Chapter 1: By the River
One sunny afternoon Nadine was walking home from school, this was her daily routine. She was intelligent, assured of honors on graduation day but something was missing in her life. This day she decided to take a different route home and along the way something caught her attention.
Sparkling water from a gentle flowing river and alone the side were red tulips beautifully lined up as if they were forming a fence. Nadine went down the grassy slope towards the river to take a closer look. There was something about this scenery which took away the stress from her daily college life. A few meters away there was a huge tree, its trunk was wide and under it she saw an untidy man leaning half asleep.
For three consecutive days she visited the place and spent thirty minutes just sitting down and enjoying the view. And for three days the man was always there seemingly lifeless. Nadine was curious so she walked towards the man and took a good look at him. His hair was long and curly, he had pointed eyebrows but the rest of his face she could not see for his hair was covering it. The man wore torn jeans, his shoelaces were not tied, but he never wore the same shirt as far as she could remember.
“Excuse me, are you alright?” she asked and the man opened his eyes but did not look at her. “Yes I am, why you ask?” the man replied. “Well you see I was just admiring the flowers over there and I saw you lying lifeless. Are you a homeless person? Have you eaten? Do you need some money?” she asked and the man smiled and laughed a little. “What makes you think I am homeless?” the man again asked. “The way you look” she replied and the man laughed. “You are being judgmental, I am just here probably doing the same thing you have been doing for three days” he told her.
“So you weren’t asleep? You knew I was here?” she asked and the man nodded. “You’re being rude you know, I am talking to you but you are not looking at me” Nadine commented and the man just smiled. “I’m sorry, I’m not just that friendly, or let’s just say I’m the shy type” he said and Nadine laughed. “Okay, sorry to bother you then I have to go” she said and the man closed his eyes, Nadine was irritated for she was being ignored. She was pretty with long blond hair, other men would have stared at her but this man didn’t even bother looking.
The next day Nadine bought some sandwiches and hurried towards the river after class. She went straight to the tree and again the man was there humming a tune. “What’s that song youre humming?” Nadine asked. “Now you’re the one being rude, you’re supposed to start with a greeting, so hello to you” the man replied and Nadine took a deep breath as she got irked as the man got one over her. “Fine, hello good afternoon to you, what is that song you are humming?” she said and the man smiled.
“Close to you, that is the title of the song” he said. “I don’t recall, sing a few lines” she said and the man again smiled. “I don’t know the lyrics, just the tune. I even cant sing so that is why I am humming. If I had a good voice then I would sing it even if the words are not correct, sad to say I don’t so I just hum” he replied and Nadine chuckled. She brought out two sandwiches and handed one over to him. “Here take it, it looks like you have not eaten” she said and the man took the sandwich but did not look at her.
“Thank you” he replied and Nadine sat down beside him and moved her face closer to his body and started sniffing. “What are you doing?” the man asked. “You smell good for a homeless guy” she commented and the man laughed. “You even get to change your clothes daily” she added. “What makes you think I am homeless?” he asked her. “Well by the way you look and I just gave you a sandwich and you took it” she said. “I took it because I was hungry, again you are being too judgmental” he told her.
“So if you are not a homeless person then why are you dressed that way?” she asked as she took a bit of her sandwich. The man remained silent and chewed; Nadine knew she was right all along. “See, you cant even answer my simple question, therefore I am right am i?” she asked. “I am not homeless, I didn’t reply because my mouth was full. Its impolite to talk with your mouth full” the man explained and again Nadine irritated.
“Why do I look this way? Well because I want to look this way” the man said. “Well your style is disgusting and not attractive at all” Nadine commented. “I know, it keeps people away but it’s funny because it seems to have attracted you” the man said and Nadine shook her head. “I wasn’t attracted to your clothes! I was just curious and I thought you needed help” she uttered. “Why? Was I dying?” the man asked and Nadine was really furious, “Just shut up and forget it” she said.
