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Jason Michaels ran his frostbitten hands over his coffee cup in a failed effort to defrost them. The tips of his fingers were practically purple- a surprisingly close match to the color of his tie.
Mind wandering, he attempted to pull a folded newspaper out of his pocket. As he started to scan the sports section, a man in a suit pushed past him. The coffee cup tumbled out of his hands and splashed onto the article he was reading.
“Today of all days!” Jason grumbled under his breath. The words on his paper bled into a cloudy pool of ink. He crumpled it in his fist and threw the soggy ball into the trash. Looking up, Jason hoped some of the sky’s radiance would rub off on him. The sun wore a golden halo just over the skyscrapers. Above that, the crown of light faded into a wintery white. As Jason pulled his eyes away from the gradient of colors, he noticed that his fingers were still changing shades. Shades not quite as luminous as the ones in the sky.
He shoved his hands in his pockets and started walking down the street. There was nothing more he could do to distract himself. Feeling defeated, he reached into his bag for a piece of paper. He undid the neat foldings and stared down at the daunting words.
Hours later, Jason slid out of a taxi. He sprinted up a few steps, and pulled open a heavy door. Inside, heat brought instant color to his cheeks. Removing his new gloves, Jason smelled a mix of sweet perfumes and hors d’oeuvres. He glared at the guests walked around him, chatting and laughing. After all, they were the cause of his distress!
Being a historian, Jason was inexperienced in situations like this. He was used to deserted libraries and his quiet office. But his boss had flown to London to do some last minute research, so tonight was his responsibility. A wave of anxiety gripped him. The ever-present butterflies in his stomach multiplied as he saw the crowds of people.
Snatching a drink from the tray of a nearby server, Jason tried to calm his nerves. Ever since his boss had told him about tonight, he had dreaded it nonstop. Imagined every second. Planned for every possibility. No amount of preparation seemed sufficient.
“Mr. Michaels!” beamed an approaching man in a black suit. The already accelerated pace of Jason’s heartbeat quickened at the sound of his name. “I’m so glad you’re here!” the man continued, “We were just thinking that now would be the perfect time for you to begin. I’ll get the room quiet for you.”
“Oh no, you don’t have to –”
“Welcome everyone,” the man’s voice boomed over the din of the crowd, “I’d like to thank you all for coming to tonight’s event.” The butterflies in Jason’s stomach flew faster and faster. He saw the lips of the man moving but couldn’t tell if anything was coming out. The beating in his chest drowned out the words.
“So without further ado, I’d like to introduce Jason Michaels. Jason will be giving a presentation tonight on his research in the Vander-Soto Project. Take it away Jason!” Jason felt his cheeks blush deeply as hundreds of eyes turned to him expectantly. With his hands shaking, he slowly pulled his neatly folded speech from his pocket. Shyly looking out at the intimidating crowd, Jason took a deep breath and read the first word. He was so light-headed that it was hard for him to recall the events that followed.
Eva woke up to a sparkling sunrise penetrating her sheer curtains. She threw them open and stared down onto the streets of New York. Tossing a waterfall of sandy curls over her shoulders, she rubbed a small clearing in her frosted window with the sleeve of her t-shirt. Cars and taxis flew by, and pedestrians determinedly weaved through the multitudes. She laughed as she saw a young man angrily hurl a coffee-stained newspaper into the trash.
Saturdays really were the best day of the week. No school, no alarm, and extra time to delay doing her homework. She sat down at her desk, mentally planning her day.
“You’re up early,” Eva jumped at the sound of her roommate’s voice. Christine shed her jacket and unwound a scarf from her neck, her cheeks pink from the cold air.
“I was excited,” Eva responded, “Today is, like, my first free Saturday of the year!” Christine laughed and sat down on her bed. Eva felt lucky to have such a great roommate for her first year in college.
“Well not totally free,” Christine reminded her.
“What do you mean?” Eva’s smile started to waver. Nothing could ruin her Saturday bliss.
“Professor Marks wants us to stop by his house, remember?” Christine explained
“Do we really have to go to that?” Eva rolled her eyes.
“Yes, we do,” Christine yelled from the bathroom, “Since you didn’t write the essay, you’ll need the extra-credit.” Great, Eva thought, Of course her procrastinating tendencies would end up stabbing her perfect Saturday in the back.
Hours later, Eva stepped into her professor’s townhouse. Removing her coat, she glanced around a narrow living room. A long, tan sofa ran along the length of the room. Elsewhere, snowy white loveseats and coffee colored stools dotted the space. Eva smoothed her dress and felt a blast of cold air from the foyer. Turning around, she saw a young man in a suit. His hands trembled as he took off his coat.
Christine grabbed her arm, and they started to hunt down their professor.
“Professor Marks!” Eva called out to a tall, thin man. “We’re here!” she added as he approached.
“Wonderful, ladies! So nice to see you. Mr. Michaels just arrived, so the lecture will probably start in a minute.”
“Sounds good,” she said with fake excitement. “The sooner this thing is over the better,” she whispered to Christine as he walked away.
“Eva!” Christine scolded as they broke into laughter. Moments later, Professor Mark’s booming voice rang through the room,
“Welcome everyone. I’d like to thank you all for coming to tonight’s event.” Eva zoned out as he gave a long, boring introduction. She did, however, perk up when she noticed the speaker. It was the same man she saw when she walked in. Boy does he look nervous, she thought, popping a crab cake into her mouth. Once Professor Marks finished talking, attention turned to the man.
Looking down at a wrinkled piece of paper, his face turned a bright shade of red. From the way he was frowning at that paper, Eva wouldn’t have been surprised if he was staring at a college rejection letter. She rolled her eyes at Christine. Drama queen, she mouthed, glancing at her watch. After a decade-long pause, he started his toxically boring speech. But Eva didn’t hear very much of it. She was mentally sorting through her closet for an outfit to wear to a party tomorrow.