TO ASK FOR
The Bird Doesn’t Fall Far from the Nest
“Time to get up, buddy! First day of school,” Jeffrey Taylor called through the door.
“Rise and shine,” he added as a finale. A few half-hearted mumbles from inside conveyed to Jeff that his son was now up. The mumbles were followed by the creaking of a mattress and the fervent meows of a cat—Noelle was Michael’s back-up alarm clock. In the kitchen the scraping of a spatula could be heard as Jeff was finishing with breakfast. A groggy Michael shuffled into the kitchen and said “What’s this? You never make breakfast.” Jeff walked over to the fridge. “Well, this is a special occasion, right? First day of college! You’re in the big leagues now,” he said with no small amount of bravado as he poured orange juice for Michael. “
“What’s your first class again,” he asked while returing the juice carton to the fridge. “French,” Michael answered while bringing the plates to the table. “Ah yes!” Jeff cried with bright eyes. “Je suis un poisson qui sent mauvais,” he recited with a wave of his wrist. “I have no idea what that means,” he added with a troubled expression. Then, before taking a sip of coffee, he confirmed “Your class starts at 8:00, right?” Michael nodded while trying to choke down his father’s cooking. It was apparent that Jeff never cooked—apparent and fortunate.
As Michael was finishing up breakfast his dad was getting the car started. Michael was in such an excited hurry to leave for school, that in his haste he forgot his notebook and had to go back. Then, a second time, no sooner had they gone a block that he had to have his dad turn back again. After a third time of this, he was finally prepared. “OK,” he said as much, “I have everything now.” Jeffrey looked over. “Are you sure,” he asked with a playful grin. “Gosh, I remember my first day of college. It was at this same community college, you know. I was in the class of ’78. Never did go to university. Who needs it, anyway, am I right?”
He briefly paused while changing lanes. “Yep, I had some good times. It does my heart good to see you following in your old man’s footsteps. That reminds me. There was this one time in my sophomore year…” Arriving at campus Jeff was still regaling Michael with tales of his collegiate career. “Well, here you are. How are you feeling? Scared?” Michael looked straight ahead. “I’m fine,” he muttered. Jeff pulled into a parking spot and ruffled Michael’s hair. “Well, just do the best you can. I know you’ll knock their socks off.” Michael reached for the door handle. “I love you, buddy,” Jeff added. Michael looked back at his father. “You too,” he said softly and stepped out of the car.
His solemn, steady-moving figure became a black silhouette against the bright morning sun. Jeff took a deep breath as he watched his son walk into the next chapter of his life. He continued to watch Michael walk until he disappeared within the structure of the college. Jeff let out a second deep breath. A slow turn to face forward, and he pulled his car out to head to work.
Inside, Michael looked around the cavernous foyer of the building. He stood and took in the view. From here he could see walkways on the second floor overlooking the foyer; a staircase ahead and to the left gently curved as it ascended. A sudden influx of students arriving by bus came through the doors and Michael ducked to the side to avoid being swallowed by the crowd. After one more look at his schedule printout to verify the room number, he quickly glided along the wall and up the stairs. Michael’s high school classmates had (with some apprehension on his part) given him the nickname “Frodo” for his hobbit-like silence and alacrity of foot. Such an ability had come in handy many times, though the nickname “Frodo” had not. At the top of the stairs a hall extended right leading toward the correct classroom. It was I-214.
Michael continued down the hall and reached the room. On the board inside was written “Bienvenue en Français 111!” and below it, “Marie-Élise Moreau.” Ms. Moreau was nowhere to be seen, but a few students were present. Michael sat in the back of the room and read a book, glancing up every now and then to furtively study the others. One by one more students entered as the time neared 8:00. Michael became engrossed in his book and neglected to look up for a fair few minutes. When he finally did, though, he saw her.
Her name was Nichole Dominguez. Her bangs swept past eyes that shone with sharp intellect, yet at the same time gleamed with what looked to be mischief. Her eyes were accompanied by a cherubic grin inviting the suggestion of childlike joy. After sitting in the row against the far wall, she started talking with a student two seats ahead. Michael slipped the book into his bag and glided over to sit in the seat next to her. He sat down and, after checking his face in the reflection on his cell phone’s screen, turned toward the girl. “H—” he began but cleared his throat instead. He turned toward her again and opened his mouth to say “Hi,” when from across the room another girl loudly said “Nichole? Heeey!” Nichole looked up and smiled. “Alyx! I didn’t know you were taking French too!” By this point Alyx had reached Nichole and sat in front of her. “How was your summer?”
The two girls talked at length about their vacations, while Michael sat listening silently, and eventually fell back to talking about memories from the high school they had attended. “What was that kid’s name again,” Alyx wondered.
“Jeremy,” Nichole said.
“That’s right. So, he was like, ‘But I can’t erase it! I’ve already gone over with marker!’ so I asked, ‘Why didn’t you double-check beforehand?’ and he was like, ‘I was sure that Harry was the half-blood prince!’” With a brief pause to laugh, Alyx finished with “Snape told Harry that he was at the end of the book! Now you have to draw the whole thing all over!” At this point Michael, who up until now had been half-heartedly listening while doodling a dragon perked up. “Yeah,” he chimed in. “Snape is half-blood. The other half is greasy hair.”
Nichole and Alyx giggled. “You’re funny,” Alyx said. With a dreamy grin on his face, Michael thoughtlessly corrected, “I’m Frodo.” His grin immediately disappeared. “No! M-Michael. My name is Michael.” Nichole waved at him cheerily. “Bonjour, Michel! Comment allez-vous?” Under her breath Alyx muttered, “Show off.” Michael cheerily replied, “Très bien! And that’s all I know. Except for uh…” he thought on it, “Je suis un poisson qui sent mauvais.” Nichole cracked up. “You really are funny,” she laughed. Michael smiled at this, although it was clear he had no idea why. Alyx turned to Nichole. “You’re the funny one. Why are you taking French when you had four years in high school?” “Why, to help my friend get through,” Nichole replied with a mischievous gleam in her eyes. “Yeah, right! You’re probably just doing it for the easy A,” Alyx retorted. Nichole’s grin widened. “Yeah, that’s it.”
“You see?” Alyx interjected. Nichole defended, “I’m going into engineering next year so I need to build up a GPA cushion. What about you, Michael? Why are you taking French?” Michael’s eyes shifted around. “Uh…” he scratched the back of his head. “I guess to broaden my horizons. Maybe someday I’ll want to go to Quebec. Could come in handy.” Alyx stared at him. “You’re learning French so you can go to Canada?” Michael smiled an insincere smile. “Maybe. I mean, you never know.” “Bonjour, mesdames et mesieurres!” a voice called out from the front of the room. “Good morning, ladies and gentlemen,” the professor repeated. Michael let out a small sigh of relief at dodging Nichole’s question.