Chapter 3- Pencils Are Friends, Not Weapons
“Those who dream by day are cognizant of many things that escape those who dream only at night.”
-Edgar Allan Poe
I was discovering sleeping with your own personal concert right outside the window was supremely overrated.
The Sound played until midnight on weekdays and until the butt-crack of dawn on weekends. At first I’d thought listening to the bands play and artists croon was cool and fun, but if it’s two in the morning and your eyes are bloodshot because of the metal band roaring outside...it starts being a tad bit less thrilling.
Meanwhile, things had picked up in my daily schedule. I was finding my little niche at Franklin. I’d gone to the library yesterday and applied for a job- the library was manned by a grad student named Riker with three ear piercings and a fohawk-and gotten the job on the spot.
Something about ‘trustworthy aura’. Whatever it was, I wasn’t throwing stones.
Raven snored. I tried to ignore it, but the girl sounded like the Texas Chainsaw Massacre soundtrack. I ended up buying a set of headphones and told Raven it was because of the Sound.
It was Thursday, and I was nursing a cup of coffee in the lounge while waiting for Raven. Tuesdays and Thursdays we walked together, because her Calculus class was near my Psych class.
I frowned when I remembered Tuesday’s Psych session. I’d been excited and dewy-eyed up until I heard about the partner thing. I’d been willing to tough it out and be cheerful or whatever, until I’d seen who I was partnered with. Peeper, aka Landon Sinclair, aka The Annoying Beanie Guy. The fellow was unnerving. He had this way of looking at you that made you want to hide under a blanket and take a cold shower at the same time. This time, I vowed I wouldn’t let him get under my skin, no matter how intense or magnetic those sapphire eyes were. I hadn’t come here to be intimidated by sarcastic upperclassmen.
Raven hopped downstairs, wearing knee-length leather boots, a tight white tank top and her black hair artfully mussed. “Ready to walk beside perfection?” she asked, fluffing the spiky ends of her hair.
I stuck my tongue out. “Let’s go, fashionista.”
She sniffed. “Some people simply can’t handle this much amazing bottled into one fabulous body.”
I snorted. It had been easy to fall into rhythm with Raven over the week. She was a complete paradox. She was outgoing, but hated people. She liked music but would threaten bodily harm if you listened to the Top 40. She feared windows because of the height but loved roller coasters.
I didn’t foresee myself getting bored with her.
When she veered to her Calculus building, I threw away my coffee cup, hitched my book bag higher onto my shoulder, and marched into Psych with my head held high. I slid into a seat in the middle, not too close to the nosebleed section or the stoner hovel. I pulled out my notebooks and arranged my pens for easy access. I was all set when a weight thumped next to me.
I will not look. I have willpower. I am an independent-
My pencil was plucked from my death-grip.
“Pencils are friends, not weapons,” a deep voice drawled.
I’d only met this guy twice, and he already made me want to grow horns and breathe fire. Anyone else, and I would laugh and say that I’m sure that’s what people said about metal before guns came around. This intense reaction for a virtual stranger was surprising and unwanted.
I can be pleasant. I am a pleasant person, despite the opinions of close family and friends. Pasting a smile on my face, I shifted slightly to look at Landon’s amused expression.
“Careful, your face might get stuck that way,” Landon said.
“Is that what happened to you?” I asked extra-pleasantly, gesturing in his general area.
Landon frowned, opening his mouth to reply when Professor Meyers thankfully intervened.
“Alright, settle down,” Professor Meyers called tiredly. He was wearing a mismatched pair of plaid shorts and a pink button down. The class had already dubbed him "Garfield” in homage to his perpetual state of disarray, his sarcasm, and his strange habit of licking the back of his hands when he was grading papers.
“Since I made your partners mandatory, you can choose your project. At the end of class, I’ll pass around a hat filled with the name of the project, and you can write down what you received at the end of lecture.”
Landon shifted next to me, and I noticed him yawning and tugging his beanie lower onto his forehead to shade his dropping eyes. Great. We hadn’t even been assigned a project yet and my partner was sleeping on the job.
“I will only give you three days to work on your project in class this semester. The rest of the time, you’ll have to meet with your partner outside of class. Most of the directions are on the handout, but I want to be clear when I say that individual effort is key. I’ll ask for a detailed list of what you contributed and what your partner contributed and factor it into the overall grade. This project is interaction based and 50% of your grade. You’re going to have to cooperate with your partner on a personal level, so I suggest being cordial. They don’t have to be your bosom buddy, but it might make things easier. I expect in-depth answers. I don’t tolerate ambiguity. Are we clear?”
