A/N: Erm- hello, there. Been a while. I rewrote this story. I'm posting it now. I hope you enjoy it!
She was my Bio 212 TA, but that's not where I noticed her. She was also in my Psych class, as well. For years she walked the same hallways, lived in the same dorms, floated around campus as background scenery in my life. But it took me until halfway through my senior year to figure out how much she meant to me.
It's crazy once you begin looking backwards at yourself, how oblivious you can be to other people. How you can go so long living side-by-side with someone, complaining about the same impossible exams and evil professors, asking her to switch lab partners with you because she got paired with your best friend, standing behind her in line in the Dining Commons, and the whole time never realizing that she's the love of your life.
That's the thing about life though, and especially about school, for better or worse you've got no choice about the people that become your classmates and roommates and enemies and friends. You have no control over the people that you're thrown together with, but slowly, over time, you get to know them and they sort of change you.
But only if you let them.
It scares me and amazes me that I could have gone my entire life and never known— could have graduated and walked out of a little liberal arts school and never thought twice about her. I could have been studying that day instead like I ought to have done and passed the mid-term no problem, could have turned her down when she asked me to do something crazy for her, could have laughed at her instead, could have never known that I loved her and it never would have mattered to me.
And it makes me look at people differently once I think about that. The man working at the deli could have been my best friend, the girl sitting across from me in the subway could have been my first kiss. How do we go our whole lives and never take advantage of what's right in front of us?
I'm guilty of that, in the highest offense.
Don't get me wrong, I knew who she was of course. A school this small, at the very least you learn the names, if not the people behind them.
Her name, as it happened, was Cadence Mitchell. She was the only redhead in our year, always made A's, had student-directed the last three plays, and those were the only things I knew about her. I had always prided myself on not being judgmental (although with the insight of hindsight, that was only because I was too self-absorbed with my own life to care much about anyone else) but if I were to delve right into it, I wouldn't have looked twice at her on my own.
Our paths never crossed outside of the classroom because of the starkly different social scenes we existed in. That, however, was about to change and thank God for it or else I might never have given Cadence a chance.
And fate is a tricky thing, because it just as easily might have been coincidence. Cadence might have been some other girl that I wasn't meant to love, and I could have graduated and moved on and it would feel all the same to me.
But that's not what happened, of course, because then I wouldn't have a story to show for it.
It's starts on a Saturday in October…
It's Saturday afternoon, and a late October storm has just dropped an early first snow on us. I'm watching it blanket the ground from the inside of a library window, wedged between my friends Rawdy and Aiden and a Biology textbook I didn't even know I had before Aiden dug it out from beneath my bed.
Aiden's been drilling me all day—he's the smart one after all—so my head is swirling with words like 'homeostasis' and double-helix diagrams. In all honesty I don't know what the fuck any of it means, just that at this rate I'm going to really bomb this test Monday, and that I really ought to start actually paying attention in class instead of staring at Juliet Banks' rack the whole time.
I swing my head over to look at Rawdy, and honestly thank God for Rawdy. Having him around at times like this makes me feel a whole lot better about myself because no matter how screwed I am, he is always infinitely worse off. Right now he's got his fingers jammed in his ears and he's rocking back and forth in the hard wooden chair, mumbling aloud the words Aiden has written on index cards in between a slew of curses.
"Dude are you even listening?" Aiden hisses at me, poking me hard with his mechanical pencil.
I snap back to attention and try to focus on what he had been saying. He pointed to a scribbled drawing he had made in my spiral notebook, a picture of an animal cell with the label Mus musculus underneath it.
"Aiden, what the hell is Mus musculus?"
He made an irritated sound, like that was the dumbest thing I've ever said. "It's just a mouse. Mice are model organisms of morphogenesis—that's not that important, but Seb this chapter is on developmental bio. You really need to remember that, I know Professor Ingram will test on this stuff."
But I'm already zoning him out. I've been in the library going over this stuff all day, and by the looks of it so has half the school. Scattered all through the seven-floor library, students are huddled together or crammed into corners, that sort of zombie-like look on their faces. Midterms have seemed to hit at a strange time this year—I'm not claiming that I would have ever been prepared for them, but with winter seeming to have descended about a month early, there's this undeniable feeling of restlessness in the air. Even though we're technically only at the half-way point of the semester, it just feels odd.
