Now you're in a hotel room in Richmond, Virginia, standing in your mismatched bra and panties at a vast mirror, searching for traces of your 17-year-old self inside your 51-year-old body. Why did you think this would be a good idea? He won't recognize you. You turn to view yourself from the side, and there's the shelf of belly fat that's so unfashionable these days, and even worse, the wobbling blob of neck swallowing your chin. Jowly. You're jowly. He'll be disappointed. Your hair isn't gray, but the blond shimmer has faded to a flat walnut. In high school, when boys wanted to flatter you, they said you looked like Farrah Fawcett, and once you tried to wear your hair like hers—all layered and wind-blown back—but the style could not withstand the soggy heat of a long ordinary day at Ferguson High. It's twenty minutes till he arrives. It's been 34 years since you've seen him.

    You'd like to fling yourself onto the bed but manage only to bend and sort of dump yourself there. Newport News is a full hour from Richmond, but he's driving up to meet you for dinner. Why, again, did you tell him you were coming? You're in Richmond for a conference: you're a professional woman, a tenured professor of political science, and yesterday you presented on the evils of privatizing public education. You are a fierce presenter, full of urgency and irony, punctuating your sentences with pauses long and short and meaning-packed. Standing at a podium, you’re fearless. But currently you're supine on a pillow-top bed, and a block of panic is compressing your chest. 

    What chain of events brought you to this moment? Months ago, late at night after too much wine, your old reckless self had gotten loose on the Internet. Facebook, you’d concluded, was a Christmas miracle. First you found lost friends from graduate school. Then you found your great college love, Seth, now a lawyer, long married and living in Seattle. Giddy with the feel of time-travel, pouring yet another glass of Pinot, you just kept going back. But high school was a hard nut to crack. All your high school girlfriends had names like Debbie Johnson and Diane Miller, and undoubtedly they’d all married and changed their names. Frustrating! You see now the inevitability of your typing in, "Alton Vander Witzel." Which still makes you think, Wiener schnitzel

Facebook, you'd concluded, was a Christmas miracle.

 You haul out your makeup bag and vigorously dust your face with sun-beige age-defying powder. The real fear, of course, is you'll be required to justify your own life. You want to believe it turned out right, but you don't want to be too certain of it. You don't want to be one of those people who aggressively insists that all her choices were correct and therefore everyone else should make the same ones. (Married women think you should be married. Single women think you should be single.) "Middle age" implies you're only half done, but you feel as though you're on the other side of an arc, in a droning denouement. Your daughter is grown and gone and the ordeal of trying to meet your soul mate seems over—you didn't. Sometimes you're lonely. But you have your daughter, your work, good friends, your house, and a cat. 

    Then you think, Is that what all this striving has amounted to—a list of five items? One of them being, "a cat"? Your reflection stares at you with a face creased and incredulous. Too old now for all that hopeful dreaming. This is how you turned out.

    Time to go. You zip yourself into a cobalt cardigan. It's bulky, and you can behave as though the bulk is all in the sweater. You grab your purse and you're out the door, through the corridor, down in the elevator, into the lobby.

    He's already there. He's early. You recognize him by the way he's standing, though the posture of gazing at a cell phone is new. He's texting—you, probably, to say he's arrived—and there is a wide moment of your just looking. Of course he's old, but he still has his hair—a thin, dignified pewter—and he's still wiry, with a paunch. He's all one color in khaki pants and a camel sweater. He wears glasses now, as do you, and his face is, well, flubby—boneless and borderless. You'd know the nose anywhere, soaring from his face into a long point. "Alton," you say finally, the name familiar in your mouth—the first syllable soft and melting, the second like a snapping shut.  His eyes shoot up—an old reflex, perhaps, on hearing your voice—and his face collapses into a smile. He steps forward, encloses you in a hug, and says in a prolonged, slurpy drawl, "Oeh my Gawwwd. You are still beautiful!" You gurgle happily. He releases you quickly and embarks on a soliloquy about restaurants and parking spaces and traffic and the rain, all in a surprisingly loud voice. In your memory, his voice is whispery and hesitant. 

    His loud talking continues as he leads you through the weighty glass door. Outside, you step along cracked sidewalks in your high heels. The rain has stopped, but the city is still hung with gray. Climbing into his Jeep, you think of the Riviera, and all those drives to Virginia Beach—your bare feet planted on the dashboard, your sleek legs in short shorts kept solidly in his peripheral vision. Now you recall: on every trip his tape deck would devour one of his eight-track tapes. The music would simply stop, and a silence would commence and hang in the air—a lumbering moment in which to hope the music might magically start again—until Alton lunged at the dashboard and yanked out the cartridge, disemboweling the thing, black ribbon streaking up and back and flapping around the car.  