The class chorused a ‘yes’. Garfield went on, but my focus had already dropped. Was he serious? This project was 50% of our grade? We should have been allowed to pick our partners for a project this major! I would have partnered with that nice nerd in the front row, or the friendly girl on the far right.
Not the guy who I was pretty sure was currently asleep.
When there were only five minutes left in class, I turned to Landon. His head was resting on the back of the hard wood bench, his hands clasped over his flat belly, and his feet were crossed under the desk.
I hit his cheek with my ruler.
He sat up with a groan, yanking off his beanie to rub his temples. His dark brown hair was disheveled and sticking in all directions, and it appeared he was not happy with my disruption to his beauty sleep. I’d thought it was quite elegant, to be honest. Better than screaming in his ear, anyway.
“What the fu-” Landon started, irritation thick in his voice, but he was cut off when someone shoved the Choosing Hat into his hands.
I snatched it from him. “I’m picking, since I’m the only one paying attention to the lecture.”
Landon waved his hand dismissively, making me grit my teeth. How he could even make my victory feel like a defeat was beyond me.
Reaching my hand in the hat, I stirred my hand through the hat before pinching a scrap of paper between my fingers and yanking it out. I reluctantly unfolded it, praying it wasn’t something that’d make me want to skewer myself with the pencil.
The simple word had me sagging with relief. Not bad. It was actually an interesting topic. We’d probably have to cover every possible aspect on the topic, the why, how, when, who, etc. I handed the paper to Landon.
His mouth flattened, and his fingers tightened around the note. I was worried I’d have to pry it from him.
“So...do you want to meet this weekend to go over what we’re going to need to do? We can divide the work and arrange days we can meet to get it done,” I offered.
Landon rubbed his temples again, drawing my gaze towards the leather bands around his wrists. They were interesting, one with a skull with sharp outlines, and the other with a flaming sword. Now that I thought about it, I was pretty sure he’d been wearing them the last time I saw him too. He appeared to be intensely irritated, and for a moment I was worried he’d tell me to take a hike. “Sure, doll, since I doubt you’ll let it alone. I don’t have work on Monday.”
I glared at him. “Princess, doll? Should I ask
Professor Meyers to switch our topic to pedophilia?”
There was a brief pause as surprise flashed across his expression. Landon started laughing, clutching his side as his forehead touched the desk. “Where do you even get this stuff?” he chuckled into his notebook. I crossed my arms over my chest and waited for him to finish.
He sat up after a few minutes, still lightly chuckling. “Phew, I needed that.”
“Glad to be of service,” I muttered. “Anyway, Monday works for me. I have work from four to eight though, so can we meet at say, eight thirty?” Landon shrugged.
I sighed. If this was how the rest of the semester was going to progress, I might as well throw in the towel now. “There’s a place called Pedro’s about two blocks from the Sound. I heard they have great food and coffee. Does that work for you?”
“I know where Pedro’s is. I am a third-year.”
I waited, tapping my fingers impatiently against my knee, until the prolonged silence caused Landon to turn in my direction. Ignoring the teasing glint in his gaze, I attempted to viciously stare. “I don’t know if you have a problem with me or this class, but if we’re going to get through the rest of the semester, you’re going to have to pitch in. We can get through this project and be done. ’Kay?”
His mouth quirked to the side in a half-smile that I tried really hard not to find adorable. Landon studied me curiously. “Don’t worry, muffin. I won’t let you do all the heavy lifting on this.”
Fabulous, now I was a baked good.
Garfield dismissed us a few minutes later, and for some inexplicable reason, I lagged behind to watch Landon leave. There was something about the way he moved that set him apart from the other students filtering from the room. The defiant set of his jaw, the slump of an unbearable burden on his shoulders, and a stillness to him like the calm before the storm. For the life of me, I couldn’t put my finger on what is was that intrigued me so much.
Which, considering I was standing in a Psychology classroom, did not bode well.
A few hours later, I was finishing the delicious smoothie I’d bought at the juice bar in the Sound- even if the bands kept me from sleep, they made up for it with orgasmic beverages-and heading to my afternoon shift at the library.
Riker was checking out a stack of books for a student when I entered. He waved cheerfully at me and pointed towards the bookshop, which the library also managed. It mostly sold textbooks, study guides, and Franklin University paraphernalia, and it made a healthy income for the library.
