The new boy talking to my little sister was a little too good to look at, a fact that had clearly not escaped her notice. His light brown hair had a bit of a curl, lending him something of a playful look. I figured him to be about my height, which was unusually tall at 193 cm. His skin was an even beachfront tan color, as if he’d spent all summer outside smiling at girls with his charming, slightly crooked smile. As my sister was speaking he shaded his eyes from the afternoon sun with one hand, listening to whatever it was she had to say. Attentively.
I gave a half wave, trying to get her attention, but my sister pretended not to see. She flipped her thick brown hair over her shoulder and then turned her back on me. She was far enough away that it might not necessarily have been deliberate. That was fine. It wasn’t like she could get herself into any trouble in broad daylight on campus with people all around her. I decided to leave her to her own devices for the time being.
The welcoming event for faculty at the University of Saint Catharines was being held in the old part of campus with some of the original ivy-covered brick buildings that had held up remarkably well over the last hundred and fifty years. I glanced around the campus grounds and saw my mom standing near Old Main, the oldest building on campus that now served as the administrative center.
She waved me over, no doubt to take care of some last-minute details. My mom’s bleached blond hair was caught back in a large clip at the nape of her neck. She had allowed my sister to do her makeup in the morning, so her eyebrows were a lot more shapely than usual, but not in a bad way or anything. My sister had a good eye. Mom’s nails were also perfectly manicured—which would last about a day. She tapped the side of the box she was holding.
“Theo, would you mind bringing this down to the sculpture garden? Art History is giving prizes this year for the top three sidewalk drawings.”
I looked inside to see that the box was full of brightly colored chalk ends and a handful of smudgy terry cloth rags.
My mom was head of the Humanities Department at Saint Catharines and as such played host for the beginning of term gathering for faculty and their families. Humanities always ran some art-related activities. Thanks to my mom’s position, my sister and I took on the role of junior hosts.
I loved this yearly welcome-back tradition, especially because my unofficial role as a host was virtually nonexistent. I usually got away with doing something as minor as delivering a box of chalk or officiating a three-legged race, after which I was free to enjoy the best the university had to offer. Culinary Arts always did the food. It was the capstone of the graduating students who’d stayed on for summer program.
With the box firmly secured under my arm, I jogged down the hill toward the large flat expanse of pavement that surrounded the sculpture garden. A few groups had already gathered there, mostly families with young kids. I recognized almost everyone, even if I didn’t know them by name. They all knew me.
“Thanks Theo.” One of the studio art professors took the box off my hands. She raised her voice to get the attention of the people waiting for the event to begin. “Groups of three or more. Must include at least two people under the age of ten. Actively participating. I will be the judge of participation, and my will is law. Any questions?”
I didn’t stick around to help with the details. I decided my time would better be served checking in on my sister and the mystery boy. When I walked back up the hill he was laughing about something my sister had said. It couldn’t possibly have been that funny. I knew my sister.
“Nadine, who’s your new friend?” I asked.
“There you are!” My sister grabbed me by the arm as soon as I was in reach. “Come meet Lex. He and his mom just moved up from Michigan.”
Lex. He didn’t hold out his hand for me to shake it or anything. He nodded instead. “Theo. Good to meet you. Apparently we’ll be classmates this fall.”
“At Rockville?” That wasn’t too much of a surprise. A lot of faculty had kids at the high school closest to Saint Kate’s. “You’re a senior?”
Out of the corner of my eye I could see Nadine beaming at the newcomer.
“What made you leave right before your senior year?” I asked.
Lex shrugged. “I could have stayed with relatives and finished high school at home, but then I would have still been in Detroit. Have you ever been?”
I shook my head.
“Well, it’s no loss on your part. Anyway, I figured I was up for one last adventure before starting college next fall.”
“Tell me something about yourself,” I said. I hadn’t missed the way my sister’s eyes remained glued to Theo’s face the entire time. I suspected she was going to make him my problem one way or another. I thought I might as well find out what I was getting myself into.
“Is this a job interview?” Lex joked.
I smiled my most disarming smile to put him at his ease. I could be charming when the situation called for it. “No, not at all. I’d just like to get to know you better.” I wanted to know if my sister had any reason to be looking at him like that.
“Well,” Lex leaned toward me conspiratorially. “I was born in the year of the dog, so you know I’m reliable, considerate and sincere. Or if you’d prefer more Western metrics, I’m a Cancer, which is supposed to mean that it’s hard to get to know me at first. I’ve never found that to be the case in practice, though. I’m an open book. Ask me anything.”
“Did you grow up in Detroit?”
“No. I didn’t spend much time there at all. My mom has worked as an adjunct professor at a number of different universities so we’ve moved around a lot. All around the Midwest. Chicago, Minneapolis, Des Moines… This is a tenure track position here, so it could be longer term. That was another reason I moved here. I wanted to be around to see where the family might call home base for a while.”
I nodded. “And your dad? Is he in academia?”
Lex barked out a laugh. “Hardly. He dropped out of college after one semester and enrolled in culinary school.”
“He’s a chef?”
Lex nodded. “Not a famous one or anything. He usually ends up working at nicer hotels.”
“My dad?” Lex looked confused.
I smiled. “No. You.”
“I guess I’m a bit of a gamer.”
I raised an eyebrow. “Casual or competitive?”
“Honestly, where is this interrogation going? Leave the poor boy alone.” My sister pulled on my arm.
“No, it's fine. Casual. Very casual. I haven’t even hooked my console up yet.”
I nodded. I was comfortable with casual gamers. They had room in their lives for actual human interaction. “Sports?”
“Sports…. Well let's clear one thing up right now: not hockey.” Lex laughed. “I don’t mean that in a pejorative way at all. Hockey’s great. It’s fine. Watching hockey is thoroughly enjoyable. But playing hockey? Not a skill set I have. I can’t move along ice wearing machete boots even if I’m not carrying a stick.”
Nadine laughed. “We can always teach you.”
“You can always try.” He grinned at her before turning back to me. “How about you? Hobbies? Sports?”
Nadine answered for me. “Theo played hockey when he was in elementary, but once his height came in the basketball coaches snatched him up.”
“Not at the high school level. Height will only get you so far, apparently. Beyond that you apparently need to demonstrate some skill.”
Nadine punched me in the arm. “You were hardly that bad.”
“Yeah, I was.”
The noon bells began to chime, signaling to the campus caterers that it was time to roll out the lunch buffet.
“Maybe I should check in with Mom and see if she needs me to do anything.” Nadine pulled out her phone.
“She was fine when I checked in with her, but by all means. Although you know she’ll never get your text. I doubt she even has her phone on her.”
Nadine frowned. “True. You two stay here. I’ll just take a quick lap and see if I can find her. If not, we can head over to load up on high quality food stuff.”
When Nadine was out of earshot, Lex turned to me. “So, did I pass?”
I raised an eyebrow. “Did you pass what?”
“The interrogation? Or the job interview. Although I’m not sure what job I’m meant to be interviewing for.”
“You’re too old for her.”
“What?” Lex’s eyes went wide. “I’m not—”