You met Rachel, Noah's twin sister, in my last book THE LESSON PLAN, Book 3 of the Extra Credit series. I'm currently working on a spin-off sequel about Rachel and the guy she's sorta kinda maybe curious about. Or could be if she had time and a life. She's pre-med and, yep, he's a jock. Check! She's tutoring him. Check! It takes place on a college campus. Check! But it's not your typical friends to lovers, opposites attract, or enemies to lovers story.... because I wrote those already in the first three books. You'll just have to wait and see what happens between them, but here's a sneak peek at the intro to what I'm calling THE EXPERIMENT.... (subscribe to my newsletter to keep getting more!)
Chapter One: Rachel
By the time I was six years old I knew I wanted to be a doctor. By the time I was twelve I knew I wanted to be a surgeon. A week at home with mono, which I spent binge-watching the first four seasons of Grey’s Anatomy, convinced me that cardiothoracic surgery was my only possible future destiny. (Dr. Cristina Yang was my heroine. She’s so awesome!) Since then I’ve devoted myself wholly and fully to that goal, even when it required great sacrifices…. –“RachelBerman1stdraft”
“Don’t forget to read chapter two and answer all the questions that follow by next class. And…” The professor looks down to shuffle papers on his podium. “I want to speak to Yuri…Valichenko and Rachel Berman for a moment, please.” He looks up from his reading and pushes his glasses up his nose, scanning the lecture hall. He clicks a button and the projector screen starts to rise back up into the ceiling.
I grab my stuff and juggle books, phone, and notebook with two hands as I descend the shallow steps to the front of the room. I’m fighting the tide going the other way as row after row of students push against me to leave out the back doors. I’m not sure what Gunderson wants with me. I’ve never exchanged two words with him before. There are hundreds of students in this Biostatistics class and we only interact with the T.A.s.
“Miss Berman?” The professor studies me as I approach. He’s not completely bald. Wisps of white hair float from his scalp. His shoulders stoop so his eyes meet mine.
“Yes, professor. I’m glad to have a chance to speak to you because I’m enjoying this class so much and I….”
He cuts me off. “You got the best grade in the class on the test I returned today.”
I flush a little, pleased. “Thank you! I mean, thank you for telling me yourself. I haven’t seen the grade posted online yet. As I was saying, I’m learning so much….”
I frown a little at this new interruption. Does he talk over all his students like this or just the women?
“Yes. I’m applying soon and Johns Hopkins is my first choice.” I hesitate here, aware that Johns Hopkins is everyone’s first choice…. His unblinking stare is not encouraging me. I clear my throat. “In fact, I sent you a request for a letter of recommendation recently and I’d really appreciate it if…”
“I thought your name looked familiar. I’m still working my way through the list.”
Way to make me feel special, I think. But what do I expect? He’s got hundreds of students and they all want the same thing: the highest possible grade and the best possible letter against the worst possible odds of getting in to Johns Hopkins Medical School. Four percent acceptance rate! And I’m rounding up.
Professor Gunderson looks over my shoulder and I turn to see that there’s someone else hovering nearby, listening. Gunderson beckons him forward with one hand and the other student approaches slowly.
“You’re Yuri…?” The professor glances back at his papers.
Gunderson stuffs his papers into his briefcase. “I want you to work with him on the midterm.” He points a finger and draws an imaginary line between the two of us. We stand there facing him side by side like two tin soldiers.
What? I dart a sideways glance at my co-victim but he looks impassive. Before I can say anything else Gunderson continues.
“You got the highest grade on the test last week.” Again with the finger. “You got the lowest grade.” I flinch on the other guy’s behalf. Yuri. Isn’t Gunderson not supposed to reveal stuff like that? You know, privacy laws? Or just plain politeness? Yuri doesn’t react.
“Professor Gunderson,” I begin carefully. “I’m taking five classes and working on my med school applications. I really don’t have time to spare. As much as I’d like to help you out. And Yuri,” I add. I steal another sideways glance and now I can see the tension in Yuri’s face, which is still in profile to me as he stares straight ahead.
Gunderson pauses. “Do you want that letter, Miss Berman?”
“Well, yes, I…”
“Do you want me to tell them that you volunteer your time to help other students who are less disciplined than you are, that you have mastered this material fully, and you have the exceptional drive it takes to succeed in a competitive environment like Johns Hopkins?” He peers over his eyeglasses at me.
I inhale a deep breath and shift on my feet. “Yes, of course. That would be very generous of…”
“Then work together. And I will take his midterm grade as a sign of your dedication.”
