Happy Friday, everyone! Scrolling through my Facebook feed, I saw that it is National Cousins Day and National Tequila Day (yay!!), so I thought why not make it Surprise Chapter Post Day since I have been off the grid for awhile! This will be followed by a Chapter 9 post on Monday! I have a lot of writerly posts lined up for next week–including a review of an absolutely incredible literary fiction book I just finished–so stay tuned next week for blog filled excitement, and hopefully Chapter 8 makes your Friday an even sweeter end to the week.
Runey stood and watched Mara retreat up the hill for a few seconds, then jogged back toward Design Block A, and back down the steps to Studio 76 to do some damage control. He opened the door slowly and saw Vance and Elba engrossed in conversation just as he had left them; Elba was laughing heartily with Vance and giving him a look of glowing admiration—at least someone’s charms have worked their magic today, Runey thought. He also hoped the friendliness between Elba and Vance would stay just that—friendship—as he knew his plans for the group and particularly for Mara would work best if each other member was a separate unit, a pawn so to speak, for him to use to his advantage. As he stepped further into the room Elba and Vance finally noticed his presence. “We didn’t expect to see you back. What happened to her?” Vance asked, concerned.
“Well, I caught up and talked to her. Long story short she has an important deadline, and needed to get to work on it. Already cleared and ok with the profs. Guess we are going to have to learn to work around the mysteries of the Science Department. Since it didn’t take me very long to talk to her, I figured I would come back and finish the meeting out with you guys,” Runey explained with a smile and a shrug.
“Hopefully we get to know her more next time,” Vance said heartily, “Is she going to have drinks with us this weekend?”
Runey recalled the cold demeanor Mara presented so far as an overwhelming whole and laughed as he said, “Vance, I highly doubt that is going to happen, but I wouldn’t worry about it too much. I think she will come around, eventually. Now, let’s just hang out and take advantage of the fact classes have been cancelled for the day!” With that, the three sat around the table in the messy studio exchanging stories and telling jokes at the same moment as Mara was coming to her horrible discovery in her lab far across campus.
The group meeting broke up around four o’clock, and Runey realized he was glad to finally have some solitude. His emotions were getting ragged around the edges, and he was starting to become acutely aware that he wouldn’t have Jules to curl up with in his dorm bed and discuss the events of the day. He sighed and laid his head down on the studio table, unlike Mara, not worried about its state of cleanliness. His mind lazily drifted back to a montage of times with Juleia—sketchbooks open, laying side by side on the grass by the lake in the sun; the time they had snuck onto the roof of the dormitories huddled in blankets and sat under the stars; even the littler moments that he usually passed over flashed in his mind in perfect clarity. This has got to stop, he realized. The solution to the problem was insanely simple to explain, but infinitely hard to implement—every time my mind wants to think about Juleia, I must think about Mara instead. Painfully, slowly, he began to try the new process. Juleia and the sketchbooks in the golden light was replaced by the light ring of gold on the outer edge of Mara’s green iris when he caught her staring at him a fraction of a second too long. The night of the blankets and stars was replaced with the deep night-black of Mara’s hair.
Runey figured the task would get even easier when he had more experiences than just physical appearance to go off of; after all, she had not given him much opportunity for character exploration today. However, even though she had tried to be stand offish, Runey realized that he had gotten to learn quite a bit about her. Certainly he could see an overwhelming sense of dedication in her; whatever her project in Science was, she made it very clear to the group today that it was more important than them. Even though she had been rude, she had stuck to what she thought was important—that showed determination, loyalty and a brutal streak of honesty. Runey suddenly realized how much he liked those qualities. He also liked that it had taken his brain so long to process and uncover those traits about her. She is a challenge, and I like challenges. However, the other side of his ever-ticking mind sensed that her inscrutable nature might inhibit his mission to make her fall in love with him. He shook that thought away; just letting his mind delve the mystery that was Mara had blotted out all pain associated with Juleia, and that was more valuable to him than any worries about the easiness of the mission. After all, if there was one thing Runey wasn’t afraid of, it was a challenge.
