It was a habit he picked up in another state, in another time, to break up the monotonous hours of studying. Down six flights, loop, up six flights every single day without fail.
No stairs these days, but his pace has quickened to make up for it. Companions came and went. Sometimes furry friends, and sometimes a friend with well-groomed fur on top of her head. While buddy days were a plus, he never thought about them when he was confronted with their absence. He never thought about her at all during the summer or fall months. The time on his walks was safely his own. The musings and mental adventures all played out to the rhythm of his choosing.
On a particularly frigid day he ventured out and took a right down the hill, as was his typical modus operandi. He loves night like these. Fewer people out, less eye contact, and fewer attempts at feigning sincerities. He slips his phone out of his pocket, fingers still functional for now, and starts Pokémon Go. His phone stirs to the alert of a Pokémon appearance. A venonat. “Not worth the investment,” he mutters.
With a left turn at the stop sign he cruises along for three-tenths of a mile where he approaches another intersection. It’s just beyond this junction where she used to show up to accompany him. Something about this cold air and clear skies has clouded his mind. He carries on attending to what is straight ahead as the street she would walk down comes into view. Under normal circumstances it would be visible at least, but not now. The borders of his hood protect him from the elements while leaving him vulnerable to the unknown periphery. If he turns his head he betrays himself and he knows the ensuing rustle and crinkle of the waterproof hood are too much of an admonition to overcome. So he stays the course.
If he did turn, He knows he’d see her in a white puffy coat. Not a pristine white; the kind of white that seems worn and mildly faded, yet without any blemishes that capture the eye. In contrast to her coat, her bottoms were more often that not black yoga pants. Form fitting in all the right places with only the slightest hint of a flair around the ankles. Her locks likely tamed by a wintry woolen head band with a complexion akin to a ruby and, given the wind, he wouldn’t be surprised to see a certain scarf with a crimson character. As she approached at her meandering pace, she more than likely would have her chin nestled into the nest provided by her zipped up jacket and encircling scarf.
If she was there, she’d give him a hug. It’d serve her to block the wind and transfer some warmth. Perhaps that’s why he insisted on walks even in temperatures that make your hands so numb you wouldn’t even be able to feel if you were holding the hand of another. It was the pristine days that overwhelmingly bored him. It was the freezing and the rainy days when his lungs breathed easier. He never felt more at home than during those troubling times. He never felt more alive than when his energy was being sapped by her on those challenging days.
He has finally come to a 3 way stop abutting the target road. It wouldn’t be entirely peculiar for him to take a right here. It wasn’t part of the plan, however a little more exercise is always welcome. He can rationalize a detour in his navigation, but can’t reason himself into rotating his head. Brilliant. Abruptly he makes a ridiculously unnatural ninety degree turn. Only the street lamps and the hum of power lines are there to greet him. Not the electric atmosphere he had imagined.
“Perhaps she was late,” he thinks, as he fixes his gaze on a different potential harbinger. He realizes the foolishness and instead lets his head bob while he tracks the beat of his ambulating shadows. With a left turn he encounters a dark area. No house lights, or street lights to show the way. No lights to speak of to guide him. He lets his head bob once more and is still able to discern his shadow from the rest of the darkness. He can’t quite shake that shadow, can he?