Pickle Panda Find Love in the Time of Robot Bees: Part 1, Ch. 1

CLICK HERE to return to Pickle Panda Finds Love in the Time of Robot Bees‘ table of contents.

Part 1, Chapter 1

“I never should have brought you,” said Kelsi, flustered as she tried to make sense of the crude map the university had provided her while navigating the hallways full of students. “It’s my first day of college you’re already ruining it! People are going to think I’m slow.”

“Only if you talk to them,” answered Pickle, snarkily, doing the best he could to keep pace with her.

“Ugh! I hate you so- Wait. I think this is it.”

The classroom was basic. It had two doors, one near the teacher’s desk and one towards the back. Otherwise it was nondescript and generic in that way that university classrooms used by multiple departments so often are. There was nothing permanent on the walls to mark this as a “Humanities class” or a “Math class”. Kelsi and Pickle looked around the room, which starting to fill up with other, eager young freshmen, and decided to sit in the back corner of the room. As close to the back door as possible, in other words.

“Just stay quiet.”

“I’ll try not to make a scene,” said Pickle. It was a hollow statement, of course, and they both knew it. Despite the progress their family had made with getting Pickle recognized as a “service animal” by Florida’s courts, he was still a panda. The hard-won rulings made it so Pickle could accompany Kelsi to school or to the mall, sure – but they couldn’t control how Kelsi’s teachers treated him and, by extension, treated her. Some teachers treated him like an interesting pet. Others, like a dangerous zoo animal. Regardless of how the teachers saw him, though, Pickle was still a panda in an orange vest, and a panda in an orange vest was a scene.

“I hate dad. He’s so stupid sometimes.”

“I don’t want to be stuck following you around, either-”

“Good morning, class!” said the teacher. “It’s 8:05, so we should get started. I am professor Stephan Westby, and this is COM 101, Speech Communication. I would like to welcome you all to-” He stopped mid-sentence as his eyes fell on Pickle.

He spoke with a heavy accent Pickle couldn’t quite place, but that didn’t bother either Pickle or Kelsi. What bothered them were the heads of some twenty-odd students that turned to follow the professor’s gaze. “Good morning, professor!” said Kelsi, with an uncomfortable smile.

“Good morning, Miss Clark,” he answered. There were a few quiet seconds, then he went on, “I know you and your panda from the internet videos and the news reports, also. When I saw your name on my roll it never occurred to me that you were that Clark.”

Pickle stayed quiet. In the early days of his adoption, when he was no bigger than a small dog and only spoke a few words, Kelsi posted hundreds of photos and videos online showcasing her exotic new pet. It was through those videos, and the news outlets that picked them up, that the world came to know “Pickle Panda” and his expanding vocabulary. Once Kelsi and her father began thinking of Pickle less as a pet, and more as a sensitive, thinking person, the videos stopped.

This, of course, left the public with a lot of room for interpretation.

The professor continued to look at the pair. The eager young woman, dressed expensively and ready for class with an open notebook and a sharpened pencil at the ready. The pudgy little black and white bear in the seat next to her, looking very much like the top prize at a county fair ring-toss. “Miss Clark, will your- er, the panda? Will he be taking the class as well?”

“I’m just sitting in,” said Pickle.

The other students were blown away. St. Augustine was a small town and, on top of that, it was a genuinely weird town, so the locals weren’t really phased by a panda (talking or otherwise). The incoming freshman class of Flagler College, however, were mostly from “somewhere else”, and gasped when they heard Pickle speak. A few were horrified by the “human” sound of his voice. Overall, however, the response seemed positive.

“Calm down, calm down,” professor Westby said. “Eyes front. This isn’t the first time I’ve had a minor celebrity in my class. Now, let’s get started with our first assignment.”

“Did he just call us minor celebrities?” whispered Pickle, to Kelsi.

“Shut UP!” she hissed, as she carefully wrote “First Assignment: “ in a bubbly script on her notepad.

