Dan fell in to step beside her.“Where are you heading this time?” she asked. Dan's parents always flew him and his brother’s whole family to whatever remote tropical place they were vacationing for the winter that year.
“Costa Rica,” he smiled. “You want to come?”
“Yeah.” She said it with just a touch of sarcasm so he wouldn’t think she was serious. The truth was, she’d like to go somewhere, anywhere, but her finances were such that it was impossible.
Her parents had called a few weeks earlier, as they always did, to ask her if she wanted to come “home” for Christmas. They all knew that neither she, nor they could afford such sentiment so it was always asked with the understanding that she should and would decline.
“I don’t know how you stand to stay here all winter every winter,” Dan teased. “You must be part snowman.”
“No. Ice woman.” She wondered how much of that was the truth.
“Well, have a good one,” Dan mumbled and hugged her awkwardly. As Dan pulled back she saw Professor Knight waiting for the path to clear.
Dan sauntered away without noticing him and without a backward glance.
Professor Knight cleared his throat and turned down an adjacent corridor. Something compelled Elise to follow, consciously increasing her pace so they were soon walking side by side.
“A little elf delivering her goodies I see.” It wasn’t a question and wasn’t particularly conversational either.
Elise chose to ignore the tone. “Just some small things for the office staff,” she said, though he didn’t seem to care.
“The office is the other way.”
“Oh I know. I thought I’d grab a bite before I left,” she said. She wondered if the professor would be going away for the holidays like the rest of the college, then wondered why she wondered.
They reached the cafeteria and parted ways; she veered right, toward the salad bar, while he headed for the sub shop.
Elise took her time building her salad and pretended to agonize over deciding which soup she wanted. She always chose creamy chicken and wild rice, but no one else needed to know that. She watched from the corner of her eye to see where the professor seated himself, then made her purchases and crossed to the same corner of the room.
The cafeteria was still surprisingly full for the last day of the semester. Several students still had one more final to complete before they were released for the winter break. Most sat at tables with 2 or 3 of their friends, chatting comfortably with a textbook open in front of them. The last-ditch attempts at studying were for show more than for purpose.