Nineteen: Wish You Were Here

Alley

“Taylor!” I shouted. “Have you seen my sandals?!”

I raced around my messy bedroom, picking up wayward junk and throwing it out of the way, searching frantically for my lost shoes. Dammit! I was going to be late for class, on the first day back. What a way to make an impression. I scowled as I dropped to my knees and half-crawled under the bed. Nothing there, either, except a pile of dirty socks and a frighteningly large dust bunny.

I stopped for a moment, realizing that Taylor hadn’t answered me. He was downstairs grubbing. I marched to the top of the steps, took a breath, and tried again.

“TAYLOR!!!" I screamed at the top of my lungs. "ANSWER ME, DAMMIT!”

I heard a small crash followed by a stream of expletives. Grinning smugly, I folded my arms across my chest and waited. Footsteps echoed through the hall as Taylor marched up to the bottom of the stairs, staring up at me with annoyance.

“You scared the shit out of me!” he barked. “What’s your problem?”

“I can’t find my sandals.”

He stared at me, slack-jawed, for a few minutes before replying. “You’re up there having a hissy fit because you can’t find your sandals? You have a million shoes. Why don’t you just wear a different pair?”

“Because... they’re my favorite... and I want to wear them,” I whined.

“Get over it! We’ll look for them tonight when we get back.”

“NO! We’ll look for them now,” I demanded.

He sighed, irritated. “Alright, fine. I'll search down here. What do they look like?”

“Well, they’re black, and they have this big wide strap that goes across the top... they’re kinda sporty, you know, really comfortable... um.... they’re not fancy girly sandals... they’re Nike, I think...” I rambled on, trying to accurately describe them. I was horrible at that sort of thing. Fashion expert I was not.

During my detailed description Taylor got an odd look on his face, and a blush spread up over his cheeks. He guiltily looked down, and my gaze followed. Oh, dear God. He was wearing the sandals. What the hell? My feet weren't that big, were they?

“Uh... would these be it?” he asked sheepishly. “Heh, sorry.”

“TAYLOR!” I screeched. I ran down the steps, realizing a little too late that it probably wasn’t the safest idea in the world to be careening full-tilt down a steep slope. I couldn’t stop my momentum and crashed into him, causing us both to stumble backwards into the wall and fall into a heap.

“Damn, woman, I said I was sorry,” he mumbled as he straightened himself up. I took the opportunity to latch onto his feet and take the sandals off. I glared at him as I put them on my own feet. The strap felt looser than usual... damn him. I knew my feet weren't that big. He'd stretched them out.

“Taylor... why were you wearing my sandals? You have shoes of your own!”

“It’s hot outside! Besides, I didn’t think they were girl sandals... they don’t look like it,” he insisted, trying to defend himself.

I looked at him in disbelief. "Well, who did you think they would belong to? One of my many boyfriends? Jeez, Taylor."

"Well, what about Louise's boyfriend?"

"Steve?" I snorted, not even bothering to dignify that with an answer. I jumped up and offered him my hand, which he reluctantly accepted, giving me a hesitant, suspicious look as he folded his hand in mine.. I think he was afraid that I was going to let him drop back to the floor or something. Well, truthfully, I normally would have done that, but today I was in too much of a hurry to fool around.

“Come on,” I said urgently. “We’re running late.”

We?” he asked. “I think you mean you, my dear. I’ve been ready for 20 minutes.”

I dismissed this remark with a wave of my hand as I strolled into the kitchen. Details, details. Grabbing my backpack off the couch and my car keys from the counter, I turned to Taylor.

“Come on, blondie,” I said. “Professor Tanenbaum awaits us... well, awaits me anyway.”

“Yeah, yeah.... Tanenbaum, eh?" he asked with interest. "Man or woman?”

“Uh... man, Taylor.... don’t get your hopes up.”

“Damn. I was hoping for a hot chick.”

What was with him and his constant 'hot chicks' comments? Didn't guys ever think about anything else? I rolled my eyes as we exited the house and got into my car. I drove into Lexington, heading for campus. Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here” blasted through the speakers, and I sang along at the top of my lungs, much to Taylor’s chagrin. Which, of course, only encouraged me to sing louder.

“DID THEY GET YOU TO TRADE... YOUR HEROES FOR GHOSTS...” My voice was a ear-piercing cross between off-key singing and shouting. “HOT ASHES FOR TREES... HOT AIR FOR A COOL BREEZE...” Shit, what a fucking awesome song...

“Could you turn that down?” Taylor asked loudly, but not quite loud enough. I turned to him, cupping my ear to indicate I hadn't heard. He looked incensed.

“COULD YOU TURN THAT DOWN?” he leaned over and yelled right in my face.

“WHY?! THIS SONG ROCKS!”