    The Jeep motors slowly up a narrow hilly street and the inside of your skull starts to feel furry. You ask about his siblings. He tells you who's married and who's not and where they live, not mentioning anyone's profession; this takes awhile, as there are seven of them. Alton's was one of the few Catholic families on the peninsula. Abruptly you remember he was shy about sex. He thought it was a sin. Late at night on the phone you cajoled him: "Doesn't the Bible say 'Be fruitful and multiply?'" and he burst out, "I'll be right over." But this is not a good topic for conversation now. You ask about his wife. She's still having reconstructive surgery, he says in a tone that's worried and upset and annoyed. Poor Jenny—poor Alton. You reassure, "They can cure so much cancer now." He says, "I want to say two things.  First, you look great. Second, you talk like a northerner."

Late at night on the phone you cajoled him: "Doesn't the Bible say 'Be fruitful and multiply?'" and he burst out, "I'll be right over."

He takes you to the Old Tobacco Company Restaurant in Historic Shockoe Slip. It's an enormous brick box of a building with tables on tiers of interior balconies, rising up several stories around a gaping center. It is in fact an old tobacco company. You know this because you dined here last night with colleagues, but you don't mention it and you don't mind: now you can order what you wished you'd ordered last night, and you won't get lost looking for the bathroom. And the place is gorgeous—all mahogany and burgundy and stamped tin, romantic in a gloomy way, the tables layered with matrimonial-white linen. You and Alton follow a feathery hostess to a table. Alton holds your chair, announcing, "I'm not politically correct." You hate when people say that.

    He seizes the wine list, hunches into it, and when a waitress comes to recite the day's specials, he interrupts to send her off for a bottle. You laugh, he laughs, and you begin to chatter about your daughter and your sister and her kids. You remember now: Alton was always easy to talk to. He's a natural at listening, free of the affectations of men who've had to be trained—his questions, his nods, his head tilts all genuine. Alton is an open landscape, not a series of dark metal boxes like most men. At the end of every statement, he finds a compliment for you: your sister is lucky to have you, you're obviously a wonderful mother. 

    The wine arrives and you tell him about your doomed three-year marriage to Colin, and Alton is on your side. This Colin sounds like a total ass. Then Alton reminisces about the bee incident, your Good-Bye Yellow Brick Road album, and other things you've completely forgotten. You bask in acknowledgement and wonder why you ever let this guy go. You'd done the breaking up, you recall; you'd been an anxious girlfriend. Adolescence is all about sorting through potential mates, a heartless shuffle through a crowd of attractive people, trying one partner after another, and you'd been too jittery for it. Your subconscious struck on the strategy of dumping Alton before he could dump you. Clever. 

    The waitress reappears to take your order. She's dark with enormous lips and breasts—undoubtedly the restaurant owner's notion of exotic. Alton hardly notices her. When she concludes the specials, Alton tells her, "There's something you need to know. We're going to be here a long time. This is my first love, who I haven't seen in 34 years." The waitress is charmed, smiling and cooing and congratulating you both. It feels like a party. Alton orders the ham fritters appetizer, remembering your shellfish allergy, and the waitress dashes off.

    "You wouldn't recognize Busch Gardens," he says, which gives you the chance to ask about his work. He'd started as a seasonal worker at Busch Gardens-Williamsburg; he'd risen to head of HR. You're impressed by this, though you wouldn't have been twenty years ago. Busch Gardens’ "The Old Country" opened the summer of '75, the first summer of your romance. Alton wanted to go every weekend. Sometimes when you had a shift at Hardees he went by himself. The place was a tiny whole world, which you try now to visualize: there was a merry old England, a Bavarian Germany, a Parisian France and—for some reason—Canada, with a French fur-trapper theme. Again and again, the log ride there hurled you and Alton down toward a rotating saw mill blade. All through "The Old Country," the streets were narrow and cobble-stoned, just like real Europe surely was, and you loved getting lost in them, though there must not have been that many. Alton fills your wine glass again, though it’s only half empty. You know this will be a problem. If you don't keep a careful count of how many glasses you've had, you'll drink too much. Already your mind is slithering through your mental reconstruction of a mini-Europe. Then suddenly, you remember that bear. "That bear!"

