“Ugghhhhhh…” I groaned as the shaking grew more persistent.
“Kate, Kate, are you awake?” the voice sounded like it was traveling under water.
I grunted as I pulled the comforter over my head, “Am now,” I muttered. “You should really learn to time your dramatic entrances a little better. This time you interrupted a five year old’s piano recital and she was so riled up she couldn’t finish.”
“Wait, what? I couldn’t have, there aren’t any kids in the dorm. Come out from under there, I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Silly,” I kicked down the covers, stifling a peel of laughter. “In my dream, of course.”
Mary Claire sighed with relief. “You really are unpredictable. Yesterday you woke up like an angry bear and today you’re teasing my like I’m your favorite person.”
“You always will be when you bring coffee…” I mock scowled at my roomie.
“What coffee?” she feigned indifference, holding it safely behind her back.
“No lying, I can smell it.”
She handed it over reluctantly. “You missed the rally last night,” she accused.
“I’m sorry, I was studying for that Chemistry test. You know you should’ve.”
“But it was really good. Zac is such an amazing speaker. He makes everything make so much sense.”
“Are you sure you don’t just pay attention better because he happens to be good lookin’ as well as smart?”
“Hey, hey,” she protested. “You wouldn’t know, you haven’t come yet…” she looked far out the window. “But he is cute.”
“What time is it?” I brought her high flying thoughts crashing back to earth.
“Can’t I just skip it? Eight o’clock is too early for any class.”
“You skipped on Tuesday. Not twice in a week.”
“I’m sure I’ll never thank you for this.” She tossed her head, grimaced, winked, and flew out the door her leopard print ballet flats and orange striped sweater a blur. I sighed and flopped back on the pillow mountain holding my precious coffee cup carefully. The early morning sun peeked around the edges of the blind making a dotted pattern on my picture covered walls. My eyelids drooped. This coffee was taking way too long to kick in. Maybe I could settle for a 98% on the next Chemistry test. I might have just reached my studying limit like they’d all warned me. I made my bed slowly and then Mary Claire’s, making sure to tuck the top of the sheet securely under the mattress at the head of her bed. Hopefully I wouldn’t be there when she tried to get in that night.
I rummaged through my drawers in an unsuccessful attempt to find anything that wasn’t a shade of blue. This spring morning was just calling for a yellow top, but lo and behold, I’d have to settle for blue yet again. I debated checking Mary Claire’s drawers just in case, but I figured she didn’t deserve that too, especially because of the coffee assistance. I looked in the mirror and took a shocked step back. Bless that girl. She must’ve been one tough lady not to have laughed outright at my hair. “I’m a sheep!” I half giggled, half groaned. A blonde sheep with a raccoon mask who was now running short on time. I spent several minutes looking for my baseball cap before I realized Professor Grant would have my head if I showed my face with that thing on. So up in a bun it went, to my chagrin. Mary Claire always had such smooth hair. We needed to trade for a bit just so I could have a break.
I dashed out the door only to realize I was still wearing my fuzzy socks. As I fumbled around trying to keep my balance while taking them off, a mad dash ensued. Pencils eluded my grasp and when I moved one textbook from the shelf on the wall, the rest slowly toppled like dominoes, picking up momentum to tumble onto my pillow. Tools finally tucked safely under my arm, I rushed out the door again and through the hallway into the sparkling sunlight.
It really was a beautiful morning. The dew still sparkled on the tiny leaves of the bushes by the sidewalk. I had to walk nearly across campus to reach the science lab where my Chemistry exam was to take place, but of any day, this one deserved such a walk. As I sped my pace, my heart raced as well. Was I really ready for the test? Should I have studied for half an hour more instead of going to bed? What if I failed? I could still see the butterflies and feel the warm breeze, but it didn’t register in my mind. What would I tell my parents if I failed the test? Would it change my scholarship money? Oh, look at that beautiful blue bird! What would my friends think if I ruined my 4.0 forever?
