The establishment was a quaint little hole in the wall that served outlander fare. It was always a bustling place filled with interesting people and wonderful smells. I poured into a chair at my usual table. I began to feel normal again. It helped drain the thoughts swirling in my head and allowed my brain to rest at last.

Several people, some my peers and some that I did not recognize paid me attention. I must look like hell, I thought to myself as the nervous barista took my order of Mournsorian Country Stew and a cup of herbal tea.

I relaxed, sinking into my chair. I hoped I would disappear from view so I could just exist without thought or having to worry about the worried glances I garnered from my pathology peers. I know I was behaving oddly and that their concern was superficial, that I was more likely gossip instead of an actual fragment of university news. But I still harbored some resentment, a malice that had previously been absent from my personality.

It was my friend Gerald that broke me out of my brooding. He materialized from the bustling servers and laughing patrons and took a seat at my corner table.

He stared at me and smiled. I returned the favor.

"You look like hell, Hanz."

His voice was warm and kind. I relished the genuine human contact and smiled.

"I probably do, don't I? It's been a rough couple of weeks. I've been sick, but I think I'm finally over the worst of it. This'll be the first real meal I've had for a long while."

I lied about being sick and offered what I thought a genuine smile. I instantly felt guilty.

"I get pretty sick when reading up on religion, too."

My eyes slid away. Clearly he was more observant than I had previously thought.

Our conversation beat around the bush until my meal arrived, he politely declined the barista's offer of his own.

The point was made that he knew what I had been reading and how odd a subject it was for me. I wasn't secretive about my habits, my professors could attest to that. But I figured I was a nobody. Even my friends were probably better called acquaintances. Gerald was no real exception.

"Is everything all right at home?"

He finally asked after several minutes of silence broken only by my slurping the savory liquid before me.

"Yeah. Fine."

The conversation felt wooden and fake already.

"Because sick or not, you don't seem right. You're pretty out there lately. Distant, depressed. You even blew off your lab assignments. And you were annoyingly looking forward to those for the past semester. You slept through Doctor Gordon's lecture.

"I've never seen you sleep in class."

I didn't remember sleeping through a lecture. How twisted had I become in my obsession?

I pushed my bowl toward the middle of the table. My appetite had escaped me.

"Everything is fine."

I pleaded pretty pathetically.

"Look. Hanz. I'm just saying that we miss you."

Miss me? I had always been a loner and prone to secluding myself. While I had my equivalent of friends, I never attempted to make myself an important part of any one's life. I was never the type of person invited to a party.

My eyes slid back over to him. He was staring at me, his expression genuinely concerned and warm. His hair was perfect.

"I miss you, too."

I replied meekly, my meaning different than probably heard. I hid behind my mug and sipped the bitter tea.

"If you're feeling sick still, that's okay. But if you're up to it, why don't you meet up with us in town tomorrow?"


"You know, Virology III: Applied engineering. The slaves of Professor Michaels."

He smirked, the over bearing professor had a habit of creating an us versus her mentality in the classroom. I personally liked her and I suspect she returned the favor, but I shied away from letting that become public knowledge for fear of becoming a pariah.

"Yeah. Okay. I'll try."

"Great! Hey, let me know if you need anything. All right? You can borrow my notes if you want. You know, catch up on the stuff you snored through."


Then he left, saying he had a tutoring appointment. I know he meant he was the tutee, but I didn't say anything.

I watched him leave and regretted not having signed up to peer tutor. My grades had been good enough during open enrollment.

I stayed put for a good portion of the afternoon. I returned to my stew out of frugality and little more. My hunger never really returned. Past that I leeched free tea while people watching. I debated internally whether or not I should attend. Even if I had been my normal self I probably would have rather studied.

I decided that I would attend, if only to show the rest of my class that I hadn't gone off into the deep end. Whether that was true or not was beyond my guess.

I paid my due and tipped generously before heading back home. I felt better about my decision. My usual nervousness was replaced by a sense of pride.

Maybe my little obsession had given me the opportunity to grow.


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