DEEP CITY in Times Roman

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Hot on the Trail, Maybe

Jason was sure he’d spotted Cavale sitting at a table with a strange guy who moved his arms too much when he talked. Indeed, the young man reminded Jason of a woman. Or at least, he seemed like some wuss. Nonetheless, the guy was incredibly fast. He’d whisked the girl out of the room so fast, in fact, Jason now wondered if perhaps he’d hallucinated her existence. At times, after driving too many hours through western Kansas, Jason had hallucinated an oasis here and there of water shimmering above the asphalt on I-70. But he’d only seen the waves of water that weren’t there. He’d never hallucinated a mirage of a human being. So he’d check again.

Craning his neck to check each booth for spiked, auburn hair, he stomped through the long cafeteria. He no longer cared if a student or two stared at him, even if his western shirt and cowboy boots didn’t seem to mesh with the attire the youths wore. It seemed half the students there wore crisp, tailored clothes, as if they were junior businessmen, while the others were attired in black and sported spiked hair, some of it pink, some of it purple. Very punk or Goth looking, as Cavale would describe it. He felt uncomfortable on campus anyway, so he figured he might as well make the torment of being there worth his while. He was certain that even if he’d just imagined he saw Cavale just now, she was somewhere on the grounds.

And even though mainly he wanted to find her, to urge to come back to the clap board farmhouse, another part of Jason feared running into her. In his frenzy, he hadn’t taken time to wash after he’d discovered she’d left. Instead, he’d yanked on some clothes, hopped into the pickup, and spun gravel on his way out of the yard. Now, grime mixed with sweat rimmed his neck, and the linen shirt he’d grabbed scratched his armpits. He wondered how he could now be so miserable after enjoying an evening more than he had since Maria and he had made love. Last night, Cavale had been as affectionate as a kitten. So her disappearance didn’t make sense. She’d seemed to enjoy the night as much as he had. He had been as gentle and kind as possible. Where had she gone?

With agonizing reappraisals of the evening weighing on his brains, he wandered into a hallway just outside the cafeteria. Each wood door looked the same--he could follow only his intuition. The building was like a maze to him anyway. He’d only known the cafeteria’s location only because he’d met Will there so many times when his brother attended college. He’d never been in this section of the building, and now, each door blurred into the next as he moved down the hall. The more he debated whether he’d truly seen Cavale, the more he sensed it had been her. Thus, he peeked through each tiny window on each door as he passed it. He noted that a number of doors sported labels—some had hand-written signs. One of them, labeled UC intrigued him, but he was unsure why. University Center perhaps? he wondered, then turned the handle. The door was unlocked, so he shoved it. A cardboard box blocked it. Jason shoved the box aside and stepped into the room.

It smelled strange. It was a strong scent, something from the Orient or Mid-east, he thought. He’d often smelled it emanating from a number of long-haired youths who often wore tattoos and had their nostrils and even their tongues pierced. And the odor was so strong, it nearly gagged him. Once inside, he scanned the room. Pamphlets were stacked on the floor and overflowed from more cardboard boxes set next to piles of newspapers. An old computer blinked on top of one of the desks, and two huge posters covered the walls. He stared a long time at one of them that exhibited an aging Asian man surrounded by a huge, cheering crowd. He didn’t like the strange look in the Asian man’s eyes.

Suddenly, the urge that drove Jason to the campus and into the cafeteria, the hallway, and now here, pushed him through the small office. He pulled out drawers in the desk, but he didn’t find much. He wasn’t sure what he was searching for, but still, he looked around for a clue, something that would assure him Cavale had been here. He opened a door on a metal cabinet but found nothing inside except a few paper clips, more stacks of newspapers, and balls of lint forming around its seams. He picked up one of the newspapers, rolled it and stuffed it in a back pocket, then he whirled around and stomped back into the hall.

More students had gathered in the cafeteria. He glanced at them and wondered what made them click. Perhaps, he figured, it was their youth—the energy and inquisitiveness he’d seen in Cavale, in Will, and in his younger brother. He hadn’t had the luxury of wallowing in such curiosity. He’d spent his youth wasting away in the fields. Perhaps he should have come to college, he considered for a second but realized that no, even now, he preferred to be back in those fields, or better yet, back in his clapboard house, in his bed with his fleece comforter pulled over his face. And today, he felt embarrassed that his unleashed passion had led him here—to a world he didn’t understand, a world he’d avoided nearly all of his life. This world offered him nothing that he could count on, nothing to take to the bank.

Then, from the corner of one of his eyes, Jason spotted a young couple in blue jeans. They sat close together just outside the center. They sat, then they rose in sync, hands clasped, and ran down the student center’s front steps, then down the steep trellis surrounding the building. He spun around, knocked over a wastebasket and almost tripped over it as he lunged toward the doors after the couple. He’d just stepped outside, when he spotted the two slipping into a beat-up, yellow VW bug. He stopped and stared at them for a long while. From where he stood, it appeared the girl wore spiked, auburn hair.

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