The vultures were out, circling B-lot. B was a great parking lot. It was close to the classrooms, close to the Student Union building, close to the freshman dorms, and close to most of the classrooms. It was close to everything.
It was also small. The lot only had a couple hundred spots painted out on fading black pavement at a school with 25,000 students. B-lot was high-demand parking.
And it was in my way. To get from my room in President’s Park—the freshman dorm complex—to the food court in the Student Union, I had to walk right through B.
And I had to deal with the vultures.
I hate the vultures.
They’re generally conceited frat boys who have the idea that they are entitled to park closer to their classes than everybody else. They circle B-lot for hours on end, waiting for somebody to leave after their last class of the day and open up one of those precious parking spaces.
I had always been tempted to let the vultures in on a little secret: They’d get to class quicker if they parked in the outer-fringes of campus and walked the longer distance. But they were never so courteous to ask for my humble advice.
In-and-of themselves, the vultures didn’t bother me so much. For all I cared, they could circle B-lot ad-infinitum until their cars ran out of gas and their brains turned into a slightly browner oatmeal than they were before they started. I could walk across the lot, get their hopes up a bit, and disappoint them by going on with my business.
But most vultures did not circle quietly.
“Hey, are you leaving?” they’d ask with mock-bravado from lowered electric windows. “I’ll give you a ride to your car.”
“First off,” I would say, rolling my eyes, “I’m just walking to class. Second, no self-respecting young woman would just hop into a car with a guy she’s never met before.”
You could almost see their cars sagging with disappointment as they drove on, continuing in a slow circle around the lot. I’ll never know if that sagging effect was caused by the fact that they didn’t get their coveted parking spot, that they clearly weren’t going to score with me because their act of faux-chivalry was far too transparent, or (more likely) because of the faux-gangsta’ propensity to lower faux-fancy compact cars until they practically scrape bottom.
But I digress.
I hate the vultures, if for no better reason than I think I should be able to walk to class or lunch without being accosted. I have better things to do with the time wasted on those infinite 20-second exchanges in the middle of B-lot. Like, for example, put myself 20 feet closer to wherever I’m walking.
All of this flashed through my mind when a brownish-beige four-door pulled up in front of me on a cool autumn Friday as I crossed from the dorm on my way to the food court. I didn’t bother to register that the four-door, a boxy Buick of some sort, didn’t exactly fit the standard for vulture vehicles.
The passenger-side of the car faced me, blocking my movement up the lot’s incline toward the Student Union. The driver leaned in my general direction, against the tug of his seat belt, and extended an arm to manually lower the passenger window. He painstakingly spun the handle several times and then called out.
“Hey, are you leaving?”
I could see a letterbox image of his face between the upper edge of the auto glass and the frame of the door. He had a disheveled, rugged, late-1960s kind of look about him. Sandy brown hair hung wavily just past his shoulders, and his blue eyes had a fiery depth to them. I don’t know why, but I decided to soften my standard response.
“Actually, I’m just on my way to lunch,” I said with a courteous smile. “Sorry.”
“Oh, all right.”
The vulture started to roll the window up again, and I headed around behind his obstructing vehicle. As I slid between two parked cars on the other side I heard him call out again.
“Do you mind if I join you?”
I whirled around incredulously, nearly taking off some poor student’s side mirror in the process. Had the vulture just asked to join me? Was this some kind of come-on?
I’m not an ugly girl; in fact I’m told that I’m relatively cute. I might be a little short at five-foot-four, my breasts might not bulge out of my tank tops, and I guess my hair is darker and wavier than the average preference of the male race—but I look okay.
That said, I’m not the kind of girl that random blue-eyed guys hit on in the parking lot. Especially not on that day. I was wearing an unflattering, loose, blue tee-shirt and old black slacks.
But I hadn’t been imagining things. The driver’s side window was rolled all the way down now, and the driver himself was looking at me with those piercing eyes. He hadn’t even finished rolling up the window on the passenger side.
“Join me?” I asked rhetorically. “Are you on drugs or something?”
I may have been bit blunt, but I was a hungry girl who had already been delayed quite enough. I was hoping to offend him into submission.
But, rather than looking offended, the vulture just smiled. It was a broad, almost comical smile. It was the kind of smile that could really melt a girl’s heart. And, I admit it, I was finally starting to notice that this guy was cute.
But I still wasn’t very interested in lunch with a parking vulture I happened to run into in B-lot.
I hate the vultures.
My stomach attempted to regain my attention by gurgling at me like a pissed-off baby. I smirked at the driver, who was still awaiting my answer, and whirled back around to continue my trek to the cafeteria in the Student Union. I figured he would take the hint.
I made it as far as the trail that led up the hill and out of the lot before he caught up.
He entered into a stride beside me, wearing faded blue jeans and a garish green tee-shirt I hadn’t noticed before. I quickened my pace, as if to say I’m too hurried for this.
“You thought I was joking?” he asked.