“You look dirty, you are so rude, I don’t even know why I am talking to you” Nadine said but the man kept silent and continued eating. “See that, you are even ignoring me now!” she quipped and the man laughed. “You told me to shut up remember?” he said and Nadine laughed with him. “You’re weird” Nadine told him. “Nope, I’m Jeff” he said and again she laughed. “I’m Nadine” she told him and he faced her for the first time but his eyes were closed. “Nice meeting you Nadine” he told her and Nadine laughed even louder.
“I get it, you’re blind aren’t you? That’s why you would not even look at me” she said. “You have straight blonde hair, you have a pretty smile, and sparkling blue eyes. The orange dress you wore the other day I liked that, oh you have nice legs too by the way” Jeff said and Nadine started laughing again. “So you’re not blind after all” she commented. “Who said I was?” he replied and they both laughed. Nadine got up and stood in front of him, she bent forward and held his face, “So wont you show me your eyes or look at me?” she asked.
Jeff just smiled and kept his eyes tightly closed. “Women are temptations” she uttered and she chuckled. “Open your eyes and show me” she told him and she moved his hair to see his face. Nadine liked what she saw, he was handsome, Jeff slowly opened his eyes and for the first time they stared at each other. “You’re handsome” she softly said and Jeff grinned. “I can see your boobs” he uttered and Nadine immediately stood up and they both laughed.
Nadine sat down and continued on her sandwich, “You’re funny” she said and Jeff looked at her, “You’re pretty” he told her and she blushed. “Kidding aside now, what do you do Jeff?” Nadine asked. “I am a graduating college student” he said and she was surprised. “Me too, what college do you go to?” she asked. “The one nearby” he answered. “I don’t believe you, I don’t see you there” she said.
“That’s funny, I don’t see you there too” he told her and again they laughed. “Seriously, I have never seen you on campus” she told him. “I live inside the campus actually, after classes I come here to get a daily view of life’s disparity” he said and she looked at him. “What do you mean?” she asked and Jeff took a deep breath and looked towards the river. “Nadine why did you come here?” he suddenly asked. “I was attracted by the tulips and water, it somehow removes the daily stress I have to go through” she answered.
“You have been going here for the last four days and tell me what else you have noticed?” he asked. Nadine looked around and she found nothing out of the ordinary. “I don’t know, you perhaps” she said and Jeff smiled. “There are two ways to reach this place, the first one the grassy slope which I assume you take since you have clean shoes. The other way is through that muddy dead river which leads all the way back to the University. Sad to say I found this place years ago using that route but nowadays I take the route you take” he told her and only now did Nadine notice the muddy part of the river nearby.
“So that is why you keep on sitting on that spot since you can see the muddy part” she commented and Jeff nodded. “Beauty is beauty no matter how you look at it but you will appreciate it more if you look at something less appealing. That is how life is, people tend to focus on the things that appeal to them, and the less appealing they ignore. This is diversity, focus on the ugly in order to appreciate the beautiful things” Jeff uttered and Nadine just focused on him, “Just like you, you dress lousy but you are handsome” she said and Jeff laughed.
“So for four days that has been your only great discovery” Jeff said and Nadine looked curiously. “I don’t understand” she replied. “For four days I already know a lot about you, aside from the physical aspect which I suppose everyone knows I know lots of things about you just by observing you” he said. “Me? You have been observing me all this time?” Nadine said in surprise and Jeff nodded. “You barely looked at me and you say you know a lot about me, okay tell me then” she dared.
“You are a person who is persistent. You are often curious and you will never be satisfied until you get the answers” he told her and she was surprised. “You are intelligent, probably graduating with honors. You started going here to relax and get away from it all. Lately you have somewhat lowered your standards since you are sure of graduating anyway. The honors would not mean much since you probably have a trust fund to get you off after you graduate” he said and Nadine was speechless for everything he said was true.
“Now you are beginning to scare me, how did you do that?” she asked as she stared at him. “Just by observing you, the moment you arrived at this place you had a really beautiful smile, a smile of relief. For someone who is really goal oriented, they would not come back here daily and waste their time just to enjoy the view. People usually come to this kind of place to get away from it all” he explained and the more she was intrigued.
