Alan Guthrie woke up slowly in his student apartment at Cambria University. It was his alarm that woke him initially. He quickly turned it off and rolled back over to stare at the ceiling. Nothing interesting was happening on the ceiling, but Alan wanted his eyes to adjust. The ceilings were higher here in the student apartments than what he had in his room back home. The phrase “back home” usually makes one think of someone in a faraway place longing for home. This was not the case for Alan. Before moving into the student apartments, he lived with his parents in East Cambria Bay, while Cambria University was in the west end of the city. He went to Cambria University because it was the only university in Ontario, and potentially Canada, which had an aerospace engineering program. Alan was never sure if there were other universities that had an aerospace engineering program. He had heard that the university in Toronto did, but other people said it was only a specialization and never a full program. Alan never really put much thought into it past that.
As Alan turned his head to look at his curtains, normally vibrant green curtains, he noticed that they were not as vibrant as they initially were when he hung them up when he moved back into the student apartments. He also heard a low white noise sound, like someone left the air conditioning on. It may have been Mark Shastra, his roommate. The student apartment that Alan lived in with Mark was a two bedroom, one-bathroom apartment with a kitchen and a small common area. It didn’t bother Alan though – the air conditioning, not the room layout. By all means, the room layout was pretty great. Alan stared at the less-than-vibrant green curtains. He knew what the situation was. He looked over at the clothes he had pulled out for today and decided to wear something else. The thought of putting the clothes away again, especially hanging up that nice button up shirt and pants bothered him. He figured he would leave it and just roll out of the apartment in sweatpants and a big sweater. It felt safer to him. As Alan sat up, his whole body felt heavy. He felt like the bed was pulling him back to sleep, a thousand little Lilliputians pulling him back into the bed and tying him up. He thought he heard someone in the bathroom, but the noise in his head may have been playing tricks on him. Alan grabbed his stuff and went into the shower. Mark wasn’t even up yet which was nice; he took forever to shower.
Ten minutes later, Alan emerged from the bathroom in a cloud of steam. Come on, he thought, you’ll be alright once you eat. He sighed, and went to get dressed. He stared at the pair of sweatpants by his desk and the pair of nice pants and the button up he had pulled out for today. It was a hard choice, he certainly wasn’t feeling good enough for the nice outfit, but he thought that maybe it would help him feel better for class. As he pulled the big hoodie over his head, he decided to wear jeans instead – an okay medium between looking nice and looking like a slob.
The first week back at school had been tough on Alan. He was away at a summer job testing software where he used almost zero percent of his brain during the day. The job isn’t interesting enough to go into details, but coming back to the shock of third year made Alan feel like he wasn’t ready. Yes, Alan was a third year student in Cambria University’s aerospace engineering program. He was specializing in electronic systems in aircrafts, but thankfully he didn’t have to choose what exactly he wanted to specialize in yet. He still didn’t know. Alan had a course about electromagnetics that made him squirm. The professor was an old man who went through the material incredibly quickly and didn’t give enough time for students to copy down his notes. Plus, every review of the professor and the course on those professor rating sites said that it might be one of the hardest courses he’d ever take. Good thing Alan had two of those courses. Third year aerospace electronics engineers have to take more intense electrical courses than the other aerospace engineers. Alan’s other electronics professor, this one was for analog circuits, compared his course to becoming a Terminator, or running a marathon. Something about how it’s doable, but you have to work very hard at it. His other courses seemed okay, on par with what he expected, but these two stood out and it made Alan sad inside because he wasn’t sure if he would be able to pass them.
Mark was at the table when Alan came out of his room. Mark was eating a bagel with cream cheese. Alan’s cream cheese. Alan put a bagel in the toaster and sat down at the table and looked at the ground. Mark decided to break the silence by putting down his phone.
“How’d your weekend go? I didn’t hear you get in last night.”
“Oh. I came in before you got home and went to sleep early,” said Alan.
“Oh. Well, let me tell you, Alan, Frosh Week is the best week.”
“Dude, so many good looking girls, lots of partying, lots of fun. Oh man, the stories I could tell.”
“I thought you weren’t allowed to drink as a facilitator.”
“Well I mean, technically no, I can’t but that’s only when I’m on duty.”
“When are you on duty?”
“My duty ended on Friday, dude. This weekend was the unofficial party for the end of Frosh. All of the facilitators, leaders and froshies got together to party.”
Alan got up to put cream cheese on his bagel. There was only a little left so Alan used it all.
“Sounds like you had a good time then,” Alan said, trying to focus on cheesing his bagel. He couldn’t hear much of what Mark was saying, the noise in his head was still there. Mark was telling some story about how his one “super-hot” frosh girl was totally flirting with him throughout the week’s activities. She kept trying to get him to break the rules, offering him some alcohol which they don’t allow, or trying to get them together so they could hook up. Mark was trying so hard to keep to the rules that once he saw her at the party, they played a quick game of beer pong, won – naturally, and left to go “y’know”, as Mark put it.
