“Welcome to English 3303, Creative Writing and Storytelling.”
Kyler Stone yawned as he listened to the opening lecture of the first day of yet another class. Now in the fall semester of his junior year, Kyler had been through enough of these talks to know what was coming. Some self-important professor would talk about how critical their class would be to the future of the students seated before them. They’d give an overview of the class itself, stressing the attendance policy, dates of major tests and projects, and whatever pet peeve that particular professor happens to have.
The instructor of this course, Dr. Eugenio Torrance, made his particular pet peeve known quickly.
“This course will not have a ton of typical homework assignments or projects,” stated the professor. “In fact, other than the midterm and final, the only assignment you’ll have in this course is a single project. We’ll get to that project more in a minute, but I do strongly encourage you to do the reading for this class. Everything — and I do mean everything — on the midterm and final will come from the reading. It will be what we discuss in class most days. It will provide you with significant insight as to how to make your project the best it can be. In case anyone doesn’t pick up what I’m putting down, do the reading.”
Kyler rolled his eyes and slumped back in his chair. Eight in the morning was far too early for someone to get self-righteous about reading. He was an English major. English majors, in Kyler’s estimation, are practically a reading and writing major. To hear anyone, let alone a professor preaching to a room largely full of English majors, patronize him about doing the reading was a waste of his time.
Kyler dug around in his bag and found a bottle of water. He opened it, the cold liquid giving him a momentary shock of energy. He shook his head, trying to keep himself awake. He’d always made an effort to avoid classes before 9:30 a.m., but this semester it was unavoidable. English 3303 at 8 a.m. Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, History 2250 at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday and Thursday. It was going to be a long semester.
At Dr. Torrance’s instruction, the class moved on from looking at the syllabus to a small packet of notes printed on gray paper.
“In this packet,” Dr. Torrance began, “you will find nearly everything you need to complete your course project. This project will, as I noted in the syllabus, be 40% of your grade for the course. Before anyone worries, there will be checkpoints throughout the semester that will make up a portion of that. But of that 40%, the final document you turn in will be 60% of the grade.”
Kyler skimmed the packet. The premise of the assignment seemed simple enough. Choose a real person from a list of potential subjects provided by Dr. Torrance. Interview that person. Learn about their life story. Then, write a 30 to 50-page novella that provides a fictionalized version of their story.
“If you turn to the final three pages of the packet,” Dr. Torrance continued, his voice briefly obscured by the sound of rustling paper, “you’ll see a roster of potential subjects whom you may interview as part of this project. Included is the name and a headshot of your subjects, their profession, a short bio or interesting factoid, and a genre of story that their life story most accurately reflects. The genre listed there was submitted by the subjects themselves, so please take it with a grain of salt.”
Kyler scanned through the list, ignoring the professor as he continued talking. Most of the subjects seemed to be near Dr. Torrance’s age or older.
Shara Anderson. Attorney. First woman in her family to go to college. Modern drama.
Ricky Gilmore. Restaurant Owner. Former captain of Fulton-Henry College baseball team and ex-major leaguer. Sports/drama.
Adam Devlin. Mechanic. President of the local Bigfoot hunting society. Paranormal mystery.
And so the biographies read. Most of them about boring people, though the occasional person would have an interesting nugget or two in their description. Kyler’s focused reading came to an end when the sound of the voice speaking changed from Dr. Torrance’s wavering tenor to that of a booming, but high-pitched female from the front of the room.
“Is there anything special about the challenging subjects section of people?” she asked.
“Indeed there is,” Dr. Torrance replied. “For those of you wanting to deal with a more complex story, there are three challenge candidates you may interview. As with all potential subjects for your interview, your selection order will be decided when we meet for Friday’s class. These subjects have particularly challenging stories to tell within our 50-page limit — both because of the complexity of their stories and because of the nuance that may be needed to tell them fairly. And these subjects have a history of being — let’s say difficult to work with. As a result, those of you who take on a challenging subject will receive a 5% bonus to your grade, provided that you complete the assignment.”
Kyler quickly turned to the challenging subjects section of the packet, coming across three names.
Ashlyn Coreno. Journalist. Former Fulton-Henry student who paid her way through college filming amateur pornography. Business/erotica.
Charlie Madagan. Stockbroker and Motivational Speaker. Formerly the youngest billionaire in the United States. Romance.
Matthew Harry Carvell. Gym Owner. Framed for murder of his father at the age of 17, served three years in prison. Legal thriller.
Kyler shifted back to the regular potential subjects for the project. Nothing interesting enough in the challenging subjects section to make it worth working with someone difficult to deal with to get a good grade. By the time class ended, Kyler was fairly sure he’d found his top two choices. The first was a professor in the mathematics department whose office was across the street from Kyler’s apartment. The second was a cook at one of the chain restaurants just outside of town who got wounded during the Gulf War. Either way, only having one real homework assignment for a class was a welcome relief to Kyler.
As Kyler walked back to his apartment after class, all he could think about was taking a nap. This was his only morning class three days a week, so he’d have three hours every morning to get some additional sleep. About halfway through his walk, Kyler felt his cell phone vibrate in his pants pocket.
“You’re up awful early,” Kyler said into the phone.
He paused, waiting for the inevitably groggy contralto voice on the other end of the phone to answer.
“I have a nine-thirty,” said Riza on the other end of the line. “And let me tell you, economics of health care waits for no woman. Especially not one who’s only three sips deep into her coffee.”
Riza Andreesi was one of the few friends from high school that Kyler had made an effort to stay in touch with after going to college. Riza had moved into the house across the street from his when he was in fourth grade. For most of elementary and middle school, Kyler only knew Riza as the girl with a ginger ponytail whose dad would make sure he got off the bus fine in the afternoon.
