Chapter 1:

Manic Morning

Insurmountable Odds


An unfamiliar ceiling.

 I remained motionless and stared straight upwards for a few seconds, attempting to get my bearings after having just woken up. My phone alarm blared from across the room atop a cardboard box where I had left it the night before. I awkwardly rolled out of bed and made my way over to it, reaching for some peace and quiet.

The problem with making a song you enjoy a phone alarm is that after a few days, you really begin to hate that song.

I crawled back into the bed which was the exact right size to make me mildly uncomfortable no matter how I contorted on the mattress and closed my eyes again. Then the realization hit me like a truck: I’m in my dorm room!

I immediately shot up and scrambled to grab my phone once again from the other side of the room; what time was it? I couldn't afford to be late to the freshmen club fair!

If I'm late, then all the good clubs might fill up, and I won’t be able to join any, and then I'll have no friends, and I'll die alone at the age of 86 with eight cats, and...

My anxiety-induced inner monologue was interrupted by the bright flash of my phone's lock screen as it highlighted the time: 9:04. I scrolled rapidly through messages and infographics from the previous week's orientation to figure out when the club fair started. After wading through what felt like a few hundred slides that I couldn’t be bothered to read, I spotted the notice that would spell my demise, which I read with abject horror.

"Although the Freshmen Club Fair officially begins at 10am on August 28th, be sure to arrive at least half an hour early or else our venue may reach maximum capacity and you may have to wait over an hour in line."

I checked the time again: 9:06. In a manic frenzy I tried to speed through my morning routine with as much grace as a rabid raccoon. I put my shoes on while I brushed my teeth, then realized I had to take them back off to put my pants on. I combed my hair and shaved, being very careful not to confuse one hand with the other. My dirty blonde hair hung low over my eyes, and I had a moment’s memory of my father reaching toward me with scissors as he tried to give my “unprofessional” look a trim. Shaking my head, I refocused my efforts.

I took one last glance in the mirror to make sure I was at least passable. I paused for a minute at my own reflection; I was looking pretty stylish, honestly. Despite it being the end of summer, I was wearing light jeans and a graphic t-shirt, coupled with a pair of nice sunglasses and bright white and red sneakers. Simple and comfortable. I felt more than ready for any social interaction that might come my way, despite the fact that my experience with social interactions was limited at best.

9:18. I checked one last time before sprinting out the door in hopes of making it to the venue before they reached maximum capacity. Luckily for me, the fair was being held down the street from my building, so I was confident I could run there with time to spare.

Or so I thought.

By 9:25, I realized that this was only my third time on campus, and I had absolutely no idea where the venue was actually located. At this rate, even if I figured out where I was and sprinted in the correct direction, I doubted I could make it before 9:30.

For a moment, I paused on the sidewalk, dejected. I looked up at the sky, the scalding sun beaming down on me, and considered finding my way back to my dorm, but then I gritted my teeth. I wasn’t about to let this year be the same as before.

I set out again, this time with a new plan: get help. From anyone. I spotted another student across the street and jogged toward this potential savior with what I hoped was a nonthreatening air.

"Excuse me, do you kno-"

"Sorry," She said as she turned to look at me briefly, "I have a boyfriend."

"Um, okay... Congratulations?" I stuttered, having lost all momentum. "I was just wondering if you knew where the Freshmen Club Fair was? I'm a bit lost at the moment."

She blinked at me in silence for a few seconds. Then the words began to tumble out of her mouth.

"Oh my god, I'm so sorry! It's just that with the new school year starting, a bunch of these dumb manlets have been trying their luck with every girl they see, hoping to get lucky."

"No worries," I laughed, glad it was just a simple misunderstanding. "I'm sorry to hear that's been happening. Sounds like a pain to deal with."

"Tell me about it," the girl rolled her eyes. "You said you were looking for the club fair right? I'm actually heading there myself; tag along with me, it’s the least I can do after that." She smiled up at me brightly; her hazel eyes sparkled, framed by her wavy black hair.

"Uh, yeah. That would be great, thanks!" I replied gratefully, dragging my gaze away from her pretty one. "In that case, shouldn't we start running? If we don't get there soon, we may get locked out."

After another moment of silence, she giggled.

"The whole thing about 'having to arrive half an hour early' is just to haze the freshmen so that they'll have to wait in the sun until it opens. I'll show you the scenic route in the meantime."

"How do you know so much if you're also a freshman?" I asked. "Wait, are you not a freshman? Sorry for assuming, I just woke up and have been running in circles for fifteen minutes, and-"

She cut me off with another round of laughter.

"You're all good, no worries. I am a freshman, it's just that my brother is an alumnus, so I know my way around."

"Ah I see, that makes sense." I stopped walking and bowed deeply to her. "I'm in your care, teacher."

"What are you even doing," she laughed uncertainly. "Also, call me Hazel, I'm too young to be a teacher."

"Fitting..." I mumbled under my breath as I kept pace with her, unaware that I said anything out loud.

“I’m Lucas by the way, Lucas Haname. It’s a pleasure to make your acquaintance.”

I turned to look at her as I introduced myself, only to realize she had stopped walking with me.

“Fitting, huh?” She sighed, looking disappointedly into the forest bordering the path.

“Did I say that out loud?” I murmured nervously, “Sorry about tha-“

“It’s fine,” She cut me off suddenly, seemingly upset. “I don’t know what I expected to be honest.”

“Is something wrong?” I asked, stepping towards her confused.

She stepped back, retracting away from me.

“What’s wrong is that every guy here is the same. You seemed sweet and harmless enough but it only took ten minutes for the flirting to come back out.” She turned to storm away from me, no longer interested in what I had to say.

“And why is it always that same corny line about my eyes? I get it! My name is a color! Get some new material!” She continued, venting into the cloudless sky.

I stood frozen in fear, like a kid being scolded after being caught stealing from the cookie jar. I felt bad for what had happened but didn’t know how to make it right or even how it went so wrong. I just silently watched her walk away, upset at myself for not being better at handling these situations.

I blew it.

Miao Miao
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