Wendy sat in a chair in the second-floor hallway of the Delta Sig house. To her left was a line of girls waiting to get into the bathroom; in the chair to her right, her friend Molly sat smoking a cigarette. Every other minute, Molly took another drag from her cigarette and blew out imperfect smoke rings.
“I used to be able to blow circles,” Molly said, dropping the butt end of her cigarette in a can of beer sitting at the feet of her chair. “I’m losing one of the only skills I’ve learned so far at college.”
“You know what they say?” Wendy asked.
“No. I don’t know what they say. And when I do know what they say, I don’t know what they mean.”
“They say there’s a bit of magic in everything, and a bit of loss to even things out.”
“Who said that?”
“I don’t remember.”
“What does it mean?”
“That if you’ve lost the ability to blow smoke rings, something else will come along.”
“Is that the sort of thing you expect people to say to you before you’ll talk to them?”
“No, not at all,” Wendy said, turning fully toward Molly. “I’m not the kind of snob that you think I am.”
“Yes you are. You will talk to anyone but you’re bored the whole time. I can see it in your eyes. You have bored eyes right away when someone starts telling you something.”
Wendy reached into Molly’s purse on the back of the chair and drew out a cigarette. Before placing it between her lips, she took the matches from Molly’s hand, but before lighting the cigarette, Wendy said, “Don’t you ever get the idea when you talk to someone that they’re not telling you the really interesting things about themselves; instead, they talk about a class you both have or a movie they’ve seen or something else that you don’t need them to tell you about.”
“What do you want them to talk about?”
“Maybe something I can’t see for myself.”
“What does that mean?”
Wendy put the cigarette between her lips but then took it out again: “Do you see those guys down the hallway,” Wendy said, gesturing past Molly to where three frat brothers were pouring whiskey into their beer cans. “I’m not saying I know everything about them just from what I can see, but most guys who wear their high school letter jacket the way one of them is are pretty much what you’d expect just from what you see.”
“What’s wrong with that?”
“Nothing, but don’t you think it would be interesting if you met someone who you didn’t know just by looking at them? Something, about them, I mean, that they didn’t want to talk about.”
“Like a tragedy, maybe.”
“What kind of tragedy?”
“I don’t have a tragedy in mind. But for example maybe if some guy grew up on a farm and his father was killed plowing a hillside when the tractor rolled over on him, an experience that would change him in ways you can’t see–maybe make him wiser.”
“You want some guy to tell you about his father being crushed under a tractor?”
“No. Not at all. In fact, if he went out of his way to tell me all about it, he might be just feeling sorry for himself.”
“That’s a weird way of thinking about things.”
“It is, isn’t it? I wish I didn’t think that way. But it would be interesting to meet someone that had something about them I didn’t know just by looking.”
“Maybe there is. Have you thought of that? Maybe the next person you meet at this party will have some thing that’s hidden.”
“I don’t think so.”
“Let’s find out,” Molly said, and she looked down the hall to her right where the three frat brothers were clicking their beer cans together. “Hey!” she called out. “One of you come over here.”
“What are you doing?” Wendy asked.
“We’re going to find out if one of those guys isn’t what you think just by looking at him.”
The three boys in the hallway stood staring at Mollly and Wendy for a moment and then, without consulting his friends, the tallest of the three boys came down the hallway.