Yes, I know this is a little off topic from what I normally post and it doesn’t really belong to either of the stories I have going on right now, but this story has been pressing on me for the last couple of days and unless I let it out, I won’t be able to write anything else. It’s based off of a personal experience. It’s not what happened, but it could have. And if it did, I probably wouldn’t be writing about it to begin with.
She sat in her car, staring ahead at the stone edifice of building 400. This was her first visit to the campus. Up to this point, it had been all online, but she couldn’t continue without meeting her academic advisor. If emails were enough, she wouldn’t have been there.
This was the only time she could squeeze out of her work schedule to be here and she’d been both dreading it and anticipating it for weeks. In another month or so, she would be enrolled in college for the first time. Her high school education had allowed her to get a job and pure wit and street knowledge got her the rest of the way. But it was time to take the next step. She just wished there was an easier way to do it.
Clad in her khaki pants and black work polo and toting a less than fashionable canvas purse she had purchased years ago, she slipped out of her leased car and marched up the front steps, feigning confidence in the only way she knew how.
There were a few members of the staff and administration exiting the building. At this time of the day, the faculty were reduced to a skeleton crew. Only a few professors and academic advisors were left to accommodate walk-ins that had too a too busy life to make an appointment between the hours of 9am and 4pm.
Luna opened the first pair of glass doors and stepped into something like a waiting room. It was completely empty. To her left were a set of stairs that led to the second floor – a library perhaps – and to her right were upholstered chairs like she might see in a hospital waiting room. The reception desk was unmanned, but had a sign that directed visitors to the enrollment hall.
Here is where she felt her first streak of panic. Enrollment hall? Where was that? In another building? Up the stairs? A simple glance ahead set her a little at ease. The enrollment hall was right ahead behind another pair of glass doors with the sign painted in the smooth brick above them.
She took a deep breath, shouldered her bag and went through. The lady on the phone had told her something about a kiosk to sign in at. Luna imagined it would be something like the DMV were there was one kiosk stand to sign in at, you take a number, and wait until you’re called in.
What she was met with instead made her palms sweat. At least four aisles of computers lay in front of her, all turned off and unattended. She remembered seeing a sign saying something about a kiosk somewhere in the room, but that wasn’t what drew her attention. People. Off to her right were several students. Some were young – fresh out of high school – and others were a little older than herself, but all turned and stared at her.
Those few seconds of looking around, feeling lost and confused, felt like hours. All at once, in the grips of her anxiety, she felt her resolve slip away. She swallowed hard and took one last look around before turning to walk back out to her car.
A million thoughts bombarded their way into her mind. What was she thinking? She was five years out of high school and had absolutely no one to guide her in the right direction. Phone calls, emails, and Q & A forums hadn’t prepared her for this. Were the kiosks the computers? Where were the teachers? Did she just sit and wait and get passed over? Did she try to access one of the computers and get scolded for tampering with university property? What was she supposed to do?
It never occurred to her to ask one of the other students. She didn’t know them and coming in dressed as she was had been embarrassing enough. If she had time, she could have gone home to change into something more suitable.
This incident might have been enough for her to give up on her dream of holding that diploma. That’s how flawed her mind was. She over thought every detail and jumped to extremes faster than a rabbit escaping the snapping jaws of a rattlesnake. This one hitch, this one bump in the road, could derail her.
Luna decided to take a breath, go home, have a cup of tea, and rethink everything. Fear was proving to the ruler of the day.
But, just as she had her hand on the door, leaning her body in to push for escape, she felt the hand rest on her forearm. Luna looked up to see a pair of gray eyes staring back at her. A smile brought her raving mind to a screeching halt.
The boy – no, he was all man – was handsome in that boyishly charming way. He couldn’t have been much older than she was, but his posture and energy he projected suggested that he was an old soul. He didn’t have to speak for her to know that much.
“Do you need some help?” he asked, his deep voice rumbling pleasantly between them so only they could hear the conversation despite the ringing silence of the room.
Luna opened her mouth, but couldn’t find the words quick enough and she felt even more foolish than she had second before. “I was going to meet with an academic advisor, but it doesn’t matter now.”
She wasn’t usually so depressively candid with a stranger, but perhaps it would be her ticket out of there. There was little chance she would see him again since she would be completing her degree online anyway.
“And why not?” he asked, a tremor of amusement evident. Was he laughing at her? A blush rose to her cheeks.
“Listen, I just don’t belong here, ok?” she whispered, hoping that their conversation truly was private.
Her eyes roamed and she realized this stranger not only had a lovable face, but a body straight off a trashy paperback romance book cover. Despite the cool air conditioning, Luna felt herself grew a little warm under her cotton collar.
“Were you wanting to speak with an advisor?” If he saw the timidity in her, then he didn’t show it. If he heard her answers, he didn’t show it either.
“I was going to but – ”
“Then you need to sign in at one of the computers.”
So the kiosks were the computers. Luna glanced at the darkened screens. “I thought they were turned off.”
A wry smile came across the stranger’s face. “Never assume.”
Luna felt a bit of resentment towards this man, trying to give her advice that she so desperately needed but didn’t want to hear. She had struggled with assuming things all her life; along with overthinking and irrational behavior towards things that shouldn’t have been issues. She made mountains out of mole hills and oceans out of puddles.
She muttered a thanks and tried to simulate that confident walk she had before entering the enrollment hall. She moved the mouse a fraction of an inch and the log in screen appeared before her on the monitor. Taking a deep breath, she inputted her information – name, student ID, etc – and clicked submit. The lady on the phone assured Luna that she would be seen by an advisor, but she was unsure of the wait.
