Authors: Miriam Epstein
Sometimes I see my dead sister. I'm not seeing a ghost; I don't believe in supernatural phenomena or anything like that. It's just that once in a while someone will pass by me and I'll be reminded of Nicole because this person walks the way she did, or that person wears her hair in the same French braid that my sister used to favor. Then this person will turn around and the spell will break and I am left questioning my sanity. When this happens, I force myself to shake it off and realize that it couldn't possibly be her. I pray to whomever it is that people pray to, and I'm no longer sure that I believe in some kind of higher power, that this will be the last time it happens because it throws me off my game and I can't afford to let that happen.
So, of course, I see Nicole only moments before I'm walking into my Social Work with Diverse Populations course on day one of my Sophomore semester. This girl is wearing the exact same green Nike shirt with the purple swoosh splashed largely across the back that Nicole loved to wear to the gym. I take a step towards her, her name on the very tip of my tongue, and then she disappears as my vision is tarnished by utter and total blackness. Actually, it's the black t-shirt of the guy I just crashed into and I can practically taste the detergent he uses as my nose and mouth bounce off of the upper part of his ridiculously hard back. It hurts.
Annoyingly Buff Guy turns around and I can feel heat creep up the back of my neck to my ears in a haze of total humiliation, which almost counteracts the pain of walking into a mack truck with my face. His light blue eyes hold a healthy amount of concern in them and I immediately remember who I am and that the last thing I need is for someone to have any kind of concern for my well-being. I shove him out of my way, which isn't very effective because he's built like a linebacker, and step around him while giving him the evil eye.
Whatever words of concern he had prepared for me take a nosedive as I see his mouth drop open with incredulity. He recovers quickly because I hear his voice at my back only a second later.
I don't stay to listen to the rest, opting to find the emptiest section of the massive classroom and settle myself in a seat off to the side and towards the rear. I'm mentally patting myself on the back from having narrowly avoided talking to someone, which I try not to do, when the professor calls the class to order and begins to cover the syllabus. This is boring, as most of day one courses are because I can read the syllabus on my own as it is sitting right in front of me. Dr. Reyes has just moved on to the section in which he describes how our grades will be assessed when I hear a low voice come from behind me.
"That was kind of a bitch move."
I don't need to turn around to know who the speaker is, and tempting as it may be to tell him exactly where he can go, I remain facing forward and pretend I'm still listening to the professor. Then there is a scuffling noise from behind me and the next thing I know, Annoyingly Buff Guy is sitting next to me.
"Are you really going to ignore me?"
I really am. Hopefully my body language conveys this properly.
"I thought college girls were mature."
I will myself not to fall prey to his goading. My temper has become shorter with every moment I spend in Miami; a city full of people that lack the very basic manners one should possess in order to get through a day without being a total asshole. That's why I chose it.
"Come on, you ran into me pretty hard. It must have hurt. I just want to see if you're okay."
Clearly, he's not from around here. Which is evident by the very subtle undertone of Bostonian accent I can pick out of his pleas for my attention. Out of the corner of my eye, I see him inching closer to me and I sigh internally. He isn't going to give up any time soon.
I look down at my notebook and open it. Maybe if I pretend to take notes he will leave me alone. Or at least think I'm a complete nerd for taking notes on office hours. I'm doing such a good job of tuning him out that I don't realize, until it is too late, that Dr. Reyes has just assigned a project and dismissed the class. Fantastic. I have no idea what I missed and I will be forced to ask the professor and risk his dislike because he'll know I wasn't listening.
Before I can do that, though, Annoying and Ripped saves me the trouble because he obviously was paying attention all the while badgering me. I'm not sure what is worse; pissing off my professor or giving my new classmate the satisfaction of knowing he's just won this round when I'm forced to acknowledge him.
"Do you know what topic you'd like to choose?"
I stare at Ripped with what I'm sure is a dumbfounded expression on my face.
"You were ignoring me so hard that you completely missed the research project he assigned that is worth a huge percentage of our final grade. On the back of the syllabus is the list of acceptable topics. We have to choose one and email the professor with our decision by next class."
"We?" I ask.
A smug smile lights his face right up. "Yes, we. Because you and I were the only students sitting on this side of the room, and partners were required to be chosen right away, you and I are working on this together."
I shake my head. "No. Absolutely not. I'll speak to Dr. Reyes. I don't do group work, and if I did, it wouldn't be with you."
And even more maddeningly arrogant now as he points out, "This is a required course to get into the Social Work degree program. Group and partner work is required for everyone. Even you. So, I don't think that will work out for you."
He's right and we both know it. "Fine," I grumble, and I walk quickly out of the classroom and into the hallway.
I'm almost exiting the building when he catches up to me.
"You walk fast."
Because responding with a
"Gee, Captain Obvious,"
type line seems a bit over the top, I let that one go..
"Look, I can tell you don't want to, but I'm going to need you to at least pretend to be a civilized person and tell me your name and give me your contact info. Forty percent of our grade, remember?"
I stop walking and face him. "My name is Paige. I'm not interested in being friends with anyone, not just you, so don't take it personally."
He opens his mouth to respond, but I stop him by snatching his notebook out of his hands. I write my name and number and my email address on the first page and hand it back to him before I walk away.
