The English Class


1

I was late to my fall semester English class my senior year. Thanks to Magenta, my traitorous penny board, I had spent several minutes prior to the start of class on my ass staring up at a cloudless blue sky, a stupid grin on my face. The stupid board got caught on the bricks right outside of the Lawrence building and the abrupt stop flung me off her, making me fly forward not unlike those trained circus monkeys that swung from rope to rope, except for them it was way more humane and the only monkey that was harmed was me.

I eventually showed up to the classroom with my faded jeans ripped from my outdoor acrobatics, my forest green flannel askew, and that same stupid grin on my face. It was quite the entrance. I probably looked like shit, shit that was just smeared against asphalt, but I owned it. I always reveled in how differently I dressed from other students, who dressed like every day was Easter and they needed to go meet their daddy’s for golf after class. When I walked in, I was greeted by a bunch of bored faces and a sea of pastel polos and khaki shorts. With a single stern look from my professor, I was sentenced to finding a seat in the back of the class—and that was when I saw him for the first time.

I was drawn to sitting next to him; I immediately started stealing looks in his direction. He was a lone island of golden and orange paisley in a sea of vineyard vines. As my eyes wandered, I grew more and more curious about the hippy that I had chose to sit next to, feeling pulled to him as if by a gravitational force, like two magnets when they came in close proximity to each other, or a cat when it sees something dangling precariously over the edge of a coffee table. His shoulder-length chestnut hair looked like it would be fun to play with, and his sense of style made me think he had just rolled in a meadow for an hour before arriving to class. He probably did; he smelled faintly like how I imagined the mountains smelled during this time of year.

He paid no attention to me that first day, despite making a show of sitting next to him: tossing Magenta underneath the table with a ka-clang, before strewing my pens and notebook across our shared desk, some venturing daringly onto his own composition book. The whole lesson I found my eyes wandering towards him. As he introduced himself and I heard his name for the first time, Nicolas, it sounded to me like a deep, gentle bell chiming. I closed my eyes and thought of how I could get used to listening to that ringing.


2

“Favorite author?” I asked.

“Male or female?” Nicolas graced me with a grin, his dark brown eyes full of curiosity. We were supposed to be discussing how Bell Hook’s work in Feminist Theory could be applied to the caretaker in Henry James’ Turn of the Screw. However, Nicolas and I often found ourselves getting off topic during discussions, but only with conversations of the utmost importance.

“Female, obviously,” I replied in challenge.

“Is it too much of a copout to say Toni Morrison?”

“I’ve never read her. I only know her from that one Cards Against Humanity card, you know, the one that says, ‘Toni Morrison’s vagina’? I just figured she was important somehow.” This made him laugh. It was a laugh that I was beginning to adore, one that reminded me of how a raven cawed, in short, sharp bursts. I was just being honest, and was surprised by the reaction, but really didn’t mind it. When I made Nicolas laugh, I couldn’t help but just smile and smile and smile.


3

Some days Nic wasn’t in class. I don’t remember much about those days.


4

I propped up Magenta on the coat rack inside of our school’s cottage-inspired coffee shop. It was September, so I didn’t worry about her taking up space; It was still too hot for people to wear coats. I also thought it was hilarious seeing her dangle up there like she belonged. I ordered two black coffees from Alex, and they gave me a knowing smile. “We’re just studying,” I said. “We’re just friends,” I added as an afterthought, narrowing my eyes and pouting my lips. They said nothing, but their smile stayed as Nic walked in.


4.5

“Did you ever make wishes on stars when you were younger?” Nic asked me. He was looking out of the coffee shop window at the blackening sky and I could see the orange glare of university lampposts reflecting in his reading glasses. We were supposed to be working on our Henry James’ essays but kept getting side-tracked with conversations about things like the fashion sense of vampires or the benefits of studying to orchestral balloon music, which we were currently listening to as an ironic joke. The table was littered with papers and laptops, as well as three coffee cups for each of us. I was typing the same sentence over and over again, trying to figure out how to weasel the word “ludicrous” into my paper. As we worked, Nic became suddenly pensive and stopped writing to stare out of the window. I took the opportunity to stare at him, trying my best to hold the sighs that wanted to escape from me like little traitors.

