Psychology 101: A Three-Week Intensive Summer Course - Jessica Liong

The desks in the Psychology 101 classroom were arranged in a semicircle. Emily’s desk was located between Sasha’s and the doorway.

This was an inconvenient location for Sasha.

Due to Emily’s proximity to the frame, whenever the door swung open, either it or the

person behind it would bump her desk.

In order to avoid these collisions, Emily had scooted her desk closer to Sasha’s, to the

point where Sasha couldn’t even let her arm dangle freely without brushing against Emily’s


Sasha understood Emily’s action. She did.

She just sort of wished it wasn’t Emily who sat there.


The hand sanitizer dispenser was right behind Emily’s desk.

It prevented her from leaning back comfortably.

As a result, Emily had a habit of either hunching uncomfortably over the tiny surface

that somehow passed as a table, or slouching so deeply that only her upper half remained on

the seat.

She also had a tendency to shake her left leg whenever she was bored.

Sasha did her best to ignore it.


On the first day, the teacher had promised that she would place an order for left hand-

ed desks. Until they arrived, Sasha would just have to make do.

She was forced to turn her notebook horizontally and twist in her own chair to write

notes properly. After a few days, she got used to it.

After a few days more she noticed that her notebook jutting out over the side of the

desk made it difficult for Emily to get up without moving it.

Emily would just have to make do too, Sasha figured.


Sasha had a lot to say in class.

She supposed that to her classmates it might seem as though she had a story, question,

or comment to almost every topic the teacher brought up.

She couldn’t help it — these things were important and besides, she liked talking. It

wasn’t as though the other students were doing much to contribute to the discussion any-


Emily, she soon realized, never had anything to say.


Once, Sasha tried to reach for the hand sanitizer dispenser without looking and ended

up accidentally brushing Emily’s shoulder.

Emily jumped as though she’d been slapped and her gaze darted wildly to Sasha. Sa-


sha almost felt offended by the near hurt look in the other girl’s eyes.

A few moments passed, and then Sasha offered a grudging, “Sorry.”

Emily blinked. The frenzy in her eyes faded as she realized it had been a mistake.

Then she turned away without a word.

Sasha waited. Emily went back to taking notes.

“Sorry,” Sasha said again dumbly, as though Emily simply hadn’t heard her the first






Emily glanced at her briefly. “No worries,” she responded.

Somehow, Sasha found this unsatisfying.


The next day, Sasha was tying her hair in a ponytail when she felt her elbow smack



Wordlessly, Emily shifted away, not once taking her eyes off of the teacher ’s Power-

Point presentation.

--- Emily never sat with them during meals.

It seemed as though the moment their class entered the cafeteria she would disappear. No one ever thought much of it.


On Tuesdays and Thursdays during break time the class was allowed to go to the


Sasha joined her friends in the convenience section of the store, pawing through can-

dies and key chains and trying to calculate how much of it all she could get. While her room-

mate made off with a bag of Jolly Ranchers, Sasha decided on some sour gummy worms.

As she settled into her place in the cash register line, she noticed Emily browsing alone

through the bookshelves.


When class resumed, Sasha discovered that she hated blue-and-red sour gummy


She tried giving them to her desk neighbor on her other side, but it became clear very

soon that Irene did not appreciate the neon-colored pile growing in front of her.

Sasha sighed and went back to just picking through the bag.


Sasha was weaving her way through the crowds of people in the cafeteria one night

when she passed by Emily sitting alone at a table, chewing on a slice of pizza, eyes fixed on

the book in front of her.


A week into the program, a thunderstorm rolled in and cancelled evening session. To

pass the time, Sasha’s resident assistant called the entire hall together to decorate paper bags.

“We’ll hang them up later, and then we can all drop in little anonymous notes for each

other,” she explained.


Sasha liked doodling, and the idea of getting nice notes, so she participated eagerly. In fact, everyone did.

When they were finished they went to the wall and hung up their bags, stringing them

together on a single line of wire.

