TITLE: Shadows (Chapter 1)
By Mishael Witty
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The bright morning sun shot in through the small crack in the curtains, a laser beam that startled Megan McCleod out of her deep slumber. She groaned slightly and pulled the covers over her head. The next moment, the alarm clock blared.
Megan slid her legs out of the bed and walked across the dorm room to her roommate’s bed. Elizabeth Tucker was impervious to light, noise, or anything else that might separate her from her precious beauty sleep. Besides that, she was probably a bit hung-over after the last day of summer party she attended the previous night. It took Megan several tries before she was able to awaken her friend.
“Hey! What’s the big idea, Meg?”
“The big idea is this is the first day of classes, and I don’t think you want to be late.”
Liz sighed and lazily stood up. She leaned over the small bedside table where the 4-cup automatic coffee pot sat, inactive.
“Did you forget to set the coffee up?” Liz accused.
“No, that was your task for the evening, or don’t you remember?”
“How can anyone remember anything after a party like that one last night?”
“I told you not to go to that stupid fraternity party. You should have gone to the BSU with me. We had a nice, sedate, sober evening of playing cards and board games, and watching videos.”
“G-rated, no doubt,” Liz scoffed. “No thanks. If I wanted to have that kind of fun, I would have gone to the community college back home and spent every evening going to bingo with my grandmother!”
“Suit yourself. I just happen to believe that there does not need to be alcohol around for anyone to have a good time. You’d better be careful, too, you know. You are underage, and I wouldn’t want you to get in trouble.”
“What’s that supposed to mean? You wouldn’t be thinking about telling on me. I mean, I know you’re a goody-goody and everything, but you are supposed to be my best friend.”
“Of course I’m your best friend, and I do believe that you have the right to do whatever you want, even if I don’t agree with your decisions. There are just some people on this campus who are not as open-minded as I am.”
“Yeah. Open-minded. Right.” The coffee was finished percolating, so Liz filled up one of the small Styrofoam cups that was sitting next to the machine, and slowly sipped the warm, bitter liquid. “Besides, if I had a boyfriend like Keith Ellington, I wouldn’t have to go around to all these different places to try to meet men.”
“Liz, I keep telling you, you can meet all kinds of wonderful guys at the BSU.”
“Yeah, a bunch of Jesus freaks.”
“Well, that’s better than the bunch of pothead alcoholics you find at frat houses. I just don’t see what you get out of that kind of life.”
“I get a tremendous sense of freedom.”
“Do you? I wonder …”
Liz ignored her friend’s comment as she drained the last of the coffee from her cup.
“So, is Mr. Wonderful coming by tonight? Should I make myself scarce so you two can be alone, or do you all have plans to go out somewhere? Not that it really matters if I’m here, anyway. It’s not like you all are going to be doing anything naughty.” Liz leered. Megan blushed slightly.
“Actually, I’m meeting Keith at the coffee shop in the student center for breakfast today.”
“Oooh. A breakfast date? This sounds serious!”
“Not half as serious as Keith would like, which kind of freaks me out. I’m actually thinking about breaking up with him today.”
“What?!!?!!? Where did this come from?”
“I don’t know. It’s just that I don’t feel he’s the right one for me. I’ve been feeling this since the beginning of our senior year, really.”
“But you two have been together forever!”
“Just since freshman year of high school, Liz. I wouldn’t call that forever.”
"Well, it’s forever when you’re as commitment-phobic as I am.”
“That could be part of my problem, too, I guess. Maybe I’m a little scared of taking that next step – engagement, and then marriage. We have been together so long, it seems only natural that we would spend our lives together, and everyone thinks we’re the perfect couple …”
“But that’s just it, Liz. Everyone thinks we’re the perfect couple. No one knows what our relationship is really like. We’ve been growing apart this past year. It took me this long to realize it, but I see it now. I feel called to be a missionary – to travel the world wherever God wants me to go and serve, and Keith is so dead set on graduating with his business degree and going to work in his dad’s antique store. Our goals are just too different.”
