Natalie particularly loved studying with her roommate, Jessica. They had a tradition – whenever one of them had a big test the next day, or better yet, both of them, they’d walk over to Fromage et Pain, Jessica’s dad’s deli and buy the widest variety of odd cheeses they could afford. Sometimes they dictated what was odd by how it looked, and sometimes they just went by the names and packaging, if there was any. Often her dad was behind the register, and he’d roll his eyes at their motley selections, ring them up, and throw in a Margo’s Bark root beer for her and a Scotty’s Butterscotch soda for Jessica, no charge for being “such …good customers.” They’d cart their haul back the five blocks and upstairs to their tiny apartment and divvy up all the cheese.
They had rules for who got to eat it all. One would quiz the other on the looming test’s topic, and if the person answering the question got it right, they got to have a cheese of their choice. If they answered wrong, the questioner could either have a piece themselves or choose a piece that the other girl had to eat. The wrappers disappeared almost immediately, so all they had to go on for choosing their cheese was looks and smell. Often by the end both would be so full they'd swear to each other they'd not buy so much cheese next time, but they always did. It was high stakes enough that they got serious about studying, but funny enough that they enjoyed it.
Jessica was quizzing Natalie tonight, for her American History exam the next morning. “What major dam did Hoover construct?”
Natalie laughed. “Too easy! Hoover’s dam!” She surveyed the cheese and picked a soft white one with a creamy center. “Mmmm…it melts so quickly, and it’s just barely salty. So good…”
“When was the transcontinental railroad finished?” Jessica asked and then took a swig of her soda.
“Umm…1868?” Natalie asked as she swallowed the last bite of the cheese.
“Wrong! 1869!” Jessica crowed happily. She surveyed the cheeses and then chose one with thick blue ribboning throughout. “You have to eat this now. Remember this tomorrow. 1869.”
Natalie took it hesitantly from her. Blue cheese was her least favorite. She gave it a sniff. It didn’t smell terribly strong, like most blue cheese did, so she popped it in her mouth. Her eyes grew wide as she chewed. “What? What’s wrong?” Jessica asked, worried it’d been too much. They hadn’t needed a spit bucket in a long time. Natalie swallowed just as Jessica rose to get one. “Well?”
“Pesto! Not blue cheese, pesto ribbon! That was great!” Natalie laughed as Jessica rolled her eyes and dropped back into her seat.
“Alright, alright. Who were the two vice presidents for Grover Cleveland?”
Natalie nearly choked on her root beer. “He had two? Well crap.” She took another sip of root beer and wracked her brain. “Um…Thomas Hendricks and….why does he get two?”
Jessica laughed. “I’ll take that as concession that you have absolutely no clue. Adlai Stevenson.” She held her fingers suspended over the plate of cheese, then grabbed a hard yellow chunk. “Please be good cheddar, please be good cheddar…” She popped it in her mouth and a look of satisfaction crossed her face.
“Good cheddar?” Natalie smiled.
Jessica sighed. “Mmmm, very good.” She took a drink of the butterscotch soda after finishing the cheese and then picked up the study cards again.
“Okay, next question….”