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Oliver’s car was idle in the drive to his dorm. His parents had asked him home for the holidays, much to the disappointment of his roommate. But Oliver’s parent’s word was law, so as much as it hurt Steven, he would be in upstate New York by early the next morning. He told his parents he would get a hotel room and stay the night somewhere between here and there. He was planning to drive through the night.
There were a few bags to carry out. Steven hauled the bags down the staircase, through the front door, and halfway across the sidewalk to Oliver. He would stay at school for the entirety of the winter by himself. Oliver wouldn’t be back until the middle of January.
Steven would have a tedious life for the next month; all his friends had deserted him, but they couldn’t be blamed. It was Steven’s fifth year of college. He had fine grades; he only stayed because his job didn’t pay well enough for him to get an apartment. Steven had decided to stay in his dorm another year until some occupation struck him. Tuition wasn’t a problem; his parents would help him out as long as they believed it bettered his education. They had no idea what Steven took at college, and they stopped trying to find out after sophomore year. Their calls were answered as ‘I have a test to study for’ Steven just didn’t want to see his parents. They had filed for divorce Steven’s first year of high school, even though they still lived together. They split two sides of a duplex in Atlantic City.
Steven slammed the trunk as Oliver stooped into the driver’s seat. He walked around to the passenger window. “I guess I’ll see you sometime. I’ll tell Francis you said goodbye, and to keep in touch.”
“You wouldn’t. Either way I gave him your parent’s number. Try to be kind Steven.” Oliver found the keyhole and ignited the engine.
“Oh, I got you this for the trip to the far north,” Steven produced a cassette tape. “Hopefully your tape player will work out better than the CD drive.” They both glanced at the empty socket and trailing wires. Two years ago Oliver had bought his car at some half-priced used car lot. As he went inside to sign a few papers and to hand over some payments, someone robbed his car. The dealer wouldn’t take the car back.
Steven threw him the tape. There were some brief goodbyes and Oliver kicked the gas pedal.
Steven walked back through the front door, past the empty reception desk, through the first year hallway. About half the doors were ajar. There was little noise coming from any of the rooms. Most freshmen were asleep. Steven continued walking to the staircase at the back of the hallway. He didn’t stop at the third floor landing, but continued to the roof. He removed the key from the inside of the fire extinguisher’s shattered case. He jammed it in the deadbolt and stepped outside. It was about ten o’ clock, and it was beginning to snow. If memory served, as it often did, there were only about four people who knew where the key was. Two of them moved away the year previous. The third just drove to New York.
Everyone tried to get out to the roof, but most of the people in Steven’s dorm were either too uninterested or too thick to get the door open. He was surprised to see a junior sitting with her back against a frozen plastic lawn chair Oliver had put on the roof that summer. Steven had seen her before, but only briefly. She had moved into the dorm her sophomore year, after it became co-ed. She was wearing a thigh-length black jacket over a grey sweater. She also had a loosely tied red scarf; similar to the striped trademark scarf Oliver had driven off in minutes before. Her hair was neck length, dark brown, but not as well kept as Oliver’s.
Steven didn’t say anything to her, and walked to the edge of the roof, the frozen pea gravel making a light crunching noise. The girl’s name was Marie, Steven remembered presently. She was reading Das Lebensziel; she took pride in being able to read German. She kept a small dictionary in her coat’s inside breast pocket.
“Sorry I didn’t lock the door behind me.” She said. Steven hadn’t noticed when he went to unlock it. “Here’s my key,” Marie threw him a little steel key with a short ribbon tied to the end. “I’ll just use the one in the fire extinguisher. You should keep that one somewhere so I won’t lose it.”
“Yeah, sure. Where’d you get this?” Steven had stolen his from the reception desk down stairs during his second year.
“Took it from the desk down stairs my second year. I thought it would be fun to pretend to be the receptionist, as we haven’t had one for quite a while. There’s a drawer full of them. I could show you sometime.”
“No, that’s fine. I know what you’re talking about.” Steven did. “How long have you been up here?”
“All morning. I came up at about seven or so. Do you have the current time?”
Steven never wore a watch. “No. 10.20 or something. Don’t you have a class?”
“Yeah. I have two today. Comp Sci and Psychology, but they don’t start for 72 minutes.” Maria looked at her watch that was hidden in her sleeve. “Yeah, 72.” She began reading her book again. Steven frowned and looked at the small lake behind the lit building. The streetlights were still on across the campus. It was cloudy. The snow was beginning to collect on the lawn below him.