I look out the window in search of a distraction, anything but biology, and I can't help but notice what a gorgeous day it is. The first big storm of winter had blown through lsat night— a real hell of a storm too, had kept me up all night because storms still fill me with that anxious excitement, like a little kid. Anyway, it feels criminal to be stuck inside on such a glorious afternoon. Everyone ought to be out enjoying the first snow of the season.
"Seb, pay attention! Like I was saying, when you've got cells multiplying exponentially—"
I look back at Aidan for a moment, but instead of listening I drop my pencil and stand up, the abrupt motion jerking the table.
"I'm going outside." I announce, a stubborn smile slipping onto my face.
"You're joking, right?" Aidan deadpans.
I don't say anything, just begin to gather my things.
"Dude, but its freezing. How are you going to study out there?" Rawdy asks stupidly, wiping his curly golden hair out of his eyes.
"I'm not," I say looking down at my bag as I sweep my pens and papers into it. "I think I'm going to make a snowman. Wanna come?"
Aidan slams his palm on the desk in exasperation. "Seb, you need to study! You're trying to learn 2 months' worth of information in two days. You need to be really buckling down, not playing in the snow with the freshmen!"
I just toss my messenger bag over my shoulder and shrug my jacket on. "All of that probably being true, I'm still going outside."
Aidan's dark eyes flash dangerously. "Don't make me call in the reinforcements."
I raise my eyebrows, inwardly grinning at the threat. I love it when Aidan pushes back because it's too much fun to see him get all worked up. "And who's that?"
Oh, he's good. Rawdy and I share a look that says we both agree, that one was completely below the belt.
Linnea Henderson, Rawdy's twin sister, is a drill sergeant trapped inside the body of a blonde-haired, green-eyed bombshell. I'm telling you the girl is a complete force of nature. When Linnea snaps her fingers, lightning strikes people dead. I think that she must have been a hypnotist in a past life or something, because one look into those big, green eyes and she's got me completely wrapped around her finger doing anything she wants.
Linnea usually tag-teams it with Aidan to keep Rawdy and I in check, make sure we're passing our classes, not getting too trashed on weekends, that sort of stuff. When it comes to things like mid-terms, they don't bother much with studying themselves (of course they'll pass in each class, that's out of the question. By this time, they've both calculated that they've racked up enough extra credit that even if they tanked they would still eek out straight A's, that's just the sort of people they are) so instead they take to a divide-and-conquer strategy with Rawdy and I, and our other friend Lucy.
"Not Linnea," Rawdy groans, giving Aiden a dirty look. "She's still angry with me about last weekend. Seb, she would murder me if she saw how behind I was."
Linnea and Rawdy are twins like I said, but I don't know how they managed to come from the same gene pool, much less share the same womb for nine entire months. The only thing they have in common are looks, same blonde hair and green eyes and similar good-looking all-American features.
"And she'll be doubly pissed when she sees Seb frolicking outside." Aidan says with a frown.
By this time, the batty librarian Ms. Pickett is hovering behind us sending us disapproving glares. She absolutely loathes this time of year when half the school stampedes and disrupts her library, not putting books back in their proper Dewey-Decimal-System place, asking to use the photo-copier and then conveniently "forgetting" that it costs twenty cents per page, scooting tables and desks around for study groups, and, when it gets down to it, making altogether too much noise, which is Ms. Pickett's mortal enemy in life.
Realizing I only have a few moments before she swoops in and reprimands us (or kicks us out, which would be much worse because then Aidan will be cross with me, he hates being on Ms. Pickett's bad side, the little Teachers Pet that he is), I turn my puppy dog eyes on full blast in Aidan's direction.
"Come on, man. Just give me an hour. We've been at it all day. My head is going to explode if I stay in here any longer."
Aiden rolls his eyes, clearly not impressed with my excuses. "Just don't look at me for help in a few weeks when you've bombed the mid-term and have to pull a magic trick out of your ass to pass the class."
I grin and give him a smack on the shoulder. "Noted." Turning to Rawdy I ask, "How about it Rawds? You in?"
Rawdy gives me a pleading look, realizing that with me gone, the full force of Aiden will be upon him.
