I locked my bike outside Wellington Hall and walked down the hall, joining about five other people waiting outside room 109 for the 9:00 Math 22A class. Another class met in this room at 8:00, and I always arrived early enough that the other class had not been dismissed yet. I learned the hard way on the first day of class not to open the door this early.
“Hey, Greg,” Jack Chalmers said. I knew Jack from last year; we had had two classes together, and we lived in nearby dorms and ate at the same dining commons.
“Hi,” I said.
“Finding inverses of matrices is hard!” Jack exclaimed, speaking quickly and eliding syllables here and there, as he normally did, but I understood what he was saying. “The homework took me forever!”
“I know. It seems like there should be an easier way. Maybe we’ll learn one later.”
As Jack continued, I became aware of the classroom emptying. “I just hope every assignment in this class isn’t gonna be that long. I’m already pretty busy this quarter. Hey, Lizzie.”
“Hey, what happened last night?” a girl leaving the classroom asked Jack. I recognized Lizzie, because I had seen Jack say hi to her before as we waited for her class to finish and ours to start. Lizzie was fairly short, with brown eyes and dark brown hair pulled into a ponytail.
“I had so much homework!” Jack told Lizzie.
“That’s too bad,” Lizzie replied. “Hopefully I’ll see you this weekend?”
Lizzie looked at me for a second before she turned to walk away. “Bye,” I said, waving, even though I did not know Lizzie at all beyond always seeing her leave this class, and I had no idea what plans Jack had missed out on.
“Bye,” she replied, smiling.
I walked into the room along with Jack and the others waiting for our math class. I spent the next hour listening to the instructor, a curly-haired man named Anton, explain properties of matrices and their inverses. Anton demonstrated how to prove the invertibility of a matrix, in his usual broken English. He told us to call him Anton; I was not sure if this was because his last name was difficult for English-speakers, or because calling professors by first name was the norm in his home country. I never did figure out exactly which country this was.
As soon as math class finished, I crossed West Quad Avenue and walked to the far end of the Memorial Union building, near the campus bookstore, to a stairway leading down. The basement of this building contained a game room with 16 lanes of bowling, along with pool tables, pinball machines, and coin-operated video games. Here at the University of Jeromeville, students got two appointments to register for classes, three weeks apart, using an automated telephone system. On the first appointment, students may only register for up to thirteen and one-half units, enough to be classified as a full time student, but limited so that not all classes fill up before everyone has had a chance to register. I registered for bowling and weight training just to make sure I had enough classes, intending to drop these once I added chemistry on the second pass, but I ended up keeping bowling and only dropping weight training.
Today, the bowling coach, Frank White, demonstrated the proper release of the ball, with a flick of the wrist giving the ball a bit of spin. We began learning this last time, on Monday, and I was terrible at it. My mind began to wander, and I spent a few minutes starting at a plaque on the wall with names of everyone who bowled a perfect game on these lanes. So far, there were eight perfect games. This was the fourth time bowling class had met this year, and I had been bowling down here a few times last year, but today one of those names jumped out at me that I had never noticed before.
Frank White was my instructor, the man standing here in front of me explaining how to release the ball. Apparently he bowled a perfect game here six years ago. That was quite an accomplishment. I watched carefully, paying close attention to what he was doing. By the end of class, though, it seemed like my technique was worse than ever. I had not bowled this many gutter balls since I was a child.
I had an hour between bowling and chemistry lecture, which I used to work on the new math assignment due Friday. After chemistry, I had another hour before physics lecture; I spent it sitting on the Quad, eating the lunch I packed and reading the campus newspaper, the Daily Colt. After physics, I returned to Wellington, where my math class had been in the morning. Room 102 was a large study room, with a row of comfortable chairs, and six cubicles each containing a table and a small chalkboard. A few students sat quietly in the chairs, and two students worked together in one of the cubicles. I noticed the cubicles had signs with numbers on them. Four other signs placed in prominent places around the room announced that These cubicles may be reserved by the Learning Skills Center.
That was me. This was my first day on the job for the Learning Skills Center. I walked to table 3, where two students named Yesenia Fonseca and Kevin Dunnigan were assigned to meet me. A short girl with olive skin and long brown hair most of the way down her back sat at the table. I wondered if she was waiting for me, or if she just sat there not knowing that the table was reserved.
