"How long do you think I'm going to wait, anyway?" she asked, raising her almond-colored eyes.
"I've been here since eight thirty."
"Christ," she said. "It's almost noon."
"Is it?" Could he say to her that time stopped the second he first caught sight of her and her hair? She leaned back against the chair, closed her eyes. She had long black lashes, thick like a paintbrush. She breathed in and out deeply, as though she were a person preparing to sleep. Andy hadn't spent time with a woman with anything like regularity in months. Most of his friends in the department were male, and Rosenblum, of course, and even the plurality of his students. How nice it was, he thought, to talk to a woman! To this beautiful woman!
"What are you doing in Princeton?" he asked, even though she gave no indication she wanted to keep talking.
"Boyfriend," she said, her eyes still closed.
"Oh," Andy said. He did not feel dejected, because he had never considered himself an actual candidate to become this woman's boyfriend; the fact that she already had one couldn't be a deterrent from a position he had never considered occupying. How could he ever be this woman's boyfriend? The women Andy dated were severe, prone to nervous breakdowns over their studies. When they cut themselves, it was usually on purpose. "Where is he now?"
"He had to study. He's got his math orals coming up."
"So he just dropped you here?"
"I know, right?" She opened her eyes. "It's probably time to get a new boyfriend."
But before Andy could follow that tantalizing lead??what kind of new boyfriend and where would you go looking for this new boyfriend???a woman with a clipboard appeared in the doorway to the examining room. "Waite? Andrew Waite?"
"Is she telling you to wait?" the woman said. Lou. Lou asked him this. She was sitting up again, and the gauze around her wrist looked ever darker with blood, and he wanted to pick her up and carry her off to a better place or, at the very least, give her his place in line.
Instead, he said, "That's my last name. Waite."
"Oh," she said.
"Do you want my turn?"
She smiled at him again, gently, as though he were a fool.
"You look like you're in worse shape than I am," he said in a rush. "Seriously. I'll be fine. You should take my turn, you're bleeding to death."
She shook her head and a curl of that hair fell into her face. "That's nice," she said. "Thank you, that's really nice, but you should go ahead. I'm not going to die."
Andy felt himself heartened by this. This girl wasn't going to die. Louisa??he did not yet know she was Louisa??said she wasn't going to die. And he did not yet know that he shouldn't believe her.
"Okay," he said, and followed the beckoning of the woman with the clipboard, and when he turned to look at her one more time, she winked at him, and he was fairly certain he blushed back. He wished once more that he was wearing a different pair of shorts.
Hank Rosenblum, Andy's friend, mentor, and guide to all things masculine, who had been divorced four times yet paradoxically considered himself an expert on women, said that she had just been looking to flirt. In Rosenblum's opinion, women who said, "I probably need a new boyfriend" to the goobers breathing down their necks in emergency rooms were almost certainly just looking for a little affirmation, but still, he said, there was no reason Andy couldn't keep an eye out. In fact, Rosenblum said, if she had a boyfriend in the math department, he'd be happy to do a little spying on Andy's behalf. Although Rosenblum himself was a member of Princeton's biology department, he had a few friends in math he liked to hit up for statistical models every so often. Further, the mathematicians enjoyed a garden behind their building where a man could smoke a pipeful of tobacco in peace. Rosenblum liked to spend time there, identifying flowers with a pipe in his mouth. He fancied himself a gentleman horticulturist.
Excerpted from The Explanation for Everything by Lauren Grodstein. Copyright © 2013 by Lauren Grodstein. Excerpted by permission of Algonquin Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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