    "What?" He whips around to look behind him.

    “That giant stuffed bear at Busch Gardens! Remember?” This memory is appalling, exposing your adolescent tyranny. But you feel compelled to reveal it: “It was our last time there before school started, and you said I could have anything in the park I wanted. You meant you'd buy me something—" In Old French Canada, or whatever it was called, there was a shop with mounds of fuzzy things in it. "But I wanted you to win me one of those giant bears.” The bears were as big as a ten-year-old child, lavish and snowy white, with different colored bows. You wanted one with a purple bow. “You must have spent a fortune at that ball-throwing booth!” God, what a spoiled brat you were. Strutting around in your shorts and tank tops, imagining you were Farrah Fawcett, and poor Alton at the ball-throwing booth, trying to win you that stupid bear. You remember how he concentrated, strategized, reminded himself of the rules of aiming, gave himself little pep talks, then threw with such might and hopefulness. He never won. The sun went down and the two of you had to leave the park, your bodies dragging with the weight of foreboding. He was silent, and you knew he felt like a failure, frowning and pale and vanishing into a hole of self-loathing. It was infuriating. You'd set an impossible task, and he'd taken the orders, too eager to please. Were you mad because he'd been too compliant? Or because he hadn't won? 

Strutting around in your shorts and tank tops, imagining you were Farrah Fawcett, and poor Alton at the ball-throwing booth, trying to win you that stupid bear.

 "I was such a bitch!" you blurt out. "This is why I can never get married again. It brings out the worst in me." 

    "Oh, stop. Not true. You were amazing. You still are." He twinkles at you—he adores you, still. You've heard stories of old high school sweethearts reconnecting, realizing after most of a lifetime that they were soul mates all along. But you aren't thinking of trying to come between Alton and his wife, are you?—his poor, ill wife? You aren't really thinking of that, are you? The waitress reappears with ham fritters and asks if you're ready to order dinner.

    "Anything she wants!" he booms. 

    You order a steak, and as Alton drawls through his order, you try again to remember how this romance ended. You recall your college acceptance letter from Northwestern and your parents' enthusiasm. You'd be moving over a thousand miles away, far from Alton, who was after all just a lowly seasonal worker at Busch Gardens. You were supposed to go to college and trade in on your good looks and intellect for a future lawyer or electrical engineer, thereby securing your place in the upper middle class. (Women's Lib was slow coming to Tidewater.) Yours was to be a future of upscale subdivisions, white carpets, country clubs, dressy dinner parties. Your children would be winners of Spelling Bees and Science Fairs. Your life's work was to be pleasant and fit, your goal to be a cheerful, useful participant in your husband's career. Even then you bristled at this assumption: you were going to college to start your own career, not hook onto someone else's. You kept telling people this—your parents, your mother's friends, your father's colleagues, your teachers and classmates and sometimes strangers in stores. The response was always the same: a wise burst of laughter and an explanation, in a kindly voice, that you'd change your mind once you "met someone." Well, you sure showed them. 

    When the salads arrive, the sight of lettuce reminds Alton of his house, for some reason, and he explains he lives in an old miniature farmhouse. You aren't sure what he means by "miniature," but you admire him for calling it "old" instead of "historic." He embarks on a tale of its renovation—several tales, really, about the roof, the wiring, the insulation—about the second-floor bathtub drain and the loose cabinet over the kitchen sink and the closet shelves in the third bedroom. The more he drinks, the more protracted his stories become. He adds sound effects—the squeaking of doors, the eeking open of windows—and dialogue with funny voices. "So the builder says, 'You can't..." blah blah blah. The builder's voice sounds like Jerry Lewis's, and you flashback to high school parties with your friends and Alton launching into his Jerry Lewis impersonations. On and on and on they went, stranding you in embarrassment. And here you are again, in the midst of one of his stories, waiting it out like a dental procedure. He senses your mind wandering: "So,” he says, “tell me. When was the last time you went to Busch Gardens?"

    "Oh, wow." You squint. "Last time I was even in Tidewater was the Reagan years.”

    "The Reagan years!" he blusters, sounding almost nostalgic. “Ah, the good old days.”

