“What’re you doing?”
Alanna was lying on her stomach in the living room, staring intently at something on the screen on her laptop. She didn’t seem to hear Maria and kept on staring. Maria sighed. Alanna was the only person she knew that could shut the world completely out when she was reading. There could be murder happening next door with the victim screaming at the top of her lungs, and Alanna would be surprised to hear about it when the cops came to visit the next day. Maria walked over to the Reading Beauty and nudged her friend with her foot. It didn’t work; so she kicked Lana’s hip and then jumped backwards about a foot to avoid the retaliation that was sure to follow. The corpse before her didn’t so much as blink. Maria gave up and went to take a nap.
Lana was actually job hunting. She didn’t really need the money but she needed to keep busy. In other words, she needed to be too busy to see or think about Damon. It was just too confusing. She came here with a plan and she couldn’t let him derail it. Unfortunately, Alanna was coming up empty. She didn’t want to work off-campus because she didn’t like travelling alone after dark. And there were very few on-campus jobs left that suited her. She gave up and closed her laptop with a sigh. Maybe she could take up a sport. She used to be a competitive swimmer and diver before... But that would mean seeing more, rather than less of Damon. She was out of ideas at the moment and decided to take a walk.
Grabbing her jacket from the coat stand, she stopped to write a note on the whiteboard near the front door. Maria had taken to watching Alanna like a hawk and worrying about her like old spinsters worry about their aging cats. She supposed she had brought it on herself with her erratic behaviour recently but rather than reassure her, Maria’s fussing just made things worse. She felt smothered and uncomfortable because she couldn’t talk about it, and it felt like Maria was always trying to get her to do just that.
Her favourite park was a five minute walk away. She loved watching the families play together. The young boys playing catch with their dads and the girls who just learnt to ride their bikes without training wheels. They all looked so happy. What wouldn’t Alanna give to feel the security and comfort of knowing that her entire little world was safe? That ‘mommy’ and ‘daddy’ would protect her from all harm, right all wrongs and keep the sunshine in her life. But that childhood illusion had been shattered forever and these moments where she could experience that peace of mind vicariously through these sheltered little children were all too brief. She smiled as a brightly coloured football rolled near her bench and a gorgeous little boy with hazel eyes and the fair- haired afro common to many mulatto children. Lana ruffled his hair as she handed him the ball.
She turned slightly as someone sat on the bench beside her.
“Think our kids would be that cute?”
“D-Damon! What are you doing here?”
“It’s one of my favourite spots on campus. I come here to think or when I’m stressed.”
“Maybe if you weren’t trying to hook up with every girl on campus, you’d have less to be stressed about.”
“Is that what you think I get stressed about? And who told you I was propositioning every girl on campus?”
“Ammm, that’s kinda common knowledge, Damon. Are you telling me you had no idea that you have a crap reputation where girls are concerned?”
Every time Alanna expected Damon to zig, he zagged. She expected a flippant comeback; something about it not being his fault that he was so irresistible to so many women. Instead, he looked anxious and sad; and when he spoke she actually felt bad for him.
“No, I didn’t know that. Guess it had to catch up with me sometime. I just never really thought about it. Didn’t seem like a big deal until now.”
“Why is it a big deal now? How is today different from last week or the week before that?”
“Because I didn’t know last week or the week before that, that this was how you saw me. I figured you thought I was mischievous and maybe too flirtatious. But it’s a lot worse than that, isn’t it?”
“So? Why would you care what I think of you, Damon? I’m one girl out of hundreds on this campus. There are a ton of girls that know your reputation and would still kill to be sitting on this bench instead of me.”
“Yea, but there’s no girl I’d rather be talking to right now than you.”
Damon was being sincere but Lana rolled her eyes and replied, “You never let up do you? You can never turn it off.”
Alanna stood up and continued down the path. The sun was setting and it cast a beautiful orange and vermillion glow over the idyllic park scene. Toddlers ran to their parents who scooped them up and held them tight as they walked slowly back to their nearby homes. Couples held hands as they strolled down the path ahead of her, laughing as they shared inside jokes. She hugged herself and watched her breath come out in little puffs as she neared the bend that turned the path back towards the campus.
Behind her she heard footsteps that she knew must be Damon catching up to her.
“Why do you always assume that I’m being facetious?”
“You know, I’m beginning to think that you get C’s and B’s in English on purpose to protect your rep. No C student uses ‘proposition’ and ‘facetious’ in everyday conversation.”
“Stop avoiding my question, Alanna. Why don’t you take me seriously?”
“Why should I? You treat me the same way you treat every single girl on this campus. Besides, I’m not interested in dating you, Damon.”
They’d come to a stop and were facing each other as the path lights came on in the deepening darkness of an autumn night. A gust of wind blew a lock of his hair across his forehead and Alanna instinctively reached up to brush it away. In doing so, she noticed that intense look he sometimes wore when he spoke to her. It stopped her heart for a second. He looked so earnest, so desperate for an answer, that for a moment she felt sorry that she was the one that was making him feel this way. Those eyes; so beautiful and expressive threatened to melt her. But then she remembered. She remembered another pair of eyes a lot like those. She remembered staring straight into them as… Alanna snapped out of her reverie and dropped her hand as though Damon’s hair had singed her fingers.
“I’m sorry, Damon. I have to go.”
But she was already jogging awkwardly down the path and out of sight. Damon pulled his jacket more tightly around him and continued up the path alone, wondering how in the world he’d ever break through a wall so high and so thick.