The sun was setting as Runey finally ended his musings in Studio 76. The atrium of Design Block A was empty, and he assumed all the students were now in the mess hall. He did not relish the idea of running into Juleia in the cafeteria, so he walked across the foyer of Block A, past the rainbow staircase to a grouping of various sized purple sofas and bleached wood tables. Vending machines lined the back wall, and Runey purchased a sandwich and chips from one, and an iced tea from another. He sprawled out on one of the sofas to eat his meal as the light through the glass wall faded and the interior lights automatically powered on, casting a warm, artificial glow over the lobby. As he ate, Runey continued his exercises in thinking of Mara, not Juleia. Then his late night with the Professor and slight hangover caught up with him and he dozed off dreaming of green eyes and deeply held secrets.
When he awoke, it was pitch black outside the windows. He wondered how long he had been sleeping and checked his phone clock. 9:30 PM. He needed to get back to his dorm and call it a night. He unlocked his phone and keyed a quick message to the same girl friend who had taken Juleia down to the Campus Green that morning, “Jules all good and in her room?” He gathered up the wrappers and trash from his supper as he waited for the response. It didn’t take long before his phone buzzed and he read, ”Yeah, she’s in her dorm. I wouldn’t call her ‘all good’ though. What happened between you two??” Runey pocketed the phone without replying; clearly Juleia had chosen not to divulge the details of her and Runey’s break up, and Runey was not about to help her friends gain gossip she had not wanted aired. Satisfied that Juleia was securely out of his way, he headed out of Block A and walked the short distance to his dormitory.
The dormitory for Design students, or Block D, as it was simply called, was an unremarkable up and down structure with the only aesthetic accents being the multi-colored windows. Runey had always thought it rather ironic that aesthetically-minded Design students should live in a building which was so banal to the eye. However, tonight he did not give it much thought as he pushed through the glass doors into the rather shabby dorm lobby which boasted nondescript gray linoleum floors and dilapidated old couches which looked suspiciously secondhand. At the front desk a tired looking student with a greasy mohawk hairdo and three thick lip rings sketched intently on a pad, headphones deep in his ears, totally disinterested in who came in and out the front door. Runey gave a compulsory nod to the unwatchful warden of the front lobby and opted for the stairs rather than the elevator. As he made his way up the terra cotta colored tile stairs, he began to hatch the formulations of a plan to see Mara again. With each step he took up the stairs, he listed in his head another step he needed to take to ensure the success of his mission.
First step, communicate with her; send her a message. I have her contact information since we are all in a group together now, so I can message her and ask to meet, he thought. Runey was sure Mara would ignore or reject this contact, but he refused to stop there. If she refuses to see me, I will go find her, he decided. The point was he needed to establish contact—persistence was key, and if he succeeded, he felt sure she would start to warm to his charms. Once I do finally get her one-on-one, I need to play it very casual, and above all appear extremely interested in her work—but not so interested as to cause suspicion. Runey resolved to be a Mara-enthusiast, feeding her with compliments and support until she trusted him enough to tell him the secrets of her work on her own volition. Aside from this fawning tactic, Runey had a strong suspicion the girl was in need of a friend; her independent attitude she had exhibited today showed that she was used to going through life solo. Even the most independent person, however, craved a confidant—Runey was going to get close enough to be the confidant Mara didn’t even know she needed.
His musings had brought him up to his ninth floor level. He was satisfied with the plan and resolved to message Mara first thing in the morning, feeling it was better to give her a bit of space before he butted into her life again. Shuffling through his pocket for his keys, he felt another twitch of annoyance—the Design dormitory wasn’t even important enough to warrant keyless entries like every other room on campus. Finally he found the key, a relic of the past, and was inserting it into the door of room number 906 where he called home, when suddenly she was there. Her hair was lank and unkempt and her eyes and nose were red and puffy from crying—it was Juleia. Runey cursed vehemently, then quickly twisted the key, jammed the door open, grabbed Juleia’s arm and forced her inside. He glanced left and right in the hallway to make sure no one had seen them, cursing under his breath and hoping the two security cameras at each end of the hall had not managed to capture the scene. If they did, the Professor would uncover the situation, and at the very least it would discredit Runey and his dedication to his new assignment. But he knew there were eyes and ears everywhere in this old building, with students stacked on top of each other, crowded and milling for gossip—the Professor would find out.
