Gwyn was still sitting at the corner table. Her position, leaned over with her head in her hands, suggested that her headache hadn't gone away yet.
"Hey, headache any better?" Chris asked as he sat down across from her-even though he knew the answer would be a terse no. He had dated her since their sophomore year of college, and-in her foul moods-she was very predictable. His guess was correct. Chris sighed and slid the salad he had gotten for her across the table. "Eat something, Gwyn, it'll probably help."
She lifted her face. Her pretty blue eyes were red surrounded by dark circles, that were only partially smudges from her eyeliner. "I'm not hungry." She rested her chin on her hands that were far too bony.
"You haven't eaten anything all day. I know you're worried about your grandfather, but a hungry strike isn't going to make him get better."
Gwyn laughed bitterly. "I don't know whether to worry or dance for joy that he's in the hospital dieing."
Chris narrowed his eyes. "That's a horrid thing to say, Gwyn."
She snorted. "It's the truth though, Chris. You've never met him." She leaned her face back into her hands and groaned miserably.
He'd met her at the beginning of freshman year at a party. She was a plain girl dressed in clothes that came from Wal-Mart. Her tan was uneven-the type that came from being outdoors mowing the lawn rather than laying in a tanning bed. She was pretty in a sweet, wholesome way. Her straight shoulders suggested confidence and her downcast eyes shyness.
And she was intimidating. Brilliant, full-scholarship and then some. That was how a farmer's daughter could attend college with the children of the elite. She was creative and artistic in addition to being intelligent. And while she wasn't vain, there was something cool in her manner. She laughed at jokes, but she also gave the impression that she either wouldn't or couldn't become emotionally involved with anything.
"If you're not going to eat you should go back to the dorm and lie down, then."
She answered him without looking up. "No, no, if I'm alone I have to deal with myself. I have to think. I can't go back to the dorm, Chris."
She had asked him out on their second date, and she was the one who had driven across the city. Chris remembered his shock at the state her vehicle. It was beat up gray mini-van with a pink bobble-head pig named after Leon Trotsky sitting on the dashboard. Chris, a lawyer's son himself, was surprised that anyone would still drive that thing, but the inside was clean if disorderly, so he got in.
"Roll down your window a bit," she told him. "The air conditioning doesn't work too well."
Stunned at the idea of a car without A/C, Chris looked at the door for the window switch.
"Yeah," he replied slowly. Chris couldn't remember riding in a car without power windows.
Awkward, somewhat because of the vehicle and somewhat because he was the passenger rather than the driver, he broke the silence by asking what she planned on doing this summer.
"I signed up for some extra classes here."
"You mean you're not going home."
"I might a couple of weekends."
"But you've hardly been home all year."
"I can't go home, Chris. Every time I do all I hear is my grandfather complaining. He wants me to be an engineer not a psychologist." She sighed and added in a quieter voice. "Home isn't worth it. But never mind that-tell me what you're doing."
Chris looked at the letter she had taken from her post office box on the way here. The return address was from the graduate school she was trying to get into. "Are you going to open that, Gwyn?"
She raised her face again and glanced at the letter apathetically. "Yeah, yeah, I guess." Cautious-like it was a snake about to bite her-she picked up the letter. Using one of her sharp nails, she stabbed the top of the envelope and began to slit it open. At that moment, the cell phone (one of her gives to modern society) in her purse rang. Frowning, she pulled it out and answered the call.
"Oh," she murmured and her eyes dropped. "Oh, yeah...I'll be ok, I think. Yes, I'll talk to someone if I need to. 'Kay, call you later." She hit the off button on the older-model phone.
She held the steering wheel funny when she drove. Her thumbs weren't wrapped around the wheel. Her hands were held like a fists with the steering pressed between her first knuckle and her thumb. He asked her about that.
"Oh, that. Habit I learned driving a tractor. You hold the steering wheel like this so that you don't break a thumb if you hit a rock and the wheel jumps."
"Who was that?"
"My mother," she said calmly and smacked her tongue against the roof of her mouth. That was a habit of hers that only showed up when she was tense. She finished opening the letter and quickly read over it.
"What did she call about?"
"My grandfather," she put the letter back down on the table. "He died." Her voice was cold as she stated the news. "I wonder." She placed one finger on a corner of the letter and twirled it around. "If this would have been enough to please him...I wonder."
Suddenly she got up and walked away.
Chris picked up the letter and read it. She had been admitted to one of the most prestigious graduate schools in the country, and once again had been awarded a substantial amount of money in scholarships. He knew her well enough to know that she cared deeply about both this and her grandfather's death. If she hadn't loved the old man, he never would have been able to make her so miserable. But with both, she couldn't let anyone see. Couldn't hold onto her emotion and savor it as a part of being human. For if she did, she just might wind up with broken thumbs.