Monday, January 17, 2011

Part II...

No one threw rotten tomatoes at me, so here's another snippet:

Elapsed Time
The first time she heard that voice say her name was over 15 years ago, in freshman honors English at the University of Wisconsin. A large class of 80 students broke out into small discussion groups and Cate, painfully shy and still feeling rubbed raw from homesickness, carefully opened the door to the small classroom where her discussion group was meeting. There was a single table in the middle of the room, with eight chairs around it, and placecards set up at each seat. Catherine Solomon was in the middle on the far side, next to Jason Cross and Lauren Rich. Cate took her seat and nervously arranged her pencils and notebook, wondering the whole time if she shouldn’t have brought her laptop. She did not look up when the boy – Jason – sat next to her. But he quickly tapped her shoulder and said, “Hi. Hi there. My name is Jason. You’re Catherine?”

She stole a glance to the side, and smiled. And nodded, because her voice felt about a million miles away. She looked at him in wonder. He looked old for a freshman class. He was very, very tall – she guessed 6’5”, but she was terrible at guessing heights. He was dark – dark brown hair, dark eyes, and very tan skin. Cate looked down at her own skin and shivered, because she was so chalky pale. She stayed out of the sun, and out of the way of tall, handsome creatures like this boy.

The professor came into the room and handed out a class list and the course syllabus. Cate carefully read the syllabus and was delighted to see that she hadn’t read everything that was required. She was also excited to see the words “Daily Journal Requirements” on the last page.

“A daily journal,” Jason whispered under his breath, to her. He sounded wondering, not disgruntled.

“Cate,” she whispered back. He raised one eyebrow and wrinkled his nose in confusion. “I prefer Cate, not Catherine,” she clarified.

“Ah,” he said, even quieter. “Jace.”

Cate peeped at him during class and half-listened to the same first day speech she had heard in her other classes already. When the professor ended class, she turned her detailed attention to putting her books away. She did not dare look at Jason – Jace – and she felt rather than saw him get up.

She turned to leave the class and was stopped by a large, strong hand that touched her shoulder. “Where are you heading next, Cate?”

“Oh. I’m done for a few hours. I was planning, well, to go over to the union. I am meeting a friend there.” This was not true. Cate had not made any friends, yet, in college.

“Mind some company?” He fell easily into step with her as she left the classroom and turned into the dark tiled hallway. Cate flushed. What was happening? In her not so small high school, no boy ever – ever – gave her a second look. They all knew who she was, of course. Everyone did. She was straitlaced plain old Cate. Never been to a party. Never kissed a boy. It was old news, and she was too scared to be anything else.

“Sure,” she said, all those thoughts and images of high school flying by in a mere second. She looked again at him. “Don’t take this wrong, really, but how old are you? You seem older than everyone else in that class.”

He laughed, and slipped his well worn backpack over his shoulders. He had little round gold glasses that he peered through at her. “I am older, probably, than you. I traveled with my family during high school. We’ve been in Europe and in Africa for the past few years.”

She was instantly fascinated. Cate’s family never traveled. “Why? What brought you there?” She followed through the door he held open for her, and they were suddenly blinking in the bright September midday sun.

He smiled and turned his face to the sky. “What a lovely day.” Then he looked right at Cate. “My father is a missionary. We were mainly in Eastern Europe and in Africa. Then, for a while, in Paris.”

Cate felt utterly, utterly provincial. “I know it sounds so American, but my family hardly ever left the Midwest. Iowa, actually.” As they walked toward the union, Cate noticed that he walked close to her.

“What other classes are you taking, Cate?” He looked right into her eyes when he talked to her. It was not Iowan, and it set her off balance.

She recalled the list she had taped to her closet door. “Honors English – well, you know that one. Honors French. Creative Writing. Women Writers of 19th Century England.”

“Hmmmm. I’m engineering, all the way. Honors English is a requirement.”

She frowned. “I don’t know anything about engineering. What kind of engineer?” She tilted her head to the side, listening and waiting.

“Civil. Someday I am going to construct villages in Africa. Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire. Bridges, wells. That kind of thing.”

She couldn’t think of a response. Crafting stories, her lifetime dream, or crafting wells and bridges. There was no comparison, and no commonality.

When they got to the union, Jace strode confidently through the main hall toward the patio. He called out greetings to several groups of students, a couple professors, and even the older woman serving pretzels and beer behind the counter. Cate fell back a few steps, the familiar anxiety and dread replacing her earlier wonder. When a tall woman with sleek, long dark hair, long legs and carefully painted lips bounded up to Jace – like a horse! Cate thought for a moment – Cate mentally bowed out of the day. Feeling like a kid, she waited until the woman finished her effusive greeting, and then she cleared her throat. “Um,” she murmured, "I’ve just realized I’ve got to get something before my next class. It was nice to meet you.”

Jace turned from Horse Girl and with real alarm in his voice, said “No, Cate, no. Let’s go find a table.”

She shook her head and frowned. “No, I really need to go. I’ll see you later, in class the next time.” As she turned and left, hurrying out of the crowded union hall, she chided herself. Silly, silly, silly.

1 comment:

Lisa Webster said...

keep going! i like it!