With a shrug, I shove my hands in my pockets and head down the hallway towards the dean’s office. Betrayed by Lil Xan blasts through my earphones and I break into dance. I’m tired, but I feel good somehow. The mellow beat puts me in a calm state of mind, which is great, given that I need that to talk to this guy. Dean Marsh has been the dean here for, well, probably as long as I’ve been alive. And yes, his name is actually Dean. Having a dean named Dean is the running raggedy joke here on campus. He lived right up to his name, I guess. Apart from having a full head of hair at his age, there’s nothing decent about the guy.
People pass on either side of me, but I barely notice them, drowning in the beats of Xanarchy. “Hey Marc,” I hear, vaguely. I pop out one earphone and look for the source. “Down here,” she giggles. Gina tosses her blonde curls over her shoulder and throws her shoulders back. “Yeah, nice jugs,” I snap, turning back around. She’s saying something, but I ain’t got time for the games today. Gotta get this little meeting over with and head on home to my girl.
Call me a prick. I hate desperate women. Stuffing my buds back in, I resume my dance down the hallway towards the tall, mahogany door. Standing there a moment, I hesitate. This takes me back. All those times I got sent to the principal’s office. Never because I did anything wrong. My teachers just didn’t like having a little Puerto Rican boy dominating their classrooms. Can’t help wondering if this is what’s about to go down all over again.
“Come in, son,” a gruff voice calls from behind the closed door. My hand, already mid-air, drops to my side. How did he know I was here? With a shrug, I turn the knob and ease the door along its hinges. The creaking sounds a lot like his voice. Maybe his bones too, I imagine. His grey hair is peppered with streaks of black and white.
Saltshaker. I whisper to myself. Dude, looks like a …
“Sit down, Whitman.”
Without a word, I plop into the hardwood chair facing his desk. My fingers trace the fancy engravings on the armrest as I eye the stack of envelopes in the middle of the desk. He scribbles a note on a sticky, then pulls off his glasses and tosses them in the top drawer. Wiping his eyes, he leans back in his chair, clasping his hands as he presses his fingertips together.
“Where’d a kid like you get a last name like ‘Whitman’ anyway?” he quipped.
“My dad’s white.”
“Oh. Figures. Your mother legal?”
“Is that what you called me in here for?” I ask, feeling my neck get a little warm. “Because you don’t look like immigration to me.”
“Calm down, kid,” Dean snorts. “Twas a joke. But since you’re in no mood for joking, let’s get down to it then.” He reaches for the glasses and slides them onto his face, resting it ever so lightly on the bridge of his nose. Grabbing the stack of letters, he shuffles through them, mumbling to himself until he reached the Ws. “Mm, yes, here we go,” he sniffs, setting the pile aside as he studies his own handwriting. “I called you here to give you this.”
My name is on the envelope. I’ll look at it later. Shoving it in my pocket, I nod and head for the door. I can feel his eyes burning holes in my skull as I walk away. “Whitman,” he calls. I freeze. “Yes?” I say, not bothering to turn around.
“Tell your mother to get legal.”
I don’t think counting to ten is going to be enough. Better make it a thousand. STepping through the door, I pull it shut behind me. Dean isn’t going to win today. Not a chance. On my way to the lobby, I spot a vending machine. Most of the buttons don’t work, but I manage to get nachos and root beer. I still feel off, though. Confused, like I’m forgetting something very important. I glance at my watch again. Hate when this happens. Heading out through the lobby doors, I tug my coat a little closer to my body. Some of the leaves are still green, but the breezes are cooler these days. Fall is in the air. My legs carry me from the door to ole’ Matilda in a jiffy. Yanking the door open, I duck inside and slam it shut behind me. The weight lifts off my shoulder as I lean back and close my eyes. So good to sit.
I open them a minute later, and see a green Post-It note on the steering wheel.
“Meet Mia at Vianelli’s. 6 p.m.”
The bold, red numbers on the dash seem to scream the unforgiving truth.
It’s 8 o’clock.
Yep. I’m a dead man.
If I said that I liked this chick, I’d be lying. But she’ll have to do, as I need to know what Marcus could possibly be up to. Her eyes flutter up to the right, as if trying to remember if she’d seen a tall hunk of white chocolate. “Hmm, no,” she purrs. “Haven’t seated a Marcus. Let me check another list for you, though. One of my colleagues could have.” “Thank you,” I smile, pretending to be tipsy as I stumble forward, grabbing the podium for balance. “Are you okay?” she gasps, grasping my arms. I steal a glance at her reservations list before resuming my act. He really hasn’t shown up. “I’m so sorry,” I gush. “I’m still breaking in these heels.”
“Oh my gawd, that’s the worst!” she coos, helping me back to my table. My gaze lands on her face. It’s almost grey, like she hasn’t slept in days. I smile and toss a curl off my forehead. “Let me know when he gets here,” I say, straightening up a little.
“I will,” she nods, hurrying off to one of her other tables. I take another sip of the drink I’ve nursed for two hours. There’s a young couple smooching at the table across from me, making me want to scratch my eyes out. A familiar buzz caresses my thigh. Pulling the phone from my pocket, I see it’s a text from him. My cheeks grow hot as my head snaps towards the door.
It’s almost 9, but there he is, looking a little too much like a lost puppy. Turning away, I study the red and yellow stripes on the wall, trying not to look as stupid as I feel.
“Mia,” he smiles, jogging over to me. He kisses my hand before planting one on my lips. “I’m very sorry. Got caught up and totally forgot.”
“I may as well wear a dunce dap with fool scrawled across it in big crimson letters,” I say, taking another sip before studying a hairline crack in the glass. “3 hours, Marcus. What happened? ”
“I told you. I forgot,” he says again, ogling me with watery eyes. I clear my throat, and his eyes pop back up to meet mine. “Nothing serious.” He shoves his hands in his pockets and shrugs. “I got distracted and totally forgot until I jumped in the car.”
Swirling my third margarita, I chuckle. “Why the car?”
His brows raise a little. “I left a reminder on the steering wheel. Seemed like a good idea … assuming I’d get back in the car in time to see it.”
“Clearly, you’ve lost your mind. You have a phone that has pop-up reminders, yet you opt for a sticky note in the car?” Grabbing my coat and purse, I gulp down the rest of my drink. “You can eat alone, Marcus. I’m going home.”
He looks at me like I’ve sentenced him to death.
“Sit down,” he grunts. Heads turn, but I don’t care about that right now. “What? Embarrassed?”
“Let’s just talk about this like adults, please.” His eyes scan the room to see who had heard me.
“Talk about what like what?” I laugh, fluffing my hair. “Sure, let’s talk about how you have the nerve to be worried about how you look right now after you had me looking like an alcoholic divorcee for the past few hours.”
“You gotta believe me, girl. I forgot. Really. It was a mistake. I’ll make it up to you.”
I set the glass on the table with a loud clunk. “No, I’m good. What you’re gonna do is tell me who she is. Not now. Later.”