Losing Love at a College Cafe

June 5, 2009
By , Titonka, IA
Hands cupped her around her plastic glass, the coolness of the caramel frappachino seeped through Leah’s skin, spreading into all parts of her body. Up in the big college city of Plymouth, Leah was waiting for her boyfriend, Riley, who attended Northwest University, which she was thinking about attending. He was late by fifteen minutes. Yes, they had agreed to take a break from each other. But he hadn’t even called. Or visited at least once like he promised. The college was having an organized tour, and she was using the event as an excuse to go see him. She brushed her fingers through her hair. Jittery chills pimpled her skin even in the warm atmosphere of the Naked Nutshell. You shouldn’t be here, a whisper floated into her ears.
Why not? Leah argued with herself, I’m interested in going here.
Interested in the college—or what Riley is up to?
Leah sighed, unable to give a comeback for that one. To distract herself, she gazed around. Despite its name, splashy art decorated the walls. Bookshelves were tucked in corners, making for a cozy place to read and hang out. Potted plants lent a fresh, outdoorsy quality reminiscent of the coffee houses in Paris.
“Hey you!” rang across the room.
Leah’s heart leaped. And fluttered. “Riley!” she exclaimed. She struggled to suppress her ardor as she stood and weaved between tables to meet him. “How are you?”
“Really fine,” he answered. His hug, which had often held her close, was hesitant and quick, leaving her baffled. “What about you?”
“I’m good.” Leah smiled. “I’m glad I’m able to visit.”
Riley nodded. “It’s nice you could come.” He checked his watch. “So. The other college-days students aren’t coming for like an hour yet but I’d thought we could talk.”
Leah sucked in a breath. Really? “Cool.” Shrugging, she sat back down, and Riley scooted in the booth across from her. Not next to her. Like he usually would. She found herself squinting. Why is he acting so strange?
Scratching his face, Riley seemed unable to look at Leah but gazed about, darting glances here and there. “Sooo....?”
Leah smiled, hoping to ease some tension, but didn’t feel the lines stretching very far. Before she could answer, a patch of high school students crowded in the door. A heaviness grew, then tugged at the corner of her soul. The moment was over.
Riley shrugged. “I think maybe I overestimated the time.” Without looking at her, he dug his phone out and started texting.
Leah heaved a quiet sigh. “It’s okay.” Or was it? As the silence grew, the noise of the same old lyrics sang to the same old music through her head. She squeezed her brain worms, trying to think of what to say but was coming up with nothing.
And Riley was still texting. His face lit up and he laughed.
“What?” Now Leah wasn’t tickled. Suspicion rising, she really wanted to know.
Riley just grunted.
Leah guessed he hadn’t heard her or just didn’t care. Maybe it was some of both. Am I reading into too much? Or do I deserve better? Why am I even giving him another chance?
He finally spoke. “I think we better grab some coffee.” He kept his eyes directed away from Leah.
He didn’t ask what she wanted. He just said it. “No thanks,” she murmured. “I already had some.”
Riley shrugged. “Whatever. But I’m going to get some.” He started to get up when almost immediately, a brunette with particularly outstanding green eyes rushed over. “Heeey Riley.” she laughed. “I’m sorry I wasn’t able to make it to meet you and your friend.”
Leah stopped from pulling on her light jean jacket and stared. It was all she could feel she could do.
Riley shrugged, smiling back at the girl. “Hi Sarah. It’s okay. I had a few extra things to take care of I forgot about.” Snatching up her hand and drawing the brunette close, he gave her a quick peck on the lips, then nodded at Leah. “Leah, this is my girlfriend, Sarah. She just transferred during the spring semester.”
Sarah was his new girlfriend? Just like that? Leah’s veins tightened. Her face burned. Her eyes twitched and she could feel the eyelashes poking them. Had she been used? She tried to smile, but her stomach and face and chest all felt tight.
Northwest University’s mathematics professor saved her. Dr. John Simmons, the organizer of the tour, called the students together as a group. Because the college was in a bad part of the neighborhood downtown, Professor Simmons advised the visitors to have a recruiter close by at all times so nobody would wander off by accident. He then introduced two assistant students. Then the walk began.
Riley didn’t even acknowledge Leah. He and Sarah started in an animated discussion over what good movies had been playing in the theater over the weekend. Leah’s heart a fragile dish, she felt it shattering into pieces.
She heard the professor say, “Obviously, these are the dormitories.”
The red brick structure was huge. Like it would swallow Leah up into loneliness and despair of feeling so small. Six stories high, on the back patois, vines climbed around every window frame.
Leah heard a shrill high-pitched giggle. Out of the corner of her eye, she caught Riley grabbing Sarah against his chest and kissing her. They smiled into each other’s eyes. Leah bit her lip. Though she was being torn up from the inside, she wondered if that was how she wanted to be treated. Like a toy. Nothing special. Just use it and be done with it.
Realizing she was being left behind, she turned her attention away from Riley and his girlfriend and headed in with the students entering the dorms.
Inside the hallways were bare and seemed lifeless. Identical doors lined halls, with plain student’s names written on paper. How artistic. Leah felt a snigger escape. She threw a glance back at Riley and Sarah. Giving each other secretive looks, they were chuckling and smiling over something Leah felt like she would have no part of. Why isn’t he at least including me? I’m at least his friend! Struck hard, like she’d been jabbed with the sharpest tip of a knife, Leah closed her eyes and turned forward again, with even more frantic pacing up to get farther ahead. Or maybe I’m not.....He sure doesn’t deserve that. Her thoughts paused before their ends fingered around the question, Why am I even here?
Riley changed girls more than Leah changed styles of what she wore. That’s why she suggested both of them take a breather. During this last semester, she wondered if she’d made the right decision. Now, even though it hurt, her question might as well have been answered by a neon sign.
She felt closed out. But new doors were open. And continued widening.
“Leeaahhh!” Riley was teasing, “Wake up. We’re heading up to the library.”
Flags were going up all around. Leah knew her choice was made. Her heart took a leap, and her mind followed. The song had to be finished. It didn’t have to end sad but it would be awhile before she would become contented in happiness again.
“Leah!” Riley called, “Where are you going!?”
I don’t owe you an explanation. Without another word, once she’d been forgotten again, she slipped away. This time, for good. A college guy whistled at her as she walked by.
Leah just stared at him. “What?”
He shrugged. “You sure are hot.” He winked.
Rolling her eyes, Leah turned away and walked even faster down the hall. Words had no value. But respect sure did. And most guys didn’t have that.
Next time, she promised, I’m going to do better. I'll be more careful.

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