October 20, 2016 | strung together on a subway
The downside of e-books is that they remove a legitimate conversation starter. She was surprised that he was a reader now, but with no idea what he was reading, it was useless. Commenting on the weather wasn’t an option when the weather barely ever changes. It just screamed desperation — and even worse, it was unoriginal. And the conversation wouldn’t even have a half-life if she asked to borrow his laptop charger.
She looked down as his eyes shifted up and away from his reading for a moment. This was silly. She could say hello. She would.
If he left the cafe, all these spinning thoughts would be a waste. For today. Tomorrow she might have another chance. But she’s had so many. Maybe he’d choose a different place to read and enjoy a coffee. Away from her.
A few years ago, he must have been the agonizing. Well, maybe not, since he had been sloshed from one too many vodka shots. Freshmen. Their first taste of illicit freedom, and they wouldn’t even remember it the next day.
She had stuck close to the mercifully open window, trying to remember why she’d even come. The thump-thump-thump of the DJ’s strange inventions pulsed through her head despite the distance she kept from the table. If she was parked on her dorm couch as originally planned, she’d be transfixed by the tender kisses exchanged in her classic movie collection. Instead her eyes were helplessly drawn to the pair of tongues swirling against lips and faces a few feet away from her. She wondered, would they be in pain the next day?
She took another gulp of air and made for the makeshift coat closet. Better to make a quick exit before her roommates could nag her. She needed the night out. She and her boyfriend had been admirable, but the distance would’ve done them in at some point. (She appreciated the support.) It was time to explore!
A dark and slightly wet-smelling figure blocked her path. It was flanked by two others, too. Her nose wrinkled, and she gave them an expectant looks, waiting to pass.
“Hi, um, wanna dance?”
“I’m trying to leave actually.”
The strobe lights illuminated the other two reinforcements. One of them stepped up.
“He’s, like, totally into you.”
Very subtle. He smiled, since there was nothing he could do coherently. A bolt of gratitude that her roommates were occupied in a different corner surged through her. They would not have let her pass up this offer.
“Thanks, but I really need to get out of here.”
The main boy spoke for himself now. “Um, can I get your name?”
She thought for a moment. “Audrey.”
“Audrey.” He said, testing it for authenticity.
“See you later.” She continued to thread her path through the throng.
She had a close call over winter break. Being at home made her nostalgic for familiarity, and her roommates weren’t there to remind her otherwise.
His smell and touch were familiar, and he knew everything about her. So much so that she didn’t think anyone else could ever know her better
For the same reason, she needed to get out and back to campus. He was right about so many things. Boston was really, really cold. Sure, her classmates were smart as hell, but he heard that the science honors program at state was just as challenging. Tuition would be less expensive, and they could even get an apartment off-campus together.
Easier. Better. Better?
She shook the drops off her umbrella outside the doors to the lecture hall. Showing up late wasn’t her M.O. even in the first week of lecture, especially since she was hoping for this professor’s recommendation someday. She peered through the porthole window and searched for a seat that would require the least amount of navigating around people’s legs and their things.
There. Somehow the second seat closest to the walkway was open. She gently pushed open the doors and kept her eyes on her target.
In a quiet flurry she unpacked her notebook and pen, cursing silently when a few raindrops spilled onto a clean page. She tried to brush it off before the water could settle in.
The person right next to her chuckled just loud enough for her to hear. She kept her eyes straight ahead. It was the only way for her to keep up with these kids and their summers of enrichment programs and science fair medals.
Her attention snapped to the unknown speaker.
“Oh, you.” Her embarrassment was compounded by her realization that she didn’t know his name.
“Warren.” He offered his hand.
Audrey shook it and smiled quickly. “Rough first week,” she explained.
“You can take a picture of the notes you missed, if you want.” He pushed his notebook towards her.
“Really? Wow, thanks!” Audrey snapped a picture of the pages with her phone.
By the end of the lecture, the lecture notes weren’t the only new items stored in her phone. She could see this semester being better than the last.
He was the model of support and wouldn’t let her quit. But come junior year, classes, the MCAT, and working in a lab were all becoming too much.
“I’m not sure I want this anymore.” Audrey said. She took another gulp of coffee and stared at the chem problem. It was that time of the night when your brain either flew into heights it never neared before or crashed like a plane without an engine. Tonight she felt like she was suffering the latter.
She wanted alcohol, copious amounts of it.
Warren reached across the table and rubbed her wrist. “It’s midterm season. We’re all f — — d. But you’ve got this. I know you.”
“No, I don’t.” She forced her chair back as she stood up and started to gather her things.
“Where are you going? Back to the room?” Warren mirrored her and started to pack up, too.
He didn’t follow.
Audrey took another long drag of her coffee. Of course, she could ask him how med school was going. Or maybe he was one of the hoodies now, as was common in this city. She smiled as she tried to guess what his reaction would be to her new path, or, to be more accurate, gigs, now. So far, the title for best reaction had belonged to her old roommates, all founders or on their way to becoming C-something-O’s.
She could let this pass. She’d be moving away from this city soon anyway.
Then the natural law that governed how humans can feel and seek out whatever is observing them played out.
Her hands hovered over her keyboard, and she gave a small wave with the hand closest to his direction.
He set down his e-reader with a small grin.
She decided, just as deliberately as she did a few years ago. “Hey, um, what are you reading?”
Originally published at J Wang.