I’d definitely never worked at a library with a humongous silver chandelier hanging from the concave glass ceiling. The library had four floors, each with its own set of bookshelves, tables, and bean bags. Drinks were only allowed on the ground floor though, where there was an entire lounge area with a sofa and armchair for students to lazily study and munch. Each floor was quieter than the last, which made the fourth floor a veritable coffin.
My favorite part of the architecture, hands down, was the ceiling. The glass was slanted, and in the morning it was like we were covered in thousands of tiny sparkling diamonds. At night, the moon’s rays lent a soft glow to the entire library, bathing it in a peaceful, ethereal beauty.
This place rocked.
I rang up purchases for students like Riker had shown me, only fumbling once when I jammed the cash register. When my line was empty, I went to the checkout line, where Riker had also reached a lull.
“I love air conditioning,” Riker said the moment I stepped behind the counter.
“Like, I’m not a fan of fake, artificial crap, you know? But ventilated air is so boss. I wonder if that means I’m selling into corporate America.”
I blinked at him repeatedly. When his attention switched to me, clearly waiting for a reply, I fumbled around, only coming up with, “You can’t get more corporate than McDonald’s.”
I was pretty sure my answer made absolutely no sense- not surprising since I wasn’t even sure what we were talking about- but Riker nodded sagely, like I’d answered a riddle. “True, at least I’m not sipping the Golden Arch KoolAid.”
Smiling like I had a clue, I hoped I learned how to decipher Riker-speak soon.
A student popping in saved me from more of Riker’s philosophical musings. “Hey, I need help finding a book. The computer says you guys have it.”
When I glanced at Riker expectantly, he motioned for me to go with the student. At my frown, he shot a double thumbs up. Oh, lovely. He wanted me to learn by trial and error. Unfortunately, that turned out to be walking aimlessly through shelves until a senior helped us out.
After my shift, I was heading home when I saw Raven’s cropped hair bobbing in the Sound among a group of people listening to some newbie metal group. I plopped down at her table, smiling at the cute guy beside her. Three notebooks were open on the table, and I was reasonably certain they weren’t Raven’s. With his sandy brown hair flopping over his forehead, a smattering of freckles across his nose, and nervous chocolate eyes, he didn’t seem particularly comfortable with the metal crowd gyrating around him. Every time someone bumped into his chair, he flinched. Thankfully, Raven was too busy socializing with everyone at the Sound to notice.
When the song ended, Raven acknowledged me at last. She was wearing a stud on her nose and black liner had been handily applied. Sweat glistened on her brow from the dancing and screeching.
“Hey, there you are. Sophia, this is Jesse, a fellow metal-music lover. Jesse, this is Sophia, my roommate.”
I waved awkwardly, and Jesse reciprocated. “I’m going to grab something from the juice bar. You guys want anything?” Raven queried, and at the shaking of our heads, weaved towards the juice bar.
There was a pause at the table until Jesse cleared his throat and scratched his ear. “I was actually studying at this table and didn’t notice how late it was. By the time I’d packed up to leave, the band was playing and Raven had inducted me to the metal-loving club.”
I laughed at the guilty look on his face. “No worries, your secret is safe with me. She rarely talks to people, but I guess music can set you free.”
“I always study here,” he began rambling. “My apartment is generally a mess, and the library is too quiet. I was actually about to leave when she introduced herself. She’s really pretty, and uh...” he trailed off.
“Really intimidating,” I finished for him. It was true. Raven had a no-nonsense attitude I admired, but it had the effect of giving her a scary vibe. “What year are you?”
“Yeah,” he said sheepishly. “Um, I’m a third year.” Raven rejoined us with a huge drink and took a sip, slinging her arm over the back of Jesse’s chair. The startled look on his face when she started tugging on a strand of his hair was priceless.
“Itsy Bitsy Spider?” I asked Raven with a raised brow. She smirked and shook her head.
Jesse darted confused glances at the both of us, and we didn’t bother enlightening him on our new code. When there was going to be an overnight ‘guest’, we had to leave a sticky note with Itsy Bitsy Spider written on it, since Raven said the song was strangely erotic for her, with the spider climbing the spout and rain. I couldn’t follow the logic behind the name, but it served its duty.
As the next band climbed the stage for their chance to wow a small group of college students, I glanced at the sky and smiled, letting a feeling of peace wash over me. For once, I wasn’t holed up in my room, distracting myself from the real world with whatever fake one I could find. There was something magical about the air in the Sound. As if anything could happen.
I had a feeling Franklin was going to be very, very good for me.