Woodland Hall, Autumn 1981 by Mark Benedict

She kissed him by degrees. Smiling, inching closer, pausing just to torture him, apparently, then zooming in. Her perfume was as stirring as her lips. Afterwards, Will didn’t know what to say. It was a Sunday night and they were standing outside the bar, strangers turned sweethearts. Will blurted that she smelled like meadows. Lisa’s face, lightly freckled, with rabid dark eyes, scrunched in confusion. But then she smiled slyly and removed the green bow from atop her caramel curls and rubbed it against her neck.

“Take it,” Lisa said, pushing the bow into his hand. “Smell me all night, then bring it to campus tomorrow. I’ll find your sweet bod. Even if you hide, I’ll find you.”

The next day was delicious. Will floated from class to class, thrilled and only slightly queasy. He’d never had a steady girlfriend. Did things really move this quickly in college? The answer, clearly, was yes. After all, they had kissed a mere hour after meeting. The day was bright and drizzly. Leaves twirled into soppy grass. He prowled the quad between classes, grinning like a dunce, splashing like a toddler, his eyes searching, his hand tenderly caressing the satiny bow in his jacket pocket. She might be anywhere—around this corner, or behind those trees. Except she never actually was. Shit. After a slimy fish dinner alone in the cafeteria, he slogged the dusky sidewalks back to his dorm.

“She said I couldn’t hide if I tried,” he complained to his roommate Tom as they studied at their desks later that night. “What a joke. I mean, I did the opposite of hide.”

“She probably just got lost,” Tom said. “You’ll see her tomorrow.”

But he didn’t. Not on any other day that week either. On Friday night, grabbing the bow from his nightstand, Will took in its scent one last time—it was fainter now—then stuffed it into the drawer of his study desk. September advanced, gruelingly. He was pre-law, double-majoring in psychology and sociology; weekdays were the library and classes and lunch with Tom in the leafy quad. Weekends were the same, sans class, and with bar breaks. Somehow he found time to apply to the school's future lawyers club, which he badly needed to join. It would be nurturing to have people besides Tom to talk to. Woodland was a freshman study dorm with not much mingling. Calling home was no comfort; his father answered his questions curtly and asked few himself.

“Hey,” Tom said one balmy day as they ate lunch at a picnic table in the quad. “That freaky-eyed brunette over there keeps looking at us. Is that your bow chick?”

It was. She stood under a tree, barrettes in her hair, no bow, nibbling on a stalk of string cheese. Will approached her. Lisa embraced him, smelling as magical as ever, then started speaking glumly. She was sorry that she hadn’t searched for him, she said, but some family matters had come up. Her father was in the grips of some kind of paranoid delusion, he believed that killer reptile people were after him. Psychologists had been consulted but so far hadn’t been able to diagnose him. Else, she said—and her family hadn’t completely ruled this out—there really were killer reptile people, which was, of course, even scarier. Will listened with interest and alarm and skepticism. Could this just be her bizarre way of blowing him off? Killer reptile people was a new one on him, but maybe college girls were creative liars. Except then her freckled, dimpled face careened forward and there began an amazingly caring make-out. Her tongue tasted like greasy string cheese and that made it the more intimate. She caressed his arm, his neck, a warm breeze stirred the tree branches. Breaking off, she hugged him again, then turned to walk away.

“Wait! Can we meet up sometime? I mean, I could get you back your bow—”

“Sweetie, I adore you but I can’t date right now,” she called over her shoulder. “Things are too fucked up. Don’t worry about the bow, I’ve got a dozen of them.”

The rest of the semester passed in a sad blur. In class, Will spoke up brightly, but neither his classmates nor his professors ever responded with any enthusiasm. His name was misspelled on the rejection letter from the future lawyers club. In October, Tom moved out of Woodland Hall and into a frat house. Will felt like a worn-out orphan. His eyes stung from all the reading. Snow fell in early November but soon melted. Leaving the library after having spent the night there studying, Will passed two trenchcoated men in dapper fedoras. Their scaly faces and slithery tails were probably just tricks of exhaustion. When his father called to say he had booked a holiday trip with poker buddies and was closing up the house, Will got massacred on wine coolers and pissed and puked all over his room. He remained drunk for the entire first week of the winter break, alone in the dorm. One day he got out the green bow and sat down on his bed, staring at it as he dangled it from its band like a hypnotist’s pocket watch. Maybe Lisa’s father had the wrong idea about the reptile people. Maybe they were nurturing. The stink from the piss and puke had blossomed hideously. One night, swarmed by childhood memories, Will sat on the floor weeping and slurping oozy, throat-scorching liquor. There was a knock at the door.

Mark Benedict is a graduate of the MFA Writing program at Sarah Lawrence College. Previous publications include stories in Bird's Thumb, Columbia Journal, Menacing Hedge, Slippery Elm, and Westchester Review. Mark enjoys hiking trails and watching movies. His obsession with Rosemary's Baby is deep and abiding.