“Have you tried talking to him? Does he know you feel this way?”
Megan picked up her clothes and shower caddy. “That’s another part of the problem. Every time I try to talk about what’s wrong, Keith just brushes it aside. Listen, I’ve got to get ready to go. I don’t want to be late. “
Liz shrugged. “Okay. Good luck. I’ll be here if you need me – at least until I have to go to class.” She reached for the carafe to refill her cup.
Tony Driscoll sat at his usual corner table in the student center coffee shop. He glanced at the headlines of the free student newspaper and shook his head in dismay. No real news, but it was early in the year. He was amazed Old Dimwitty could come up with anything for the first week of the semester. He turned his attention to the crossword puzzle on the back page of the publication and laughed at how easy the first five clues were. He would have this done in no time.
He paused as the door to the coffee shop opened, and one of the most beautiful girls he had ever laid his eyes on entered the room, followed by some pathetic loser he assumed was her boyfriend by the way he had his hand on her back. ‘How did a guy like that end up with a beautiful girl like her?’ he wondered.
To his delight, they sat at a table not very far from him. The girl was facing him. He glanced under the table and noticed that she was wearing a short, pleated skirt, no stockings, and sandals. All three showed off her legs very nicely. He raised his eyes to look at her face. It seemed like she was looking right at him. He smiled, but the girl paid no attention. She was wrapped up in her conversation with Bozo the Clown.
Tony lowered his head, pretending to study the crossword puzzle, even as he leaned his head ever so slightly in the couple’s direction. He could just barely make out what they were saying.
“What would you like to eat, Meg? You can have anything you want. I’ll pick up the check, and you don’t have to worry about a thing. Dad sent me a check in the mail Saturday.”
“Keith, listen. I need to tell you something.”
“What’s up, sugar?”
“Oh, Keith! I wish you wouldn’t call me that.”
“Why? What’s the matter? You never minded it before.”
“I’ve changed, Keith. You’ve changed. We’ve both changed so much that I don’t know who either one of is anymore, and I don’t think we should be together. We’re just too different.”
“What? I don’t think I heard you correctly, Megan. It sounded like you said you don’t think we should be together anymore.”
“That’s exactly what I said, Keith. I’m sorry. We just want different things out of life. I want to serve God in the mission field, and you want to help your father run his antique business. I couldn’t take you away from that dream that you’ve had ever since you were a little boy. And I can’t let my love for you keep me from doing what I feel God has called me to do.”
“Love? Your love for me? If you really loved me, you would try to make this work, Meg.”
“It’s not as simple as that. Please, try to understand.”
“Understand? Understand?!?!?!?” At this point, Tony didn’t even have to strain to hear what they were saying. Keith’s voice was raised enough for everyone in the coffee shop to hear. And everyone did hear. All activity around the room stopped, and all eyes focused on the quarrelling pair. Keith stood up, knocking his chair over in the process.
“Keith, please sit down,” Meg pleaded.
“Why? So I won’t embarrass you? You were right about one thing, Meg. We do want different things out of life. I wanted to marry you. I was going to ask you out to dinner tonight and propose. That’s what I wanted.”
Keith pulled a small black jewelry box out of his pocket and threw it across the table at her.
“Go ahead! Look at it. That’s one of the reasons I asked my dad to send me some money, so that I could buy you a decent ring.”
Megan picked up the box and saw the gleaming one-carat round-cut diamond, surrounded by four little round baguette diamonds on either side.
“I – it – it’s,” Megan stammered.
“It’s perfect. Just what you always wanted. I know.”
“I can’t accept this. You know that.”
“Right, ‘cause you’re breaking up with me. Fine, but I don’t want the thing. Have a nice life, Meg. I hope someday you’ll realize what you’re giving up here.”
Keith picked up the ring box, and tossed it at the nearest trash can. Several people sitting near them lunged for the trash can and started rifling through it. Tony saw the box lying on the floor next to the wall by his table. ‘Poor guy can’t even aim well. She was right to dump that loser,’ Tony thought as he discreetly pocketed the treasure.
