My Nightmare Group Project
My alarm clock was an unwelcome companion in the mornings. It was helpful, sure, but there were times when I wanted to open the window and throw it out.
I opened my eyes, blinking in the near darkness. I would fall asleep if I closed my eyes again, so I grabbed my phone and scrolled through Facebook mindlessly until the artificial light didn’t burn my eyes anymore. Like ripping off a band-aid, I groaned as I got up, my legs dangling over the side of the raised bed.
Shoving my blonde bangs out of my face, I rubbed my eyes and yawned, looking at my pillow longingly. There were days when I desperately wished I was a more spontaneous person, able to forget about my schedule and just sleep. Today was one of those days.
My shoulders slumped as I forced myself out of bed and shuffled around tiredly. My joints hurt painfully from all the work I’d been doing; I couldn’t move any faster than a shuffle until the hot water from the shower made me feel more alive.
Finally awake, I wiped off the bathroom mirror, frowning at my own reflection. I never thought of myself as ugly, but I didn’t think I was all that pretty either. My dark blonde hair flowed down my shoulders. My brown eyes looked back at me, dark bags underneath. I poked at the tiny beauty mark at the corner of my right eye, sighing and pulling on my jeans and tee over my thin frame. It was best not to look in the mirror too much if I’d only dislike what I saw.
The day blurred as it always did when I was tired. The only part of it that really woke me up was when I heard the phrase “your group projects will be starting today” and my heart sunk in my chest. It was in one of my history classes, History of Science and Technology. I thought the subject matter was interesting, but that was the problem: I was pretty much the only one.
Most people took history courses for general education, thinking it would be easy and that they could fool around to get a good grade. I didn’t care what people thought about my choice of major, but I didn’t need people who didn’t care dragging me down when my grade depended on their work.
I had hopes that I’d get paired with someone at least halfway competent, but it couldn’t have been worse. I shifted in my seat as Jason Evans sat down in front of me, flashing me a cocky smile. My skin crawled and I surreptitiously inched back in my seat, trying to get as far away from him as possible. I could never explain it, but I always got a bad feeling in my chest whenever Jason was near me. He was creepy with those slimy smiles and attempts at bedroom eyes. The fact that he was always looking for excuses to put his hands on girls didn’t sit well with me either.
Still, I wasn’t the type of person to be outwardly rude. I gave him a smile that looked much more like a grimace and said, “Hey,” as I looked around at my other group members. Ashley Kierra, a nasty girl with a penchant for gossip, Nate Andrews, a lazy guy who slept more often than take notes, and Mary Morgan, an average girl who unfortunately didn’t do well with critical thinking.
I decided to take my chances with Mary, inching towards the Filipino girl. I gave her a calm smile, which she returned. “So, you’re our group leader, right?” she asked kindly.
“Um, yeah, I guess I am,” I said back to her, ignoring the way Jason was staring at me. “How about we start by dividing up the work? Does anyone have a preference for a certain section?”
I flinched when Jason moved into my space, leaning too far forward to look at my assignment sheet. He had the same sheet on his own desk, but I didn’t mention that. Finally, he said, “I’ll do this part,” pointing to his desired section.
I took a note of that, doing the same when Mary told me her preference. Mary had to shove Nate awake to get him to choose, but he did without saying a word. I sighed when Ashley said, “I don’t care. You’ll probably do it anyway, right? So just do my section for me.”
Mary pouted. “But it’s a group project.”
Ashley stared at her and scoffed. “Yeah, where we all share the same grade. As long as Corey wants an A, she’ll do my work. No incentive for me to do it.” She turned back to her phone.
I still said nothing, mostly because she wasn’t exactly wrong. There was no point in arguing; it would only be more stressful in the end. We all exchanged numbers before we got up to leave. Mary caught me as I was packing up my stuff. “Corey? I know Ashley won’t do her work, so if you need some help, I can try.”
I was caught off guard by her kindness, but smiled. “That’s okay, Mary. You’ve got to work on your part so that we do well. I can handle a little extra work.”
Mary gave me a little smile. “To be honest, I’m kind of bad with all the information, but I’m really good at design. I’ll put everything together, okay?”
I couldn’t help the wave of relief that washed over me at the woman’s obvious concern. She may have not been all that smart with analysis, but book smarts weren’t everything. Just the fact that she was willing to try and help me pick up the slack on this project was enough for me.
I stiffened when Jason sidled up beside me and put an arm around my shoulders. My discomfort must have been obvious as Mary frowned, shifting closer.
“Hey, if I need help, maybe we could meet up together?” he asked me in a voice that was probably supposed to be seductive.
I shuddered, stepping out politely from underneath his arm. “I don’t have the time for that. Any group meetings have to be with everyone,” I said sternly, thankful that Mary moved to stand in between us.
Jason frowned at Mary and seemed to narrow his eyes, but I made a concerted effort not to look at his face too closely. “Come on, Corey, I’m sure you can spare half an hour with me.”
“I can’t,” I said seriously, looking at him directly now. “I have things to get done and I job to go to. Um, I’ll see you later, Mary.”
“Well, I’ll message you when you have the time,” Jason said to me before I fled from the room, choosing not to answer. It made my heart sink when I thought of the fact that he had my number, but there was nothing I could do now. I’d just have to block him after this project ended. The sad part was that the project would last until the end of the semester, and it was only mid-October.
I was screwed.
I was so preoccupied with anxiety that I ended up banging into a girl in the hallway, accidentally dropping her books all over the floor. “I’m so sorry!” I said, quickly leaning down to pick them up in my flustered state.
I looked up to meet her gaze as she leaned down opposite me. My heart skipped a beat like it always did when a pretty girl gave me a smile. “It’s no problem,” she said as she herded her books together and stood up, sauntering away.
