Not for publication. Unedited. Subject to change before publication.
I squeezed my muscles and shifted in my seat, incredibly uncomfortable.
Is it here or not?
“Okay. Let’s get down to the nitty-gritty of today’s agenda on your syllabus: the big group assignment.” The handsome professor leaned over the desk he sat perched from and grabbed a loose document. “This group project counts for seventy percent of your semester grade, so it should be taken seriously.” A few sighs of discontentment rang in the stiff air of the classroom. “Yeah… Yeah… Yeah.” He chuckled…rather adorably, a crooked smile exposing half his teeth and gums. “I know most of you in here are freshmen, ideally who this assignment was created for. Those of you who are upperclassmen, will benefit just as much once I explain.” He stood and quietly counted heads. “Good. Even number, just like last week,” he murmured then pulled a stack of envelopes from the desk. “Take one and pass the rest back. There’s just enough for everyone present today.” He passed handfuls of envelopes to the people in the front row.
I shifted in my seat again. I didn’t feel wet on my hind cheeks. My cycle was driving me nuts. And for what? I wasn’t pregnant. No chance of that happening. It just made me miserable for a day and a half or so. For no reason!
I sat in the third row from the door. My friend Alyssa, another freshman, eyed me suspiciously from my right side.
“Period,” I mouthed and watched her nod in recognition, though she truly didn’t understand; we’d just met recently.
“It’s the second week of classes, so it’s safe to say, the only people who are registered for the semester are here,” Professor Dre, a young, black, light skinned cutie continued as we began opening the standard white envelopes simultaneously. “The cards inside are color coded. There are thirty people registered for this class. As such, there’s one of three colored cards inside. The persons who have cards matching yours will be your group members.”
An impressed and lopsided smile opened on his full lips as he observed everyone glancing around in a scurry to find their respective partners. There were scrapes of chairs as people peered over their shoulders and whispers of confirmations of partnerships and arrangements to discuss further after class. Professor Dre—he requested that we not refer to him by his last name during our first class last week—was serious about this assignment, I mused silently.
“Okay.” He walked down a row as he spoke. “Now the assignment: there’s a summary of it in your sylla—”
He was interrupted by the door swinging open in the Raubinger Hall classroom. My eyes trailed behind the professor’s to the other side of the room. The first thing I saw were legs. Long and clad in relaxed denims. Underneath were black leather combat Timberland boots. My eyes then roved up to a black, cotton, short sleeved shirt revealing multi-colored ink from the hem to his hands, one holding a cup of coffee. A black and white paisley cashmere scarf was ornamentally arranged around his neck. And if that metro sexual feature wasn’t the kicker, his high hair stacked elaborately atop his head nailed his eccentric look. I never paid much attention to men with locs—or braids for that matter—but there was something rugged, but polished about his appearance. Something magnetic about his presence.
Alyssa kicked me from across the aisle. How she managed that was just as baffling as her strike was startling.
“You are…?” Professor Dre asked pointedly, obviously thrown by this guy’s abrupt arrival.
“That’s him!” she mouthed audibly.
I stretched my forehead to question that statement.
“The guy from this morning’s Lit Across the U.S. class.”
I nodded in remembrance. That was another class Alyssa and I had together. I hadn’t shown for it because I ran off campus to get my aids for my impending period.
“Afternoon.” He glanced down at a paper in his hand. “Professor McCollum—”
“Dre,” the professor corrected him.
His eyes ballooned and his head angled at the swift correction. “Oh,” he muttered humbly. “My bad, Professor Dre. This is your Sociology in the U.S. class, right?”
The professor stood in one place. “Yes. Again, you are?”
The guy cracked a humble one-cheek grin. That’s when I noticed his golden-yellow skin. It was…different. His hair was dark brown—black almost, but his skin tone was a wheatish hue. And he was a brother. There was no doubt about that from the timbre his chords produced and the cadence of his speech.
His tongue darted to gloss his narrow and plump lips that were a shade darker than his face. Must be a smoker… “Isaak Beckwith. Mrs. Cabezas told me to apologize to you for my late registration.”
“Tawana over in EOF?” Professor Dre asked with tented brows.
“Yeah. There was a mix up with my paperwork. I just got the clearance last night. So, I’m here…if it’s all good with you?” He studied the professor expectantly.
“That’s the same line he gave when he came in late to Lit this morning,” Alyssa whispered at the back of my head, I was sure to me, but for some reason I couldn’t rip my eyes from his long and lean stature. I wondered how tall he was—without the added feet of height from his locs. He had a strong jawline with a goatee and thin mustache. His eyes were pitch sable and striking as he studied Professor Dre. I noticed the slight squint in his gaze. He was thinking behind those raven irises.