“BECAUSE MY HEAD IS ABOUT TO EXPLODE!!!”

I swiftly turned the volume down and stuck out my tongue at him. “You’re no fun.”

“What? What did you say? I can’t hear you, I’ve gone deaf,” he shot back.

I laughed. “Whatever, Taylor! I read on one of those silly fan websites that one of your concerts broke the world decibel record.” I decided not to remind him that that noise had actually come from the screaming, mentally insane fans, and not from their own instruments. “So don’t whine about my little old car stereo.”

“Yeah, well, at least I got to wear earplugs at that concert,” he mumbled.

“Well, I’ll pick you up some next time I go to the store.” I smirked at him. "

“HA! Like that will happen. You won’t go to the damn store, remember?”

Hmmm... he was right. Oh, well.

“Oh yeah, I forgot,” I said. “Looks like you’ll have to suffer.”

He pursed his lips into a thin line and made several angry noises, sort of like an agitated gorilla, but didn’t say anything. I figured he was finally realizing that I was a lost cause.

The familiar blue and white campus signs began popping up. We were getting close. Taylor had suddenly gone silent, and was studying the passing scenery with ceaseless fascination. I snuck a glance at him before I turned the volume up slightly. He flipped me off absentmindedly; I laughed again. He was learning.

Finally we arrived on campus and headed down the main street, which was filled with throngs of college students strolling to their classes. I maneuvered my way through one of the parking lots and found a space. Before we got out, I opened up a folded brochure map and explained it to Taylor, just in case he managed to get himself lost. He nodded his understanding as I pointed out various landmarks, and finally, I felt prepared enough to get going.

“Okay... are you ready?” I asked. He nodded silently. He seemed a little overwhelmed by this new environment... I couldn’t blame him. I’d felt the same way when I first stepped onto the campus with tens of thousands of other people wandering around. I patted his shoulder reassuringly before unlocking the doors.

We quickly got out of the car and headed for my first class. Ugh. Biology. Though one of my majors was in chemistry, the university felt it necessary for us to take all different kinds of science courses... they called it 'general eds' or some such shit. Whatever. All I knew was that I hated biology. With a passion. Not to mention that I’d heard many a not-so-pleasant thing about Professor Tanenbaum.

We approached the biology building. Students were milling about outside, smoking, reading, or just generally enjoying the sunlight. We entered the building and found the room where the class was held. It was a huge lecture hall, with hundreds of seats. Good, I thought. That meant that someone was less likely to try and sit down right next to me.

We found a set of seats near the front and settled in. I'd figured that people would be more likely to sit near the back in a class like this, so the front seemed a safer option. I glanced at my watch. Two minutes until noon, just in time. I grabbed a notebook and pencil out of my backpack and sunk down into the seat.

“Wow, this is not what I imagined a college class would look like,” Taylor marveled. “It’s huge.”

I nodded very slightly and smiled. It was definitely one of the bigger classrooms on campus.

Suddenly a door in the front of the room opened and a tall, thin man with graying hair, a long beard, and wire-rimmed glasses walked in. In other words, everyone’s typical stereotype of a college professor. I had the sudden the urge to laugh, though I knew that would be a fatal mistake.

“Attention,” he demanded. The class, which had been bustling with chatter and noise, immediately fell silent. I could already tell that this man was definitely not the joking type. I halted my smothered giggles as he scanned the room with his sharp eyes.

“Alright, class. My name is Professor Carl Tanenbaum. You may call me Professor Tanenbaum. My teaching assistants are passing out the course outlines and a syllabus. Get out paper and pen and get ready to take notes. I don’t believe in wasting time with pointless introductions on the first day.” That said, he turned around, switched on the overhead projector, and began furiously scribbling notes.

Taylor whistled. “Boy, he’s a real treat, isn’t he?”

I tried to ignore him and copy down the notes. Fantastic. I was going to be in pure, unadulterated hell until December.

Professor Tanenbaum lectured on. From time to time he would suddenly stop and harass a student who had fallen asleep, or who wasn’t listening, or who was talking or passing notes. He kicked several students out of the class. But always, he would immediately pick up where he left off, his dry voice droning on about population dynamics. At one point I simply stopped writing, and leaned my head forward for a second to massage it. My brain hurt. Honest-to-God pain. This could be considered a new form of homicide, I decided. I closed my eyes and imagined a police squad, sirens wailing, coming to arrest the professor after my brain melted and leaked out of my ears from listening to this drivel. You have the right to remain silent, Mr. Tanenbaum. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law.

I smiled. I felt better already. Vindictive daydreams really were therapeutic.

“Well? I’m speaking to you, young lady. What’s your name?” Tanenbaum’s voice jerked me back to reality. I raised my head up and realized that although my little fantasy was nice, it had caused me to stop paying attention, which was... well, not good. My face flushed as I prepared for his assault on my intelligence and work ethic.