I sighed. I probably should have figured out that I was gay a lot sooner in my life considering how easily a simple smile broke down my defenses. I was twenty-one years old and I’d only recently realized that while guys were sometimes nice to look at, girls were even better.
There’d been a lot of signs, I guess, although I never stopped to consider if I liked girls more than boys. Every girl liked boys, so I figured if I wanted to be normal, I should like boys too. Even when I moved to a new junior high, I remember lots of nosy girls trying to get me to reveal which boy I had a crush on. I didn’t like any of them, so I lied and said I didn’t remember his name. It took a little more skill to pretend I couldn’t spot my imaginary crush in the hallway.
Maybe I should have known why no boys were appealing to me. I’d even been confessed to by two different friends, although I always thought I didn’t like them just because I was too shy or saw them only as friends. I’d only realized I was a lesbian a few months ago. Mix in a homophobic dad, two idiot brothers, and my own streak of anxiety and I might as well have a permanent residence in the closet. No one knew I was gay. No one except me.
It was better that way. Telling people would change things, and for now, I wanted everything to stay as it was. Sure, I’d like a girlfriend, but it wasn’t as if any girl would like a weird, neurotic, nerdy girl like me.
Shaking my head, I continued walking back to my apartment, intent on beginning my work for the day. I needed to start getting my pieces of our project done, work on some readings, and begin a few essays. If I worked quickly, I could finish all the work and get a little ahead too.
“If I can do the paper in an hour, I can start on next week’s reading…” I mumbled to myself as I walked into my dorm, taking the stairs to the second floor. My sweatshirt hung loosely on me as I pulled the sleeves up over my hands and took out my key.
I wasn’t really paying attention when I walked into my apartment, but I stiffened immediately upon realizing someone was in the kitchen. Training my eyes on the ground, I was set to walk to my room when I heard Shawna say, “Hey, Corey.”
She wasn’t yelling or unkind necessarily, but there was a certain command in her tone that I took to mean she wanted something from me. Resisting the urge to sigh and ignore it, I turned, taking a few steps forward.
My hands worried the strap of my shoulder bag out of habit as Shawna put her hands on her hips confrontationally. “You left crumbs on the counter. Can you try a little harder to clean up after yourself?”
I cleaned up just fine, but quite frankly, I didn’t care enough to be sure every crumb was gone. I guess it was a side effect of living with a laid-back mother, lazy father, and two messy brothers. The only reason I cleaned up as seriously as I had started to was to avoid situations like this.
I guess it hadn’t worked.
“I cleaned that counter. I don’t know what you saw, but I didn’t make any mess.” I could feel my hands shaking as I spoke. Good lord, I hated confrontation.
She raised an eyebrow at me. “Look, I’m not accusing you, but you were the last one in here. Jordan and myself don’t make any messes.”
“Guess you’re too good for that, huh,” I mumbled, although I knew she heard me. Acquiescing so I could get out of this, I said directly, “Whatever. I’ll clean up better.” I walked away without waiting for her response.
As soon as my door was closed behind me, I sunk down to my carpeted floor. I was shaking all over. I wasn’t the type to confront people, but there was only so much I could take living with such an uptight control freak.
I clenched my fists together, anger bubbling in my chest. I hated being spoken to that way, but I wasn’t courageous enough to say anything. If I argued with her, there would be even more tension, Shawna would start retaliating by breaking dishes or something, and my whole living situation would be even worse. For my own mental health, I’d stay quiet.
It felt like there were so many things I was unable to say, but I pushed that thought to the back of my mind. I needed to do my schoolwork before I went back to work at the Grand the next day.
By the time dinner rolled around, I had to resist the urge to run out of my room and yell at Shawna and Jordan to be quiet. My two roommates usually didn’t make too much noise, but they liked to cook together, and would invariably bring one of their laptops out to play music or TV. It was irritating when it was so loud and I needed to focus.
I frowned unhappily, leaning back in my desk chair. I could go to the library to study, but I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a home sort of person. I study better in a familiar environment, plus I don’t have to drag my books and laptop around with me.
As I heard the two of them crack up over something on the other side of my door, I plunked my head down on my desk. I only picked myself back up when I heard my phone vibrate on the desk beside me. Inching forward to look at the screen, I blanched and grimaced. It had literally been less than a day and Jason was already texting me.
With trepidation, I read the message. Hey, Corey. It’s Jason. Doing anything tonight?
My heart sunk in my chest as I felt a shiver go down my spine. I resolutely ignored the message, not even willing to respond.
Another message came in. Want to get started on the project?
I knew it was rude not to respond, but it was made easy by the fact that it was over text. Besides, there was no way Jason could have known I saw his message before exiting my messages and setting my phone aside.
I sighed, suddenly feeling much more comfortable with the presence of those two idiots on the other side of the door. At the very least, if Jason barged in here, Shawna and Jordan had enough attitude to keep him at bay before I could climb out the window.
I leaned forward to look out the window. I was on the second floor over the entrance to the building. There was a thin tree next to the window, and some bushes below it too. I shrugged. Yeah, I could probably make it if I jumped.
Comfortable in my escape plan, I turned on a video on my computer and set to enjoy some dinner. Tomorrow would be better, I told myself. I’d been telling that to myself for years: that the next day would be better than the last. Sometimes that was all that got me out of bed in the morning. Sometimes hope was only thing keeping me running.
Sometimes I couldn’t help but to wonder if it was better to give up when it became too much to keep hoping.
I pushed the thought out of my head. Tomorrow would be better. It had to be. Or I least I had to believe that to fall asleep uneasily that night.