Saturday afternoon, I threw my backpack on my bed, glad most of my friends were already at their away games. I wasn’t in the mood for company. I wanted to just mope alone in my room for a while.
I could recall several terrible days in her life. The worst was probably the day my parents had sat me down last June to inform me I would be attending Hartfield this fall. Although I had enjoyed the past two weeks, I often felt I didn’t belong and would have been better off at my hometown high school with my old friends.
By the end of classes today, I was convinced of it.
First, my art teacher was didn’t like my fruit bowl sketch. He said it looked the same as all the others I had drawn this week. Of course it had. We had been drawing the same bowl all week. Why should it look any different from one day to the next? But, I didn’t say that aloud. I just accepted his criticism and spent the rest of class trying to put my shaking in different locations.
When I got to physics class, my teacher returned the tests we had taken Thursday. I had felt so confident when I went into that test. I really felt I understood the material and was sure I had done fine. I was shocked to see a big red C at the top of my page when Mr. Wilson placed it in front of me. The worst part was, as he spent the rest of the class reviewing the answers, I couldn’t understand where I had made mistakes or why I had received such a low mark.
After my form meeting, my Latin teacher decided to surprise us with a pop quiz. It was a lot harder than I expected it to be. I didn’t help that my confidence had already been shaken by my physics test. I had difficulty concentrating on the questions I was reading. I felt even worse when I saw Walter leave the class about ten minutes early in a good mood.
I was already in a bad mood when I got to math class. It didn’t improve when he returned Thursday’s pop quiz with a shiny red B at the top of the page. He didn’t explain the problems but moved on to today’s lecture. I tuned him out, looking over my test. I had gotten each of the answers right. I couldn’t understand why he took off so many points.
Ever since the first day of school, my teachers had all been encouraging us to visit them during their office hours. I had never met with a teacher outside of class. I had no idea how to do it. Was I supposed to just show up at their door and start asking questions about my test? Maybe I should make an appointment first?
I laid on my bed, staring at my ceiling as I pondered this, for nearly an hour. Finally, I came up with a solution. With a sigh, I sat up, pulling my computer into my lap. I opened my math notebook to the first page, where I had written the teacher’s contact information on our first day of school. It took several attempts before I was able to compose an email I wasn’t too embarrassed to send.
Dear Mr. Davidson,
I reviewed my test and there are a few questions where I don’t really understand what I did wrong. I see you have office hours on Mondays during fourth period. Could I stop by then to review my test? Thanks.
I was nervous to press the send button. I had never actually emailed a teacher before. Even though my teachers had encouraged it, I still felt as if I were doing something wrong. I closed my eyes and pressed the button. Once it was sent, I wrote an identical note to my physics teacher, asking to meet second period. It was only slightly easier to press send the second time.
Since computer was open, I decided to try writing my frustrations in a journal entry. When I was done, I rewrote it, adding in some of the vocabulary words for this upcoming week. Then I glanced at the clock. The dining hall would be closing soon.
I packed my backpack with all my books, including my religion workbook. I had to carry a couple of the larger textbooks in my arms because not everything fit. I lugged it all to the dining hall. The servery was shutting down, so I quickly made myself a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and filled my water bottle.
I had seen a number of students milling about the large grassy area in front of the building. Wanting to be alone, I decided to take my sandwich to the courtyard behind the library instead. I sat on a bench, pulling out her religion workbook and a highlighter as I bit into my sandwich.
It didn’t take long to read the chapter. By then, my lunch was long gone. I needed to answer the questions and email them to my teacher, but I didn’t want to do it on my phone and I hadn’t brought my laptop. I wasn’t ready to go back to my room for it. I would have to just write them down and email them later.
But, it would be easier to do that at a study table. I gathered my things and went to the library. Out of habit, I headed towards the upstairs study rooms. On my way, I caught sight of the computers. They were all available. No one else was inside on such a gorgeous day.
I chose a random computer, logging in with my student ID. It took a while to complete my religion assignment. Half the questions were factual and I only needed to reread the chapter to find the answer. The other half were open-ended. I had a difficult time answering those. My classes had shattered my confidence. Was it possible Deacon Bob would decide my opinion was wrong? I did my best to thoroughly explain them so he could understand what I was trying to say.