    You wonder, what did he mean by that? Surely he meant the good old days of youth—not the good old days of the Reagan Administration. A bizarre puffy laugh escapes from your throat. "Yeah," you begin, "remember how he said ketchup counted as a vegetable in school lunches?" The thought of Reagan makes your head shake mournfully: deregulation, privatization, a cultural belief in the goodness of greed. "And the saddest thing of all," you say out loud, perhaps not meaning to, "is how he set the stage for neoliberalism." Alton 's expression has frozen into a little grin. Oh my god, you think, he's a Republican. You're horrified. You're not sure how to respond. "Oh my god," you say, "you're a Republican." 

    Alton straightens his spine. "I'm an independent." 

     Yeah, right. This is code for libertarian. He continues, "Now, I'm not a racist—" this is the second time in two days you've heard someone begin a sentence this way— "I just don't like the guy. He doesn't understand how the economy works. If you tax the job creators, poof! No jobs." 

     You gulp wine. "Yes well there's another perspective," you say, imagining you sound reasonable and calm, "that any society needs a balance of public and private economies." You consider recommending Jeffrey Sachs's The Price of Civilization. You so wish you had a bumper sticker that says REGULATE THE FINANCIAL INDUSTRY.

    Alton winces. "I saw that on your Facebook page. What did you call yourself? A dog something?"    

    "A Yellow Dog Democrat."

    "Yeah," he smiles, head shaking, eyes rolling. "You are wro-o-o-o-ng." Your mouth drops open. He refills your wine glass to the rim and tilts toward you. "Tell me," he says, his eyebrows earnest. "When is the last time you've been on a roller coaster?"

    Huh? He's changing the subject? You can barely sit still. The entrees arrive, as though to thwart you. More wine appears in your glass. Unable to speak, you eat, and he speaks: he's talking about Busch Gardens again! The log flume is still there, in New France, and Das Festhaus looks pretty much the same. England was chopped up to make Killarney Ireland. They added an Italy. Your brain buzzes with agitation: clearly a society needs a public sector. This attempt to privatize everything will be the destruction of American democracy. It's hardly a democracy now!—it's more of an oligarchy, and most Americans don't even know what that word means! People think paying taxes is some kind of persecution, but then they get charged twice as much for the same service by some private corporation whose only concern is short-term profits. Remember, Alton is saying, that afternoon you and he rode Die Wildkatze again and again, and it started to rain, and you both nearly died laughing? How does he remember so much about high school? Ungenerously, you think it's because there's nothing else in his brain. You feel stuck. You want to scream. You want to change his mind. You want to leap up from your chair and throw up your arms and scream at everyone everywhere.

    Then you want to cry. Why must you always be so compulsive and neurotic? Can't you keep your oversized opinions under control for one evening to enjoy an old friend? Do you need to up your meds? A thought descends on you like a squall: you've made all the wrong choices and ruined your life. Yes, you're an accomplished person, but you're lonely—you live with a cat, and not even a lot of cats, just one cat—and always you question yourself, you're shaky, you've sacrificed too much, your life is a disaster and look at this nice man—what a good guy!—why didn't you stay with him?—so what if he's a Conservative? Well, yes, that would be a problem, but maybe you could've made it work, and maybe, maybe you still can—maybe the wife could die, which would be tragic of course but these things happen, and you and Alton could fall in love again, and you'll end up living happily ever after after all!

    You're drunk. You take a giant slurp of water and a big bite of meat and realize Alton has stopped talking. He's chewing, glancing joyously around the restaurant. He swallows and pitches toward you with a concerned frown, "Are you enjoying your steak?"

    "Oh, it's delicious."

    He glows at you. "After dinner, we can do whatever you like. We can go downstairs to the club if you like—you can smoke at the bar down there if you smoke. Whatever you like—whatever you want to do." Contented, he wonders aloud how many times you and he went on that roller coaster.

    When the check arrives in its puffy leather case, Alton brandishes his credit card and insists on paying. You know you should object, but you're relieved: you just paid your daughter's college tuition bill. 

    The "club" downstairs is zebra-striped and cavernous. There is enough room at the ceiling for a small village. You and Alton take stools at the bar—large swiveling captain's chairs on stilts, and he orders a martini. You order a diet Coke, but, really, why not have a shot of rum along with it? Your ears ring. Alton launches into a Jimmy Carter impersonation, giving it away by mentioning the peanut farm. The club is crowded with young women in dresses as skimpy as nighties and young men chattering boisterously at young women. You examine the crowd as though you might see yourself in it—the 1977 version of yourself—as though you've time-traveled to Richmond with an urgent message for her. What would you say? "The important thing to know is..." What? What? The drinks arrive but seem very small, so another round is ordered. Out of the blue, you ask, "Can I tell you about my conference presentation?" 