“Sure.” The professor sighed as he dropped his eyes in sudden dismay. “Tawana and I go back—well, kinda. She and my godmother went to school together. I’ll kick it with her later. Have a seat.” He pointed to the corner of the classroom where there were several empty desks. The room sounded in a miscellany of tiny whispers, disrupting the captivated quiet the professor was able to establish before the guy joined us. I noticed Professor Dre pouted pensively. “Aye, Isaak,” he addressed the new student. The guy lifted his chin in response. “This poses an unforeseen issue with the semester assignment. I’ll have to disproportionately add you to a group.”
“S’all good, Professor Dre,” the guy cordially replied.
“Uhhhh…” the professor hummed as he blindly scanned the room. Alyssa’s chunky arm shot into the air. “Yes,” he granted.
“I work best in groups. It’s a…” her eyes danced in the air in search of her next word. Her open palms waved over her desk, willing the word to come. “…distinctive talent of mine. Therefore, I don’t have a problem absorbing a new partner.”
Sputters of laughter rang across the room. A stifled smile broke across Professor Dre’s face. And my mouth dropped. I was trying to determine if she was now flirting with him—again—or the new guy.
“I appreciate your generosity.” The professor offered a neck bow. “I’ll even take you up on it.” He observed her card then glanced across the room to the guy, Isaak. “Mr. Beckwith, you’re that quickly assigned to a group. Everyone with purple cards, please raise them in the air.”
Alyssa was the first to raise her card. I paid a brief glance around the room and was shocked when I saw Trinka’s hand up, holding a purple card. Well, ain’t this something… Trinka was my roommate; what were the odds? I slowly raised mine, sheepishly for some unknown reason.
“Good.” The professor smiled. “Now that we have that settled, let’s move on to the fine print of the assignment.” He made his way back to the desk in front of the room. “Okay. The assignment is called Reshaping the World by Embracing Its Many Cultures and Changing Our Perspective. How we achieve that is by…doing it.” His chin dipped. “One of the biggest problems in America is not race related, in general. It is its divide on culture. We are an assortment of various cultures and sub-societies. So many people from the same continents, countries, and sometimes villages, hold altered doctrines. If we can find those human commonalities—those shared and basic principles of humanity—we can possibly co-exist in cohesion.
“This is a semester long project, because according to a Swedish study on human relations, it’ll take that long for you to get to know each other considering your responsibilities outside of this class.” He sat on the edge of the wooden desk again and straightened. “You will spend time together; talk to each other; disagree and peaceably argue your culture’s applications and beliefs; hate each other for a minute; challenge your previous notions about said counter-cultures and then come back to the table with solution-oriented perspectives for harmony.”
My face twisted and I shifted in my seat again, feeling for moisture.
The professor continued. “The deliverable is for you as a group, in your term paper and via presentation, to describe each culture and explain how collectively you’ve noted conflict and individually your solution for overcoming them. Understood?”
As I faced Professor Dre, I noticed his brow line lifting in recognition of someone. “Yes,” he acknowledged.
I turned to follow his line of vision. It was a guy who looked to be Middle Eastern, though I could be way wrong with that. I wasn’t good with identifying ethnic groups.
“What if there are no resolutions, sir?” His accent was light, but detectable.
Professor Dre didn’t take long to reply. “Then you would have to write a damn compelling paper on why there weren’t. C’mon, guys! You’re in training to be members of the elite class of this country, armed with degrees denoting your well-rounded studies during your tenure here. Be the ambassadors of amiable humanity. Just like your college-career, this class is supposed to not only challenge you, but improve you—change you. This assignment should do just that.” He paid a few moments of deep regard to the kid.
I chewed on the inside of my mouth, counting down the minutes to get out of here, silently panicking at the prospect of leaking through my shorts: I didn’t double back with a pad and tampon. My period was heavy and brutal for no good reason!
So useless, this feminine cycle.
“Any more questions?” the professor prompted.
I sat uncomfortable for the next forty minutes or so of the class, being tortured. At some point in time my eyes roamed the room, feeling compelled to venture to the back corner. They locked on pitch black sables, burning a hole in my head. The kid, Isaak, gaped at me with a blank expression. He was brash about it, not even flinching at being caught. There was something about the way his raven pupils were up while his chin and lids were low. It made me feel…weird. I did us both the honor of rolling my eyes away from the back of the room.
I was beyond grateful when the professor dismissed the class. Unlike last week, I didn’t bide the time ogling and wondering just how young he was. Alyssa and Trinka agreed on thirty years old while my bid was on mid-twenties.
Today, I had to go. I had Statistics next, but needed to shoot back to my room across campus first. I was just at the door when Alyssa pulled me in the opposite direction from where I needed to go.
“Hang on!” she whispered hard through gritted teeth, annoyed.
“I have to go. My Elementary Statistics class is next in the Science building, but I have to hit my room first.”
“You and this damn period.” She rolled her chocolate eyes. “You’ve been talking about it since I met you this summer. It’s like a big event of sorts. Get over it already. We all piss, shit, and bleed,” she hissed while fluffing her dark brown silky hair. “Even some men, so they say.”
I rolled my eyes at that. Then I scanned the hallway, people cutting between us to leave the classroom.
