I used to go out and blow on dandelions, and maybe once or twice, I even prayed for things. A fire-breathing chimera that could dance, or a chance to touch Santa Claus's hat. Then after I'd grown up more, I'd wished to have a meal with Walt Whitman and Oscar Wilde. I used to daydream all the time about setting them up and listening in on what I was sure would be deep and profound conversations about love and barbaric yawps and wistful men who looked at the days.
They would have made such a cute couple. A shame that they were both ostracized in their later years. Shame that circumstances had separated what probably would've been a love more epic than the addictive love of Romeo and Juliet. Now, that was a couple with abandonment issues.
My best friend, Valerie, called this compulsion of mine to boil everything down into a theme a case of the Delusional Daydreams.
My apparent insanity needed an outlet, which was why I'd signed up for a class called Creative Writing: Focus on the Arts, right in the center of the country's busiest city.
I liked writing, so there. Almost enough for me to be okay with sitting on a diploma that would leave me perpetually unemployed.
Key word: almost.
But I still had plenty of time to decide what I wanted to do with my life. A year of undergrad left was plenty. Plenty.
"I don't get it, Rad," Val said. "You said yourself that you'll be jobless if you take this class. So why are you doing it?"
"Don't be ridiculous, Val," I replied. "There's always that job at Gina's. You always love the aroma of vanilla frappuccinos that I bring in with me every night." Besides, people always tipped me. Maybe it was something about my blue eyes, which took up about half of my face. I hated my eyes. And my hair always followed me in this giant cloud of annoying.
Anyway, how could I deny my tippers my presence? Also, I'd promised her I'd get her discounted coffee every day.
I bet the vanilla frappuccinos were what shut her up in the end. Val would shoot herself up with the stuff if she could, but she wouldn't, on account of her nonexistent fat. Val had this strange desire to avoid any remotely caloric presence, including but not limited to: chocolate bars, mashed potatoes, and ice cream.
Who could say no to ice cream? Jesus.
At any rate, this was what propelled me to take up the class. Maybe one day I'd become a famous author with a huge following and thousands of screaming fan girls who would pair up my characters in frighteningly random fashion.
And maybe I'd get that dancing chimera, too.
It didn't take a psychologist to know that I was shaped by my crappy childhood, but I liked to think I was one of the few who came out relatively normal. After all, I had incredible self-awareness; I knew I had problems. I just didn't try to solve them.
I stopped in front of the room that had a giant poster of a baby with William Shakespeare's head proclaiming: You Never Know Who'll Be the Next Bard. There were some scrawls around the corners that invited readers to call up random phone numbers and "have some fun," and someone had drawn a penis on the Bard's forehead.
This place was going to be awesome. I could just feel it. And I'd also be getting good exercise, considering the three flights of stairs I'd just climbed to get here.
"Welcome to Creative Writing: Focus on the Arts," someone boomed as I opened the door and walked in. I surveyed the room; it was dingy and the light fixtures seemed…unfixed. Also, there were no windows, and I began feeling a mild sense of panic settle in before bringing my eyes away from the walls. As long as I didn't look at them, it wouldn't settle in.
Instead, my gaze followed the sound of the foghorn voice. The desks were scattered haphazardly, and many of them seemed to have been chewed through by rats or bored college students. The source of my warm welcome was sitting next to the blackboard, wearing a ten-gallon hat and sporting a dashing mustache. He looked big, but maybe it was because the blackboard was so small. A barbed wire tattoo wound around his neck, and I suspected that he had a motorcycle.
"What are you staring for, sweetheart?" he asked in a husky growl. "Take a seat. Go on, there are plenty of 'em." He waved a meaty hand towards my choices before dipping his head and seeming to drift off into a peaceful sleep.
There were a couple people scattered across the room. A radiantly beautiful blonde girl was sitting near the front with her hands folded over each other, her French-manicured nails catching the dull light. When she saw me looking, she snapped her gum threateningly. I instantly backed off. Apparently, she'd scared off everyone else too, since she was the only one sitting in the center of the room.
An Asian girl with pigtails sat in the far corner, wearing thick-rimmed glasses. Her pigtails were tied with neon rubber bands, and she tugged on them as she scratched something into the desk. I decided to sit next to her, since she looked the most harmless. My other choices were a kid who looked like the runt but who I assumed was in high school since the class catered to all ages (pursuing the belief that all babies could be potential mini-Shakespeares, I supposed), and a straggly haired guy who looked like he'd crawled out of the crowds of homeless around the school campus. They all looked thrilled.
By thrilled, I mean ready to commit seppuku.
