Finding Dandelion(2)

By: Lex Martin

I can feel it in my bones. Hope. A smile tilts my lips as I start to buy into my pep talk.

My smile grows… until my new co-worker drops a stack of work in front of me.

Laura gives me an empty smile. “I already have plans this weekend, so I’m leaving this for you. As the marketing major, this should be right up your alley, right?”

Our junior year of college hasn’t started yet, and she’s already bailing on me. Biting my cheek, I reach around to re-stack the documents.

Laura and I are Professor Zinzer’s new assistants. We’ll be coordinating all of the other work-study students in the art lab this fall while we prep materials for his classes. He always takes on one art student and one business student to manage his office. Because my best friend Travis had Zinzer last semester, I got the inside track on this gig and beat out dozens of other business applicants.

I tuck the pile of work into my messenger bag, not bothering to smile.

“Zin needs it by Monday,” she chirps.

In other words, he needs it the Monday of Labor Day weekend. My jaw tightens.

Laura doesn’t look even remotely guilty for dumping this on me. As she tosses her hair over her shoulder, she says, “Thanks, Dani.” Her not-so-subtle appraisal of me makes me squirm. “You’re so… nice.”

If I were a cartoon, steam would be pouring from my ears. I’ve never hated a word so much in my life. If one more person tells me I’m nice, I’m going to lose it.

Nice gets me dumped on. Pushed around. Ignored.

When I was a kid, I thought I merely had manners. What the hell is wrong with being polite? But now I see this characteristic doesn’t cut it in Boston where everyone is so much edgier. The Midwest is just a friendlier place. In Chicago, when someone runs into you, the person says, “Excuse me.” Here, I get cursed at or shoved. I’ve gotten used to this faster pace of life, but it doesn’t diminish the fact that I can be such a goddamn pushover.

My mother would tell me to “fuck nice.” I chuckle to myself. She has a mouth that’s worse than half the frat boys at this school.

I guess that’s what happens when you almost die of angiosarcoma.

The laughter withers on my lips, and I blink back the sudden onslaught of emotion that comes whenever I think of my mom. She fought like hell to survive, even after she lost all of her hair and both breasts. And she beat it. For now at least.

By the time I get to my dorm suite, I’m still wrestling with what I wish I had told Laura. Why can’t I find the words when I’m in the moment? As I stare at the pile of work that sits near the edge of my desk, a tight ball of frustration coils in my stomach. I’m going to be holed up all weekend preparing my professor’s brochures instead of unpacking.

My eyes drift to the wall of boxes in the small room I’m sharing with a girl I met last semester. Jenna is a riot. We took a sociology class together. It was such a snooze that to entertain ourselves, we’d write pervy notes to each other to see who could make the other laugh. She always won. And, yeah, my professor hated me. But, come on—when Jenna wrote, “I wanna choke on your thick man-slinky,” I couldn’t help but bust out laughing.

Her Southern drawl and perfect blonde hair throws you off. First you think she might be a really uptight biatch, but then she slings an arm around you and acts like she’s known you for ages. I’m not totally sure how she’s BFFs with our other roommate, though. I’ve only met Clem once, but the girl is a glacier. Hello, she rolled her eyes at me when I asked if she liked The Vampire Diaries.

On my way out the door to run a few errands, I pause in front of a mirror to smooth back my long hair. My reflection reminds me of my mother. Everyone tells me I look exactly like her when she was young. I have big green eyes, pale skin, and dark brown hair except for the swaths of pink I dyed last month, and thanks to Victoria’s Secret, I have a few well-placed curves.

Opting to skip any makeup, I grab my jacket and head out.

The train ride is quick, and when I step out into the bright afternoon sun, I have to shield my eyes. As I wait for the light to change so I can cross the street, I find myself staring at a guy trying to get what must be ten pizza boxes through the door of a restaurant a few feet away. I walk over and grab the handle to hold it open. Out of the corner of my eye, I see blonde hair streak across the restaurant a second before I hear the girl giggle.

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