The traffic back from the city was slow. Reclined in the drivers seat, Gail shifted uncomfortably, trying to awaken her numb left leg. The inch forward had declined to stagnation fifteen minutes ago. The sun was teasing the horizon, steadily leaving those who needed it the most in darkness. On the stretch of road that expanded before her, lampposts were sparse. Soon, she would have to be guided solely by her headlights, that illuminated the two meters before her with all sincerity, and the hazy red taillights of the cars before her.
Right when she reached the brink of frustration, she turned to see a grey Toyota Camry pulled over at the shoulder. Its hood was up and a young man fidgeted with the engine. His face was a series of lines and planes, held still intently. Strands of straight blond hair escaped from the rest and fluttered over his forehead as he fought frustration. He was muttering something, and Gail may have assumed he was talking to himself if he hadn’t been peeking over his shoulder every few minutes.
The car before Gail inched forward, so she followed suit. The scene at the shoulder shifted, and Gail saw that the young man wasn’t alone. On the concrete sat a girl, with her phone pressed to hear ear. The sight brought Gail some comfort. At least the young fellow had some company.
As she inched away from the pair, a name rang in the back of Gail’s mind.
From the dark corner, where memories go to rest, the sound of his laughter resonated. Perhaps it was the sight of blond young man—who so closely resembled her old friend— that brought back the memory. Or perhaps, it was the sight of the girl, sitting on the pavement without a care in the world as her company held the weight of the world over her, that made Gail’s heart ache in a way she hadn’t remembered it could.
Like a picture coming to life, a memory played in her mind. It was her second semester of freshman year. Gail had just finished her first exam for General Chemistry Two. She wasn’t feeling optimistic about this one. With the teeth of her keys pressed into the flesh of her palm, she rode the elevator to the seventh floor of Camp Hall, where she once shared a room with a woman she can only describe as a walking beauty standard. Bea was her name. Bea was the sort of person that could not walk into a room and go unnoticed. Gail should have been insecure, and probably would have if she hadn’t liked the girl so much. Now that she occupied the space alone, she couldn’t help but miss Bea.
Biting her cheek, Gail tried to think of a reason not to go back to her dorm. By floor five, she had half convinced herself to go back to church — for the second time that day — to pray, for what she didn’t know, perhaps for wisdom, perhaps for a cure to loneliness, though if there were a cure, it would no doubt be sold at the Common Market on campus at overpriced rates to desperate freshmen. The double doors opened with a ding. Stepping out into the lonely hallway, she counted the doors, considering the potential company behind them.
Room 6 held a boy from her english class who made an appearance precisely once. There was room 8, the twins who insistently show up to every conceivable event as a matched set. Gail still could not tell them apart. By the time she reached her own door, she had crossed off most of her prospects, deciding she was not desperate enough to plaster a smile and fake interest in a superficial conversation.
“Gail.” It was a soft voice that spoke.
She turned to see her neighbor, Griffin, shut his door behind him. He held a longboard close to his waist with one hand and pulled the doorknob —which was cartoonishly minuscule in his large hand— with the other.
“Taleth,” Gail greeted,”Going out for a stroll?”
“I’ve gone stir-crazy.”
She smiled in solidarity,”I’m getting there.”
He furrowed his brow, “But you just got home.”
“But at home I’ll stay till even the sun tires of the day.” she sighed to herself, still gripping her keys. There was a part of her that couldn’t let herself walk though the door.
“Sad little lady.” Was all Griffin had to offer.
“Would it be appalling of me,” Gail asked, without the decency to sound even vaguely embaresed by the request, “To ask to shadow you?”
“Yes,” Griffin said, “But what are manners amongst friends?”
The clouds were heavy in the sky, grey and dense, promising a storm. Red brick buildings stood vibrant against the overcast sky, still damp and saturated with color from the last downpour. Cherry-blossom trees framed nearly every walkway, still blooming with flowers, though only sparsely. In a matter of weeks, they will be stripped naked of their blossoms under the influence of turbulent weather.
In the middle of the campus meadow stood a gazebo, its dark tiled, cone-shaped roof was softly speckled with moss, giving it the air of something that was pulled out of a fairytale. On lonely evenings, Gail would often find herself sitting in the gazebo, watching the sun set behind red brick buildings, imaging that with the coming of twilight, the gazebo converted to a portal to some fae world. She may have felt ashamed for having such childish fantasies had she been presented with any alternative escape from the imprisonment of boredom.
That evening was not such an evening. A group of moderately attractive students in formal attire stood circling the gazebo, taking turns smiling stiffly at a camera.
“Damn frats.” Griffin muttered under his breath.
“Not a fan?”
“It’s all the noise.”
“You’re scared of the noise?” She did not expect that.
“And the energy, the raw, driving roar of a pack,” Griffin gestures widely at the invisible holder of such bravados, “It’s blinding, overshadowing.” It was the biting envy in his voice that resonated with Gail. It was a sentiment she could remember sharing.
“All of those people, who are a lot of noise, are really just screaming into the void just to hear something.” She told him, “The silence is painful.”
“Peaceful,” he suggested under his breath.
“Painful.” she affirmed.
“Maybe you would fit right in with the pack,” Griffin laughed.
“And you’re what?” Gail snorted, trying, but failing to think of a metaphor to connect her thoughts. Griffin looked down at her puzzled,”You’d be like— the center of all attention. A nucleus attracting charge from all directions.”
Gail groaned,”I bombed my gen-chem test.”
“Non sequitur, but ok.”
“That should be my tagline.”
It had been nearly two years since she last saw Griffin. He was one of the first friends she made in college. They were both in an 8 am calculus class that met three times a week, a mistake they would never again make. She wondered if they could still be friends if they were to catch up now. When they’d first met, he’d been so approachable, still defining himself as a person, not quite concrete enough to feel insecure around. They all were, it was what made it so easy to meet people as a freshman. Or maybe it was his quiet, even-tempered nature that made him seem so safe. Despite the curly pink hair and piercings that ran in metal spirals up his ear, Griffin always seemed like the calmest thing in the room.
Gail imagined picking up her phone and calling. She’d never texted Griffin. He’d never liked how impersonal it felt. It was always a call. He’d pick up, or call back. That was one thing that Gail knew would remain constant despite the years. Griffin Taleth was not one to make people feel ignored.
But what would be the point? She would only be reminding herself that she is no longer the person she was two years ago, that Griffin had changed too, that though their paths briefly crossed, there was ultimately no meaning to their meeting.
Let the past decay, she resolved, as she has a million times before. It was was deadweight anyway. Cutting it off would be the the only way to maintain momentum for the future.
A horn blared. Unbeknownst to Gail, the car in-front of her had picked up speed. Following suite, Gail left the young couple, and all that they had stirred, behind and chased the sun toward the horizon.
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