Prevailing Love

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5. Odd Studies

Raine Kahn

Walking into my social psychology class, I immediately notice that everyone is sitting in different places than they were last class. Seeing a seating chart posted up front on the projector, I memorize the location of my seat before walking pasts the aisles of desks filled with students to reach it. Sitting down beside a boy with curly brown hair, I begin to get ready for the lecture before our professor arrives, though it’s not long before the guy next to me speaks up.

“Hey, I’m Derrick. I think we’re partners for this project,” Glancing up from my notes, I’m startled when our eyes meet. His eyes are a warm shade of an amber brown with a splash of yellow. I’ve never seen someone with such pretty eyes before, and glancing at the rest of his face, it really completes his look. He’s got this boyish charm about him, his hair on the verge of being too long as strands of it land in his face. He’s extremely pale and he is biting down on his rouge lips. I smile at him to ease whatever nerves he might be feeling, reaching my hand out for his.

“Hi, I’m Raine. Do you have any idea what this project is about?” I ask him, and for a few tense seconds he just stares at my outstretched hand as if it were an extraterrestrial being. Feeling weirded out and slightly embarrassed I put my hands in my lap. Seemingly snapped out of it, he begins to respond.

“Oh, uh, I-I’m not sure. Sorry if I made you uncomfortable I just have this thing about handshakes, it’s stupid really,” He’s tapping his fingers in rapid succession on the desk in front of him as he looked everywhere but at me.

“Don’t worry about it,” Before I can even begin to question him or speculate about his odd behavior, our professor finally walked through the door, ceasing all chatter in the room.

“Welcome everyone. I can tell by your seating arrangements that you have followed my seating chart posted before the lecture started. If, for some reason, you neglected to check your surroundings and make your way to an appropriate seat, please do so now. The person you are sitting beside right now is your partner for a group project. This projects will entail…”

When we are dismissed from class, I towards Derrick. “When do you want to get started on this project? Or meet up at least to talk about what we’re going to do?” His eyes widen as if surprised I’m speaking to him, before clearing his throat uncomfortably.

“Um, I don’t feel exactly comfortable going to the library or the student center around tons of people. I don’t know how I’d feel at your place either since we just met,” His leg is jolting up and down as if he’s ready to sprint away from me at any given moment. A bit wary about his fleeting behavior, I proceed with caution when I voice my next words.

“Okay, then would working at your dorm be okay with you? You can call the shots, I’m comfortable anywhere we go. Can I see your phone so I can give you my number?” He stares at me uncomfortably, as if debating on whether to trust me or not, before he slowly hands me his unlocked phone. Under his now startling and uncanny stare, I’m quick to program in my number before handing it back to him.

“There, just text me when you want to work on this, okay? I’ll see you around.” He’s already walking away from me quickly by the time the last few words leave my mouth and all I can do is stare after him in bafflement. That has to be one of the most puzzling experience I’ve had with a person so far. He must have extreme social anxiety or something, because the way he was acting is far from normal.

Attempting to shake away the weirdness of it all, I leave the classroom, being one of the last few people who still remained behind. When I check the time I begin to curse under my breath, not realizing how much time Derrick and I had spent talking. I’m going to be late to hang out with Georgia again. Seeing as she’s the only friend I have here so far, if I keep leaving her waiting I’m going to end up with no one. Trying to console myself with the thoughts that she had invited her friends from the party to hang out with us also, I make my way across campus as quickly as I can, not wanting to stay out in the blistering cold for longer than necessary. It gets colder and colder everyday, and if I don’t stop at the store and buy the proper attire for this weather I’m going to freeze my ass off everyday. Puffing out a breath and watching it swirl in the air before me, I push open the cafe door and immediately walk up to the front counter.

Ordering a large cup of hot chocolate, I circle around all of the booths and tables before sitting down with Georgia and her friends. Before greeting them, I gulp multiple mouthfuls of my drink, sighing in satisfaction as the warm liquid glided through me, warming up my body as it’s sweet taste lingers on my tongue.

“You cold? You’re shivering bad and your nose looks like a tomato,” Jackson laughs at my expense, causing me to blush and laugh with him. He was probably right though, because I got a bit lost on my way here and I didn’t anticipate being out in the cold that long.

“Leave her alone Jackson! So Raine, how was class?” Georgia asks. Today she was wearing leggings with a pink sweater with multiple cats printed all over it. He caramel hair was in space buns, she was sporting her black, thick rimmed glasses, and her eye makeup was on point. Somehow her quirky, odd style managed to look completely normal and even stylish.

“It was… weird to say the least,” Derrick’s face popped in my head again. He was definitely cute, but all of his awkwardness and outlandish behavior almost acquitted him of that trait.

“I mean, you are a psychology major right? Things are bound to get weird,” Keira argues, slurping her milkshake through a colorful straw. Her short hair was down and thick, she was sporting an all natural look today besides her bright red lipstick that left a stain on her straw when she stopped sipping at her sweet treat. I shake my head.

