29 May 2008

peeling oranges, part 1

It all started with peeling oranges.

there was something about the smell of navel oranges from across a crowded cafeteria. that initial burst of juicy scent, full of citric acid and musty freshness, grabbed Katrina every time. it smelled like Christmas to her, when she and her brother would always find a plump navel orange in the bottom of their stockings. some old tradition her mother kept; she wasn’t sure where it came from or how long they’d been practicing it, or what significance it was supposed to hold. but anytime she walked into a cafeteria and anyone had an orange, she instantly knew, and she had to remind herself that it was not acceptable to find the person in possession of the elusive fruit and ask for a slice.

it wasn’t even that she liked Christmas, so much.

the lounge in the biology building was almost big enough to be considered a cafeteria. especially at lunchtime, when it was full of so many people that you couldn’t always see your friend waving from the other side of the room. and somebody always had a fresh orange when Katrina was there for lunch, and she was determined to figure out who.

it didn’t take long. he wasn’t the sort of person you expected to find in the biology building, she thought. he had long, dark hair, and he wore a trenchcoat for most of the year. she probably would have given him a wide berth in the halls of her high school, for fear of the Columbine-like tragedy that she’d been raised to expect and deter, where possible. she never would have picked on him—never would have spoken to him, in fact, largely for fear of saying the wrong thing. she hoped that now that he was in college, he might be a bit more stable. of course, that required the assumption that he had been unstable in high school, and even to make that assumption was unfair, and—she’d better stop before her politically correct imagination ran away with her.

but the thing that caught her attention more than any other attribute of this seemingly incongruous citizen of the biology lounge was that his fingernails were, without a doubt, longer than her own. Katrina wasn’t one of those girls who went out for a manicure on a regular basis, had never had fake nails and didn’t plan to, but she didn’t bite her nails either. they looked neat; all were a uniform length, and she clipped them before they started to bother her. but this boy—assuming he was trying to look like a boy, which she knew she had no real right to assume, but did anyway—let his nails grow until they broke, or so it appeared. one more reason why he didn’t look like he belonged in the biology building—didn’t they ever get in the way during labs?—but they were perfect for peeling oranges.

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