They had met because of a mistake. His.
Brandon had not intended to take English 255: “Is There Anybody Out There? Fiction as an Exit Strategy.” Their school had a phone registration system where students chose their classes by entering codes with the touchpad. He had wanted to take care of it online, where he could see what he was signing up for, but he was at work when his window for registering opened and the job site didn’t have internet access. He was one number off in punching it in, so instead of taking “Computer Architecture and Engineering: Building in the Digital Age,” Brandon was enrolled in one of the most depressing courses the university had to offer. He would have dropped it, but the class he wanted was full and this one would fulfill his English general elective.
Parker was taking it because she thought reading books like The Bell Jar, The Virgin Suicides, and Norwegian Wood might give her a greater insight into what some of her eventual students were going through. Her desire was to be a high school English teacher, and many of the kids she was expecting to encounter would be struggling with adolescence and their own sense of purpose, and she hoped she’d know the right books to offer them that might touch their lives and help them on their way. She knew it was a pie-in-the-sky, To Sir With Love concept of being an educator, and that she’d more likely go from passionate and caring to tired, beaten, and waiting for retirement somewhere along the road, but she’d worry about that when it came.
After her “disappear from life” stunt, Parker had returned to Bubblegum Crayon on shaky ground. She had left the department in a lurch, and her timing had been particularly bad. Without her and Simon both, it had been a struggle to get through. Her future promotion was taken off the table for the time being, and she was allowed back at her desk for a probationary period. She found Simon’s Plastic Man page waiting for her in her cubicle, but no one would own up to who put it there. Parker could only guess as to why.
Even without the punishments she had to suffer, Parker knew the editing thing was over for her. Her time alone had given her plenty of time to think about what the job meant. The cartoonists were at best selfish and at worst petulant. Why put up with the weird mind games of keeping Geoff Klein’s Battery-Powered Sailboat afloat or the disloyalty of Simon’s Green Lantern defector? Mario Franchini may have been famous, but he was comic book famous, which meant that he could go grocery shopping and never get recognized. Did he really deserve to act the rock star? Technically, he wasn’t even famous to outsiders for his own work, just assisting the construct.
So, Parker eventually put in her two-weeks notice, heading them off before they could fire her. One of the two likely had to happen, and the only thing she was glad about was being able to ride out the wave and have a little security while she figured out her next course of action. She had some money saved and there were good programs now that gave aspiring teachers a leg up, so why not put that English degree to use another way. If she was going to be working with spoiled brats, might as well do it early when they could still be saved. Plus, it would be a real job, down in the trenches, none of this crap about girl adventurers and cities of the future.
The school Parker chose was in Orange County, perversely equidistant from both Los Angeles and San Diego, like she was keeping both aspects of her past life at arm’s length. She wanted to stay in California to get the home state discount, and she thought about going further North to San Francisco or Berkeley, but eventually this seemed like a better choice—still far enough from home that she wouldn’t have to move back in with Mom and Dad, but close enough that seeing them wouldn’t be hard if it was necessary.
The English 255 course came in her second semester. She was auditing it as a grad student, which made her feel a smidge hypocritical since as an undergrad she had always hated when know-it-all uppergrads crashed one of her courses. Not to mention that every young student always hated older, returning students, because they always came off as ass kissers who made a show of being inquisitive. She tried to keep the overreaching questions to a minimum.
Brandon was someone she had noticed right away. It was hard not to. He was taller than everyone else, nearly 6’ 6”, and he had shoulders wide enough to plant a flowerbed across them. Though, actually, the guy had first attracted her attention with his smell. Not his musk or body odor or anything, but the cologne he wore. Parker’s head was down, she was working on something or other, and this gorgeous scent drifted by. It was sort of flowery and sort of chocolaty and it was as if the fumes had formed a gentle hand, touched her ever so lightly on the nose, and turned her head in his direction.