Looking back to the group of students still sitting patiently in the waiting area, she reckoned it would still be a while. At least she had a few Ebooks on her phone to keep her occupied.
When she stood to join them, she almost collided with the stranger that stopped her from making an impulsive mistake. Had he been standing there the whole time? She hardly heard him approach and normally she could sense when people were looming over her shoulder like vultures. He smiled down at her again and her heart beat a little faster.
She excused herself, trying her best to avoid a confrontation, and took a seat near the far back corner of the room, farthest from everyone else. Yet, hot on her heels was the man following her like a faithful dog.
“What’s your problem?” she said suddenly, hardly aware that such a blunt comment managed to escape from her mouth.
The man sat beside her and chuckled. “I have many problems. Which would you be referring to?”
Luna couldn’t turn back now and play timid, as much as she wanted to. Her brows furrowed as she watched him get comfortable. “You’re following me around. Why?”
He shrugged. “Correct me if I’m wrong, but you seem the type that needs constant supervision. I’m volunteering.”
“That’s a terrible pick-up line.” It might have been impertinent to assume he was hitting on her, but with the cunning smile spread over his lips, it was hard not to think that he wanted something from her. “Has it worked before?” she asked as she pulled out her cellphone from her purse.
The man offered out his hand to her. “My name’s Jake. And yours?” Again, he seemed ignorant of anything she said that he didn’t like.
To give into his attempts at introduction would open up conversation. That was something she didn’t want. More talking meant more chances to make a fool of herself. But she gave him a nod and shook his hand in return. “Luna.”
Jake grinned. “That’s a beautiful name.”
Luna turned back to her phone and opened her Kindle app, feeling more anxiety and anger build up in her. “Listen, I don’t know why you’re saying all that gush, but I’d appreciate it if you stopped.”
“So, you’re a nervous no-nonsense person,” Jake said. “Odd combination.”
Luna sat down her phone and let her eyes drift up to the ceiling. “Ah, that’s what this is. You’re studying me. You’re trying to see how I’ll react to certain pressures. Thanks for picking me as a guinea pig.”
“No, no,” he said hastily. “I’m not studying you. I’m afraid it’s a bit of a habit to analyze people. It’s not only a habit, but a hobby. This will be my third year in the psychology major.”
Luna looked back at him and narrowed her eyes suspiciously. “Is that so? What else are you reading off of me?”
Jake stared at her, a gaze so penetrating that she wished she hadn’t asked. Her body became riddled with chills and she found it hard to breathe. Now was not the time for an anxiety attack. She struggled to steel herself as he tilted his head ever so slightly at an angle that made him look even more alluring.
“You’re an intellectual. And you’re a lot braver than you think.”
Luna let out a huff of a laugh and looked away. “If I’m brave, I wouldn’t have tried to walk out just now.”
“If you weren’t brave, you wouldn’t have let me convince you to stay. That also says that you truly do want to be here.”
Luna didn’t have a comeback for that. Maybe he was right, but she sure didn’t feel brave right now.
“Are you going to major in English?” he asked.
She snapped a suspicious look at him. “How did you guess? Something in my face tell you that?”
He chuckled again. “No. You’ve got Charles Dickens open on your reading app. Most people don’t read that willingly unless they were intellectuals.”
Luna glanced down to the phone that betrayed her to Jake and saw the sixth chapter of “Oliver Twist” open on her screen. “I guess I’m not very mysterious, am I?”
“Is mysteriousness a quality you admire?”
Luna shrugged. “I thought it was a generally attractive quality. Mystery draws people in, makes them want to know more.”
“Am I mysterious?” he asked and she detected a hint of amusement in his tone.
“Then could it be assumed that you want to get to know me more?”
Luna gave a hard look at him and quirked her lips up as if she were thinking. “Depends.” It was then that Luna realized she might be flirting with this man.
“Well, despite already knowing a lot about you, I’d like to get to know you better too.”
Another blush rose to her cheeks and she tucked her chin against her chest. This was getting out of hand. “I told you I’d appreciated it if you stopped with the pick up lines.”
“It wasn’t my intention to offend,” he said and she heard him shift a little in his seat.
“You didn’t offend me,” she said quickly. “I just don’t appreciate being the object of jokes and ridicule.”
“Why on earth would I make fun of you? I was being honest.”
Luna had enough. “I like being complimented as much as the next girl, but you’re wasting your time.”
“You have a boyfriend?”
“No, I don’t. Never have. Don’t intend to.”
“Oh,” he said softly. “I didn’t realize you leaned the other way.”
Luna waved her hand at him apologetically. “No, no. I’m not gay. I just don’t intend to have a boyfriend, that’s all.”
“So you’d never want to get married?”
This was escalating and she looked at him with widened eyes. “How did we get on the subject of marriage? I barely know you.”
“If you don’t intend to have a boyfriend, it may be assumed that you never want to be married.”
Luna gave him a mocking smile. “Don’t assume.”
“So why don’t you want a boyfriend, then?”
How could Luna sum up her opinion of men in just a few sentences to a perfect stranger who already knew a fair deal about her. “I just don’t like the idea of being cheated on, lied to, or abused.”
Jake looked genuinely shocked. “You have a poor view of men. I’d hate to think what made you think of my gender in that way.”
“A lot of hard life experiences, that’s all.”
Jake raised a hand in surrender. “In that case, I will drop the subject. However, I will make an offer that I can show you that not all men will cheat, lie, and abuse you if you agree to accompany me to dinner after our advisor meetings are finished.”
Luna sighed and turned back to her novel. “I’ll think about it.” She really had no intention of doing that. Instead, she wanted to immerse herself in classic literature and forget about the man sitting next to her.