The shuttle ride to the campus was long and very boring. I took the opportunity to read all the programs and information booklets the university had sent me, but pretty soon I had exhausted all forms of entertainment, and resorted to sleeping the rest of the journey away.
By the time we arrived at the campus itself, it was well into the afternoon. A branded taxi conveniently delivered me right to the doorstep of my new house, a small one-bedroom I had rented for the semester. Dorm living would certainly have been cheaper, but I had enough saved up for this, and besides, with my study habits, I was used to a certain degree of solitude.
The house itself was pretty perfect. I had only looked at images of it online before now, but was relieved to find that it was just as good as I had hoped, if not better. There was an open living room with a T.V. and a small kitchen area in the corner, with a tiny bathroom through the door on the far wall.
The bedroom was simple but pleasant, and happily equipped with everything I would be needing for my studies, including a desk and a mirror for practising my speechmaking skills.
The first evening before classes began the next day was devoted to freshman orientation. I wasn’t too interested in free stuff or invitations to frat parties, but I had heard that orientation was a good place to get acquainted with classes and professors, which I was definitely interested in. So, after I had unpacked all my luggage, I cycled my rented university bike down the street to the Student Union building.
Inside, I found, predictably, a bunch of booths set up advertising the different campus clubs, which were already surrounded by chattering students. Since I had elected to compress the first two years of my course into one year, I doubted that I would have very much time for extracurricular activities, so I skipped the booths and the free posters and hacky sacks and headed upstairs instead.
The upper floor of the Student Union was devoted to what appeared to be a common recreation room, with tables for pool and ping-pong and arcade games scattered around the walls. There were several people around, two of whom I guessed were professors, based on how, well, old they looked compared to the students around them. I hasted to introduce myself.
Both professors were nice enough, but I soon discovered that neither was involved in the Communications faculty.
Slightly disappointed, I decided that I would just have to wait until class tomorrow to meet my professors like everyone else. I pulled my textbook out of my bag and sat down in a corner instead, determined to get ahead on some work this evening while I still could.
The content was fascinating – I devoured the book with the passionate fervour I had become known for back in high school. By the time I finally looked up from the pages, several hours later, and glanced out the window, the sky was already dark.
I shivered, remembering stories I had heard about the sorts of things that happened on university campuses after dark, and decided to head home as quickly as I could. I had parked my bicycle in one of the racks outside the building, so at least I had a reliable means of transport other than walking.
It was fully dark by the time I reached home. I made sure to shut and lock the front door on my way inside, knowing that Luc would go ballistic if he knew I was compromising my safety in any minute way. The day had been more tiring than I had expected. Glad that I had thought to go shopping when I arrived on campus the day before, I pulled a box of mac-and-cheese out of the cupboard and cooked for myself for the first time in my life.
It wasn’t too bad, if I do say so myself. Very little skill required in the making, but still. After I had finished eating, I pulled out my textbook again for a bit of last-minute studying before my first class tomorrow. Luc would have said I was reverting back to my old homework-obsessed ways.
I smiled at the thought of Luc, and glanced hopefully at the clock. It was really too late to call. Although I knew he would want me to call him no matter how late it was, I was determined to let him get his sleep.
When my eyelids started to grow heavy and I found myself rereading the same sentence over and over again, I shut the textbook and put it safely away in my backpack ready for the next day. I prided myself highly on my organisation, one of the few things about my overtly studious nature that being with Luc hadn’t compromised in some way.
He was my last thought as I got into bed, and drifted to sleep with a smile.
7am was really an unreasonably early time to schedule a class, I decided as I left the house the next morning. Granted, it was only 6am at the time – I didn’t know my way around yet, and I wasn’t taking any chances with tardiness on my first day. Or any day, for that matter.
By the time I had walked across what felt like the entire campus with my nose in a map searching for the right building, it was already 6:45. Several of my classmates were already gathered outside the door waiting for the professor to arrive when I got there.
I won’t bore you with the details of Political Science 101, especially since I can’t remember very much of the class myself. The second and last class of the day was directly after the first – thankfully in an adjacent building – and ended around midday, which meant that I had the entire afternoon off to do what I liked.
Knowing me, one might think that ‘doing what I liked’ meant a good, solid, six hour study session. Ordinarily, that would be the case, but now I had better things on my mind.
“Luc!” Man, it felt good to hear his voice. With everything that had been going on, the two days since we had last seen each other felt like an eternity.
“Di!” I could hear the smile in his voice. “How’s it going? How’s uni? Tell me everything.”
Grinning from ear to ear, I did my best to recount to Luc everything that had happened in my first two days on campus, even pausing midway through to send him some pictures of the house. He laughed when I told him about the previous night, and the sound did funny things to my heart.
“I swear you spend more time studying than sleeping,” he said. “Doesn’t it wear you out?”
I shook my head. “It’s fascinating,” I told him sincerely.
He chuckled again. “If you say so. Just promise me you’ll have some fun while you’re there as well. I don’t want you to overwork my girlfriend.”
I blushed and smiled. “I’ll try,” I promised.
We talked on the phone for hours. By the time we said our goodbyes and hung up, it was past nightfall, and I hadn’t got any studying done. I grinned. Mission accomplished, Luc would say.
I hadn’t showered since the morning I had left home, so decided to test out the new facilities before getting an early night. I would have plenty of time to study in the morning.
First practical class. My classmates and I borrowed radio equipment from the Communications faculty to practise our journalistic skills.