“I wasn’t talking about the class itself. It was this guy I got partnered up with for an assignment, his name was Derrick. God, what was his last name? I can’t remember, but he was really strange.”

“Strange how?” Tristan asks, his eyebrows furrowed in thought. His arms were wrapped around Georgia tightly, and I admit it took me an embarrassingly long time to figure out that they were dating. People may think I’m really smart, but that doesn’t change the fact that I’m slow sometimes. It wasn’t until Georgia said something to me about it the other day that my mind finally connected the dots.

“He was just extremely nervous in a way that didn’t seem normal, and I, I don’t know how to explain it. It was just weird.” I say, trying to dismiss the subject. I felt bad talking about him, but I was also really curious about him. I have this uncanny thing about me where I try and prod into people’s lives and figure out why they are a certain way. I’ve always paid attention to the way people act and their different behaviors, it’s one of the main reasons I wanted to become a psychiatrist.

“Hmm. That is kinda weird. Anyways, why are you majoring in psychology? There's still so much we don't know about you,” Georgia genuinely looks interested in what I have to say and is attentive in getting to know me well.

“I've always wanted to understand people better. The science behind the way we act and think is fascinating. My interest in people being combined with wanting to help others just led me down this path I guess.” Satisfied with my answer, we all start talking about casual things and I'm asked questions that weren't difficult to answer. There were no deep, probing questions that would toss me into a pool of anxiety, left to flail around aimlessly as water consumed my lungs. Things were just.. simple, for once. No craziness, no drama, no nothing.

Sitting in that cafe and beginning to get to know Georgia and those who were closest to her, I finally felt like it may be possible to move on from the last four months of my life. Like all the hell I went through didn't exist. Here, right now, I could be someone else. Someone better, someone worthy of friendship, worthy of a fresh start, a person I wouldn't flinch at the reflection of.

I felt like I could stare at myself and finally see a person who might actually resemble me. Because last year I lost myself amidst all of the madness, trapped inside my own skin, screaming relentlessly for help. And I'm finally breaking free.

An aching ball of loneliness is crushing my chest as I lay in the confines of my bed sheets, my legs tangled deep into the abyss of blankets and pillows. I’m toying around with my phone, a deep seated anguish settling over me. I have absolutely no notifications and no one to talk to. Georgia’s in class, Mimi is god knows where, and none of my friends back home have replied to my messages. I just want someone to talk to, someone who is able to curbside this physical ache I’m experiencing.

Thinking I can go to the gym and pass the time, my body groans in protest as I roll over and get out of bed, traversing over to my dresser to find some warm, loose fitting clothes. Just as I begin to pull a t-shirt over my head, I hear my phone vibrate. Nearly lunging for it, my body bounces twice on my mattress as I seize the device in my hand, eyes roaming eagerly over the new message from a number I did not recognize.

Hey, this is Derrick. Are you busy?

Texting him back, I agree to meet up at his dorm to begin our project. Double checking the building name he gave me and the room number, I exit my dorm and decide I’m going to walk there to make up for the exercise I’m sacrificing for the sake of schoolwork. I’m wearing my thickest coat to combat the icy chill of the air, and my boots crunch on the hardened snow that has yet to be cleared from the sidewalks. Everything feels bare and lifeless out here, the trees small and frail looking, their gnarly branches crooked as they stand tall, surrounded by the purification of snow. It all appeared lonesome in a sense, as if there hadn’t ever been anyone here in the first place. Much of the snow was untouched, only a few stragglers were out bearing this weather like I was.

Finally approaching the right building, the heat emanating from the inside was a welcome reminder that civilization did exist and was on the other side of those automatic doors. Walking inside, I smile at the few people sitting in the rec room before going to find Derrick’s dorm. I only have to knock once before the door is swinging open, a bright eyed Derrick waiting to greet me on the other side with a timid smile. Telling him hi, I walk further into his room as he shuts the door behind me, fiddling with the lock a few times before he decides otherwise and comes and joins me. I’m sitting at a desk chair in the corner of the room, spinning around aimlessly with my eyes closed. I come to an abrupt stop when he clears his throat, the sound immediately tethering me back to the present.

“So,” He says, an awkward silence ensued for a few beats afterwards.

“So,” I say back, twiddling mindlessly with my fingers. Looking up, I begin to survey the room and notice all of its little quirks and odd ends. The gray carpet beneath my feet had noticeable lines in it from a vacuum cleaner, and now that I’m paying attention, there isn’t a single item out of place. Each book on the small desk in front of me was stacked neatly one on top of another, and each pile of paper was color coded and appropriately labelled. Each twin bed in the room was made without a single crease in sight on the brown comforters, and the baby blue wallpaper was bare of any personalized items; there were no photographs, posters, personal mementos, really anything to give insight to the people who lived here. The room had a sterilized feel to it, it lacked personal touch and any of the little things that would give a room its character. No clothes were left strewn on the floor, no dresser drawer was left open or bursting at the seams with clothing, the neat placement of the papers and books made it seem as if no nights were spent studying or cramming for an exam. These were all things I felt like a living space should have or give off. It felt like a room to just crash at during the night, not a place to live. It was... temporary. Fleeting.

