Shelly should have been a shoe-in for the Master's program. She was smart, her professor's liked her, she knew how to write ... but she met Justin her sophomore year, and for twenty months she decided her social life was more important than school. She still had a shot at it, but only if she proved herself this final semester.
That meant no social life and frequent visits to University Library.
So when Kevin offered to walk her back to her sorority through the dense fog, she hesitated. He was not like Justin—quite the opposite really. But he was cute in his own way, and too nice. She didn't need the distraction. Besides, if Kevin was looking for a date from her, she needed to deliver the message unequivocally that there was no room in her life right now for a young man.
But the November fog was thick as peanut butter.
They said almost nothing as they proceeded along the grass walkway seeing, at most, two maples at a time. When they finally reached the cement walkway just a curve away from the house, Shelly stopped and turned.
"Thank you," she said. "That was very nice of you."
Kevin shrugged. His hands were tucked into his jacket pockets. His book bag hung like a forty pound potato sack from his shoulders.
"I don't know if I would have seen my way," she added.
"Sure you would've, but ... you're welcome." His eyes flicked over her face. He seemed to drink in every nuance, every freckle. Or was she just imagining that?
Shelly's pulse quickened. She felt if she gave a signal—any signal—things would heat up. And maybe that wouldn't be so bad. Kevin was handsome and sweet. There was a mature boyishness about him that made her shiver. But no. She was not going to make that kind of mistake again. Not now. Not this close.
Her research was hard enough with half the necessary materials checked out from the library by other students. She had to focus. Not start a fling with a tall, dark grad student—no matter how adorable. The whole purpose of this library visit was to find material the others had overlooked. It was not a pickup spot, and she was not a pickup.
“I guess I’ll be going now,” said Kevin.
Shelly tightened her lips and drew a breath. She watched Kevin's Adam’s apple move up and down. Was he hesitating? It seemed so. And he looked nervous. There was something irresistible about that innocent look of uncertainty.
Shelly blinked. Say “okay” and “good night,” she told herself. This was her chance to dismiss him; to get on with her work and escape complications. It was the right thing to do—the necessary thing. But she wanted him to keep looking at her, for just a little while. Not too much. She felt her head tilt and heard the words, "So soon?" escape.
Her stomach clenched. Was she listening to herself at all?
Then again, wasn't she overreacting? What harm could a few seconds do? She stepped close to him. Her eyes were about even with his chin. She gazed up and inhaled. Even a little kiss might not be so bad. One kiss, and then say goodnight...?
She saw his chest rise and fall. He tried to clear his throat quietly. "I um ... I have something you uh ..."
Her mind raced. A strong and irresponsible part of her wanted to hear any of a dozen different things. But then what? She needed strength. She needed to dig deep and shut this down. She forced herself to break eye contact and take a step back while her other half screamed 'Nooooo!'
"What is it, Kevin?" she asked. She had to stay friendly. That was okay—just not too friendly.
"You ... uh ... you're working on the Jogues and Rowlandson accounts of captivity for your dissertation, right?"
She squinted. "Yeah …?"
He shrugged his pack from his shoulders and unzipped it.
"My roommate, Jeff ... he did something like it last year ... he actually bought this because he couldn't check it out ..."
He slipped a thin book from the bag. It was the modern translation of the Cabeza de Vaca account—the perfect contrast to the source materials she'd been able to gather.
"I just ... I remembered what you were working on, and asked him if you could borrow this ..."
Shelly took the small, beaten edition as gingerly as a priceless treasure.
Kevin re-hefted his book bag and stepped back. "Anyway ... for as long as you need it. See you maybe tomorrow?"
"Yeah," said Shelly, dumbfounded. He actually remembered, and took the time to find something that would help her with her research?
She stepped toward the house and stopped. "Hey!"
"Yeah?" said Kevin, almost invisible already in the fog.
"I usually have coffee at around ten. Maybe ..."
He was already in the fog, but she thought he smiled. "Might see you there, then," he said.
"Good night."She turned and walked to the house, smiling as the line between social and academic life obscured in a fog.