Had I really believed him? No, of course not. A serious offer to have lunch shouldn’t be made until after you’ve known somebody for more than twenty seconds. It was a logical assumption that he was not being serious.
“Actually, yes. I thought you were joking. But the fact that you weren’t doesn’t change my answer.”
“You mean your lack of one?”
He hadn’t missed a beat.
I stopped in my tracks, turning toward him testily and gathering my feminine fierceness. Face-to-face, he was taller than I had thought he was.
“For most people, the body language is clear enough. Do I need to translate for you?”
He smiled, the same overpowering grin he flashed at me from the car.
I turned back toward the Student Union—which still beckoned from the top of the hill—and reestablished my brisk pace. He raced to keep up with me, and I found that I really didn’t mind it so much. I think, on some subconscious level, that I find that kind of wretched stubbornness attractive. I would never admit it though. Not even to myself.
“You know, they never tow cars here,” the vulture said to break apart the quiet moments after I growled at him. “They just threaten us with it to keep us in line.”
“I wouldn’t know. I don’t have a car.”
“Oh. Well, that’s all right. I wouldn’t either, if they actually towed.” He smirked. “They’ll give you tickets like you wouldn’t believe, though.”
“So I hear.”
“It’s a source of revenue. The school will do anything that brings in the money.”
“You hear they’re raising tuition again? Midyear this time. Two-hundred more for instate undergrads.”
“Yeah, I read that yesterday. Say, where did you park?”
“You didn’t?” I looked over my shoulder and saw that, indeed, the Buick had not moved. “Parking services is going to love that.”
“I told you they never tow cars here. So how about lunch?”
I actually pride myself on being wretchedly stubborn. It isn’t only a trait that I secretly admire in the opposite sex; it’s like a religion to which I am a firm adherent. Never give up, never give in.
But every rule has exceptions, I said to myself as justification for giving in to this bizarre man.
“Just lunch,” I told him. It was a command, not an inquiry.
“Just lunch,” he replied. He had accepted my terms.
The vulture and I walked into the building and then into the cafeteria. We swiped our student IDs through the card reader and picked up the unwieldy brown trays that were a CIAO trademark.
I finished selecting my food quickly, and slipped away to a table in a back corner of the dining room. It was my favorite table; it was an easy table to overlook. I would watch the people coming and going, but they rarely noticed me lurking in the back shadows.
I had considered sitting somewhere out in the open, but decided not to. If he wasn’t up to the little challenge of finding me in the crowd, then he surely wasn’t up to having lunch with me.
After all, I was the stone-cold bitch of President’s Park, the only girl in Roosevelt Hall impervious to the shallow advances of overeager college boys. They knew better than to knock on Tammy Finn’s door . . . unless they were looking for her roommate. Playing hard-to-get is the only way I play.
The vulture stepped into the dining hall, his tray stacked high with what looked to be a little bit of everything, and scanned the expanse of circular tables. He didn’t seem to have seen me.
I wanted to raise my hand to get his attention, but forced myself to sit perfectly still. Why? Hell, I knew I was starting to like this guy. I just couldn’t seem to bring myself to act like it.
On some level, I wanted him to give up quickly when the catch became too difficult and prove he was just another loser looking to get laid. I wanted him to justify my gut feeling that told me not to believe a man when he started acting interested—the same instinct that told me to turn around and walk away when this one asked me to lunch in the middle of B-lot.
I raised my hand.
So much for hard-to-get.
He saw me, came over, and took a seat directly across the table.
“Hiding in the corner and trying to ditch me already, eh?” he asked with a wink.
I shot him a sideways glance.
“So anyway, what’s your name?”
“Tamera,” I said.
“Tamera? I love that name. People call you Tammy?”
“Yeah, I go by either one. What’s yours?”
His face flushed red. “Uh, promise you won’t laugh?”
“Me? Laugh?” It looked like I had discovered a chink in his oh-so-confident armor. “Never.”
“Yeah, like I believe that. My name’s Lester Long . . . “
True to my sarcasm, I burst out with a monstrous barrage of laughter. I’m not the giggly type; when I laugh, I laugh.
And I probably laughed for a full two minutes.
“Are you done?” he asked, amused at my outburst.
“Yes, I just . . . that just wasn’t what I expected.”
“I go by Mike. Michael’s my middle name. My parents thought Lester Long would be funny.”
“Guess they were right.”
“Yeah, guess so. So you live in the Park?”
“Yeah, over in Roosevelt.”
“Really? I lived in Lincoln two years ago, when I was a freshman.”
“Have you picked out a major yet?”
“I’m officially undeclared, but I’m thinking about sociology with a focus on criminology.”
“Cool. I’m a government major; they call it ‘Government and International Politics’ here.”
“Fancy name for poli-sci.”
He flashed that same grin again, along with a hearty chuckle. I felt a flutter in my chest. That was one hell of a smile.
“So you know about the major, then.”
I flashed my own smile back at him. “It’s my second choice.”
