laura ferrario

The Freshman

laura ferrario

The smell of spring is out of synch with the patches of snow, but it hangs in the air, cloying, tantalizing, seductive. I race to my room to retrieve my Psych books, breathing deep like a long-distance runner. I’m tall and muscular but have trouble remembering an assignment for five minutes. Alzheimer’s. That’s what Mia calls it. Thank God brain death is painless. If she knew what was really on my mind, she’d move to another dorm.

Three weeks to go. Freshman year away from home makes you grow up, like a stint in the army. It'‘s sure made a difference. My grades are dropping, meaning probation city or no return depending on the Old Folks at Home. I slam back outside and lop across the mushy grass. It’s no use. I have to tell her.

We usually have lunch together. But I’ll need a different spot for this. A crowded cafeteria is no place to confess.

I sneak through the back door of Collins Hall and reach my assigned seat only five minutes late. Professor Eastman is up front droning about synapses and electrodes. Better it should be about glands and hormones. That might keep me awake.

Looking for a distraction, I reach into my bag and check out the phone. The battery beeps reassuringly.

Forty minutes later I am under a tree on the Midway, juggling books and phone, trying to keep them and my Nikes out of the mud. Her phone number is programmed next to my mother’s..”Mia? Let’s do Mickey Ds and eat carry-out in the park.”

It takes some more talking. She doesn’t want to spend the extra time. That’s one of the things I like about her. She’s real conscientious about studying.

We meet at noon, and MacDonald’s is packed with famished students. I am also hungry along with needing to talk with Mia. But that doesn’t keep me from noticing how terrific she looks. She’s got on the college constant – bluejeans, denim jacket and an angled baseball cap. On her, it’s great. “You smell good,” I say, nuzzling her shoulder. She just smiles.

The line moves fast enough to satisfy even the bitchy old ladies who happened in at the wrong time. Mia orders a big Mac meal and a vanilla shake. When I look at her funny, she reminds me that she skips breakfast to keep thin.

We pile the food atop our books. Someone told me once that if you measure your strides to be uneven, you won’t spill your load. I guess it works because we make it to the Midway without dropping anything. The bench is in the sun but it’s like ice so I slide the three-inch Psych 101 by Goodenough under me. It makes me lots taller than Mia but she doesn’t mind. She spreads out two napkins between us like a table, which is kind of cute, and reminds me of my mother. We eat fast, trying to get it down before it turns cold.

“Dr. Eastman put me to sleep this morning. How was your class?” I begin the conversation casual – the sniff-and-wag approach.

“I had Speech. You can’t sleep in Speech. It’s either talking or listening.”

“Well, Duh.”

“You know what I mean.” Even her scowl looks great.

“I was just kidding.” I take a long swallow of scalding coffee and almost gag. Lunch is half eaten. I have to get to the point. “Got any plans for tonight?”

“Finals are coming up.”

“How about studying in my room?”

“Sure. Why not?”

 “Three weeks to go.” I lift my eyebrows meaningfully.

“I know” She sighs.

“My grades suck.”

“I know.”

“I might not come back.”

“I know.”

“Mia, I love you.”

“I love you too. But you know it’s impossible” Her voice is matter of fact.

“Is it my family?”

“…and mine. And the neighbors. And the world around us…”

“I’m crazed thinking about you night and day. I can’t think about anything else.” My voice is choked. I hate to beg.

She shakes her head. “One word and I’m off to Europe or worse. My parents are strong-willed.”

“But you’re past eighteen….”

She puts her hand over mine before I can take another swallow of coffee. “You’re flunking out, remember?”

I try to put it nicely. She’s a good student with a promising future. Her withering look stops me. I remember Dr. Eastman and try another approach. “It’s not our fault.”

“True. But no one cares about that.” Her eyes turn big and velvet like a deer’s. “I know what it is to suffer. You are just learning,” she says softly.

“Don’t talk down to me,” I say, stretching up tall. “I’ve known for a long time.”

“But with us, it was your first time?”

 I hate rhetorical questions. “You said you believed me.”

“Oh yes. I could tell.”

“Mia, I want to be with you for the rest of my life.”

“There will be others. I promise.” She looks off in the distance like she expects to see someone. It’s her way of telling me she’s ready to go back to class.

I pick up my books from the end of the bench. There’s no trashcan and I can’t figure out what to do with the Styrofoam and empty bag. “You still coming to my room tonight?”

“Sure. Three more weeks…”

We stand and start walking back across the Midway, two college women who have nothing left to say.

I look sidelong at the best thing that has ever happened to me. I bunch up the remains of my lunch and send it spinning into a puddle along the path. What the hell, I can get my grades up if I work. And nudging Mia on the shoulder, I race her back to class.



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