I’m sitting here in the Claremont Colleges’ library, confronted with a distinctly collegiate conversation. It’s two girls: one pretty and husky voiced, the other plain and young sounding. They are, ostensibly, studying together. But the husky voice has not once looked at her books, and rather than studying, they’ve been having exchanges like this:
Husky: I guess I’ll put it on Instagram. I only have, like, ten followers.
Plain: That’s popular! I only have like ten followers on Twitter. It’s embarrassing.
H: That is embarrassing.
P: Well, I don’t really tweet.
And like this:
H: My mom’s coming out here on Thursday. She might take us out to dinner. Want to go?
H: Well, we might have to go pretty late. We have to wait for Trey to get out of practice.
I get the sense that if it weren’t for this lab group or study cohort or whatever arrangement this is that’s brought them together, there’s no chance they’d ever talk. But both of them, in their way, are enjoying each other’s novelty. The husky is reveling in how completely her every move impresses the plain one – the casual squeaking of her straw in her iced coffee, her way of telling a story from the night before while sifting through her iPhone. And the plain one never imagined that a girl like this, who makes no effort to control her hair, but does show a good deal of cleavage, could be at least partly friendly.
In the end, though, the plain one wins. The husky’s been maintaining her end of the conversation in an inappropriately elevated voice. Everybody’s been watching her, and she likes this. But then, the plain one has a few friends show, and she joins them at their table, a few stops down. This move leaves husky behind, and now, she tries to find it inside herself to study.
Tom Dibblee is Trop’s editor. His fiction has appeared in Glimmer Train and his nonfiction has appeared in Pacific Standard, the Los Angeles Review of Books, and the Point. He lives in Los Angeles.