Criminology and Public Policy, Taylor Hall, Room E204, Alex reads from the schedule she'd copied down into the front of her notebook. She glances at the door in front of her, relieved when she sees the number matches the one she'd written.
She walks into the classroom, happy to see that it's relatively modern. National City University had earned a reputation as one of the ugliest campuses in the state — mostly due to its outdated architecture. Ever since, they'd started to build newer, more aesthetically pleasing buildings. Alex hasn't had a class in this one yet — most of her classes were in the old library, where the Criminal Justice program is housed.
Alex scans the room as she enters — no familiar faces.
She'd switched into this class just an hour before, when she gotten around to reading the reviews of her professors online and realized that she'd inadvertently signed up for a class with one of the most notoriously boring professors on campus. She'd just barely gotten into this section — the only other one available — taking the last empty spot in the class of more than a hundred students.
Alex doesn't mind much about her school — she’s pretty ambivalent about it. It's a state school, so it's cheap enough, and it's in National City so she can share an apartment with Kara, which saves her even more money. The one drawback is the humongous class sizes. The hundred students in this room is nothing compared to her classes in big lecture halls she had to take as a freshman.
Thank god those days are over, she thinks. She's a senior now, in her last semester, and the class sizes have become progressively smaller each year.
“Good morning class,” the professor says when he walks in. He's a large man in a suit jacket, no tie, with a big smile. Rate My Professor did say he was 'laid-back and friendly,' Alex thinks. She watches as he grabs a piece of chalk, roughly writing his name in large block letters across the board. Professor Hughes. He stands back, admiring his work before turning to the class with that same wide grin.
“Who got my email asking you to print a copy of the syllabus?” he asks. A few hands go up — not Alex's — but most of the room stares blankly back at him. He nods. “That's what I thought, so I printed a few extra. Hold a hand up to have a TA bring you a copy — and from now on, keep an eye out for reading materials and assignments in your emails. I will send you things you have to print and bring into class.”
He waits until everyone has a packet before continuing.
“Welcome to Criminology and Public Policy. If you're in the wrong room, I would take this opportunity to leave,” he says, pausing to see if anyone is misplaced. “Good.”
He walks over to a desk, pressing a few buttons on a computer before he starts to talk to the class again. Alex watches as the projector buzzes to life, shining a dull image of the syllabus onto the screen. She looks down at her own copy of the image, wondering why the guy wasted paper if he was just going to display it for the whole class to see anyway. She takes her pen and begins tracing the outline of her staple in the corner of the page.
“The majority of your work in this class will be done in groups of two or three,” the professor explains, dimming the lights as the projector finally kicks on fully. He flips to a page with a schedule of due dates. Alex feels herself losing interest already, but tries to force herself to at least take down the assignment notes. “I'm sending around a sheet now. Write your name, email and phone number. I will pick your group-mates and send you their information tonight.”
Just what every class needs — randomly assigned group work, she thinks.
“I know what you're thinking — no one likes randomly assigned groups,” the professor says, and Alex frowns. Freaky. “ But in this field, working with a partner is a necessity. And besides — if each of the 120 students in this class gave an individual presentation for their final project, we'd have to start those next week to get through all of you, and I don't think any of you want to have your final due next week, right? Now if you would turn to page three of your syllabus —”
The door opens, cutting off the professor.
“Sorry,” Alex hears a someone say in a hushed voice. She doesn't bother to look up, far more interested in the small doodle she's begun in the margins of her paper. She knows what's coming, anyway. Every professor she's ever had has used this opportunity — when some freshman or transfer inevitably wanders in a few minutes after class has started — to give the class a lecture on lateness.
“Not a problem,” Hughes responds. “It's what I like to call a teachable moment, actually.”
Here we go, Alex thinks, dragging her pen down the page.
“What's your name?”
Alex feels like she's been punched in the gut.
Her eyes shoot up, landing immediately on the girl standing at the front of the room. Maggie looks different from when Alex last saw her — which makes sense, considering it has been years since the two were in the same room. Her style has changed, at the very least. Gone are the band t-shirts and hoodies of their teenaged years, replaced with a button down and a peacoat. Her hair is longer, but she still keeps a strand of it tucked behind her ear.