“This is a communication and speech class, so our first assignment will help me see how well you communicate and speak, already” explained professor Westby as he handed out a stack of printed syllabi. “I’m hoping that, through this exercise, we’ll all learn about each other and, perhaps, you’ll all learn a little bit about yourselves. The exercise won’t be graded, in the conventional sense,” he continued, “you get 100% if you give it an honest effort. You get a ‘zero’ if you choose not to participate. Now, since it’s your first day of class – for many of you, it’s your first day of college – get out of here.” He smiled, “go figure out where your classes are and buy whatever textbooks you need and make some friends. We’ll meet up again Wednesday.”

Kelsi tried to gather her things quickly and escape out the back door without generating too much more attention, but it was not be. The other students immediately crowded around Pickle, blocking the door and trying to talk to him. They meant well, for the most part. She heard “Whoa!” and “Dude!” and watched Pickle reluctantly give a few of the boys “fist bumps” as they walked past him and out the door. She overheard one of the girls in the class say “Is she autistic or something? Why does she need a seeing-eye panda?” and another say “Why is she allowed to bring a pet? Does that mean I can bring my poodle to class, now?”

Kelsi sighed and dropped her shoulders, waiting out the “traffic” by the door. It was just like high school, and the only thing anyone seemed to pay attention to was Pickle.

“Hey, that’s cool that your panda talks.”

“Huh?” she said, as she looked up.

“Your panda. He’s pretty cool. He said your name was Chelsea, I think?” the boy was nervous, but very cute. He was taller than Kelsi, with close-cropped hair and blue eyes. “Um – so, you’re a freshman? That’s cool.”

“It’s Kelsi, and yeah.” she said, smiling a bit nervously herself.

“Cool, cool,” he said. “So, what’s with the panda? Is he like, super smart or something?”

“He’s stupid. I mean, he’s like, smart for a panda, but he’s normal. I guess.”

“Oh. Well, um – I’ll see you Wednesday? I mean, if you don’t drop this class. The professor seems cool.”

“Yeah,” she said. “See you then.”

Kelsi watched the boy walk away from her, and out of the classroom – he looked back, she noticed. Pickle was still uncomfortably chatting with professor Westby and a few straggling students who couldn’t get enough of his novelty. “Can we go now?” she said, on the verge of impatience.

“Yeah, let’s go,” said Pickle, as he dropped out of his seat. At just four-and-a-half feet tall with short, stocky limbs, Pickle wasn’t particularly graceful in his movements.

“Don’t forget what we talked about, Mr. Panda,” said the professor. “I expect you to complete the assignment, too. You’re in my class, after all!”

“Yeah, I’ll think about it.”

“What’s that all about?” asked Kelsi, taking out the university’s map once again and trying to make sense of it.

“He said if I was going to sit in the class, that I should take the class,” explained Pickle. “He wants me to do homework.”

“HA! OMG, Dad’s going to make you do it!”

“No,” said Pickle, sternly. “He’s not going to make me do it, because he’s not going to know about it.”

“He already knows. I just texted him while you were talking.”


“He says ‘LOL’. Your life sucks!”

“I so hate you.”

“You make me wanna die- OK, we need to go this way to the library. I think they have a coffee shop in there,” said Kelsi. “I’ll buy you coffee if you stop talking.”

Pickle could always be bought with coffee or pastries, and she needed time to think. She’d spent most of the summer “re-inventing herself” for college. She’d determined to finally be something other than “that girl with the panda”, and had begun waking up early for runs along St. Augustine’s beaches to get in shape. She’d tanned her skin and dyed her hair blonde (just highlights). High school had been so much about Pickle and she’d hoped that she’d – finally! – found a place where she wouldn’t be forced to drag Pickle around everywhere she went. She’d even chosen Flagler because it was a private university, and she was sure they’d never let her bring Pickle into their historic classrooms.

Her father had laughed off that failure with “Did you really think a bunch of liberal intellectuals weren’t going to want to have a one-of-a-kind talking panda at their university? Ha!”

“Ha!” indeed.

Her re-invention seemed to have paid off, though, if the attentions of – what was his name? – were to be any indication. Maybe college was going to be different, after all …


CLICK HERE to return to Pickle Panda Finds Love in the Time of Robot Bees‘ table of contents.

1 thought on “Pickle Panda Find Love in the Time of Robot Bees: Part 1, Ch. 1”

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top