What the what? And now Gunderson’s actually walking away! I start shaking my head but I’m too speechless to say anything.
“Is that clear?” He turns to look back, his gaze sweeping over the two of us, still standing like scolded children.
I gulp and nod. He nods back and disappears out the door behind his podium. With a sigh I turn toward this guy who now holds my future in his hands. It’s four weeks into the semester, we’re in the same class, and I’ve never seen him before. But maybe he’s not a lost cause, maybe he can be taught or motivated or at least bossed around.
“I’m not undisciplined.”
My mouth falls open. “That’s what you heard him say?” I’m pretty tall but I have to look up to meet his eyes. They’re gray. Dark hair falls over his forehead and his expression is hard to read. He’s looking at me, but I can’t even tell if he sees me. He seems to be thinking hard.
When he still says nothing, I sigh and get out my phone. “Okay. Give me your number. We’ll figure out when and where to meet.”
He recites a number and I enter it swiftly with my thumbs. “I can only meet weeknights after 7,” he says in the same flat tone.
I eye him again. It’s going to be like that, is it? He doesn’t look hostile or mad or jerky though. I swing my bag over one shoulder and march back up the stairs. “I’ll be in touch then.”
There are four weeks until the midterm so with any luck this extracurricular project will all be over soon.
CHAPTER TWO: Yuri
I puzzle over it for the rest of the day. If each question was worth five points and there were twenty questions I only had to get fourteen correct to pass. So how did this happen?
I think about it through practice, as the ball beats a tattoo against the floor of the gym and my arms lift and shoot, lift and shoot in a familiar rhythm. I think about it as I sit in the dining hall, sketching in my notebook. I think about it when I finally get back to my dorm room, collapsing with weariness, and check online for the test results. A 60??
Confusion makes my head throb as I look over the scoring. I got six questions wrong which should have earned me a 70. Except two of those questions were worth ten points, not five…. I groan and smack myself in the head. How did I miss that? I sink into my desk chair and recalculate swiftly. It’s a delicate game I’m playing. I double check the syllabus to see how the tests are weighted and drag myself through the rest of my routine. Shower. Homework. Crash. Repeat tomorrow. By the time I fall into bed I’ve realized two things: I need an 80 on the midterm and my new tutor—Rachel—is in trouble.
* * *
I’m not surprised when I hear from her the next morning over breakfast. She seemed pretty stressed about that letter of recommendation. Her text is direct to the point of rudeness. Meet me at 7 at the library café. Read chap 2 and bring your test.
Absently I nod back at the people who greet me. I’m not sure of their names so it’s better not to say anything. I’m at my usual table near the back where I’m mostly out of sight.
The way I like it.
I gaze out the window while I ponder my options. The glass is slightly reflective and I’m distracted by the faint overlapping images of students moving around inside and trees reaching skyward outside.
I don’t care about my grade. To stay on the basketball team all I need is a C in this course and I can pull that off all by myself. But if I don’t meet with her she’ll be the one in trouble. It’s not her fault she got caught in my mess. I can’t think of anything I less want to do tonight than meet with some uptight pre-med and go over the test I failed, but by the time I clear my tray I’m resigned to the inevitable. Show up. Go through the motions. It’s the story of my life.
Still, I’m not exactly happy that evening when I dump my heavy backpack on the floor and drag out a chair next to her. I sink into it and stretch out my legs, wincing. My hamstrings ache and the season’s barely started. I roll my shoulders to ease the tightness across my back. It’s early enough in the semester that the library café is pretty empty and I appreciate the quiet.
I force my attention back to the girl across from me, surprised. She’s watching me closely from across the table, which is already covered by her open textbook, laptop, and notebooks. A cup of coffee is so far to one side that it might topple over any minute. Instinctively I reach out to move it closer and her eyes follow my actions. I think they’re brown behind a pair of nerdy glasses. She looks a little concerned. Or maybe just puzzled.
We study each other for a moment. She’s pretty in a low-key sort of way. Big eyes. Wide mouth. Pale skin. Long hair in a fat braid over one shoulder. Her face reminds me of a painting I’ve seen somewhere. I wrack my brain, searching for it.
Her mouth turns down. “Really? This can’t be fun for you.”
I’m jolted out of my thoughts and shrug. “Not for you either.”
There’s another pause and I’m confused. It’s not exactly awkward but it’s not exactly normal either. Usually people fill up my silences. Usually they’re happy to.
“Okay then. Let me see your test. Here, you can look at mine.” She shoves her laptop around so it faces me. I glance at it before leaning down to get mine from my bag. She got a 95. So I only need to know one thing.
“Which question did you get wrong?”
