The lead broke off the pencil and rolled several inches down the table. Someone glanced up from the table and gave Jordan a silencing glance, eyebrows dramatically furrowed, as though the sound of pencil lead breaking was too distracting for the test-taking atmosphere. Jordan scowled right back at the student and clicked his mechanical pencil several times, all to no avail. Angry, he jammed the eraser end down on the table forcefully, trying to convince the lead to emerge from the pencil, but it was no use. He rolled his chair back from the table, stood, and lumbered over to the wall, where all the students had been instructed to leave their backpacks so that no one could sneak a peek at the textbook.
Professor Hayes tapped his desk, where all the finished exams lay, as if to tell Jordan that he should bring his exam to the desk if he was done. “Just grabbing a pencil. I’m not done yet,” Jordan called as quietly as possible, prompting the annoyed student to look up at him again. Professor Hayes nodded and went back to whatever he’d been doing, which looked like slashing up papers with a purple pen. “Purple looks less intimidating than red because we’re conditioned to believe red is a bad color,” he’d said, but purple was worse, because purple was Olivia’s favorite color.
Jordan rummaged through his backpack in search of a pencil. There was his biology textbook, his wallet, his notebooks, his folders, his organic chemistry lab notebook—but there were no more pencils. Great. Just what Jordan needed to add to his already frustrating day. He finally found a blue pen somewhere in the insulated cooler part of his backpack—what that was doing there, he had no idea, but he hoped Professor Hayes wouldn’t mind his using a pencil. He returned to his seat.
Professor Hayes minded.
Struck with a pang of apathy, Jordan looked over his exam. There were only three problems left, three multiple choice questions. Screw it all, screw everything, he decided, scooping the exam up from the table and setting it on top of the other students’ finished exams.
“There are still three more—”
“Like I care,” Jordan replied, turning on his heel and gathering his belongings. He began to swing the backpack over his shoulder, but something slipped out and fell to the ground. He realized he’d forgotten to zip the main pocket, in his earlier hurry to find a pencil. Slightly embarrassed, he stooped to retrieve what had fallen when he saw that one of Olivia’s letters had tumbled out of the backpack, along with the notebook. Cramming both of them into his backpack, this time remembering to zip the stupid thing up, Jordan left the classroom with tears threatening to burn up his eyes.
Several people called Jordan’s name as he skulked down the hallway, but Jordan did not stop to talk. One of his shoelaces slapped the ground as he walked, signaling that he’d forgotten to tie it, but he didn’t stop for that, either. He didn’t stop for anything.
The walk back to Morris Hall, the male freshman dorm that Jordan had to call “home” for the time being, was a short one. It took Jordan a minute or two to locate his wallet, but once he did, he waved his student ID in front of the scanner at the door and heard the beep that meant his entry was approved. Swinging the door open, Jordan stepped inside the dorm, instantly hit with the sound of two rowdy freshmen complaining about some girl named Kennedy Austin.
Austin. Jane Austen. Olivia’s favorite author. It only took two seconds for Jordan to make that connection.
Jordan made it to the second floor in remarkable timing. He unlocked 217 and threw his backpack on the ground. Empty food boxes littered the floor, mostly surrounding his TV in a semicircle that almost looked intentional. Stale grease drifted out of a half-empty Pizza Hut box. The night before, he’d eaten almost all of an extra-large pizza and hadn’t bothered to put the rest in his mini fridge. It was probably already full of half-eaten Chinese takeout dishes, anyways.
Tripping over a sweatshirt that was lying on the floor, Jordan sat heavily on his bed. He’d moved to a single dorm because he was a clean freak and his roommate, like most of the guys on his floor, was a total slob. Now, he had reverted into a packrat worse than the rest of them. It was almost laughable, really, if his reversion hadn’t been instigated by Olivia.
An empty envelope lay on Jordan’s desk, and right next to it was a letter that had been torn in an attempt to get it out of the envelope. Jordan already knew what it said, but he picked it up and reread it again. It was from Michigan State University, congratulating him on his acceptance and encouraging him to take the next steps in the transferring process.
Jordan pulled Olivia’s letter from his backpack and set it down, side-by-side, next to the acceptance letter from MSU. One was typed onto expensive cream paper, the other, scrawled onto a piece of notebook paper that still had the fringes on the edge. Yet one was far more precious than the other. Jordan stared at the latter for several long, drawn-out moments, before letting his eyes fall halfway down the letter.
I think I know what we should call our project. “Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy.” I hope you don’t mind. Anyways, write the next poem when you can, okay? We almost have 30. J It’s going to be a nice chapbook. I think that’s what they call them.