Once high school hit, however, Kyler found himself talking to Riza more frequently. With her dad being a single parent who worked overnights, Riza would often have the house to herself in the evenings after tennis or track practice. She’d use the time to do her homework and watch movies, the latter activity of which Kyler was more than willing to join her for at his mom’s insistence to get out of the house and make friends. Over time, Riza grew to become Kyler’s best friend. Even though she was a grade ahead of Kyler and thus went off to college a year sooner than him, Riza made time in her day to help Kyler out with studying during his senior year of high school.
Riza was now a senior in college, though only in a literal sense. For all intents and purposes, she was a graduate student, working on a program that would allow her to complete an undergraduate and Master’s degree in four years. While Riza didn’t know exactly what she wanted to do with her life after that point, Kyler figured she’d find her way into some fancy financial firm on Wall Street or studying economic theory at an Ivy League university. For every moment in his life where Kyler felt smart, he had a matching memory of being in awe of Riza’s innate talent for learning anything she set her mind to.
“At least this is the last year you have to wake up early and learn,” Kyler said.
“Right,” Riza replied. “Once I’m done, I get to stop waking up early for my brain’s benefit and start doing it for the benefit of someone getting paid at least double my salary.”
“You’re chipper today.”
“Sorry. Have a massive fucking headache and my coffee hasn’t kicked in yet. At least there are two bagels in my bookbag.”
“Everything. Toasted. Copious amounts of butter.”
“At least you planned a good breakfast,” Kyler said.
“My only worry is that there’s enough butter to leak through the paper bag and onto my notes,” Riza answered. “But I think it’ll be fine. You still good with me coming down to visit this weekend?”
“Yeah, of course. When do you think you’ll be here?”
“My last class Friday is at three. I should be down by six at latest. Is Sloane in town this weekend?”
“Friday night only,” Kyler replied. “She has to drive up to Toledo for her internship.”
“Bummer,” Riza said. “It’s easier to drink with Troy if she’s around.”
“I’ll keep Troy in line.”
“You better. He’s going to get lucky and be sober enough to remember seeing my tits one of these times. And I’m not sure I’m on board with that.”
“You know you don’t have to change in front of him.”
“When he’s so plastered he can’t keep his eyes open, it’s not worth leaving the room.”
Kyler rolled his eyes.
“I’m almost back to my apartment,” he said. “And I’m going to take a nap until Sloane calls or until I grab lunch before my history class. Don’t have too much fun in class.”
“I’ll enjoy it more once the bagels and coffee kick in.”
Kyler and Riza said their goodbyes, then ended the call. As Kyler fished his keys out of his pocket to open his apartment door, his roommate, Troy, opened the door, nearly running into him.
“Fuck, dude,” Troy said. “You scared me.”
“My bad,” Kyler replied.
“You want to meet for lunch?”
“If I’m awake.”
“Campus Commons at 11:45,” Troy stated. “Sloane can come too if she wants.”
“I’ll let her know.”
Troy adjusted his backpack and made his way toward campus, while Kyler entered the apartment. He threw his bag down on the floor of his room and changed into a pair of gym shorts. Just as he was getting ready to crawl into bed, he heard his phone buzz on the nightstand.
“hey lunch at commons? 1130?”
Kyler sighed and set an alarm on his phone for 11:10 a.m. before replying to Sloane.
“Yeah. Troy will meet us when he’s out of class”
Kyler climbed into bed and quickly fell asleep. He was in the middle of a non-descript dream when the sound of his phone alarm woke him from his slumber. Though Kyler considered going back to bed, he figured it wasn’t in his best interest to stand up both his roommate and his girlfriend for lunch.
Campus Commons was a large cafeteria-like building on the north side of the Fulton-Henry College campus. Aside from enough seating to house approximately one-third of the student population at any given time, the building featured a grab and go sandwich counter, a quick-service Chinese restaurant, a pizza-by-the-slice kiosk, and a salad bar. In his three years attending the school, Kyler had learned what was good — anything from the Chinese place that wasn’t beef was usually a safe bet, as was most of the pizza — as well as what to avoid at Commons. The fact that neither Troy nor Sloane could ever seem to do the same both perplexed and amused him.
“How do you fuck up a ham sandwich?” Sloane said, giving her tray a look of disgust. “Three ingredients. Ham. Bread. Mayo. What the fuck is this?”
“I believe that’s called cheese,” Troy said. “Unlike whatever this is on my macaroni pretending to be cheese.”
“Dude,” Kyler replied. “Everyone knows the mac and cheese glows in the dark. Why would you even bother?”
“I was hungry,” Troy answered, his voice turning into a whine.
“Are you coming with us Thursday?” Sloane asked, gesturing at Troy with the slice of American cheese she peeled off of her sandwich.
“Not this week,” Troy replied. “I’m trying to be a good kid and actually show up to all of my classes the first week of the semester for once.”
“That’s funny,” Sloane said. “You’ve never been one to miss a party.”
“I’m trying to turn over a new leaf. To be the responsible version of Troy Kidman that my mama has always believed to exist inside of me.”
“I believe in you,” Kyler said, taking a bite out of his pizza.
“Don’t be dumb, Kyler,” Sloane interjected. “It’s the first party of the school year. And I know it’s on a Thursday and neither of you like partying on weeknights. But I’m in Toledo three days a week for most of the semester. This is the week I’ll get to party on both Thursday night and Friday night until Thanksgiving.”
“Sloane,” Troy said, “your boyfriend is right. I am capable of managing my own party schedule.”
“And if I told you Amanda Hawthrone was going to be there you’d say?”
“That responsibility is for weenies.”
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