Authors: Nicole Hughes
Jayson tugs me by the hand and leads me from the bedroom to the bathroom, both of us laughing for no good reason other than the joy of each other’s company. With the ugly misunderstanding out of the way, the wonder returns. The voice of doubt in my head is drowned out by lyrics to a love song, and I know for sure I’m a hopeless romantic. I sing a few lines. Jayson snickers at my terrible singing, and I punch him in the shoulder. He picks me up and kisses me, singing a few lines back to me, and he sounds just as bad. I burst out laughing.
“Is this how it’s gonna be between us? Everybody makes relationships sound like such hard work,” I say in awe. It’s fun. It’s fun to have someone to laugh and joke with.
The dawn sends buttercream sunlight flooding through the window to create the perfect setting for my mood. Jayson reaches into the shower he helped restore to turn on the water with a hiss of steam and the sweet rush of droplets falling. Within moments, we’re wrapped in a misty wonderland, caught up in the magic of desire, miles away from reality.
“I hear they’re hard, but rewarding,” he assures me about relationships. I don’t argue. What do I know? I don’t want to name what we are to each other.
He takes his time undressing me and has no trouble at all coaxing me to follow his godlike naked body into the shower. I lift my eyes to boldly look Jayson over, feeling not an ounce of shame over his nudity or mine. When he presses me against the lapis lazuli tile wall, he whispers past my lips, “This time I want to show you what it can really be like…no barriers.” I greedily flick my tongue into his open mouth, eager to learn.
into the wonderful world of interior design starts…or ends…with your design project portfolio review at the end of the spring semester. It’s October. That means you have plenty of time to screw up,” the professor announces. She’s already held her Color and Design class over by three minutes, and I’m with the students waiting at the door for the next course, Textiles, to begin.
She tosses her jet-black hair back and pins the college lowerclassmen with one of those sharp glares that used to make me quake when I was a freshman. There isn’t a person in the world who can cut deeper with just a glance at something a student has labored over than Professor Amy Schwartz, and watching her play the tyrant has me biting my lips to keep from smiling. “These saps aren’t ready for what they’ll have to go through for the rest of fall with her,” I mumble under my breath. I know from experience. I had the same class last year.
“And, for a generation of entitled youths, this class will probably be pretty traumatic for you. Let me say in advance, your feelings and sensitivities don’t mean squat. There are no participation awards. Some of you, unfortunately, will walk away from this experience feeling like a failure because you will have failed. Either you have ‘it’ or you don’t. Think about that while you’re working on tonight’s Color and Design homework. Class dismissed.”
“Wow. She still doesn’t pull any punches,” I mutter from the sidelines. I slide my fingers through my hair and gaze with slightly amused eyes at the students leaving.
A girl from my class shrugs and says, “The truth hurts. Somebody’s gotta warn them that everybody won’t make the cut, right?” I giggle. Yeah, truth hurts—especially when it’s your first taste of it. In order to even advance within the interior design major, students have to pass prerequisites with a C or better. Luckily, I’ve only ever made A’s my entire life. As in, since pre-K, though, strictly, speaking, it wasn’t an A in pre-K, but an awed remark to my mother about my determination to master every skill on offer. I’ve already passed my portfolio review. I look at Professor Schwartz at that podium and think: I definitely have
And suddenly I realize I’m feeling a little elitist for having already gotten over the hurdles the introductory design students have yet to cross, but I’m not so far removed from them. I get a twinge of empathy for the poor lambs being led to slaughter, grabbing their backpacks and jetting out of the classroom as the next class files in to fill the vacated tables.
As I take a seat, the guy behind me leans over my shoulder to whisper, “You sure you don’t want to practice coloring in the lines with the rest of the toddlers? It only gets harder from here on out, sophomore.”
“What’s the matter, Eric? Afraid this sophomore will show your super senior ass up?” I quip with a snarky twist of bow-shaped lips. My accelerated course already has me catching flak from some of my classmates for being the only nineteen-year-old in classes typically reserved for juniors and seniors.
I dismiss his verbal jab and raise my hand to be the first to turn in last night’s assignment, proving to Eric he can’t intimidate me. “By the way, Professor Schwartz, I hope you don’t mind that I went a little over the word count. I know you told us we only had to write a two-thousand-word response to the essay question on nonwoven fabrics, but I got so engrossed in the modern techniques for bonding long fibers that I couldn’t help myself.” I drop the Blue Book on the podium and flounce back to my seat on the first row.