Keith stormed out of the coffee shop, leaving Megan alone. Most of the other people left after Keith did. The atmosphere was now too uncomfortable to be enjoyable. Of the people who had been sitting on the same side of the room where all the drama occurred, only Tony remained. He watched as Megan silently sobbed into the coffee cup and plate of eggs and bacon that the waitress mercifully brought out to her.
He sat very still for several moments, head facing down toward the paper, but eyes rolled up in Megan’s direction. He was waiting for the right moment. He didn’t want to just rush over. That would seem too obvious. He had to play it cool. He wanted everything to be just perfect when he first talked to the love of his life.
Then he saw Megan reach for a napkin to blow her nose. She missed. Her hand hit the side of the metal napkin holder, and the flimsy paper napkins drifted down to the floor. Megan sobbed louder as she bent down to clean up the mess. In an instant, Tony was at her side, helping her.
She didn’t look up at him at first, but he could tell she was aware of his presence. When all the napkins were picked up and put back in the holder, Megan sat back down in her chair. Then she looked at him for the first time.
“Thank you,” she whispered, stifling another sob.
“Hey. No problem. I like being the knight in shining armor.”
He gave her his coolest grin then, showing off his even, white teeth to great advantage. His aunt had spent half of her life savings getting his teeth straightened, and he was forever grateful to her. It was one of the things that added to his dashing good looks. Megan smiled feebly at him and turned her face toward her plate.
“Hi, I’m Tony. I don’t think we’ve ever met before.”
Megan shook her head. “No. I’m Megan. Megan McCleod.”
“Hello, Megan. It’s nice to meet you. I wish it was under better circumstances, but I’m glad to know you, anyway.”
“You mean - ? You heard that – what just happened with Keith?”
“I couldn’t really help but hear it. I think everyone in this place heard it.”
“Oh! I was afraid of that. I’m so embarrassed!”
“I wouldn’t worry about it. Half the people on this campus are too wrapped up in themselves to care much what happens to anyone else. I’m sure it will all be forgotten in a day, if not before.”
“I wish I could forget it in a day,” Megan sighed.
“Well, from the way I heard it, you were the one doing the splitting up. Surely you knew that what you were doing was for the best.”
“Yes – well – I don’t know. I just wish I could be sure. I love Keith. I’ve loved Keith ever since I was 14, but I wonder if love is enough. Sometimes I just don’t think it is.”
“I think it can be, if you’re with the right person. He just wasn’t the right person for you – too hot-headed.”
“No, he’s really not. You don’t know him, but then, you don’t know me either, do you?”
“I’d like to get to you know you better,” Tony blurted out, and then regretted that he’d said anything so stupid. It was too soon for that kind of thing. He would scare her away for sure.
Megan looked up at him. There was a questioning look in her eyes, and he couldn’t tell whether that was a good sign or a bad sign. He didn’t have time to wonder, however, because the big old clock in the chapel tower started clanging the hour – 8:00.
Megan started. “Oh! It’s 8:00 already? I’ll be late for biology lab. I’ve got to go all the way across campus. Where is that waitress, anyway?”
She looked around her, waving the dollar bills uselessly in the air. Tony touched her hand. She immediately lowered it and met his eyes. She looked like she wanted to slap him. But why didn’t she? Could it be that there was at least some interest there on her part? Did she find him as intriguing as he found her? He gingerly pulled the money out of her hand.
“Hey. Go on to your class. I’ll wait around and pay the lady for you. Ok?”
Megan cocked her head to the left, studying him for a moment. Was she gauging his trustworthiness? Her knight in shining armor? How could she doubt him?
“All right. Thank you. You really are rescuing me today, aren’t you?”
“Anytime, Miss Megan. Anytime.”
Tony stood up – the perfect gentleman – as Megan rose from her seat. She clumsily gathered her backpack and hurried out the door. Tony admired the view from behind just as much as he had admired it from the front.
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