It started as a normal day for Duke student Annabelle Boskins. She shakes her head now remembering how well her feigned acts of extroversion had gone before the irreversible incident in her 10:05 Introduction to Cryptography class.
“How’s it goin’?” a boy from her Writing 101 three semesters ago named Jake (or was it John?) had asked as they passed each other in front of Perkins. “Fine, and you?” she’d responded without stuttering. She spoke in just enough time for him to smile and nod before they’d safely passed each other’s lines of sight. If only her next attempt at social interaction had gone as smoothly.
She’d found a good seat in her math lecture. Not so close to the front that the professor would make clear eye contact with her as she spoke, but not so far back as to be caught between the girls who, from across the room, gestured and “whispered” about something definitely more important than who one of them had gone home with the night before.
Annabelle remembers the audible squeak of the seat as she sat down in her chair. And she’d thought that was bad. That’s when it happened. Even now, hours after the event, and even having successfully navigated her way through a full one-course dinner with Beth, the unbelievably boring girl who used to live on her hall freshman year – she can’t get this moment out of her head.
The tall lacrosse player in the row below her in Econ lecture. He lifted his right hand to his face. From behind, her brain must’ve subconsciously interpreted the action as preparation for a sneeze. But no sneeze would ever come.
Instead, there was a mezzo-forte watery belch. In the same exhalation, the LAX bro croaked “Excuse me.” The words in response were out of her mouth before she could stop them.
“Bless you.” she’d said.
Two seconds passed before she realized her mistake, and it caused her to make another. She allowed the shame and embarrassment to show on her face.
She knew as soon his blonde curls whipped around to identify the source of the out-of-place blessing that if she’d been smarter, she could’ve passed her erroneous remark as a snarky disapproval of his gaseous release. But when she met his glare, her own eyes were wide with fear, and she knew then — there would be no fixing her mistake.
Even now as she lies down for her usual Tinder swiping session before bed, she can’t help but wonder how everything could ever have gone so terribly wrong.