Authors: Barry Chaison
“Nice job Stephanie!” he exclaimed as he stopped in front of our mats. I stopped trying to do the impossible and looked over at Steph. My jaw nearly fell to the floor as Steph was doing it perfectly.
“Damn Steph, how’d you get that flexible?” I whispered in awe as he moved on to another set of victims in front of us. Instead of responding, a playful little smile spread across her face as she continued to hold the pose perfectly. “Let’s see it Zoe,” he said suddenly, returning at my side. The butterflies didn’t even have time to invade before my body tumbled over itself, causing an embarrassing chain reaction. A few chuckles emanated around the room after my body toppled over Steph’s, knocking her off balance.
Mr. Himani laughed gently, adding, “Don’t worry Zoe, this is one of the harder poses. Just concentrate and go slowly. Feel free to bend your standing leg if you need extra support.”
With that, he continued on through the class, pointing out good and bad things to everyone. As the end of class grew closer, we started our cool down and eventually got into our savasana. It was one of my favorite parts of class, because all you had to do was lie down and relax your whole body, starting with your toes and finishing at the head. Some people actually would relax so much; they’d fall asleep. Mr. Himani turned off the lights, and with only the music playing, led us through the relaxation for the day.
My mind started to wander back towards my dream. Memories of that birthday, the one that eventually changed my life forever, quickly invaded my mind. It had felt so real, like I was actually standing back in time with my family, watching at their happiest moments. Every little detail from the house to the bike replayed in my mind over and over again.
“Zoe,” Steph’s voice called faintly. “It’s time to go.”
Before I knew it, my eyes had opened and the lights were on. I sat up quickly as the entire class was already sitting in a lotus position, getting ready for Mr. Himani to give us our goodbye blessing. I shuffled quickly to get into the same position as everyone else, and barely made it before he spoke again.
“Namaste,” he said softly, as his hands were pressed together as in prayer. The rest of us mirrored his image, and in unison responded “Namaste.”
The wind had picked up even more as the two of us headed back towards the common area of campus.
“That was a great session,” Steph said as she patted her face with a towel, clearing off the abnormal amount of sweat on her face.
“Yeah, one of the best” I responded distantly.
“Everything alright?” she asked. “You seem a little out of it today. Birthday nerves?”
“Oh, yeah, I’m fine. Just a little off after waking up late. I’m not used to it.”
“Yeah, I’m good,” I said, getting some strength back in my voice.
The two of us continued to walk as the UC slowly came into view. Campus had become much more crowded since earlier in the morning, as groups of students filled the sidewalk going in all directions.
“So, what do you have planned for the big day?”
“Actually, I don’t really know!”
Steph looked at me like I was crazy. “What do you mean you don’t know? You don’t have any plans on your birthday?” she asked astonished.
“Well I do, it’s just that Annie has something secret planned. Apparently I need to be back at the apartment by 2. She wrote me a note and told me that she’s got a surprise for me. To be honest, I’m a little nervous about what she’s got up her sleeve.”
“I think you’d be surprised at what she can do,” Steph said, as a devious smile spread across her attractive face.
“What?” I asked suspiciously. “You know something, don’t you?”
“I plead the fifth,” she laughed. “Let’s just say that you should wait and see what she has planned before you jump to conclusions!”
“Uh huh,” I eyed her apprehensively while she pulled open one of the large double doors that led into the UC.
The lobby was an absolute madhouse. Students and faculty were scattered everywhere, with some rushing in and out of the bookstore to our left, while others were standing in line at the campus Credit Union on our right. The information desk, which was centered at the base of the staircase, seemed to be the most crowded place. A larger woman was rushing back and forth between taking questions and answering phones. Why there wasn’t another person there was beyond me. Past the information desk was the mailroom, where thousands of small mailboxes lined up and down the walls.
“I always love checking the mail on my birthday,” Steph said dreamily as we approached our mailboxes. “I bet you’ve got tons of goodies waiting for you in there.”
“Yeah,” I laughed uncomfortably, knowing full well I’d be lucky if there was more than a single card lying in the box. Steph had vanished as she turned the corner towards her own mail slot.
I bent down and opened up my box, hoping there would be something from back home waiting for me. My heart lifted as a small, yellow package slip rested inside, with my name and box number written out on it.
“Someone’s got a birthday package!” Steph sang from behind me as a pair of football players passed by us. My cheeks blushed up in embarrassment as they glanced our way.
“Will you keep it down? I don’t want the whole world to know,” I hushed. “Besides, it’s probably going to be something boring like new clothes.”
“New clothes? Boring? I don’t think I’ve ever heard those three words in the same sentence before.”
“Ha-ha,” I mocked. “Sorry to burst your bubble, but there are much cooler things than clothes on my list!”
“Yeah, right, what’s a better gift than new clothes?” Steph replied, as we got into the long line for package pickups.
“For me? I hope it’s some new books, or even better, some more of my mother’s paintings. That would be the perfect gift!”
“Paintings?” Steph asked. “You think a painting makes a better gift than new clothes? You’re crazy!”
“Maybe,” I shrugged. “But, you’ve seen those paintings in my room. They are phenomenal, right?”
“Yeah, but for a birthday gift Zoe? Your mom can paint you a picture anytime!”
Any elation I felt from receiving a package for my birthday fizzled immediately. Steph’s comment brought the image of my parents standing next to my first ever bike back into the forefront of my mind. Every muscle in my body appeared to give out as my shoulders slumped.
“Are you alright?” Steph asked, sounding concerned. “Did I say something?”
“Zoe?” a new, but familiar voice said from somewhere in front of us. “I thought that was you!”
“Oh, Simi, hey!” I said, as both Steph and I turned on the spot. She was walking away from the front of our line, carrying a rather large package that covered a good portion of her short frame.
