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Tall, Dark Streak of Lightning


chapter one 

“Wishing to be friends is quick work,
but friendship is a slow ripening fruit.”

I knew right away that Davin Kowalski was different.  For one thing, he was kind of impossible to miss: a tall, scruffy guy in a long black trench coat, often seen sprinting to his next class.  He wasn’t known for saying much; but then, he wasn’t really known at all.  If anyone could have guessed what was going on in that brain of his underneath his unruly mop of hair, I think we all would have looked at him differently.
            As it was, he took great pains to isolate himself and keep his thoughts a mystery.  In class—when he made it on time—he sat in the corner, hunched over his desk, always reading or writing something.  He was a loner and kept to himself.  He was so good at it that most people passed by him without a second glance—unless it was to whisper about him.  Most people thought he was sort of scary and went out of their way to avoid him, and he certainly was intimidating.  Always dressed in dark clothes and wearing combat boots, he seemed a generally disheveled mess towering over the rest of us.     
            At first I was no different, no more privy to his thoughts than anyone else.  I was a bit on the shy side myself so we’d never actually had a conversation, even though we’d been in a study group once or twice.  We had World Civilizations together, one of those liberal arts prerequisites they assign half the freshman class to attend, and our study group was easily a third of that.  Even for a small school like Dubsy, that was too many to get to know anyone well right away. 
            I don’t know exactly what it was about the way he’d come stumbling in late and looking half-asleep that caught my interest.  There were cuter—and probably saner—guys in my class that would have been a whole lot easier to get to know.  And it wasn’t like I made a habit of trying to salvage hopeless causes.  I’d given that up ages ago.  But there was just something in his expression that reminded me of my own loneliness and homesickness.  Whatever it was, my heart went out to him.  Of course, I should have known right then that I was in for a world of trouble.

