This is part three of our series called “Campus Tales.” Everyone has a story, and so does every building on this campus. Read stories about NU’s campus buildings, in all kinds of shapes and forms – available in different genres for different locations.
Location: Deering Library
She couldn't tell how long they'd been here, what time it was or even if it had been light outside when they arrived.
Rereading another line from her textbook, Teri sighed overdramatically, not absorbing a single word. Instead, she swiped right with three fingers along the trackpad of her far-from-unique MacBook Pro, fitted with a hard marble case and too many stickers to count. Her fingers left streaks on the surface, courtesy of the residual Hot Cheeto grease from her secret stash concealed by her bag on the chair next to her.
"I can't with this anymore," she pounded into her messaging app, directing her woes to the two friends sitting across the dark wooden table in the main room of Deering Library. One, Michelle, rolled her eyes and reached forward to respond. The other, Samantha –Sami for short – failed to even notice.
"Wanna go grab dinner in 10?" Michelle responded in their groupchat, taking the moment to lean back in her chair and stretch. Noticing Teri snatching another Hot Cheeto she added, "Or are you already covered with your endless supply of junk food?"
Now Sami caught on to the exchange, and tried to stifle her giggles to avoid an embarrassing disruption of the tense silence that defined Northwestern’s libraries. Teri eyed her screen and smirked, wiping her fingers on her ripped jeans before typing back, "I hate you guys a little bit. But yes dinner, please save me."
Michelle, a relentless jokester posed as the ultimate sweetheart, took the opportunity to tease Teri even more. "I know what...or WHO could really cheer you up."
She winked, nodding her head to the girl two tables over, hunched over an organic chemistry textbook and a beaten-up notepad. Sami chimed in, giving the same patron a side glance. "You got that right."
Teri blushed, her cheeks matching the red Cheeto mess left on the tips of her index finger and thumb. The girl they were referring to had been an admitted interest of hers for quite some time, a reality she tried to deny. She always seemed to be there, no matter what time of day, always leaning over a different textbook, deep in thought. She never listened to music, which always caught Teri by surprise, because she herself needed a solid Spotify playlist to begin to think straight. Still, her minor crush on this girl was fleeting, and only based on fascination with her eternal determination for studying and seamless ability to avoid distraction. Frankly, her infatuation was just strong admiration, nothing more – or so she told herself.
"Please!!!! Stop," Teri replied, whimpering through keystrokes and emojis. "We all know she's pre-med and therefore more hardcore than I could ever be in my WILDEST DREAMS."
This set Sami off on a silent lip sync session of Taylor Swift's hit song, but did not prevent Michelle from nagging a bit more, just for the fun of it. 'I'm going to make you talk to her one day, ya know."
It was now Teri's turn to roll her eyes. As she shut her laptop to signal she was not interested in even teasing this thought for a second. "Let's go, I’m out of Hot Cheetos," she mouthed. Her friends laughed, but followed suit, sliding their things into bags before heading out into the endless cold.
"Do you think she drinks coffee?" Teri typed, sipping her chai tea latte fresh from Café Bergson, and peering over the top of her screen to pretend to glance at Michelle, but really catch sight of the girl sitting at the table behind them, her back arched and turned away. "She never has anything to drink. How does she even function?"
Michelle, balancing a pen in her mouth, quickly replied, her face emotionless as she maintained focus on political science, not human chemistry. "Maybe she gets more than 6 hours of sleep."
Teri frowned, not due to her own lack of REM, but instead her inability to remain concentrated. The past few days had been fine, and she had grinded through midterm season somehow and was now on the other side. But the slight reduction in stress was largely harming her productivity. Instead of spending time working on the three essays she had due next week, or reading for her English Lit class, she wasted time in Deering, thinking about happier times she had yet to experience. There was an unnerving sense that something was missing – a person, a place or thing – that was holding Teri back, keeping her from living life to the fullest. On weekends, while she enjoyed lounging around in sweats and watching Netflix, she longed for some semblance of adventure – an experience that was new, exciting, extraordinary. Of course, she had her friends, and between their frequent excursions to Evanston and rare trips to Chicago, she was reasonably busy, and should not even have time to think of the adventures she felt she was missing out on.