I blew through the double glass doors, my hands sweating. “Okay, Kate, settle down,” I told myself. “You’ve never failed a test before, why would this be the first?” But another voice battled. “There’s always a first time. Can you actually remember anything you read last night?” And when I thought about it, I couldn’t. I dropped into my seat, worn out of the internal war.
Test completed, I slumped at my desk. What a back ache! I’d answered every question, but some of them were so easy… they must have been trick questions. Had I answered with logic or instinct?
“Hey,” my friend Kameron’s voice shocked me back into reality. “You okay?”
“Yeah, I’m fine,” I swiveled in my seat to face her. “Just thinking.”
“You should come meet a new friend of mine,” she smiled. “You’re free ‘til the afternoon, right?”
Well, what’s done was done. I couldn’t go back and change the answers. No worrying would change the grade I would see on Tuesday. “Yeah, I’m free. Should we get lunch? I didn’t get much of a breakfast earlier and I’m starved.”
“Fine by me, let’s go. I’ll text him.” I stopped for a split second at the pronoun. My sweet friends were always trying to help me out. I thought I’d told them enough times to maybe make it stick a little bit. I was busy with grades and studying. Once my degree was completed, I would worry about guys. But the fellow Cameron introduced me to in the cafeteria made me consider reconsidering.
He had tousled brown hair and the deepest blue eyes. But what really got my attention was his smile. It wasn’t the cliché dashing white teethed grin but the kind of smile you’d think to find on the face of a best friend. The very fact that it was imperfect made it perfect. “This is Zac,” Kameron’s voice derailed my train of thought. “Zac, my friend Kate.”
Ha! No wonder every girl was in love with him. “Hi,” I shook his hand.
“Nice to meet you, Kate,” he nodded as I looked him over critically. The usual awkward pause after introductions was nearly nonexistent. “So, what are you studying for?” he asked.
“Um,” I took a second to gather my wits. “British Literature, actually.”
He tilted his head quizzically.
“I know, it isn’t a very common major, but I’ve loved to read since I was three or so and I want to be a Lit. professor.”
“What about you? What are you majoring in?”
“Well, I’m not totally sure yet, but I think Psychology. It was engineering at first, but people really fascinate me, so I switched. But I still have a soft spot for criminal justice.”
“I wanted to be a policeman when I was little,” I offered. “But there’s no way that would have worked. It was one of those novel, childish ideas. I couldn’t have survived.”
“Probably not me either. I like to see peoples’ good sides a lot more than their bad ones.”
“Is that what got you to do your rallies and stuff?”
“Have you been?”
“No. My friends keep asking me to, but I’m always busy studying.” I chuckled away the slight shame at my denial.
“Hm. Yeah, the biggest reason I started the meetings was to help people see the good in other people and show them how to bring it out in themselves. Help them be unified so we can accomplish a lot more with our lives.”
“Unity is a big word.”
He looked at me sharply for less than a split second. It was so short most people wouldn’t have caught it. “It really is,” he recovered with ease. “People don’t see their potential when they’re weighed down by thinking the worst of others.”
“Cynicism,” I offered. “Oh, sorry. I love words… but I didn’t mean to sound like I was correcting you.”
“Oh, it’s totally fine. Cynicism is exactly what I mean. I just really want people to be able to stand up together and fight for the same things. World peace, world hunger, we could solve things if we just had enough people working the same way to the same goal. We get so stuck in the argument of how it should be done we don’t pay attention to the relationships that are the foundation.”
“Wow. Big ideas,” I said, impressed. “That’s really neat.”
“So what do you do besides study?” he turned the conversation.
“Nothin’,” Kameron offered with a grin.
“Hey… Not much right now. I like to run and I’m thinking about writing a play for the theatre next semester.”
“Are you on the track team then?”
“No, I’m not that good. I just do it for fun. So yeah, mostly just studying,” I felt boring.
