Getting off Campus

Dog watching a movieI zipped my bag closed and threw it by the door. My roommate was cool and I’d made a handful of friends, yet when Friday rolled around I yearned to get away. Sandy poked her head inside my room. “A friend of mine is throwing a barbecue at his house tomorrow night. Feel like getting off campus?”
“Actually, I’m going home for the weekend.”
She continued as if not to hear me. “Some people from the dorm are already planning to go: Gail, Mark, Donna. . .”
Donna?
She smiled and ducked back out

***

A handful of kids were sitting around Sandy’s room when I arrived. Donna wasn’t among them. I took a seat across from Mark, a loud ex-jock. He was involved in some story about himself when Donna walked in. It shut him up. He looked at her with a sheepish grin, “Hi Donna.”
She nodded at him with little expression on her face. She looked around the room and our eyes met. She quickly looked away. No acknowledgement, no change in expression.
Damn.
Sandy chimed in. “Donna – I think you’ve met everyone here – except for – Jeff.”
I stood up and waved. “Hi.”
She nodded at me. There was no change in her facial expression – I’m sure she was less than impressed with my social graces. I remained standing as sitting back down at that point would have made me chief engineer of the awkward train.
I should have gone home.
“Gotta go” Mark bolted up from his chair and explained how he needed to drive somebody to some bullshit thing. I didn’t care, I was happy he wasn’t coming.
“That leaves four of us.” Sandy noted. “We can take one car.”
I pulled my keys from my pocket. “I’ll drive.”
We walked down to the parking lot. Sandy gave me rough directions while Gail told Donna about some trouble she was having with a research paper. Donna gave her sound advice – sort of like an older sister. Her voice was sweet and gentle and I loved listening to her. I inserted the key in the door of my car. Donna and Gail climbed into the back. “I really like this color.” Donna said.
“Thanks. I was beginning to think I was the only person that liked copper.”
“It’s lovely” she said.
“So. . .Donna.” I stammered. “You’re from California? ”
“Yes – Los Angeles.” Her eyes looked so pretty in my rear view mirror. She explained how she’d earned her associate’s degree while working in a clothing store. I felt as though she was talking directly to my soul. It was hard to concentrate on the road
We arrived at the house of Sandy’s friend. We filled our plates at the buffet-style line then sat wherever we could. I chose a spot on the couch in the living room. Donna walked in and sat next to me.
Yes!
We did more talking than eating. She explained how she became the manager at the store. We traded war stories about working with the public and other challenges of the retail world. Like me, she’d had already gotten a start on life. As we spoke, I felt my heart beating extra hard. I was excited about getting to know her, at the same time I felt a sense of relief – I’d finally found a friend.
The two of us talked so much we didn’t realize the dinner party had gotten lame, at least in the opinion of Sandy, who suddenly announced we needed to get back to campus. Back in the car she admitted she just wanted to get out of there because the host was hitting on her. She suggested we go see a movie.
As typical of northwest weather, rain suddenly poured from the sky. We drove downtown as my wipers fiercely slapped water away. I dropped the girls off at the theatre and parked a few blocks away. I sprinted along the sidewalk, avoiding puddles, all the while thinking about Donna. I bought my ticket and darted into the lobby. I opened a curtained entrance and there she was – just coming out of the theatre to meet me. Could she have planned this? She walked me down the dark aisle toward my seat which was – sure enough – right next to hers.
The previews started the moment we sat down. I noticed that Gail and Sandy had already gotten some licorice. I asked Donna if she wanted anything. She shook her head.
“Coke?’
More shaking.
“Popcorn?”
“Nope.”
“Candy?”
“Nothing, thanks.” I figured she was another one of those girls that didn’t eat anything.
I returned with a box of Peanut M&Ms. By the light of the movie, I tore open the box and shook a few M&Ms into my hand, then offered her the box. I was a little surprised when she held out her hand. I felt the warmth of her palm as the candy dropped out. I stared at the screen but was oblivious to the movie. I munched away but didn’t taste the candy. My mind was consumed with her. After a moment, I offered her more. She met the end of the box with her palm once again.
Yes!
​The joy I felt was nearly overwhelming. I was a kid again – happy and hopeful – building a tree house or flying toward a lake on a swinging rope. Yes – I was that giddy. Suddenly a picture flashed across my memory like a subliminal Coke ad and brought me back to reality – the photo in her room – her with that guy.

NEXT: My World was Changing

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