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One of the nicer things about Mount Abrams College is the huge park right in the middle of the main campus. Ancient oaks spread their branches over thick, green grass. Flower beds packed with roses are scattered among winding cobblestone paths and a pond, littered with ducks, swans and the occasional goose, takes up one corner. Most of the student body spends its time wandering around, lounging on benches or feeding the ducks, rather than studying.
I cut across the grass, skirted a flower bed and plopped down on a bench by the pond. I like ducks and regretted not bringing any bread to toss to them. They weren’t happy about it either, but didn’t make too much commotion.
Jason walked up to the bench and spent almost a minute shifting from one foot to the other then decided to sit on the ground. My estimation of his intelligence went up a notch and I grinned. His face developed instant sunburn and he pretended to be interested in the ducks.
“Okay, start talking.” I figured he had several things eating at him about now and was curious what he’d spill without prompting. He promptly shot himself in the foot.
“I’m not actually a student here.” I’d sorta guessed this by now, but it was nice for him to confirm it. “I want to be. I’m just not... it’s too expensive.”
“You lied.” My voice sounded scary even to me and I wasn’t surprised when his head imitated that of a turtle and tried to disappear into his shirt.
“Uh... No... I mean... I....” he stuck his neck out. Literally. Then turned his head around and tried the puppy-dog eyes thing on me. I cleared my throat. The puppy-dog eyes vanished and he chewed on his lower lip instead. “I didn’t, did I?”
I peered down my nose at him. “The night we met you told me your classes were supposed to start this summer. You repeated that not thirty minutes ago. Now you tell me you’re not a student here. Have I misunderstood something?”
He entertained me by turning several shades of pink and deciding the grass was far more fascinating than my face. He stared at it and practiced putting holes in the ground with his finger for almost five minutes.
I said nothing. I don’t believe in intruding on moments of personal introspection, especially when they might lead to enlightenment. From the red flush creeping over Jason’s ears, I assumed the enlightenment was progressing nicely.
“I... umm...” His vocabulary wasn’t benefiting, however. I decided to let him off the hook.
“I’ll save you the trouble of coming up with an excuse you can actually say. You lied. Look at me.”
His head came up a lot slower than it went down and I noticed the beginnings of real understanding deep inside his eyes. He’d finally caught on and didn’t like it.
I grinned at him. “You can drive yourself crazy trying to find ways to wiggle around my truth spell. Or you can own up to start with. So far, you’re not doing too good in the wiggle department. Want to try the other option?”
His shoulders sagged and he shrugged. “Just trying to be what I’m not... I guess.” I watched the ducks and waited for him to finish. It took him another couple minutes of introspection, but he gave up the fight for good and tossed a stick at the ducks. “I’m not in college anywhere. I just graduated from High School a couple weeks before... you know. I was gonna try to go here but my dad said it was a waste of money and wanted me to join the army instead. I was gonna get a job... guess it doesn’t matter now.”
“You’re still going to get that job.” I watched him trip over my words and waited for him to stare at me. He followed through less than a second later. “I told you it was time for you to start earning your keep. Remember? I have my own tuition to pay, not to mention food, electricity and other bills. Unless you’d rather spend the rest of your life watering ivy?”
He blanched and shook his head and tried to retrieve my earlier statement from under the clock tower and the mini-skirt. He failed. “When did you say that?”
“When you were busy remembering what the sky looked like on my front porch before lunch.”
“You’re also going to call your folks and let them know you’re safe.” I needed to know how far I could trust him and a call to his parents, with no restrictions on what he could say, would be a good test. Besides, he needed clothes. He’d worn the same stuff for a month and they were in worse shape than he was. I was going to have to buy him a couple pairs of pants and some shirts from the local thrift store, but the rest could come out of his closet at his mom’s house. I gave him a chance to respond then got up and walked off. He resisted the urge for almost five seconds, and then followed.
Copyright © 2006 by Crystalwizard