“My name’s Alley,“ I stammered. “Alley Krzyzewski... I, uh...” .

“You, uh? Is that your answer, Miss Krzyzewski?”

I squeezed my eyes shut for a moment. I had no idea what he’d just asked, and I had no choice but to admit my ignorance. I hoped he didn’t make me cry when he yelled... I was kind of sensitive about those sort of things.

“He asked you what the difference between fecundity and fertility is,” Taylor said softly. I took a deep breath. If we hadn’t been among hundreds of people, I would have jumped in his lap and crushed him with a hug right then.

“Well, sir.... fecundity is, um, the physical ability of an individual to reproduce.... and... fertility, is like, a measure of the actual number of offspring that an individual produces,” I said nervously. The professor’s gaze bore into mine, and for a crazy moment, I thought he was going to tell me that I was wrong. I knew I was right... I had studied this before. But even my nerdy intellectual confidence was questioned by this man’s searing eyes.

Finally he removed his ruthless stare and even offered me a small, knowing smile. “Very good, Miss Krzyzewski. Nice save.”

I sighed hugely and shakily with relief, nodding at him. I scribbled THANK YOU!!!!! on a piece of paper and slid it over to Taylor. He gave me a big grin and nodded, obviously pleased that he'd done some productive for the day.

“You’re welcome, Alley Kat.”

I managed to make it through the rest of the 50-minute class without further incident. A shrill bell sounded from the other room. The bells were for students who worked in the labs, so that they would know when class was over. Professor Tanenbaum stopped at this bell and dismissed us.

“Well, students, it looks as though our first day has come to an end.” He smiled sickeningly. “I’ll see you on Friday.”

Not if I don't quit school before then, I thought grouchily. I grabbed my stuff and raced out of the room, glad to be out of that hellhole. As I stormed out of the double doors, the sunlight hit my face and for once, I was glad to see it. Which, with my pale skin, was a rarity.

I was halfway down the street before I suddenly realized that Taylor was not behind me. I stopped in my tracks and whirled around, my eyes wide. Oh, no... Irritated students glared at me for interrupting the flow of human traffic, but I didn’t care. Dammit. I stood on my toes and scanned the crowd, but he was nowhere to be seen. I cursed myself for running out of the room so hastily. Again, I’d left him. Thinking only of myself, and how badly I'd wanted to get out of there. What kind of a friend was I?

I glanced at my watch, and realized that I had to move on to my next class. I considered skipping it to look for him... but really, I couldn’t afford to do that. If someone didn’t attend the first day of class, they were removed from the class roster... and it was too late to add another class to my schedule if that happened. I bit my lip nervously, torn between what to do.

You need to go to class,
my calm inner voice said. He’ll be alright, he has a map. He knows you have History of American Art next. He knows what building it’s in. He’ll wait on you outside.

I let this reasonable inner voice decide for me, and reluctantly headed to the next class, praying that it was right. I entered the classroom, taking my seat and trying to concentrate on my professor. She was a younger woman, quite pretty and very nice. Her name, she told us as she wrote it on the board, was Mindy Ryan. She asked us all to stand up and speak about ourselves, to get introduced to the class. I tried to concentrate on my classmates, but my mind wouldn’t stray from thoughts of my new imaginary rockstar friend... Taylor lost, wandering around aimlessly. Taylor feeling abandoned and alone... shit. I was worried sick.

Finally, the class ended and we filed out the door. Ms. Ryan stopped me on my way out.

“Allison, right?” she asked.

I nodded. “Alley... Yeah?”

“Oh, I’ve heard about you.... and seen some of your work. You’re very good.”

“Oh, thanks,” I mumbled. Normally, I would have been eating this up, but I had more important things on my mind.

“You’re welcome... are you alright? You look a little pale...” As if I didn't get that line all the time...

“Well, ah, no.... I’m really worried about a friend of mine,” I said softly. “I need to go find him.”

“Oh! Well, don’t let me keep you.” She smiled understandingly at me. “I hope everything turns out alright.”

“Me, too...” I said softly as I hurried out the door. I flew down the stairs toward the lobby, fully expecting Taylor to be sitting on one of the maroon cushioned benches, waiting to chew me out for leaving him again. As my sandals clunked loudly against each step, I thought of the irony of the situation, given the song I had been singing only hours before... Yeah, wish you were here, Taylor, I mused.

I bolted through the lobby, slightly out of breath. He was nowhere to be seen... I dashed outside, flinging the heavy glass doors open. There was a break area where students hung out between classes... Nope, not there, either...I stopped, resting my hands on my hips, uncertain of what to do next.

Well, Alley
, my damned inner voice piped up again. It seems we have a situation on our hands.