The Karma Downs
One thing was for sure.
The piece of paper in his hand with the nice, neat little labels
on each building bore no resemblance to the actual campus. Sam was
surrounded by a sea of people, constantly ebbing and flowing around
him, dressed in more colours and styles than he’d ever seen.
The books in the bag slung over his shoulder were trying to drag
him down. As he consulted the map again, he took a moment to be grateful
for the fact that throwing two-hundred-fifty-pound, hairy men around
in training sessions had gotten him into good enough shape that the
weight of the books was more in his mind.
Yeah, he had absolutely no idea where he was. Somewhere a clock
chimed loudly, and he started. A few of the people around him picked
up their paces and he realized suddenly that he was going to be late.
He was going to be late for his class, so he wasn’t going to get somewhere
important, and he wasn’t going to meet someone, and he wouldn’t learn
of a place, so he wouldn’t meet...
He shook his head. He was going to be late for his first class of
his first day of his first year (of the rest of his life, if he really
wanted to get carried away). That was all. They’d have to understand.
This wasn’t shaping up to be the first day he’d been picturing since
he’d received his admissions letter in the spring.
“You look a little lost,” someone said.
He looked up, trying to find the source of the voice and a man waved
at him. He was sitting on the edge of the fountain, elbows resting
easily on his knees, a dark pack resting between his feet. “Are you?”
he asked. There was a woman sitting on the other side of the fountain,
her head tilted towards them a bit. Maybe she was listening to them,
but all he could see through through the spray of water was white
and blond hair.
“A bit,” Sam said. “Maybe just a bit. Don’t suppose yah could tell
me where Pupin is?”
The man stood, picking up his bag and slinging it over one shoulder.
“Sure,” he said. “I’ll show you, actually. I’ve got a course there
in a bit.” The woman didn’t move, and Sam felt a shiver of recognition
course through him, but it was gone before he could pin it down.
Sam saw the other man waiting for him, and shook his head as he
slid into step beside him. “Kyle Falco,” the other man said, extending
his hand. “Let me guess. Waveform Engineering?”
“Intro to Physics 1: Mechanics, actually,” Sam said, juggling his
maps as he shook Kyle’s hand. “Samuel Guthrie. Pleased to meet yah.”
Kyle nodded, and Sam thought suddenly that they were probably much
the same age. He shuffled his feet a bit at the thought. Here *he*
was, heading for Intro to Physics... “Had McGarry my first few years,
too,” Kyle said. “She teaches Physics to the masses, and some more
specialised courses in aerodynamics once you get up to grad work.
She’s a tough old bear to get around, but she’s the best at what she
does. I probably wouldn’t have made it through my first year if it
hadn’t been for her. Good thing too. I’d have lost my scholarship
if I’d failed. Just because I’m here on the team doesn’t mean they
won’t pull it. That there is the Low Library,” Kyle said, motioning
at the building that the fountain and its twin flanked.
“Which team?” Sam asked. Football, he thought. Or basketball.
“Lacrosse. First season I didn’t even see the field, which seemed
a bit of a waste of their cash to me, but I’m starting string now.”
The people milling around them thinned out now, and Sam could actually
see them. Here, a boy racing for manhood with a tattooed neck, his
ball cap twisted to the side; a girl with fishnets, a plaid skirt,
and a bright blue eyebrow stud; a girl with blonde and white hair
flicking around the corner. Two men leaning up against a tree, their
faces inches apart. A small group throwing a frisbee back and forth
across the green, students sprawled out on the grass, propped up on
their elbows as they leafed through heavy texts or hollered back and
forth to one another. The sun was bright and warm, and he could still
vaguely hear the fountain through the murmurs around him.
He thought that he could get used to this.
“You planning on trying out for any teams?” Kyle asked him.
“Ah... No. Probably not. I won’t have time. Ah have other duties,
you see. Places I need to be - another team that Ah’m on, outside
of school.” Which was, technically, the truth.
“Okay. You living on-campus?”
Sam shook his head. “Ah’m going to commute.”
“Just wondered. Makes it easier to be involved with things, living
right where they are.”
Made it easier for a *lot* of things, though, to keep living out
at Xavier’s. When you had to rush around in the night, you only had
to run down the stairs.
“Where are you? Manhattan?”
“Long drive,” Kyle said. “Make it hard for morning classes.”
“I don’t mind. I like the mornings. They’re peaceful.” He always
had liked the mornings, but he’d grown to love them more as of late.
No one parading about in less than most people’s underwear, peering
into your mind; no couples trying so hard to pretend for the rest
of them that everything was okay, when they was so far from it that
it made your hackles rise. So, yeah, he loved the mornings.
“Look man, this is it,” Kyle said, pointing up at the building they
were approaching, glass and steel shining down at them balefully.
“Pupin. You’ll be able to figure out most of the other stuff now.
Just keep a hold of that map, and ignore all the people. It’s easy
to get twisted around at first, but you’ll catch the hang of it.”
He reached out and pulled open the doors. “Your class is going to
be the second door on the right, down that hall,” he said as the air
conditioning hit them, pointing out the corridor. “I’ve got to get
up to the fourth floor. You can find it by yourself?”
“Yeah,” Sam said. He tucked his hands under the straps of his pack,
trying to pull it up. “Thanks for all the help. Ah appreciate it.”
“Hey, no problem,” Kyle said, nodding. “Good to meet you, man.”
“You too,” Sam said with a wave as the other man bounded off toward
the elevator bank.
He straightened his pack again and headed down the hall. There weren’t
very many people around, and his steps echoed. He paused at the door,
his hand resting on the knob, and he took a deep breath. The door
clicked beneath his fingers, and he slid in as quietly as he could.