    "Of course!"    

     "It was about the negative effects of national standards in public education—" standardization being just one weapon of the evil privatizers, but you leave that part out. "Now, I do believe people had good intentions, they wanted kids to have an equal education, but when big ideas meet reality bad things can happen!" Alton looks delighted and puzzled. Your energy surges, and your arms expand along the edge of the bar. However, you're too drunk to explain this coherently: "The problem—the problem is, no one questions the underlying assumption—doesn't that just make you crazy?" Alton gazes. "Why does everyone have to be taught the same thing, at the same time—why do we all have to know the same information, be the same? What is this relentless push toward uniformity in our culture? It's unnatural, it's kind of scary! You know who was a great proponent of standardization in education? Adolf Hitler."

    Alton bobbles his head and claps. "I always knew," he says, suddenly serious, "you were way smarter than me. I remembering thinking to myself when I was eighteen and you were sixteen"—and he pauses for dramatic effect—"I'm gonna hold her back. She’s way smarter than me."

    You smilingly object. You aren't way smarter than he. But he reaches for you, buttons his fingers into yours, and bounces your hand as you might bounce a baby for comfort. "There's something you need to know." His head nods once, so forcefully that his chin remains pinned to his neck. "It's something—I have to say." You wait. You shift. He's as drunk as you are. "When I was a child—” he says and pauses again. These dramatic pauses are kind of annoying. Alton is really kind of a drama queen. "My mother told me—" pause, "for every person—" pause pause, "there's only one—" pause pause pause ugh! "There's only one—one—true love. And you were the one for me."

    Luckily, you have to pee. You excuse yourself and shove through the slinky crowd, push at the restroom door. Holy shit. The bathroom glares with a million tiny tiles in a hundred shades of tomato. Swan-neck spigots gleam above glass sink basins as big as boats. Your reflection startles you. You look nothing like Farrah Fawcett, and probably never have. What the hell did he say? God, he's completely romanticized the past. He's turned out to be Jay Gatsby. You imagine yourself as wife number four, stretching along a chaise lounge. Just as clearly you picture his growing disappointment with you, discovering you're a real person and not a figment of his imagination. A person who, like any other, would irritate him, find fault, have opinions he'd see as irrational. 

God, he's completely romanticized the past. He's turned out to be Jay Gatsby.

 But what are you going to say to him? You sit in a stall. Your thoughts are going to need awhile to amble around your head and line up in some order. Somehow your soggy mind molds a response. God. The thought of you married to a Republican! 

    Back at the bar you speak in a clear, soft voice: "Alton. I don't want to be the source of any emotional distance between you and Jenny." You are so proud of this response, you nearly miss his body recoiling. He begins to rub his jaw, and you wonder if this is part of another impersonation. "Oh, oh, oh," he says. "Oh." He clicks and clucks, shakes his head, and extends both hands toward you. Reflexively, you put yours in his. "I don't know what to say," he says. "I, I, I don't want to hurt you." His hands give an encouraging squeeze. "I never meant I would leave Jenny for you. I am so sorry. I hope you aren't too hurt."

    What? "I didn't mean—" Oh, terrific. A gratuitous rejection. "I meant—" You pause to think. You meant exactly what you said. "I guess it came out wrong? I've had too much to drink."

    Wistfully, he smiles and whispers, "It's okay. I understand." And he orders another round.

    So you sit. A cloud of cigarette smoke gathers around your head, or maybe it's inside your head. Alton talks about Scotland. Not the real one, the Busch Gardens one. You recall the scalloped edges of roofs in merry old England, the wood-beam triangles over white stucco, the pointy gables, all slightly smaller than real buildings—a cartoon Europe, which made you ache to see the real Europe. When at last you got to go, years later with Colin, you were a little disappointed: with all its modern buildings, it seemed less authentic than Busch Gardens. Alton is talking: "Loch Ness is still there. In '83 the Wildcat was replaced by the Big Bad Wolf, but now that's gone. In '09 they built the Verbolten. The Wild Maus went to Tampa Bay." At some point you realize he's smoking an electronic cigarette.

    In the summer of '77, after the break-up and before you left for college, you went to Busch Gardens with the Dianes and the Debbies and you spotted him there—the new assistant manager of the beer garden. You saw him from a distance, across the loud beer-spattered hollowed-out concrete space, over the heads of hordes of drunk people swaying on long benches with beer steins; there was Alton, pale-skinned and small in his Bavarian costume—a tunic in a shade of golden brown, over lederhosen—supervising the changing of kegs. Your friends didn't see him. You didn't point him out. A week later you left for college in search of something better.

