"Hank, come on."
"You said she's a nurse in Philly. Did she tell you where?"
"Obviously if she had I would know where to look for her."
"Then we're going to have to go through the boyfriend," Rosenblum sighed. He'd put on weight in the years since Andy had met him, sat like a half-bald Buddha behind his rosewood desk. "This boyfriend's in math, you said? Okay, we'll start with math."
"We?" Rosenblum couldn't help himself??so loving, so pushy. "I can see who's administering the bastard's orals. Maybe we can fail him. You want me to fail him? A few people in math owe me favors."
"Jesus, Hank." Rosenblum was like that too??sneaky and morally unhinged. "I can ask around myself."
"Fine," he said. "Be that way." He shifted the stack of papers Andy had delivered, the ones he would never read. "But don't let her go, Andrew. How old are you, twenty-four? I had been married twice by the time I was twenty-four."
"That's not true."
"I was a father several times over."
"That's not true either."
"Get out of here," Rosenblum said. "I'm sick of you. Men like you, sensitive men. Really, you make me sick." But Rosenblum was smiling.
"Thanks, Hank. That's good of you."
"I mean it," said Rosenblum. "Get out of here. Go find your girl."
Which turned out to be much easier than snooping around the math department, not that Andy didn't snoop around the math department and its rose bushes, or dream up ways of stealing her ER records, or imagine combing Princeton's colonial avenues in search, Rapunzel-like, of a flash of that beautiful hair.
But none of this was necessary, because two weeks after first crossing her emergent path, there she was, in front of the Record Exchange, bending down to tie a shoe. He re-alized that since he'd been expecting to see her everywhere, he wasn't surprised when he finally did. She was wearing a jacket but a bandage peeked out from under it, enclosing her left hand. His own wrist itched madly. There she was, his girl, a fellow veteran from an imaginary war.
"Hey!" he said. "Hey!" He tried to tone down his grin but it was impossible, he was too happy, she was too lovely??and standing right there.
"Mr. Waite," she said. "Hello." She remembered his name! And she was smiling too. She gathered her hair back in her good hand and pushed it off her shoulders, but it immeately breezed back around her face. "I was wondering if I'd bump into you again."
"Visiting your boyfriend?"
"Walking to the train."
"You're going to walk?"
She sighed, kicked one of the bags at her feet. "He failed his orals. He's moving to New Mexico. I'm not going with him." She looked embarrassed. "So I think," she said, "that's the end of that. And therefore," grandly, "I walk."
"Ah," Andy said. He wanted to take this in but again that lunatic desire to plunge his hands into the depths of her hair (and this time, now, to cradle her face, to kiss her pillow-soft lips. Man, he was itchy). Had Rosenblum fixed this for him? The boyfriend's failure? He'd send him a box of cigars. "I'm sorry."
"Thanks," she said. She had a huge duffel bag and a roller suitcase. A lot of stuff. "It's probably fine. I mean, I think we'll both end up fine. And I need to spend more time in Philly anyway. Not that there's anything so great about Philly. But it is, you know, where I'm supposed to be working."
"I like Philly," he said. They grinned at each other again, stupidly. "What's your name, anyway?"
"I'm Louisa," she said.
"It is," she said. "But you should call me Lou."
And from there, it was easy. He felt, in fact, that the ease was his reward for everything that had been so hard from the beginning: escaping Ohio, finding a place at Princeton, finding a few friends, finding Rosenblum. Putting together a life for himself, learning to cook and clean and look after himself and live like a grown-up with no one but Rosenblum to show him the way, to help him figure out what mattered. He walked Lou to the train, hefting her duffel bag with his good hand down the bumpy side street to the jitney.
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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