“Let’s get started shall we?” Derrick stands to grab a binder, flipping through it to find the requirements for our projects. Joining him on the floor, we begin discussing the different topics and which would be the easiest for us to tackle. Once we come up with a plan for how we’re going to present the information, things are smooth sailing from there. Despite my initial impression of Derrick, I realize that once you look past his erratic behavior he’s very nice and easy to get along with. I found myself laughing more than once while we were working together, and although he had a tendency to say the most bizarre things, he has this way of making it sound endearing, as funny as that may sound.

“No it’s true! In high school I did almost every project or group assignment by myself because my classmates would complain about how I’d takeover the group or that I was too much of a perfectionist.” He tells me, laughing a little as a small, nondescript shy smile overtakes his soft features.

“There’s nothing wrong with being a perfectionist. I’m not gonna lie, people like you can be overbearing at times, but there’s more good qualities in being a perfectionist than faults.”

“Really?” He asks, curiosity alight in his smooth amber eyes. “How do you figure?” It made me feel good that he has begun to relax around me, his nervous antics almost nonexistent now. Thirty minutes ago when I first arrived, our conversations were terse and rigid, and he was unwilling to offer me much inquiry towards his personal life. But now something has shifted in him, and I can’t say I’m not glad.

“Think of it this way,” I say, sitting up from my previous sprawled position on his bedroom floor that I accommodated to when I realized how soft the carpet was, “perfectionists always get things done. When you people like you set a goal or plan, you don’t simply do it. You do it well. You don’t half ass things, typically don’t wait until the last minute to do something, and you take pride in your work. I find it admirable.”

A cute, light blush livens up his pale cheeks and I feel accomplished at all we’ve gotten done today. Making plans to meet up again to continue working on our project, I leave feeling better than before I’d arrived. I was desperate for company before, and after our little work session that niggling part of me has been satisfied. Walking out past the rec room again, I go to leave before coming to an immediate stop when none other than Shane Rikers himself stumbles his way into my path. Scowling at him, I maneuver myself around his stocky figure, feeling irritated by the mere sight of him. Of course, of all the housing available on campus, he had to be residing at this particular building.

Making the trek back to my own dorm, I take the time to appreciate the quiet atmosphere surrounding me. I like to take the time to just pause the quick frenzy of my thoughts to appreciate what’s right in front of me. Feeling my phone vibrate in my coat pocket, I pull it out and answer before checking the caller ID, which was a mistake.

“Raine! It’s about time you answered. How are you?” I felt colder than the biting wind beating against my face at the sound of my mother’s voice on the other line. Pursing my lips, the weather was suddenly more of a nuisance than before.

“Hey mom, I’ve been good. Just been settling in.”

“Hmm,” She hums, and I know her next words before she even opens her mouth, “I don’t like you there, so far away from your father and I. Have you reconsidered-”

“No mom,” I cut her off rudely. This is precisely why I don’t ever answer her calls.

“I am your mother Raine, don’t you dare take up that tone with me. We don’t understand why you won’t just listen to us and press charges! It’s unfair that you had to uproot your life for that pathetic excuse of a man! No, calling him a man is a way too dignified term for that scumbag little boy!” Her words are spoken vehemently and I can already feel a headache coming on.

“Stop. You know exactly why I didn’t go through with a report,” I whisper harshly, my footsteps coming to a halt. “It would be pointless and we both know it. I’m here to move on from it, and deep down you know it’s better for me here. Safer even.”

“You should be at home, where you belong. Attending the college you worked so hard to get into,” I can hear the unmistakable crack in her voice as emotions begin to clog her throat, and it pains me to imagine her frowning as she stood in our kitchen back home, surely having just finished dinner and decided to pick up the house phone and give me a ring. She and I had always cooked dinner together and as a little girl I was eager to help her with little things like gathering whatever ingredients she desired and setting the kitchen table. It was how we bonded.

“I know mom. But until things smooth over, I’m stuck here. I miss you and dad though. So much,” I didn’t realize how true that statement was until I said it out loud. I had always been so close to them, or at least close by so I could just stop by whenever I wanted. But now we were separated by long stretches of miles that felt unsurpassable.

“We love you too sweetheart. I’m gonna let you off here, I’ve got to clean the dishes from dinner anyways. You better start calling us and answering the phone,” Assuring her that I would do just that, I hang up the phone and heave out a deep breath. Talking with her and smoothed over some of my frazzled feelings I’ve had since moving here, and I’m glad we had the conversation we just did.

Starting to walk again, I begin to feel a bit dubious walking around campus this late at night, alone. Unsure if I’m just being paranoid, I take a swift glance around me before quickening my steps when I feel as if I’m being watched. Once safely inside my building, I go to my dorm to get some rest for my classes tomorrow.

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