It was not precisely within my area of interest, but I figured any practice in public speaking would be valuable in the career I wanted to pursue. As I busied myself with an impromptu broadcast of campus goings-on, several passersby paused to watch in curiosity for a few minutes.
When the class ended and most of us were in the process of putting away the equipment, a young man who I recognised from one of my lectures approached me.
“Can I help you?” I asked, trying to sound polite as we shook hands.
“I just wanted to say hi. I’ve seen you around in some of my lectures. The name’s Pete.”
“Pleased to meet you. I’m Diana.” I smiled uncertainly in response to his cheerful grin.
Pete and I chatted on for a bit, exchanging pleasantries and talking about how we were each finding the classes and professors. I found out that Pete was also in the first year of his degree, but he was retaking a couple of classes to try and improve his grades from the previous semesters. Privately, I became even more determined to get the best grades possible this semester so that I could be sure of not having to repeat anything. My ambitious mind was already restless with big plans for the future, and I wanted to finish this course as quickly as I could.
When I got home, having bought and eaten a sandwich at an on-campus cafe on the way, I sank into the armchair nearest the window and pulled my textbook out of my bag. Much as I had loved talking to Luc, I couldn’t allow him to distract me for too long from my studies. Surely he would understand – the sooner I topped this course, the sooner I could be back home with him.
After the first few days, I started to settle into the rhythm of university life and relax a bit more. Most afternoons were spent either poring over textbooks or staring at a screen for hours on end, trying to complete assignments on time.
Unlike most of my classmates, I was finding the course highly enjoyable, and was always one of the few taking attentive notes in lectures rather than nursing a hangover or trying to catch up on hours of lost sleep.
Because of this, I soon became a favourite with all of my professors. I never considered myself much of a teacher’s pet, in spite of having the name thrown around me several times daily in high school, but I did work hard and if the teachers liked me for it, well, that was just an added bonus.
I didn’t fear anything was wrong, therefore, when my Political Science professor came to visit me at my house on campus one evening.
“Professor Cadence! To what do I owe the pleasure?” Okay, so maybe I was a bit of a suck-up. Everyone has their weaknesses, right?
She smiled at me in return. “May I come inside, Diana?”
“Of course!” I stepped aside to allow her into the house and shut the door behind her. Once inside, she turned to face me with an unusually serious expression on her face.
“I realise you’re probably very busy with studies,” she said, eyeing the textbook on the coffee table, “so I’ll try to make this quick. You know I love having you in my classes, Diana.” I nodded and smiled, waiting for her to continue.
“You’re a wonderfully intelligent, attentive student. Your grades are absolutely exemplary, and you should be very proud of yourself.” I nodded again, still silent. Much as I enjoyed being showered with praise, I knew that couldn’t have been the only reason for her to take the trouble to come visit me in person. She looked at my hopeful expression, and sighed. “Be that as it may, I and some of your other professors are concerned that you are neglecting other important areas of your life at university.”
I frowned. Was there some coursework I had missed? A practical lesson I had forgotten to attend? Noticing my confusion, she continued, “To be precise, your social activities.” I stared at her in surprise. What did my social activities have to do with anything? “Here at Sims University, we pride ourselves on both excellence and well-roundedness,” she went on. “I am concerned that, in your pursuit of academic excellence, you have been neglecting to make friends or participate in any kind of club activities. You must realise that while your studies are important, keeping your life here at university balanced is perhaps even more so.”
I nodded, beginning to understand what she was talking about. It was the same thing Luc had tried to tell me, when he made me promise to ‘have fun’ in the midst of all the studying. For the first time, I began to seriously consider their point.
“Do you understand what I’m saying?” Professor Cadence asked me, gently. I nodded, trying to smile.
“I understand, Professor. I’ll do better, I promise.”
She shook her head. “It’s not a matter of ‘doing better’, Diana. We just want to see you happy, and making the most out of your time here.” I nodded again. “Well, I can see you have a lot to do, so I’ll take my leave. I’ll see you in class tomorrow?”
I grinned. “Wouldn’t miss it, Professor.”
After she had gone, I pulled out my phone and dialled Luc. He picked up on the second ring.
“Hey, Luc. Is it too late to be calling?”
He sighed placidly. “It’s never too late for you to be calling, Di. I miss you.”
“I miss you, too,” I told him sincerely. “My professor just came to visit me.”
“Let me guess, to tell you how amazing a student you are?”
I laughed. “That, yes, but also… she wanted to talk to me about social stuff. She thinks I need to make more friends, get involved in clubs, that sort of thing.”
“So, basically what I’ve been trying to tell you?”
“Uh… yeah. Basically that.”
“So, are you going to listen this time?” He wasn’t upset, but I still felt guilty for not keeping my promise to him.
“Yeah, I’ll try.” I promised. And I meant it this time.
As the weeks went by, I kept my promise to Luc and the Professor, and put more effort into making friends in classes. Not being a particularly social person by nature, I made it easier by telling myself that all this ‘networking’ would be useful later down the line.
To that end, I was also spending a lot of time nowadays in front of the mirror in my bedroom, practising my public speaking skills and trying to work out the best way to make a good impression on looks and manner alone. It had never been my favourite thing to do, but I knew if I wanted to make a difference in the political scene I would have to be able to make speeches and introduce myself to strangers, hopefully while feeling as calm as I looked.
And so I practised.
On top of making friends in class, developing skills and keeping on top of all my coursework, I was still finding time to talk to Luc almost every afternoon. He was my lifeline, a constant reminder of why I was here and what I had to look forward to when it was over. And as much as I was enjoying university, there was a part of me that just couldn’t wait to be back home, with him. The sooner, the better.