Author:H.M. Ward

chapter 6

I’m a nervous wreck by the time I get to lunch. Before finding my regular table with Millie and Tia, I walk into the cafeteria and grab some food. I navigate my way through hordes of students, and sit down next to Millie at a long table in front of the windows. This entire side of the cafeteria is windows. The school sunk a buttload of money into the view. There’s a lot of brick work, flowers, and super green grass. Seriously, it’s too green. I thought it was plastic at first. Everything around here is that sickly shade of yellow that comes from a general lack of water. There’s been a drought here for the past three years, and it’s easy to tell. That’s why this little garden stands out. It’s completely out of place, but it looks good when prospective students sit down.

When I sit down, Millie’s picking at a salad as though one piece of lettuce might be tastier than another. There’s no dressing on it. She eats it dry. My plate has a corndog and fries. Bad days call for foods that are bad for your butt. I dip my dog into ketchup and take a bite. I’m not that hungry, but maybe eating something will help me feel better.

Tia looks at me like I’m eating asphalt off the road with a side of squirrel. I snap, “What?”

“Nothing,” Tia responds, glancing down at her own plate.

Millie sighs and glances at me. “What’s wrong? You seem off-balance.” She stabs another piece of salad and turns the leaf over, examining it, before popping it in her mouth.

“Nothing.” Everything. “Today is just turning into crap, that’s all.” My favorite teacher died. I nearly slept with a guy last night, but he blew me off. Oh, and he’s my new boss. What a train wreck.

Tia choses that moment to say, “I heard Tadwick’s replacement already called you into his office. What’d you do?”

“Way to be tactless, Tia.” Millie scolds, shaking her head and spearing more greens onto her fork.

“Who told you that?” I ask, not caring that Tia’s blunt.

“Marshal. He was in a mood after class. He said something about how you pissed off Dr. Grant—”

“Granz,” I correct.

“Yeah, him, and how you pissed him off already. Seriously, Sidney, what’d you do?” Tia leans forward. She’s sitting across from me and hasn’t touched her food.

I shrug and paint my plate red with the half eaten corndog. Ketchup streaks across the white dish in wide arcs while I tell them, “I don’t know. Granz just seems mean. He probably wants to make a point with me or something stupid like that. You know how teachers are hard-asses on their first day.” That’s usually true. It sets the tone for the rest of the year. A professor who’s a pushover on day one, is a doormat on day two.

Millie’s eyes have been burning a hole in the side of my face. “Well, in light of today sucking, I think we should end the night with some margaritas.”

“You always want to end the night with margaritas,” I respond, still not looking at her. My ketchup resembles a disturbing Van Gogh painting. I could call it, The Missing Ear.

“Well, you’ve needed one lately. Take a hint already.” Millie’s back straightens and she looks straight ahead. Tia ducks her head and eats her food, not looking at either of us.

“Take a hint? What are you talking about?” Millie says nothing. She just looks at me like I should know, but I don’t get it. “Come on Millie, if you’ve got something to say, say it.” I’ve dropped my corndog, sensing a verbal bitch-slap coming on.

She looks as thought she’s going to say something and then thinks better of it. Instead, Millie shakes her head and says, “It’s nothing.”

“No, come on—tell me.”

“I really shouldn’t—”

“Just say it!”

“Fine!” she shouts way too loud for her little body. Blonde curls bouncing, she grips the table and yells, “Nothing makes you happy. Everything I do is wrong. Every guy is wrong. Everyone is wrong. Jeeze, Sidney! You ever stop to wonder if it’s you? I mean, when that many things are wrong, maybe you are the one who’s wrong? Maybe you are the one that doesn’t fit.”

I blink at her. This is as much of an argument as I’ve ever gotten from Millie. On another day, I could have brushed it off. On another day, I might have laughed and agreed with her—but not today.

I stand up and grab my tray. I walk away without speaking. Millie’s words cut me to the core, because out of all the things that are wrong with me, that’s the one that’s been hanging around my neck like a noose. I don’t fit anywhere. Maybe I pretend that’s okay, but it’s not. The isolation makes me crazy. I feel as if I’ve been drifting on a crappy little blow-up boat, and my best friend just popped it.

Millie’s voice rings out behind me, but I don’t stop. I dump my tray with my half-eaten food and leave. Pushing through the doors to the campus center, I step outside into the warm afternoon air. I walk fast and hard, not thinking about where I’m going. I just go.

When I stop, I’m standing at the bottom of a grand staircase at the front of the oldest building on campus. No one uses the stairs. There are too many of them. Everyone enters the building through the back and takes the elevator. I climb the steps until I’m close to the top and sit at the foot of a massive pillar. I pull my knees into my chest and wrap my arms around them.

There are no words sometimes. There’s nothing to say to make things better.

There’s an hour to kill before class. Then, I have to haul myself back to the English building and face Peter. I lower my forehead to my knees.

Why do bad things always seem to happen in threes? Is there some cosmic law that I don’t know about? First Peter, then Tadwick, and then what? There’ll be a third thing, probably my job. Peter will most likely want to replace me with someone that he hasn’t seen half-naked. My mind wanders. I think about his eyes, his face. I can’t believe Peter has a doctorate. He doesn’t look much older than me, but I guess he is.

My life is a mess. Whoever said college was easier than real life doesn’t know crap.

Ever since I left New Jersey, things have been hard. It seems that I ran away from one problem and straight into another. Nothing’s gone right for me. I’m always in the wrong place at the wrong time. When God was dishing out luck, I didn’t get any. Instead, I got a shitload of someone else’s bad karma. Maybe I was a total ass in a past life and this life is payback. Too bad I don’t believe in that stuff. At least that would make sense. The way things are now, nothing makes sense.

My family hates me. What I told Peter about them freaking out when I left, it was true, albeit a slightly subdued variation of the truth. They wanted me to stay and take a job at the bank. Family is everything. Blood is thicker than water, whatever that means. But, I had this chance and I took it. I applied at a school that had a scholarship within my reach. They gave it to me along with the TA job and I’ve been able to support myself. I never thought I’d be able to do that. I don’t want to rely on anyone else. It hurts too badly when they let you down. I’ve fallen on my face enough times to know that there’s no one else who will take care of me as well as I can.

Maybe I’m broken. Maybe I am wrong and Millie is right. I don’t know. You don’t have to know everything. I lift my head and look up, hearing Tadwick’s advice inside my head, remembering his words. Some of the weight lifts from my shoulders. That’s his legacy—all the students he taught—all the positive influences he left behind. That’s his footprint. I wonder what mine will be.