You enroll in a liberal arts college and work at the pizzeria on campus for spending money for food and film supplies. In the first week, you make a hundred dollars in tips and fifty dollars in salary for twenty hours of work, and you don't know whether that's a good week or not.
The supervisor says it's a good week. "It's because you're cute," he says, and doesn't grin to make it a joke. "People like a cute boy giving them pizza, and they drop their change in the proverbial bucket."
You don't ask him how such a small drop is going to lead to you being a director of documentaries. You thank him for all his help, and go to mop the floor.
This guy starts showing up Friday nights, eating one slice of pizza and drinking a cranberry juice. He stays until closing. Lisa, one of the bakers, tells you to get him to leave. "Why?" you say.
"Because," she says, and wrinkles her nose. "It's weird."
"It's not like we're full or anything," you say, because he shows up after the Friday night rush, when it's just a couple of really dedicated engineering students with textbooks spread across two tables, and the stoned frat boys dropping by for pick-up. Friday nights die off around nine thirty, and the place stays open until midnight, and having this guy around makes you feel slightly less alone, even if it's stupid.
Lisa looks at you, idly playing with a string on her apron. "You like him, don't you, Simon," she says.
She shrugs, looking wiser than her eighteen years. "Okay, so I'm wrong," she replies.
It's a liberal arts college, you keep telling yourself, every time you break a small rule your parents made for your life. "Maybe," you say. It's a liberal arts college, you say in your head, and swallow.
His name is Adam.
"Thanks," he mumbles, and takes his slice - vegetarian, this week - to the table.
You look around the place, and the engineering students have a full jug of diet coke. No one else is around, even Lisa's sitting in the back room reading Dante or something for her english literature class. "How come," you start, and then amend, "I mean, you're in here a lot."
He shrugs. "My--" and he looks down at his paper plate. He's picked off all the green pepper and most of the olives. You get the feeling he doesn't really like vegetarian that much. "It's Joan's night on campus."
You're only a little disappointed; the guy smiles suddenly, and then maybe it's more than a little. "Yeah," he says. "I guess. My Joan."
You take a breath, and then make a decision, and sit down. As you do, you feel you've crossed some kind of internal line, some kind of boundary your parents set on you that you weren't supposed to ever, ever break. It's a liberal arts college, you think, and say, "if you're here Friday nights, where's she?"
"She, uh." Adam stutters a bit. He looks so lost, suddenly, that you wish you could take it back. "It's her therepy night," he finally blurts out. You wait. "I'm in classes here," he says, "and so she can come for free since we're registered as."
You can finish that thought for him; "spousal benefits are the only way a lot of people can any healthcare, too," and you smile a bit at him, feeling foolish. When he nods, looking less upset you feel better.
"I'm Simon," you say, and stick out your hand to shake his. After a minute, he does.
You don't see him for two weeks in a row. Lisa doesn't say a word, even though typically she can't shut up, like about the party she went to last night, or how hot her TA is, or how the readings she had to do totally opened her mind up to neo-classicsm. She's not stupid, just loud.
"Okay," you finally mutter to her as you're mopping the floor at midnight, "maybe he was kind of cute."
Your parents call you at work, and right then Adam walks into the place. "Mom, I have to--" you start, and then you say, "bye," and you hang up, and you don't particularly care whether she's going to be angry with you later for hanging up on her. You can always blame the job. She's a bit crazy anyway.
Adam raises an eyebrow at your angry expression, and you say, "mom can be a bit much."
He nods, "yeah," and then says, "can I have two pieces of pepperoni to go?"
"Anything to drink?" you say, and swallow; to go. It's a liberal arts college. People come and go all the time.
"Joan and me, we're. She wants me there," Adam says. He fishes a ten dollar bill out of his wallet. "Some things happened, and she-- anyway." Quieter, he says, "I'm sorry I can't stay."
"Hey," you reply, cheery, "no harm no foul. Maybe I'll see you again." You hand him his change, over five dollars, and add, "I'd like to meet Joan."
"she'd like you," he says, and drops all his change in the tip jar.
As he leaves, you feel the crushing weight of inevitability for just a second - you know he's never coming back again. Lisa comes out from the kitchen. "You know," she says casually, "he seems really sad."
"Yeah," you mutter.
"Simon," she says. "He seemed too sad for an eighteen year old." When you don't reply, she puts a hand on your shoulder and says, "he was obviously devoted to her," and then, "you couldn't have helped him."
You nod, throat suddenly thick. Even admitting you thought he was cute was probably enough to get your parents never to speak to you again. For thirty seconds there, you didn't care. "Hey," you say, "didn't you say there was a party at your friend's tonight? Are you going?"
Lisa grins. "Yeah. It'll be pretty tame, probably."
"Good," you say. "The first college party I go to better not have strippers."
Lisa grins, and throws her apron into her cubby as you lock the till. "Ease into it," she replies, and smacks your shoulder. You don't feel guilty about it, you don't even feel particularly nervous. You know Lisa's friends, because they come into work to see her.
"It's a step," you say, and you don't mean the party.