I remember the fog that night being as heavy as I’d ever seen it since I’d moved to Columbia. I could hear cars passing slowly through the streets, and I’d see their headlights as only tiny bricks of dull light before they approached and gained their full luminescence. As I walked through the campus for one of the very last times at night, I felt like I was in London, or maybe on the set of an old movie; lights warmed the dark mist as the outlines of austere old buildings would coalesce as I approached, and I wondered if I would ever be as happy in another city. Earlier at the coffee shop, I’d seen one of my old friends for the first time in months. Jerry had surprised me by not asking me what my future plans were. “We’re all tired of talking about it,” he’d said.
“Cheers,” I’d said.
We then clinked glasses, though the clink would be lost in the din of the café. It was early on a Friday night and neither of us were going out, but the rest of the coffee shop buzzed with the energy of an arrived weekend. Jerry looked good, though he’d put on a little weight since Freshman year when I first saw him cutting pictures of Eva Mendes out of fashion magazines for his dorm room door. He seemed a little more dignified now, wearing a nice brown jacket his father could have worn. He’d made it into law school at Georgetown.
“Do you remember Ben Turkisher?” he asked.
“With the hair?”
“He’s cut it all off now. He’s going to Abu Dhabi in June.”
Everyone was going somewhere in May and June, and we were talking about it anyway. It was a town still small enough to know most everybody, which is why I’d come to school here in the first place.
“Prinster make a decision?”
“New York. Maybe Chicago. She’ll know in a couple weeks.”
The pungent scent of roasted coffee filled the air and I almost forgot that I’d once gone to a movie with the barista my sophomore year. Her hands swooped over the rows of jars along the walls of the first coffee shop I’d ever known, and it seemed now that my childhood in rural Missouri would only be getting farther away. In four years I’d accumulated a history that I couldn’t even keep track of anymore, which seemed to follow me everywhere like a cologne I’d forgot I’d applied.
Jerry told me that his sister had moved to town last week, and he asked if I was still single.
“Still single,” I said. I declined to meet her.
“Oh, right; you’ve only got a month or two. Probably for the best.”
“That’s too bad,” he added.
We then clinked glasses again and then turned to look at the fog that was descending, watching the figures passing by the front windows in the twilight.
That night as I walked home I could hear voices shouting at each other through the fog, like ships signaling each other with horn blasts in the dark. A thin layer of moisture covered everything, and I slowly recognized the sidewalks that led to the building where I lived, which I’d walked along too many times to count. I saw another old acquaintance I almost didn’t recognize; they nodded as we passed. I smiled to myself, and the haze around my building faintly glowed as I approached, as if bearing only a suggestion of light. I walked inside the front doors and ascended the stairs to my one-man apartment on the fifth floor, my shoes squealing on each one of the steps, and when I got to my room, I found a note slipped under my door. I’d never lived alone.