He normally doesn’t wake up late, but there was nothing normal about today.
You see the previous night he came home to a pile of yellow enveloped mail – these were never good – they meant bills. He didn’t have the money so he brushed them off the table and went to boil some water. It was going to be one of those nights again where he had kettle boiled noodles and a cup of instant coffee. Steve was a student, he didn’t have the luxury of parties and girlfriends like his so called friends he had the luxury of life, real life.
Living off campus he always had to get the school bus – it was free – god knows he needed it. This morning was different, after spending the whole night doing an assignment on his phone because he could not afford a laptop he called it a night. He never forgets to plug in his phone so he did. At about quarter past 9 he woke up to darkness and an empty phone. He cursed under his breath, the bills had caught up with him. He needed to scratch up some few dollars to at least get power back. Now he had to walk to school because the bus always left at exactly 8.30 in the morning. With no breakfast or hot shower he made his way out into the cold rubbing his hands in the chilly air of autumn. He tightened the zipper on his jacket and thrust his hands deep into his pockets.
The walk to school was long. Along the way he saw students riding their bikes laughing without a care in the world. He passed a red bricked dorm that stood out predominantly against the sea of gray buildings – a fraternity. Outside were dozens of empty beer keggers and strewn across the ground red plastic party cups and one odd guy face down in the grass passed out snoring loudly. He laughed to himself before being hit by a tinge of jealousy. A black SUV sped past him blaring rock music and a weird red headed girl waved at him from the window of a grey building. Absent minded, he checked his phone – it was still off. He put it back in his pocket and walked the rest of the way in silence.
The sounds of siren in the distance brought Steve back to reality. His thoughts had wandered back to his days as a student. He hated them. He picked up the black cordless phone on his desk and dialled a number. It took a few seconds before it clicked and a mellow voice responded on the other end.
“Hey it’s Steve come to my office.”
The line went dead. Barely seconds later the brown door with golden handles and detailed carvings swung open. The office wasn’t large but it was magnificent. It had a thick Turkish carpet that spread the entire length of the room, a curved dark mahogany table with a glass top, a distinct mac sitting in the middle and a book shelf that doubled up as a whiskey cabinet – with a few Johnny blacks, glasses and an expensive looking decanter with 18 year old McCallun.
The secretary wasn’t like you’d expect – tall, light, slender and boasting an acquired accent. She was old, much older than he was and short. She wore thick glasses to compensate for her failing eyes and always dressed in thick woolen coats – maybe her fashion icon was the queen of England Steve would joke sometimes. But she was efficient and discrete. The young ladder climbers didn’t have an inkling of loyalty or respect. Her name was Grace.
“I’ve been thinking Grace.”
“You, to be honest. You’re not getting any younger Grace and it’s time you lived a little.”
She laughed a gentle hearty laugh like one your grandma would give when you offered her your last piece of biscuit because you love her so much.
“It’s time I lived a little” she mocked
“I have lived a lot” she replied
Steve shifted in his seat a bit uncomfortable. He got up and went to the book shelf. He played around with a few books before settling on the bottle of Johnny. He opened it slowly before taking a whiff.
“God it smells good” He volunteered.
Pouring two glasses he handed Grace one without asking before taking a sip of his.
“You have lived yes, but you haven’t really lived”
She held her glass gingerly in one hand resting it on her other palm. She looked at Steve and waited. She knew he wasn’t done and years of experience taught her to let people finish.
“You told me about your days as a young girl remember?”
“How you wanted to visit Paris in the summer and frolick in the gardens of Greece during spring with the love of your life. But, where is he? Did you ever? You’re as lonely as I am.”
Her eyes lit up with nostalgia as she remembered her hay days. She smiled contentedly to a truth only she knew.
“I was young then and foolish and young.” She replied
“Yes, true. But dreams are dreams.” Interrupted Steve.
He walked back to his desk and pulled open a drawer. In it was a white envelope which he took out. He stared at it for a while before walking over to Grace. He took the glass out of her hand and put it on his desk. He put her hand in his palm as he looked into her eyes and pushed the envelope between her palms.
“Take this and go” He whispered.
She didn’t need telling. Steve was known for his random acts of generosity so she did. She didn’t offer profuse thanks, he hated it. A simple smile and a thank you sufficed – that and finishing her glass of whiskey. God knows he hated having to pour out perfectly good whiskey.