            We were walking out of class one day, and I was by myself.  Tiffany, a girl who lived in my suite, usually walked to class and lunch with me but had skipped that day.  I didn’t really care.  I’d eaten plenty of lunches by myself in high school. 
            It was just an ordinary, crisp fall day and students were milling around, walking over to Phelps Dining Hall.  I was not particularly in a hurry; I knew that by the time I got
there, the line would already be out the door.  Just steps away from reaching the parking lot, I began digging through my bag for my ID card.  I rifled through its murky depths and irritably pulled out the folders and notebooks I’d so neatly tucked away just moments earlier.  I heard footsteps behind me, but I wasn’t really paying attention.  Then I was jostled: an elbow bumped my own and sent my books flying all over the sidewalk.  “Hey!”  I yelled after the culprit, but he was still moving—running—past. 
            “Sorry,” he called over his shoulder, his black trench coat flapping behind him like a cape.
            Then I saw what he was running to.
            Across the street, on the lawn next to the cafeteria, a group of students were playing Frisbee.  I watched as a long throw sent one of the guys running backwards into the street after it, oblivious to the car that was backing out toward him.  From where I stood, I could see what was about to happen, but it was obvious neither party was aware of the other—a large van was blocking the view. 
            That was when Davin caught the Frisbee, threw it back to the group, and pushed the guy out of the way just in time.  He himself didn’t quite make it out of harm’s way; the car had a bike rack that snagged his forearm and tore his sleeve.
            “Hey, keep your game out of the parking lot, morons!” I heard the driver yell as she drove away. 
            The Frisbee guy, too, was yelling at him.  “What was that for?” 
            By that time, I’d crossed the street as well.  “Are you blind?  That car would have hit you,” I snapped.  “He did you a favor.”
            The Frisbee guy frowned and backed away.  “Whatever.  Just...keep your hands off me, man.”
            “You’re welcome,” Davin called after him mildly.  He shook his head.
            “Jerk,” I muttered; he seemed to suddenly notice me.  “Not you.  Him,” I clarified.
            “You…saw all that, did you?”
            “Yeah.”  I faced him, looking stern.  “Are you crazy? You could have been killed!  Or at the very least, seriously injured.”
            He glanced over at me.  “Well, luckily, no one was. You’re all right, aren’t you?”
            “Yes.  But if I hadn’t stopped to pick up my books...”  I looked at him, curiously.  Surely he hadn’t knocked them out of my arms on purpose.
            He was looking at my folders.  “Star Wars and Spider-Man, huh?  Your boyfriend got you carrying his stuff, now?”
            “What?  These are mine,” I exclaimed indignantly.
            “Oh.  That’s cool.”
            “No, it’s geeky,” I contradicted.  “But I don’t care.  Anyway, I don’t have a boyfriend.”  I shoved them back in my bag, feeling flustered and self-conscious; for an awkward moment we just stood there.  “Your arm is bleeding,” I frowned, suddenly noticing.
            He glanced down.  “Oh.”  He shrugged.  “It’s just a scratch.”
            “That’s what they all say.  You know, even little scratches need to be taken care of, or they’ll get infected,” I said.
            “What, are you pre-med or something?”  He sounded annoyed.  “Is that like, Minor Wounds 101?”
            “No.  Mom Lectures 101.”  I reached back into my bag and pulled out my travel first aid kit.
            “You carry around a first aid kit?”
            “Believe it or not, it comes in handy.”  I ripped open an alcohol pad, pushed up his sleeve, and began cleaning his scrape, even though he clearly didn’t want me to.  He didn’t exactly stop me, either.  “You never know when you might need a band-aid here, some Tylenol there.  I like to be prepared.”
            “You don’t really strike me as the hypochondriac type.”
            I looked up at him, about to apply a band-aid.  “I’m not.  It’s everyone else I worry about.”
            “So...you’re a Boy Scout and a nurse.”
            I laughed.  “Nope.  Neither.  Just a concerned citizen.”  I crumpled the band-aid wrapper.  “All done.”
            He inspected my handiwork and flexed his arm.  “Good as new.  Thank you, Doctor...”  He looked at me curiously.  “I know I should know your name.”
            “Anna.  Fisher.”
            “Right.  You’re in Howard’s class, right?”
            “Yeah.  World Civ.”
            “I’m Davin.  Kowalski.” 
            Of course I was aware of that, but I wasn’t about to let him know it.  Even if he was conscious of how his looming presence made an impression on his classmates, it might come off creepy and stalker-ish.  And he clearly already thought I was weird.  Best to just keep things polite and friendly.  “Well, Davin Kowalski, are you headed to lunch?”
            “I am,” he replied, but there was something guarded in his tone. 
            I ignored it.  “Okay then,” I said, and I began walking.  He fell into step beside me, sort of.  I could sense a subtle apprehension on his part, as though he was unsure of himself.  I decided the best way to deal with it was to pretend like nothing was wrong, and to talk to him like I would talk to anyone else. 
            This was harder than it sounds for two reasons: one, it normally took me a while to open up to new people.  And two, Davin didn’t exactly give off a vociferous vibe himself.  Before when I’d been around him, he’d always given the impression that staring at him too long was a bad idea.  As was asking him inane questions like what time it was or if you could borrow a pencil. 
            I always imagined that if I ever got near him, in an actual conversation, I’d be able to tell what was simmering below the scruffy, dark-clothed surface.  Rage?  Apathy?  Broody emo angst?  But up close, the only thing I sensed was deep sorrow.  And not ‘life sucks I want to die’ self-pity.  From his weary, guarded manner, I got the sense he’d been through an honest-to-goodness tragedy.  What exactly do you say to someone like that?  How do you even strike up a conversation?  Or, in my case, once you do manage to start a chat of sorts, how do you sustain it?
            We stood in line in silence for several awkward moments, only moving about two feet closer to the cafeteria doors.  In other words, we were sort of stuck together—at least until we got inside.  We shuffled forward a few more inches and I sighed. 
            “Something wrong?” he murmured, and I glanced at him in surprise.
            “Not really,” I replied, allowing myself to look a little closer at Davin.  He was not exactly what people thought, that was for sure.  “The queue is just moving really slow today.”
            “Queue?”  He raised his eyebrows.
            “Line,” I corrected myself.  “Sorry.”
            “I knew what you meant,” he replied.  “And they’re probably just having technical difficulties.  Any minute now it will pick up.”
            I let a scoff escape.
            He regarded me calmly.  “You disagree?”
            I shook my head.  “It’s not that.  I just didn’t peg you as the glass-is-half-full type.  But I get it now: you’re a Good Samaritan and an optimist.”
            The corners of his mouth quirked up slightly.  “Not exactly.  Just a realist.” 
            If I hadn’t watched him help the Ungrateful Frisbee Guy with my own eyes, I doubt I’d ever have begun to figure him out.  Pushing someone out of harm’s way doesn't exactly scream “I don’t care.”  He might have been tall and imposing, but I was quickly noticing that there was, in fact, more to him.  Up close, he was surprisingly better-looking than I’d realized—in a scruffy, messy, unkempt way.  Underneath the stubble, trench coat, and unbrushed hair, there was a certain quiet strength.  “Right,” I said.  “A realist who takes crazy risks to help strangers.”
            He frowned at me sharply, but as we moved forward, he merely mumbled, “And you’re a med student who’s far too easily impressed.”
            “Not a med student,” I reminded him.  “And stop acting like Clark Kent getting caught using his Kryptonian super strength to stop a car or something.  It was nice, what you did.  Even if the guy didn’t appreciate it.”
            Davin stopped walking forward, and a gap widened between him, me, and the people in front of us.  Even as a couple impatient classmates bypassed us to enter the cafeteria, he just stared at me.  “Who are you?” he asked, in a bewildered tone.
            I cocked my head at him, totally baffled.  “I told you.  Anna Fisher.  And I happen to be starving, so let’s go.”
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