“Not really. Where I grew up there weren’t very many stars,” I said, letting the sentence I was typing run away before stopping it entirely, instead choosing to devote my attention to him while the little black bar began to flash idly on my laptop. “Outside of Seattle there were a few places to go stargazing, but I never really got the chance to.”

“If you could wish for something right now on a star, what would you wish for?” He seemed pensive. Far-off. Like he was looking at something out there that I couldn’t see myself.

“Probably to be rich enough to do whatever I was passionate about for the rest of my life without worrying,” I stated after a few more moments of admiring the boy in front of me. If he didn’t look at me, I was fine in staring, right? “I’m only half-joking.”

“What are those passions?” He finally turned his gaze to meet mine. His eyes were so intense, so full of a desire I couldn’t name. I eventually had to look away for fear that he’d see the desire in mine.

“Uh… I would travel the world and bring Magenta along, obviously. I would eat literally everything in my path.” He smiled at this. “And uh, I guess I would write about it all? Maybe compose it into a book with all of my travels and the friends I made and shit like that.”

“Do you think you would have time for love in that big adventure of yours?”

“Maybe? But I’d have shit to do, you know? Places to go, people to see, food to eat. Did I mention a shit ton of places to go?” This was how we talked to each other. It was just another one of those stupid questions that we asked one another all the time, like what did in class a million times before. But this time, something felt wrong to me, especially after watching how Nic’s face seemed to crumple a little bit inward like when you smush a paper bag when he heard my answer. “What about you, Jiminy?” I said, a little too fast and maybe a little too desperately. “What would you wish for?”

His silence lasted long enough for Hell to go through all four seasons. What were his eyes saying to me that I couldn’t hear? “I don’t know, honestly,” Nic said eventually, letting out a heavy sigh, his eyes travelling again to the window and then to a place completely unknown to me, a place where I don’t know if I was even welcomed. “If anything, I would wish I knew what to wish for.”

“Deep.”

“Seriously,” he said, and he let out a laugh. It reminded me of how evening birds sang, frantic and scared, before night engulfed the world and them along with it. “I guess I would wish that I was more…decisive. That I knew what I wanted in life, in love, I just don’t know what that is right now.”

“Isn’t that what college is for?” I asked. I wanted to beg him to look at me again.

“I’m just afraid that right now, there isn’t enough time to figure out any of it,” he replied, then went silent again. He was sitting on the other edge of the universe. I opened my mouth, and for the first time with him, I felt like I had nothing to say. I dipped my finger in the nearest coffee cup. It had gone cold.


5-8

I spent a lot of time thinking about what Nic meant when he said there wasn’t enough time.


9

There were no more coffee dates after that one. Occasionally I would get the courage to text him to see if he’d like to have another, but he either would respond by telling me he was too busy or not respond at all. I tried to not let it get to me too much. I still couldn’t help but stare at him while we were in class, and smile whenever he did. When the semester ended, I almost never saw him, unless it was when I managed to catch him walking around campus. I would always wave, and he would wave back, but there was always somewhere I needed to go. There was always somewhere I felt he needed to go.

My last semester of college I spent many nights laying outside on the grass. I’d take Magenta out for midnight rides, when the air was crisp and the world was quiet, just the way I liked it. I would find a spot that was out in the open, usually someplace on the promenade, and I would lay down in the cool grass and let it tickle the back of my neck and play with my hair till I was smiling at the feeling and the smell of it. Then I’d stare up at the night sky, hoping I would see a shooting star. Once or twice I did. I never wished on them, but I often thought about it.



-JC