(To read the previous chapter, click here.)
“Audrey! How could you actually say that?” Becca stopped in her tracks and grasped her books tightly to her chest, her red painted lips in a comical oval of horror. Audrey sighed at her friend’s theatrics.
“Can you not?” Audrey kept walking. “Come on, we’re going to be late.” Becca hurried back to her side.
“I’m sorry Audrey, I really am. But I’m pretty sure we can’t be friends if you can’t appreciate the sex appeal of a guy who’s been deemed Kurt Cobain incarnate by half the campus.”
“I’d agree that perhaps he resembles Cobain after he got done with the shotgun.” Becca scoffed, spun on her heel, and began walking determinedly in the opposite direction. Audrey laughed and turned to grab her friend’s arm. “Okay, okay, that’s a bit harsh. His face is pretty cute. But honestly, the dude takes the whole grungy-unwashed-hair look a bit too far. It skeeves me out.”
“Your prejudice about certain hair styles gives you no right to insult such a delicious specimen.” Audrey sighed again, and let the conversation drop. Sometimes she wondered about the differences between herself and her histrionic best friend. Becca was the textbook extrovert: an expressive English major who loved theater, made friends easily, always had a party to attend or a friend’s place to hang at or a guy to text. She wasn’t loose or easy, but she was pretty and outgoing and liked to flit from one romantic interest to another, rarely dating anyone for longer than a month.
Audrey was much more withdrawn, and often found herself watching a talkative person and thinking about how they acted more than listening to what they were saying. She enjoyed spending time with friends, even accompanied Becca to parties, but relished in the time she spent alone running or reading. Sometimes guys flirted with her, but she was always at a loss as to how to respond and didn’t like all the uncertainty that came with dating. Also unlike Becca, who apparently declared she was going to be a writer at the age of 4, she was undecided about her major. The only academic thing that stood out to her was research, and she had yet to hear of any majors or minors that called for constantly reading biographies, browsing Wikipedia, and watching documentaries.
When Becca didn’t begin talking again about whatever else crossed her mind, Audrey glanced over to her and realized she was answering a text. She used the few minutes of quiet from Becca to take a good look around as the two of them walked to their Lit 325 course. Carleton College was one of the best private universities in Minnesota, and was Audrey’s first choice. The brick buildings had an archaic feeling to them, and when she first visited the campus in high school the trees were radiant with maroon, gold, and copper autumn leaves. Combine the school’s beauty with the fact that the enrollment was hardly 2,000 students per year, and Audrey was in love. She and Becca had been randomly assigned as roommates as freshmen, and in spite of their opposing personalities the two of them grew close. Now they were beginning their sophomore year, rooming again and even taking a class together. The first day of classes was a mild day, a breezy 70 degrees, and Audrey had on jeans and her favorite Carleton hoodie while Becca wore a maxi skirt and two layered cardigans over a tank top, topped off with an airy gossamer scarf.
They arrived to class a few minutes early, and the professor hadn’t yet made an appearance. There were only a few seats available—everyone was always overly punctual on the first day of class. Audrey ended up sitting in the front tow next to a girl named Laura who she’d taken a course with the year before, while Becca sat next to a guy with his eyebrow pierced in the second to last row. Audrey took out her binder, her favorite pen, and the required textbook for the course out of the satchel she used as a book bag. She settled down comfortably in her desk, and let herself drift in and out of the conversations being had around her. She overheard a guy raving about the season finale of a popular reality show, and the girl to her right chatting flippantly about an ex she allegedly got over during summer break. She heard Becca tittering faintly behind her at something the pierced guy murmured at her.
Audrey was suddenly uncomfortably aware of the fact that she had no part in the pleasant hum of conversation pervading the room. She was generally content with her level of social activity, but at a times she was wont to feeling incredibly lonely; this feeling never fell upon her while she was alone in her dorm, or on a solidary morning run, or holed up in the library. No, Audrey only felt this painful sting of isolation when she was in groups or crowds, listening to the people around her happily enjoying each other’s company while she herself felt glaringly out of place. She would imagine a clever response to something someone said, or come up with interesting and relevant anecdotes that she was sure would make everyone laugh, but never could she bring herself to say anything on her own accord. Like some woman raised in pre-suffrage times, Audrey only found herself comfortable with speaking when she was spoken to first.
So, not for the first time, Audrey sat in her bubble of self-imposed seclusion in a room full of people. Not for the first time, Audrey promised herself that the next chance she had to talk in a group of people, she would. Not for the first time, Audrey felt absolutely alo—
“Hey, Audrey! Look!” And not for the first time, Audrey was snapped out of her self-pitying thoughts of lonesomeness by the cheerful voice of her best friend. She looked up to see Becca leading a sheepish-looking guy with wavy brown hair and hazel eyes across the room by his elbow. “How didn’t I know he was in our class? Anyway, now you can finally meet him. This is my lovely twin, Dean.”