Lee and Matt wriggled free of the crowd as the chapel steadily disgorged it’s congregation into the fountain square.
“So, where are you going tonight and with who?” Lee asked.
“Have no idea.” Matt scanned the crowd.
“Oh, I see, you haven’t decided yet, you’re just looking the roster over for options.”
“More or less.” Matt responded slowly.
“It’s nice not to have to worry about that.” Lee spoke to the night air, since he knew Matt wasn’t really listening.
He was, though.
“What about Karen Smith?”
There it was again. He fervently wished Mr. and Mrs. Smith had never met. The result was causing him problems.The sooner this scuttlebutt died, the happier he would be. It couldn’t be long now. He’d avoided her like the plague for the last two weeks, trying to starve the rumor. In that way, and some other ways, rumors were like jackrabbits. Born easy, die hard. Not to mention the way the way they hopped around and popped up out of nowhere when you least expected them.
“What about her?”
“I heard you were- well, Angie was telling me-”
“You’ve been talking to Angie.” Lee cut him off crisply, glancing up at the moon.
“What else has Angie told you that you took for truth and gospel?”
“Point taken. So. . .find somebody else.”
“I knew you weren’t listening when I said it was nice not to have to worry about that.”
“I was listening.”
“Then what’s your point?”
Matt shrugged, zipping his coat up before belaboring the point “Isn’t it a little depressing,” he smiled in his own inscrutable way, “-not to even think about women? I mean, less trouble, yeah, but what fun is it?”
“For you. Females for you have pros and cons. For me, it’s all cons. Why should I regret not having something I don’t want?”
Matt saw a blonde head in the distance and conceded the argument quickly. “I suppose you should suit yourself.”
“I am suiting myself, thank you very much.” he muttered to Matt’s departing back.
Having said that, he suddenly found himself in the near vicinity of an entourage of Karen Smith admirers; three of them, orbiting like Saturn, Venus, and Jupiter around the same sun.
He looked purposefully elsewhere, his eyes rolling involuntarily. He stopped short when his gaze settled back into place and locked onto a pair of large green eyes.
The minute their eyes met, she spoke, charmingly sarcastic.
“Oh, look. There’s Karen and all her men.”
He bristled in spite of his resolve to let the whole matter die of starvation. This insidious, casual rumor had gone far enough, and nobody was going to stop it but him. Time to put it to the sword.
He stepped closer, turning his back on the Smith solar system, and looked down into a face that was even prettier up close, and the eyes bigger.
“Do me a favor,” he requested in a tersely intimate tone, “and do not refer to me as one of Karen Smith’s ‘men.’”
Behind him, Venus laughed at something the Sun had said.
She looked up at him with just a touch of sobered remorse, but still saucy, and said, “I’ll be your girl for tonight, if you want me to.” Just like that.
His initial feeling was mild panic. The sudden dryness in his mouth was not what he wished to experience when being flirted with, given his self-confirmed and somewhat prideful independence of . . . And furthermore, it was unsettling, coming from her. Everything he had ever seen in her pointed to sincerity, not given to friendly flirting. In fact the first time he’d ever spoken to her, it was to say, “If you get your nose any higher in the air, and it rains, you’ll drown.” Such was her reserved, indifferent air to males; an attitude not easily reconciled with the coy insolence that saturated her enticing remark.
He weakly resisted until it came to him that it would take a better man than he to laugh and move on.
“We’re going out, somewhere.”
Sellout, he told himself
“Why don’t you come along, both of you.” he gestured towards her friend Dory who was regarding Natalie with what he would recall later as a shocked look.
Natalie now looked slightly bewildered. “Where?” she finally asked, supremely unsure of herself now.
“Not sure. Gotta find everybody. I’m supposed to meet em over by the post office. Hang on, I’ll go see if they’re there.”
He moved off through the crowd, while she turned away with a dismayed look in her eyes.
Ten minutes later, he returned to the same spot.
She wasn’t there. Neither was Dory.
He meandered through the idling crowd, until he saw his cousin.
“Hey, you seen Natalie?”
“’I think I saw her headed toward the dean of women’s office.”
What’s she doing in there?
“Would you go get her, we’re supposed to go to Covington and her and Dory were gonna come.”
She returned shortly with the two of them in tow; Natalie, reluctantly, it appeared, accompanied by Jack Alder.
“Yeah,” his cousin volunteered, “They’re gonna ride with him.”
Since it appeared that Natalie was not going to look directly at him, he shrugged and dug his keys out of his pocket.
“Hey, can I ride with you?” Shelby asked. “Manuel said he’d be by later. so he can bring me back.”
He and Shelby arrived last, since he never could find anything, not a gas station, much less a specific restaurant to which he’d never been, without at least three wrong turns and an occasional jaunt the wrong way down a one way street, pedal pressed to the floor, desperately racing to dart down a side street scant feet before the shocked, indignant glares of drivers coming the opposite direction, clearly offended at having to take their foot off the accelerator. And since his parents never could find it regardless of how many wrong turns and how much frenzied speeding down one-way streets, they never made it at all.
He and Jack sat opposite Natalie and Dory. He opposite Natalie, Jack opposite a nervous Dory. It appeared there were something afoot there, also. Chad and his brother and his brother’s perpetual fiancee sat to Lee’s right.