“I get it. I play basketball and my meetings keep me really busy too. Free time is really hard to come by.”
“I know. People always ask, ‘What do you do in your free time?’” I said in a singsong voice. “And I’m like, ‘Nothing… it doesn’t exist?’”
He laughed. “For real though, I get that too. Maybe when we’re mature-er… is that even a word? Maybe when we’re mature-er they’ll realize we’re too busy for something so childish.” He laughed again, and I laughed too. He was so easy to talk to. When his phone vibrated a little while later, I was sad to end the conversation.
“Sorry. I’ve got to head. Maybe I’ll catch ya later?” He smiled, picked up his sweatshirt and book-bag, and sprinted for the door.
On the other side of the double glass doors I could see a mass of other guys swarm around him. If all the girls loved him, all the guys wanted to be him. Kameron shot me an ‘aha’ grin. “He’s got some killer people skills, doesn’t he?” she said.
“Yeah. I wouldn’t be surprised if he was the beginning of the change our world needs.”
“You’re joking, right?”
“A little, but not totally. I haven’t met a single person who actually still believes the world is changeable at this point. If we’ve given up hope, maybe he’ll bring it back.”
“Stop it! You’re still joking, right?”
“Yes, yes. I’m pulling your leg. But he is pretty great, I’ll give you that. Now, what about the dance tomorrow night?” He was pretty great. I knew that. But something I couldn’t place kept me from explaining what I really thought, even to myself. Maybe my wall was beginning to shake. Maybe someone could change the world… for better.
“What dance?” Cameron joked.
“Very funny. You are going, right?” I would finish thinking later.
“Of course! I wouldn’t miss it for a free college degree.”
“Are you sure?” we got up to clear our plates.
“Totally sure. And you’ve got to see my dress! It’s so sparkly I’m going to have to make up a random occasion just to wear it again.”
“You and your sparkles,” I shook my head in mock dismay. At the moment she was wearing sparkly ballet flats with a matching headband. But a Kameron without sparkles was missing something just like a room was without Kameron. “I’m sure you’ll have a chance to wear it again. I’d love to give you some fashion tips…”
She poked me in the arm and chortled, “If I let you pick my outfit I’d be wearing that sparkly coral dress with a denim jacket and Converse!”
“You don’t think it would look good that way?” I laughed with her.
On the way back to the dorm to study, yet again, I bumped into someone… literally. I was lost in thought about that test I’d probably failed and couldn’t decide if I should change my major to something like drama. “I’m so sorry, Blake! I didn’t see you.” He stood up and dusted his hands off before helping me up.
“No problem. Are you okay? I shouldn’t have been standing in the middle of the sidewalk to text anyway.”
“I’m fine. Nothing like that skating accident my first time,” I said ruefully.
He laughed, “I remember. You must have had rubber bones back then to have escaped without any broken!” Blake and I had been friends since we were six years old. He was like another brother and our two backyards when we were little were one big one. “Have you seen Kameron recently,” he asked.
“I think she’s heading to class. I just saw her a couple minutes ago. You can catch her if you run.”
“Thanks, I think I will. See you at the dance tomorrow. Black suit or suspenders? Kameron couldn’t decide which she liked better.”
“Suit!” I yelled after him, then laughed.
The next afternoon, Kameron, Mary Claire, Emma, and I were all crammed in Kameron’s room getting ready. “I got a couple rips in my fender, got a couple dents in my jeans,” Emma sang into the mirror, her hairbrush the microphone.
It took her a second to realize why we all burst out laughing but she joined in. Mary Claire and Emma danced around the room singing mixed up lyrics punctuated with Kameron’s “Watch out for the curling iron!” every few seconds. I couldn’t curl my hair for the life of me, but luckily I had a knack for makeup and three friends who could do hair like a pro. Between the four of us, we could open a salon. Not really, but it was a fun idea.