Alex's heartbeat returns, loud and fast in her chest and ears.
“Well, Maggie. You get a pass today because it's the first day, but from now on class begins at four, no exceptions. Three tardies equals one absence, and four absences gives me the option to automatically fail you.” Alex tries to breathe, looking around the room for the empty seat Maggie will inevitably fill. Her eyes land on the seat directly in front of her, one of just two open ones in the entire classroom. Alex feels as if she might throw up when the professor gestures in her direction. “Now please take a seat.”
Four years — she'd made it four years without having Maggie Sawyer in a single class of hers despite them both going to the same school. If she hadn't seen her once or twice across campus she would've thought the girl never actually ended up attending National City University, despite both of them getting acceptance letters a few weeks before — well, before everything went up in flames.
Maggie turns, searching for the seat Hughes was directing her towards as Alex sinks further into her seat, hoping that by some miracle she'd become invisible to the other girl. She can't force herself to look away though, not as Maggie climbs the stairs nor when she freezes for a second when her eyes finally find Alex.
They hold each others' gaze for a long moment before the professor begins to speak again. Maggie looks back down the stairs as if she's considering running for a moment before she ducks her head down, quickly making her way to the seat and sitting down without so much as glancing at Alex again.
She tunes out the rest of what the man up front has to say, instead fighting herself not to gape at the girl in front of her the rest of the class, but after the first minute or two she loses that battle. She taps her pencil against her paper as the seconds tick by. Her thoughts are racing, and the few that she’s able to make sense of do nothing to calm her racing heart. What is Maggie doing here? This is a class just for seniors after all. Is Maggie a criminal justice major? It occurs to Alex that she knows absolutely nothing about Maggie’s life now.
Alex replays the look on Maggie’s face when she spotted her and wants nothing more than to disappear. She is no stranger to anxiety, and she feels the panic bubbling uncomfortably in her chest. She needs to get out of this class, and soon.
Luckily the professor doesn't keep them long after he finishes going over the syllabus — just long enough to give them the details of their first assignment, none of which Alex absorbs because she's too busy staring at the back of Maggie Sawyer's head, which hangs as she props herself up on her hands.
“Well, I don't want to be the stingy professor who holds you for the full class on the first day,” Hughes says, flashing the class a smile. “I'll see you all on Tuesday. Don't forget to look for that email from me later on.”
Alex stands before the words are out of his mouth, quickly slipping behind her classmates' seats before making her way towards the door. Her heart hasn't stopped racing since Maggie announced herself, and she needs fresh air, like now .
She catches a glimpse as she rounds the corner — Maggie, moving quickly after her. Shit , she thinks. If the crushing weight on her chest from just being in the same room as Maggie is any indication, Alex isn't ready to deal with this. I wouldn't even know what to say — sorry I broke your heart for no good reason?
They hadn't ended their friendship on the best of terms.
Alex lengthens her stride when she gets outside, assuming she can at least outpace the shorter girl.
“Alex — Alex, wait ,” Maggie says, catching her by the arm just as she reaches the parking lot. Alex shrugs her off, a bit rougher than she had intended to, but her arm burns where Maggie's hand had landed. The touch stops her in her tracks. Her legs don't seem to be working — not the way she wants them to at least. Instead of continuing, walking far away from this mess, she finds herself turning around. She's not prepared for Maggie's large eyes, looking at Alex as if she'd been slapped as her hand drops back down to her side. “I uh — I'm sorry. I'll switch out as soon as I get home. I didn't know you were in this class.”
Alex fidgets. She hasn't seen Maggie — really seen her, not just glimpses across the quad — since high school graduation. She can't tear her eyes away now that she's up close. She looks mostly the same and somehow entirely foreign, a scar across her brow and cheekbones more pronounced than the soft-faced friend she’d once known. Alex swallows against the lump in her throat and blinks, forcing herself to stop staring.
“You don't have to do that,” she says, grimacing at the shakiness in her voice. “I should be the one to switch, anyway. I registered last minute, so it'll be no big deal to switch out.”