But still, there was something about the girl, the infamous Deering resident, who she imagined to fulfill this need. It was a fixation, really, completely baseless and absurd, but it continued to blossom, day by day. Teri was not a hopeless romantic, she did not believe in soul mates or fate or destiny of any sort, but there was some connection between her and this mystery girl that kept pulling her into a vortex. Some days she imagined this string between them, bending and waving in the wind that extended as they moved apart, but pulled them closer whenever possible. It felt like gravity, an external force dragging her in deeper despite every ounce of resistance. It ceased to make sense, so she pretended it was nothing. But it persisted nonetheless, a lingering thought in the back of the mind, a faint whisper she could not escape.
However, Teri was sure he girl did not even know she was there. She never seemed to look up from her mountain of work, so the chance that her awareness expanded far enough to capture Teri were far from likely.
It was just boredom and a wild fantasy, she told herself repeatedly, and only flirted with the idea that it could be something more at weak moments when she got lost in a train of thought.
Maybe someday she would gather the courage to introduce herself to the girl, but for now she remained in her seat, maintaining distance and any semblance of reality that she was not a crazy person falling in love with a stranger whose name she did not know.
Sami secretly played solitaire on her laptop, Michelle pretended not to be falling asleep and Teri scrolled absently through her Facebook feed, pausing only momentarily to watch text on BuzzFeed videos or smile at pictures of small animals. Sundays were a drag. They had better just give up.
"How much longer?" Sami messaged in their groupchat, taking a break from dancing cards to break their communication lull.
"Too much longer." Teri shook her head in distress, exhausted from her fake study session but too upset about her lack of productivity to leave.
"Do our lives exist outside of these four walls?" Michelle inquired wistfully. "I love the Hogwarts vibe and all, but I swear I could tell you how many books are on each shelf at this point."
Sami grimaced. "I think the only one who has us beat is the girl." At this, she reached into her bag, pulling out a textbook that, despite her best intentions, she was not going to read. Noticing this, she added on to her message. "Maybe if I had an ounce of her courage I wouldn't be one million chapters behind in every class."
"Relatable," agreed Teri, musing now about the girl’s work ethic and study habits, wondering how they had formed. Did her parents push her? Is it all self-motivation? Is she paying her way through school, with a good GPA the only way to keep her scholarship? Is she planning on graduate school? Her mind was littered with questions, but perhaps the most important one of all was why did she care so much about a person she would never know?
Thanksgiving break began tomorrow at 6 p.m., and Teri was filled with excitement for her flight home. Being a freshman, she missed her parents, her younger brother, her two annoyingly adorable cats – she was undeniably homesick, and she could not wait to quench her thirst for bedrooms and dinner time meals and showers without shoes. Yet here she was, crammed in one of the plush chairs of Deering, trying her hardest to finish the last few chapters of her English Lit book that she needed for the essay due, to her dismay, tomorrow morning.
However, something else felt off about the day, beyond her placement in a library hours before her favorite weekend of the year. Maybe that’s why she moved to the cushions instead of the hard chairs and tables. Maybe it’s because her friends were absent, off in class or packing for their own flights that very night.
Or perhaps it was the fact she had been stuffed in this seat for hours already, and had failed to see the girl at all. Teri knew without a doubt that at this time, like clockwork, every Tuesday, she was always here. She missed her presence in an odd way, as if she was an essential furnishing to the room that left the room feeling barren and disorienting without it. But Teri continued her descent into the novel, flicking through page after page, trying not to focus on the fact that something just was not right inside her.
Finally, who knows how many hours later, she gave up on reading and decided to work with what she knew already. Teri packed up her navy blue Jansport, removing her phone from the charger on the nearby wall, and headed down the stairs to the steps, expecting to make her way to Norris for a quick coffee break before she jumped on the essay-writing grind. When she was halfway there she reached to check if she had her gift card in her wallet. As she glanced down at the empty hand where her possessions usually laid, she realized something was really missing – her wallet. Immediately, she started patting down her pockets. After finding nothing but an old fortune from her last trip to Joy Yee’s, she threw her backpack to the ground and started digging through that. Yet again, her search was pointless. Now panic set in, and she rushed back to Deering, her feet sloshing in the rain puddles that covered the pavement in sporadic spots. Just as she pulled open the heavy doors to the entrance, not even thinking that she did not have her Wildcard to swipe in, she smacked full speed into somebody, knocking herself down onto her butt.
