The Beginning“Ready to go?”
“As I’ll ever be.”
His grandfather tugged on the shifter, dropping the old Ford into reverse. and pulled out of the driveway. The trip to the college was exactly 10 miles, driveway to parking lot, and his grandfather was not the chatty type, so the ride was spent in a comfortable silence. He always liked that characteristic of his grandfather.
The old Ford groaned to a stop in front of the student center building, in the middle of the tiny campus.
“What time should I pick you up?”
“I’m not really sure,” he replied. “I’ve got to go to an orientation, take some tests, see a counselor, register for classes—could be kinda late. Don’t want you sitting out here waiting. I’ll just give you a call when I’m ready.”
His grandfather nodded his approval.
“You know, unless I meet some buxom blonde who offers me a lift.”
He walked into the auditorium, a fairly large room considering the small community college to which it was attached. He took a seat near the back, as was his practice. He always liked to be able to see everything, didn’t like having anyone behind him if he could help it. The school administrator or whoever the suit on stage was droned on about welcoming the new students to the school, the agenda for the day, blah, blah, I-know-you’re-not-really-listening. He scanned the crowd, people-watching, trying to get a handle on the new environment. This wouldn’t be easy.
He’d moved from the city to this rural town, a town that didn’t even have a real stoplight, for crying out loud. A town with more bars than gas stations, with just one grocery store, and a 20-minute drive to the nearest shopping center. Place didn’t even have a K-Mart, if you can believe that.
The college was an oddity in itself, situated between burgs at an intersection of those roads they just use numbers to reference, not names. Five buildings, including the library and auditorium in which he now sat. Not a one with more than one floor. A far cry from the university he’d recently flunked out of, but then again, that’s why he was here, wasn’t it? His drinking and partying had sabotaged his first attempt at higher education, and his grandparents had offered him this opportunity. Live with us, go to school, get your life in order.
He’d jumped at the chance, partially due to his teenage rebellion against his mother’s legitimate concerns (years later, he would thank her for her dedication to him), but more so because he loved his grandparents so much. His grandmother had practically raised him as an infant, what with his mother being so young when he was born. He spent so much time in their home during his first few years that his grandmother saw him as one of her own, a seventh child born 10 years after her last. She would be hard on him, he knew, but she would also take good care of him. A fresh start, far from where he’d grown up, where no one knew who he was or knew anything about him.
The suit finished his spiel, and the new students filed out of the auditorium and headed for the academic building, where they’d take placement tests. He wasn’t worried about the tests; he’d done well in high school, even if he had screwed up his time at the university so mightily. He continued to keep to himself during the testing, finishing as quickly as possible and moving to the hallway to await his results.
It was in the hall where he first encountered her. Long, blonde hair and a sweet, round face that nearly disappeared when she smiled. Beautiful blue eyes. Her laugh was an infectious sound that seemed to invite you to join in, even if you had no idea why. The initial banter was silly stuff, the kind of idle chatter shared by teenagers in a group and now long forgotten, but he was intrigued, and thought she might be, too. He was never very good at reading that sort of thing. Each time he glanced her way, though, he’d catch her eyes. Not too hard to read that, he thought.
Results were distributed, and each student given the name of a counselor to see. They split up with a “see ya” and went their separate ways.
He saw his counselor, received his list of classes for which to register, and left the academic building to take the short walk to the administration building, where he’d actually complete his registration. Entering through one set of doors in the square building, he walked all the way around before realizing the line terminated where he’d entered, at a bench in the entryway. He sat down.
And she walked through the doors.
For the next three hours, as the line slowly but surely wound its way around the building, they had no one but each other with which to converse. And converse they did. He told her why he was there, where he lived, how he had no friends or even knew anyone in the area. She told him how she, too, had managed to get kicked out of a university after a semester and ended up at the college (though through no fault of her own), and lived in a community about a half-hour drive north of his town. She had many friends at the college; she’d be happy to introduce him, get him acclimaited.
She gave him her phone number; he gave her his as well, because he knew himself better than that, knew he wasn’t the type to call first. They reached the end of the line, registered for their classes, then stopped in the hallway to say their goodbyes.
“Do you want to grab a bite to eat in the student center?” she asked.
They walked down the lit path through the twilight, continuing their registration line conversation. Inside the student center, they took seats at a table in the cafeteria, talking about this or that, offering little bits of personal information here and there, getting to know each other. Time slipped by, until he realized how late it had become. His grandparents weren’t nightowls—his grandfather would probably prefer not to be out too late picking him up from school. She assured him that didn’t need to be a problem.
“Grandpa? It’s me. No, I don’t need a ride. Actually…
You remember that buxom blonde I told you I might meet?”
25 November 2003