Melissa followed most of her colleagues out of the front door. Only Dr. Gonzalez and the office manager Lian remained behind. They always worked a few minutes later than the rest of the staff, and locked up when the paperwork and computers were put down for the night. She remained on the stoop, scanning the parking lot.
“You’re getting picked up?” Gina asked with a perky smile. Everything about Gina was perky, annoyingly perky.
Melissa nodded. “Sure am.”
“Date?” Gina asked, a wicked grin on her face.
“No,” Melissa said quietly. “My car’s in the shop.” She tried to not begrudge her attitude. If Melissa looked like her colleague, maybe she’d have a date more often than she had a birthday. But the odds were good that Gina was not a computer geek, comic book fan and avid gamer, all of which described Melissa.
“So who is coming to get you?”
“My friend Kenny.”
“The guy you live with?”
Melissa nodded, and looked past Gina to the entrance to the parking area. “Right. Kenny.”
“But he’s not your boyfriend?”
They had been over this more than once, but either Gina didn’t get it, or she just couldn’t believe it. “No, he’s not my boyfriend.”
“And you don’t sleep with him?” Gina asked, seeming to wonder how this could possibly be true.
Melissa shook her head. Kenny, please get here, and make it fast.
“And you’ve never slept with him.” Something just did not compute in her own brain about this concept.
This was getting old. “Because we’re friends.” Why was this such a hard concept for people to grab hold of? She wondered if Kenny had to face the same grilling from his friends. Probably, but they were all typical loser guys, what could you expect?
“Friends, without benefits?”
“Right.” They’re were plenty of benefits of living with your best friend, someone you’ve known for more than a decade, someone you’ve grown up with and dearly love. But these were way too hard to explain to people you barely knew, people you were speaking with on the curb, waiting to be picked up after work.
Gina shook her head, and mercifully took off towards her car. Melissa craned her neck again and scanned the entire lot. Nothing. Where was Kenny?
Kenny slumped into the elevator and forgot for a few seconds to push a button. Coming back to himself, he pushed “1” and watched the doors slide seamlessly together. Cameron had given him some things to think about? What exactly was he running from? Nothing that he knew of; as a matter of fact, he fancied himself as confronting his past just by continuing to see Cameron and talk things out. These things she was saying, this challenge she was issuing, Kenny had to take seriously. He had learned to trust his counselor about things like this. The woman had been very perceptive about needing to please his mother at all costs, a thought that was alien to him before beginning these sessions.
The elevator door opened, and Kenny shuffled his way out the door and onto the street. He looked at his watch. There was no reason to; the sessions never let out early and never ran late. It was half past five, which gave him a couple of hours before he really needed to get back home. He turned away from the parking lot and walked up the street. He needed no distraction, no radio, no honking horns, nothing to get in the way of him and his thoughts.
A light breeze blew, but Kenny hardly noticed. Introspection was second nature to him, but dig all he could, wander aimlessly around the campus all he could, he could not come up with anything he was running from. He was beginning to deal with his mother on his own terms, for example, visiting on his own schedule and not allowing himself to wallow in guilt when unable to visit on hers.
Similarly, he had recently gotten serious about the need to select a major and complete the degree requirements. At this point in his college career, Kenny Risinger was “almost graduated,” having accumulated more than enough hours to finish a degree, but not having enough in any one area to qualify for graduation with any particular major. It was funny for the first five years of his studies, being a “lifetime student” but he didn’t want to stay there forever. At some point he would have to leave school with a piece of paper proclaiming him ready to face the real world.
What about his friends? His friends were great – he had known most of them for most of his life. He was fine with them, and they were great with him. And Melissa? No, that was crazy. Melissa was—
Then he remembered her car. He checked his watch. No! He had promised to pick her up as soon as his session with Cameron was over. Kenny set off in a full sprint towards his car, and half a block later was jogging, and by the time he reached it, he was walking and gasping. Taking a few final deep breaths, he jammed the gears into place and sped off after his best friend.