A Novel Excerpt
The houses on the park faced each other across a wide stretch of verdant lawn, which today was especially bright against the burgundy and gold ashes and maples that stood equidistant from one another, their foliage reaching to one another, leaving little for passersby to see. Ribbons of flagstone sidewalks ran parallel to the wrought iron fences, and it was when you walked on them that you could see the houses completely. It was well before noon. Heavy-lidded students and bright-eyed professors - you could tell the difference somewhat by means of age, but mostly by posture and quality of dress in a sort of expertly assembled combination that seemed effortless - walked up and down the house fronts, opting for the more peaceful route to the classrooms, that didn’t involve suited men handing out orange-covered New Testaments or other students in brightly colored t-shirts waving and holding out pens and clipboards with a toothy grin, a lousy attempt to hide their true agendas. It was if you were on your way to the library, in which case you would have to ignore at least one New Testament and two clipboards.
I decided to stop at the campus coffee joint well before I got off the train. I’d had my customary half a pot that morning, though after the night I’d had, another half would have doubtless sufficed. You see, I had stayed up until the wee hours working on my latest short story, and I was due to meet with Jonathan that very morning so that he could note my progress. In about half an hour, in fact, but he’d never minded it in the least when I showed up early.
I remember there not being a line at the coffee place when I went in, but I do remember the one that formed behind me. I felt incredibly lucky, or perhaps just fortunate. I walked confidently up the park - the coffee joint was located conveniently at one end - and my nearly knee-length black boots clicked sharply in the crisp autumn air, turning a head here and there. I hated how my emblazoned coffee cup made me look trendy, or so they thought.
What I had affectionately come to call the house of the campus English department was “Jonathan’s house,” - not to any of my friends, of course, just to him - not only because his office was there, but also because the structure reminded me of him. It was always a little on the warm side, it seemed, and smelled comfortably musty in a way that only old houses can. I knew its creaks, I knew how it breathed. The windows - all of them - were rain-streaked, having gone for seemingly decades without having been cleaned. The sunlight that filtered through them looked unnatural, like a standalone light bulb in a closet. It was in the fact that I remembered all these details and more about that house that reminded me also of him.
I turned to the house and stood outside the gate for the briefest of moments, glancing up at his window before opening the gate. I could have imagined it, but his face flashed before the window, looking down at me, a smile playing at one corner of his mouth in that way of his, and was gone. The gate creaked open and when I turned around to lock it behind me, I glanced up at what I thought to have been another professor coming along the sidewalk - a male voice said “Hey,” a bit sharply, to let me know to leave the gate open for him, or so I thought - but when I saw that it was Dane who had called to me, who now saw me, whose eyes searched mine, whatever reasons he had for desiring to make his presence known I still cannot say, after some time to have thought on it, my heart stopped, I inhaled sharply, and bent my coffee cup into an oval from squeezing it in terror, the coffee scorching my skin and my not even feeling it, forgetting the line I didn’t have to wait through to get it.