Days as a Freshman: 140
I rolled a pencil back and forth on the smooth plastic-wooden café table. The coffee sitting next to me was still too hot to drink, and I needed to do something with my hands and attention. Even people watching was out of the question; with half the college still tucked away at home or on some exotic island vacation, campus was a dreary ghost town at night. Sometimes I felt like the only one.
But of course I wasn’t. Since I was meeting someone else here.
I looked up at the clock again, squinting my eyes to make out the tiny ticking hand that counted off seconds. Justin was five minutes late. I told myself it was nothing. People are late to things all the time. I was late to things all the time. There was no reason to panic, no reason to think he had decided against coming. No reason to worry.
He had invited me here, after all. He had been the one to mention meeting in the café on Sunday night to “catch-up”. It had been a quick phone call, but he had done most of the talking, and all of the suggesting.
So I needed to stop worrying.
Pushing the top back on my coffee, I attempted to take a tiny sip and immediately apologized to my tongue as the scalding liquid slid down my throat, taking taste buds with it.
“Hey, there she is!”
looked up, my mouth still burning, as saw Justin push through the class doors. But he hadn’t been the one who spoke. The voice belonged to the person walking in front of him. The person smiling and waving. Sasha.
They reached the table at the same time, Sasha all smiles and windswept hair, Justin quieter and more pulled in, his eyes barely looking into mine.
“Didn’t know you were gonna be here for January term.” Sasha punched me playfully on the shoulder and unzipped his jacket. “Justin told me and I said, ‘I gotta see how she’s doing.’” He ran a hand absently through his hair as he looked at my coffee. “I could go for something hot like that right now. Be right back.”
Sasha stood up quickly, knocking the small table with his knees. I grabbed my cup and watched him walk away. As soon as he was out of earshot, I looked at Justin.
“I didn’t tell him to come,” Justin explained before I could say anything. “He heard me talking to you…I didn’t even know he was standing behind me…and invited himself. It’d be weird if I said no.”
“Would it?” I watched Sasha talk cheerfully with the woman behind the coffee counter. “You could have just told him we were studying or something.”
“He would have come anyway, Grace.” Justin leaned forward, his face knotted into a worried expression. “He’s been trailing me for three days. It’s like he’s my goddamn shadow.”
“I think he’s worried.”
“About what?” Over by the counter, Sasha laughed, and leaned down to grab some change that he had dropped. “Aren’t you his friend?”
“He’s worried about us.” Justin’s eyes flickered over to the coffee counter and then back at me. “He’s coming back. Switch the subject.”
“Why is he worried about us?” I hissed. But Justin just shook his head and tapped the table.
“Don’t tell any stupid family stories without me!” Sasha fell into his seat, the steam from his drink rising into his face. “I’ve got enough to last all night.”
Leaning back, Sasha gazed at me like he was waiting for something. I had no idea what he wanted, but it was clear Sasha was in control.
“I bet you can’t beat my Christmas dinner story.” I smiled my best real-fake smile and took another drink from the still too hot cup in my hands, biting my bottom lip as the coffee burned my throat.
“You go first. We’ll see who wins.”
I began to talk, keeping my voice light and my eyes on Sasha. Every once in a while I’d look over at Justin, slumped in his chair, his smile half-pressed and soggy. Who wins.
I needed to find out what was going on.
Days as a Freshman: 140