Brittany Alexander walked hesitantly into the performing arts building. Her drama class was her last of the day and if it went anything like her Calculus and Psychology classes, she was going to be in trouble. She looked nervously from side to side as she kept her head down, swerving around the other students in the building. In high school, her walk to the auditorium had been one of juxtaposing excitement and comfort. She never knew what was going to happen, but it always felt like home. Here, everything was new and, even though she knew she was supposed to be thriving on the challenge, her nerves had gotten the best of her.
The doors of the classroom seemed heavy as she pushed her way through, her bag catching on the handle causing her to stumble. She glanced around, hoping no one saw her embarrassing clumsiness. All of the other students were minding their own business, most staring at their desks, some talking to their neighbors. Brittany was almost ready to sigh in relief when her eyes landed on a girl in the front row. This girl, with her short black hair and her dark eyes, was smiling at her. Not necessarily a sympathetic smile, but one of amusement, as if she was watching a cartoon.
Brittany blushed a deep shade of red and smiled back, trying to laugh off her unease. The girl's smile widened into a sincere look of understanding and curiosity and Brittany swore she felt her heart jump in her chest. She quickly looked down and took her seat a few rows back, making sure she could see the professor and the entire front row.
Class proceeded much as Brittany hoped it would. The professor was passionate about his craft, she would have been scared if any drama teacher wasn't, and he clearly outlined his expectations and the curriculum. She was trying to pay the professor her complete attention, but every time the girl in the front row moved her head or adjusted her weight in her seat, Brittany felt her gaze shifting. At one point she realized she had been staring at the back of the girl's neck for nearly five minutes. But something about her was intriguing. Maybe it was the dark freckles just between her shoulder blades that looked exactly like Brittany's favorite constellation. Or maybe it was the way the girl ran her hand through her short black hair. Maybe it was the way she stood up so gracefully from her chair. Shit! It must be time to leave.
Brittany glanced around and saw the other students were packing their books in their bags and walking out the door. Had she missed something? She must have if she hadn't even realized the professor had excused them. She stood up warily, wondering if she should ask the professor to repeat the homework or if she should ask another student. Either way, she would look like a fool, but that wasn't a new phenomenon.
Opening up her bag, she shoved her books inside and threw the strap over her shoulder as she stood up.
"Excuse me," she heard a voice and looked up, surprised to see the black haired girl standing in front of her. "Do you have any idea where Green Hall is?"
If Brittany had known the answer, she doubted she would be able to give it to the girl. Something about her was so incredibly intimidating though what it was, Brittany didn't know. Was it her height? She must be nearly 6 feet tall. Maybe it was her bold features, all of which struck Brittany as beautiful. One or the other or all of the above, Brittany couldn't move as the girl took a step toward her.
"Hey, I'm Nikki," she said, extending her hand.
Brittany could only nod as she started to walk around the girl toward the door.
Dear God, no, Brittany thought to herself as she heard Nikki following behind her. But sure enough, she felt Nikki's hand on her arm as she pushed through the door of the classroom and out into the hallway. Brittany stopped just outside the door and jerked her arm away, uncomfortable and confused with the warm feeling of Nikki's touch.
"Look, I'm sorry. I don't know where Green Hall is," Brittany said quickly, turning to face Nikki and seeing the girl's face sink at her defensive gesture.
"Okay. I just," Nikki paused and then shook her head. "I was just trying to start a friendly conversation."
"Does it look like I need a friend?" Brittany shot her a glare which only made Nikki smile again.
"Actually, yes. It does." Nikki stared at the scared girl for a moment. She had seen her at the beginning of class, her curly blonde hair and her pink cheeks gave her a cherubic look but her dark brown eyes offset that image completely.
But the girl didn't say anything and all Nikki could do was shrug her shoulders and turn around to leave. So much for making new friends. Not that Nikki needed any. A few kids from her high school were here and she had already befriended half of the drama department with her eagerness to participate in the Fall production. She was only trying to be nice because clearly the girl needed help. She had looked a complete mess on her way into class, tangling herself between her book bag and the door. And by the time class had ended, the blonde look practically terrified. Oh well, she thought. At least she tried.
"I'm sorry," she heard a small voice from behind her. Nikki smiled and slowed her step.
"I'm sorry," the girl repeated. "The first day off class has me kind of nervous. I'm Brittany."
Nikki looked down at the girl who was now beside her. "Hey, Brittany. I'm Nikki." She put out her hand and this time the girl took it.
Nikki's handshake was strong and comforting but Brittany didn't want to linger in the moment. She hadn't meant to offend Nikki by her behavior, but she was scared. Scared because she was feeling something she knew was wrong, scared because she was feeling something she knew wouldn't be reciprocated. But as she watched Nikki walk away from her, Brittany knew she would be miserable if she didn't at least talk to the girl.
"Are you a freshman as well?" Brittany asked, eager to learn more about her.
"Yup," Nikki said with enthusiasm but didn't elaborate.
"Where are you from?"
"New York City. You?"
"Just outside Chicago."
"The Windy City! I saw The Color Purple at the Cadillac Palace a few years ago."
"Are you kidding?" Brittany beamed. "I interned with the Stage Manager for that run."
"Really? That's awesome."
"By intern, I mean running to Starbucks every two hours and getting coffee, most of which I managed to order incorrectly, but at least I didn't get fired before the show started."
Nikki laughed. She liked Brittany and her unfortunate clumsiness. "Are you doing anything with the Fall production here?"
"I hadn't really thought about it," Brittany answered honestly. "I was worried that I wouldn't be able to focus on all my classes, much less a production."
"You should check it out," Nikki encouraged. "They don't need any major rolls filled or anything like that. Mostly just prop and set work."
"I guess a few hours of painting backdrops wouldn't hurt," Brittany said with a smile as Nikki held the door open for her. The afternoon sun was still high in the sky and Brittany realized that no bells were going to ring signaling for her to find her locker and collect her things to go home. No parents would be waiting in cars to drive their kids home from school and nobody could stop her if she wanted to start her homework someplace other than her room or the library.
"I guess I'll see you in class, then."
Brittany returned her attention to her new friend and smiled. "I'll see you then."
"Maybe next time you'll sit by me so I won't look like the only loser in the front of the classroom," Nikki teased.
"Maybe," Brittany laughed. "Speaking of next class, did he assign any homework?"
Nikki laughed. "You're kidding, right?"
"No," Brittany admitted. "I told you, I was really nervous…"
But Nikki was shaking her head and laughing again. "Come prepared with a five to seven minute monologue from a 20th century playwright. You're allowed one prop."
"Wow," Brittany laughed at herself. "I completely missed that one. Thanks."
"You're welcome," Nikki said with a smile. "See, looks like you really did need me."
Brittany smiled and waved goodbye as Nikki took off across the campus. From the looks of things, Brittany needed Nikki like she needed a hole in her head. The girl was going to be a distraction, but most likely one she couldn't stay away from.