Meet Me at Our Booth (A UVic Short Story)
The morning frost shimmering on the muddied grass marked the first sign of the last third. The last third where all the students buckled into the library and consumed book after book after book. The last third where the season greetings were waving across the road, and yet, everyone still needed to cross the busy highway.
Yes, it was that time of the year again.
Jamie hurled his backpack around his shoulder as he marched across Ring Road. He knew this walking routine so well he could spare some quick minutes of sleep. Luckily for him, it was nearly 8:00 am and the university coffee shops would open promptly.
Jamie grabbed his slightly-used face mask from his jean pocket before entering Bibliocafé. It was quiet, almost tranquil. He was welcomed by the brewing and rumbling of coffee machines behind the cashier. His study booth was vacant, which filled a sigh of relief in his mask, giving his glasses momentary fog.
Although Jamie had an exam in seven hours, he still found time to stare at the puffy clouds outside, covering the sky in a gray blanket. A lit-up message from his phone pulled him out of the morning daydream. It was his good friend Francis.
Francis: “U on campus rn?” Jamie: “Ye, meet me at our booth” Francis: “Cool cool, Paul is also on his way” Jamie: “Sounds good”
Jamie had known Francis before arriving at university four years ago as an undergrad; they were high school rowing buds. However, their days bonding on the water dwindled to their days swimming through the high seas of academia.
Paul was cut from a similar cloth. Same high school, but Jamie only began knowing him after freshmen year. University has a fancy way of changing acquaintances into friends, and friends eventually into brothers. Jamie clicked the side of his phone once more: it was 8:30 am. He grabbed his trusted laptop and began reviewing flashcards while listening to some soft melodic lofi beats.
~ ~ ~
“Ah, Jamie Jamie Jamie, how’s it going?” Francis asked while strolling into their Bibliocafé booth.
“I’m alright, bit tense about my exam in like six hours,” Jamie replied.
“The biochemistry one with Will?”
“No, it’s uh, my microbial phylogeny class with Ashley.”
“Ah, big science words, how you feeling for it?”
“Decent. I mean, I made like three-hundred flashcards on the weekend and I’ve reviewed them a couple of times, but it’s just, it’s just the weight of this damn thing that gets me.”
“I bet, anyways you hear about the gas shortage going around on the island? Every station I passed by yesterday was running dry, I mean like bone dry.”
“Ya I heard Francis, my old Tacoma has to juggle gallons all the way from Langford. You mind if I crash at yours this weekend?”
“Where’s Paul at?” Jamie asked.
“He’s probably on his way now, told’em to meet us at our booth. Uh dang it.”
“I just realized I forgot my earphones, looks like it’s gonna be one of those days,” Francis exclaimed with a solemn smile.
“I’d let you borrow mine, but I have a date with the lofi girl.”
The two of them sat at their booth near the entrance of Bibliocafé as the morning hours grew steadily. More and more students poured through the library doors, some seeking the silent chambers of the third floor, while others sought the ambient hustle-bustle of the coffeeshop.
Around 11:45 am Francis and Jamie got their second cup of warm-roasted caffeine. Before they resumed their seats, they spotted the outline of Paul’s black long coat approaching them from the Quad. Jamie placed his coffee on the booth’s table and made his traditional forceful handshake with Paul; it was wild enough to make Jamie’s bracelet rattle violently, but not loud enough for other students to gaze at them weirdly.
“Gentlemen, do I have a story for you,” Paul said while shoveling his backpack onto the leathery seat next to Francis. “So I was minding my own business this morning, enjoying the sunny yet gray sky.”
“It is nicer out,” Jamie pointed out. A blue splotch had peaked delicately behind the clouds, bringing the November daylight into view.
“Ya ya exactly,” Paul continued, “Anyways, I saw this orange cute cat on the corner of my street and thought ‘you know what, beautiful day, beautiful cat, I’m gonna go pet him.’ And as I placed my hand on his fur, I got this.” Paul lifted his cotton sleeve where pink scratch marks brightened his forearm.
“Dang man, lemme see, you gonna get a rabies shot or something?” Francis asked.
“Nah, already got one,” Paul replied, “but uh’ya, that was my, beautiful morning. You boys already grabbed coffee or d’ya want me to buy you one?”
“It’s alright, I have enough cortisol in my – ”
“You know what, I think I’ll join you in line Paul, watch our stuff Jamie.”
Jamie secured the booth while scrolling through internet tabs on his laptop. He located the Brightspaces page and, the bell. It was orange. There was a notification.
Jamie held his breath as he moved his cursor over the orange bell icon. The notification read: “Quiz 3 Dropbox updated. Your grade is 64%.” The sting coursed his eyes and brought a metallic flavour to his palette.
Jamie suddenly felt an orchestra of butterflies fluttering in his stomach as he checked the digital clock on his laptop: two more hours until his midterm. Jamie wiped some sweat droplets from his forehead as Paul and Francis made their way back. Before they could start a new conversation, he plugged himself back into the flashcard matrix.
~ ~ ~
“Well…” Jamie sighed while closing his study screen, “I think that’s enough review,”
“How much time you got?” Paul asked, his eyes peering curiously above his laptop. Francis was plugged into his world of political science research.
“Oh ah, bout 30 min” Jamie replied.
“Nice, what’re you gonna do now?”
“Probably just cool my brain off until I have to write. I don’t wanna drain my tank.”
“Well, you could read ‘Dune Messiah’, it gets really interesting, trust me.”
“Nah not right now” Jamie chuckled, “I think I’m just gonna listen to ‘Two Moons’ on repeat then just head out in a few.”
“Another excellent option. I’m sure you’ll be fine man.”
At 3:30 pm, Jamie collected his belongings, waved his friends goodbye, and entered the polar landscape situated around the Quad. The coffee in his system was surging. He could feel his mind racing, seeking possible exam questions that may be asked momentarily.
He maneuvered behind Elliot and funnelled his way through Petch; along the way, he spotted some crumpled mushrooms scattered on the wet grass between the buildings. How interesting, he thought. Finally, Jamie came face to face with the ECS Building. It was time to write the exam.
~ ~ ~
Paul: “How’d the midterm go?”
That was the first signal that pulled Jamie back into reality. His head was in a daze, his eyes were floating in a glaze, as he walked out of the lecture hall where he battled battalions of multiple-choice questions. Jamie rushed outside to breathe the brisk air before replying.
“Intense man, really intense” “Shoot, well I’m sure you did alright man” “Hopefully, we’ll see”
Jamie placed his phone down for a second, giving his eyes a chance to rest from the pixelated surface. The sky had blackened this early in the evening. The moon illuminated the ceiling above him, casting a blurry halo across the university campus.
“You guys still at Bibliocafé?” “Sry Jamie no, we had to leave our booth to go somewhere else, but we’re grabbing a beer with David right now if you wanna join” “I would but I gotta drive home tonight, another time” “All good, u on campus tomorrow?” “Of course man, meet me at our booth in the morning”