Maggie opens her mouth, fumbling for words for a second before she nods. “If you're sure.” The words hang in the air for a moment as she looks at Alex, as if she's considering saying something else before deciding against it. Instead, she makes to leave. “Have a good semester.” She gives Alex a forced smile before moving past her.
Alex spins, eyes following Maggie as she walks through the parking lot. Her legs, unable to move just moments before, burn to continue after her, to take the few long strides required to catch the smaller girl, but she holds herself back. She doesn't deserve to chase after Maggie — not after what she did to her. Besides, she's almost certain that Maggie doesn't want anything to do with her. Sure, she'd been the one to initiate their freeze-out, but she knew Maggie had been avoiding her just as much as she had Maggie.
“I didn't know you were in this class,” she remembers Maggie saying.
Maggie reaches her car, unlocking it with the push of a button and opening her door to climb in, but not before taking one more quick glance up Alex. She stops when she sees Alex's eyes are still on her. Her arm twitches at her side, and for a second Alex thinks she might wave at her, but she just gives her a barely passable smile before ducking her head into the car.
Alex doesn't let herself watch Maggie pull away, and instead starts her walk to her own car. It's a forty minute commute to the home she shares with her sister, and Kara will be pretty pissed if she missed dinner.
Alex finds Kara in the kitchen, knife in hand as she dances to the music on the radio. Kara turns to face her when she hears the door close.
She puts down the knife to hug her sister as she walks in. “Hey! How'd it go?”
Alex shrugs. “Not bad as far as first days go.” She sits on the other side of the island, watching as Kara returns to her vegetables.
“That's not saying a lot for the last first day of your undergraduate career,” Kara points out, frowning. “Something wrong?”
Alex sighs. Kara had an uncanny ability to read her like an open book. “I saw Maggie today,” Alex says.
“Maggie Sawyer?” she asks. Alex nods. Kara pauses for a moment before continuing to chop. “And how was that?” she says, voice a little too level.
“Just about as awful as you'd expect,” Alex says. She's not sure how much Kara picked up on in their younger years, whether she knows the full extent of what happened senior year. “We're in the same criminology class. She followed me out afterwards, offered to switch but I know there's another section that fits in my schedule so I said I would. And... then she left.”
“It doesn't sound like it went that bad,” Kara teases.
“Trust me,” Alex says with a wry smile. “It did.”
Tears begin to prick at her eyes, and she sighs, blinking them away. She knew she shouldn't have brought this up to Kara; talking to Kara about her feelings never seems to fail to make her cry. She knows it’s useless to try to fight the tears as soon as Kara's spotted them. She comes and sits next to Alex, eyes suddenly much more sympathetic than they were just seconds earlier.
“You know, you never really told me what happened between the two of you,” Kara says, voice soft as she regards her sister.
Alex nods slowly, letting out a slow breath. “I am aware of that, yeah.” She'd spent plenty of nights crying in Kara's bed the summer after senior year, her sister rubbing soothing circles in her back until she fell asleep, but she'd never told Kara the details of her broken heart. In fact, she'd never told anybody.
“I know something bad happened, and you never wanted to talk about it, but it might help,” Kara says, nudging her. “I'm just saying, if you want to talk you know I'm always here.”
Alex sighs. It only takes her a second to decide that it's way passed time that she opened up to Kara about this particular wound. She knows everything else about me now, after all, she thinks.
She clears her throat. “It was uh — before I realized, you know, that I was gay. Maggie kissed me,” she says, letting out a breathy laugh as she does. The faint smile on her mouth only lasts for a moment before faltering. “After prom. She kissed me and I — I freaked out.” She wrings her hands. “I told her that I wasn't like that , and that I didn't think we could keep being friends.”
And then you cut her out of your life completely, she thinks. Asshole.
Kara considers her words for a second. “So did you have feelings for her?”
Alex nods, slowly. “I think I was in love with her.” The admission finally makes her break, and Kara is quick to pull her into a hug as soon as she starts to cry. Alex burrows into her shoulder, and Kara's arms are secure as they hold her tightly, hand coming up to play with Alex's hair. It's soothing, and Alex finds herself calming after only a few seconds of the familiar comfort. They sit together in silence until Alex's breathing returns to normal.