I copied myself on the email and had less of a problem pressing the send button. Probably because I had been told to. While I was on the computer, I checked the Sunday Mass times, copying them into the front cover of my workbook beside Deacon Bob’s contact information. After closing the computer, I made my way to the study room.
The second floor was abandoned. I wasn’t surprised. I spread out all my books on the study table and opened my assignment pad. My eyes landed on the words Walter had written last night.
With a sigh, I looked up the definitions and added them to my journal. Apparently, Walter thought Mike was someone who only thought of himself, put himself first, and thought he was more important than anybody else.
I didn’t see Mike that way. But, I had no idea how to make Walter see Mike the way I did. The best solution was probably to just not mention him in Walter’s presence.
Thinking of Mike reminded me of the comment he had made last night about completing his math homework a day early. That wasn’t such a bad idea. Maybe I should try it. In fact, maybe I should try it for all my classes.
By the time my stomach began protesting in hunger, I had completed two days worth of Latin and math as well as Monday’s physics assignment. I still had study hours tomorrow night. I could work on my English assignment then. I had definitely earned my dinner.
But, I had too many books to bring to the dining hall. I returned to my room, surprised to see it empty. Was Sarah back from field hockey? Were any of my friends in the dining hall?
I rummaged through my bag. My phone had fallen to the bottom. I had silenced it so I could study and had over fifty messages waiting for me in the group text.
The field hockey team had won, but were staying for the varsity game and stopping for fast food on their way home. Those without sports had decided to spend their afternoon in town and would probably be eating out. Leif, Forrest, and all the boys on both football teams had lost their respective competitions and decided to head into town for consolation pizza. The exception was Walter, who informed the group that he was broke and would be eating in the dining hall, while sending me a private message that if I ever joined the world of the living, I was welcome to join him.
I needed to eat, so I headed to the dining hall to find Walter. Maybe I could lament about my grades to a sympathetic ear. I grabbed some food and a soda before heading to my regular table.
I walked right past it when I discovered strangers sitting there. I made my way to the end of the room, turning into the smaller section. Walter was sitting at a table in the corner with a couple of boys I didn’t recognize.
What was more uncomfortable? Sitting at a table with people I didn’t know or sitting at a table full of boys? I scanned the room for another table.
But, Walter had seen me. He waved, gesturing that I should join them. I walked over nervously, sitting away from the strangers while still facing Walter.
He smiled at me. “Hey. I figured you went to town with everyone else.”
“Wasn’t in the mood.” I took a bite of my dinner to avoid looking at the new boys. Walter gestured to them.
“These are some of the guys from the football team. Nate. Chris. This is Melinda. She’s a third-former like me.”
“Nice to meet you.” Nate waved his fork at me before turning back towards the other boys. “But, seriously Chris. You’re wrong.”
I wanted to join their conversation. I wanted to feel included. But it was impossible to follow what they were saying. All three of them, Walter included, used many words I didn’t understand. It was impossible.
Not long after I sat down, Nate and Chris finished eating and excused themselves. When we were alone, Walter smiled at me.
“Hey. I’m trying to elucidate the enigma that is the female psyche. Think you can help me?”
Maybe I was tired of not understanding the conversations around me. Maybe I was simply frustrated with feeling as if I wasn’t smart enough for Hartfield. Whatever the reason, my inability to understand Walter’s question made me burst into tears.
His eyes widened in fear. “Whoa! Hey! No! Don’t do that. I was just kidding. You don’t need to help me.”
“It’s . . . not . . . that,” I choked out between sobs. “I’m . . . I’m . . . I’m too stupid!” I was practically shouting, a fresh round of tears erupting uncontrollably as I buried my head in my arms on the table.
“Let’s get out of here. Go outside. Get some air. I’ll be out in a second.”
I followed his instructions, slinking along the walls to the exit. I rushed down the stairs and outside, plopping onto the bench where I had eaten my lunch. Walter joined me a few minutes later. By then, my sobbing had turned into sniffles.
He sat beside me, passing me a handful of napkins. “Wanna talk about it?”