"Is that everyone?" Ten-Gallon had woken up from his nap, apparently, and he was looking around expectantly. He seemed pleased with the turnout.
He got up to shut the door, and I squeezed my eyes shut, waiting for the damning sound of the door locking into place. But it never came. Instead, I heard new footsteps on the ground and someone saying in a deep voice, "Looking good, Ethan."
"As are you," Ethan said, sounding delighted. I opened my eyes and stared in shock. Ten-Gallon's name was Ethan? He did not look like an Ethan. He looked more like a Rage or Killer, even as he smiled at whoever was standing across the doorway.
On second thought, that was what you named bulldogs, but I bet if I squinted a bit he would start looking like one.
"What are you all looking at?" he snapped. "This is writing class, not socializing." I decided that it probably wouldn't make a good impression on the first day to point out that he was the only one socializing. All of us were too afraid of each other to do such a thing. I automatically hated the guy he was talking to for ruining the first couple minutes of my experience in the class, though I couldn't hate his face since I couldn't see it yet.
Ethan sighed. "Imbeciles. Start writing something."
That was all the direction I needed. I drew out my tattered composition notebook and uncapped a pen.
The high school runt raised a hand and said in a pre-pubescent voice, "About what?"
"Hell if I know," Ethan retorted. "It's your brain. Use it."
"But you're supposed to give us a prompt," Pre-Pubescent whined.
Ethan paused and looked at him like he couldn't believe the kid had the gumption to speak up to him like that. "You can start by talking about the untimely demise that high school students are hurtling themselves towards because of too many questions." Then he turned back and began conversing normally with his visitor again.
The kid stared at him open-mouthed before putting his pencil tip to his paper and hesitating, like he wasn't sure whether to take Ethan seriously or not.
I tuned out everything, forcing myself into writer mode. I wasn't in a hermetic classroom that was all tight corners and closed spaces. No, I was sitting in a grassy meadow with fluffy clouds swathing the sky and butterflies fluttering on the breeze, the melody of the scratchy of pens and pencil points against paper a pleasant buzz that accompanied that of the bees.
Squeak. Squeak. Squeaaaaaaaaaak.
Pigtail girl had the squeakiest lead known to man. I hated squeaky lead. I'd personally gone to this dumpy store in the inner city that sold lead of pure silicone. No squeaking, no nothing, and it was only three dollars a pop, too. A bargain. Unzipping my pencil bag, I shook out two pieces of it into my hand.
"Hey," I whispered across my desk. Pigtail girl was busily scribbling against the paper, and I winced as the magnified squealing of her lead against the paper. "Hey!" I said louder. The beautiful blonde girl sitting in the center whipped her head around and shot me a death glare before flipping her hair as she returned to her work. I wriggled in embarrassment.
At least Pigtails had given me her attention. "Yeah?" she asked. I noticed that her eyes, instead of being a classic brown, were a piercing, arctic blue.
I held the two pieces of lead out to her. "Use these," I said.
She took them with a puzzled look on her face.
"Just do it," I advised her, fully aware that I sounded like I was promoting drug use. The straggly haired guy was giving me his full attention right now, but I tried to ignore him.
"Oookay," she said, opening her pencil cap and putting the lead in.
"Wait," I said quickly. She looked up at me again, looking perturbed. "Can you take out the lead you're using now?" I asked.
"Uh…" She shrugged. "Sure." She slipped out the lead and then held it out to me. "You want it?"
I flinched away from it like it was an STD. "No, that's alright."
"Sure." She turned away from me and shook out the pencil. "Thanks," she said, although she didn't seem sure what she was thanking me for.
"No," I said. "Thank you."
She gave me a mildly weirded out look and scooted her desk a little farther from mine.
A loud laugh came from the doorway before Ethan swiveled his head around to glare at all of us. "I hope you aren't talking. You should be working."
I exhaled slowly, returning to my poem again. I didn't feel much like writing a short story, and last night I'd watched a program about medieval executions, so I wasn't feeling up to happy endings, which were about all I could write for stories. I liked my poetry much more; it didn't feel as obnoxiously cheesy and bile-inducing as my stories. The squeaking from Pigtails had abated, and I sighed happily as I got lost in the images of blood and guillotines.
"I hope you're saying suicide is bad, but it seems like you're only poeticizing it."
My head shot up, hands automatically moving to cover the piece. It was too late; they were words, and it took time to read words and understand what they meant. This guy had obviously been hovering over my shoulder for a while now.
A second glance, and I wondered if maybe it wasn't such a bad thing. Tall, broad-shouldered, and with amused grayish eyes, he stared back at me. This was probably the guy that Ethan had been talking to, and I was annoyed that I couldn't hate his face. Hating it would be akin to taking a sledgehammer to Michelangelo's David's head.