“So is she hot?” Alan asked not looking up from his bagel. He knew hooking up with a hot young girl was something Mark always liked doing. That and drinking a lot of tequila.
“Super hot, did you not hear what I just said?”
“No, I was really into this bagel.”
“It’s fine, you’ll probably hear the story or read about it someday.”
“Read about it?”
“Yeah, like when I’m a rich guy and in the papers and stuff.”
“Man, Mark, you business kids have the weirdest fantasies.”
“Ah whatever dude, I’ll throw you a good job when I own my own firm”
“Sure. I’ll see you later,” Alan called out as he headed for the door.
Alan left and headed down the hall towards the elevator. He looked at the door to the staircase. It was only the fourth floor. Alan slowly leaned towards the door to the stairs but the elevator door opened to go down. He quietly shuffled in. Alan looked around at the other people in the elevator and wondered why all their clothes looked faded. Oh right, it was how he was feeling. Alan was so in tune with the white noise in his head that he forgot he was just moving on autopilot. In line for coffee before class, Alan wondered why he was feeling low this morning. It definitely had something to do with the lonely weekend he had where he spent most of it in his room. It definitely had something to do with the amount of work he was going to be facing this term, not ever having a social life. It might have had something to do with Mark eating most of Alan’s cream cheese without asking, but that may have just been the straw that broke, Alan thought. He grabbed his coffee and headed to the engineering building. His morning was full of lectures. The content of his lectures this morning is not exactly important to this part of the story so we’ll just skip ahead to after his classes.
Alan left his lectures and headed towards St. Michael’s, the university’s graduate student bar. He wasn’t a graduate student, but nobody ever asked him about it so he assumed it was fine that he go there. There was a second one, or rather a first one with St. Michael’s being the second bar, The Old Hammer, which had more of a sports bar feel because it was mostly used as a sports bar with cheap food and even worse beer. St. Michael’s did specialty espressos, had a bunch of good craft beers and their kitchen was significantly more creative. It was Alan’s favourite spot to eat. Both bars were inside the university’s Central Building which was where a lot of student organizations were headquartered, a few shops for food, and the bookstore. St. Michael’s was on the second floor of the Central Building. Inside St. Michael’s, Alan grabbed a seat with his food and drink and saw a familiar face walk in through the door. Jen Silva. She lived on the same floor of the student apartments as Alan did back when they were both in second year. They had grown close. Alan had a crush on Jen. She was a Brazilian girl with long dark hair and a fantastic body. She was also double majoring in sociology and human rights so Alan knew she was smart. The two of them used to stay up for hours every night talking in the study lounge of their old apartment building.
Jen was from a town six hours west of Cambria Bay. It was a tiny town, something like 11,000 or something. Her actual town had less than 5,000 people, but the metropolitan area, if you can even call it that, had a total of 11,000. Her parents were rich, but she never connected well with her parents. Alan could empathize, except he wasn’t as rich. Jen was living in an off-campus apartment just by herself. She liked the solitude, it made her feel more like an adult. She started to develop feelings for Alan shortly after the first time they met. The first thing Alan said to her was some corny joke, thinking it would make him look cool but she just thought it was ridiculous that anyone would say that, and she liked that Alan was weird. The thing was, neither of them were upfront at all with their feelings for each other. They both thought the other liked each other, but they never really knew for sure. Alan would always call Jen when he needed to talk about things bothering him, and Jen would also do the same. They were each other’s confidants.
Jen went up to the bar to order food without noticing Alan sitting in the corner so he quietly got up and snuck up behind her to try to make a smooth entrance. His palms felt warm and he became very aware of his surroundings as he felt his heart beat faster. Talking to someone like Jen made him nervous; it was partly because she was an obviously pretty girl and partly because Alan was always nervous talking to pretty girls. He slid up to her and put his hand on the bar in her line of sight and said, “You know, I hear the company is great at this bar”.
Jen looked up from the menu, recognizing Alan’s voice, “Yeah but the pickup lines here are pretty bad.”
Alan felt lost for words, he tried to think of something witty. Something like “No, they’ve got a special two for one deal today”. Alan didn’t know what that meant and by the time he decided to say something, a few seconds had already passed and Alan looked like a deer in headlights.
“Oh come on, I’m just teasing,” Jen smiled.
“I-uh-yeah, of course. Do you want to have sit with me? I need something to take my mind off these classes for a bit,” Alan said looking back at his table.
“Okay, I’ll just be a minute here.”
