(Excerpt from Keeping Score, the precursor story to Capturing Captain America)
Ronan only noticed Kaja when professor O’Hare announced her name after the mid-term exams in their first year statistic class. O’Hare had finished grading the test and after handing them out in class announced which of his statistics students were being considered for a TA. Kaja’s name was called along with his and five other undergraduates to stay behind after class. He found himself sitting beside her as O’Hare pitched the possibility to the candidates. Ronan instantly noticed the defensive posture, the anxiety underneath a stoic face, a palpable intensity to get through school. When O’Hare had the students introduce themselves it was Kaja’s self-description that had Ronan feel tense for good around her. Kaja didn’t look intimidating. She had the friendly Rachel Green haircut that Jennifer Aniston was sporting on Friends. Her dress style was actually very laid back and sporty. When she said she had been born and raised in Berkeley Ronan was quite surprised. He would have guessed Long Beach.
“My name is Kaja. I am a math and psychology major. I was born in Sarajevo in the former Yugoslavia and raised in Berkeley. My family and I came to the United States when the war broke out. After college I plan to go back to the Bay Area and do a two year service with the Oakland Teaching Fellows or Teach for America. I’m also considering teaching English abroad in Japan. I live off campus with my cousin in Buena Park and work as a bartender at Bleue Spinnakers Dive Lounge in West Hollywood outside of school.”
Ronan thought she wasn’t so much an idealist but single minded in her pursuit of what she wanted. Her words were well thought out but it was something underneath it. Like a girl who had decided life was harsh and short so she had to be in a hurry for something she couldn’t identify. Kaja was not the kind of person he was used to meeting. His crowd never had someone like her as a token representative of some particular demographic group. Ronan could have liked her as a person if her gestures hadn’t radically changed when he did his own introduction.
“I’m Ronan Larson. I’m in the ROTC program and studying for a degree in international finance. I was born and raised in Malibu. My mother is an interior designer and my dad is a real estate developer. After college I am going to active duty for a couple of years and plan to get am MBA afterwards. I live off campus in Orange County with my girlfriend.”
It was then that Kaja seemed to tense about and it was him and no one else in the room. That set the tone of every interaction between them from college to now. They were peripheral to one another but he wasn’t used to being made wrong. She wasn’t offended so much as she was keeping her distance out of some kind of mistrust. Ronan had no idea what made her so guarded around him. He would have asked for her number as well since he liked networking with classmates. But her body language said to stay away.