“You are right, I can’t believe it but all you said was true” she said and Jeff smiled at her. “All this time all I did was study, i don’t want to brag but my future is secure since I will just be taking over my dad’s company after I graduate. I could have taken another course in another University but I just wanted to fulfill my parents’ wishes, they met in this University and so they wanted me their only daughter to have the same alma mater” she related. “So you’re saying you were forced?” he asked and Nadine shook her head. “Not really, ever since I was a little girl I wanted to be like my dad, I wanted to be with him always and study the things he was doing. I learned a lot from his first hand and maybe I learned a little here in this University. Nothing beats firsthand experience, you can say I am just here for the diploma” she related.
“How about you? Tell me more about you” she said and Jeff sighed. “I am not just here for the diploma, you were right about me being homeless, literally homeless and not just because of the way I dress” he told her and she started to feel sorry. “When I was little we had a big house, they gave me everything I wanted. They were greedy and never contented so my mom moved to another state to earn more. She met another man and they separated, I decided to stay with my father. We were doing fine actually but my father met another woman who turned out to be a gold digger. Everything she wanted he gave her, eventually all the promises he made me…well lets just say I had to live with the lies” he said and the more Nadine felt sad for him. “We had to sell the house, from private school I moved to public school and I knew there was going to be nothing left for me if this continued. I ran away from home, I worked part time and continued high school on my own.
My mom sends a little monetary support, just enough to pay the rent and a little extra for food. Now she still sends but just enough to feed me daily because I have two sisters now” he related and even managed to smile. Nadine didn’t know what to say or do upon hearing his story, so she remained silent for the time being. “So basically with all the data, you just connect the dots and you will get to know who I am” Jeff added and closed his eyes. “Ah, I don’t mean to be rude but how do you pay for college? This University is quite expensive you know” she asked. “Let’s just say I was lucky” he replied and she didn’t inquire further.
“Jeff it was nice meeting and talking with you but I have to go now” Nadine said as she stood up. “The pleasure was all mine Nadine, thank you for making this place more beautiful” Jeff replied and Nadine laughed. “Oh by the way where is your girlfriend?” Nadine asked and Jeff smiled and looked at her. “Nice question, indirect but you will probably get the same answer as do you have a girlfriend?” he commented and Nadine chuckled. “So where is she?” she asked. “I have the same status as you” Jeff said and Nadine raised an eyebrow. “Single” Jeff said and Nadine again laughed. “What makes you think I am single?” she asked. “The way your hands were trembling while you were holding my face, the way you blushed as we stared into each other’s eyes, and the way you asked the question says it all” he explained and Nadine just giggled and patted his shoulders.
Thirty minutes later Jeff enters his dorm room, there were two beds, one on each corner. Laying half naked on the bed closest to the door was his room mate Anthony, a spoiled rich kid who turned the dorm room into a decent hotel suite. “Youre early” Tony said as Jeff walked towards his bed. “Same goes to you” Jeff replied and Tony laughed. “Yeah she just left, you should have seen her man, she probably is the prettiest I ever slept with” Tony said but Jeff didn’t bother listening and got into his bed and closed his eyes.
“Hey, I met a girl” Jeff uttered and Tony stood up and walked towards his bed. “Is she pretty?” he asked. “You can say that” Jeff replied. “So will you be needing this room for yourselves anytime soon? Just tell me so I can give you some privacy” Tony said and Jeff stared at him. “Im not like you Tony” Jeff told him and Tony scratched his head. “Well I am happy for you, I almost thought you were gay” Tony commented and Jeff laughed. “Anyway wanna go get some dinner?” Tony asked and Jeff turned and lay flat on his chest. “No thanks, she brought me a sandwich” he said softly.
“Whoa! Damn your fast” Tony said and Jeff again laughed. “Yeah, she thought I was a homeless guy, she brought it out of pity” Jeff explained and they both laughed. “Well let me just get dressed and don’t wait up for me I will be late” Tony said and Jeff just closed his eyes again and images of Nadine started to fill his mind. “Damn, now I cant get her out of my mind” Jeff mumbled softly.