Runey was infuriated, yet a flaming comet of excitement surged through his body unexpectedly. He hurriedly came through the door of his room and twisted the lock. Juleia sat miserably on his bed, biting at her tiny gold lip ring nervously. Runey looked at her with a pained expression, “Jules, you know you can’t do this…” he said in a voice that was both soft and firm.
“I know. I just…needed to see you. I needed to,” Juleia collapsed into sobs that wracked her whole body, burying her face in her hands as she shook with sadness. Runey couldn’t take it anymore, he was at her side in an instant, his strong arms were wrapped around her; Juleia’s sobs at first got even louder as he took her in his arms, but then they lessened and quieted to a mere tremor, as he knew they would. He felt her body loosen into him, seeming to conform to his shape; then her hands were around him, running their way down his back, sliding under his dark green t-shirt insistently. He let her continue, even though a voice in the back of his mind—the voice he had been training all day to take over, to replace thoughts of Juleia with thoughts of Mara, to create a plan and stick to it—screamed at him to stop immediately. Juleia leaned up and kissed him, and all other voices in his head were drowned out as he tugged off her shirt and kissed her back as he pushed her down onto the bed.
Later, they lay in bed talking, just as they always had every night. “So how was your group today?” Runey asked her, pushing a strand of brown hair off her face.
“Ha, terrible; I was too upset to pay attention to any of it. It’s me and two other chicks, from Politics and Science; and then one guy from Tech. I don’t know whether to feel bad for the guy or whether he is lucky. The girl from Politics is pretty stuck up and bitchy, but the girl from Science seems nice—and is perfect ten gorgeous, of course,” Juleia said.
“Really? The Science girl was nice?” Runey said, laughing to himself as he remembered Mara’s venomous words on the hill about what a waste of time the group meeting was.
Juleia immediately perked with interest, sensing that Runey was comparing the girl from Science in her group with the girl from Science who had caused them so much trouble, “Yeah, she seemed really excited about getting a chance to work with other people; they don’t get out much up there on that hill,” Juleia said, then added in an overly casual voice, “What about your girl from Science?”
Runey tensed; he could sense the danger note both from Juleia’s exaggerated casual manner and from the emphasis on the word “your;” he needed to pick his next words carefully. “Well, she seemed very into her research or whatever,” he said lamely, sensing that banality was his best defense.
Juleia rolled her eyes, “Fine, Runey, don’t tell me anything about her. Whatever, I guess I shouldn’t care about the girl who’s going to replace me,” she huffed and turned her back to him.
Runey groaned, rolling over onto his back and putting his hands on his head. This was a classic Juleia move; a certain level of passive aggressive behavior coupled with her resistance to let go of an issue—it always led to a fight unless Runey very carefully maneuvered his way through the choppy waters. He was mentally exhausted from this day, but that very fact gave him inspiration he hoped might save him from Juleia’s impending storm, “Look Jules, today was the worst day of my life; I love you, but I have been told I have to live without you. Today wasn’t about anyone but you and me; I know the Professor has a task he wants me to accomplish, but today nothing was possible because all I could think of was you. Do you know I woke up this morning and it actually felt uncomfortable to be alone in bed? Even though I always used to tease you and complain there wasn’t enough room for two in here. Every place I walked today, everything I saw reminded me of some memory of you, and each time I felt a throb of pain in the empty place you used to fill. So let’s not talk about the girl from Science or anyone else, because today there has been no one else, it has been all you. And you’re here now, so come here and be with me in this moment,” Runey whispered, feeling only slightly guilty—it hadn’t been all lies; he had learned over the years that an embellished form of the truth was very effective in certain cases. And it was effective in this case; Juleia turned back over towards him and wrapped herself around him. Runey pulled her towards him and once again he was lost to Juleia—the cinnamon mint of her breath, the floral musk of her hair, the way her tiny lip ring pushed against him as they kissed. Thus, he didn’t hear the volley of pings and beeps emanating insistently from his phone; all thoughts of plans, of Mara from Science—even of the next morning—were erased from his mind.