On the way out I wrapped myself in despair as thick and soft as a cashmere coat. I had the coat, too, a velvety job custom-tailored overseas in Hong Kong. It was like wearing a grey herringbone cloud. I couldn't afford it on what I made; and then again, maybe that was the whole point. Outside of the daily grind of my job, I took every effort to appear as elegant and refined as possible. If I had to subsist on bread and cheese for a week to afford a bespoke suit or a pair of English-made boots, I would do it.
But beneath the clothes I found myself drifting aimlessly. I once spent an hour sitting on a stone balcony staring vacantly out at nothing, not asleep but not awake, until I suddenly snapped out of my stasis. A dispassionate feeling of not caring about anything had crept over me and trapped me beneath it. Like a beetle in amber I could see myself struggling to move and slowly giving up.
I departed the bus and walked quickly through the stiff breeze, staring up at the Citgo sign, now glaring down at me. This part of Boston was grim and dirty, and I kept my head down and walked forward through the overpasses and the colonies of the homeless around the ATM booths. It had begun to rain now, and the drops fell in streams around me in the silver lamplight. My umbrella leaned on my shoulder without much conviction – I wasn't sure if umbrellas represented an elegant stylistic touch or a foppish, almost effete affectation. It was probably too much thought to put into such a minor detail anyways. So I waited with my umbrella, leaning against the doorway and trying to look inconspicuous.
To get into my girlfriend's dorm, I had to check through a security point run by bored, irritable campus police. It made me feel like a burglar or a rapist, as if I was a paroled felon who can't vote, drive, or visit his girl-friend. On an all-girls campus, I was the intruder, an alien element in the neatly paved, trimmed and tailored walkways of Simmons College. It couldn't have been more different from where I lived - all traditional Boston red-brick, old ivy and manicured lawns. This was what a college was supposed to look like.
I found myself wondering what sort of school the Finn had gone to. In my mind, European campuses all looked like Oxford or Cambridge or Hogwarts from Harry Potter: elegant and stately arches, bell-towers and grand halls and stuffy headmasters with antique studies. What would a Finnish college be like? Perpetually drenched in snow, surely – that was the only way I could envision the country. Perhaps they sleighed to class, or skied. I couldn't see a Scandinavian landscape that didn't involve those elements.
The academic paradises of Boston seemed blasé to me, with familiarity divorced from contempt. Harvard Yard was like comfort food – known, remembered, and somehow separate from the school that had rejected me. I could sit in the Yard and reminisce or philosophize without feeling envy towards those who the Yard really belonged to. Maybe the Finn had gone to Harvard. It would explain his presence in my slumbering little suburb.
She poked her head out from behind the door and nudged me, her hair falling like a damp picture frame around her face – from the rain or from a shower I didn't know. She was wearing a long white coat belted around the waist that made it look as if she was wearing nothing underneath.
“Hey, babe.” For such a short girl, her voice was always surprisingly deep and throaty.
“Hey,” I said, giving her a quick kiss and a glance sideways at the police. “Let's get inside, OK?”