As I escape Elmore Hall like a prison break, I notice the same female professor from my earlier observations had stationed herself on the park bench at ground level to the left of the steps. She is using a fairly bulky laptop, and for a moment I get a glimpse of what appears to be some kind of computer code or programming language. Was I wrong, perhaps? It occurs to me that she might not be a professor at all. Upon further inspection, she does look rather young. Long red hair, tallish, slightly olive skin, green – no make that blue – eyes. At first I had her pegged for sociology, or maybe archeology, but neither of those fields use a level of computer complexity anywhere close to what I think I just saw. Suspicious.
Descending the steps, I’m contemplating what I should do now that I’ve flown the coop. This could have been planned better. I think I’ll go into town, stock up on some supplies, and just go wander for a little while. It’s not like I haven’t done it before.
Iowa is notorious for being sparsely populated outside of its major population centers. This tiny town is somehow the fourth largest “city” in the state. So once I get a good distance outside the city limits, I’m pretty much free to wander anywhere, private property or not, without worrying too much about people. Plus, the landscape up here in this part of the state is this wicked spiral of tall forest and grassy plains, giving me the perfect place to hide from people. I could go on this long existential journey, filled with self-discovery…
I’ve just never done it when it was this cold before.
… have I really been hurting Millie that much?
Ugh… this is no time to be thinking about Millie’s damn note.
Suddenly, behind me, I hear the snap of a laptop closing. The zipping of a briefcase. She rises from her seat. The clopping of her heels pounding the walkway. A sudden jolt of anxiety grips me. I quicken my pace.
Plans change. I think I need to get on that transit and back to the apartment. Now.
I make it to the quad with the bus stop in record time, but I hear the rhythmic tapping literally every step of the way. Taking a peak at the CSW confirms that, yes, she is still back there, keeping her distance.
There it is. Transit #17, Castle Street illuminated on the LED above the vehicle’s windshield.
Boarding, I freeze. Where the hell is everyone? The middle-aged driver is eating a to-go croissant sandwich from any one of the many campus cafeteria kiosks, but he is the only living soul on board. I know it’s the middle of the day, but there should at least be a few people on here. Maybe everyone really does have finals today, or they’re all done with the semester and are recovering at home. Nah, no way. Campus was just too crowded.
At first, I’m tempted to sit towards the back in the same seat I did this morning. But the need for a quick escape is a higher priority in case my suspicions are correct, so I choose the second seat from the front on the side closest to the door. I place my things on the adjacent seat just like before, automatically taking off my sunglasses. I peek out the window. Oh god, she’s getting on the transit.
She takes out of her case what appears to be a small leather-bound booklet, but when she flips it open and flashes it to the driver, I catch the golden glimpse of what appears to be a badge reflected in the windshield. I have no idea what it says, of course, but it clearly gets his attention. The woman whispers a very short sentence to him, but I can only make out the words “take us to the… somewhere.” He nods his head in acknowledgement, and closes the door without hesitation.
Briefly, I try to look for an escape plan without looking too suspicious, but these campus transits look pretty escape proof. The rear exit appeared to open only if someone triggered the emergency button near the driver, and there’s no way I’m quick or fit enough to escape through the roof. Besides, people would react rather alarmed seeing a college-aged girl in shades balancing on the roof of a moving bus. It’d film well in an action movie though. Anyway, let’s not jump to conclusions. This may still have nothing to do with me at all.
“Sydney Winters,” the woman said.
Well shit, never mind, looks like I’m today’s lucky winner.
“That was a remarkably short-sighted thing you did,” she continues, taking a seat directly across the aisle from me. “But then, something tells me you knew this would happen.”
“What the hell are you talking about?” I fire back. The bus begins to move. She crosses her legs and interlocks her fingers together, but for some reason all I can think of is how her bright red lipstick doesn’t quite perfectly compliment her already red hair. She should consider pink, or maybe even a bright purple matte lipstick. I would totally be able to pull that off myself if my skin tone was just a touch darker. I guess that didn’t stop me from trying it at that sorority ball they threw the fall of my senior year. But everyone kept looking at me all weird, and I started to get nervous…
She remains silent, just looking at me probingly.
I put back on my sunglasses, making the woman’s entire face varying shades of brown, black, and primary colors. It helps a bit with the lipstick, but more importantly it hides my eyes. She seems like type of person who likes to gauge emotional responses in people, but I’m not going to let her have mine if I can help it.
So she knows my name, and she knows I did something abnormal. My goal should be to get as much information from her as possible while giving away as little as I can. I look in her general direction, scowling, attempting to make her feel unwelcome.
“Is there something I can do for you?” I ask.
A new section is released every Monday! Next week we’ll be continuing Chapter 2: “A Study in Bad Acronyms.” As always I welcome your feedback in the comments. 🙂