“About whatever I just said to make you burst into tears.”
“I don’t know what you said. And, that’s the problem. I don’t understand you. I don’t understand my teachers. Then, when I think I do, I like, get Bs and Cs. I’ve never gotten a C before.”
Walter didn’t respond right away. He waited a few minutes before changing the subject. “Oh, hey. Since I’m your mentor who is supposed to make you go to church, what time is Mass tomorrow?”
“Eight.” I gave a final sniffle.
“Well, if you want company, I’ll join you. But, I have to have breakfast as soon as we get back. Join me?”
“Deal. I’ll meet you in front of your dorm at 7:30.”
Walter smiled. “’Kay. Now, can you help me with a conundrum?”
“I dunno. What’s a conundrum?”
“Conundrum. Like, a confusing problem. So, I know Bella likes me and I want to ask her to be my girlfriend, but I figured we should probably hang out first. Like, not just studying. I’m debating between asking her to the mall tomorrow or just doing something on campus.”
“Where would you be more comfortable?”
Walter hesitated a moment. “Did you like having dinner alone with . . . Mike . . . last night?”
I sighed. “Honestly, no. It was really awkward. I didn’t know what to say a lot of the time.”
“You know how sometimes when we’re at lunch and Larry and Sarah start talking to each other and exclude us?”
Of course I did. They did it practically every meal. I nodded.
Walter shrugged. “I was thinking of asking them to join me, so it would be less awkward. But, I could probably still talk with Bella.”
“That’s not a bad idea. At one point yesterday, I was thinking it would have been better if we’d had dinner here, cuz it would have been nice to have other people to help with the conversation.”
“Okay. So, how do I ask Larry to join me without sounding desperate?”
“I have no clue. That is completely a guy thing. I guess you could do it casually. Oh, hey. I was thinking of asking Bella to go to the movies. You and Sarah wanna join us? Something like that.”
“You sure you haven’t done this before?” Walter bumped his shoulder against mine with a smile. “So, did you watch Forrest’s soccer game this afternoon? Or were you catching up on your soap operas all day?”
I tried to punch his shoulder. He anticipated me and jumped away, running towards the road. He was fast! I only caught up to him because he waited for me before crossing the road. As we headed back to the dorms, I told him about my morning test grades and how I had spent my afternoon getting a head start on this week’s assignments.
Walter turned to me as we approached his dorm. “So, lemme get this straight.” He was practically whining. “You’re telling me that if I wanna do my homework with you this week, I need to stay a day ahead on all my assignments?”
“I guess. I suppose I can study by myself this week.” Honestly, I had never considered how this change in my study habit would affect my studying with Walter.
“I’m teasing you. It’ll be fine. Look, I gotta spend some quality time with my computer. My programming teacher wants us to start animating our assignments, and I just can’t get mine to do what I want it to do.”
There was a little voice in the back of my head reminding me that I had a message for Walter. Something about his programming class. What was it? I frowned. “I thought you were doing well in that class.”
“Oh, I am. The assignment was to make a car drive across the screen and I did that. But, I’m trying to have two cars in a race around a loop and they keep running each other over then keep going as if they didn’t crash.”
I giggled. “Yeah. Good luck with that. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
I gave a small wave, shaking my head as I returned to my room. That nagging feeling wouldn’t go away. As soon as I reached my room, I remembered what it was.
Saturday, September 23
A little over a year ago, my brother was staying at a friend’s house and my parents were out at the movies. Both of my best friends had managed to get grounded. I found myself home alone and bored out of my mind.
With nothing else to do, I searched for something to watch. As I searched through the menu, I saw a trailer for a new science fiction show that had just started the previous week. According to the description, it was a remake of a show that was on when my parents were my age.
The doctor was adorably cute. I decided it wouldn’t hurt to watch one episode. And that was all it took. By the end of the hour, I was hooked. And very disappointed there weren’t more available.
No one else in my family was interested in the show. Neither were any of my friends. There was a kid on my bus who was taunted mercilessly when he mentioned liking the show. So, I decided to keep my fandom a secret.
Now that I am at Hartfield, I don’t have a television and I don’t have access to watch it online. I am looking forward to binge watching it when I go home.