by Than Pence
I just started college, and so did Catherine Newton.
|I was so excited about class, but also nervous. I’m naturally nervous about lots of things. But this was my first time taking a class in college.
The professor walked in. He looked so cool. His hair was spiked and he wore a tight turtleneck with camouflaged shorts. I thought he might’ve been another student, but he was carrying a leather briefcase and he walked to the desk at the front of the class.
The classroom was deathly silent. I guess everyone else was afraid to talk: a bunch of freshman on our first day. I looked around and noticed, for the first time, that the classroom was half-empty. Not too many people were keen on taking Astronomy 101.
Simon didn’t say here, but held his hand up. I was confused because, in high school, we responded by saying “Here”. I then began to believe that, in college, the students didn’t speak as much and, instead, listened.
Professor Bean continued down the roster. When he got to my name, I felt my face heat up as I raised my hand. As I did, I heard someone’s shoes squeaking out in the hall. The professor turned his head towards the doorway just as a portly, long-haired woman walked in, smiling. “Hello,” she said while adjusting her glasses. “Sorry I’m late. Parking was brutal.”
The professor’s expression didn’t change. “Catherine Newton?”
The woman smiled and did a mock-curtsy. “Present. And just in time, it looks like.” She looked into the half-empty classroom and found my still-raised hand. “Ooh, guess I’ll sit behind him. If you want us to be alphabetical, that is.”
Professor Bean just nodded and continued down the roster. Catherine came and squeezed by to sit in the vacant desk behind me. She then leaned forward and whispered into the nape of my neck. “What’d I miss?”
I didn’t know what to say. “Uh, nothing. He started calling role.” I felt like I was talking too loud, like my voice was echoing in the stark classroom. It made me feel uncomfortable.
After Professor Bean finished, he came around his desk and sat on it, directly in front of me. He began talking about what we’d be learning in Astronomy 101 and how it was basically the foundation for a solid future in the astrophysics department.
With a whoosh of air in my ear, I heard Catherine’s arm shoot into the air. The professor called on her. “Um, will we be learning about supernovas and light-speed and stuff?”
I felt like it was a stupid question and that the professor might make fun of her for asking. But he didn’t. “Yes, we’ll be learning about both of those, but closer to the end of the year. This course introduces you to most of the history that’s behind our current astronomical principles.”
I turned my head a little to look behind me and saw that Catherine was writing that down. I wondered if I should be writing it down too. But Professor Bean stood up and reached into his briefcase and pulled out a stack of papers that turned out to be our syllabus and semester goal. He gave me two and I passed one back to Catherine. “Thanks, guy.” I felt her gratitude wasn’t necessary, but I didn’t say anything.
Professor Bean talked a few minutes more and decided to let us go early since it was our first day. Catherine softly whooped and began packing up her stuff. A minute later, the professor excused us and we left. In the hallway, Catherine shuffled up to me. “So, are you excited about the class, guy?”
I looked at her for a moment. “My name’s Taylor.”
“Oh, like the werewolf! I love those books, and movies. But nothing will ever compare to Buffy, in my eyes.” She then continued going on about different vampire and werewolf myths and I was beginning to think she was insane. We arrived at my next class and I told her I had to go. “Oh, okay. See you Wednesday, Jacob.”
“My name’s Taylor.”
She giggled and nodded. “I know.”
Wednesday came and Catherine was on time. “Hey, Jacob,” she said as she squeezed past me. When she sat down, she whispered towards me. “Are you excited about our first real lesson?”
As she spoke, I could smell Cheese Puffs on her breath as they curled around my neck and tackled my nose. “Uh, yeah.”
“You remind me of my son, I think.”
That surprised me, so I turned to look at her. “What? Your son?”
“Yeah. He kinda looks like you. Except he’s older. You’re just eighteen, aren’t you?” I nodded. “He’s in his early twenties. I had him right out of high school. That’s why I didn’t start college.” She shrugged. “But school is school. It doesn’t matter your age. I want to learn about the stars and planets and stuff. I want work with a giant telescope and, just, I don’t know. Discover a new world, or help conceive of a way to go to one.”
I looked at Catherine with new eyes then. This woman who was most likely forty, if not older, still had big dreams that she wasn’t giving up on. She was a little quirky, true, but she was someone that I didn’t mind talking to, and learning with. And learning from.
Professor Bean came in and started calling role. Everyone raised their hands in the half-full classroom.
“Here,” I called out with a smile on my warming face.
“Here,” she said loudly, with just the hint of a giggle in her voice.
Word Count: 939