Men clustered impatient just outside the door; the way men wait, knocking against each other’s shoulders and pretending to consult their watches. Corso saw me and tried ridding himself of G-Rad and Zane. “Out, out, damned spots. I’ve got places to go and people” — heavy emphasis, actually leering at me – “ to see.” They scuttled away, the scuttlefish. Uh oh. I should have waited for the girl-pack.
Corso pinned me to the wall with his big shoulder, saying, “I think we have something to discuss. No?” He played his game of smiling at me so intensely I would blush. But somehow I felt past it now. Is it official? What quid pro quo-less universe did I visit to make me so brave?
“You’ve got my scarf,” I said. “And I want it back.”
“Of course.” He played with a lock of my hair. “It’s at my place.”
I knew it wasn’t but I couldn’t tell him that. The thought of revisiting the master’s hellhole made my heart sink lower than my stilettos. I felt his mind boring into me, like the Bo we’d just talked about, like Bex, recognizing my resistance, trying to master me, countering my objections.
He looked down at me sleepily, eyelids drooping, as if it was naptime, as if he had hypnotized himself. “I love it when your nostrils flare.”
At that precious, precious moment the men’s locker room opened and Chase, who should have been long-gone, emerged. Maybe the word should be “sashayed”. He timed it perfectly.
“No can do,” said Chase, inserting himself gracefully between us and prying me out of my corner, “We’re late already.” He locked his arm around me so we stood together.
“I advising my advisee on her dream-sickness problem,” said Corso. “And you need to leave the premises before I call security.”
”Call insecurity for all we care,” said Chase. “We’re outta here. Jazz needs my help in chemistry, She has a chemical imbalance.”
“Chemistry is not one of Miss Suzino’s classes,” said Mr. Know-It- All; but I interrupted, “Marketing. Chase is helping me with my marketing class. The chemical imbalance is that I’m starving. We’re getting lunch.”
“Mr. Quinn knows nothing about marketing,” Corso blathered. “If you wish to know about effective presentation and artful design you should come to me.” Impotently he snapped his jaws. It was as good as giving up.
“Marketing’s just about representing, right?” queried Chase, pulling me smoothly away. Bemused, I allowed myself to relax into him. Even when he’s all over the place it’s so much fun watching him fight my battles for me. “And imposture. I rule at that.”
Arm in arm, Koo and Soliz crashed into Corso as they stepped out of the ladies’, embroiling him in their discussion about the impossibility of boyfriends. But if looks could kill.
We left Corso staring over their heads, after us, as if he could send his thoughts outside his body. I shivered.
But we were hardly to the stairs before I boiled over from the effort of trying to keep our universes straight. “Marketing is not about imposture,” I snapped.
“And your dream-sickness problem,” he challenged, but still pulling me down the stairs. Away from danger. “What’s that about?”
Both our boilers blew. “You know an awful lot about lying,” I accused. “You lied about Nurse Howk.”
Outside the icy drizzle continued; sparkling sleet sharpened to points when struck by light. I welcomed the sting on skin. This is real. In soul travel you step between the sleet. It doesn’t sting.
We sheltered temporarily under the portico, mistrustful but yearning, trying to come together. He was looking at me with a funny expression.
“How would you know?” “Because I was there.”
His eyes pulled down with sadness and he pushed his face so close I thought he might kiss me again. “Was it really you? You know when you’re dying your wishes become so powerful…you heard what Corso said about the oxygen-starved brain.”
“I was there. You chose me. You took my hand and said, “We’ve got to get out of here.” Why did you tell Corso that lie? Why choose me?” What I really wanted to know was, who kidnapped who?
Chase backed away again. Somehow I was losing him. I saw him consider bluffing his way out.
“You can’t ever tell Corso the truth because he’ll mind-trick. Hit’s like you’re a mountain and he’s climbing you, if you tell him the truth you’re giving him footholds. Handholds. Lying’s a vital life skill. I’ll teach you if you’re willing to learn.“
“I’m not willing to learn,” I said huffily, unwilling to accept the imposture of his player self, unwilling to let him go. I was holding both his hands so tightly my fingers twined around the leather band. Worked free the snap. Gasped when I saw what I’d exposed.
“There’s a sore under here! It’s bad.” I felt he knew something I didn’t; that the game was much more dangerous. Didn’t the swamis cultivate sores so they could tell the difference between spirit and flesh?
He tried pulling his hands away. “It’s to keep me awake. To remind me of all my bad choices.”
To punish him, more like. I saw my turn to rescue him. “We’re getting antibiotic cream on this right now.” I pushed the leather strap into my peacoat pocket and dragged him towards the student health center. He didn’t resist.
“At least now it’s clear,” he said. “You’re kidnapping me.”
I know I didn’t say my kidnapping thing out loud. Coincidence? A psychic moment? Or…and this is the answer I wanted to believe, once we had been inside each other’s minds we could do it again. I nudged him excitedly. “Corso’s experiment worked. We were really there! Don’t you remember?”
He tried stopping me in our flight. I saw him want to kiss me then decide against it. “Don’t you have to have a soul to soul travel?” he asked me.
Out here on the quad I felt Bex’s eyes everywhere. I couldn’t tell whether I was psychic or paranoid but I was not free of Bex. I knew Bex was determined to make me feel that way; well, he was succeeding.
“Do you remember the basement?” I hissed at Chase as we lumped along, unable to catch the rhythm we’d mastered in soul travel, “At the foot of the stairs I fell over a body. I think it was the psychology building. We need to go look and see if it’ s there.”
“That wasn’t the psychology building,” he said. He did remember. “Well then, where were we?”
He shrugged. “Some between world. The place where the soul-less grab the incoming souls.”
My map calls that “purgatory”.
We had arrived at the student health center. Braced myself for running into Howk. I hadn’t believed her when she said “a mañana”. Who was psychic there? But guess what? Not only was her door closed, it was padlocked.
“That’s different,” I said out loud. Staring.A short, round-faced black woman in the colorful smock bustled into the hall and followed the direction of my gaze.
“Oh, that’s common procedure when we lose a key. We have a locksmith on call for Monday.” She looked us up and down with ripe and somewhat prurient contempt, like couples are the worst. God knows what she thought we wanted. “Now what can I do for the two of you?”
“Where’s Miss Howk?” asked Chase.
Her face got worse, if anything. Hardened. “That’s what everyone wants to know,” she spat. “She’s AWOL. Missed two shifts and can consider her ass fired. How come you need to see her specially?” Her shoulder badge identified her as M. Jolonda, RN and she was gazing at us as if Howk was our drug dealer. I thought it politic to backtrack.
“It just that…um…we’re in Dr. Corso’s research project and we were told to ask for her. Billing, or something.”
Jolonda snorted as if watching a particularly unlikely movie.
“I can’t help you with that. She took all her files.”
Corso’s very name was like an evil incantation. Better start at the beginning. “We’re only looking for antibiotic cream.” I offered up Chase’s wrist.
Jolonda seemed like someone with an innate distaste for flesh, which was certainly not Howk’s problem. It was a disgusting sore, but I would expect a nurse to keep some cool. I could feel Chase’s urgency to get out of there so I helped Jolonda bandage it to hustle her along.
“If you see Nurse Howk, tell her to get in touch,” Jolonda hollered after us. “Remind her; we’ve got something of hers and she’s got something of ours.”
Isn’t that always true? It’s like the basis of every bad relationship, a sort of blackmail. But what could I possibly have that was Bex’s? What could I give back to make him go? Feeling my mind close to him, on the steps of the health center, Chase eyed me speculatively.
At that exact moment Bex stepped out from behind a tree and snapped our picture.