The risers in the room were full and still as he made his way in,
the only speaker a woman standing down at a podium, pointing at a
blackboard. She continued to speak as he groped his way to a seat,
her eyes only leaving him as he pulled his books from his bag.
And she continued to address the room.
He didn’t know whether to laugh or groan.
Sam’s bag was heavy on his back as he tried to remember just where
he’d parked his truck. He’d had three classes today, and from what
he’d heard at the beginning of the other two, he hadn’t really missed
anything in McGarry’s introduction. The breeze was chill with the
coming evening, plucking at his skin through the fabric of his t-shirt.
He ducked his head and kept walking. He was at the green in front
of the Hoover Building again, so it had to be somewhere nearby.
“Hey!” Someone called, a hand dropping onto his shoulder, and he
spun at the noise, feeling himself slip into alert.
Kyle backed up rapidly, hands in the air. “Whoa, man. Just me.”
“Sorry about that,” Sam said, glad that the fading light would cover
the colour settling into his cheeks. It wasn’t like anything had actually
“I called your name a couple of times, but you seemed pretty absorbed.”
“Yeah. Just trying to remember where Ah parked my truck.”
“Shouldn’t be that hard to find,” another voice added, and Sam noticed
the speaker for the first time. She was tall, with delicately slanted
eyes that said Korean. She looked up at him from her perch on the
edge of the fountain - the same one he’d seen Kyle sitting on earlier,
he realized - with her knees drawn up into an over sized jacket. “Most
of the other students are gone,” she continued, “and even so, not
many people around here drive pickups. What colour’s yours?”
“Red. Well, it started out red. It’s a bit faded and a little chipped
at the moment.”
“Why don’t we help you look?” she asked, rising. She pushed her
dark hair away from her face, and he noticed that the jacket she was
wearing said ‘Falco’ on the sleeve. “I’m Sascha,” she said, sticking
her hand out. “Sascha Cohen.”
He took it from beneath the too long sleeves, and she smiled at
him. “Samuel Guthrie. But Sam’s just fine.”
“C’mon,” she said as Kyle slipped an arm around her waist. “Let’s
get you on the road.”
“How did it go?”
Sam stopped at the entrance to the living room at Hank’s voice.
The man was sitting in an easy chair, paper between his hands and
reading glasses perched upon his nose. “Your paper’s upside down,
Hank,” Sam said, smiling.
“Oh. So it is,” Hank remarked. “Every man should be able to read
a paper upside down. So. How did it go?”
“It was great. It really was.”
“No problems so far, if that’s what you mean. It’s the first day,
so it’s probably not that great an indication, but Ah glanced through
the texts, and I think I’ll be fine. The work that Xavier and Magneto
gave me as part of my early training’ll really come in handy, I think.”
“And did you play nicely with the other children?” Hank asked with
“Well, Ah wasn’t going to tell yah about that fight in the sandbox,
but now that you bring it up...”
He sighed. “Really. You boys nowadays. Go straight to to your room.”
Sam grinned and bowed grandly, calling “As you command,” back over
his shoulder as he thumped up the stairs.
And ran into Bobby. Face-first momentum, a sudden eyeful of blue
and then his face was firmly planted into the other man’s shirt.
“Sam! How’d it go?”
Sam rubbed the bridge of his nose. “Good,” he said faintly, rubbing
some more. There was perfume in his nose and he felt his eyes start
“Yeah, college is a blast,” Bobby continued. “Wait til the parties
really get started.”
Sam looked up at him, shaking the last of whoever’s perfume was
ingrained into Bobby’s shirt from his head.
“What?” Bobby asked. “Just because I was studying to be an accountant
doesn’t mean that I couldn’t have fun...”
“Yeah. That’s right.” Funny the things that you forgot. Or at at
least the ones that slid around the edge of your awareness, that you
knew but didn’t really realize.
Like Bobby, Bobby the accountant, went to school for four years.
“Look, I’ve got an early morning class tomorrow, so...”
“Okay. There’s some pizza left in the fridge if you’re hungry. Might
want to set some aside if you want to take it for lunch tomorrow,
because I can’t guarantee you how much’ll make it through the night.”
“Yeah, thanks. Just might do that. Ah had a sandwich today, but
when Ah passed the cafeteria, it didn’t look too promising.”
“Cafeteria food’s never great anywhere, but it’s usually better
than it looks. It’s less expensive, though, to just grab something
out of the fridge before you leave.”
“Thanks again, Bobby. Like Ah said though,” he said, gesturing up
the stairs. “Ah have an early class, so Ah should really dump my stuff
and hit the hay.”
“No problem. Look, congrats. Really. It’s great that you’re doing
“Yeah, thanks,” Sam said as Bobby bounded down the stairs. Sam trailed
his fingers along the bannister as he headed up to his room, the wood
cool beneath his fingers.
Bobby’s odd cologne was still hanging in his head as he rounded
the corner, only to get a face full of white and peach.
“Jesus! You scared me, Emma,” he gasped. He was going to have to
start paying more attention to where he was going. Emma’s stilettos
should have been LOUD on the hardwood.
“Congratulations,” she said. “On the first day of school.”
“Yeah. Thanks. But Ah’m...”
“Off to bed?” she finished.
“Yeah,” he nodded. “Early morning.”
“Well, all the best.”
He headed down the hall towards his room, stopping only when she
called his name. “Yes?” he asked as he turned back to face her.
She smiled at him cryptically, her arms crossed in front of her.
“Don’t let the bed bugs bite,” she said, and turned and walked away.
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