John Holton (john_holton) wrote,
John Holton

Part 13! Yippee!

Nothing by way of explanation

When we got to the dorm, Kate rode up to the fifteenth floor to borrow some casual clothes from a friend who lived there. I went to my room and changed my clothes. Eddie walked in as I was getting dressed.

"Hey, mo, what's going on?"

"Getting ready to go out," I said. "I thought you were going home for the weekend."

"Yeah, in a few minutes. I'll be there until Tuesday. Gotta vote. So, your big date with Rosalie?" he asked.

"No. Kate Molloy."

"You're kidding! You landed a date with her?" He sat down in the easy chair and grinned. "You're shittin' me! Last night, you said she was with her boyfriend and they tried to stick you with one of her friends, who didn't like you."

"Well, a lot has happened since last night." I fought with my hair, as usual. "She broke up with her boyfriend last night and decided she wanted to go out with me tonight."

"Man, you work fast," he said.

"I was in the right place at the right time," I said. I looked around the room and saw that Eddie had a pile of his magazines in plain view. "You wanna ditch those for a few minutes? I don't want her walking in here and seeing them."

"She's coming here?" he exclaimed.

"Well, she's upstairs right now, getting comfortable, and she's going to come down to get me when she's ready."

"Why didn't you tell me she was coming here?" He dove for the pile and stuffed them under his bed just as Kate poked her head into the open door.

"Can I come in?" she asked.

I looked at Eddie, who was now seated on his bed. "Yeah, come on in," I said, smiling.

She walked in and looked around. "Hey, Eddie, Tony didn't tell me you were his roommate."

"He didn't tell me you were his date until about five minutes ago. That Tony loves to keep his secrets."

I picked up my jacket and took Kate by the hand. "Listen, we'll see you," I said.

"I won't be here, remember?"

"Oh, yeah. Well, have a good time at home. Say hi to your folks for me."

We started for the door, and Eddie said, "Hey, Reardon!" I peeked around the corner; he made an obscene motion with his hands and gave me the "thumbs-up". I just shook my head and walked out.

It was a nice enough evening, if a bit cold, that we decided to walk to the No Exit Cafe, even if it was a mile away and right off of the L at Morse. We stopped for something to eat first at my favorite place for hot dogs, which as far as I know didn't have a name. All I knew about the place was that I went there three or four times a week, usually right before bedtime. Kate's appetite seemed to be a little better than it had been at lunch, maybe because she hadn't eaten too well. I wanted to think it was because she was with me.

I had only been to No Exit a few times before, and what I remembered the most about it was that it was on a part of Glenwood Avenue that was still paved with bricks. Kate thought that was really cool, that the people of the neighborhood fought hard to keep it looking the way it had many years before. We decided to take the scenic route through the neighborhood, rather than staying on Sheridan Road. I was feeling kind of funny about walking down major streets, given my recent past experiences with crazed drivers nearly running me over.

No Exit was a throwback to the beatnik days. Dark and filled with ferns and other plants, it was the only place that I knew of that served capuccino and espresso. The entertainment was generally someone with a guitar and a halfway decent voice, and the politics, while never expressly stated, were somewhere to the immediate left of Lenin, if you were to believe the posters on the wall. Still, the people were friendly enough, the prices were reasonable, and the entertainment was usually pretty good, and I knew from some experience that it was a great place to go to impress a date with one's worldliness.

We got there about an hour before the entertainment started and sat at a small table near the window. A young woman took our order (espresso for me, hot chocolate for her, a slice of chocolate cake for the two of us) and scurried off. Kate looked at the table and smiled. "It's a Go board! Have you ever played Go before, Tony?"

"Is that what they're doing over there?" I asked, pointing to a table against the back wall. Two older men were intently staring at a number of small pieces on the table, as if they were trying to set it on fire.

"Yeah! Want to try?"

"Sure!" I was willing to do anything once, twice if I liked it. When our server returned, Kate had her bring a set of stones for us.

I wasn't all that good at the game. Kate, who had played before, beat me nearly every time. I wasn't as interested in the game as I was in her. She talked nearly the entire time that we played: about her lousy family situation, her abusive father, her mother who looked the other way, how, as the oldest, she was expected to do more and make them prouder than any of her younger siblings. She told me that she was on a pace to finish college by a year from January, because she had taken eighteen hours every semester and twelve hours every summer, with the idea that she could save herself a year and a half's worth of student loans and move out that much sooner. She told me that she had originally wanted to go into nursing, but that she was taking some business courses and thinking of changing majors, that she hadn't taken any of her major classes and all of what she had already taken would work as core classes.

She paused and met my eyes, smiling tenderly. "It's so nice to talk and have someone really listen," she said. She reached across the table and took my hand. "So, what about you? I want to know as much about you as you can tell me before the band starts playing." A guitarist, a violinist, and a string bass player were tuning up on the bandstand, and our server came by and asked if we wanted anything before the music started. We ordered another round, and I turned back to my date.

I told her about how my father died when I was eleven, and how my mother had done everything that she could to support the three of us. I told her about my sister and her alternative lifestyle, about how my mother was so disappointed but how Claire seemed really happy. I told her about my brother, and my big goofy family with hundreds of aunts, uncles, cousins, cousins once removed, second cousins once removed, second cousins, and so on. I told her that I planned on majoring in Production Management, but had no idea why other than I was good in statistics and it seemed to be a good fit for me. About halfway through that discussion, the band started playing, and we turned to watch them. She kept a tight grip on my hand through their first couple of songs, and shifted her chair around so that she could be closer to me during one particularly romantic tune.

"I'd like to go back after this set," she whispered in my ear.

"OK," I whispered back. She rested her head on my shoulder and pulled me close.

I paid the bill when the server came around, and we walked back out into the chilly evening. It had rained while we were in the cafe, and was still drizzling when we started our walk back. "Do you want to take the train home?" I asked.

"Yeah, that sounds good," she replied.

As we crossed Glenwood Avenue in the direction of the L station at Morse, a car suddenly turned the corner. I started to run and tugged Kate's arm to pull her out of the way, but the car's front bumper caught her rear end, throwing her toward me and sending me to the pavement. She let out a pained wail and began to cry as I tried to gather my wits and figure out what had happened. Several people from the cafe came out, saw what had happened, and ran across the street.

"My God, are you two all right?" someone who sounded like the singer asked.

"Oh, God, my leg, it hurts so bad!" Kate wailed.

"You had a nasty fall yourself, kid. What happened?"

"I...we were crossing...this guy..."

"It's OK. Look, they've called an ambulance and the police. Help's on the way."


The No Exit Cafe is still in existence, by the way, although not in the same location as when I went there. I have yet to visit the new one; I can only suppose that the ambience of the place is still the same as when I visited during my college years. As far as I know, Glenwood Avenue north of Pratt is still paved with bricks. If you get to Chicago, it would definitely be worth the trip.

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