“Why are we waiting here?” I asked with a screwed face.
“Trying to make contact with my new baby daddy,” Alyssa spoke through one side of her mouth, her eyes trained ahead to the door.
Trinka exited into the hall next. She was smiling into her phone as she tapped away. Alyssa snatched her over to the wall we now stood against.
“Cut that lovey dovey shit,” Alyssa hissed to Trinka with her eyes still to the door. “I’m trying to get a campus boo, too.” When Trinka met her with questioning eyes, Alyssa answered, “Wait here. He’s coming.” Her nose was flared as she straightened her shoulders, used her fingers to swipe the sides of her mouth, and smooth her eyebrows.
I rolled my eyes while shifting my weight from one hip to the next.
“This guy?” Trinka whispered with an unimpressed tone.
I glanced up to find the guy, Isaak, gaiting out into the hall, glancing around while sipping his coffee. Now that I was on my feet at the same time as him, I could really see how tall he was. His locs were long, stacked high in some impressive style that screamed metro-sexual, but his posture was too lax for that label. His eyes swiped against our trio, standing adjacent to the classroom door like hounds.
“Mr. Beckwith!” Alyssa called, raising her butter pecan digit in the air, fingers curved delicately. “Hey, over here!” He strolled over to us, chin still low.
“What up?” he asked, his voice flat, unlike how it was with the professor earlier.
“Well,” Alyssa began, “I know it’s still early in September and all, but I hear Professor Dre can be fair as long as we don’t bullshit and miss deadlines. I thought we could exchange numbers to set up a meeting time for our first group discussion.” Her delivery was honeyed with feminine allure.
Isaak snorted, one side of his mouth curved higher than the other. “A’ight. Gimme ya phone.”
Alyssa pulled it from her bountiful cleavage practically before his six syllables were up.
We watched raptly and quietly as he typed his number in her phone, taking his time doing so. When he was done, he stood still, seemingly with his eyes roaming randomly down the hall. Within seconds, his phone dinged and he retrieved it from the pocket of his jeans that were low on his hips from how loose fitting they were. He tapped into it a few times before nodding and pivoting to walk off. Before he did he brushed eyes with me, but in a quick, cool, and unimpressed way. Isaak stalked off as easily as he joined us.
I swallowed hard, wondering what that look was for exactly. It was uncouth and loaded with something else.
“Fuck! That was hot, right?” Alyssa exclaimed breathily as she twisted around to face us. Then she gasped when her phone sounded of a text. “This is him!”
“Look!” Alyssa shoved the phone in her face.
“Isaak?” Trinka sucked her teeth and rolled her eyes, preparing to take off, too. “He’s a hood dude. A thug,” she accused.
“How do you know?” Alyssa’s jaw seemed to have dropped to the floor.
I wanted to know, too. We all began down the hall to the entrance of the building.
“Look at how he’s dressed, all baggy and shit. He barely gives eye contact and used little words when speaking to you.”
“Okay. And what’s wrong with a thug?” Alyssa demanded.
“They breed more thugs and this world could do without them. I’m surprised he’s enrolled in school. Bet fifty dollars he won’t last two weeks, much less the semester. This isn’t their speed. I’m surprised he met all the requirements.”
“What if he’s a wannabe thug?” I asked. “You know…one of those who look the part and might have even gone to school with some to emulate.”
Trinka shrugged a shoulder while lifting her brows. “That’s possible. Either way, he’s got some learning to do. No college girl is going to want a future with him once she graduates and finally “gets” his trajectory.”
“Which is?” Alyssa asked.
“If he doesn’t grow out of that ghetto-mocking mentality: either in jail or dead,” Trinka delivered with wide eyes. Her mocha face made up nicely.
Although she was a cute stubby little sight to see animated, I didn’t have the time or energy to participate in this conversation.
“Or maybe he’s built a persona for his freshman year to score some ass,” Alyssa mused out loud.
“Who said he’s a freshman?” That slipped from my brain through my lips.
Trinka shrugged, uncommitted.
Still considering her words, Alyssa continued with her theory. “So, he’s a freshman with a manufactured image to get ass? You think he’s a virgin?” She gasped at her own revelation. “Holy shit! A guy that hot can’t be a desert dick!”
Trinka stopped in her tracks, placed her fist on her shapeless yet bountiful hips, her chunky arms forming like arrows on either side as she peered angrily at Alyssa. “Of course he isn’t a virgin! No student shows up on a college campus with their V-card, silly!”
At that proclamation, both girls’ heads swung over to face me: Trinka’s apologetically and Alyssa’s pretty much the opposite. To save my feelings, Alyssa continued to walk, grabbing Trinka with her.
I hung a right as they went straight ahead. “All right, ladies, I gotta go. I’ll see you guys in the cafe for lunch, right?”
They answered at the same time before going back to their debate. It was all tied in together. My undecided and uncontrolled cycle…and my sole mission my freshman year, here at William Paterson University.
© Love Belvin @ MKT Publishing