The Rules of Love

by Cara Malone

The Rules of Love - Cara Malone

Maxine Saddler has never been in love.

She knows exactly what it looks like – she’s spent years studying the phenomenon in other people, but her Asperger syndrome makes it far too anxiety-provoking to attempt such a thing in her own life.

Instead, she focuses exclusively on academics. She’s 23 years old, starting grad school, and perfectly content to ignore the world beyond her textbooks. That is, until she meets Ruby Satterwhite, who makes Max want to give love one more shot.

Ruby is the consummate social butterfly – sorority president, extracurricular list a mile long, and stunning to boot. In short, she’s way out of Max’s league, and on top of it all, she kind of hates Max for how she blurts out whatever’s on her mind, no matter how blunt.

But when they’re thrown grudgingly together for a group project in their first class, the heavens open up and the sparks begin to fly. There are only two problems – Ruby’s still pining for her perfect ex-girlfriend.

It’s time to turn on the charm like never before, but can Max master the rules of love?

Excerpt:

Social functions weren’t really Max Saddler’s thing. In truth, she would have rather spent the next hour in a dentist’s chair, or riding public transportation, or better yet, she’d rather stay in her dorm and watch Netflix. But she promised her best friend, Mira, that she would try to be more social and make a few additional friends in grad school, and so here she was.

Tonight was her first official night of the program, not counting orientation and the day she came to the library just to wander around and familiarize herself with all of the classrooms, and her first class was scheduled to start in an hour and a half. First, though, there was the meeting that she swore to Mira she would attend.

READ MORE

Mira was the acting president for the Granville Library Science Student Organization, or GLiSS, a professional organization meant to help librarians-in-training begin building a professional network for their career – at least, that’s what the organization’s webpage said. Max had read it many times in the past couple of weeks, trying to convince herself to attend one of its meetings despite the near certainty that socializing would occurring there. What finally convinced her was Mira’s promise that Max could throw her hat into the ring for president when Mira’s term was over at the end of the semester.

In her entire four years of undergrad, and in high school before that, Max had never backed down from an opportunity to excel academically and to cement her position at the top of her class. Given that library school appeared to be something that was carried out mainly at night and on weekends and no one hung around the school much outside of classes, there were precious few opportunities for this, so Max was determined to be the best damn president GLiSS ever saw – even if it did include some social function responsibilities.

So about ten minutes before the meeting was scheduled to start, Max left her apartment in the graduate dorms and walked across campus. Granville State University was bustling with activity on a Monday evening in early September – all the underclassmen looked so impossibly young and starry-eyed, coming back from their last classes of the day and heading toward the dining hall in big groups full of budding friendships. Max found it a little more palatable to observe this as a grad student than it was when she’d been in their place four years ago. She might have been their age, but she’d never been one of them – no matter how hard she tried, she could never escape the feeling that she didn’t really fit in.

Now at least she had the luxury of being a graduate student, mildly irritated by the boundless energy of the undergrads rushing past her on the quad, like an old dog putting up with playful puppies. She didn’t fit in because she really wasn’t one of them anymore, and that was okay.

Max headed straight for the library, a five-story brick cube that loomed taller than all the other academic buildings on campus, dwarfed only by the skyscraping undergraduate dorms. The first three floors were dedicated to the books – which Max had grown quite familiar with in the last four years – as well as the computer labs and reference librarians. The top two floors would be her home for the next two years – that’s where the library science department was housed, and where all of her classes would be held.

She walked through the lobby and waved at one of the librarians sitting at the reference desk. She hadn’t managed to make a single friend except for Mira in her entire four years of undergraduate study, but she knew every librarian in the building by name and favorite book – it was a bit like making friends with the lunch lady, but Max always felt at home in any library she entered.

“First night of classes?” The reference librarian asked, her voice echoing slightly through the tile-floored lobby.

Tonight it was Maureen on duty (favorite book: To Kill a Mockingbird), and when she found out that Max had decided to become a librarian, Maureen had quite possibly been even more excited than Max herself. It made sense – she’d seen Max come to the library almost daily for four years.

