We were in Winston-Salem for a new tournament at a newly-built condo resort. Michael was seeded second, his highest seeding ever at an important event. And it was another Friday night . . . he had night practice scheduled; I had errands to run, laundry to see to. Something had to break here. Standing in front of the mirror in our room, I pulled my logo’ed T-shirt (we were all in the Italian camp) off over my head with one hand and stared at myself, the clutter of the room—a strew of towels, rackets, shopping bags—reflected back at me. The phone rang for the third time and for the third time I did not answer it. My bare arms and midriff were still trim and shapely, still free of brands, no legal obligations tattooed there. No chains or jewelry, no chains of love or money.
Throwing on a thick knit sweater and jeans, applying my mascara quite heavily, I went out thusly armored to the lobby and called for a cab. I took it to nearby Calvert University—I had thought of going to school there at one time—and walked around campus; past couples cruising arm-in-arm; past rowdy frat boys clutching beer cans, hepped up and looking for action. Everyone ignored me. Fall was in the air and it was dark and inky under the trees and around the quad buildings though still robin’s egg blue far above us. The old-fashioned street lamps posted around campus had just come to life, shimmering mysteriously, their glass globes hovering together in triplets, mystical messengers from another time and place sent to reveal their secrets. I walked into the library, lit-up and beckoning with its own amber glow, and wandered through the stacks, running my fingertips pensively over the books, leaning over the mezzanine railing at one point, looking down on the main reference room, on the non-party crowd sprawled over their books. Everyone looked young. My father once told me that my college years would be the happiest of my life, and I was depressed to think that the best was already behind me; it certainly seemed so tonight. I didn’t belong here, either. Dejected and cold, I decided to go the student union center, get a cup of coffee, then head back.
Turning from the cashier at the student union café, pausing to take a sip of the hot coffee before putting on the lid, my eyes rested momentarily on a young man sitting alone studying in a booth by the exit. He was plugged into a cassette player either to ease his melancholia at being reduced to publicly studying on a Friday night, kicked out again by his roommate’s shenanigans, or to shield himself from the noise of the group fooling around on the other side of the room, the only other inhabitants of the place. Eventually he felt my gaze on him. He looked up and I could see he realized I wasn’t a student, realized I didn’t belong here, but there was no other sign of recognition in his eyes. He looked as if he wanted to say something, but couldn’t summon up the lines adequately. So I approached him. “Hi, I’m visiting here. Do you mind if I sit down for a minute?”
Surprise ran across his face as if someone had walked by and casually tossed a hundred-dollar bill in his lap. And I liked that, that surprise; I was sick of the aggressively self-assured. The only experience he had with women, I suspected, was in his own mind alone in his own room. He pulled the headphones off his ears, took his feet off the seat across from him, and asked me my name.
“ . . . Sally.”
“Hey, Sally. Jeff. Have a seat.”
Jeff possessed the characteristics of the so-called loser type, charming if you only opened your mind to it. He was very fair, with light blue-gray eyes, his hair center-parted and hanging limply behind his ears. The near invisibility of his eyebrows gave him a permanently startled expression, although that could be attributed to the situation in which he now found himself. He was rigged out in typical campus gear: baggy short-sleeve print shirt, jeans, track shoes.
We got to talking. Jeff eventually gathered up his courage. “There’s nothing going on here—never is,” he complained. “But there’s some sort of Oktoberfest-thing going on out near Bethabara; do you wanna check it out?”
For the first time that night my personal security was threatened. Prior to this point, I could’ve just walked away at any time and no harm would have been done. I looked at him blankly.
“It’s just the next town over,” he assured me.
“Well, it isn’t that; I don’t have a car. I didn’t drive here; I took a cab,” I stupidly admitted.
This was no problem; he had some sort of motorbike he proudly announced. This was the selling point, obviously, for going out to Beth-a-whatever, not the fair itself. His bike to him was his ace up his sleeve.
I hesitated. It was getting late and I needed to start thinking about heading home. Admonitions popped sing-song into my head, pulling me this way and that. (‘You never regret what you do in life, it’s what you don’t do . . . yada, yada, yada.’) I also realized that if I went back now, the only things waiting for me were a mountain of laundry to send out and a sore, silent Michael. I couldn’t face it.
“Well, okay then . . . Let’s go,” I smiled.
“Awesome!” Jeff pounded his fist on the table and sprung up.
“God . . . okay, what am I doing? What am I doing?” I asked myself, following him.