“You comin’, Dawson?”
The hallway is loud with the sounds of students jostling backpacks as they head out of the room, the heavy door banging open and closed as my Constitutional Law exam is over, and everyone is hurrying to leave. For at least half the people in the class, the semester is over. They can close their books and pop a top, see ya next fall.
I don’t answer Kraiger, but he doesn’t seem to notice. He’s talking to Jackson and Mallory, and he’s laughing about something, and I look over my shoulder, but there’s no one behind me now. At the far end of the corridor, the overhead lights are out, and the hall’s kind of creepy looking, half in shadow.
Kraiger hits the bar on the outside door, and we all rush out into the humid night at once. Everyone’s talking at the same time. Kraiger and Jackson are laughing about something Mallory said about an earlier class. Two girls are discussing the exam and comparing answers to essay questions. The group, as a whole, makes a right turn once outside the door. They are heading to Harry’s to start the post exam chill.
I’m slow to follow, and at the last minute, I stop and pull my phone from my pocket. I stare at it for a second to make it look like I’m reading a text. My friends head down the street, still talking and laughing, but I take a step back into the shadows. When I’m sure they haven’t noticed I’ve fallen behind, I walk further into the darkness and sit down on a garden bench. A marble statue of some saint looks down on me, which sort of feels fitting at the moment.
The exam was tough, but I studied my ass off for the past few days, so I’m not worried about it. I had planned to go out with my friends to Harry’s to get a beer. Before. Now that’s pretty much the last thing I want to do.
From my spot in the darkness, I can see the main walkway on campus. It’s drizzling rain, but I know my friends would walk through a downpour and not care. I’m just not feeling it tonight. I’m so stunned by what I overheard, I’m numb to the cold raindrops on my head.
There’s no one else here now. The main walkway is quiet; streetlights shine through the fog and drizzle. The library is closed; it resembles a big square monster squatting in the middle of the quad. The only sound I hear now that my friends are long gone is the rain hitting the ground and the spray of water as cars drive through puddles in the street.
We didn’t really date, but not because I didn’t want to. We went out a few times, but she always seemed to have friends with her or find friends wherever we went. I wouldn’t describe her as a party girl, just a fun girl who made friends easily. I never got around to asking her out on a real date. We hooked up one night after a party, and I regretted it simply because I wanted more from her, more for us. Not to mention, I wasn’t really that guy—the kind to jump at the offer of no-strings-attached sex.
I don’t know if she regretted it, but she moved on. No hard feelings. She still waved when she saw me. She was still friendly, still talked to me in class. But the week after we were together, I saw her hanging out with some other guy. A baseball player, I think.
I’m still holding my phone in my hand when it buzzes—still on silent because of the exam. I almost drop it, but I manage to hold on to it and glance at the screen.
Where did you go?
A text from Mallory.
I’m not really in the mood for a beer now. Or company even. My exams are over; I go home first thing tomorrow.
Kraiger will be out until the bars close, so I stand and step out of the darkness. I look around as I walk, wondering if one person walking down the main campus walkway is lonelier than none. It feels like it to me.
She hasn’t been on campus for several days, and even though it’s none of my business, I was concerned about her. I mean, I think I’ve been a little bit in love with her since we were in Political Theory together as sophomores. So, sure, I worried about where she was and why she was missing exams.
Maybe I was wrong, though. Maybe I didn’t love her. Maybe I was only attracted to her eyes and her smile.
The sound of traffic out on the street grows faint behind me, and I wonder as I walk if it was mine.
I wrote this little piece using a writing prompt about foggy street lights. My daughter and I did daily writing prompts a couple of summers in a row. We chose a prompt, set a timer, and wrote until the the timer stopped.