Super Senior Eric looks like he wants to fire poison darts my way. I just smile and cross my long, shapely legs as Professor Amy glances through my work. “Looks very thorough, Kitrina,” she praises me. I preen. “But, from here on out, please note points will be docked for not following directions. I have hundreds of these to go through, and I’m not looking for wordy responses to the essay questions. I’m looking for concise, hard-hitting points. Two thousand words should have covered it.”
I try not to let my shoulders slump as I take the unexpected admonishment. “Yes, ma’am,” I mumble, embarrassed. It’s the first time I’ve ever been berated for doing more than I was asked for, and it stings. At the back of my head, however, I think I’ve left an impression on the professor. I shake off the embarrassment and straighten up in my chair. Even if I have to take a tongue-lashing in front of my peers, Professor Schwartz is now aware that I’ll deliver more than required, go the extra mile. That’s the ‘it’ factor I know she’s looking for. So, when class is over and she calls me to the podium, I saunter up with a confidence not even Eric’s snide comments can make waver.
“Kit, you’re one of my best students, but don’t let it go to your head,” she replies.
“Um…okay…” I nod nervously, not knowing how to respond to being complimented and shot down in the same sentence.
Professor Schwartz smiles to soften the blow and glances up at me. “Look, I’d like to meet with you in my office sometime next week once this early semester rush dies down some. Because you’re on the fast track, I think you might benefit from a little more guidance, and I’d be more than happy to mentor you. I want to help you flesh out your future plans, maybe talk internships and the like. Do you have any idea of what you want to do with your degree?”
“Oh, that’s easy,” I blurt excitedly. With an animated flourish of manicured fingers, I tell her, “My dream job is to have my own interior design show on HGTV! It’ll be called
Kit’s Quick Fixes
, and I’ll show everyday people how to decorate like a pro.” I have it all mapped out in my head. Get my degree. Get my TV show. Be a walking success story. I beam as I stand in front of my favorite teacher—now,
—and I all but squeal with delight at the prospect of getting one-on-one help from someone with her background. Amy Schwartz can afford to be a tyrant in class. She’s a veritable décor icon, one of the most prolific interior designers of the twentieth century, with documentaries and books dedicated to her design methods. She’s literally my idol.
Professor Schwartz replies with a short laugh, “Ambitious! Well, I don’t have time to get into a discussion about it right now, but I look forward to meeting with you, Kitrina. I’ll send you an email with a specific date and time after I look at my schedule, okay?”
Minutes later I breeze out of the classroom feeling like the professor’s pet and not at all ashamed of it. “Grace, when you get this message, call me back,” I whisper into my cell and then shove it in the pocket of my A&F hoodie. My best friend won’t be out of class for another hour, but I have to tell somebody the good news. Textiles is my last class of the day. Even though I know I need to get home before my mom makes it in from work, I almost want to linger until Gracie is free so we can celebrate with smoothies or something at the student union.
I head across the grounds, and it’s one of those blue sky days, unseasonably warm for autumn. The place is bustling with students, and I lament the fact I don’t live in one of the dorms and can’t really get into campus life. Instead, I hop into my bumblebee-yellow Fiat and drive the forty minutes across town to Pacific Heights where I live with my mom. As I pull the squat little car into the driveway next to Mom’s sleek black Ferrari, I gaze wistfully across the lush green landscape at the familiar Bay view, wishing I were away from the stunningly beautiful, but confiningly affluent, neighborhood.
The house on Union Street is a stately reminder of my mother’s considerable wealth and considerable reign over my life. It was Candace’s suggestion I stay home instead of in student housing because, according to Mom, “College campuses teach you how to make mistakes. With your bright future ahead of you, you can’t afford to make those mistakes, Kitrina.” Thus, I’m the only sophomore I know forced to rush home as soon as classes are out. It’s embarrassing…but it’s my norm. What Mom says goes.
I sigh and force myself to get out of my car. “Let’s get this over with,” I grumble as I amble into the house.
“Is that you, Kit?” Mom calls out.
I follow the sound of her voice through the impeccable formal living room to the oversized kitchen, where she’s washing veggies at the sink in the center island. Candace Schneider looks exactly like the sort of woman she is, wearing a dusky-rose cocktail dress made of delicate Chantilly lace (Valentino) while she cooks. I know from experience there’s not a chance in hell she’ll muss her designer clothes. Tomato sauce wouldn’t even dare. She’s that much in control. I secretly wish I had half her aplomb.
“You’re home early, Dr. Schneider.” I inject gaiety into my voice and amble into the kitchen to her side, even though I’m not exactly happy she’s home at least an hour and a half earlier than normal. Mom is a geriatric internist, meaning most of her patients are folks already on the cusp of death. Depressing work. I wash my hands so I can help her get dinner ready.
