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I watched Karen walk away, the hem of her skirt flipping from side to side, just like the first time I'd encountered her on our way to the dining hall. She was a freshman then, I a junior. I commented on her dress, an enticingly short swirl of pastel colors. The conversation continued at dinner after we met up with her roommate. Now, exactly two years later, in the noonday sun, at the bench where we'd spent hours talking that first night, in front of a choir of my fraternity brothers--and other students crossing the university's quad--I got down on one knee and stuttered out a proposal. She said no.



Whispers filled the air around me as people walked away, most avoiding eye contact. One guy, I was too embarrassed to see who, patted me on the shoulder as he passed and said in a soft voice, "Tough, man." I didn't respond. I couldn't. My vocal chords refused to emit any sounds.


I watched her enter the library. She had an American Lit test at three and needed to study.


I put the ring back in my pocket and stood, my legs finally steady enough to provide support. I started toward the library and stopped after a few steps. She just needed time. The surprise was too much for her. We meant more to each other than just sex, though that was always mind blowing. At least, I thought it was.


I wokked Karen's favorite dinner--baby shrimp with green beans and almonds in a Thai sauce--put the heat on simmer, and read a couple of articles for my graduate seminar in government relations while waiting for her. At least I tried to. My mind kept wandering to Karen.


When I first checked the time, she was thirty minutes late. Now, according to the microwave, she should have been home an hour ago. I took the Wok off the stove, covered the contents with aluminum foil, and called her cellphone. It went straight to voicemail. I snatched my keys off the kitchen counter. Something was wrong.


Before leaving the apartment, I grabbed the holstered Smith & Wesson from the dresser drawer. I hated having it around, but it made Karen feel safer, especially since our apartment was in a not-so-safe part of the city.


The university had implemented an open carry policy starting the fall of this year. When the administration first announced the new guidelines, I was among the demonstrators rallying against the plan. Now, I wasn't so sure. There could be an unreported disturbance on campus, or maybe she had been attacked, or. . . I ran to the car wishing I'd worn more than flip flops.


I didn't see her while walking across the campus. She wasn't in the student center, or the library, or hanging out in the English department. I headed toward the east dining hall, the same one we ate at that first night.


I climbed the stairs to the second floor, and as my head cleared floor level, I saw her sitting with her old roommate and a guy I didn't recognize. He had shoulder-length blond hair and biceps the size of small watermelons. His jeans were torn at the knees, a style I personally detested.


I assumed he was a friend of the roommate but wondered why he was sitting next to my soon to be fiancé. Then I saw him caress Karen's bare thigh. She and the roommate laughed at something he said. I couldn't hear what it was, but I didn't find it funny. I felt the redness and heat return to my face.


I backed down the stairs, found an out-of-the-way couch, and waited.


Fifteen minutes later, the three of them appeared at the foot of the stairs, still laughing. I followed them to the parking lot, my breathing dinosaur angry. I began to feel dizzy and took longer breaths to calm down. It didn't help. Instead, I felt the muscles in my shoulders knot up. The roommate continued on the sidewalk to the left. The gigolo opened the passenger door of a red Camaro with T-Tops, and Karen slid in. Son of a bitch.


I raced to my ancient Ford Escort, slammed the door hard enough to rock the car, and followed them off the campus. The interloper and my girl entered a weathered yellow apartment building a few blocks away. I stayed in the car until I saw a light come on in a third-floor unit. I gave them a few minutes to settle in then got out of the car and waited on the stoop for someone to let me in, trying to look calm and uninterested. Even with all the violence happening in the world, people were still not as cautious as they should be.


I took the stairs two at a time, my head pounding with each step. I unholstered the gun and wondered how safe the bitch would feel when I knocked on the door and interrupted them doing who knows what. I felt the heat return to my cheeks once more, not from embarrassment this time, not even close. I made a fist, my nails digging into my palms, and knocked on the door. As I said, I'm not a gun advocate. Not normally. But now, as the door inched opened, all I had to say was "God bless the NRA."


Bio: Jim Harrington began writing fiction in 2007 and has agonized over the form ever since. Jim's Six Questions For . . . blog ( provides editors and publishers a place to "tell it like it is." You can read more of his stories at


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