It was painfully humid out. The humidity in Savannah, GA was so bad that papers within your home would curl as a result of the moisture.
Megan, Eliza, and I had all finished our first day of classes and each had a list of dozens of art supplies “needed” for the quarter. I use the term “needed” loosely because half of the stuff that I paid exorbitant prices for, were never even opened. We decided not to go to the student store after hearing that a place in town was a little cheaper.
The store was swarming with students, but not nearly as crowded as the other places we had passed. We all split up to find our items. Goosebumps rose on my arms as I walked under the air conditioner. My corduroy overalls made a “zip” noise as the pant legs brushed against each other and the straps kept falling off of my shoulders, down past my dark blue shirt. The stiff material brushed against the soft skin of my bicep. I could feel the handkerchief I wore as a headband starting to slip, and I tugged it back into place between pinched fingers.
I reached for something called a rubber brayer. As my fingertips brushed the hard plastic casing, a deep voice spoke quietly from my right side. “You won’t use that. They always say to buy it, but I’ve been drawing for years and have never even picked one up.”
I looked to the right without moving my head, my body frozen in its position. He was tall, towering more than a foot over me, I’d say. He had chiseled features, an angular nose and jaw line, and a strong chin. His brow bone was very pronounced and cast a shadow over his deep-set, blue eyes. His muscles rippled beneath his black wife beater, faded jeans, and chucks. Two earrings hung from the cartilage of his left ear and his light brown hair, though short, curled around the outside of the bandana he had tied around his head. His hairstyle did not fit with the rest of his attire, it was much too preppy looking.
I released the tool that was in my hand. All I could answer was, “Oh.”
He nodded and brushed past me, not smiling but not frowning. Apparently, he wasn’t much of a talker.
After about 30 minutes, my basket was full of pencils, charcoal, paint, brushes, newsprint, and any other generic art supply you could think of. Eliza and Megan were already heading to the long checkout line where we were meeting. When we reached the end, we were about the 15th persons in the line. Directly in front of me stood the preppy wifebeater guy. The other girls didn’t seem to notice him, but my weight kept shifting back and forth uncomfortably knowing that he was within earshot.
Eliza had the fullest basket and she rummaged through it making sure she hadn’t missed anything from her list as she spoke. “Are you guys taking any photography classes this quarter?”
I answered. “No. I probably could have switched my schedule in order to, but I figured that’s what everyone would be trying to do.” The metal handle of my basket was starting to pinch the skin on my forearm.
Eliza still didn’t look up. “Yeah, I saw my advisor today. I didn’t want to have to wait to start classes within my major.”
There was a huff, a stifled laugh almost, from the preppy wifebeater in front of us. Megan and Eliza looked confused, and my eyebrows rose defensively. I continued, ignoring his outburst. “Well, did you manage to get a theatre class in, too?”
Eliza was still looking over my shoulder at the guy behind me. “No, I could only choose one battle so I went with photography.” After she finished this sentence, she mouthed the words Do you know him? to me inaudibly.
I shook my head, and when I turned to look over my shoulder at him he was already glancing in my direction with an arrogant but playful smirk. My lips curled into a smile. “Smart thinking,” I looked back at Eliza, my voice growing into a crescendo. “I figured since I was auditioning for the fall musical, I didn’t need to take a theatre class right now.”
This time he laughed loudly, without even attempting to swallow or hide it.
“Excuse me,” I tapped his shoulder with a bony finger, “does our conversation amuse you?”
He put a closed fist in front of his mouth, trying to compose himself. “I’m sorry.” He said the words, but it just didn’t seem sincere. “It just explains so much.” He said this in a way that suggested I was supposed to know what he was talking about. He paused and I raised my eyebrows, my face returning his gaze blankly.
He continued, “You know. You being an actress.” He was smiling playfully.
My eyes narrowed. “Yes, I am an actress. And that explains what exactly? My charm? My beauty? My grace—“
“Your modesty.” He interrupted, mischief flashing in his crystal blue eyes.
I nodded again. “To name a few.”
“So what are you doing at this school? Acting is hardly an art form.”
He was trying to get a rise out of me. I felt like I was back in kindergarten where the boy that liked me used to tug on my braids. “You’ve obviously never seen me act then.”
“So what is it you study, Mr. Arteest.”
He cleared his throat. “Well, I am a sequential art major.” He stopped there, without further explanation.
“And what is that exactly?” I tried to elongate my spine to appear taller in front of him.
“It’s, uh, like illustration.”
Megan’s meek voice came from behind me. I had forgotten they were back there. “Sequential art isn’t illustration….it’s comic book art.”
I laughed louder than I intended and had to press my lips together in order to stop. “Let me get this straight…in your mind, comics are more of an art form than theatre?”
His long arm reached around, rubbing the back of his neck, the way you do when you’re searching for something to say. “So…do you live in the dorms?”
I nodded. “Yes. Is this what you always do when you’re proven wrong? Change the subject?”
He smiled. “Maybe you’ll have to find that out for yourself.” His teeth were perfectly straight and a shimmery shade of white. “How’s the food in the dorms? Pretty bad?”
“No actually,” I thought for a moment, my eyes rolling up to the ceiling, “it’s relatively good.”
He was about to say something more when one of the four cash registers opened up. I could have thrown the palette knife resting in my basket at the sales associate who yelled, “NEXT!” interrupting whatever thought was in his head. The preppy wifebeater arteest made his way to the counter, taking a moment to glance once more at me over his shoulder.
I was the first of the girls to pay and after I finished I went outside to wait for them. I wasn’t used to air-conditioning yet, and it was giving me chills. As I pushed open the doors, I saw him waiting there for me, leaning against the brick of the building with one foot propped up behind him. I smiled and shielded my eyes from the bright sunlight. “Well, hey again.”
“Hi.” He was squinting one eye tighter than the other in the sunlight. It reminded me of a pirate. “So I was thinking, the dorm food can’t be that good,” He spoke in an exaggerated tone, “You need a real meal. Like at a restaurant. With me.”
I smiled, dropping my one free hand down to my thigh. “I think you’re right.” I nodded to him, then added as an afterthought, “I’m Colleen by the way.”
“Sean.” He handed me a piece of paper with his name and number on it. As his hand reached across to mine, I noticed him looking intently at my bag. His direction shifted and he reached in and pulled out the rubber brayer from before. “I thought I told you that you didn’t need this?”
I plucked it from his grasp and tossed it back into my bag. “I don’t trust a man’s opinion who doesn’t consider what I do an art form.” While saying this, Eliza and Megan came outside carrying two shopping bags each.
I brushed past his shoulder and as we were walking home, Liza leaned in to me. “You really don’t need that, you know.”
I didn’t look at her but spoke through the side of my mouth, “Shhh, I know. I’m returning it tomorrow.”