I woke up the next morning delirious with the possibility of a secret romance between Anders Elstad and Linda Birch. I had to swallow my own pride and hurt and extinguish the extrapolations of different imagined relationships between Anders and myself. This process was expedited by the advent of drinks with Jamie.
Jamie hadn’t yet called or texted, but I was relishing coming into a new stride of independence and freedom from neuroses and was consequently going to table any overthinking of lack of electronic communications.
(Maybe he was trying to play it cool? Anyway. Whatever.)
I grabbed a pair of jeans and a navy turtleneck sweater. Glasses, no makeup, pony tail, lipgloss.
I grabbed my Wonder Woman travel mug and headed down the stairs and up the street to Magpie Coffeehouse. It had been four months since I had moved into my apartment and I still hadn’t purchased any coffee. A daily americano was one of the small luxuries I allowed myself. Also, once you’ve worked as a barista, it’s hard to go back to the sludge that comes out of most Mr. Coffees.
Saturday mornings seem slow at the Magpie Coffeehouse. Most college students have not emerged from the cocoons of their K-Mart comforters and are still sleeping off the effects of last night’s drunken escapades.
Soft blues plays over the speakers. Purple hair again my barista. She has warmed up a bit since I started bringing my reusable travel mug religiously.
“The usual?” She raises a pierced eyebrow.
“Yes, please.” I plop Wonder Woman on the counter. The inscription beneath her image reads “Wise as Athena, Beautiful as Aphrodite.”
On a typical Saturday morning, I might stay at the coffeehouse, ensconced in the oversize leather couch and catch up on reading. I try to keep reading for pleasure. Librarians are the unofficial authorities on reading recommendations. I don’t field many requests for non-academic fare, but I like to be prepared.
I pay for my americano and add a splash of cream. My phone buzzes. I take it out of my pocket.
The text reads: “Just making sure you didn’t give me a fake number. And now you have mine. 🙂 -Jamie.”
I am so happy I could squeal. Then I furrow my brow. The composition of the perfect text message response to a guy texting so you have his number after you give him your number takes finesse. Eagerness, immediacy, and jubilation are highly discouraged.
I take a crack at it.
I start typing “Nope, I didn’t give you a fake number. Glad to have yours! 🙂
Backspace, backspace, backspace.
Try again. “;-)
“Why did the chicken cross the–”
Backspace, backspace, backspace.
“I’ll try to put this number to good use. ;-)”
Perfect. And, SEND.
Driving to campus, I am relieved that the pressure is off this field trip. Of course, most of the pressure and expectations I crafted myself and imposed. I am the cruel tyrant of my emotional existence. Now I can just drive, enjoy the lecture about a Norwegian explorer and score a free meal.
Anders is waiting as I pull up. I roll down the passenger side window.
“Hop on in, Anders!”
“Thank you, Dorothy.”
I almost want to ask him to call me Ms. Watson again, but that seems a little cruel. I have no intention of torturing him. I do want to see if I can dig up any dirt about him and Linda, but I doubt it. Norwegians are notoriously tight-lipped.
“So, did you do anything fun last night, Anders?”
“Oh, no, nothing interesting.” He looks fixedly out his window.
“That’s too bad,” I say. “I live on Water Street, in one of those second floor apartments. It’s fun to watch all of the college students weave in and out of the bars. Ah, to be young and drunk again. Am I right?”
I elbow him, lightly.
There is a pause.
“I suppose so,” he says.
I wonder what is going through his head at this exact moment. Is he going to try and cover his steps. Does he suspect I saw his clandestine rendezvous? The past 24 hours have made living in Decorah, Iowa, a hell of a lot more exciting.
“And you, Dorothy, did you do anything interesting last night?”
Trying to redirect the conversation. Tricky, Anders, very tricky.
“Oh, no, I’m pretty much a homebody–my crazy partying days are long behind me.”
“I find that hard to believe.”
“That I don’t party anymore?”
“That you’re a homebody. You seem like a very educated and vivacious person who would have many hobbies.”
“Oh, Anders, you flatter me. Most of my free time outside of work is spent reading and watching television shows on my computer.”
“You don’t have a boyfriend?”
What the hell? This is coming out of right field. Or is it left field.
“Nope, Anders, I don’t have a boyfriend.”
“Excuse me?!” I have a compelling urge to slam on the brakes, but quell it and keep driving.
“I’m sorry, I did not mean to offend you. I have probably asked too personal of a question.”
“Yes, no, I mean, it’s fine. I just don’t have a boyfriend, I’m just focusing on my career right now.”
“I was walking through the student center during lunch and saw you with a man, I just assumed, again I apologize. Dorothy.”
Very observant, Anders. Quite the keen eye you have. Except when you’re walking around town with a woman twenty years older than you. Apparently.
“Ah, yes, Jamie. He’s an adjunct professor in the Theatre department. He was here prepping for a J-Term class.”
“How do you know him?”
Curious, much, Anders?
“I just met him yesterday, actually. Always nice to meet new people.”
I put some music on the radio as a cue that it’s fine to travel in silence.
“Again, Dorothy, I’m sorry if I offended you.”
“No worries, Anders. I was just having a conversation with a student yesterday about the pressures of young women to find someone. And the challenges they face if they are actively trying to find a mate or ambivalent about the entire social construct.”
“I don’t know how it is in Norway, but in America, until the 50s or 60s, it was sort of expected that women would be teachers or secretaries or flight attendants until they got married and had babies. Which was what most people considered succeeding for a woman. Then Betty Friedan came out with The Feminine Mystique and feminism kind of took off…I’m oversimplifying here, but, gradually, over the past 30 or 40 years, being married and having children is no longer the main measure of success for women. We’re getting to the point where we get to create our own success, and that can be with our without a partner.”
“I think I follow.”
“Anyway, enough about me. Tell me more about you. It’s a long car ride.”
Anders proceeds to tell me the long, drawn out history of his origin. It is actually pretty boring. Much more boring and prosaic than I had thought. I zone out more than once and think about what Jamie would look like with this shirt off.
We continue our sojourn to the U of M. We arrive with plenty of time to spare and locate the classroom in which the lecture will be held.
The room seats about 50. There is a very spry-looking woman in her seventies with blonde-grey hair in the shape of a helmet. Anders immediately goes over to her and starts speaking in Norwegian. I close my eyes and it sounds like the Swedish Chef from the Muppets and his mother exchanging recipes.
I leave them and choose a set about halfway back. I take my phone out of my purse and make sure it’s on silent. There is a new message from Jamie.
“How would you put it to good use…?”
Hmmm. Now I have to up the ante. Be coy, but daring. Confident, but authentic in my response.
“For sending Shakespearean sonnets, perchance? :-)”
This is a little cutesy, but it will do. It will keep the game going.
Anders comes back to sit with me. He is beaming like a small child given inordinate amounts of candy.
The lecture starts. It is informative and mildly entertaining. Anders asks a lot of obscure historical questions, which makes the lecture go a full 45 minutes longer than planned. By the time the small crowd starts to filer out, it’s almost 5.
We have almost made it out the door, when I hear Anders say:
“Professor Rosholt, would you do us the honor of joining us for dinner? We would love to have you and to have the opportunity to continue this conversation.”
Really, Anders? Really?
I can’t really say no, because he is paying for dinner. And Professor Rosholt is so excited by the idea of continuing a conversation about Norwegian explorers, it looks like she might just buzz a couple inches off the ground.
I take out my phone from my purse. New message from Jamie:
“Oooh, which sonnet? :-)”
I sigh and type back: “Am being hijacked by Norwegian professors. More later.”