Chad, leaning into Lee’s peripheral vision from the opposite end and side of the table, flashed a downright smug smile at Lee, shifting his look significantly towards Natalie, then back at Lee.
Chad then went back to conversing with his brother in hushed tones, with Lee and Natalie obviously the topic, judging from the sideways jerks of the head, and the glances down their direction that never quite reached them.
Sometime between the main course and dessert, Lee found himself intrigued. Not impressed, for he’d already been impressed. There was an abundance of impressive traits; beautifully shaped eyes, perfect mouth that needed no lipstick, auburn hair, endearing little mannerisms.
But what was intriguing was her complete lack of pretense. Sincerity, that was the word. She didn’t ooze goodwill, or exude enthusiasm or coquetry. She was just sitting there talking, not embarrassed, shy, or overconfident, yet apparently interested in him. He was definitely off balance. Every girl he’d ever known up to this point had served to reinforce his conviction that females were all well and good, just not for him. He was a little disgusted. Not very disgusted, just disgusted enough to be amused at his disgust. What sort of way was this for a woman to act? Just when he’d been completely content to categorize all women essentially the same, and just as content to leave them be as they were and go on his merry way without them, no hard feelings, thank you, this enigma casually stepped into his path and looked him full in the face. No pretense, no designs, just plain, undisguised interest. He’d never seen anything like it. And so, as one does with a novelty, he stopped to look.
When they had done with supper, and curfew loomed large, he got up to pay for his meal. When he returned to the table, he was disappointed to find them already gone. Manuel had since arrived and left, taking Shelby with him, so Lee got in his truck alone and blundered his way back to the college, five minutes past curfew, and meandered up the stairs to his room. He pulled his tie and dress shirt off and sat down at the desk in his khakis and t-shirt to spellcheck the essay due the next day. Halfway through, Matt eased the door open and ambled in.
“Where you been, boy?” Lee drawled.
“Went out with James Tackett and Levi and some girls.”
Lee chuckled. “I think I’ve finally got you figured out. You never go out with the same bunch twice in the same month. I don’t even know anybody named Tackett.”
“Yeah, you know, blond hair. . .”
Lee put his pen down and twisted in his chair. “Blonde, really?”
A sheepish little smile flitted across Matt’s face. He dove onto his bunk. “So, what’d you do all night? Plot the violent overthrow of the marriage institution?”
“I went to Uno’s pizzeria.” Lee replied cryptically, turning back to his essay.
“By yourself, or with another bachelor?”
Lee doodled in the margin and said nothing.
“Oh, I see. By yourself.” Matt gripped the edge of his blanket and rolled toward the wall, thus relieving Lee of the burden of explanation.
The next morning, Lee’s eyes opened at seven o’clock. Just as he started to close them again, a thought nudged him awake.
He dressed quickly with the light off, leaving Matt and Jim still asleep and hurried downstairs and across campus to the cafeteria.
He came in the side entrance and searched the cluster of students down at the far end.
Sure enough, there she was.
He sauntered down the other side of the room, picking up a glass of juice and a muffin and headed for her table.
The closest seat available appeared to be three seats down from her, so he sat down, grateful when Shane Crosby across the table and four seats down hollered, “Well, look who’s up at this unearthly hour.”
He watched out of the corner of his eye and saw Natalie lean forward and look his way.
Fifteen minutes and some general commiseration about finals passed by and Natalie stood, leaving.
Lee gulped the last of his juice and shoved his chair back directly in front of her, unsure of what he was doing, just not ready to give up so easily.
“And where are you going?”
She never missed a beat, pulling a chair out from the opposite table and sat down, scant inches away from him.
She leveled that saucy sincerity at him and smiled. “Did you want to talk to me?”
Well . . . at least she cut through all that preliminary nonsense.
He smiled too, if a little shakily, and came right back, deciding that honesty, in the end, was bound to be the best policy.
“That’s what I came down here for.”
When the thirty minute conversation was over, he couldn’t remember exactly what it was they talked about, only that as they both departed the cafeteria for eight o-clock class, she asked, “When do you eat lunch?”
“Around one o’clock.”
“Okay.” she replied without inflection in her voice, leaving Lee with the pleasant impression that she simply took it for granted that they would see eachother at lunch.
Which they did.
And as they were leaving again, she asked about his finals, and why didn’t he bring his books down to the lounge and study there?
Finals more or less took a back seat as it will when two people who want to get to know eachother attempt to “study”together.
“So, when are you going home?” Lee asked, closing his philosophy book, finally conceding to himself the folly of trying to study while drinking in this new pleasure that was Natalie.
“My mom is supposed to pick me on Thursday, but . . .the old blue van hasn’t been running so well, so . . .”
Lee felt he had been around long enough to spot a hint like that one. But . . .no sense tackling conclusions.
“How are you gonna make it home if your Mom can’t make it?” he asked bluntly.
He nailed her. Her eyes went down and her pencil rolled in drunken circles in the margin of her notebook. Lee smiled inside. She had that same look last night after she had offered her company for the evening.
He quickly relented. “I could take you.”
He always gave up too easy. So did she.
He liked the way she gave up the charade; with a little smile in her eyes when she said, “Oh, but that’s way out of your way.”
“Oh, I think I could spare the time.”
The smile appeared on her lips. “I’d like that.”
I’ll just bet you would.
Yeah, it is a little self-absorbed.
Its my blog.
Book Review: Peace for Today
10 months ago