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“How ‘bout you, Grace, who’s your perfect man?” Amy Swanson, my cousin Lana’s sorority sister, stood with Lana and a couple of other Alpha Phis exchanging tidbits on the new freshman and junior college transfers as well as who did what to whom over the summer.
“I’m not getting married. I plan to live a life of bachelorette hood, sexing up old men now and younger men when I’m older. I’ll be eccentric, have nine cats and wear blue eye shadow and fur in the summer.” I was looking at Amy but could feel the weight of Lana’s disapproving glare. Whenever I was asked about why I hadn’t had a boyfriend, ever, I always responded in this manner. Lana thought it was a self fulfilling prophecy and blamed it on the unhealthy attachment I had in high school to a Marine whom I had written to for four years. Self fulfilling and self destructive behavior were two of the many therapy speak phrases that Lana enjoys whipping out. At first, these were terms she learned in her own therapy sessions. Now it’s from classes she takes as a psych major.
“Who’s the old man you’re sexxing up now then?” Lana challenged me. No one, but just for the crowd I made up a story.
“Got my eye on a student over at the osteopath school. Met him at the convenience store. I was getting a slushie and he was picking out condoms. I told him if his current partner didn’t like the ribbed ones, he could give me a call.” Lana liked my faux sex talk even less.
Other than a few drunken hookups, the closest I had ever come to condoms was finding a placket of them lying next to my brother Josh’s gym bag. But like my cat and blue eye shadow story, it planted the idea that I was a modern female, fully embracing my sexuality even though that was a fiction more fake than the boobs on three of the Alpha Phis in front of me. It was all perspective. Give people some small delicious detail to focus on and everything else faded away.
Swiveling in my chair, I turned to view my favorite expanse in the library. The reference and circulation desks sat on a balconette above the library’s entrance. The distance was just enough to provide the perfect perspective. I stood up and tilted my head down to peer through the viewfinder of my camera. I always set up my tripod when I worked. Some people studied. Others gossiped. I took time lapse images shrinking scenes into miniature, shutting out the peripheral noise, highlighting the minute details and making everything seem unreal and toylike.
I felt a nudge at my arm. “Let me see.” Lana was there, offering up an apology in the form of interest. I moved away and she peered through the lens, careful not to touch anything. Lana knew how particular I was about the setup of my camera. She stood up and huffed “I never see what you do.” It was both an accusation and a complaint.
Shrugging, I looked down again. Two guys had entered and paused at the monitor’s desk. Their heads were diametric opposites. One was blonde, one was dark haired. Both were tall. I quickly moved the camera up the rails and retilted the lens. I took one photo and then looked again. The dark one had knelt down on a knee to tie his shoe. No, a boot, while the other waited patiently. The composition made them look like toy soldiers, particularly with the uniformity of their jeans, the dark plain t-shirts, and the heavy soled boots. I took three pictures more in rapid succession.
“So Grace,” Amy called from behind me, “are you still coming over tomorrow to take rush photographs?” Her voice must have carried because through my lens I could see the dark haired boy’s head jerk up. My heart beat stuttered and I moved my hand up to spin the focus on the zoom for a closeup but the blonde haired guy bent down and obscured my view. I heard my name again but didn’t move, eyes glued to the scene in the lobby.
I felt something sharp in the region of my heart. I lifted my hand almost unconsciously and pressed a fist against the upper flesh of my left breast, as if I could physically to press the pain away. I thought I had stopped envisioning every brown haired soldier as my Marine last fall. This wasn’t Noah Jackson, my penpal of four years, and his blonde haired best friend Bo. These were just two random college guys. Probably on the lacrosse team by the looks of the muscles on their arms. I blinked rapidly and resolutely turned my back on the entrance and walked across the short distance between the desk and the railing. Between reality and make believe.