Here’s the story so far…
“See, I told you he wouldn’t be in.”
Dayne looked around the empty department nervously. Natasha didn’t get much out of him on the car ride there. Only that Professor Winters was still helping his wife cope with her cancer, and still being “needy for attention,” as Dayne put it.
“Do you want to leave him a note? You know, to show your concern.”
“I don’t understand how you can be so cold, Dayne.”
Natasha had already made a mental note to ditch Dayne as fast as she could. He kept scratching his neck and breathing heavily in annoyance, as Natasha pulled out a piece of paper and scribbled down her number.
“Jesus, don’t you think he’d be a little freaked out? Call girl stalking his office?”
Natasha ignored him and proceeded to slide the note under the door.
“What’s it say?”
Dayne was visibly irritated, searching around as if hiding from imaginary students. The halls were completely deserted. Natasha sighed.
“It says, hope you feel better – call me whenever you need someone – love Dayne.”
His face glowered in resentment and he grabbed Natasha’s arm quickly while leading her away from two students, far down the hall, who were casually strolling toward them.
“Oh my God, I was kidding Dayne.”
They rushed the narrow steps of the university’s main entrance, Dayne pulling up his coat hood on a clear night. As they reached the car Natasha continued to cross the street.
“Where are you going?” Dayne yelled, an elderly woman pausing mid stride to watch the commotion.
“You just don’t get it, Dayne.”
Before he could make another excuse for her to ride with him, she stepped onto a cross town bus.
Natasha had avoided the topic with her father since after the funeral.
He didn’t want to talk – or maybe she didn’t – but either way, the delicate balance maintained itself with ease; each person dancing to their own beat and pretending it was alright to think about her all the time, and never say her name. Natasha had to try.
“I wonder what mom would say about us eating spaghetti left over’s four days.”
He didn’t move his eyes from the TV. Some hockey game played vibrantly on-screen and he sat defeated from exhaustion. He never really bothered with Natasha’s life anymore; after all, Kirk hadn’t called or seen her in a while, and she didn’t spend much time at home.
Natasha left it at that. Her father coped so well with the situation at the time, smiling and sending well-wishers to his wife’s bedside. He never asked for anyone to console him, Natasha knew what he was going through and was lucky to have Kirk for the late night crying. Cancer’s a bitch.
“I’m sure she’d be happy to know we enjoyed her cooking so much.”
Natasha cleared the plates, as her father fell asleep in front of the television.
“Okay, let me get this straight, you’re telling me you broke J&S policy?”
Mariel chewed loudly on week old gum balls. Natasha gnashed on hard taffy. The two stood casually in Mariel’s stuffy office, now laden with surveys and a few badly hidden McDonald’s wrappers. They hadn’t bonded over sweet treats for some time and it had been a while since Natasha ventured a floor below for candy, but today required some sugar induced courage.
“Mariel, you’ve got to understand. Mr. Winters is, he’s –
“A figment of your fucking imagination. I don’t care about breaking policy – hell I do it all the time.
Natasha couldn’t help but stare at Mariel’s crocs, now on their last legs from overuse.
“I just don’t get your fascination with old strangers.”
“Mariel, his wife is dying of cancer. It just seems, it seems like I need to be there.”
“But you don’t. Oh and why the hell did you tell me about this?”
Natasha was already leaving for the door.
“Because I’m going to do it again.”
Natasha called once a day for the first four days and twice on the fifth.
Maybe he didn’t notice the note on the floor. I should have stuck it to the front. Should I call reception?
When she tried that, the office said he was teaching and to leave a message. But she wanted to get him. Over a week passed when Natasha decided to leave it for a while. Maybe he wasn’t calling because he was caring for his wife? Perhaps Natasha could meet her before things got too bad, before she was too weak, before the final days set in –
“Uh, Tash. Mr. Elder is on the phone.”
She picked up before realizing Mariel was referring to Dayne.
“Hey Natasha, how are you?”
“Just tell me what you want; I’m certain you don’t care for the answer.”
She couldn’t help it. The infatuation she felt for Dayne, her handsome and charming literary kindred spirit, was lost when he opted to only care when he had the time. And for a single man with not much on his plate, he had very little.
“I know what I said was wrong, and you probably won’t believe me, but – Kevin spoke to me about you.”
Natasha’s throat seized, she caught herself nodding for him to continue – then let out a groggy whimper. “Kevin?”
“Professor Winters. Anyway, he said he’s interested in meeting with you”
“Great!” Natasha squealed a little too enthusiastically.
“But, he wanted to wait until after the funeral.”
She stopped. Mrs. Winters had already gone? Was Natasha even ready to help someone else pick up the pieces?
“When is it?”
“It hasn’t happened yet.”
Natasha let out a sigh of relief, but Dayne’s breathing got heavier.
“Don’t you see? He talks about her like she’s already gone, like he wants her gone!”
“The man is hurting. It’s clear as fucking day.”
The pause was necessary, Natasha grabbing her raincoat while Dayne shuffled about his office or home – she didn’t know either.
“Just promise me one thing, Natasha.”
“I can’t do that Dayne.”
Another heavy breath.
“Just leave him until he calls you.”
After he hung up, Mariel stopped by Natasha’s desk to drop off surveys for the following day.
“I take it Dayne didn’t handle the news well.”
“I didn’t tell him.”
Mariel rolled her eyes, but waited for Natasha to gather her purse.
“Are you sure you really want him to teach you?”
“Mariel, Professor Winters is going to love me.”