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Excerpt from Untrodden

Nox luna inlustris
(A moonlit night)

After Contracts on the Friday afternoon of the fifth week of classes, Sigrun waited in the aisle for Lupe, who immediately returned the notebook that she had borrowed for class.

"See, what did I tell you?" Lupe snapped her gum. "Right off. I just knew the professor would call on me first thing. Thanks for rescuing me. Did you see her expression when I answered? You know, Sigrun, you really do take great notes."

"Glad they were useful," Sigrun said dryly.

"Oh, I almost forgot," Lupe added. "I wanted to ask you—I really need a favor. See, I promised Diego's little brother, Antonio, that I'd find him a date for this thing we're going to Saturday night, and, you know, Chun's started dating Tony, so, like, I don't have anyone for him. Antonio's coming up for the weekend, and he'll be so disappointed if he has to go alone."

"What are you doing?" Sigrun asked, suspecting she didn't want to know.

"It's really cool. Hawke belongs to this group, the Surfriders' Society—they do stuff to protect the beaches—and they're having a benefit at the Santa Monica Pier. All the proceeds go to conservation projects, so, like, it's a really good cause, and the Pier's a great place at night. It'll be fun—there'll be dancing and loads of people. Would you come, please?"

"No, really, Lupe, I don't think ..."

"But Sigrun, Antonio's only two years younger, and, you know, he's even better looking than Diego, if you can believe that." Lupe giggled. "He's a real sweet kid."

"I don't like crowds, and I don't think he'd have much fun with me."

"What do you mean? I think you two would have a great time. Oh, but, are you dating that guy who calls all the time?"

"No," Sigrun, considering the merits of lying, admitted a bit reluctantly, "Philip's not my boyfriend."

"So, if you're not seeing anyone, and you're not doing anything Saturday, you should get out and have some fun. Come on," Lupe pleaded, "do me a favor."

"Oh, I guess so," she found herself agreeing, "I'd like to see the Pier anyway."

"Thanks! I really appreciate it. I have to run—see you later."

Sigrun shook her head. Whatever was she thinking? She hated things like that, she most assuredly hated blind dates, and she didn't like to dance. It must be her depression; anything seemed better than sitting alone in her room again.

It was nearly nine when Diego finally squeezed Lupe's bright teal Sunfire into a small space. Lupe's customary flow of casual chatter had carried the conversation during the short drive from UCLA and on the walk through the adjacent cliff-top park toward the long Santa Monica Pier, which was blazing with lights and reverberating with music.

The Surfriders' Society, Lupe had explained, had rented the small carnival mid-way down the pier and had created an enclosed area at its end for those who purchased tickets to the event. It turned out, Sigrun was disconcerted to discover, that admission included unlimited beer on tap. Judging by the length of the line, others found this to be a more attractive concept than she did. From outside, they couldn't tell whether the others had preceded them. After they had made it past the entrance gate, Lupe spotted an empty table off to the side.

"Hey, Sigrun, why don't you and Antonio go grab that table?" asked Lupe. "We can look around for the others and stand in line for beer for all of us."

"Sure," Sigrun said, amenable to any plan that got her out of standing in line for beer.

At the table, Sigrun selected a seat with a good view of the ocean. That, she was pretty sure already, would be the highlight of the evening. From the little Antonio had said, he was a lot like his older brother, only more talkative. But, she had to admit, Lupe was right, he was quite good looking. Short like Diego, he was trim and wore his clothes well, his fine-featured face set off by his stylishly spiky, blond-tipped hair.

"So, Antonio," Sigrun asked, "you're in school in San Diego?"

"Yeah," he said, giving her a charming smile, "a community college."

"Oh, what are you studying?"

"Well, you know, I'm not sure yet."

"So, what are you considering?"

"Oh—well, maybe business, or ... you know, I've thought about quitting and going into the restaurant business."

"Do you like to cook?" she asked with real interest.

"Oh no!" Antonio laughed. "I don't cook. But I'm a server at Castor's, and so I thought maybe, if I did that full time, I could become a manager, you know."

"Do you enjoy it?"

"Yeah, it's fun, but it's stressful."


He gave a rueful smile. "See, I like to make my customers feel at home, so, I try to talk to them. And, my manager, well, she says I'm too slow."

"Oh, yeah," she said, striving for sympathy, "I guess that would be stressful."

Antonio looked around the packed pier where a few people had started to dance in the small space left open in front of a rather raucous rock band. "Good crowd, no?"

"I suppose." Sigrun looked around as well. It was a beautiful location, overlooking the broad sandy beach with the waves gently lapping against the pillars of the pier below them and the lights of several large ships sparkling along the horizon. "It's certainly a lovely spot."

