In the Stillness
Author:Andrea Randall

“It’s nothing, just a required course.”

 

“That’s some heavy stuff for such a gorgeous day. Can you even concentrate with all of this going on?” I held out my hands to show him all the people around us.

 

Then, he stood up. He walked over to me, gestured to the empty space next to me and said, “Can I sit? I’m sure the rest of these people don’t want to hear about fluid mechanics.”

 

“You can sit, but I don’t want to hear about fluid mechanics, either. It sounds absolutely dreadful.”

 

“I’m getting my master’s degree in chemical engineering. Nothing I can do about these courses. I like to get outside once in a while,” he laughed, “I could stare at this book for hours in a library, but that’s probably not healthy.”

 

I turned my body toward his and let myself take him in. He was an oxymoron. I’d assumed it was just moron by his UMass t-shirt. Let me say, it isn’t really fair—UMass is a great school. And, I was enrolling there for graduate school. But, when you’re in Mount Holyoke land all year, you just come to think of everyone else as idiots. Either way, he didn’t look like any science doctoral student I’d come to expect. He was quite tall; his shoulders were a few inches above my 5’9” frame as we sat. His hair was as black as mine, but his eyes were a perfect honey brown that had darker flecks around the iris. They matched his well-tanned skin, whatever they were.

 

“Do you go to Amherst?” he asked.

 

“What, I can’t go to UMass?” I teased while tugging playfully at his t-shirt.

 

“With those clothes?” He smirked at my knee-length skirt and polo. No, I wasn’t wearing a mini skirt and Uggs, I suppose. “You’re Amherst material . . . or . . .” He looked at me with a cautious grin.

 

I chuckled. “Yep. Mount Holyoke. I’m Natalie, by the way.” I stuck out my hand. Apparently, we both had presumptions about students in the Five-College area.

 

“Eric Johnson.” He flashed me a huge smile as he tightly gripped my hand. “So, Mount Holyoke. When do you graduate?”

 

“Actually, next month.”

 

His smile seemed to fade for a second before he brightened with a follow-up question. “Plans for after?”

 

A foolish grin captivated me. I was suddenly even more excited to be attending UMass in the fall.

 

“Yeah,” I smiled wider, “I’m starting my master’s in anthropology in the fall.” I pointed in the direction of the massive campus behind his shoulder.

 

His Adam’s apple bobbed as he swallowed, smile still on his face. We were flirting. Eric was the first guy I’d flirted with since I broke up with Ryker.

 

No. Don’t ruin this. Don’t think about Ryker. Ever.

 

“Listen, Natalie with no last name, I’ve gotta get going. It was great meeting you. I’ll see you around.” He stuck out his hand, and we shook again before he turned and strutted down the sidewalk. It didn’t look like the strut was planned, but it was nice.

 

“Collins!” I stood and shouted without thinking.

 

Eric stopped dead in his tracks and turned on his heels.

 

“What?” He chuckled when he got back to the bench.

 

I smirked and spotted Tosha heading out of Starbucks out of the corner of my eye. “My last name is Collins.”

 

“Well, Natalie Collins, it was great to meet you.” And, just like that, he disappeared into the busy crowd down the sidewalk.

 

“Who was that?” Tosha asked, handing me her coffee so she could light a cigarette.

 

“Eric Johnson.” I bit the inside of my cheek to keep the foolish smile at bay.

 

“Fluid Mechanics boy is a looker, huh? Told you he was staring.” She took her coffee back and we headed the opposite direction from where Eric went.

 

*

 

Usually I wander around Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s when the boys are at preschool. I amble up and down the aisles and remember the days I could afford to exclusively shop here. I always buy something—a scone or a drink—just to feel like I still belong.

 

Today, however, I find myself back at our apartment. Just down from the Jones Library, we’re mere feet from where Eric and I first met. If I tilt my head just right in our bathroom I can see the sidewalk where we spoke and walked in different directions when we said goodbye. Sometimes I fight the urge to scream out the window at that girl—the one I once was—not to look over her shoulder. But she does, every time. And she always finds Eric running up the sidewalk toward her with his number in his hand.