Across campus, students sit in the class or one of the public lounges while waiting for a message about the gruesome death of Professor Ramel. Rumors have spread about what happened, but nobody is sure of the details. The story that he slipped and broke his neck has been overshadowed by word of his head being found in a bush outside his office. Having been found by the tightlipped Coach Warner, there is very little information being shared before the administration gives their official statement. Yet, most of the student body would rather continue guessing and seeing if their version can get more social media likes than the others. Many tell stories about a serial killer being on the loose while others try to push the idea that there are ghosts. Hearing Trina’s name come up several times, Bryce repeatedly wishes that she could stay in her room and avoid this sickening circus.
“The teacher already took attendance, so we can leave,” Aurora suggests, putting a hand on her friend’s shoulder. She yawns and holds up a hand, her cheeks turning bright red from embarrassment. “Sorry about that. I was going to take a nap since this was my only class today, but we can hang out if you need to talk. Jennifer can come along too in case I pass out. She’s been looking for an excuse to get away from her roommate anyway. Right, Jen? Hey, O’Connor, stop winking at boys. You look ridiculous.”
“You mean I look cute,” the theater major replies, her bubbly personality in place. Wiggling her fingers at her admirers, she keeps her hand out to reapply her nail polish. “I’d be happy to go to your room. Mine is being used for stuff that I don’t want to think about. This new girl is determined to drive me away with cigarette smoke and loud music. She doesn’t hide the fact that she wants a single. Enough about me though, how are you holding up, Bryce?”
“Let me put it this way. I miss being teased for having the same name as that crappy dorm Aurora lives in,” the blonde-haired student replies with a smirk. Looking at her long tresses, she reaches into her bag and pulls out a bottle of dye. “Maybe you two can help me. I was thinking of putting black streaks in my hair in memory of Trina. It sounds crazy when I say it out loud, but I always loved her color. It was this natural darkness that sparkling when the light hit it just right. If I do this with friends, then maybe it won’t feel as insane.”
The other girls look at each other and shrug before Jennifer states, “I’ve done crazier over losing boyfriends. When we get out of here, I’ll show you some pictures of my dark period in high school. If there’s one thing this redhead can’t pull off it’s the emo goth look. Yes, I know those are two different things, Aurora, but I still don’t know which one I was going for. Chalk it up to youthful confusion.”
“Well, this is turning into a fun party,” Bryce dryly replies, her mood improving thanks to her friends. Spotting Apollo and Thomas on the other side of the room, she is about to wave them over when she sees them call out to Chris and Harvey. “Maybe it’s best to have it only be us girls. Don’t think I’m ready to deal with Chris again. I know he means well with his teasing and jokes, but he still comes off like a jerk.”
“Probably because he acts that way on the hockey team and can’t always turn it off,” Aurora mentions while putting her head down. She is about to fall asleep when Jennifer reaches over to pinch her on the leg. “Why did you do that? Now I have that ugly polish on my pants and I didn’t want to do laundry until the weekend. Guess I’ll be cleaning these in one sink while you two work on the hair.”
“I’ll make it up to you,” Jennifer whispers, patting her backpack. Looking around, she opens it just enough to let her friend see a familiar box. “Got these in the mail this morning. They messed up my order and sent me three instead of one. Figured even the occasional health nut over there would be happy to indulge.”
“How does someone who devours twelve gourmet cupcakes a week stay so thin?” Bryce asks, her stomach rumbling at the thought of the tempting treats.
“I don’t own a car and walk everywhere.”
“So do I, but three slices of pizza still force me to wear elastic waistbands for a few days.”
“Maybe I’m part hummingbird?”
“Does that make any sense, Aurora?”
Having nearly fallen asleep again, the zoology major yawns and looks from one friend to other. “Yes, because I’ve been sneaking into her room to conduct experiments. I’ve been injecting her with hummingbird DNA to see what happens. My hope is that she’ll sprout wings in a month. You can already tell that something is changing because her tongue is a little longer than when I started.”
“Very funny, mad scientist,” Jennifer replies with a nervous laugh. She turns away and sticks out her tongue, which she curves up to see if it looks different. “That wouldn’t really work, right? DNA can’t be swapped out like in the movies. I mean, that kind of technology isn’t possible, especially by a college student. Right, Aurora? Aurora?”
Every classroom computer and television comes to life, the face of Charlene from the administration building filling the screen. The middle-aged woman leans back in her chair and dabs at her eyes with a tissue. It is obvious that she has been crying, the red and puffiness on her face looking more vivid when she turns on a desk lamp. Her brown hair is neat and tied up in a simple bun, but there is a single strand sticking out from the back. Calmly folding her hands in her lap, she waits until someone behind her computer gives her the signal to start talking. Sitting up straight and clearing her throat, the administrator fixes the camera with a stare that silences everyone who is looking.
“Good morning. Thank you for your attention and I apologize for the disruption to your education,” Charlene says in a sweet voice. Pausing to fix a porcelain kitten statue, she puts on her best smile and sighs. “As many of you have heard, Professor David Ramel was found dead in his office last night. There have been many wild stories going around campus, so I am here to tell you the truth. He was not murdered or found grotesquely torn apart. Professor Ramel’s head was not found in the bushes and the rumor about a raven eating his eye on top of the central dining hall is entirely false. All that occurred was he went back to his office, had too much to drink, and tripped over a stack of books. The corner of his desk caught his chin and his neck snapped. I am sorry to upset the sensitive ones out there, but this had to be said. Too many lies have circulated in the few hours that have passed. The faculty asks that you show the deceased some respect by holding to the facts. For those of you who had Professor Ramel as an advisor, you will be reassigned by the end of the week. Finally, all anatomy classes will be taken over by his teaching assistant, Ms. Sherrywood. Thank you and please take today to give your condolences and refocus your attention on your studies.”
“That sounded more like they wanted us to stop making a big deal out of this,” Aurora mentions as the other students begin to leave. Having taken a seat in the middle of the room, she waits with her friends until the crowd has cleared. “She didn’t have to give all those examples and look so hungry doing it. Has Charlene ever given either of you the creeps? I’ve only dealt with her a few times, but she makes my skin crawl. Nobody even knows her last name. Ugh, now I’m sounding like my brother.”
“At least you don’t smell like him,” Jennifer quips, giving a playful sniff. Her nose wrinkles at the faint aroma of animals and blood. “I take that back. You need to take a real shower. I’m buying you soaps and shampoos from the student union. Don’t even argue. There’s being unladylike and then there’s smelling like a veterinarian’s office. One that doesn’t have air conditioning on a hot day.”
“Glad somebody else said it,” Bryce mutters with a smirk. Seeing the look of shock on Aurora’s face, she takes her friend’s hands and leads her toward the door. “We really do care about you. So, know that we say this out of love. Not only for you, but for our own senses of smell.”
“Thanks. I’m so touched,” the zoology major ruefully replies.