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The first day of my first semester at Columbia State, and I was already beginning to regret my "new school year" resolution to finally, once and for all, kick my caffeine addiction. Allegedly, caffeine has been linked to stunted growth, and I, ever the optimist regarding my own height, was hoping for just a few more inches on top of my already towering 5'2" frame.
My head was already throbbing as I trudged my way across campus to my first class. "Whatever you do, don't take an 8 AM class," Jess had said. Did I listen? No. Did I wish I'd listened? Yes. Screw those extra few inches. After this class, I was marching my sweatpants-clad ass down to the Starbucks I saw in the bookstore during move-in day.
There was one main road going through our campus, which essentially cut the university in half. To get to the lecture halls from the residence buildings, you had to cross it. I'd lived on campus now for three days, and so far I've seen that it could occasionally be a little busy, usually around noon, and to cross, you'd the signal at the crosswalk. At 7:45 in the morning, however, the road was quiet.
I was focused on the sweet relief of a double shot espresso when I stepped out into the road. Approaching it, it had looked clear, as far as I could see. At that moment, however, some idiot on a motorcycle decided to come squealing out of a parking lot and barrel down the road. I leapt out of his path just in time to see my reflection in the shiny red paint of his helmet. "Jesus Christ!" I yelled at his back as I sped off, " Watch it, idiot!" I watched him disappear around a corner and stood like a dope in the middle of the road until the obnoxious sound of his motor faded into the distance.
I was almost the victim of a hit an run.
I sent the text to my boyfriend, who was currently starting his own first semester at Union Park Honors University, two hours up the road. A few minutes later, as I sat down in my first class, Intro to Psychology, Brandon's reply popped up on my phone. 'Already? Are you okay?'
Obviously, I sent back. Just adequately pissed off.
Do you know who it was?
No. I didn't get a good look at him.
Alright, babe. My class is starting, have to put my phone away. Stay safe. Talk later?
Sure, I replied, Love you.
Love you too. I turned my phone off and slid it into my bag. I watched the second hand on the clock slowly tick its way around the face, until 8 o'clock rolled around, and the classroom was still devoid of a professor. I looked around at my confused classmates, and I waited for someone to mutter that 'if the teacher is 12 minutes late...' line when a young man in black dress pants and a blue button-down hurried through the door, a messenger bag in one hand and a file full of loose papers in the other. I took an educated guess, and mentally labeled this guy as the professor.
He dumped the bag and file on his desk and turned to face those of us sitting in the gallery.
"Alright," he said breathlessly, "This is a terrible first impression."
He chuckled, though somewhat nervously, to himself, and ran a hand through his curly brown hair.
"Um... so I'm Professor Bennett Anson, but you can call me Anson, or Bennett... or Ben... frankly, you can call me whatever you want, as long as it begins with the word 'professor.'" He paused for a moment. "Anyways, I'm well aware that most of you don't care at all for this class, that you're only here because this is a required credit and that you're all tired and cranky because we're all awake before God, but please believe me when I say this is a very interesting course and I think you'll all end up really enjoying it."
I watched him as he spoke. He couldn't be more than thirty. His hair was slightly greasy and disheveled and he'd neglected to shave that morning. His shirt was wrinkled and untucked on one side, and there was an obvious coffee stain down the front. Coffee. Damn my headache was back. That could be psychological right?
Professor Anson looked back into the tired eyes of his students, beginning to look uncomfortable with the silence.
"Tough crowd," he murmured, more to himself than anyone else, and turned towards the whiteboard. "Okay, I suppose we should be starting now... if you would all turn your textbooks to Unit One on page 12—"
Our disheveled professor launched into his planned lecture, and the hour passed slowly. I took notes periodically, whenever he would write something down on the board, but mostly I just watched the second-hand tick around the clock as my headache ground away at my skull.
"Alright, remember. Your research paper on phobias is due next class, as an intro to our next unit. The paper should include a definition, summary and at least two specific examples." Professor Anson reminded us as we filed through his door. I made a mental note to start after my Studies in Literature class this afternoon.
But first, coffee.
The rest of the campus was beginning to wake up. Students on their way to their morning classes roamed around with varying degrees of urgency, clutching books and bags. I hurried across campus, pausing only at the road to make sure no lunatic on a motorcycle was going to try to mow me down this time.
The Starbucks was packed when I walked in. I sighed, and took my place in line, reaching into my sweatpants pocket to text Brandon.
'Already going back on my resolution.' I sent. Brandon's reply popped up almost immediately.
