I crossed the campus and came upon a busy street, watching every step as I walked lest I slip and fall again. There was a small building with a red neon sign flashing the word “Rickners” on the other side of the street. It looked like a diner, but turned out to be a bookstore with a coffee shop in it. This was a good place to have a sandwich and coffee or a light snack. When the light turned green, I crossed the street, my nose and ears turning numb from the cold.
The store wasn’t crowded. A young couple was browsing the books isle, not talking much. I walked up to the counter and started to read the menu. I was in no rush. A young, freckle-faced, red-haired waitress was cleaning the counter with a white cloth in a circular motion. She looked at me, smiled, but didn’t say anything.
“Well, well. Isn’t someone waiting patiently for a cup of coffee?” I heard a voice behind me. For a moment I thought I was obstructing someone wanting to proceed along the line. But there was no line. I turned and noticed a student, slightly shorter than me, wearing blue wranglers, a heavy winter jacket and a maroon baseball cap with the letters OU on the front.
“Hi, I’m Owen. New here?” he asked, extending his right hand. I shook his hand as I wondered how he knew I was new in town. Perhaps I looked lost.
“Ashley,” I said. “Ashley Wilkins.”
“Isn’t that a girl’s name?”
“I am asked that a lot. It’s my mom’s favorite. She named me after the character in Gone with the Wind.”
“You from around here?”
“No. I came from Phoenix, yesterday. And you?”
“Pauls Valley. Not that far from here.”
“Oh, may be an hour to an hour and half drive.”
“How come you chose OU?”
“Parents. My mom and dad thought OU is as good a college as any in the country, and they wanted me to be close.”
Aren’t all parents alike?
The red-haired waitress had finished cleaning the counter and was facing us, tapping her fingers on the counter, waiting for us to order something. I wasn’t that hungry.
“A grilled cheese, please.” I said.
“American, Swiss or Provolone?”
“Rye or white?”
“You want fries with it?”
“Uh, yes, okay.”
God, I just want a sandwich girl. Jesus, I didn’t know there were so many decisions to make. I had the American on Rye with fries. Owen ordered just coffee. We found an empty table and continued our conversation.
“So, where you staying Ash? can I call you Ash?”
“I don’t have any idea where I am staying, to tell you the truth. I went to see the dean this morning, but he is away. Returning next Friday. I hoped he could put me somewhere. I am stuck up at the Holiday Inn until then. I really don’t think I can afford to do that?”
“Weren’t you assigned a dorm before you came here?”
“No. I’m a grad student. I’ve to stay off campus.”
“You could have rented a room before you came here.”
“I had, but it was a last-minute cancellation. The landlord has to do some heavy repairs.”
“Oh, craps. What’re you going to do now?”
“Hey, I have an idea.” Owen said. “My roommate Cody is joining school a week late. You can stay with me until then.”
“No, no. Are you sure? You don’t even know me. What if I am a criminal hiding from the police?”
“You don’t look like one. Besides, my Dad says trust God and he will take care of everything.”
“Yes. He should know. He’s a pastor in Pauls Valley.”
“How much will I owe you? I’ll pay you back when I start getting my stipend.”
“No need. The room’s been paid for.”
I wasn’t sure if it was legal for me to stay in the dorm, but I was willing to take the chance.