Jordan peeled the orange slowly, savoring its fresh, citrusy smell. She was in the stacks of the library, her books and papers spread over the desk like peanut butter on toast. She had made sure to arrive at the graduate library early enough to secure one of the small study rooms lined up in a row on the third floor. There were only eight of the pantry-size rooms so she was lucky to find one empty, even this early. The quiet within one was complete and Jordan’s mind automatically shifted into scholar mode whenever she sat at the desk. She usually stayed for hours, churning through the work. But for some reason, today was different.
Jordan had set her alarm for 7:00 a.m. and had trudged the mile from her rental through the campus and past the dorms and the fraternities that morning. It was Sunday and all around was quiet and still. She could smell the bread and bagels baking at the Donut Hole, the only hub of real activity so early on a weekend. Most undergrads were sleeping off their night of partying or just sleeping in, period. The others Jordan saw walking on campus that morning were likely graduate students like her, and their party days and undergrad classes were years ago. It was serious business – getting a PhD. The competition was high and the courses tough and the idea of college as fun was all over. Graduate school was a job; a brutal, exhausting, do-or-die job.
She walked up the steps of library and waved at an acquaintance from her gross anatomy lab but didn’t stop to chat. She had much to do to be ready for the exam the next day. Still, once Jordan unloaded her bag and sat down at the desk in the small study rom, she couldn’t focus. After 15 minutes of shuffling and moving her books and notes and pens around, she began to peel the orange, its heady smell enveloping her completely.
And then she thought of him.
Jordan had met Charlie before but years ago and nothing special had clicked between them. Perhaps she had been in a relationship at the time, or he had been hanging with the guys. This time, however, as she and Meg walked down the cool sand towards the bonfire last night, she spotted him immediately. He was at a nearby table whipping together what turned out be an amazing crab dish. She watched him slice and fry and throw spices and vegetables and things she didn’t recognize into a big black pot. His hands moved so quickly; it was like a musician coaxing the sweetest song he could from an instrument. After just a few moments, Jordan was completely enthralled and continued to watch Charlie as he finished up the prep of the food and then placed the pot on the grate over the fire. He finished it off with a spritz of orange.
Jordan shouldn’t have even gone to the beach last night, but Meg had insisted, telling her that her head would explode if she studied anymore. Besides, Meg said, Jordan was getting too skinny and there would be a guy who was in culinary school at the bonfire who was cooking for the gang. Normally she could brush Meg off like a crumb on her lapel but her defenses were down and before she knew it she’d said yes.
It was late September and while the sun was out over the water, the breeze was chilly that night. Jordan had brought a bulky sweater but soon her shoes and sweater were tossed to the side and she was diving in the sand for the volleyball and drinking ginger beer on the sidelines. She had forgotten how good it felt to relax, to laugh, to be among friends. Her life over the last year had been all about school but now, in the midst of beach and the smell of good food, she realized how starved she had been for life.
Charlie was playing on her side during the volleyball game and she swore she could feel his warmth next to her. But that was silly, wasn’t it? Still, she felt his nearness and he smelled delicious, like the spices he cooked with. Was it bay leaves? Rosemary? Corriander?
Later sitting next to him on one of the three picnic tables the gang had pushed together, she felt happy and light. She was noshing on the crab and saffron rice and jambalaya Charlie had whipped up and thought she had never tasted anything so wonderful. The flavors were both subtle and dramatic; specific tastes were highlighted at first and then others came to the forefront as you chewed and swallowed the food. It was orgasmic.
Jordan laughed and drank and ate way too much at the bonfire. She hadn’t felt that full in a year; not since she and Meg had celebrated the end of their first year classes and threw together a Mexican feast to die for.
Jordan shook her head slightly, trying to release herself from the memory of last night. She plopped a slice of orange in her mouth and bit down releasing the sweet juice. It was time to think about anatomy, she knew, and Jordan opened her notebook and stared at her notes for a few minutes watching the words move around the page like a blender combining separate ingredients into a meaningful something. She knew it was kind of hopeless, though – she was still so full of him, of his food, of his magic – but her mind told her to keep studying. There’s no way she could blow off an entire Sunday just to see him again; to head to the concert downtown where he’d be; to relish in the street food of Octoberfest… brats, pretzels, beer. To relish in him. Her stomach growled and her chest tightened as she thought of him.
Jordan chewed on another slice of orange. There was a light knock on the door and it startled her. Her head was swimming and for a fleeting moment she thought with certainty that Charlie was at the door. But of course that would be crazy. She only told him she was studying today, not studying at the grad library on floor three behind the stacks in the small, private cubes.
She opened the door to the study room. A campus policeman stood on the other side, glaring down at her.
“There’s no eating in the library,” he said.
“Oh,” she said, embarrassed, “sorry.” Jordan pushed the orange into her bag.
“You have to leave, now” the cop told her.
“What?” she asked incredulously. “I didn’t steal a book or anything if that’s what you think.”
“No, that’s not it. Listen, we don’t really care about eating in the library but when we get a complaint, we have to reinforce it. And an orange? Really?” he raised his eyebrows at me. “An orange is probably the worst thing to eat in a library. The fragrance is everywhere. One of the students complained saying it was too distracting.”
Of course, Jordan thought. The smell was distracting, it was vibrant and fresh and so very, very appealing. And suddenly she found herself famished, again. She packed up her belongings and walked with the campus cop to the door and out of the library and headed directly to the concert downtown and Charlie.