"Rawdy, you aren't going anywhere," Aiden says in a menacing tone. "Linnea is going to shishkabob you when she sees how behind you are."
Rawdy starts to say something in protest, but I don't hear it, I'm already walking out of the joint, weaving my way through the maze of students.
The first snow of the season, I think that might be my favorite time of the year here. The best thing to do, once you've romped around enough and thrown snowballs at all the pretty girls and underclassmen, is to walk down a ways away from the school. My friends and I always do that, but you got to get about a half-mile away or so to really get the full effect. And then when you turn around and the main campus looks like a castle with the gothic architecture and there's something about the snow too, especially it being the first of the season, so it's all novel and fresh still and just perfect. There's so many things that I'm not going to miss about this place, the Dead Meat Weekends, the repetitive food, the hard classes, but I'm probably going to miss the way it looks after the first snow of the season.
After a satisfactory loop around the grounds, I sprawl out on the steps outside the church and look down at the ponds. Some boys have gotten together a small pick-up game of hockey and are talking smack lightly back and forth as the puck knocks around.
"Seb?" A familiar voice behind me calls and my face lights up in a grin. "Fancy meeting you here."
Lucy Dia plops down next to me, her nose bright red from the cold air. Her head is bundled in large beanie and an oversized scarf is wrapped several times around her neck, but I know her well enough to know that she's freezing in normal temperatures, so must be half-dead right now.
"Lucy goose," I say, wrapping my arm around her tiny shoulder and pulling her into my side. "How ever did you escape the iron-grips of our lovely Linnea?"
Lucy laughs, brushing a few strands of brown hair away from her face. "Wasn't easy. There will probably be hell to pay."
Lucy and I share a look, her copper eyes bright and laughing. When she's in a good mood like this, it's infectious and unstoppable. "I just couldn't bear to be inside any longer," she says, flinging her hands in the air. "I mean, look at this place! Every year I forget that it can look like this." and I nod.
"Same. I'm so focused on leaving school, I forget how nice it can be sometimes."
Lucy's head drops to my shoulder. "Buck up," she tells me as a group of boys on the pond cheer for a goal they've just scored. "If you don't study, you'll fail Bio for sure, and never have to leave."
"So optimistic." I roll my eyes. "Any why is everyone so sure that I'm going to fail, anyway?" I gripe.
Lucy gives me her patented oh-please look, the one she's perfected from the years of being our friend. "I for one," she carries on, "cannot wait to bust out of this place."
"Oh?" I ask with mock-surprise, as if I haven't heard this same sentiment expressed ad naseum for three and a half years. "You don't say?"
"Seb, it's so close, I can practically taste it," she says, her big, copper eyes shining with excitement. "Can you just imagine? The five of us all in New York, finally free – no more homework, no more waking up for early classes we loathe, no more Ryan Hayes, for instance," She says with a playful nudge on my shoulder.
I laugh and rumple the wool beanie Lucy's wearing on her head. "Goose, I hate to poke holes in your daydream, but who's even to say we'll all end up in New York? And finally free? Probably the opposite. You'll be waking even earlier to make it to a shift at a job you took to make rent."
Lucy sniffs and looks away, still smiling, not to be dampened in the mood she's in right now. "You're being argumentative, Seb. Of course we'll all be in New York. Where else would anyone be? We'll all live together in one giant flat and never get old," she says, and I laugh.
"As for making rent," she continues, getting into full gear now, "it's so tedious of you, you know, to even bring up money, when it's perfectly obvious that I am going to be in a world-famous band, touring all over the globe, and of course I'll bring everyone along with me. Aiden won't need any assistance—he'll be doctor, you know—and Linnea will likely be running for president any day now, so I don't need to worry about her. But you and Rawdy, my dear Seb, don't you fret. I won't forget about you when I've made my big break."
I laugh and start to stand, ready to head back to find dinner. "So kind of you Lucy. Now I know I don't need to worry about passing Bio or graduating college, because I will always have you to take care of me. Might we get that part in writing?"
"With any luck, I'll even be able to add you as an executor of my estate, so once I start spiraling downward due to an excess of fame and drugs, you'll be able to take charge of everything and get it straightened out."
I pull Lucy to her feet with a small tug on her arms. "Oh Lucy, I'll be sure to keep everything in order and send you to the very best of rehabs."
