Untitled Fiction (Chapter 1, Section 4)


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Lowell was busy preparing to move out of his dorm room the Sunday before commencement.  By then he had been packing for a full two days and most of his things were packed, but the progress slowed the more he plowed ahead.  Every summer since his first, he rented a storage room to store his belongings until the next school year began.  Now that he was graduating he had to decide what to pack and what to dump.  He realized that for four years, he had kept far too many things he didn’t need.

He was closing the second garbage bag of the day when his roommate yelled, “Mike, it’s for you.”

Lowell stumbled through the boxes and bags to see who was at the door.  It was Lance.

“Hey,” Lowell said, the unenthusiastic tone conveying he was busy.

Lance peaked into the room and observed the roommates bustling around, packing and cleaning.  He turned to Lance and said, “Come on, let’s take a walk.  You look like you can use a break.”

Lowell didn’t protest.

They strolled silently from Edmonds Hall across the Lower Campus.  Lowell wasn’t much into talking in general, but when he was with Lance, he let him do all the talking.

“So, congrats on graduating,” Lance said, breaking the silence.

“Thanks.”

“It was a long journey,” Lance continued, but staring out as if talking to no one in particular.

Lowell took minor offense.  “I did graduate in four years, you know,” he said, defensively.

Lance just glanced at him before responding. “You know what I mean.”

To this, Lowell did not respond.  Neither spoke as they slowly walked up the stairs leading up to Middle Campus.  At the summit, Lance stopped, took out his pack of cigarettes and fumbled through his pocket looking for a light.  Not finding any, he asked for Lowell’s help.

“Can’t.  I quit,” Lowell told him.

Lance was surprised.

“No kidding,” he said.  He paused slightly before continuing, “Man, you really have changed.”

Lance didn’t know what to make of the statement, but thought it a compliment.  As if reading his mind, Lance followed up, “In a a good way,” then put away the pack back into his pocket.

As they resumed their walk towards the center of Middle Campus, it was Lance who again broke the silence.

“So have you called your parents?”

“About?”

Lance didn’t bother playing the game.  He simply stared at Lowell with a critical look.

“No,” Lowell responded, then turned front to avoid eye-contact.  This was a conversation he did not want to have.

“When’s the last time you spoke with her?”

“Don’t recall.”

“I sometimes run into your mom  in town, at supermarkets and pizza places.  We exchange words, but not much.  She looks good.”

“That’s nice,” Lowell responded indifferently.

Their walk had taken them to the Quad, where during the school year a contagion of students would be bristling, either going to their next class or grabbing a bite to eat.  With finals over, only the seniors were left on campus and most were busy packing up and exchanging good-byes.  Lowell, who always remained in Boston but never on campus during the summer, had never seen the Quad this quiet.

“So which school did you decide on?”  Lance asked, abruptly changing the subject.

Lowell had to take a second to realize he was talking about graduate school.

“Here.  They offered the most money.”

“Not a bad place to end up.  It’s beautiful here.” Lance said admiringly, looking up to enjoy the view.  Lowell realized it was the first time Lance had visited him at school.

“Yeah, it’s all right.  Lots of greens.”

“Rutgers is all right.  This is beautiful.  The old looking buildings, like that one.”  Lance turned back and pointed to the Gothic building facing the library.  “You must like those.”

“I majored in history, not architecture,” Lowell responded with some aggravation.

“Old is historical, isn’t it?”

Lowell didn’t respond, instead focusing on his each step.  The clouds cleared and the radiant sun shined right onto them.  The forecast predicted perfect weather for commencement, sunny but not hot.  It was the ideal May weather for Boston, with a perfect breeze complimenting the warm ray of sunshine.  The temperatures were such that under the shadows of trees, Lowell felt a little brisk.

“You should, you know,” Lance said, suddenly returning to the subject.  “Call your mom, I mean.  Just to let her know what’s up.”

“Maybe.”  Lowell was non-committal.

“It’s not that difficult to pick up the phone and dial.”

“Depends on who you’re calling.”

“Can’t argue with that,” Lance said with a chuckle.  “Calling you isn’t always easy.”

Then don’t bother, Lowell thought, but kept it to himself.

“I think your mom wants to hear from you.  You know, just to hear your voice.”

“There’s nothing to talk about.  It’ll just be awkward.”

Lance’s pace slowed just enough for Lowell to notice and look up.  Lance was looking squarely at him.

“How about you graduating?  Your parents will probably want to know about that.”

“They should already know.  They know when I started.  They can do the math”

“You have spoken to them since you started college, haven’t you?” asked Lance with a tone of concern.

“Yeah.” Lowell reassured him, adding,  “Sometimes.”

“Well,” Lance continued, “they probably want to know that you graduated in time.”

“To surprise them?”  Lowell asked, somewhat sarcastically.

“No,” Lance responded, the tone indicating he didn’t approve of the attitude, “to please them.  They’d be proud.”

“We’ll see.”

There was a brief moment of silence as Lowell looked at Lance, who was in thought.

“Would it be easier if they called you?” Lance persisted, “If they took the initiative?”

Lowell was beginning to sense Lance wasn’t going to simply drop the subject.  He wondered whether the point of the little walk was merely to convince him to call home.  He began to become annoyed that a guy who wasn’t even invited was making demands just as he was beginning to be welcomed.

“What do you want from me?  We don’t  have that kind of a relationship.”

You don’t have that kind of a relationship,” Lance retorted.  “Not sure they agree.”

Lowell stopped and turned around.  “I’m going back to my dorm,” he said as he began to hurry back.

Lance pursued Lowell and grabbed his arms.

“This is important,” he said sternly.

Lowell looked into Lace’s eyes and saw the unyielding look he’d seen before, although he couldn’t remember when he saw it last.  Lowell realized a certain line was crossed that he wanted to retreat from.  So he simply caved and said, “Fine, all right, I’ll do it.”

Lance released his hold, but continued to stare at him as if to seek reassurance.  Lowell turned to avoid the glaze and continued back to his dorm.  Lance didn’t pursue.   They parted ways without saying a word.

That was the last time Lowell saw Lance.  He didn’t attend commencement the next day and never found out whether Lance was in audience.

A car making a right turn cut in front of Lowell, returning him from his thoughts as he braked just in time.  Road signs and car signals have little significance to Massachusetts drivers whose reputation for poor driving is well-earned.

Lowell turned onto MassPike.  As was typical during this time of the day, the traffic was light heading out of Boston.  With any luck, he should be back to where his childhood was in less than four hours.

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