We shared the remainder of his mountain of food and talked casually until the late afternoon. I missed my afternoon English class; he missed his middle-eastern politics and statistics lectures.
Neither of us cared.
“So you’re sure your car will still be there?” I asked.
“Of course. No question. It will probably have three or four tickets on the windshield, but it’ll still be there.”
“I don’t believe you.”
“Okay, let’s bet on it.”
“If the car is gone, I’ll give you ten dollars.”
“And if the car is still there?”
“You have to let me walk you to your dorm.”
I started to smile, and then ordered my mouth not to comply. I couldn’t let him know I wanted him to walk me to my room. I was still playing hard-to-get, I reminded myself. Stone-cold bitch and all that. But he probably noticed my little grin-and-correct maneuver anyway. I was becoming hopeless.
“Fine, sounds fair to me,” I finally said. “Let’s go take a look.”
We walked our big, brown trays over to the dish conveyor and set them down, then stepped out of the cafeteria into the brighter hallways of the Student Union.
The sun was hanging low in the sky, and as we emerged onto the path that led to B-lot I noticed the air had grown chilly. I also noticed the brownish-beige Buick, still sitting askew of the parked cars in the lot, clearly visible down the hill.
“I guess that means I lose the bet,” I said, but I wasn’t sure if I had lost at all. My head was spinning with nervousness. Was he really going to walk me to my room? He couldn’t really be interested in me, could he?
Would he have spent all afternoon talking to me if he wasn’t?
I didn’t know what to think anymore. I felt like a middle school girl who had just started getting curious looks from all the boys in the class. I was giddy with anticipation and not sure I knew how to handle it.
“Yeah, I guess you do. So,” he said, picking up a regal tone and extending his elbow toward me, “per the terms of our bet, I hereby offer to escort you to your room.”
I demurely accepted, placing my hand in the crook of his extended arm.
As we walked by his car I noticed that he had, indeed, received several tickets. He didn’t even glance in that direction. Instead, he alternated his gaze between the path ahead and me. He held himself with a proud posture, as if he were escorting a queen.
And I was beginning to feel like one.
We crossed B-lot, somehow dodging all the other vultures entirely, and walked up the shallow hill on the opposite side into President’s Park and to Roosevelt Hall—the first dorm in the complex.
I pulled the building key out of my handbag, unlocked the door, and we stepped inside. I led him up the two flights of stairs, turned off into my hall, and then we stood in front of room 309—my room.
I fumbled for the key, first trying to use the same-size building key, and then finally finding the right one. I swung the door open and flicked on the lights.
“Wow, I forgot how small these rooms were,” Lester said. “Where’s your roommate?”
“She went home early for the weekend, up to New York.”
“Oh, cool.” He looked around the room, getting a feel for the place. “So I see you’re a fan of . . . “
He never finished saying whatever it was he was about to say. I pounced on him, sending him tumbling onto my bed.
“Whoa, hey!” He fumbled for something to say, simultaneously angry that I had tackled him, and obviously aroused because I had landed with my breasts pressed against his chest and my legs straddling his. To save him the confusion, I gave him a good, strong kiss on the mouth.
“Something the matter?” I asked, as I lifted myself off of him.
“Nothing at all,” he said, breathless and regrouping. “No, nothing’s the matter.”
I pulled off my tee-shirt and let it fall to the floor, then unbuttoned the front of my slacks and let them do the same.
My head was so muddled with hormones and emotions that I barely even remember what happened next. But I do remember that when we laid down on my bed again, for the first time I allowed a man to take everything he wanted to take.
I could still smell the gritty, erotic scent of Lester Long—who made funny faces whenever I called him that—permeating my sheets and hanging in the air. It hadn’t been a dream. That was the proof. Dreams do not smell.
After what seemed like a long time, I forced myself out of bed. The room was dim, lit only by an overcast gray from outside. The weather had turned grim and cold for the first time that season.
And Lester was gone.
Oh, how my head spun dizzily at the realization. I fell down onto my comforter and wept bitterly for the rest of the day.
I never saw him again.
I never told anybody about that night.
I wasn’t embarrassed to have lost my virginity to a one-night-stand. Hell, I might have gone through with it even if I had known he would pack up and leave before I could even say goodbye. No, I was embarrassed because I fell for the act. Because I had misjudged. I had given in.
Tammy Finn never gives in.
Not even to wretchedly stubborn boys.
I lived in President’s Park for the rest of that school year, and passed through B-lot almost every day. Sometimes, out of the corner of my eye, I would swear I saw that damned boxy car. There it was, clear as day in the middle of the lot, complete with a growing pile of parking tickets under the wipers and the gorgeous long-haired guy leaning over to roll down the window.
I would argue with myself over my own lunacy. He was long gone, and I would never see him or his Buick again. It was just my overactive imagination and hormonally imbalanced brain.
But they never tow cars here. They just threaten us with it to keep us in line.
I hate the vultures.