"Something on my face?"
"I don't like suicide," I retorted wittily, looking for Ethan to get me out of this confrontation, hopefully by yelling something. But I might as well have hoped for help from a three-legged cockroach, since Ethan had returned to his sort-of sleep, his head bobbing up and down to a melody that only he could hear.
The guy in front of me raised his eyebrows, and I liked what that did to his face. Made it crease in the right places, pull tightly over sharp edges. "Girls like you shouldn't."
I tried not to think too hard about what that meant and instead focused on acting normally—must engage in flirty banter. Then I got distracted by his shirt, with the words . i. do. not. know-howtouse(a typewriter) under a portrait of E.E. Cummings.
"Clever," I said dryly. "You wouldn't be one of the geniuses who drew the phallic object on Shakespeare's forehead, would you?"
"Busted." He grinned, shaking his head. "No, I have a healthy respect for the men brilliant enough to get credited with poetry they didn't write."
"You don't think Shakespeare wrote poetry?"
"Don't enough people?"
"But the majority think—"
"The majority is usually wrong, isn't it?"
"You're one of those," I conceded.
"One of what?" He grinned charmingly at me. "Unique? Special?"
"Do you hold rallies against mainstream and pop culture?"
"Technically, pop culture is a subcategory within mainstream."
"Oh, shut up. I hope they decide that your shirt is a crime against literature and make you wear something ratty and gross from the Lost and Found." I decided not to mention that I wouldn't mind if he was forced to walk around shirtless if such a clothing confiscation occurred.
He wrinkled his nose, tucking his hands into the pockets of his faded jeans and bending his head in acknowledgment, a strand of black hair falling into his eyes. "Hadn't thought of that. Are you a newbie? I've seen Jasmine, Chelsea, and Bryan here before. I would remember you." The blonde girl looked up when the name Chelsea was mentioned and waved coquettishly at him before shooting me a look dirty enough to stain my laundry.
"Yeah, we've known each other for a couple years. Ethan was our high school literature teacher."
"So do you know him, too?" I asked, nodding subtly towards the kid sitting in the corner, who was chewing on his pencil eraser and gazing anxiously at his blank sheet of paper.
"Nope. Neither does Ethan, and he's already labeled him as the classroom pariah." He said this encouragingly, as if I should be glad that I wouldn't be receiving this title.
"There's always one of those," I muttered. "Doesn't mean it's a good thing."
"Hey, hey," he said, holding up his hands. "I do my best to make everyone feel welcome. I'm talking to you, aren't I?"
I rolled my eyes.
"At least I'm not writing death poetry," he said, his mouth pulling up at a corner. "Do I see hints of Oscar Wilde?" He cleared his throat dramatically. "'For blood and wine are red/And blood and wine were on his hands/When they found him with the dead,/The poor dead woman whom he loved,/And murdered in her bed.'"
I found myself smiling along, engaged by his charisma, but I shook myself out of it. Time for me to start backing off. But I couldn't bring myself to do that before tossing in another comment. He knew Oscar Wilde, and therefore by the rules of canon literature he did not deserve just any typical rejection. "A person who can recite morbid stanzas is a person after my own heart. You're not so different."
"Maybe not. I hope you're not going to emulate the man by taking a lady partner, getting put in jail, then wandering and dying alone afterwards."
"A lady partner?"
He shrugged. "Whatever you prefer."
"I like boys, myself," I said, before kicking myself for possibly giving him the wrong impression. "But the wandering and dying alone part might not be such an exaggeration."
"Then we should try to keep you with company and stationary at all times." He grinned at me, a full-blown smile that almost blinded me. "I can take the Saturday shift. I'll even buy you coffee to keep you occupied."
My nerves were jumping all over the place, and it was hard for me to not scream out of conflict and send him running for the hills. Cease and desist, Ariadne. Cease and desist. There would be no dates for me, not now. "Sorry, all shifts are reserved by Nora Roberts and all seasons of How I Met Your Mother," I said, trying to send him some sort of smile that would say, it's not you, it's totally me, but I probably looked more like a chipmunk that had overdosed on nuts.
He frowned, but then shrugged. "If I knew better, that'd sound like rejection. But fear not, for I always come out as the winner. Some people just take more time." He winked and turned around to return to his desk at Chelsea's side, giving me a glimpse of The Complete Collection of Poems by Edgar Allan Poe sticking out of his back pocket like a sign with big red words saying, "I am attractive and intelligent. Do me now."
The universe did not play fair.