Randly pulled on the brim of his pale green cadet cap. The hat made him feel less a revolutionary and more like a shameless conformist. His brother would approve of his fashion choices, but they rarely spoke. He could fix that with one text, one phone call. Instead, he took out another American Spirit, and lit the tip. One deep inhale and he felt better. Randly hated being addicted to anything, but everyone was allowed a vice or two, even one that was potentially fatal. It could be worse. As an exercise in being grateful, his father would often say, someone always has it worse than you, then go on to list starving children, the homeless, and an unfortunate neighbor who had to wear Toughskins jeans, giant X’s on his pockets, rather than the more hip Levi’s. Randly applied that same gratitude system to vices. Meth was worse, as was heroin, crack cocaine.
He returned the lighter to his pocket, remembering the etching of the World Trade Centers that donned the front of it. His wife bought it for him back in 2008, when she visited Manhattan on business. There was something ironic, he thought, or maybe just unexpected in finding anything advertising the WTC post 2001 that didn’t also contain some patriotic and cliched saying.
He decided to brush up on his definition of irony.
From his vantage point on the steps of the Union building, he surveyed his surroundings down towards the library on the south end of campus. Trees blocked his view to the east, but in front of him and to the west, he watched young students, most of them female, wander between benches, along sidewalks that often went nowhere fast (a hold over from the 1960’s, when administrators didn’t want direct access to any one building in case a protest turned ugly).
He picked Grace out of the crowd without much effort. She sat cross legged between two elm trees on a slightly diagonal mound of earth, her text book resting on her thighs. The noises around him muted, replaced by a self imposed silence that emptied his heart of any other affections, shrank his universe down to this moment, this place, leaving only the desire for her.
She looked up in his direction, then waved him over. He glanced at his wedding band, silver and tarnished. The bustling noise of campus life pushed through, and he felt a tiny poke, a painful prick of remembrance in his brain. On reflex he reached up and dabbed his temple with his index finger, a bit surprised there wasn’t blood.
“During the quiet moments, I forget that I’m not supposed to want you this much,” he said a bit too loudly, and a girl walking by gave him a puzzled look.
He laughed, then stepping in her direction, waved back at Grace.