“I’ll be all right,” I assure him—no offense, but that protein shake had tasted like chemical waste. “I’ll call you later, okay?”
I refrain from kissing him good-bye—it’s the cafeteria, crowded with residents on their lunch break, and our relationship is still supposed to be purely student/teacher, after all—and settle for giving his hand a quick squeeze before I follow a still scowling Sarah past Magda’s desk, out into the lobby, and up the stairs to the second floor library, which still contains the nineteenth-century mahogany bookcases that once held the Fischer family’s extensive leather-bound collection of classic literature, and where we’ve attempted, numerous times, to keep books, only to have every single one of them stolen, no matter how battered or cheesy-looking the cover, and then sold on St. Mark’s Place.
The room is still amazingly popular, however, with residents who have a test to study for and who need to get away from their partying roommates. I’m the one who made up and posted the Shhhh! Quiet Study Only Please! and Group Study Down the Hall in Rm 211 signs and posted them under the plaster cherub moldings that a hundred years earlier had looked down on sherry parties, not kids pounding on Mac-Books. But whatever.
“What’s going on?” I ask Sarah, as we trot up the stairs. “What’s the meeting for?”
“I wouldn’t know,” Sarah says with a sniff. “Student staff is not invited.Our meeting is tonight at nine. Once again, we apparently aren’t considered good enough to mingle with the exalted professional staff.”
“I’m sure it’s just because they figured the majority of you would be in class right now,” I say, taken aback—mainly at the bitterness in her tone. Sarah hates not being involved in anything that the professional staff is doing… for which I don’t blame her, exactly. She certainly works as hard (if not harder) as any of us, and for room and board only, on top of which, she goes to class full-time. It really does suck that now the college is planning on yanking her insurance and everything else. She has every right to complain—even to strike.
I just wish there were some other way the GSC could have gotten the president’s office to listen to them than to resort to such an extreme. Couldn’t they all just sit down and talk?
Then again, I guess they’d tried that. Hadn’t that been what Owen’s job was?
Look how well that had turned out.
“How’s it going?” I ask her, as we reach the second floor—quiet at this time of day, since most of the residents are either in class or downstairs, eating. “I mean, with the GSC stuff, now that Dr. Veatch is… you know. Out of the picture? I know it’s only been a few hours, but has there been any… progress?”
“How do you think it’s going?” Sarah demands hotly.
“Oh, Sarah,” I say. “I’m sorry—”
“Whatever,” Sarah says, with uncharacteristic—even for her—venom. “I bet I can tell you exactly what’s going to happen at this meeting you’re about to step into. President Allington is going to appoint someone—Dr. Jessup, probably—as interim ombudsman—until a replacement for Dr. Veatch can be found. Which is ironic, because Dr. Veatch was a replacement until a replacement for Tom could be found. Sebastian insisted it wouldn’t go down like this—that once Veatch was out of the picture, Dr. Allington would have to meet with us one on one. I tried to tell him. I tried to tell him that would never happen. I mean, why would Phillip Allington sully his own hands with filth like us, when he can hire someone—someone else — to do it?”
To my surprise, Sarah bursts into tears—right in the second floor hallway, in front of the second floor RA’s safe sex bulletin board display. Concerned—for more reasons than one—I put my arms around her, cradling her head against my shoulder as her crazy frizzy hair tickles my nose.
“Sarah,” I say, patting her back. “Come on. Seriously. It’s not that bad. I mean, it’s bad that a guy is dead, and all. But your parents already said they’ll pay your insurance. I mean, they just bought a winter place in Taos. It’s not like six hundred more bucks a semester is going to break the bank. And don’t Sebastian’s parents own every movie theater in Grosse Pointe or something? He’s not exactly hurting for cash, either… ”
“That’s not it,” Sarah sobs, into my neck. “It’s the principle of the thing! What about people who don’t have parents with seven-figure-a-year incomes? Don’t they deserve to be allowed to go to Health Services? Don’t they deserve health care?”
“Of course they do,” I say. “But you know, it’s not all up to Dr. Allington. A lot of the decision over whether or not to negotiate a new contract with you guys is up to the board of trustees—”
“I told Sebastian that,” Sarah says, abruptly letting go of my neck, and wiping her tears with the backs of her wrists. “God. He’s so… adversarial.”
I want to warn her about her word choice—especially with the likelihood of the police looking to the GSC for possible suspects in Owen’s murder—but don’t get a chance to, because the door to the library suddenly pops open, and Tom, who’d been my boss here at Fischer Hall a few months earlier, until he’d been promoted, looks out, sees me, then hisses, “There you are! Get in here! You’re about to miss all the good stuff!”
I know bygood stuff he means hilarity in the form of senior administrators making asses of themselves, something the two of us thoroughly enjoy observing, usually seeking the back row during staff meetings, so we can watch it together.
“I’ll be right there,” I say to Tom. To Sarah I say, trying to push some of her excessively bushy hair out of her face, “I have to go. Are you going to be all right? I’m worried about you.”
“What?” Sarah lifts her head, and the tears are, miraculously, gone. Well, mostly. There are still a few brimming, unshed, in her eyelashes. But they could be mistaken for an allergic reaction to the pollen season. “I’m fine. Whatever. Go on. You better go. Don’t want to be late to your big important meeting. ”
I eye her uncertainly. “Is Detective Canavan still down in my office? Because if he’s not—”
“I know,” she says, rolling those tear-filled eyes sarcastically. “Somebody ought to be down there manning it to make sure the residents have someone to talk to about the recent tragedy. Don’t worry. I’m on it.”