"Great Expectations" by contributor
Camilla did not expect the first day to smell; the stench of sweat rolled over her as she entered the classroom. A boy with blue eyes caught her glance first—he stopped mid-sentence, her presence interrupting the story he was relaying to the group of boys circled around him. Camilla hurriedly looked away, but had seen enough to know that she wasn’t interested.
She quickly sat down, close to the door, so she could leave as fast as she had arrived. Her position in the back allowed her to observe the entire room while nobody saw her. A survey showed two other girls out of 16 total people, possibly explaining the excessive human odor. In the back, but on the other side, was a skinny girl with thick glasses and a pink hijab; she was putting herself through college; the professor would mispronounce her name.
Two boys in the front row—one with a red gradient of acne spreading over his pale face and the other with a perfectly shaped afro—were chatting intently across the aisle:
“Yeah dude, I’m gonna head out to LA, work in music production, you know?”
“Yeah man, exactly, soon as I finish this college shit ‘n all.”
Camilla sighed. Why are people on the East Coast so obsessed with California? It’s just like this but warmer.
Diagonal from Camilla was the group of boys laughing with each other (they weren’t really boys, but they weren’t all men. Community college provided a more diverse cast of characters than she had found at a private liberal arts school). The blue-eyed boy who had earlier locked stares with Camilla was the loudest. To his left sat an older man—in his late 30s or 40s—with a sling on his arm, being goaded by Blue Eyes to relay more war stories; the veteran did not seem so keen.
The most fascinating member of the group was an attractive man dressed in a pinstripe suit and leather wingtips. Despite his ridiculous clothing, he seemed more assured and confident than Blue Eyes. Camilla squinted at his form: his hair was perfectly shaped, his skin shaved close, his shirt perfectly pressed and—a large red Republican elephant was pinned to his lapel, which he would wear to every subsequent class. She no longer looked at him. At least she noticed it sooner rather than later.
More people walk in. A boy treads down her aisle, his head down, and sits in the desk in front of her. Ten minutes later, a much older man walks in and class starts. Of 32 students in her physics class, only five, including Camilla, are female. Why build a time machine when science classes take you back to the 1950s?
With the room now full, she concentrates on the head in front of her: his hair is dark and wavy, like hers, and she judges it to be neither too long nor too short. She likes his skin: olive, most people would call it, but the only olives she had seen were either a nauseating green or a grayish black, of which his skin was neither. No, it reminded her more of caramel—she would stick with that.
Her eyes travelled up to the tip of his ear, where she was surprised but pleased to discover a piercing, a black stud, pointed on either side. He could be anyone, as the rest of him was so neutral; she liked this quirk and thought it would match her nose stud quite nicely.
His back was ambiguous: broader than her own at the shoulders and tapered down slightly, it wasn’t clear whether he was muscular or lifted weights.
While Camilla had been completing her inventory, the professor was still describing how to register for the class—weren’t we supposed to have done that already? She awaited the taking of attendance eagerly. She knew her own name—Zimmerman—would be dead last, so she listened intently for the rest while simultaneously tracking the boy’s hand to see exactly when it would rise and with what name it would correspond.
She couldn’t quite catch the last name—Cortes? Coen? At least she had a first name: Dominic. She had never known anyone by that name before and tripped slowly over the harsh sounds as if pronouncing a foreign word. She debated what she would call him and decided that logically it hinged on his mother: if she called him Dominic, Camilla would call him Nick; otherwise Camilla would struggle to pronounce her lover’s consonant-laden title.
She imagined their relationship evolving throughout the semester: at first she would send him little smiles, progressing into longer stares from her green eyes. Weeks later, she would lean over his shoulder to ask a question, only instead brushing her lips against his neck, making his caramel face bloom into a pink blush. By March she would be comfortable resting her leg next to his desk, and he would not think twice in placing his hand on her knee. The rest of the class would learn to ignore it.
Camilla glanced at the clock: an hour had gone by and the professor was still on page three of a 10-page syllabus, laboriously explaining every detailed assignment and expectation that they were all supposed to have read before the class. What a surprise, homework is due on the day it’s due. Making an executive decision that listening to him would be a waste of time, she dedicated the rest of class trying to create what her neighbor’s face will look like. The mystery was tantalizing—would she really need to wait until the end of a 3-hour class to know?
Fortunately the professor called a 20-minute break halfway through his rambling. Now was her chance. She waited patiently as everyone rose and headed towards the door. Her neighbor slowly turned towards her, his face unveiling bit by bit, until…
His entire face was drooping, as if he was either falling asleep or had forgotten to properly crawl into his skin that morning. His eyes were blank and lifeless. His nose whittled down into an unfortunately melancholic beak. In conclusion, Dominic more closely resembled a basset hound-bird hybrid than any celebrity or model.
Camilla hurried down the hallway and spent the break in a nearby stairwell, frustrated and staring out a window onto the frozen city sidewalks. She cursed reality’s ever-frequent interruptions of her imagination.
Upon returning to class, the professor continued his lecture, this time making sure everyone knows exactly what his bizarre office hours were, although they were printed on the papers he’d given to everyone.
Camilla turned her head as far away from Dominic as her neck would permit and refocused on the Elephant Man. Her eyes rested for a moment on his obnoxiously large lapel pin, but then fixed on his well-balanced, dark face. She would need to exercise more tolerance this semester.