Cavale giggled at the strange young man with a beard that emulated a Brillo pad, except it was a rusty orange. Standing before her in an oversized flannel shirt and baggy blue jeans, he seemed like a child dressed in his older brother’s clothing. Although he spoke to her, his glossy, glazed-over eyes seemed to stare at the lint on the lunch counter behind her in the student cafeteria. While he shifted his weight from one foot to the other and chatted about the commune where he lived, she sniffed whiffs of Patchouli oil emanating from his body.
“We give up everything we own,” he blabbered in a thin voice. “Everything belongs to the household, to The Movement. But if we don’t bring in enough cash from the flower shop and the health food store, The Movement provides us with enough to cover utilities.
Cavale tugged one her earlobes. “Who pays the rent?”
“That’s the beauty of it.” He grinned. “The Movement owns the house—so we don’t need to worry about rent.”
She quit tugging her earlobe and tilted her head. “Then all you do is go to school, raise veggies, and work part-time in those shops?” She leaned back and crossed her arms.
The kid shifted a notebook from his right arm to his left, plopped into the chair across from her, and leaned over the table. “We help the community, too.”
“Whatever’s needed. We help paint and repair old people’s houses, rake their yards, clean out their gutters and do minor repairs, that sort of thing.”
“Sounds interesting,” she lied then yawned without covering her mouth. Even if the group’s housing and working situation intrigued her, she wasn’t so sure about the community service. She didn’t like being around old people. They made her nervous. In fact, sometimes, they frightened her. She didn’t like having to raise her voice for them to hear her words, and she never knew what to say when they grumbled about their aches and pains.
The kid seemed oblivious to her yawn. He grinned. “Sometimes, we take poor kids to the circus.”
“That’s exciting.” Cavale smiled. “Very philanthropic.”
“That’s what we’re about.” He rubbed his nose. “I haven’t seen you around before. You just move here this semester?”
Suddenly, a glass door on the other side of the cafeteria flew open, and Cavale saw Jason lumber into the building. He stopped and scanned the entrance area and then seemed to stare toward the cafeteria. She worried he’d spot her in the sparsely populated cafeteria, so she slid down in her seat. She looked back at the kid, who watched her squirm. “Listen,” she whispered. “I need you to block me. That guy who just walked in is looking for me, and I can’t let him see me.”
The kid said nothing but stared intently at her. Then he blinked, grabbed one of her arms and tugged her away from the table. “If you need somewhere to hide, there’s an office around the corner.”
Darting a glance at Jason, she tried to hide behind the student as she held one of his hands and followed him. He whisked her out of the cafeteria, down a hall, and into a small, sparsely decorated office with two metal desks and a computer. The dull beige, nearly bare walls sported only posters of huge crowds surrounding an Asian man dressed in a white tuxedo with tails. He smiled and raised on hand above his head as if he were a priest blessing the people around him. On the tile floor, huge stacks of The Washington Lines lie in a corner, and here and there on the desktops, brochures about the Unification Church displayed photos of the same man in the posters.
Cavale felt her heart beat rapidly. Panting, she leaned against a wall.
“This is our campus office.” The kid shut the door.
Cavale took a deep breath and looked around the room. “I don’t see any health food.” She smiled.
The kid laughed. “We don’t sell that here.” He held out a hand. “And my name’s Rich. What’s yours?”