“Are you Yesenia?” I asked.
The girl’s face lit up. “Yeah!” she exclaimed enthusiastically. “You’re my tutor?”
“Yes. I’m Greg. Nice to meet you.”
“Nice to meet you too! Is it just us or will there be a group?”
“There’s one other person signed up, a guy named Kevin Dunnigan. Do you know him?”
“No,” she said. “But he might be in my class. It’s a huge class.”
“I think usually they put students together from the same class, so he probably is,” I explained. Yesenia and Kevin were taking Math 21A, the beginning quarter of calculus. Students who begin calculus fall quarter get a large lecture hall class.. I skipped a quarter since I had taken the Advanced Placement test in high school, so I started fall of my freshman year in 21B, and since fewer students take 21B in the fall compared to 21A, my classes were smaller.
“We can wait a few minutes to get started, see if Kevin comes,” I said. “It’s early.”
“How does this work?”
“Honestly, I’m not really sure,” I said. “This is my first time tutoring, ever. I think I just answer any questions you have about anything you’ve been going over in class. Or we can work on stuff from your homework. You can do it while I’m here, so you can ask for help if you need to.”
“That sounds good. So what year are you?”
“I’m a sophomore,” I said.
“I’m a freshman.” Yesenia smiled apologetically, as if to say that she knew that freshmen were traditionally on the bottom rung of the social ladder. I did not care that she was a freshman.
“How do you like Jeromeville so far?” I asked.
“I love it! I’ve already made a lot of great friends in my dorm.”
“Good. Which dorm?”
“South Area. Building C.”
“Building C!” I exclaimed. “I was in Building C last year!”
“Yes! I loved it too! I felt like the IHP gave me a smaller community within the large university.”
“That’s a great way of describing it.”
A boy with dark hair and an athletic build approached our table, looking at a sheet of paper on which he had written something. “Are you Greg?” he asked.
“Yes,” I replied. “Kevin?”
“Yeah. You’re my tutor.”
“Nice to meet you,” I said. Kevin Dunnigan did not look like what I expected of someone with an Irish-sounding name; I wondered from his appearance if his mother was Asian. “Do you two know each other?”
“No,” Kevin said.
“I’m Yesenia,” Yesenia said, extending her hand. “I think I’ve seen you in class. 10:00 with Dr. Hong?”
I spent the next fifty minutes working with Yesenia and Kevin, talking about limits of functions and how to calculate them. This was the class that I had skipped; I had not technically taken it before. I was familiar with most of what they were doing, of course, but one question on their assignment involved the epsilon-delta proof of finding the limit of a function. My calculus class at Plumdale High did not go that in depth. However, I was able to figure it out; I had done enough similar problems in other classes since then.
“It’s about time to wrap up,” I said at the end of the session. “Any other questions before we leave?”
“I’m starting to understand this a lot better,” Kevin replied.
“Me too,” Yesenia added. “Thank you!”
“You’re welcome,” I replied. “See you guys next week?”
It was almost 4:30 by the time I finally got home. I spent some time on the computer catching up on emails, and I put a frozen pot pie in the oven for dinner. I still had to do my pre-lab for physics tomorrow. But my night was not over yet, because it was Wednesday, and I had choir practice at church. Last week was the first time I had ever sung at church, and one of the others in the group, Heather Escamilla, had mentioned carpooling since we were neighbors in the same apartment complex. At 6:40 that night, after eating the pot pie and writing my pre-lab, I walked to Heather’s apartment and knocked on the door.
“Hey, Greg,” Heather said, opening the door. I could see a guy with long brown hair inside the apartment, sitting at a computer typing; he looked up at me. “This is my boyfriend, Gary,” Heather said.
“Hi,” I said. “Nice to meet you.”
“Nice to meet you, too,” Gary replied.
“You ready?” Heather asked.
“Yes. Let’s go.”
Heather locked the door behind her, and I followed her to her car, a Jeep Cherokee. The way Gary sat at the computer made me wonder if he and Heather lived together. Being Catholic, there was all that stuff about fornication and adultery and things like that which suggested that it was wrong for boyfriends and girlfriends to live together. Maybe they lived together in separate bedrooms. It was none of my business, so I did not ask. On the way to the church, I told Heather about my first day of tutoring, and she told me about the midterm she had in the morning that she would be up late studying for.
