It was a cold night. Thick pillows of snow lay in blankets around campus and the air had a stillness about it, right before it’s going to snow again. The sky was clear, but you could tell more snow was coming. It was only five o’clock, but it felt like midnight because of the still darkness.
We were packed into the library like sardines. It was noisy, as students milled around with their books, as they babbled with their friends and on their phones.
There were no more seats left so we had to sit in the bookshelves. It was the first time I’d ever sat on the floor and studied, our notes spread out like fans in front of us. What I didn’t know was that this would become one of our spots. To talk when we didn’t want to be overheard, to share secrets like a pair of silly school girls, to gossip about anyone and everyone, and to giggle about our crushes.
We had been studying for a few hours now, and had now moved onto talking about ourselves. I wasn’t good at talking about myself; I didn’t think I was interesting enough. I was good at discussing the rise and fall of civilizations, but not about myself.
As we sat among the bookshelves, laughing and talking, I was struck by the thought that it was too easy. It was December and my last exam of my first semester of university was just a few hours away. And even though the end was so near, the feeling of the tightening of my chest, the rapid breathing, and the spinning of the room were all things that I couldn’t forget so quickly. It had only been a few short months ago, in the first week of September, my first week of university, that I had my first ever panic attack. And as I attended my classes like a zombie, and just tried my hardest to fit in, to not stand out, the next one always seemed imminent.
But sitting with a friend in the bookshelves now, studying for an exam, it all felt so normal. I felt normal. I had already finished four other exams and tomorrow was the last one. I had (almost) made it.
School was the easy part, but my social life was sorely lacking. As I sat with the girl from my class in front of me, I eyed her warily. Could we really be friends? It was something I asked about every girl I spoke with, as if I was just waiting for my great university story to unfold before my eyes, like so many others had told me it would. But so far, I couldn’t see it.
Our parents were friends from before, and we had met a few times before finding out we were finding out we were going to the same university. As she laughed at one of my lame jokes, I felt my insides twist: was she only hanging out with me because of my mom?
My mom was known to try and push me towards people. She was confident, and wanted me to be the same. When I wasn’t, she sometimes tried to arrange my social life for me, hoping that I’d be the social butterfly she was.
As our laughter died out, she said, “I’m thinking of getting something to drink from Starbucks to help me stay awake for the rest of the night. Do you want anything?”
I stammered, “Um, n-no. That’s okay.” I had never had anything from Starbucks before. I didn’t drink coffee, so there was never any reason to shell out money for it.
She stood up. “Well why don’t you come for the walk anyways? We’ve been sitting for ages.”
So I got up and joined her. In the Starbucks line, she told me a funny story about her mom. As we stood in line, I looked around the shop and saw a few people I recognized from my classes. A girl smiled at me as she caught my eye and I smiled back hesitantly.
As we neared the counter, my classmate scanned the menu and said, “I always get the same thing whenever I come here: the white chocolate mocha. It’s the yummiest drink ever. Have you ever had it?”
I shook my head. “No, I’ve never tried it.”
“Oh my gosh, you have to try it then!” she said, moving closer to the counter. “It’s perfect for such a cold, wintery night and it’ll help you stay awake. Hi, can I get two tall white chocolate mochas? Thanks.” She reached for her wallet and pulled out her green debit card. “I’ll pay for both.”
I clutched at my sides. I had left my book bag upstairs, which had my wallet in it, after being assured by my friend that no one would take it. Now I felt like a fool.
“You didn’t have to do that,” I said, as the girl at the counter handed us the receipt and we went back to the front of the line to wait for our drinks. I could feel my face turning red.
She smiled. “It’s fine. Just wait till you try it though! It tastes like Christmas.”
Once our drinks were called, we took them and went back upstairs to the fourth floor bookshelves where our stuff still was. I checked my bag quickly and saw that my wallet was still there.
As we sat back down and opened up our notes again, she said, “So do you have any plans for the holidays?”
I shook my head. Other than watching Harry Potter movie marathons and baking up a storm, I had no plans. “Not really.”
“We should get together,” she said. “It’ll be fun.”
So far no one had invited me to hang out outside of school. They were all busy desperately hanging on to their high school friends, while I wanted a completely fresh start.
I took a sip of the warm drink. It was sweet and foamy with a shot of something bitter going through it. A warm feeling began to spread throughout me as I nodded and smiled at her.
It was the yummiest thing I had ever tasted. What I didn’t know was that every time I would have a white chocolate mocha in the years to come it would remind me of the moment when my classmate became my friend, my very best friend, and how an awful first semester of university transformed into the best 4 years of my life.