Chapter 6: Alicia flings a watermelon wedge and finds a friend

Alicia was having the most interesting morning.

It was late August, and the days were already starting to have that slight hint of a chill in the morning that reminded her that the school year was just around the corner. She’d woken up in the little hotel room she was occupying for a week at the Visitor’s Inn, near McMaster University. After a quick breakfast of two croissants, an espresso macchiato and two rather large wedges of watermelon that she cut in many little triangles and arranged on her plate like site on a tourist map. She imagined the streets that she would walk through, as she looked for an apartment in Hamilton today and arranged the watermelon triangles on the plates, which was decorate with rather gaudy images of day-lilies and marigolds, to match the tourist map she’d marked up when looking for apartments on the Internet with her mother the night before she left home. She ate them one by one, in the order that she expected to conduct her search that day.

“Now that’s an odd way of planning your day, isn’t it?” came a voice from right. She was so startled, that jumped and literally flung one of the piece of watermelon across the room – she watched in horror as it arced through the air and landed on an elderly gentleman’s jacket lapel. Alicia wasn’t sure what to do – what does one do when one has inadvertently adorned the lapel of another with a bit of watermelon? Is it proper to alert the person that you’ve visited this indignity upon him? Or is it better to just let him discover it on his own and come to his own conclusions about it? She reflected that this would probably be better for her, saving her embarrassment and possible reproach, but it might also make this elegant elderly gentleman think that he’d lost his marbles, that he was spilling watermelon on himself and not noticing. Alicia was seriously conflicted.

“If you’re wondering what to do, I wouldn’t tell him,” spoke the voice again. “You’ll just freak him out and, you know, it’ll probably be hardly noticeable once it falls off in a minute or two.” Alicia spun around to see who it was that was brazenly offering her unsolicited advice. She found two her left, a fair-haired boy, or young man really, perhaps, who was sitting with one leg folded over the other, wearing faded blue jeans, white sneakers and a grey t-shirt with a McMaster logo in the middle. He had a broad face with very blue eyes and golden locks, there was something impish about him. She trusted him instinctively. “Do you think so?” She asked, her own eyes wide and focused. “Definitely. And if I were you, I stop staring in that direction, because then you may be discovered! That would be embarrassing.”

This seemed reasonable to her and, so focused back on her watermelon. This unusual-looking young man intrigued her and there was something kind and welcoming in his voice. She decided that she trusted him, at least enough to ask him his name. “Lars,” he answered with a purposeful nod, then looked down for a moment at his plate and then asked her, “And yours?” “Oh, it’s Alicia. But most people call me Alli. My mother says its prettier.” She was mortified. What would this young man think of a girl who invokes her mother’s taste on anything? How terribly gauche. She blushed.

“Well, I think she’s right,” Lars said smiling mischievously. “It becomes you.” He let the compliment hang there, in the air, and she was unsure how to respond. “I guess so – I’m used to it, and that’s what most important. Why are you here? Are you a student at Mac too? Are you just starting out?”

“I am a student, Alli.” replied Lars. “But I am not just starting out – I am a grad student.”

Alli wasn’t sure what a grad student was, but she didn’t want to seem ignorant, so she asked, “Oh, I see. A grad student of what?” She was proud of herself. This seemed a very good discursive move. Let’s see how he would move his pieces on the chessboard of their conversation now! But he dropped all pretence and said earnestly, with an open face that showed her that he had pleasantly symmetrical features and that his nose moved slightly up and down as he spoke. She noticed that he articulated his words carefully – maybe the exaggerated use of his oral muscles caused it. Alli often noticed little things about people. In fact, she often noticed many things that others missed.

“I am just starting my Master’s degree in Classics, Alli. I finished my B.A. in history and Classics at the University of Victoria, in B.C. and I am coming here to work with Professor Alaster on his new translation of Plato’s Republic. I am really excited. This is my first day here. In fact, I have my first real meeting with him in… oh no! It’s in twenty minutes. I am sorry, Alli, I have to run! Will you be here for dinner? If so, I will… if you are, well, then, see you then!”

And he got up, hitting his knee rather sharply against table, spending a brief moment rubbing it and then bounding out of the dining room and out of sight. Alli was a little surprised by both his sudden candour and the alacrity of his exit. But she liked him – he was a little odd and seemed completely unthreatening. She decided that if the timing worked, she’d try and get back to the Visitor’s Inn for dinner so that she might have a little company for she really didn’t like eating dinner alone.

She quickly wolfed down the rest of the watermelon and then set out into the bright sun to look for her first flat on her own, or maybe with flat-mates. That would have to be determined – she wasn’t sure about flatmates. She’d read stories about rowdy flatmates who partied late into the night and callously kept studious people, like herself, away from their books. She didn’t want that sort of flatmate – she wasn’t sure what she would do? Assert herself? Or just retreat to a café read there in glorious exile. In any case, rowdy flatmates just wouldn’t do. Quiet, cultured flatmates, however, who enjoyed going out to party now and again – now that could not only be tolerated, but was an exciting prospect. And Alli really didn’t like eating alone.

She gathered her things and stuffed them into her black messenger bag and strode hopefully into brilliant morning sunlight, her blonde hair tucked under her favourite cap and flowing about her shoulders, catching the light.

Her apartment-finding adventure had begun.



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