“Yep,” Max called back, enjoying the way her voice reverberated off the tiles until Maureen put a finger to her lips and gave Max a warning look. She reduced the volume of her voice by a few decibels and added, “I’m going to the GLiSS meeting first, and then I have Information Theory with Wilson McDermott.”

“Have fun,” Maureen said with a smile as Max walked over to the bank of elevators. “Let me know how it goes.”

“Okay, I will,” Max said as the elevator doors opened.

She went up to the fourth floor, where there was a conference room for things like GLiSS meetings. Checking her watch during the ride up, she saw that there were only four minutes left before it was supposed to begin – she’d timed her walk across campus perfectly to avoid the need to stand around awkwardly with her fellow grad students and attempt the anxiety-inducing act of small talk.

There were about a dozen people standing around the room when Max arrived, acting like they enjoyed asking each other about their hometowns and undergraduate degrees and the weather for god’s sake. No one particularly noticed her – which was exactly the way she liked it – and she looked quickly around for Mira. She wasn’t here, which Max was slightly irritated by but not surprised about. Mira was always busy and running in at the last possible second, so Max went over to the large oak conference table in the middle of the room and found a seat two chairs from the end. In her past observations, this particular spot was the best one for seeming like she was a part of whatever conversations were going on around her without actually drawing attention to the fact that she was on the outside looking in.

She set her ragged old backpack – the same one she’d been carrying since high school – on the floor at her feet, then pulled out a brand-new notebook and a pen. Snippets of conversation floated through the room (I just got back from a summer abroad… My fiancée and I are trying to buy a house but it’s crazy timing right now… My undergraduate capstone was on gender studies and popular culture…).

Max knew that Mira would have wanted her to insert herself into one of them – pick a subject she knew about and go introduce herself. But every time she’d ever attempted this in the past, people seemed to think she was bragging or being a show-off. She didn’t understand the difference between I just got back from a summer abroad and I was at the top of my class in undergrad and now I’m getting a dual master’s degree in library science and user experience design. Everyone else seemed pretty clear on why one was categorized as ‘sharing’ while the other was ‘gloating,’ and Max found it was almost always best to just keep her mouth shut.

She flipped open her notebook and wrote the date and ‘GLiSS – First Meeting’ at the top of the first page, and then checked the time again. The meeting was overdue to start by two minutes, but Mira still wasn’t here to call it to order. Max put her pen to the page, falling back on one of her oldest hobbies to fill the time until this limbo of waiting was over.

Max looked around the room, observing the little pockets of conversation taking place, and she scribbled down every example of non-verbal communication she could find. It was like a scavenger hunt, searching for eye rolls and sighs and body language to decode the subtext running underneath all that small talk.

There was the summer abroad conversation, taking place between two girls whose postures hinted at adversarial attitudes beneath their benign conversation. There was the guy trying to buy a house, who seemed not to notice the fact that the people standing with him were beginning to divert their attention elsewhere, looking around the room.

And there was the gender studies talk.

Wow.

The girl at the core of that conversation – the largest group in the room by far – was strikingly beautiful, so much so that Max’s hand involuntarily scribbled the word onto the page along with all of her other notes. Wow. She was tall and lean, built like an athlete but with womanly curves that Max had a hard time not lingering on. Her skin was smooth and her dark hair stood out in delicate ringlets framing her face. Something inside Max stirred, urging, Go talk to her.

COLLAPSE

About the Author

Cara Malone writes contemporary lesbian fiction exploring the thrills – and challenges – of new adult romances.

She earned her Bachelor’s degree in Writing and her Master’s in Library Science, and after nearly ten years as a librarian, she is transitioning into a full-time writer, aka. her dream job.

Cara’s debut novel, Awakened, was published in April 2017, and she has over 20 published short stories and personal essays. She can be found writing – and caffeinating – in coffee shops around Northeast Ohio, and when she’s not working, there’s a good chance she’s curled up on the couch with her house rabbits, binge-watching terrible TV.