“Oh, honey, I can’t believe you wore
to school. A hoodie and tights? A woman is only taken as seriously as her presentation.”
“This is the college kid uniform, Mom.” I take a fat, fragrant red bell pepper out of the strainer in the sink and start dicing it, only to be stopped at a tsk from my mom. “What?”
“That’s too coarse. You can do better than that. Here, let me show you. Or, do I have to do everything myself if I want it done right?” In a huff, Mom takes the knife away from me and reduces the globular vegetable on the cutting board into a pile of fine little cubes. “Do it like that. Anyway, everyone else could start wearing paper bags, for all I care. You’re a Schneider. Lord, I tried so hard with the girl,” she says, eyes rolling heavenward.
“Thanks for praying for me, Mom.” I bite back a more irritated response as she moves back to the stove to finish browning the ground turkey for the pasta sauce.
“I’m taking you shopping the next free evening we get. It’s time you stopped slumming it. You’re better than that. We’ll get you some chic casual slacks and nice blouses. I’ll show you that you don’t have to dress up to not dress down, Kitty.”
I swallow a growl at the diminutive, not seeing a damn thing wrong with my comfortable college style. Mom is supportive to the point of hovering sometimes, and even though I know the best way to deal with her natural dominance is to just let her have her way, it still grates on me to have what I like dismantled so casually. And I don’t really
to have my classmates look at me and think “money.” We have it; that’s great; but a lot of kids don’t.
I continue playing sous chef in silence, taking my frustrations out on the parsley, peppers, garlic and onions. The sound of chop-chop-chopping is ridiculously satisfying, but I stop playing with my food with a horrified groan when Mom moves over to the large pot and dumps in a handful of mushrooms. “Uhn! Mom, you know I hate those!”
“Do you? They’re full of selenium. They’re good for you.”
“I’ve been telling you for as long as I can remember that I don’t eat mushrooms. God!”
“Blasphemy, Kitrina? Really?”
“Couldn’t we at least have diced them up too so I wouldn’t have to see them poking through the sauce?” I scrunch up my nose in distaste, the idea of the texture and flavor of gross little ‘shrooms on my tongue making me want to gag. Seriously, I
“Oh, stop being so finicky and finish putting the seasoning in the pot so I can get started on the bread. By the way, you got mail earlier. I opened it. It was from the bursar’s office.”
“You opened my mail?”
She pierces me with a look. “It came to
“What was it about?” I sigh, not wanting the fight of explaining that it was addressed to
“Your refund check. I’ll put it in your account tomorrow.”
“No, I’ll do it. Don’t worry about it. Where is it?” As I wipe off my hands on a dish towel after dumping my choppings into the pot, I make a mental note to go ahead and finally take Mom’s name off of my bank account as secondary. I’m trying not to get upset, but it’s already turning out to be one of those evenings where she pushes all of my buttons.
She bustles out of the kitchen and returns. I try not to visibly bristle at having my privacy violated as I take the open letter from her pristine fingertips, eyes widening as I glance at the five-figure check. “No way! Is that even possible?”
“Yes, way. Especially considering that most of your expenses for this semester were already covered by me, but I won’t take all the credit. You buckled down, studied hard and came out with a 4.5 GPA. It was wise of you to apply for scholarships you felt you qualified for, because you were awarded just about all of them! Now do you see why I said it’s best if you don’t get distracted by living on campus?” Mom’s smile flits across her eternally youthful face, and her ash blonde hair tickles my cheek as she pulls me into a tight hug. “I’m proud of you.”
“Thanks,” I murmur sincerely, pleased with winning her approval. There was a time when my mom was too unhappy to even notice me, too unhappy to get out of bed. I inhale her rose scent and suddenly I’m not as irritated with her, and her nitpicking ways don’t seem so bad. “That’s so much money,” I mutter excitedly as I look back down at the check.
“I’m thinking you should put it all in savings and let it appreciate,” Mom suggests.
“Well, there are some things I’d like to get for the semester.”
“Things like what?”
“Just…stuff. Or, I could pay off my car.” I’m seeing all kinds of ways to spend that money, from going on lavish shopping sprees with Grace to taking trips out of country for spring break. The possibilities are endless—almost. I tuck the fat little refund check in my hoodie pocket under Mom’s watchful, disapproving gaze, and I know she can see the dollar signs cha-chinging in my glittering grey eyes.
She holds out her hand for the check. “I tell you what. You can keep a thousand of it for your personal use, and I’ll put up the rest. We’ll do exactly like we did with the money you made from acting back when you were younger. If you keep investing and saving, you’ll be independently wealthy by the time you graduate.”