At the base of Red Square is a long driveway that curls around like a horseshoe. It's from here that most of the students are flooding the campus, pushing trolleys and carts and bearing trunks between them. Vehicles line the horseshoe like insects. Without thinking, I make my way to the horseshoe.
In the center of the horseshoe is a pleasant little forest. But it doesn’t catch my interest for long. For now I’m surrounded by people, mostly my age and of every breed imaginable. Jocks, goths, hipsters, nerds, and bookworms like me. I should get out of the high school mindframe, now I’m a college student.
But I can’t just yet, because there’s somebody I can’t quite place. He’s tall, blond, and getting out of a cab in front of me. My first instinct is goth, because he’s wearing what looks like a cape, but he can’t be a goth. No goth would smile so widely while retrieving a snowy white owl in a cage from the backseat of the cab. He’s gorgeous, this boy. I fear I’m staring.
I see I’m wrong. It’s not a cape he’s wearing but a robe – a smart, enveloping black robe with a short, thin stick in one of his front pockets. With the help of the cabdriver, the boy lifts a trunk from the back of the cab. Slamming the trunk closed, the cab driver leans on it, looking impatient. The blond boy looks flustered.
I make my way to the cab, through the crowd of people and other vehicles until I’m beside the odd looking boy and the cab driver. The boy turns to me. “Excuse me,” he says, “Could you lend me a hand?”
“Sure,” I reply, gazing into dazzlingly turquoise eyes. “With what?”
“This,” answers the robed boy, and plunging his hand into his pocket he brings forth a handful of paper and coins. “Can you count out $80.19?”
“Um, I guess,” I say, amazed by this. Is he foreign? He doesn’t sound foreign. His accent is American. I look into his hand. Geez, a couple of these coins I’ve never seen before. They're large, like half-dollars, and bizarrely designed. Not wanting to keep him waiting, I take a few twenties from the wad of paper money and the dime, nickel, and pennies to match. “There you go.”
“Thanks,” says the boy profusely, beaming at me as he hands the money over.
Taking his pay, the driver allows his eyes to trace the strange dress and appearance of his customer one last time before jumping back in his cab and taking off. The boy and I are left in the middle of the road with a trunk and an occupied bird cage. Err, excuse me – owl cage.
“That looks heavy,” I say, gesturing to the trunk. “Need help?”
Stowing the remainder of his paper and coinage in his robes pocket, the boy grins at me. “Gabriel White,” he says, extending a hand. “And no thank you. This thing’s got wheels on one end which makes it quite manageable.”
I shake his hand. “Nora Saynt-Rae,” I tell him.
He gazes at me thoughtfully. “Hyphen?”
“My parents insisted on it,” I say. “Well, Mom did mostly. It’s like she knew the marriage wouldn’t last. That was her way of keeping a piece of me.”
“Oh,” Gabriel says, registering this.
Oh shit. Too heavy, too fast?
I pick up the owl cage. “I can get this. What’s his name?”
“Her name,” he begins, “Is Merrifeather. She’s friendly.”
Huge amber eyes blink at me. She's a pretty owl. What a bizarre pet. “Do they allow owls here?” I ask, gazing around as though expecting to see owls in cages erupting from car trunks and back doors.
“They do now,” Gabriel says. “Thank you for your help with the money, Nora. I won’t intrude on your day any longer.” Picking up his trunk at one end and taking the cage from me, the boy walks away.