing you up to complete your projects. Each team will research a different topic though all will be related to one core idea.” Professor Saxton fidgeted with the marker, clicked the cap on and off as he paced and spoke, and made a generally big deal about revealing the assignment. With each click of the cap, my anxiety doubled. And then, in an act of war he had no idea he was executing, my very favorite professor drew a giant red heart on the whiteboard, and inside he wrote the word, the silly sentiment that does not exist—LOVE—in big, bold, red letters. It was official. I hated Professor Saxton.

 

“As I said, each couple will explore a different topic, but they will relate to love in some way. Let’s begin choosing partners, and I will explain in greater detail. I’ll work through the alphabet backward just to shake things up a little. When I call your name, choose a partner.”

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