Chapter 23: Corinthians 16:14
Let all that you do be done in love.
“I want to make something very clear,” Donna told Mike as she looked away from him and sat with her hands between her knees.
“Donna.” Mike wanted to tell her how glad he was she had returned, but the conversation already was booked solid.
“Please don’t interrupt me,” she said in a venomous tone as she reached into her purse. “Stop writing me letters!” She threw them on his bed where he now sat. At that point, she turned to look at him. “Forget you ever knew me. You’re pathetic. I was going to leave school, but I realized that you’re not worth changing my life. You’re never going to amount to anything. You’re not even worth my hatred.”
Mike exhaled as Donna got up to leave and exited without closing the door. There was no trace of her captivating scent when she passed by him briskly. His heart was pounding and his eyes welled with tears as he took a glance at the envelopes Donna had discarded, but even in this stunning moment of rejection, he found hope. The top one was opened, and more importantly, so was the second.
The other roommates filed back in within the next two hours, starting with John who shared, “You know how it is, Word. The family takes up most of the time during the holiday. I saw Mary by the elevator earlier, and she blew by me like I didn’t exist. It’s so weird and depressing.”
“Yeah, well Donna stopped by to wish me a Happy New Year without her. She said I was pathetic and would never amount to anything and to forget I ever knew her, so I can relate.”
“Yeah, Mary talked to me over the phone once when I called, and it was a mostly one-sided conversation with her coming back with one or two word answers until the end when she asked me to not call her anymore.”
There was a silence in the room until John asked, “Hey, you want to smoke a bowl?”
“Eggs, I think I’m going to be taking a break from getting high for a while,” Mike said. “I’ve got a busy semester ahead of me, and I really need to stop operating on fumes.”
“That’s cool, Word." John interlocked his hands behind his head and said, “Yeah, maybe I need to slow down too.”
A spontaneous gust of winter wind blew a conical, knitted ski cap off her head. She turned to follow a flight of intricate loops, touchdowns, and launches, stopping abruptly when it landed at his feet some thirty yards away. The cap had been an afterthought, calling her attention from a K-Mart bin near the checkout aisle, a simple purchase suddenly made complicated. The choreography of this moment continued as he bent down to pick it up, and she pirouetted in synchrony, blowing cold smoky breaths, and lengthening her stride.
In the thawing warmth of Vanover Hall, he awaited the elevator, clutching the ski cap with both hands, holding it to his heart. A lone passenger, he moved it over his face and breathed from it, but the cold had robbed it of any trace of her. The fluorescent lighting granted the shadow make its passage over the peephole, and he felt the presence looming on the other side, felt his heart racing with anticipation, felt it sinking as the door remained closed. He gently placed the cap over the door knob, his carpeted steps retreating, and the drone of hallway lights illuminating him.
At the edge of his bed, he placed his elbows on his knees and his hands over his face, the latter gesture revealing a long strand of hair, her hair, a strand that he began winding over his index and middle fingers, forming several delicate rows that he touched to his tears.
Chance encounters continued to define their paths crossing. Once there was an elevator that opened to her. He allowed her to get in prior to his exiting, a move which prompted an “excuse me,” as she entered. There were two times when they occupied the same lunch line, separated only by several people but by light years in her purposeful ignorance of him.
It was a Thursday afternoon detour to a nearly-empty rathskeller, that found him ordering a beer and firing up a cigarette. He blew smoke rings over his head and once again filled them with thoughts. Donna told me that winters are cold and that she didn’t want to be cold and lonely. I wonder how long it will take before she finds someone else. What about the guys? We didn’t hang out at all this week. Maybe it’s just because of finals, or maybe getting high is what our relationship was based on and nothing more. Phil said something about meeting tomorrow, so hopefully he’ll have something to keep my mind occupied.
When he got back to the dorm, he found James Waters in the room talking to Kurt. “Hey, Water J, what’s up?”
“Ros, we got to talk.” James seemed serious.
“Sure, what’s going on?” Maybe he’s going to come clean regarding his tie to Carter Flynn.
“Ros, I hear you and Donna broke up.”
“Yeah, Water, that’s a long but true story.”
“Then, I got to ask you something, Bro’.” James looked Mike squarely in the eye. “Would it be too bogue of me if I was to start talking to Donna, you know, maybe to go out with her or something?”
Mike weighed James’s question, a space of time to match the topic's discomfort. “Water J, I appreciate you being man enough and have enough respect to ask me that. I still love her and miss her, but I fucked up, so I can’t speak for her. It’s her life. I can’t tell you what to do either; it’s almost like you’re asking me for permission, man.”
“Bro', it’s the 70’s, Motown, Superfly, Shaft, Stevie Wonder, O.J. running through airports, but I ask you that question maybe even 10 years ago, and my ass might be swinging from a tree somewhere.”
He looked at James for a few moments and saw something different in his eyes, something he couldn’t pinpoint. “Water, I’m not going to give it my blessings because I still have feelings for her, but I’m good with whatever you decide to do. It might even help me get closure. It’s not worth fucking up our friendship, so do what your heart tells you to do.”
“What?” Mike asked Kurt as he noticed him staring at him after James had exited.
“You remember my telling you how happy I was for you when you started seeing Donna and your relationship developed?”
“Yeah, why do you ask?”
“Because I get the political implications of your conversation just now, but I don’t get you saying it’s cool.”
“I didn’t say it’s cool. You heard me tell him that I didn’t give it my blessings. What he does with that will be interesting to see."
“Mike, as inexperienced as you are, you’ve experienced something I’ve never had and might never have. I don’t want to see you give up on Donna. How do you really feel? What’s going through your head right now?”
“I feel like a fucking failure. I feel inadequate. I would die if Donna ended up dating Water J. Maybe the brothers have a different view of shit like this than we do.”
“Then, if that’s what Donna wants, so be it! But I’ve talked to her since and will continue talking to her as a friend. I believe in you, and I believe in hope.”
“So why don’t you believe in yourself?”
Mike watched Kurt lie down on the bed and fold his arms behind his head.
Sylvan braved another gray day Friday morning. Mike watched the bus pull away and took stock of his surroundings. Cunningham’s was now fully functioning as an entity, probably a New Year’s effort to replace some bulbs. The Jewel was once again lauding Amateur Night, and in the distance, the Railroad Inn promised some company for the hopeless alcoholics who viewed it as a home away from home and a place to get away from their nagging wives.
His entry that morning proved very different as his 7:30 arrival was bested by a host of people who crowded around Dan Davis’s conference table.
“Mike, come in, please,” Davis invited. “I’m confident that you know everyone here, so the good news is that we’ll save time with introductions.”
Mike’s jaw dropped as he scanned the conference table. Dan Davis sat at the head, and immediately to his right were Phil Snider and Dr. Brown. To his left, Little John sat with Fred Reiser. What the fuck is this? Mike thought as he took in the scene.