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Kate smiles at Justin, but then Kate is lying, a traditional turn of events. Kate is very aware of what her smile means, she has a million. There are smiles that say “I love you” and even a few that mean it. This very well could be one of those smiles, but Kate, in control of the subliminal, does not let it manifest as such. Kate has an arsenal of smiles, the kind that are dismissive, don’t mean anything, are trite and worthless. Her current smile is classic Kate: trite, worthless, and utterly beautiful.
Kate traces a pathway in the window, coated with winter frost. It begins as a fairly precise line, curving mathematically from one direction to another in sinusoidal patterns. But Kate grows tired of the line itself. She abandons her line in favor of scribbles, back and forth. The frost coats her fingertip now, she turns, drips the window frost once above her coffee, then puts the frost in her mouth without a hint of sexuality, and waits for Justin to smile.
Kate smiles at Justin, and this time the smile is less of a lie, more of an inside-joke. They are full of these jokes. They are jokes that have occurred on a regular basis for years, two neighbor kids, a lifetime of freeze tag and basketball games and YMCA soccer and of cycles with training wheels and of school. These jokes have lasted semesters of Roosevelt Grade School and Lowell Junior High School and Cold Springs High School and now, most recently, two and a half years of e-mails and phone calls from opposite sides of the United States. These jokes pre-date everything.
Kate offhandedly mentions her physics major. Justin doesn’t really care much for the topic. At Cold Springs High School, Kate was much better than he at physics. She understood the lab activities and the formulas and most of all, the reasons for anything. Physics followed orchestra class, where Kate was the principal cello. She had worked hard for the spot, practicing on weeknights with her window open, practicing as she did whenever she wanted something. Justin was assigned second violin, sitting near the back, so that he could always see Kate, up in front performing with graceful precision, but never for a second would she be able to see him, unless she turned, made effort.
Kate will fly on Delta number one-eight-oh-three the Tuesday after Christmas. Kate will fly for three hours, change planes in Denver, then continue on to Vermont, nonstop, where she will attend Dartmouth College. After unpacking her bags, putting jeans in one drawer, her coat in the closet, her bras and panties in yet another drawer, and organizing her books neatly on the table, Kate will attend Professor J. Michael Irving’s class on thermodynamics. The class is the next logical step in Kate’s Physics major, an upper-level class that required a recommendation from a senior student, one of the TAs, in order for her to take it. She has met Professor J. Michael Irving twice, and he was quite charming, for an older gentleman, and incredibly knowledgeable.
Justin will also fly to Denver, but it will be three days after Kate’s flight. Justin will get off the plane in Spokane, then drive to Walla Walla, where he will attend Whitman College. He will not attend a physics class, he will not test into any graduate level courses. He instead will pursue a continually undeclared major. Justin is taking an earth science class this semester, but that is the extent of his scientific endeavors. Perhaps a European History course, one Justin will take this next semester regarding the Unification of Germany, the Peace of Prague, the Treaty of Frankfurt, will grab his interest. The politics, the maneuvering, the deception, the betrayal, it manifests in this time in history, it manifests.
Justin placed a small box of chocolates in Kate’s locker before the junior prom. He had accompanied it with a note asking her to the very same prom, but she was snatched up by the captain of the track team, a sprinter named Jonathan Williams. Jonathan Williams would go on to qualify for the state track meet as a senior. He would win the two-hundred meter sprint by almost half a second. In the short relay, his split would lift the team to another championship. In the long relay, the relay where Jonathan Williams and Justin ran on the same team, Justin’s leg of the race would get the team to second place, trailing the leader by just a few steps. Justin’s handoff to Jonathan Williams was flawless that year, Justin’s junior year, Jonathan Williams’s senior year. Justin was trailing the leader by a few steps and Jonathan Williams finished his four-hundred meter leg in fifty-one point oh-three seconds, a new school record. Thanks to his efforts, the team had won the meet. But Jonathan Williams would not come celebrate with the rest of the relay team when they went to see The Bourne Identity at the Carmike 11 theater. He had a date later that night, and though the relay team was disappointed, Jonathan Williams had already made it up to them with their medals and championship. Most of the other runners, like Justin, could not have won anything without Jonathan Williams.
Kate received a glowing recommendation for Professor J. Michael Irving’s class. One night before Kate got her recommendation for her upper level classes, Tim Andrews, a senior physics major took her out to dinner. He took her back to his apartment, and slept with her, the first person to ever be inside of Kate. Though circumstances may bring Kate's motives into suspicion, this was the eighth time Tim Andrews had taken Kate to dinner, but only the fourth time he had paid. This was, however, the first time Kate had been to Tim Andrews's apartment. The next day, with Kate still at his apartment, he wrote her a glowing recommendation as Professor J. Michael Irving’s TA. Kate laughed at it, and he teased her about how she had slept with him. It is likely they slept together again later that day. Even if they did not, the months that followed found them moving in together, sleeping together more, sharing beds, sharing bank accounts, sharing a home.
Justin looks at Kate for a moment, then abruptly rises to his feet, paces around the room. Kate stands too and follows him. She skips cheerfully, Justin walks with a brutal pace, not yielding, not yielding. Justin is crying now. Kate grabs his hands, and their eyes meet for several seconds. She embraces him and Justin just stands there. As she moves closer to him, she kisses him on the lips, once, twice, and then just one long kiss, her left hand on his cheek, her left hand sparkling with something metallic on her finger.
Justin will arrive at Whitman, then apply for a collegiate exchange. He will go through with the exchange, studying in Munich, Germany, for a full academic year. He will not call home, he will change his email, he will write three letters, one of them to his friend Jonathan Williams, one a birthday card Kate will receive seven months from now, one to his parents. Justin will receive four letters, a birthday card from his parents with money, a letter from Jonathan Williams, a letter from his guidance counselor at Whitman College, and a small envelope with a wax seal on heavy paper with gold-leaf script that Justin will leave on his kitchen counter for a week, then a month, and then it will stay there unopened until he leaves Germany. He will not even RSVP a quiet “No.” This will be the only correspondence Justin will have with America in a year, he will take a phenomenal number of college credits, graduate with a European history degree, a fantastic scholar of the past, and then will return home and apply for a job at his home high school. After receiving the job, which he originally intended only to be in the short term, he will spend fifteen years at the school, not really ever knowing why.
Kate will marry Jacob Andrews the year she graduates from college; only one invited guest will not attend the wedding. They will fight for three years, and then she will divorce him, fortunately before they have children. Following the legal proceedings, Kate will return to Dartmouth for her Masters and PhD. in thermodynamics. Kate will travel throughout Europe, then after a brief stay at New York University, she will receive a job offer from her alma mater. There will be e-mails sent to a defunct address, phone calls to a disconnected line, each an olive branch, like the single unanswered invitation to a failed wedding. There will be no Treaty of Munich, there will be no Peace of Cold Springs High School, there will be nothing. On nights when she cannot sleep, she finds an empty box of chocolates with two junior prom tickets inside, looks hard at them, and then goes to her study to play cello, to play cello as though there is a principal chair on the line, her vigor renewed.