“How’s it going?” she said sweetly, pulling me into a friendly hug. “You look great!
“Yeah, still alive,” I joked. “How is your semester going?”
“It’s a piece of cake. But, I’m much more interested in hearing how you’ve been doing so far. You look good, but that doesn’t tell me everything I want to know!” she said with a joking attitude as she put one hand on her hip.
Steph made a soft coughing noise next to us, bringing me out of my trance. “Oh, Steph, I’m so sorry!” I stuttered.
“Simi, this is my friend Stephanie Loveless. Steph, this is one of my, um, Orlies, Simi Miller.” I cringed at the sound of my own voice saying the word Orlies.
Steph and Simi each took the other’s hand and shook it rather quickly. Simi had her soothing smile on her face while Steph looked somewhat reluctant.
“I, I’m sorry Zoe, but I forgot that my Econ class starts in five minutes, I’ve really gotta run. Happy Birthday!” Steph muttered in a hurry as she suddenly ran off.
“I didn’t know it was your birthday!” Simi cheered while my eyes lingered curiously at Steph’s abrupt departure. “Happy Birthday!”
“Yeah, thanks. But it’s just another day, no big deal.”
“No big deal?” she asked quizzically. “It’s your day! What you say goes! That’s what makes birthdays so great. How about I buy you some breakfast before your next class, get your birthday started on the right foot and catch up a bit?”
It had been a month since I’d seen her, and I’d almost forgotten how charming and warm she truly was. Her physical appearance was still hard to ignore, but she had such a way with words that it was impossible to deny her.
“Um, sure, that sounds great. My Philosophy class doesn’t start until noon, so that should give us about an hour. Just let me grab my package before we head out.”
“Go ahead, I’ll just be over by the bookstore,” she said, as she turned and walked away.
After another minute of waiting in line, I reached the window and handed a pimply-faced guy my package slip. It took about 30 seconds for him to return with a medium sized, but thin box that I could already tell would barely be able to fit into my school bag. My hands reached out and took the package, which had Mark and Marie’s address posted on the upper left corner. A smile lit up my face as I jammed the box into my bag and headed off for a late breakfast with Simi.
The Pit was in its peaceful span of time between the breakfast and lunch rushes as only a handful of students were scattered at different tables throughout the enormous room. Simi and I sat at one of the tables against the wall of windows that overlooked Spartan Stream. My hands were shuffling through a fresh new batch of club advertisements that had been placed on our table. Simi sat there quietly, sipping her coffee and watching me closely.
“So, tell me about your semester,” she finally said, putting her cup down and folding her hands together.
“There’s really not much to tell,” I said. “It’s been pretty low key.”
“How about your classes? Anything exciting?”
“Yeah, I’m enjoying them for the most part. Some are a little more exciting than others though.”
“Which one’s your favorite?”
“I’d probably have to say my Religious Studies class.”
“Whose your Prof?” she replied, taking a bite out of her cherry scone.
“I’ve got Professor Woodward.”
“He’s the best professor on this campus, hands down,” she said immediately. “I absolutely love him! I’ve taken a class with him every semester since I got here two years ago. The man just flat out knows how to teach, don’t you think?”
“He’s pretty good,” I nodded, taking a bite from my own cold and stale cinnamon roll. “I have him as my advisor too, so I’ll be seeing quite a bit of him over the next few months. From what I’ve seen so far, I really like him too.”
“Well, stay with Professor Woodward and you’ll be declaring your major any day now. That’s what happened to me. When I first came here, I was sure I’d major in Biology. I loved it in high school and knew it was what I wanted to do. But then, when I got here, Professor Woodward was my advisor too and I declared Religious Studies by Thanksgiving my freshman year.”
“Good to know,” I laughed. “It’s definitely piqued my interest, so we’ll see.”
“What about extracurriculars? Have you had a chance to explore any of the clubs on campus or maybe some of the intramural leagues? I remember you seemed interested in exploring some new options.”
“Unfortunately, I’ve been keeping myself pretty busy with my school work,” I said. “I’ve thought about it though. Maybe next semester?”
Simi nodded approvingly. “Had the same problem my freshman year. I came in similar to you, shy and overly studious. It took me an entire year to find my niche. All I wanted to do was study and maybe hang out with a few friends I knew, but that was it.”
“But you’re in a sorority!” I said astonished. “I can’t imagine you being shy.”
“Trust me; I used to be really bad. But, eventually I came out of my shell and went to a Rush event. I gave it a chance and absolutely loved it. It was the best decision I’ve made here, and all it took was a leap of faith. Sometimes taking a leap of faith can change the entire complexion of your life. Try keeping that in mind as the semester moves along.”
“Wow, you sound like Annie with that whole leap of faith thing,” I laughed. “She’d be agreeing with every word you’ve said if she were here.”
“Speaking of which, how is she doing? I’ve been terrible at my job this year, not keeping in touch with you guys like I promised. Is she holding up alright?”
“Oh yeah, she’s doing great. I haven’t seen her as much lately, but from what I have seen, she’s been staying on top of her classes and homework. I’m actually really proud of her.”
“Wait a minute, back up… You haven’t seen her as much? Why not? Don’t you guys live together?” she eyed me suspiciously.
“It’s no big deal, she’s just been spending a lot of her spare time over at the Beta house.”
“The Beta House?” Simi responded. Her smile faded slowly.
I could feel the mood of our conversation shifting into a downward spiral very quickly. The complete change in Simi’s expression was more than enough to give it away. Just the mention of the Beta house seemed to flip some invisible switch on deep inside her. She sat there for a minute and stared out at a large group of students who were walking over one of the bridges.