How You’d Read for Back-to-School If You Were in an Interlinked Stories Collection

1.

Brian looked up the syllabi for all of his courses online and was first in line for the corresponding books at the library. He does this every semester: checks out the library’s one copy of all the required course reading and renews and renews every week until the semester ends. He doesn’t end up paying double the cost of the books for expedited shipping. He doesn’t have to wait in the textbook buyback line in December while his mom checks her watch and raps the steering wheel. “Aunt Virginia is showing up to our house in one hour, Brian,” his mom doesn’t say to him. Brian stacks his library books in piles according to class on his college-issued desk in his college-issued dorm room.

Read for Back-To-School

He is cruising through week three of his Special Topics: Magic, Witchcraft, and Religion required reading. He rereads Harry Potter every year anyway so he’s almost disappointed in himself for signing up for the class. He wonders if Trina is taking it. He will never forget the day he first saw her in Girlhoods in Literature. He was the only guy in a class full of women and she took the seat to his right. He had never been more intimidated. He planned on dropping the course until she leaned over, whispered, “what a clambake.” He wrote her response papers for her every week after that.

2.

Trina is stuck in traffic with her dad; she made the mistake of trying to move in on a Sunday night. She’s never had any trouble with car sickness so she’s starting her summer reading assignment. It is technically already past due—she missed the online seminar. Traffic.

Trina asks her dad if there’s any way to go around. “Maybe there are back roads,” she helpfully suggests. “Not according to Waze,” her dad says. Her dad is very loyal to Waze. “Fuck Waze,” Trina thinks, and picks The Omnivore’s Dilemma back up. I’ll show Michael Pollan what a real dilemma is, she thinks, her response paper in mind.

They sit, motionless, for two hours. “We’re going to have to get a hotel for the night, Trin,” her dad says. “We haven’t even reached Stroudsburg yet.” Trina puts down Michael Pollan. “Whatever,” she says, wishing she had learned how to drive like everyone else in Rochester, New York. Not that it matters if she misses the first day of Special Topics: Magic, Witchcraft, and Religion. She was planning on dropping it anyway. She picks up her phone.

3.

The nights are becoming cooler; you moved your things into another dorm room. You notice that when you pick up your book, your fingers are no longer swollen up like pigs in blankets. You think: fall is coming.

This semester you plan to crush Brian like a soda can. Brian who went to your high school. Brian who spent his summer “getting a jump on his semester” poolside at the local YMCA. You would be getting a jump, too, but you let your friend Trina borrow your copy of the summer reading assignment when you visited her in her hometown of Rochester this past summer. Her parents kept offering you iced tea, which Trina kept turning down. Trina kept offering you bottles of her dad’s beer which you turned down. You decided you preferred seeing Trina at school. Which you will do, as soon as she arrives, and ceases to hold your book hostage. There is a response paper due for the first day of class tomorrow and you need the book to remind you of the sentences you underlined, the places you marked “!!!” in the margins. You are finishing a last holdout of summer reading while you wait for her, but it’s not the same in an extra-long twin as it is on a pool chair. The sausage fingers have gone like a last gasp of August air.

Your phone beeps. “Not gonna make it. Sorry dude,” reads a text from Trina. You sigh, finish the last few pages of Tangerine, turn off the light. Next semester, Brian, watch your back.

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