"My name is Brady," he says to my back.
I shrug my shoulders as if his name is completely unimportant to me, but the truth is, I'm intrigued. For the first time in over a year, I have managed to make a connection with someone. It should scare me, but it doesn't.
South Florida University is located in a thriving suburb of Miami; more specifically the North Miami Beach area. The campus is set way back off of Federal Highway/US-1. There is a nice part of town right smack on top of a bad part of town and the school is a tiny bit closer to the not-walking-alone-at-night variety. Which is why I can't figure out who thought it would be a good idea to build a luxury high-rise complex in front of the school, just before the major road. Not many college students are walking around with the kind of finances that would afford them to live there.
I am not most college students. My father created a successful web based business during the era where large companies bought anything and everything having to do with thriving internet based small businesses. He sold his web domain just before that flame burnt out and made a sum of seven figures that he wisely invested. To say that my sister and I grew up spoiled would be an understatement. Both of our parents had careers they loved and took up all of their time. In lieu of their presence, we got anything we wanted and a Russian nanny that we adored. Malvina was with me and Nicole until I turned 14. Nicole was 17 and neither of us needed a caregiver, though you can be sure it was a sad day for all of us when she left. I saw her once more at the funeral.
When Nicole died, my grieving father combined our trust funds and gave everything to me. I didn't want the money my sister was meant to have and I still don't, but I can't deny that I grew up a certain way and campus dorms probably were not going to work for me. I like having my own bedroom and bathroom. When I moved here, I knew this building would be perfect for me.
It is less than a mile from campus to my apartment so I walk almost every day. August in Florida is incredibly humid and by the time I get home from my last class, I feel sticky and gross. Not even the frigid blast of air conditioning that hits me after I use my electronic key card to access the building is enough to keep from wanting to shower right away. I have to check my mail first, so I walk into the alcove behind the security desk that houses the postal boxes.
"This is ridiculous! Check your book again because you've obviously missed something."
The outburst of a disgruntled visitor is amplified where I am standing and I'm so startled that I drop my mail and my books on the floor.
"I'm sorry, sir, but I do not have you listed as a pre-approved guest. Until I have written authorization from the unit owner, I cannot let you in."
This back and forth continues between the guard and the visitor as I get on the elevator. It is true that the security in this building is pretty insane; you have to pass through three checkpoints, show your picture I.D., and wait for a phone call to the unit before you're allowed past the front desk. It drives people crazy and this is not the first time I've heard the poor front desk guy be yelled at. I love the tight security. It makes me feel a little bit safer to know that it's nearly impossible to get in here if you're not wanted, though I doubt that I will ever feel completely secure anywhere.
The ride to the twenty-third floor is quick and I'm through my door and in the living room in a matter of minutes. I set my books and the mail on top of the coffee table and sit down on my couch. Late afternoon light filters through the heavy curtains that I rarely open. Though I have lived here for a little over a year, I didn't bother with decorations. There is utilitarian furniture in every room; necessary pieces like a bed, dressers, tables all done in some kind of dark wood. There are no pictures, posters,or cutesy items that suggest someone lives here. I like things clean and uncluttered.
I have reading to do, a ton of it thanks to the over-eager professors in the School of Social Work, but I choose to close my eyes instead of cracking a book and I'm out in minutes.
Looking at Nicole is almost like looking into a mirror. Despite the three year age difference, my sister and I share the same Russian features, long brown hair, and hazel eyes. I haven't quite filled out like she has, though, and my fourteen year old body doesn't have the assets for the low cut mini-dress I just took out of her closet.
"Not that one, Rebecca. Try the green sweater with your black leggings. Green looks pretty with your eyes."
I run into my room and grab my leggings from the back of the desk chair. Malvina, our caretaker, left for an extended vacation last month and neither my sister nor I have spent a great deal of time putting our laundry away. It was hard enough to learn how to use the washing machine in the first place; we haven't gotten around to the actual folding and putting away so most of our clothes are in piles on the dresser or chairs.
"Like this?," I ask her as I re-enter her bedroom.
Nicole pauses from applying mascara in her vanity mirror and turns to look at me. "Perfect. Mascara and lip gloss and you'll be ready to put all the other ninth-graders to shame. Are you excited for your first high school dance?"
"I guess. I just wish I wasn't going alone. I don't really know anyone in my class yet."
"You're not going alone. You're going with me. All of my friends love you, so you already have people you can hang out with. And you'll make friends once you get there. That's the point."
I'm still a little uncertain, but I smile at my sister and try to shift the focus off of me and onto her. "Your dress is pretty, Nicole."
She looks down and tugs on the hem of her skirt. "You don't think it's too short, do you?"
It is and we both know it, but I shake my head. "No, it's perfect. And it's bright red so there is no way Jake won't notice you."
"Jake is a loser. I'm over him." She lifts her favorite lipstick, MAC Russian Red, and paints the crimson on her lips. She always wears that color as either a nod to or in spite of our heritage, but tells me I'm too young for red. "Can you keep a secret, Rebecca?"
"You know I will never share your secrets with anyone."
She pulls me into the hallway and grabs her purse off the doorknob. "I met this guy. He's a tiny bit older, but he's kind of incredible. I want you to meet him, so we're going to stop by his place on the way to the dance, okay?"