    Your evening with Alton ends when the bar closes. He shouldn't be driving, you think, but behind the wheel he's suddenly sober, and he returns you to the hotel lobby with a strong forearm to cling to. You're lingering, walking in slow motion, not letting go of his arm. At the elevator he says, "We'll never see each other again," and you bark back, "Not true! I travel a lot—I'll see you again." You mean this. Rarely are conferences in Tidewater, but you will not believe you won't see Alton again. He kisses you on the side of the head and puts you in the elevator. Before the doors glide shut you call out, "I love you!"—the phrase rushing from your body on a massive wave. "I love you, too!" he calls back, and the doors close, and the elevator hums upward. 

    Then you're alone again. In your hotel room, you remember to brush your teeth. You wonder where you put your flash drive and if it's snowed in Chicago. The inside of your head sounds like swarming bees, but once in bed, you're too tired to sleep. Alton's voice swirls like honey in your brain; when you close your eyes, his face is what you see. You don't believe in soul mates; there are maybe a dozen viable partners for each person, you think. Apparently you've run through all yours. 

    Suddenly, you're curious. You click on the night-stand lamp and reach for your iPad. Surely Seth, your great college love, didn't turn into a Republican, too. Your fingertips caress the oily face of the iPad, accessing Seth's home page. You know the basics of him. He moved back to Seattle after college, he's an attorney, married for over 25 years, two kids. Back in college, you and Seth were the perfect couple—a campus power couple—you the editor-in-chief of the school newspaper, he the president of the student government. His mother hadn't liked you—you weren't Jewish. And you didn't like Seattle, a sunless place. But you and Seth had such plans. He was going to run for public office and you were going to be a famous journalist. 

Surely Seth, your great college love, didn't turn into a Republican, too.

    On his home page, his face is smilingly huge and confident, his dense dark curls gray now and cropped close to his head. Does Seth still think of you, every now and then? His kids are grown and who knows, maybe he's never been truly happy with whatever-her-name-is, maybe he dreams of starting over, of recovering lost love. You could send him a little message, just a little, Hey, how's life treating you?

    You scan through his endless family photos: Seth, his sons and daughters, his wife, all tall and graceful, arms wrapped around each other; Seth and sons cycling through the mountains of Italy (God that looks exhausting); Seth's wife in a semi-circle of women in exercise clothes—according to the caption, Rachel is a part-time Zumba instructor. Then wife and husband together, at some sort of country-club event, grand archways behind them leading to a white-carpeted room. Seth's head rests on his wife's, his smile so broad, he must be laughing. The wife is in a sleek short cobalt dress, her arms and legs smooth and muscled. She's very pretty, you think—she looks so pleasant, and fit. 

    You turn off the iPad and slide back under the covers. Clearly, Seth is not missing his soul mate. He has the right wife, the right home—he has the life you could have predicted for him, that suits him. As does Alton. As, of course, do you. Tomorrow you'll fly home and maybe shovel snow. You'll phone your friends, text your daughter, and unpack, recalling how well this presentation went, remembering the faces of your audience when you said, "Think about that underlying assumption—that uniformity is the goal. In American culture, there has always been a tug-of-war between uniformity and diversity. But we don't all have to be the same; we can't all be the same. If we accept differences, there's no end to what we can learn from one another." You could see your audience was thinking, questioning; some people even looked relieved. It was sublime. Teaching undergrads, you'll reflect, is also full of moments like this—moments that swell with joy, that don't fleet, that carry you closer to something important, though you no longer imagine you can know what that is. 

    When the unpacking is done, you'll roll your empty suitcase into the closet and stretch under your winter blankets. By midnight, as you're drifting off, you'll feel the warm weight of the cat draping herself across your ankles, and when all the other sounds fade, there will be a relentless, tidal purr. You’ll think of dinner with Alton and smile. How you loved that roller coaster.


A.D. Nauman’s short fiction can be found in The Literary Review, Knee-Jerk, Other Voices, The Chicago Reader, and many other literary journals. Her novel, Scorch, published by Soft Skull Press, is available as an e-book and on Amazon. A.D. is an education professor in Chicago; she lives in Oak Park with her fella and a highly pampered tuxedo cat.