She loops her arm through mine as we start walking slowly back towards campus. "Thank you, Seb, darling. You can always count on darling Seb, that's what I've always said."
Once we get a few hundred yards away, I pause to look over my shoulder where we sat. The hockey players are still at it, unaware that their spectators have left.
Lucy leans her head in and cranes her neck to follow my gaze. I can feel her warm breath on my shoulder.
"You know, nothing will change," she says softly. "Not the important things, anyway."
Whether she's right or wrong, I don't know which to believe.
I do end up absolutely bombing that Bio 212 mid-term. I knew it was hopeless even as I was taking it, and mostly I say, besides my lack of preparation, the real culprit is Juliet fucking Banks, who sits two rows ahead of me, and has positively made it her mission to destroy me. She dropped into the seat next to mine on her way in and breathes into my ear, "Let's meet after class." I didn't even have time to retort before she had risen and slunk off to her own seat, stupid smirk marring her perfect face. She then proceeded to spend the next hour shooting not-so-subtle looks over her shoulder at me during the exam.
Every few months or so Juliet Banks gets it into her head to stir up something like this with me. She can ignore me perfectly fine in the interim, carrying on with her fuckhead brother and getting her kicks elsewhere, but every few months like clockwork she sets her eyes back on me.
But, exam considering, her timing is terrible.
So anyway, the point is next class here I am sitting like a fucker praying to the gods that Professor Ingram hadn't graded the exams yet so I still have a few days of reprieve before Linnea kicks my ass or worse until Aiden gives me that great, dad-like, I'm-so-disappointed-in-you sigh and gives me the cold shoulder for a few days.
Juliet Banks, if you were wondering, did manage to wrangle me into a tête-à-tête Monday after the exam, and, as always, it has left me in a sour mood, so much so that I snapped at Lucy last night when she was practicing a new song on her guitar and kept messing up at the same part. I apologized this morning for being a crank, and she had cheerfully accepted, but I just hate hurting her feelings, and I especially hate letting Juliet Banks get the best of me even though it's been years of the same nonsense.
Anyway, so here I am praying we don't get our exams returned just yet, and thinking I've maybe just about made it into the clear given that there are only a few minutes left of class. But Professor Ingram, as if sensing my desperation, turns to the class with a wide smile.
"Last thing then," she says, and I just know, "you don't think I've forgotten your exams, I hope. You'll be glad to hear that they've been graded quickly, thanks to the help of our lovely TA, Cadence," she gestures to the side of the room, where Cadence Mitchell, do-gooder of the century, blushes and demures mildly.
"You've done mostly well," Professor Ingram continues to the class, as she begins to pass out the graded blue books down the front row of students.
"Most of the class earned A's and B's, which you'll be pleased to hear." She continues walking up the class, passing stacks of exams back.
"Others of you," she says as she reaches my row, "did not fare so well." She gives me a pointed look as she passes me my exam, and internally I groan. I just know.
"If you review what you got wrong, we'll have a review session next class…" I hear Professor Ingram say as she carries on, but I've started to tune her out.
I flip open my test booklet, and see written on the first page in the professors scrawl 'See me after class' and I groan, this time out loud. The girl to me left, Camry Wilborn, gives me a sympathetic look. "That bad, eh? I didn't do so hot either."
I sigh in response, closing my test booklet with a twinge of defeat. As the students begin to rise and filter out of the classroom, I take my time packing up my things. I'm leaning down to place things in my book bag when Juliet Banks walks up the row, ruffling my hair as she passes, and I know it's just the sour mood I'm in, and now the failed exam on top of it, but I really do suspect I hate her.
I sit in my seat until the last students file out, then with a sigh make my way to the front of the room where Professor Ingram is leaning against the whiteboard chatting casually with the TA, Cadence, who has hopped up and is sitting on a front desk.
"Ah, Mr. Darling," Professor Ingram says, with a cheeky, soft smile. "Not the result you had hoped for?" She gestures to the blue book I am still holding.
I smile sheepishly, feeling grim. "Not exactly."
Professor Ingram reaches for her laptop and gestures for me to come forward. "Let's take a look at the gradebook, okay?" She points to a line in an excel document that has my name written in the first cell. "Here are all the points you've earned for the homework," she says, "and here are the points for the lab portion of the class. You're doing quite well there," she says, and Cadence, who oversees the lab, chimes in "Yes, you do so well on lab reports." I give her a frosty smile in return, mostly because I am still irrationally bitter that she managed to have graded our exams so quickly.