Sasha pretended not to see the one, lonely bag with a single slip of pink paper reading

EMILY stapled onto it dangling at the end.


“Does Emily have a single room?” Sasha asked that night when both she and her

roommate had retired to bed.

Alice shrugged. Probably. Sasha couldn’t really tell in the dark.

“I don’t know.”

“Where is her room anyway?”

“I don’t know.”

Sasha snorted and didn’t say anything more.


The next time Sasha came across a blue-and-red sour gummy worm, she gave it to



There were fifteen students in the Psychology 101 class.

Whenever the teacher instructed them to get into partners, she always added, “There

will be one group of three,” as though the class had forgotten that fact since the last time they

did group work.

Every time, Sasha would tap Emily’s shoulder and ask, “Do you want to be in a group

of three with us?” She would then gesture to Irene, who would smile.

Every time, Emily would stare as though the offer had been completely unexpected,

and then manage a lopsided smile and accept.


Once, during break time, Sasha saw Emily take out her phone.

She leaned over, pretending not to care that Emily had automatically leaned away. “Is

that your cat on your lock screen?” she asked.

Emily blinked and turned to the phone’s blank screen questioningly. Then she looked

back at Sasha with the brightest grin Sasha had ever seen on her face in the past week and a

half that they’d been at the program.

“Yeah,” Emily quickly woke up her phone again to properly show Sasha the picture,

“his name is Romeo!”

A brown tabby cat appeared on the screen, positioned as though he was in the middle

of standing up, green eyes staring majestically into the far off distance, a very dead-looking

mouse dangling from his mouth.

Sasha blanched. “That’s a… great picture.”

Emily looked at the screen. She seemed slightly embarrassed by Sasha’s comment.

“The mouse isn’t actually dead,” she told her. Then she paused and added, “Yet. I guess.”



The following day, Sasha gave her phone to Emily.

“This is my cat. His name is Acorn.”

Emily looked absolutely enchanted by the ginger-and-white cat staring lazily through

the screen. She smiled at Sasha.

“He’s a very handsome cat.”

“Thank you.”

Sasha couldn’t help the sense of triumph that coursed through her at Emily’s words.


Just like every other night, Sasha was eating dinner with her hallmates.

Unlike every other night, Irene suddenly called to push the neighboring table closer to

their own. Looking over, Sasha spotted Emily standing nearby, her expression a cross be-

tween surprise and horror.

“Come sit with us,” Irene offered.

Sasha could practically see the gears in Emily’s head turning. These gears came to an

abrupt halt when Alice stood up and began pulling the small table over on her own.

Emily immediately put her book down and helped.


Twenty minutes later, Sasha heard Irene ask, “Emily, is it true that you’re leaving to-


When Emily nodded her confirmation, Irene prompted an explanation.

“It’s only been two weeks!”

“Something came up, I guess.”

“Are your parents coming to pick you up?”


Sasha stared at her fruit and tried not to act too interested.

She supposed she must not have been doing a very good job if she could see Emily

glancing at her every few seconds.


The night before Emily’s last, Sasha took her to a party.

“I’d rather not,” Emily said.

“Just this once,” Sasha told her.

Music blared and people crowded. Sasha danced and tried not to laugh at how over-

whelmingly awkward Emily looked in her oversized hoodie and wide, bewildered eyes.

After five minutes, Sasha decided that Emily had suffered enough and pulled her to

the side. “Or we could just get some juice,” she allowed.

Emily nodded meekly. “Juice is good.”


On Emily’s final night, the hall had a giant sleepover in Sasha and Alice’s room.

Emily was the only one who did not plan to stay the night. Still, she agreed to spend an

hour or two at most with the rest of them.


Other girls’ mattresses covered the floor, but Sasha and Alice overlooked all of them

from their beds. Emily sat in front of Sasha’s, leaning her head against the raised mattress.

Half an hour in, Sasha kicked Emily and dangled a blue-and-red sour gummy worm in

front of her.

Emily opened her mouth and ate it in two bites.