She had a ritual that she always performed when approaching her meals. First, she laid out the pristine white cloth napkin and placed the implements upon it. Second, she poured the cup of water for use as a palate cleanser between courses. Third, she opened the lunchbox to inspect the food and select the first entrée. This time, she decided to start with some fried pork dumplings, with a small container of soy sauce on the side. Fourth, she took the first bite and savored.
Oh god, she's finally here. It's finally happening. First day at college. First time away from her family. She's already on the verge of a panic attack. Her clonazepam was in her bathroom kit, god where is it, she needs to take a dose right now or she'll freak out now that her parents had left her.
Okay, okay, there it is, good, good. Dry swallow one of the pills and sit and wait until it kicks in.
Shit, someone's unlocking the door?! Who is it?! Oh, wait, roommate. That's right, she had a roommate now. Can't freak out on her first thing, appearances are important, first impressions are important, can't make her think she was a nutso or anything. The door's opening, stay calm.
"Hi! I'm Janine, your roommate—" Tired-looking girl with her parents behind her, maybe they had to drive a long way? "Uh, do you need help bringing stuff in?"
The trio look at her and she feels her ears start to burn.
The new roommate says, "Yeah, could you hold the door open while we carry this in? We're parked at a meter, so we want to make this as fast as possible."
Okay, first impression seems okay. Not actively hostile anyway. Maybe this can work.
"Sure! I'll come down and help with the next load."
Ah, a college experience. Delicious. Expectation and excitation and nostalgia wrapped together with just a soupçon of longing to add that wonderful aftertaste. Stressful without leaving a bad taste in the mouth.
She took a sip of water to clear her mouth and the contemplated the next course. Perhaps a little of both sweet and sour. She removed the perfect, ripe orange from the lunchbox and began to peel it slowly, letting the intense citrus smell engage her as she collected the rind in a small pile. She idly considered turning that into a marmalade for later enjoyment. Finally, she gently sectioned the orange and brought the first wedge to her lips. As she took a bite, she was pleased to note that it was the perfect amount of both tartness and sweet.
Her face aches from smiling so much. A pleasant ache, one of joy and happiness, the kind that reminds you that everything can be perfectly good. Is this what people mean when they say that they're deliriously happy?
It's hard to believe that Jesse loves her, too. She's never known anyone as fun and kind as him, and she loves him dearly. Going to the basketball team's first home game with him sounds kind of silly as a first "official" date, but they both like the university's team this year and besides which, they met at a game anyway, so it's good luck.
What to wear, what to wear? Casual, since it's a game, not a fancy dinner, but not too casual; don't want to make it look like she doesn't care about looking nice for him. The "nice" jeans and a red hoodie should be perfect. Just a little makeup, gotta get ready to meet him in the dorm lobby and oh! He's already waiting for her, a silly grin on his face, too.
This is going to be a perfect night out with him, isn't it.
She was slightly and pleasantly surprised to have more college experiences; usually her meals elicited unrelated enjoyments. She was also somewhat puzzled as to why this time she only had a single emotional note instead of something more… complex. She wasn't disappointed, per se, but more curious as she considered the situation. She absently ate another orange wedge, savoring the burst of juice across her tongue.
The deep glow of her love and affection for Jesse warms her heart whenever she thinks about him. Gotta work on biochem homework but it's hard keeping her mind off him, especially with that Valentine's Day bouquet sitting right there. It's even her favorite flower, daisies, instead of roses, and they're still in full bloom in the vase he'd made for her in his pottery class.
Still, school is important, really really need to buckle down and focus. At least her roommate Kelly is listening to her music on headphones tonight, so the Europop she likes isn't filling the room.
Gah! Why's Kelly shaking her shoulder? She'd just gotten into the zone! Wait, it's been an hour already? Sheesh.
"Huh? What's up?"
"Beth is here and wants to talk with you. Something happened but she won't tell me what."
Thoughts of her homework are instantly vaporized by the sudden grip of fear in her stomach. The R.A. is standing in the doorway, looking… worried? What the heck?
"Uh, Kelly? Can you leave us alone for a few minutes?" asks Beth.
Kelly looks nervously between the two of them. "Sure. I'll be over in the lounge if you need me."
Kelly leaves and Beth takes a deep breath and tells her, "I'm so sorry. Jesse was in an accident a couple of hours ago. Someone was speeding and hit him as he was crossing the street. His R.A.—"
Beth continues speaking, but what's she saying? The words are fading away and don't make any sense. This can't be happening. Jesse's okay, right? God wouldn't hurt someone as nice as him, right? I mean, at least it could just be that Jesse—
"—is in critical condition at the hospital. I figured you'd want to know." Beth's just standing there, so awkwardly. Doesn't she know that something monumentally terrible has happened? Jesse's hurt, Jesse might die and oh god did she tell him she loved him when she saw him earlier? What kind of witch would she be if he… passed away… not knowing that she loved him everyday forever and ever?
"Janine? Do you want me to drive you over to the hospital?" Beth gently laid a hand on her shoulder, which immediately jerked like a rubber band snapping. Nope, can't handle that, no touching right now. Gotta, shit, gotta get it together.
"Yes, yes, I need to go there right now. My wallet, where's my wallet? And my keys? And should I bring something? I mean, they won't let me bring flowers I don't think and that's kind of tacky anyway and oh god what if his parents are there they'd think I was crazy bringing him flowers while he's so bad off and oh god I just can't."
Why is her face wet? Oh god, is she crying in front of someone? She can't look weak, not when she has to be strong for Jesse. That's right, just wipe it off, grab the purse and go.
Ah, that was better. A strong sense of happiness with that sudden burst of despair at the end, sparking off each other in a delightful interplay. Definitely a better bite than the first, and worth the wait.
And now that the orange was finished, it was time for another sip of water, then on to the last course: a double shot of espresso. If she was lucky, it would complete the set in a wonderfully complementary way. Now, the decision was whether to sip it slowly and draw out the experience, or down it quickly for something more intense.
Intensity would be a perfect capstone to the meal, though.
That motherfucker is just standing there. He's not even upset. How dare he walk around living and whole when Jesse is dead? How DARE he?!
Well, he won't be for much longer, he's going to get what's coming to him, isn't he? Bet he doesn't expect someone to tap him on the shoulder from behind and—
Oh, exquisite! Short and intense, just as expected! And such a wonderful vignette, too! Perhaps she should try her little experiment again to see if she could elicit any similar results.
Smiling faintly, she waited until her heartbeat slowed, then unhurriedly collected her trash into a small plastic bag and put in all in the lunchbox, on top of the small vial containing a sliver of preserved brain tissue. Lunch completed, she returned her lunchbox to her locker, then walked back over to scrub back in before starting the next autopsy.
A coroner's work is never done. A gourmet's pleasure, even less so.