Alan walked back to his table and sat down. He watched Jen order her food. She had that really nice ring her parents gave her. It might have been for graduating high school, or going to university or something, Alan couldn’t quite remember. Jen always wore that ring, that big blue sapphire in the silver band. Alan took a drink of his beer. It was a good beer.
Jen grabbed a seat with her food.
“It’s good to finally see you in the flesh,” Alan said.
“You mean I’m not good enough to keep you occupied over the phone?”
“No, you’re good textual company but finally getting to see you face to face after the summer is nice. How was your summer, did you do anything interesting?”
“Not really, I mean, I worked at a lawyer’s office and went on a vacation to the Yukon but that was about it.”
“Your town has a lawyer? Doesn’t your town only have like sixty people in it?”
“It’s eleven thousand, come on Alan. It’s not that small.”
“Sixty, eleven thousand, eh, close enough.”
“No she’s a lawyer in real estate law. She hired me on to help her with her legal practice. I’m surprised you didn’t ask me about the Yukon.”
“I was going to save that question for later. Tell me about it.” Alan said.
“My friend drove us up in his truck. He had a few weeks between jobs in the mines and decided to take a road trip.”
Alan’s ears heated up and he felt like his heart jump, “Oh? Who’s your friend? You got yourself a boyfriend now?” Alan tried to sound like he was joking.
“No, he’s just a friend. I mean he has mentioned before that he likes me but I just don’t see him that way. We’ve been friends for a while and I just couldn’t do that. He knows pretty well that he’s in the friend-zone.”
Alan’s ears cooled down. He smiled and ate his food as Jen told her story about her trip.
“So what about you? What’ve you been up to all summer? I mean, besides the fact that we talked almost every day,” she asked.
“Well, you know about that job I had testing the software.”
“Yeah, aren’t you glad I kept you company all day?”
“I thought I was keeping you entertained at work.”
“I’m pretty sure I was the one keeping you entertained, Alan.”
These two liked to tease each other. They both found it endearing.
“I went to this big music festival that was here in town. My friend Matt and I went almost every day. There was at least one artist every day that I wanted to see, so I ended up discovering a lot of other cool music while being there,” said Alan.
“Which show was your favourite?”
“Honestly, there were too many great ones. St. Vincent was great, Bonobo was amazing – I was looking forward to both those shows the most. I was really blown away by Björk though. I think that was my favourite of all the shows.”
“Björk? Isn’t she really weird?”
“Yeah, she’s really weird, but I had never heard her stuff before and I figured going to her should would open me up to some really good music.”
“Did it?” Jen asked.
“Oh hell yeah it did. I went out there alone, actually. Matt didn’t want to go that day. I went up on a hill by the festival and smoked a bit of weed. There were these two guys who were putting away a pipe so I figured I’d ask if they wanted to share. The three of us finished off the joint I had and we went into the festival grounds to watch Björk and it was a life changing experience.”
“Because you got high?”
“Because I got high. No, actually it was just an awesome show. She had tesla coils come out spark along at different frequencies to make music. It was beyond anything I’ve ever seen. She puts on a great show.”
Jen smiled and looked down, “You’ll have to show me some of her stuff.”
Alan and Jen had finished their food and they stood up to leave. Alan didn’t have any more class until later in the day so he decided to walk Jen to class. Alan offered his arm to Jen as they walked to class. He stuck his elbow out and said in his best Great Gatsby voice, “m’lady”. She giggled and they intertwined arms.
At Jen’s class, Alan hugged her goodbye and she said quietly, “It was good seeing you again.”
“We should do this more often,” Alan replied.
“We shall.” Jen blushed.
Alan watched Jen go into class and take her seat. As he stared at her he became aware that he hadn’t moved for at least a minute so he quickly turned and went back to his room. Alan felt like he was walking on clouds. His heart felt warm and his fingertips tingled. He could smell a hint of her perfume on his sweater. Outside, Alan noticed that fall was starting early this year. The leaves in Cambria Bay were all starting to change colours. Maybe not all of Cambria Bay, but definitely in Cambria University. Alan loved when the leaves changed colours. He used to get excited as a boy when the leaves would turn because he and his dad would go out and rake the leaves and his dad would let him jump in the pile, and then throw more leaves on top. Alan always liked to walk through the forest by his house during the fall time. There were trails he found that took him by a pond where he would feed the ducks. Autumn made Alan feel at peace but he couldn’t quite pin down why. It was probably watching the world change that made Alan feel like the changes he was going through in life were natural. Back at his apartment, Alan stretched out on his bed and stared at the ceiling again. He was happy he ran into Jen so suddenly. He had been thinking about calling her or at least sending a message to see how she was doing. She looked really nice today, he thought. He was planning on asking her out on an official date but wasn’t sure if she saw him that way – a romantic partner kind of way.