Pushing the Limits

By: Brooke Cumberland

The sound of knocking startles me out of my sleep. The achy feeling in my back and the sun beaming through the blinds indicates I’ve slept here all night. The knocking gets louder and more persistent, so I lazily stand up and walk toward the door. “Coming!” I shout.

When I whip it open, I see Kendall with an amused look on the other side. “I hate you,” I hiss.

She grins, eyeing me up and down with a raised brow. “You’re covered in paint.” I look down and see that she’s right. “Fall asleep in the studio again?”

“Looks that way.” I sigh.

“Well, rise and shine. We’re leaving for school in forty-five minutes.”

I groan and open the door wider for her to step in and wait while I shower. After a half-ass attempt at doing my hair and makeup, I quickly dress in jeans and my favorite heels and pack up all my supplies.

“Are you all right?” she asks, her eyes narrowing at my appearance.

“Ask me after a couple cups of coffee.” The half pot I sucked down the night before did nothing for my energy.

She snorts and leads me out the door and down the hallway.

“What’s your first class?” I ask.

“I have a nine a.m. philosophy lecture.”

“With Professor Hennington?”

“Yup.” She sighs. “I plan to stay in the back and sleep.”

I laugh. “You get a B just for showing up.”

“Then I’ll go once a week and aim for a C.” She looks at me and grins as we walk through the parking lot toward her car.

We chat and make plans to meet up for lunch as we drive to school. Once she finds a parking spot, we head off in separate directions to our first classes.

The first day of school always goes like clockwork. Syllabus and a schedule of assignments are handed out, and I soon find myself feeling overwhelmed with five classes and working three to four shifts at the gallery each week. But when you leave home with hardly any money, you do what’s necessary to survive.

Tuesday starts and ends just as uneventfully. I’ve been looking forward to my night class, Advanced Art, ever since I signed up for it last semester. I’ve had a variety of art classes throughout the years, but painting has always been my passion.

Kendall and I meet up for a quick bite to eat before I head to the Lakin Arts and Behavioral—LAB—building. I don’t recognize the professor’s name on my schedule, so I assume he or she is new this semester.

I walk into the classroom and notice all the chairs are arranged in a large half circle. Only a few other students have arrived and look like they’re about to fall asleep already.

I choose a seat in the middle and start rummaging through my bag of supplies. I look up briefly as a guy sits down next to me. He looks to be in his late twenties or perhaps early thirties. I sneak another glance and notice he has brown hair, nicely trimmed all around, but a tad longer on the top. He’s wearing a dark blue V-neck sweater with just the collar of his white button-up showing underneath it.

His sleeves are rolled up to his elbows, accentuating his broad chest and muscular arms. I lower my eyes to his dark wash jeans and admire how well they fit him as if they were custom made just for him. He looks casual but not overdone. I shift my body and lower my eyes just in time to avoid him catching me staring at him.

He turns toward me as if he wants to say something, but before he can, Ellie, a girl I’ve had classes with previously, sits down on the other side of me. “Hey, Aspen! Back to the grind.”

“Yup…another class, another semester closer to graduation!” I say happily.

“What’s with the get-up? You going out after class?” Her eyes scan up and down my body.

“Uh, no.”

Her brows rise. “You look like you’re going on a manhunt while I’m here looking like a poor art student.”

“You are a poor art student.” I deadpan, ignoring her comments about my outfit.

“That’s beside the point.” She laughs.

I shrug. “I just like wearing them. They make me feel good, I guess.” It’s not a lie, but not exactly the full truth.

Ari didn’t like wearing dresses. She was all about the adventure and getting dirty, but I loved dressing up and wearing Mom’s high heels. After her death, my mom and I struggled to find a common ground that connected us. I found any excuse to be out of the house just to get a little bit of clarity.

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