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… and Mom took off to Argentina with my manager, and all my money.
Although these are not the sort of things upon which I like to dwell before nine in the morning. Or ever, really.
“I’m sure he’ll be here in a minute,” I tell Jamie.
Unlike whoever gets hired to replace him, Owen doesn’t live in the building. The Fischer Hall director’s apartment has sat empty since the old director, Tom, moved out of it last month, having been transferred into a far swankier apartment in the frat building, Waverly Hall, across the park, where he was currently happily nesting with his new live-in boyfriend, the basketball coach. Owen has a college-subsidized apartment just like Tad, but in a much nicer building on the north side of Washington Square Park.
“Okay,” Jamie says, following me—after I’d unlocked the door—into the outer office, which I share with Sarah and fifteen resident assistants, students who, in exchange for free room and board, each supervise a floor of the building, acting as advisor, confidant, and narc to about forty-five residents each. My desk is on the far side, where I can sit with my back to the wall and an eye on the photocopier, which receives so much daily abuse that I think I could probably moonlight as a copier repair person, I spend so much time fixing it.
The door to the hall director’s office—separated from the outer office by a wall made up of plaster for the first five feet, then a metal grate for the next two, until it meets the ceiling—is closed.
Except that, through the grate, I can smell coffee. Also another smell that I can’t quite identify. And I can hear street noises—a honking car, footsteps on the sidewalk—coming from outside the hall director’s office, which—unlike the outer office—has windows that look out onto a side street of Washington Square.
I assume, from these clues, that Owen is in his office, drinking coffee with one of the windows open. But the door closed, probably due to his wanting some privacy. Hopefully so he can look up Internet porn.
But the truth is, Owen’s never really struck me as the Internet porn type, although he is a divorced, middle-aged male, which one has to assume is Internet porn’s target demo—well, aside from fourteen-year-old boys.
“Owen,” I say, giving his door a tap. “Your eight-thirty appointment, Jamie, is here.”
Jamie, standing by my desk in her baby blue sweater set and jeans, calls, through the grate, “Um, hi, Dr. Veatch?”
Dr. Veatch doesn’t respond. Which is totally weird. Because I know he’s in there.
That’s when I start to get the creepy feeling. And the truth is, I’ve worked in Fischer Hall long enough to know that when you get a creepy feeling, it’s probably right on target.
“Jamie,” I say, trying not to let the growing dread I feel show in my voice. “Go out to the front desk and ask Pete, the security guard, to come back here a minute, will you?”
Jamie, looking bemused but still smiling, says, “Okay?” and goes out into the hall.
As soon as she’s gone, I whip out my key to the hall director’s office, insert it into the lock, and open Owen’s door.
And see why it is that he didn’t respond to my knock.
I quickly pull the door shut again, remove my key, sink down into the closest chair—the one by Sarah’s desk.
Then I stick my head between my knees.
I’m studying the tops of my running shoes when Pete and Jamie return, Pete panting a little, because he’s got the same problem saying no to Magda’s offers of free DoveBars that I do.
“What is it?” Pete wants to know. “What’s wrong? Why are you hunched over like that?”
“I have cramps,” I say, to my shoelaces. “Jamie, we’re going to have to reschedule your appointment for another time. Okay?”
I glance up from my shoes and see that Jamie looks confused. “Is everything all right?” she wants to know.
“Uh,” I say. What am I going to say,Yeah, everything’s fine? Because everything’s not fine. And she’s going to find that out—sooner than later. “Not really. We’ll call you later to reschedule, okay?”
“Okay,” Jamie says, now looking more concerned than confused. “I… ”
But something in my face—maybe the nausea I’m fighting back?Why did I go for that second waffle? — stops her, and she turns and leaves the office.
“Shut the door,” I say to Pete, who does so.
“Heather,” he says. “What’s this all about? What’s wrong with you? Are you sick? You want I should call the nurse on duty?”
“I’m not sick,” I say, and hold out my keys, still keeping my head as close as I can to the floor (I’m hoping this will keep the nausea at bay). “But Owen is. Well, not sick so much as… dead. You better call nine-one-one. I would but… I’m not feeling too good right now.”
“Dead?” I can’t see his face, but I have a good view of his shoes—sturdy black ones, with reinforced steel toes for when recalcitrant residents—or their guests—try to resist being physically dissuaded from whatever half-assed stunt they’re intent on embarking upon. “What do you mean, dead?”
“Dead dead,” I say. “As in dead.”
“Why didn’t you say something before?” Pete swears to himself and grabs my keys. I can hear him fumbling for the right one, but I don’t risk looking up to help. Because things are still swimming around a lot south of my throat.
They’d been chocolate chip waffles, too. That’s just wrong. Why can’t I ever just eat a healthy breakfast? What’s so wrong with whole wheat toast, half a grapefruit, and an egg white omelet? Why do I always have to reach for the whipped cream?Why?
“Why didn’t you try to do something for him?” Pete wants to know, still trying to find the right key. “CPR, or something?”
“CPR won’t help,” I say, to my shoes. “Given that he’s dead.”
“Since when do you have a medical degree?” Pete demands. And finally gets the right key, and shoulders the door open with far more force than necessary.