“I'm sorry,” Kara says a minute later.
Alex sniffles. “For?”
“That you went through all of this alone,” Kara says. “I'm sorry I didn't notice, that I wasn't there.”
Alex pulls back, shaking her head as she looks at Kara. “You were there, even if you didn't know why you were,” she says.
Kara gives her a warm smile before tilting her head. “So, what're you going to do now?”
Alex sighs. “Now... I'm going to switch into a class with the most boring professor on campus.”
Kara leans forward as she stands, pressing a kiss to her forehead. “Okay. If you're sure that's what you want. Dinner is in ten.” She walks around to the other side of the counter, peeking in on the covered pot on the stove.
“Sounds good,” Alex says. She pulls out her phone, logging onto the student portal. She still had the other section of the class saved in her cart, but when she opens the page, it's blank.
She frowns, typing the class name into the search bar. The first results are not encouraging.
“Shit,” she says under her breath. She scrolls, growing more panicked as the other results display the same message.
“What's wrong?” Kara asks from behind her.
“All the other sections are full,” Alex says. “There are no open classes. I guess even Lansman's class fills up when there's no other options.”
“Yikes,” Kara replies. “And you need to take this class to graduate?”
Alex's head drops into her hands. “Yeah.”
Kara sighs. “Okay. So what now?”
Her mind racks through the options, coming up blank. I don't have much of a choice, do I? Alex thinks.
“I guess for now I sign up for the waitlist and if I don't get in I sit in the back row and pretend to be invisible everyday,” Alex says, not looking up as she presses her forehead into her palm.
Kara laughs, but then gives her sister a more serious look. “You could always apologize. You know, extend an olive branch. Just because you had a falling out as kids doesn't mean you have to be awkward around each other as adults.”
Alex closes her eyes. “I don't think it'd be that easy. I really hurt her. What am I supposed to say — sorry I was a self-loathing asshole?”
Kara shrugs. “Well, yeah.” Alex shoots her a glare, but she's unphased. “Look, Alex, its obvious you've been carrying a lot of guilt about this. You've been out since sophomore year and you've still avoided her ever since. Don't you think it might be time for some closure?”
Right, closure . Something she undoubtedly needs after today's conversation with Maggie, judging by how affected she was by the seconds-long interaction. She needed to take several minutes to calm her breathing before she was able to drive home from campus earlier, and the whole drive home she had been distracted by the image of Maggie's face, four years older than she'd last seen it, burned into her brain. Would apologizing really help her not feel like she'd been kicked in the stomach every day she enters class?
It's worth a shot , she decides. Even if she tells me to fuck off.
“Yeah, I guess you're right,” she says. “I can't just avoid my problems like a kid in high school anymore.”
“Atta' girl,” Kara says. “Now wash up. Dinner's ready.”
When Alex returns from the bathroom, her phone screen is glowing. She feels her heart drop into her stomach when she sees it's the email from Professor Hughes, suddenly remembering his promise of randomly assigned groups during class that afternoon.
No one's luck is that bad, she says to herself, swiping to open the email.
She doesn't read past the first line.
Your partner for the semester is Maggie Sawyer. Her number is...
She closes the email, doesn't read the numbers — she doesn't need them. Alex would never forget the number she'd dialed so many times after 9 p.m., when minutes were free and parents were asleep.
She allows herself to really remember Maggie for the first time that day — days spent passing notes under desks, finding each other in the hallways between classes, evenings spent on the phone, or in Alex's bedroom on the nights when Maggie actually managed to escape her father's strict household. When she was with Maggie, everything had this sort of effortless beauty. She had a way of making Alex appreciate every moment spent together. The mundane was enjoyable with her best friend by her side — which has made the years she's spent since they'd gone their separate ways feel more like a dull trance than a life.
She remembers the look on Maggie's face earlier that day — not angry, but hurt, confused.
You owe her an explanation, Alex thinks. Kara is right about that.
“Alex?” she hears Kara call from the table. “What's wrong?”
Alex turns off her phone, putting on a smile as she spins to face her sister. Somehow, it doesn't feel fake. “Nothing at all,” she says, “What's for dinner?”