‘I know what you need.’
Elizabeth looked up from her sociology text, startled, and saw a rather nondescript young man in a green fatigue jacket. For a moment she thought he looked familiar, as if she had known him before; the feeling was close to deja vu. Then it was gone. He was about her height, skinny, and.
Twitchy. That was the word. He wasn’t moving, but he seemed to be twitching inside his skin, just out of sight. His hair was black and unkempt. He wore thick horn-rimmed glasses that magnified his dark brown eyes, and the lenses looked dirty. No, she was quite sure she had never seen him before.
‘You know,’ she said, ‘I doubt that.’
‘You need a strawberry double-dip cone. Right?’
She blinked at him, frankly startled. Somewhere in the back of her mind she had been thinking about breaking for an ice cream. She was studying for finals in one of the third-floor carrels of the Student Union, and
there was still a woefully long way to go.
‘Right?’ he persisted, and smiled. It transformed his face from something over-intense and nearly ugly into something else that was oddly appealing. The word ‘cute’ occurred to her, and that wasn’t a good word to afflict a boy with, but this one was when he smiled. She smiled back before she could roadblock it behind her lips. This she didn’t need, to have to waste time brushing off some weirdo who had decided to pick the worst time of the year to try to make an impression. She still had sixteen chapters of Introduction to Sociology to wade through.
‘No thanks,’ she said.
‘Come on, if you hit them any harder you’ll give yourself a headache. You’ve been at it two hours without a break.’
‘How would you know that?’
‘I’ve been watching you,’ he said promptly, but this time his gamin grin was lost on her. She already had a headache.
‘Well, you can stop,’ she said, more sharply than she had intended. ‘I don’t like people staring at me.’
‘I’m sorry.’ She felt a little sorry for him, the way she sometimes felt sorry for stray dogs. He seemed to float in the green fatigue jacket and. . . yes, he had on mismatched socks. One black, one brown. She felt herself getting ready to smile again and held it back.
‘I’ve got these finals,’ she said gently.
‘Sure,’ he said. ‘Okay.’
She looked after him for a moment pensively. Then she lowered her gaze to her book, but an after-image of the encounter remained: strawberry double-dip.
When she got back to the dorm it was 11.15p. m. and Alice was stretched out on her bed, listening to Neil Diamond and reading The Story of 0.
‘I didn’t know they assigned that in Eh-17,’ Elizabeth said.
Alice sat up. ‘Broadening my horizons, darling. Spreading my intellectual winds. Raising my. . . Liz?’
‘Did you hear what I said?’
‘No, sorry, I-‘
‘You look like somebody conked you one, kid.’
‘I met a guy tonight. Sort of a funny guy, at that.’
‘Oh? He must be something if he can separate the great Rogan from her beloved texts.’
‘His name is Edward Jackson Hamner. Junior, no less. Short. Skinny. Looks like he washed his hair around
Washington’s birthday. Oh, and mismatched socks. One black, one brown.’
‘I thought you were more the fraternity type.’
‘It’s nothing like that, Alice. I was studying at the Union on the third floor the Think Tank – and he invited me down to the Grinder for an ice-cream cone. I told him no and he sort of slunk off. But once he started me thinking about ice-cream, I couldn’t stop.