Nothing could be better than a night getting ready with friends like this. We were as different as could be, but all together we were perfect. The night went all too fast. It was a blur of sparkly dresses, laughter, and music. The four of us trooped home together carrying our heels… finally. We parted at Kameron’s door, still laughing while Emma’s beautiful voice mixed up all the lyrics.
The weekend was a whirlwind of sleeping, reading, and hanging out with my friends. All of them insisted I come to Zac’s meeting the next week and I finally agreed. The hullaballoo that ensued at this declaration made it sound like I, of all people, had decided to not study for a night! And I had. It was absolutely welcome but totally unheard of.
Tuesday was another gorgeous spring day and the laughter of the last few hadn’t yet died down. I walked to Chemistry class with Mary Claire and Benji, listening to all the funny things he saw people do at the ropes course where he worked. It wasn’t until we were at the door of the classroom that I remembered… the test.
The next forty-eight minutes crept by. I tried to stay focused on the formulas and probable results of experiments that would only work if your lab partner didn’t forget a step and insist he hadn’t forgotten it, but half of me was dying to know the score and half willed the clock to stop so I wouldn’t have to see. The time did come just like it always does and Professor Grant handed me the foreboding sheet of paper.
I tentatively reached out for the corner and slowly flipped it over.
Oh, no! I knew I could have done better. I put my head down on my arms. What was I thinking, going to hear Zac tomorrow? I needed to study. I heard groans coming from all corners of the room. Maybe I would set up a study group where we would keep tabs on each other and make sure we studied everything. Or maybe I should copy out the chapters. They did say you learned by hearing, speaking, and writing.
I felt a hand on my shoulder. “It’s okay,” Mary Claire said softly. She pulled at the paper my arms rested on. “What?” she burst out. “You got a 99% and you’re worried about it?”
“What’d you get?” I sniffed.
“89. You’ve got nothing to worry about, except that if Grant catches how brilliant you are you’ll be tutoring the rest of us.”
Kameron appeared by her side. “We do this every time, Katy-bug. A 99% A looks the same as a 93% A on your whatever-the-thing’s-called. The grade sheet.”
“You could stop studying and still get As,” Mary Claire reassured.
“I’ll show you the ropes course if that’d get your mind off it,” Benji offered.
“Okay,” I sighed. “Y’all are the best. The least I can do is make it a bit easier to keep me sane.” I laughed through the lump in my throat. “I’ll listen.”
There was a collective sigh of relief. “Are you sure it’s fine?” I asked Kameron as we walked to the parking lot.
“Kate, if I hear you worrying about another 99 I’m going to take your textbook away and bury it where you’ll never find it.”
“No!” I burst out before realizing she was joking. I laughed at the fact that I was so worried about the welfare of my textbook.
Benji was an entertaining guide as he demonstrated every section and obstacle. He and Mary Claire raced like really clumsy monkeys and set off gales of laughter from the rest of us. Cameron and I made our way to the swings set off to the side of the main course. As I pumped my legs harder and harder, I knew I had the best friends in the world. They didn’t give up on me when I was difficult and didn’t make any sense. They were the best for laughing, and… I swung higher and higher, into the bright blue of the sky. I felt like I was flying. Then falling back… and swinging to the sky again. At the very highest point when there seemed to be no earth under me at all…
I sat bolt upright. The damp stone was still cold underneath me. I could still hear the trickle of water in the corner where two cinderblock walls met in a rough angle. My wrists still ached.
I was still a prisoner.
This is a tale of the last days of the world. Stability is a mere word and what seems to be is rarely what really is. A few college students with normal lives and normal dreams must save a world that redefines normal.
And you just read the first chapter. The first draft of the first chapter, mind you (hence the title of my post)… but the first chapter nonetheless. The rest is still waiting in my head, too chaotic to put into words or to let be. But someday, hopefully very soon, it will come spilling out.
Until then… let me know what you think!