'Already? Babe, it's been less than a day.'
'I know, lol. I'm weak, I'll admit it.' I typed back, cracking a small smile.
'That's ok. It actually might give us somewhere to hang when I come up and see you this weekend.'
"Ooh! Whose Brandon?" It was then I noticed the spying, dark-haired boy peering over my shoulder at my phone screen. I whirled around and almost had to crane my neck to stare up into his face. Damn, he was tall. "What do you think you're doing?"
"Woah, feisty." He smirked. "I asked you a question first."
"That's absolutely none of your business." I snapped back at him, turning on my heel to face back to the front of the line.
"Oh, so your boyfriend, huh?" he replied smugly, stepping around me and leaning downwards to look into my face. "Coming to college with a boyfriend huh? Foolish... it's cute though, I'll give you that."
Cute? I stepped around him, scoffing. "No cutting in line," I muttered, annoyed. I stared straight ahead, trying to ignore him as he continued to speak. "I had a girlfriend back home, but she broke up with me right after graduation. Said she couldn't handle the distance. I don't blame her, though. She's in some fancy sorority out west now. It was probably for the best." I rolled my eyes. I couldn't recall asking for this information.
"So what's your name?" He asked in the middle of his life story. The Segway was so abrupt, it caught me by surprise. "What?" I turned my head to glare at him.
He cocked his head to the side. "Your name. What is it?" His smirk was gone, replaced by a kind smile. His eyes crinkled around their edges when he smiled.
"Um," I tilted my head to the side, "Jo?"
"Jo?" he laughed. "Is that your final answer? You sound unsure." His stupid smirk was back. So much for that whole nice guy thing. "It's Jo," I said more definitely.
"I see." He nodded. "Now is that Joe with an 'e' or just J-o?"
"I don't see why that information is important," I said, turning back around. I was nearing the front of the line.
"What's it short for?" He asked, obviously not getting the hint.
"Just Jo," I said curtly. My headache was getting worse by the second.
"Next in line, please," the barista, another student with blonde hair a pretty face, announced, and I stepped up to the register. "What can I get you?"
"Just a dark roast for me, thanks," I said, fishing into my bag for my wallet. "And what size would you like?" She asked, punching my order into the system.
"Uh..." I paused to look at the menu options. I figured I should show some restraint here, but screw it. "Venti," I said with a sigh. "Can I get a name for the order?"
"Jo," I answered. "How much do I owe you?"
"Six-fifty," she replied. Wow, this expensive coffee, and I still couldn't find my damn wallet.
"Here, it's on me." The nosy boy from the line extended a $10 dollar bill in front of him. My eyes darted up to his face, but his gaze remained fixed frontward.
"Thank you..." I said, some of my frustration fading.
"Don't mention it." He said as I walked away to wait for my drink. As I waited, he cracked a joke I couldn't quite hear with the barista, and she laughed a little too loudly for a little too long. I looked up and watched as she twirled a strand of her hair around her finger and lean towards him as he spoke. It was the sort of obvious flirting my friends and I would laugh at back in high school. She looked crazy, laughing like he was the funniest person she'd ever heard. It wasn't until I looked at him that I realized what she saw.
He was tall and lean, with broad shoulders and messy hickory colored hair. His grey t-shirt fit snugly around his chest and arms and his smile was bright and easy. I would be lying if I tried to deny that he was attractive. My type? Not exactly. But attractive.
"Dark roast for Jo?" The other barista pulled my attention away from their conversation. She curiously followed my gaze. "You know him?" The ghost of a smile crossed her lips.
"Oh, uh, no," I said, shaking my head, picking up my coffee. "Thank you... for...this." I gestured to the cup and hurried off to the condiments station, my face burning having been caught staring at some "cute" boy. I could only imagine what she thought was going through my mind.
"Vanilla bean for Ashton." The second barista called out. I glanced over my shoulder to see nosy boy picking up his frappuccino from the counter. "Thanks." He said, and I could hear the smile in his voice. He passed by the condiments counter and paused for a moment to put a straw in his drink and I was pouring sugar in mine.
"That's a lot of sugar," he commented.
"That's a girly drink." I shot back. He chuckled. "You're not wrong. But I like it." He threw the straw wrapper away. "Well, I guess I'll see you around." He winked, and then he turned and left. I exited the bookstore a moment later, and I noticed he, Ashton, I guess his name was, walking across the parking lot towards a motorcycle, with a red helmet hanging over the handle.