Steven fingered the lighter in his pocket. He didn’t smoke. He had found this particular lighter in front of his parents’ house next to a shattered bong the last time he was in Jersey. It was not a rare occurrence in Atlantic City. “See you around?” he said as he turned to the door.
“mhm. See ya.” Marie didn’t look up. Steven opened the door, and let the wind close it behind it. He made deposited his key, and remembered the matching steel one in his left pocket. He would keep it with him.
He walked down the dorm’s single stairwell to the third floor lading, turning right toward his room. The door was unlocked; Oliver never locked it. He opened the door and sat down on his bed. Steven thought of Oslo hiding in the small closet, and got up to open the plywood door. He walked three paces across the small room, past the empty bed. Oslo began to claw at the door, and Steven hurried to open it. The closet was barren. Void of cardigans, sweaters, scarves, or any reminisce of Oliver. Oslo walked out of his little bed. He slid across the floor towards the center of the room, took a sharp left, and jumped onto Oliver’s bed. He looked unhappy. Steven sat backwards in the desk chair at the back of the room under the window, facing the door. He rested his arms on the back of the chair, and his head on his arms. Steven’s dark brown, almost black hair fell in all directions about his head. He had tried to comb his hair down on so many occasions. It fit him.
He went over to his bed and beckoned Oslo to follow. He lay down in Steven’s lap. Cats were banned in Steven’s dorm, but he kept Oslo anyway. Oslo’s grey fur was soft to the touch. He was spotted white in some areas. Steven offered Oslo his finger. The cat reached up and grabbed the finger between his paws and tried to bring it to its mouth.
Steven reclaimed his finger. He placed Oslo beside him on his bed and stood up. He was beginning to feel a little stir-crazy and decided to take a walk. He walked to the backside of the door and took his coat off the hook. He locked the door behind him.
He walked down the stairs again, walked left at the bottom, and walked out the back door. He walked past the administration building; the snow was very soft under his feet. It was about half an inch now; the weather was much the same. Cloudy grey skies, snowing lightly, the streetlights were still on. It was about 11.30. He changed direction, heading towards the lake. The edges were beginning to freeze. The winter had come late this year. It was early December, and the snow had only begun to stick. It had been cold, but not cold enough to make it feel like the season.
Steven was 50 meters from the lake when he saw someone sitting on a wooden bench. He was quite sure he knew who it was. He was now 5 meters from the bench when Francis, a freshman, turned and saw Steven. They knew each other. Francis idolized Steven and Oliver. Steven didn’t particularly like Francis, but he felt sorry for him. Francis didn’t have a very large friend circle. He had a bulkier build then most people, but he wasn’t fat. He wore black-rimmed glasses and had short curly brown hair. He was wearing a brown jacket and green gloves. He had thick kaki pants and ankle high snow boots. His hair was covered by a hunting cap. He sat next to a plate of bread with which he obviously intended to feed birds. All the birds had flown south for the winter.
He put down the paper he was reading and moved aside so that Steven could sit next to him. Steven leaned against a tree opposite the bench, hands in pockets.
“How are you this morning, Steven? Well I hope. I personally am doing fine. I came out here to read today’s paper in peace,” Francis slid the plate of bread out of sight behind him. “You know how it gets with those rowdy jocks.”
“Yeah…” Steven knew what Francis had to deal with. He, like the majority of freshmen, spent his first year in Residence Hall with the Football and Hockey players. No one ever got a good night’s sleep in Residence Hall.
“Between you and me,” Francis was whispering, “I think some of those guys have already had a drink this morning.”
Steven couldn’t argue with that. It was Sunday morning. Every jock in the school had been up late last night into the early morning having quite a few drinks in the process. Steven now lived in Burton-Connor House, a dorm for the ‘intellectually talented’. Saturday nights were reserved for studying and Role Playing Games that continued oftentimes later than the jock’s parties did.
Steven recalled what Marie had said. It was obvious now that she was lying. She had said that she had classes starting at 11.30, but classes were never scheduled for Sunday. He didn’t care. She was probably still on the roof reading. He didn’t bother checking. He turned to Francis. “Hey, I’ve got a class I’ve got to get to. I’ll see you around.”
“Yeah, yeah sure. Okay. See you later Steven.” Francis wouldn’t question Steven’s motives. Steven fingered the key in his pocket and began the long walk to the cafeteria on the other side of the lake.
Marie watched the confrontation from the roof. As Steven walked aimlessly around the lake, she leaned her head back against the chair. She cursed loudly as snow dropped onto her hair and under her sweater. The plastic of the chair was cold against her neck.
To be continued…