She gives me a funny look before reaching over to scroll down the page toward the end. “That one.” The cursor blinks at me.
“Yeah, I got that one wrong too. And five others.”
Suddenly it seems kind of amusing and I smile to myself as I balance my computer on my lap and log in. A few more keystrokes and I’m on the same page. When I hand her my laptop she’s shaking her head at me.
“You don’t mind failing?”
I backpedal. “Of course I do.” Fidgeting, I watch her scroll through my test. She’s frowning again and biting her lower lip. A minute must tick by as she reads through the whole damn test. I pull out my notebook and turn to a blank page. Setting pencil to paper I wonder where this new line will take me. It arches and doubles back on itself and I follow it curiously. There’s a pillar and a vine….
“Are you pre-med too?”
I look up to find her leaning back in her chair, head tilted, studying me. I nod warily. What’s up with her?
“And you don’t care that you’re failing?”
“I didn’t say that,” I protest.
She cuts me off and snaps the lid of my laptop shut. “I don’t get you.”
What? I bite back a retort but her eyes just narrow and I feel like a specimen under her microscope. When I don’t say anything she shoves my laptop back at me and scoots her chair closer to mine. I jam my notebook under the laptop before she can see it.
“When are you taking the MCATs?”
The question seems absent-minded, like she’s just making conversation while the reading for the next class loads on her screen, but when I don’t respond she looks at me sharply.
“You are taking the MCATs, right? You are pre-med?”
“Yeah, that’s what I said. I just haven’t decided yet.”
She stares at me. “Why aren’t you stressing about this? You have to sign up for a prep course now so you can take it by March. You have to line up your letters of recommendation. You have to draft your personal statement.” She’s ticking things off on her fingers.
“Really? You’re already working on your statement?” I snicker, folding my arms over my chest. Because the best defense is a good offense. “Let me guess. Your little brother is allergic to peanuts and you owe it to him to specialize in autoimmune disorders so future generations won’t suffer as he has.”
She pushes her glasses up her nose and her cheeks flush. “How dare you? You have no idea what my brother went through before he passed away!” She hangs her head and makes a little gasping sound.
I straighten, aghast. “Oh my God, Rachel. Really? I had no idea….” I trail off as her face lifts.
“Fuck you,” I grumble, but I can’t help grinning and she laughs. She’s got a great laugh.
“You know peanut allergies are serious, Yuri.”
I sigh and lean back in my chair, studying her. “I know. That was funny/not funny. What are you going to write your statement about? See, I’m being polite and expressing normal interest here.”
“Hmm.” She doesn’t look impressed. “Grey’s Anatomy?” One eyebrow lifts.
“I bet they’ve never ever heard that before.”
“Right? I want to be the first one.”
“Go for it.”
“What about you? How are you going to stand out from the hordes?” She’s smiling again.
“I’m going to go with being the only applicant named Yuri. You know they have quotas for everything, right? I mean, it wouldn’t work for a Rachel, but I’m lucky that way.”
She nods solemnly. “Go for it.”
We both seem to realize at the same moment that we’ve gotten off track and we turn back to her computer awkwardly. We go over the next reading and I hear all about her coursework: the experiment she’s supposed to design for her Junior Honors Seminar and the T.A. in her advanced genetics course who can barely stay ahead of the class. My attention drifts and I try to pull it back.
“That’s a grad course. Why are you taking it?”
She blinks at me. “To get ahead for next year, dummy.” She winces. “Sorry.”
I’m amused. “Sorry for calling me stupid? Or sorry you’re so boring? Don’t you have anything else to talk about besides med school?”
“Okay, I’m not sorry for calling you stupid. And don’t tell me you’ve figured out how to be pre-med and have a life.” She shakes her head until some hair comes loose of her braid and floats over her cheek. She blows it away with a huff.
“I have a life!” It depends on how you define it, but sure.
Rachel doesn’t even say anything. She just gives me a skeptical look. “Then you can’t really want to go to med school. If you really wanted it, it would be your whole life. It would have to be.” She sounds a little wistful.
“I do want it. That’s always been the plan.” I can’t think of anything else to say and I should be better prepared for this. But her eyes seem so knowing, like she can see into my brain…and I’ve been talking way too much.
“Fine! Have it your way. But don’t think you’re fooling me for one minute.”
Panic floods me and I tense up, my eyes darting to hers. What the fuck?? With a sigh she seems to back down, rambling on about our study plan and how we’ll divide up our time to cover this thing and that thing by the midterm. It all goes in one ear and out the other because I’m starting to realize that this is going to be harder than I thought.
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