The Storm of the Century

In the liberal arts college where Rebecca teaches, everyone wants to take her class, “Fundamentals of the Visual Experience”—a fancy term for a course that includes clay modeling and finger painting. It’s registration week and students are stationed outside her office. They’re begging to get in even though she only has twelve spots. They have endless reasons why they must have this class, and they express them in scribbled notes taped to her door, a barrage of emails, and ten-minute interviews. One brings her an iced skim latte, having heard from a former student that this is her drink of choice. Another makes brownies.

School hasn’t even started and already she’s exhausted. It’s a tsunami of energy, and Rebecca finds herself swept up in it. She tells them all the same thing. Getting into her class is not a matter of life and death. It won’t make a bit of difference in the grand scheme of their lives. If you are meant to be an artist, you will be an artist. And admission is an algorithm she has no control over, which isn’t entirely a lie though it’s not quite the truth, either. The studio is set up for twelve workstations. No, she won’t take one more. No, not even if that student is a graduating senior who can never take this class again.

He is the exception. She didn’t give him much thought when he first came to see her during registration except that he was tall with a head of thick black hair, smoothed back with a greasy look from the product he used. He had a diamond in his ear and marble-blue eyes that made him look like an alien or a ghost. When he smiled, his cheeks filled with dimples. He seemed happy. That’s what struck her. Here was a happy boy.

She remembers when he came to plead with her after he got bumped. She rarely remembers any of them after registration, but she remembered him. She doesn’t know why. His photography portfolio of moody, out-of-focus black and whites of railroad tracks, old billboards, gangs of kids on street corners was adequate, not exactly original, but it was as if he had a story he wanted to tell. He didn’t get in, but neither did eight others. When he came to see her, he smiled. He laughed at her silly jokes. Then he begged. He would be graduating. It was his last chance to take her class. All reasons she’d heard before, over and over again. Normally she wouldn’t even listen, but for whatever reason she did. She let him in.

His name is William. Not Will or Bill, he tells her during the first class as she reads out her roster. “No one calls me Bill. I’m William. William Winters.” The name seems vaguely familiar. In fact, everything about William Winters seems vaguely familiar. Except that she’s never seen him before in her life.

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