"But look here Seb, at the exam portion of the class," Professor Ingram says, drawing my attention to a line that adds up to 48%. "Because of the way the class is weighted, you'll need to make B's or better on the next exam and the final to pass. Make sense?"
I sigh heavily, cursing myself for not dropping Bio altogether before the add-drop deadline had passed a few weeks ago. "Okay, I got it. It will be tricky, you think? But possible?"
Professor leans back against the whiteboard, closing her laptop and hugging it to her chest. "You know I don't want to fail you, Seb."
I shift uncomfortably, knowing the complete, unspoken part of that sentence is 'You know I don't want to fail you, Seb, because your father is Chairman of the Board of Trustees'. Over the years I have never quite grown accustomed to the special treatment Professors and other faculty have paid me, and often dread it.
"I really don't want to fail either, Professor," I say solemnly, playing the part of dutiful student. "What do you think I should do?"
Professor Ingram smiles. She is clearly pleased by my open malleability, which I've acquired through years of pretending to care about what adults think. "I was hoping you'd accept some additional tutoring, perhaps. Cadence here has agreed to help you out, if you're interested. She's a major, and is quite qualified."
"I've tutored a few other students," Cadence says, tucking a strand of auburn hair behind her ears. "I'm happy to help."
I want to roll my eyes at her earnest expression, even though I know full well I am just in a bratty mood. Cadence Mitchell is just the ultimate do-gooder of the century, I wasn't kidding, and just a touch to genuine about it to be obnoxious but still it aggravates me.
"I really suspect that with a bit of extra guidance, we'll see a great improvement come next exam time," Professor Ingram says, and I nod along. "And you'll of course need to be more stringent in doing your homework. I see you've missed several assignments."
I run a hand through my hair. "Maybe one or two," I say with a smile.
"So how about it, then?" Professor Ingram says, arms outstretched and palms raised, and I know she is really just a good professor trying her best to do her job, even though I'm not convinced if I wasn't the son of a Gregory Darling she'd be quite this kind about it all. But anyway, because I am, I know she won't really fail me even if I deserve it, so long as I go through the motions and appear to be doing my best.
"Yeah, I'd really appreciate the help," I say, as it is the only thing I really can. "Thank you. I'm sorry about the mid-term, I really mucked it up I guess." I give a short laugh, but Professor Ingram smiles and waves her hands dismissively.
"Don't think of it. Fresh start." She says.
As I walk out of the classroom, thoroughly in a mood now, if I wasn't before, Cadence follows behind, walking quickly to catch up.
"Maybe we can start later this week?" Cadence offers, pulling her backpack up onto her shoulders and flicking her auburn hair out from beneath it. "What day is best for you?"
"Um," I start, thinking in my head never. "Can I get back to you?"
Cadence nods slowly, and reaches for her cell phone. "Here, why don't you put your number in. Let's shoot for tomorrow night, if that's good. I have rehearsals until 9, but could meet straight after, if that's not too late."
I don't respond, just focus on inputting my name and number into her tattered phone. The back is littered with small cat stickers, and as I pass the phone back to here, I raise an eyebrow and she blushes, stuffing it back into her pocket.
"Look Seb, I know this isn't probably the most exciting thing on your to-do list, but let's give it a go, yeah?"
I look to the side to hide the look on my face. See this is what I'm saying about Cadence Mitchell. She is the kid in school who invites everyone to her birthday party, even the bullies, so no one feels left out, and she thinks she's being nice, but really she's just doing everyone an inconvenience because now everyone feel obligated to invite her when it's their birthday.
"Yeah, I just—"
She cuts me off suddenly with a small touch on my arm. "Great, so tomorrow night then? At 9?"
I am caught off guard, both by the sudden forcefulness of her tone, and the hand that she hasn't removed from my arm.
"I'll see you then," she says, turning around. "Okay?"
"Okay," I respond, as it's all I suppose I can.
Her face lights up in a smile, and then she turns away. I stand for just a moment, puzzling over what had just happened.
And anyway, that's how it all came to get started.
thank you for reading