When we arrived, I noticed that Danielle was there with her sister, Carly, a freshman. I had met Carly twice before, once at church this year and once last year when Danielle’s family came to visit her in the dorm. I thought it was interesting that Carly was singing too. Danielle had told me over the summer that Carly was coming to Jeromeville, and Danielle was a little bit upset that Carly had chosen the same major and was in one of the same classes as her. And now Carly was following her big sister to choir at the Newman Center. I hoped that there was no drama going on with them.
“Hi, Greg,” Danielle said. “You remember my sister, Carly?”
“Yeah. Good to see you again.”
“You too,” Carly replied. Carly was a few inches taller and somewhat thinner than Danielle, with straight brown hair. They did not look very much alike, but considering that my brother Mark does not look like me, I no longer found it surprising when siblings did not look alike. For as much as Danielle was a good friend, I had to admit that Carly was better looking. I wondered if, growing up, Carly got more attention from boys, and if this had been part of the reason Danielle felt uneasy about Carly being in the same major and one of Danielle’s classes.
A few minutes later, Claire, a junior who seemed somewhat to be in charge of things, gave us all a stack of papers. It was an address and phone list of all of us doing music at 11:00 Mass. I scanned the list to make sure that my information was correct; it was. I read through the other names. I recognized some of the names. Danielle Coronado. Carly Coronado. Matt Jones. Heather Escamilla. Some of the last names were unfamiliar to me, because I had only met these people by first name last week. Claire Seaver. Sabrina Murpy. That was an unusual last name; I wondered if it was a typo and her name was actually Murphy. (It was, I would learn later.) I continued reading. Phil Gallo. Ryan Gambrell.
A jolt of adrenaline shot through my body, and I did a double take and read the name again. My brain made a flurry of connections between things said a year ago and things said last week. Matt said last week that Ryan was his friend from high school. Matt went to St. Luke’s High School in Gabilan, so Ryan also went to St. Luke’s. Right near where I grew up. I looked at Ryan, now seeing his mysteriously familiar toothy smile with new eyes.
“Ryan Gambrell,” I said.
“Yeah?” Ryan replied.
Ryan looked confused for a second, then surprised; clearly he was not expecting me to say that. “Yes,” he said. “How do you know my sister?”
“I went to Plumdale High. A class I was in and a class she was in did a project together my senior year, her sophomore year. And now I remember I told her I was going to Jeromeville, and she said her brother goes there.”
“How funny. Small world.”
“Tell her I said hi.” I wanted to tell Annie so much more than hi. I wanted to tell her all about how I was doing here. I wanted to know where she was applying to school, since she was a senior this year. I wondered what to make of the fact that she was always so nice to me when I was a senior, and she wrote something really nice in the back of my yearbook, but she had not stayed in touch at all. I wanted to tell her to come visit me if she ever came up here to visit Ryan or to tour the campus. And I was curious if she and her boyfriend were still together, because as long as they were, all these feelings I had felt wrong and forbidden.
“I will,” Ryan said.
Choir practice continued uneventfully for the rest of the night. One song I did not know well, but I figured it out fairly quickly and felt that I would be able to sing it with everyone else in front of the congregation on Sunday morning. On the way home, in Heather’s Jeep, I mentioned to her about knowing Ryan’s sister from high school.
“Whoa,” Heather said. “It’s weird how that kind of thing happens.”
“Gary told me once he was in Capital City, and he ran into this guy he knew from when he used to live in Arizona as a kid.”
“Wow. That’s even crazier.”
I got home and listened to music while I opened an IRC chat on the computer; although I was messaging a girl on there, I could not stop thinking about Annie Gambrell. I wondered if I would ever see her again. Even though she had not written to me, I had a connection with her again, in that I knew her brother. But I also felt that this crush was one I needed to keep secret, because the entire time I knew her in person, she had a boyfriend. Annie’s boyfriend was one of the popular guys from the class a year older than her and a year younger than me.
In the time that I knew Ryan, I ended up not talking to him much about Annie. Annie was off limits. Most of the best girls were off limits. It was not my place in life to be romantically involved with the popular girls. The concept of high school popularity does not carry over to the culture of a large university, but still felt, deep down inside, that I probably did not have much of a shot with friendly and attractive girls here either.