"I guess so," he said without interest. "Do you like to dance?"

"No, not much," she said apologetically. In fact, she would have been happy to dance with Antonio—it would have given them something to do—but she was, despite Philip's best efforts over the years, a truly lousy dancer.

"Oh." Antonio's disappointment was evident.

"Here we are, finally." Lupe appeared at the table, beers in hand and a crowd in tow. She handed a beer to Sigrun and took the chair next to her.

Tony appeared behind Lupe and set his beers on the table. "Sigrun," he said in a neutral tone, "how unexpected."

"Hi," she said, attempting to sound pleasant. "Have you guys met Diego's brother, Antonio?"

After greeting Antonio, Tony and Hawke went to find extra chairs. As they left, Sigrun heard Tony say something in a voice too low for her to catch anything apart from her name. Hawke did not stifle his laughter.

As the crowd rapidly multiplied, Hawke took it upon himself to supply the table with beer, repeatedly returning to the line and, Sigrun suspected, frequently consuming one on his way back. His girlfriend finally removed a beer from his hand and dragged him off to dance. Sigrun managed to nurse her beer covertly enough that no one appeared to notice that she'd only had the one. She made several attempts to strike up a conversation with Antonio, but gave up after a while, both because of the deafening din and his disinclination to engage in any discussion.

Eventually, Antonio leaned over and politely asked Sigrun, "Would you mind if I asked someone to dance?"

"No, please do, I don't mind at all," she assured him.

She turned in her seat to watch as Antonio approached a cute woman seated with a group of other young women at a nearby table; she appeared to assent readily. For want of anything else to do, Sigrun watched as they made their way onto the tiny dance floor. He was an excellent dancer; too bad they had absolutely nothing in common, otherwise he would have made a great date.

Sigrun became aware that Lupe had addressed her. "I'm sorry?"

"Diego wants to dance." Lupe laughed. "He says he's bored, and he wants to be close to me. But I don't want to leave you alone, so I said no."

"Oh no," Sigrun protested, "go ahead, Lupe. I want you to have a good time."

"You really don't mind?" Lupe asked as she got to her feet. Diego was waiting impatiently by her chair.

"No. Honestly, you two go dance."

Apparently Tony and Chun had left at some point as well, leaving Sigrun alone. She looked around at the ebullient throng; she obviously was odd, she reflected, she simply did not enjoy mass drunken revelry. She supposed it was inevitable that they would all have too much to drink, and she should have anticipated the problem. Now, all she wanted was to get back to her dorm room. The question was how. She scanned the crowd but, really, how likely was it that she would spy one of the few people she knew in a metroplex as big as Los Angeles? But the guy with long, dark, curly hair, standing by himself leaning against the railing of the pier—he looked familiar. She was pretty sure she'd seen him in the library; in fact, he was the one who'd been annoyed earlier that week when she'd accidentally left her phone on while studying. He was sipping a beer while idly watching the dancers. Should she? Could she really walk up to a stranger and ask for a ride? Well, why not? She could at least make conversation, and it couldn't be worse than sitting here by herself. Before she could change her mind, Sigrun joined him.

"Hi," she said shyly, "you're at UCLA Law, aren't you?"

"Yeah, are you?" he said amicably.

"I'm Sigrun ... the other night, uh, I disturbed you in the library with my cell phone."

"Girish." They shook hands. "I don't recall that."

"Well, I just noticed that you seemed rather bored." She was uncomfortable, but she plowed ahead. "I, well, I'm here with a group that has gotten rather rowdy ..."

Hey, you with Hawke?"

"Yeah. I mean, I didn't come with him, but he's in the group."

Girish snorted. "I saw him a while ago—I know him from Surfriders'—he seemed pretty loaded already."

"Quite. Anyway, I'm not really ... having a great time and ..." Sigrun vacillated. Maybe this was a truly dumb idea, but, on the other hand, she had an unusually good feeling about Girish. "I thought, maybe, when you're ready to leave, you wouldn't mind giving me a ride?"

Girish raised his eyebrows. "You don't know me."

"No, but I have good instincts about people," she smiled wryly, "present appearances to the contrary, and I think you're trustworthy."

"Well, I like to think so. Sure, I'd be happy to give you a lift. Would you care to take leave of your ... friends?"

"Yeah, I'd better let my roommate know."

"I'm not in a hurry," he said. "Actually, I was thinking about taking a walk on the beach. Maybe you'd like to join me—the full moon is lovely."

© Hadleigh Garrard