“Oh crap!” she yelled, her voice echoing off the walls of the frigid building. The guard, sitting in the circulation desk near the entryway, immediately gave her a look of warning. She whispered somberly, “Crap, sorry,” which did not seem to help her case.
As she scrambled to stand up, her puffy down jacket making her movements less than graceful, she looked up to figure out who exactly she had body-slammed, just as her companion murmured, “I am so sorry,” with a hand outreached to help her up.
As her eyes finally focused on the figure before her, Teri gasped, breath caught in her throat. The world had frozen and reality was suddenly a foreign concept. Before her, clad in a rust-brown sweater and a maroon rain coat, hood down and hair drenched, was the girl. Of all people, it was her, the mystery herself, in all her fame and glory, standing a foot away in faded Converse and ripped jeans.
“Crap.” Teri repeated, apparently the only word she could remember. At this, the girl chuckled briefly, the corners of her mouth raising, her cheeks filling out, enhancing the red from the cold that still lingered on them. She must have just been outside, and Teri wondered why she was headed the opposite way when they collided.
Teri finally returned to her feet, her worn rain boots no longer slipping along the tile. The girl opened her mouth again, ready to speak, but paused, seeming to prepare her words carefully. She pulled something from her pocket, and then moved it closer into Teri’s line of sight. “I think this is yours,” the girl whispered, as if she was both caught up in the silence of the room and embarrassed by her declaration.
Teri looked at the object, recognizing it immediately as her forgotten wallet. “Oh my gosh!” she squealed, quietly though, so as not to disturb the guard who still had his eye on the two students. “Yes! Crap! I totally just thought I lost it and that's why I was running in here, all crazily, because – oh my gosh. Thank you so much!” Instinctively, she took hold of the wallet and then leaned in to embrace the girl, not even registering her as a stranger or as someone who may not appreciate physical contact. The girl tensed, only slightly. Before her hands were wrapped fully around her wallet’s savior, Teri pulled away, catching her mistake. “Oops, so sorry….” she muttered, now humiliated by her own excitement. “Totally didn’t mean to invade your space...I just...I’m so thankful.” She looked up and aligned her eyes with those of the girl’s, smiling sheepishly.
“No, no, no! It’s fine, I just…” The girl seemed to be lost for words, her eyes looking off as if she intended to find them in the distance. “I wasn’t expecting it.” She nodded with this statement, declaring that she was proud of her thorough articulation.
Before Teri could process what to say next, the girl jumped in again. “I’m Kate, by the way. I was actually was just coming in, and I found the wallet in the chair, and I looked inside...sorry if that's an invasion...but I saw it was your Wildcard, and of course I recognized you so I was going to bring it to the librarian here, because I know you’re always..or I mean often...here....” she trailed off. “I didn’t want you to think I was stealing it or something.”
Teri laughed at this, almost too much, embracing the humor as if it was a fresh breath of air. “Oh my gosh, never. But I didn’t even think that at all. I can’t believe this….”
A silence hung in the air, broken quickly by Kate’s delicate words. “Why not?” she inquired, in a way that caught Teri by surprise.
“I...I don’t actually know, I guess. I just don’t.”
With this, Kate grinned, as if she had caught onto something Teri hadn’t. “I actually know what you mean. I don’t know if that sounds weird, but I do, I do know.”
And suddenly, there was that feeling of fulfillment, as if the hollowness that had been surrounding her had vanished and been replaced with something so much more. She couldn’t put her finger on it, there weren’t any words in the world to describe it, but it was there, tangible and undeniable, like a string, finally pulling the two girls together in this moment. It wasn’t about a lost wallet, or a random encounter; it wasn’t an accident, Teri knew this for sure.
And she wasn’t going to pretend it didn’t exist anymore, so she addressed it in the best way possible. “Do you drink coffee?”
Kate’s eyes warmed, as if the sun had poured in and broken through the veil of clouds in her mind. “I love coffee.”
“Do you want to go get some, and maybe study at Norbucks, or back here?”
“Yeah,” she said, her gaze enticing, as if this was the prospect she had been waiting for. “That sounds like a nice change of pace. But I have one condition.”
Teri’s brows furrowed for a moment in confusion as she attempted to decipher the intentions of the girl who was an endless stream of mysteries. “What is it?”
“We share a bag of Hot Cheetos.”