My 2006 NaNoWriMo novel. Woo! Note: since I am posting as I go along, the storyline is backwards. To read this, start from the oldest post and read to the newest.

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Location: Los Angeles, United States

I am an awkward, stubborn, slightly insane woman who would rather talk Plato than Prada, rather watch Frank Capra than Carrie Bradshaw, and rather listen to Norse myths sung in Icelandic than anything currently on the radio. Yeah. Told you I was weird.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Chapter 10

Somehow, that week was a little easier to bear. The darkness was still there, and the pain of loss, but I was able to keep my mouth shut a little more often, and even managed to go to a class or two. I don’t think I did any homework, but I really don’t remember.

What I do remember is the library. I discovered the if you stood in the reference section, behind the first shelf, you could always keep an eye on the circulation desk, even if you couldn’t hear anything that was happening. I watched Angie for hours that week, trying to catch some hint of the pain and darkness that she had spoken of. She had spoken with too much knowledge of the choking cloud of despair to be simply making it up, but she really did seem innocent and happy, like someone who’d never seen grief or struggle.

As I watched her, I did occasionally see a glimpse of something in her, like a curtain momentarily being drawn back, and she would run a hand over her face wearily. I noticed that she seemed more tired after conversations than most people I knew, and that she usually retreated to a study room with a book for her breaks, instead of going downstairs to the employee break room like the other student workers.

She worked one shift from ten o’clock at night until midnight. She seemed to enjoy this shift more than any of the others; the library usually emptied around 11, except for seminary students buried in books, and the music majors with headphones engrossed in their homework, headphone wires snaking around the desks.

One evening, when she was getting ready to walk back to her dorm room at nine pm after a shift at work, I approached her. “Hey, Angie.”

“Hey Jason, haven’t seen you much this week.” She tossed a long scarf around her neck and over her shoulder. “Been hiding?”

“Something like that. Hey, you going straight home, or do you want to stop by Java for a latte?”

“Well, I was going to just head back to Sammis Hall, but something hot to drink sounds good. It finally cooled down, thanks be to God! It’s about time, November’s nearly here!” She grabbed her bag, and we headed for the door.

Java was, of course, the on-campus coffee shop. The full name was Java and Cookies, but since that generally took too long to say, it was shortened to Java in the general parlance. It was a short walk from the library, just past the student gallery, the theater group practicing in the auditorium, and the fountain, which was for once, free of the bubbles that the guys seemed to think were so funny to dump into the water. Then just down a short flight of steps and a quick turn to the left.

“There’s something so welcoming about that.”

“Huh? Oh, sorry, I wasn’t paying attention.” I’d been focused on trying to remember how much money I had in my wallet, and what I would be able to order.

“Stop a second, right here. There, see how the door is open, so light and music and laughter are spilling out? It’s cold and dark and quiet out here, but you can almost see the life and love flowing out into the night.”

I studied the open door to the coffee shop. It was propped open, and since the glass was somewhat reflective, you could see the faces of students sitting in the warm interior, laughing and talking. The light was a warm yellow, almost buttery glow, and the sound of conversations, flirtations, and deliberations mixed with the garbled strains of Simon and Garfunkel.

My first response was scorn at the sheltered group inside. Of course they could laugh and joke, they didn’t have to stand in the cold night. But from deep inside rose up a longing that choked back that cynicism and swept me away with longing simply to step inside that light and warmth. If only, I thought, if only it were so simple.

Then the moment was over, and the window into homeyness slammed shut, and I was just standing outside a small low-budgt campus coffee house again, and Angie and I stepped through the door, ears assaulted by the din of thirty voices in twenty different conversations.

As we stood in the tightly packed line in front of the counter, Angie turned to me. “So, anything in particular you wanted to talk about?”

“Oh, I dunno…I think maybe I just didn’t particularly want to hang out here alone. It’s a sort of…well, for lack of a better word, exclusive. I mean, not that anybody here is trying to keep anyone else out, but you can’t just come up and join a table or a conversation here. I don’t really feel like being friendly and smiley and hanging out with a group of people, but I don’t really want to sit alone in the shadows either. Which is odd, considering that’s all I’ve been doing lately.”

“Hi, my name is Katie, how can I help you today?”

“Ok, I think I want a peppermint mocha, with whipped cream.” Angie grinned. “I’m such a sucker for peppermint.”

“Ok, great! And you?”

“Um…I think a caramel macchiato would be great.”

“Sure thing! That’ll be $7.90.”

Angie reached into her bag, but I had my wallet out quicker. “No, don’t worry about it. I’ve got it.”

We wound our way through the crowd around the napkin-and-straw counter, and managed to get to the door. “I don’t think we’re going to find a good seat in here. Want to go somewhere else?”

“Sure!” She took a quick sip of her mocha so it wouldn’t slosh around too much. “I’ve got my good thick coat and scarf, so I’d be happy enough sitting outside. Your jacket looks a little thin though, maybe we should just go to the Student building?”

“No, that’s alright. I doubt I’ll feel the cold much anyway. How about the fountain?”

“Sounds good to me.”

We sat quietly for a while, sipping our coffee. There was something immensely comforting, I decided, in sitting in the cold and pouring hot thick liquid into your stomach. It’s almost like keeping a secret.

Angie seemed content to simply sit cross-legged on the wide edge of the fountain, watching the large winter moon move in and out of clouds. I still wasn’t sure why I’d wanted to be here, but thought I might as well talk as long as I was here.

“So…you said you wanted to show me something on Saturday…what is it?”

At first, I thought she hadn’t heard me, as she continued to sit staring up at the moon. “I’m not sure how to explain it to you…” She sighed, and turned toward me. “You seem a little better today, but I think you’re probably still on the very edge. I don’t want you to think I’m being overly sentimental or ooey-gooey and anti-intellectual, etc. I’m not. But I think that your intellect needs some new input, that you aren’t going to get from your own cogitations. You need some new data to work on, and it’s not something you’re likely to find in a book, or simply by sitting and thinking about it. I know that’s really not an answer, but it’s all I can give you right now. Will you trust me?”

It was my turn to be silent and unresponsive for a moment. Did I really want to trust her? Would she really be able to show me anything that would make me think that life was anything but a cold, dark night full of pointless suffering? And, I suddenly wondered, did I want to be convinced? If my view of life was true, it would simply be illusion to believe otherwise, no matter how pleasant it might be. On the other hand, if Angie was right about life, then the absurdity was the illusion…but was it an illusion I could let go of? Did I really want to believe that life was good, and meaningful?

Angie seemed in no mood to rush me. In fact, I think she would have been content to leave without an answer that night. But I decided to answer in the only honest way I could.

“I don’t know if I want to trust you. I think I want to want to. That’s not enough to convince me, but it’s enough to make me show up on Saturday. Will that do.”

“That’ll do. As long as you want to desire health, there’s always hope.” She smiled. “After all, as long as there’s a single gleam of fire in a mound of ashes, you can always fan a flame.”

“And if there’s no flame ot be fanned?”

“Well, then at least you’ll know.”


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