Flash Fiction: Sophomoric (797 words)

Sophomores were the scariest species living on the Warren University campus.

Not freshman, who didn’t understand the rules or the University map. They mostly walked around with their heads on swivels, trying to remember north and south, which square building had the food, which had the scary janitor that yelled at them over invisible mud, and which had the classroom they desperately wanted to find before they were marked tardy.

Not juniors, who were bold and busy, confident and already contained inside a group of friends who went everywhere together.

Not seniors, who were easily ignored, even though no one would ever say that to their faces. They were neck deep in final projects as soon as they stepped on campus, noses in books, and time calculated down to the second to fit in all the work and fun they had planned for that last year. Dangerous, like a fresh-sharpened blade if you got in their way, but beyond confident now, never putting a foot out of place.

Sophomores were the scariest. The ones who knew the rules just enough to apologize when they broke them and then continue on as they pleased. The ones smart enough to chart the courses of the others, and stupid enough to test that one gap to see if there was space for them to dart through. Unpredictable.

And Reese knew all this within three weeks of starting at Warren.

The first week, she ate lunch at back table of the dining hall. It was a small table, with two chairs: one for her and one for her backpack. She had a book every day, and read with one ear to the conversations around her, enjoying the noise without needing to be involved in it. The freshman glanced at the two full chairs and scooted past, looking for space somewhere else. Juniors walked by, all turned toward the center of the group and never looked at her. Seniors sat at tables on either side of her, notebooks open and laptops glowing blue as they calmly looked over their work for the day.

A sophomore stepped up right beside her, lunch tray propped against her hip.

“Hey,” she said with a grin, looking down at Reese. “We’re in Comp Sci together, right? You’re the one with the sonic screwdriver pen.”

“Yeah,” Reese said slowly. She glanced at her backpack in the seat across from her, unsure whether or not to move it. “Um. I’m Reese.”

“Genna,” the sophomore said. “Good book?”

“Yeah.” Reese flipped the cover over, prepared to answer the next question with the title and the author and a brief summary.

“Do you have to read it right now?” Genna asked.

Reese hesitated, surprised. “No.”

Genna jabbed a thumb over her shoulder. “My friends and I usually take a table over there. You wanna join us?”

And Reese spent the loudest lunch of her life listening to them debate the application of 16th century scientific theories on gender and temperature to popular vampire literature until they finally reached the conclusion that the main male lead was, in fact, a female woods fairy mixed with a disco ball. Reese tried not to laugh too hard, or run from the table.

The second week, Genna stopped at her table, tray propped against her hip.

“Come on,” she said and lead Reese over to the larger table.

And Reese spent another loud lunch trying to decide if there was any merit to the argument that a song telling a man that ‘if he liked it, he should have put a ring on it’ was anti-feminist in the extreme, just for implying that the only reason a woman would be single was that her boyfriend couldn’t pop the question. The rest of the table seemed to bounce back and forth between sides, and she decided they weren’t really looking for an answer.

The third week, Genna didn’t stop, just hooked a finger through the top loop of Reese’s backpack and lugged it over to the table, knowing Reese would follow.

“You’re scary,” Reese said, half-seriously as she caught up with her.

Genna grinned. “I’m a sophomore. Sophomoros.” Genna dropped into the Ancient Greek accent that Reese had heard a dozen times already, tilting her head back in grand stature. “A wise idiot. An idiot who actually manages pulls things off while he prances on through his usual stupidity. I figure that gives me an excuse to do weird stuff for a year.” She dropped Reese’s backpack into an empty chair and pulled up another for herself. “Then, I just need to find another excuse for the rest of my life.” She smiled, a slow, reckless smile that obviously couldn’t be contained.

Genna turned to the rest of the table. “What’s this I hear about Godzilla being mentioned in Pride and Prejudice?”

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