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Fiction

Every August, we get at least two days with rain. This, unfortunately, is one of those days. I’m grateful for the excuse to collect my thoughts in privacy, though. The radio is cranked up and I’m checking my bag for the fifth time today, ensuring I have the essentials: my laptop, folders, textbooks, notebooks, pens, highlighters, sticky notes, a stapler, staples, index cards...I love back-to-school shopping for my kids, but it was even more fun buying school supplies for myself. No minor breakdowns because I accidentally bought a pink glittery folder instead of the purple unicorn one. I double check the room number on my schedule and lean back in the driver’s seat of my sedan. The rain is still pounding against the window, and I hear the slightest sound of thunder in the distance.

I remember back in elementary school we’d get excited when it stormed during class. We would count the seconds between the thunder and lightning, guessing how far away the storm was. When it was a second or less away, some of us got excited. We wondered what scary things might happen; if the power went out, we knew we’d have a story for our families when we got home. I smile at the memory, picturing the linoleum floors and plastic chairs of my childhood classrooms. Some classrooms had thick desks with storage space underneath the desktop. Others had slimmer models with armrests and racks under the chair. I wonder what kind of desks they use now or if they have computers in the classroom. Some of our rooms had an old, clunky computer or two, but that was long ago.

I glance at my watch. I can’t spend any more time waiting for the rain to subside. I sigh, grab my umbrella, and start the trek to Bellview Hall. It is the only building on campus that does not have nearby student parking, although it does have a large flock of angry geese that guard the pond beside it. The exercise doesn’t bother me, nor do the honking geese, but I’m embarrassed to admit I’m a little nervous. For the next few years, I will be surrounded by kids who are only six years older than my eldest daughter. That’s a terrifying thought. Only six more years and Claire will be choosing colleges. I should’ve waited to go back to school so I could tease her about going to college together, sharing a dorm, eating lunch together every day. It would have been worth it to see the panic on her face. I already embarrass her and we haven’t even made it through the teenage years yet. Good grief. I shake my head and laugh at the thought as I arrive at Bellview.

My first class, Intro to Sociology, is up the stairs, down the hall, and to the right. I set my umbrella against the wall and survey the crowd for a moment. This is one of the few lecture courses I have this semester, and it’s already filled with students eagerly chatting. There are rows of long, narrow black tables separated by two aisle-ways. I take a seat in one of the front rows and pull out my laptop. I am, without a doubt, the oldest person in the room at the moment. I’m still thirty-three years young, but I have an inexplicable sense of duty toward the other students to serve as a sort of role model. Maybe it’s a mom thing and not an age thing. Maybe it’s both. Either way, I’m curious to see how teenagers are these days. Are they still vicious at this age or do they go back to thinking older people are cool? Shit, I hope they don’t ask me to buy them liquor. I’d seen a couple kids smoking at Bellview’s entrance. Can teens even smoke cigarettes anymore? I’m pretty sure that’s not legal.

“Ms. Niemi?” Oh, gosh. If that doesn’t confirm my oldness, I don’t know what does. I turn to see who had spoken. A tall young woman with black curls plunks her backpack in the chair next to me and pulls out a pile of textbooks. She looks familiar but I can’t place her.

“Hi there, call me Emily,” I reply.

“Oh, okay, Emily. You probably don’t remember me. I was the A+ tutor in Claire’s class last year. I think we met at her band concert.”

“Oh, yes! Claire always came home from practice telling us how much fun the ‘other teacher’ was.”

“Really? That’s so sweet. She was definitely one of the more dedicated students.”

“She loves to show off. Actually, she holds concerts for us for practice,” I laugh. “Attendance is mandatory, but she did try to charge us admission once.”

“Crafty kid. Did it work?”

“For her, no. Her dad and I felt one hundred dollars per person was a bit steep. We did manage to negotiate it down to an hour of cartoons after dinner.”

“That’s funny. Hey, I hope it’s okay for me to sit here. None of my friends are in this class, and it’s nice to see a familiar face.”

“It is. I can honestly say I didn’t expect to see anyone I knew.” We continue to talk until the professor walks in. He’s an older man with a booming voice and a laidback style: jeans, sneakers, and a university t-shirt. I can immediately tell that I’m going to like him. He introduces himself as Franklin Jacobsen—“but just call me Professor Frank”—and projects a copy of the course syllabus on the lecture screen.

Professor Frank is in the middle of explaining our weekly online assignments when he’s interrupted by a crack of lightning. He takes a drink of water and remains silent for a moment. Thunder seems to shake the roof, and we can see more lightning through the small window on the left wall. A young woman behind me exclaims, “The storm is close, alright. Told you it was a good thing we went back to roll up my windows.” I hold back a laugh. Maybe school won’t be so different after all.

August 11, 2020 09:17

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