Eugene was where Hannah was headed Friday afternoon, speeding down I-5 in her mother's Ford. Kate, Hannah's best friend from high school, was studying math and physics and just about everything else that interested her at the U of O. Contact had been dropping off between them since Kate left Portland, but Hannah had no new girlfriends who quite filled Kate's shoes, socks, or any other part of her wardrobe.
When Hannah called Kate, the incident with Jesse had finally come unstuck from her throat, not in the most coherent manner, but at least coherently enough so Kate understood Hannah was being harassed by an ex-boyfriend. Kate had a class late Friday afternoon, so they arranged to meet on campus in front of Condon. Hannah waited in front of the wooden sign, where the name of the building was inevitably altered, and when students began spilling out the doors, she peered impatiently at the crowds for her friend. Kate emerged stuffing books into her pack, her trench coat whipping out behind her, and looked around quickly for Hannah. Hannah waved and gave the best imitation of a smile she could manage. Seeing Kate made the imposture easier than it had been for weeks.
Kate hurried up to Hannah and embraced her. There was concern in her intense, cat-yellow eyes, but rebuke as well. "Let me look at you," she said, holding Hannah at arms' length. "You look terrible."
"I feel terrible."
Kate pulled her into another quick embrace, and a passing bicyclist who was staring at them ran off the sidewalk. They stood there in the middle of the stream of students, bikes and skateboards and pedestrians flowing past them.
"Hannah, what kind of crazy, stupid things are you doing to yourself again already?" Kate asked, running a hand through her wild mane of golden-brown hair. Hannah looked skinny and drab and exhausted.
"Oh, I don't know. Getting messed up with the wrong men."
"Sure sounds like it. Now what exactly is the problem? You were more or less incoherent on the phone."
"Well, I wanted to break up with Jesse, but he just won't leave me alone. He's wearing down my resistance so much I almost feel like giving in to him just to get him off my back."
"That's got to be the worst way I ever heard to get a man off your back."
"I know, Kate. I'm getting so tired of it, though."
"Get an unlisted number."
"I've thought of that, but it wouldn't do the trick. I'd have to move out."
"Why don't you go back to your mom for a while?"
"That would be admitting defeat."
"I can see that," Kate said and sighed. "Hey, let's go get a cup of coffee." Kate grabbed Hannah's elbow playfully.
"Good idea." Crossing Thirteenth, they had to dodge bicycles taking impatient students home for the weekend, dismal as the weekend would probably be. Threatening clouds hung low in the sky, the color of mold on old pasta. Still, the sights and sounds of Eugene cheered Hannah a little. The people passing them on all sides were a refreshing jumble of different types, hair long and short and in between, clothes varying from ratty to punky to preppy. You could be anything you wanted to be in Eugene, as long as it was youthful and white. (Minorities were usually either Asian or athletes.)
They passed the university institutions of the Bookstore and Pedal Power, and ducked into the aromatic atmosphere of Fall Creek Bakery. "I like Eugene," Hannah said as they stood at the counter waiting to get their coffee.
"Then why don't you come down here?"
"Come down here?" Hannah repeated stupidly.
"Why don't you move in with us. Stephanie is moving in with her boyfriend at the end of the term, so we'll have a vacant room. You could start studying then after all if you want to. And it would solve your problems."
"I don't like the idea of giving in and running away because of some stupid man. But I do like the idea of moving to Eugene. It's a definite possibility."
"Then here's to getting men off your back," Kate said, raising her cup of French Roast.
"Thanks." Hannah returned the toast with her European Blend. Europeans rarely drink the kind of coffee they call "European" at Fall Creek Bakery, but Hannah liked her coffee anyway.