Three Thirteen was beautiful. Dark hair, fair skin, slim legs. She smelled faintly of sweet pea and a light waft of cigarette smoke when she walked past in a flurry of floral skirts and pastel cardigans. She was a delicate and shy kind of beauty, too unimposing to turn heads but graceful enough to halt the turn of the earth, to make gravity dance a waltz, and to make relativity bow.
For Jake, the laws of physics were not so obedient; he tripped up stairs and over limbs, inelegant and ungainly. Unobedient as well, to him, were the laws of fate, for the night Jake met this beautiful woman, the night she waved shyly from beside him and they spoke softly and she smiled and said, “Come visit me in 313,” he didn’t quite catch her name.
He was bewitched with this girl, this nameless silhouette, this enchanting figure just a few doors down. Each time her thin fingers jangled her room keys on their little Japanese keychain, he found himself thinking of her a little more often and a little more fondly. The memory of their brief exchange was stored in the forefront of his mind. It aged as a fine wine, just as gracefully as he believed some day she would. The kindness in her smile, the ever-so slight curve of her hips, the way her honeyed eyes had lit up the shadows and the shadows had repaid the favor by framing her charming smile just right, carving delicate lips like frosting roses, sweet and kissable — to him these things were the definition of captivating, of lovely, of heartbreaking foreign words for beauty in romantic languages he could never pronounce but would die to hear fall like petals from her tender mouth.
Yet, even just a few rooms down from the door with the brass placard bearing the number 313, no one he asked on the hall seemed to know the name of this belle, this Aphrodite in kitten heels, this mystery woman with the long, soft curls. Everyone had seen her, outside for a cigarette or leaving her room in the morning, yet no one had spoken to her but Jake, so there remained the problem of identifying her by name, a problem which was not so much a problem as it was a thousand piece puzzle without corner pieces or a picture guide that Jake was determined to solve.
Jake would not, could not talk to her without knowing her name. He knew she had said it when she had introduced herself, and to ask again would be to admit failure, to lose any chance of impressing her with his charming authenticity. He would lose the appearance of being the man who had talked to her for a reason other than her gently stunning looks, the man who had remembered her name. He would be admitting defeat at the hands of a roguish and poorly humored god, to give up any chance with her he had, to succumb once again to the wiles of fate and continue to drift, absent-minded, down the current of his dolefully unexciting life.
And so he set off on a personal odyssey of sorts to ascertain the name of the lovely Three Thirteen.
Certain questions pertaining to her character and habits were easily discovered. From the fluttering laughter emanating from behind her doorway, he knew that she was easygoing and spirited; a quick visit to the cafe revealed that she spent $4.25 on a large latte every morning; an overheard conversation in the dining hall determined her course schedule (Sociology, Biological Anthropology, Organic Chemistry, and Dance — all but the latter conveniently placed close enough to his own that he could assure he would be able to accidentally run into her at nearly any moment he desired if he took the right paths between them); and a note on her door informed him that her friend Emma was “looking for you earlier, bitch, give me a call!” He could devise a plan to find her whenever he pleased, but still the mystery of her name continued to evade him.
Even with the new-found information, Jake knew he could not accomplish this feat alone. He flirted with the idea of conspiring with this Emma, whose dirty blonde hair and tall, slight figure he’d seen around the hall as well, but he worried that Emma would warn Three Thirteen of his insincerity and then all would be for naught. Instead he decided he would enlist the assistance of the man in 314, a heavily accented Jamaican film major by the name of Aristotle who he often saw speaking to her in the hallway in the mornings, who sat next to her at dinner one night, and who may have been enrolled in her elusive mid-afternoon ballet class.
Explaining the situation to Aristotle was more difficult than Jake had anticipated. Though Aristotle, unlike his namesake, had little desire to ask big philosophical questions, it was the small ones that Jake found stunning. The problems, it seemed, lay within his own mind, namely in the fact that it wasn’t until he spoke it aloud that he realized just how far he had fallen. He was past the point of mere infatuation; every time she waved at him in the hallway as he passed her on his way to the shower, he drew closer and closer to something he might someday consider love.
Aristotle listened compliantly to his tale, nodded slowly, and asked, “Three thirteen, yeah? I know her but I don’t know her name. You want I should ask her?”
Jake thanked him, smiled, and though partly relieved that the hard part was over, felt anxious at the prospect of having to wait until the next convenient time that Aristotle would run into her in the hallway or class.
Aware that in his room he’d be too busy listening for strains of her mellifluous voice drifting in conversation through his door, Jake decided that he’d best study in the library until he heard back from Aristotle. The library was silent and bright and didn’t smell like sweet pea and wasn’t at all mysterious, so he thought that maybe the book he’d picked from the shelf would be able to grab his focus for a few hours. Yet, his mind wandered from the flickering of the light over his head to the way her shoulders shook up and down gently when she laughed into the crook of her arm, hiding a sweet, shy smile. It wandered from the wrinkle in the pages to the way she walked toe-heel instead of heel-toe when she was barefoot and jingled her keys up and down in her hand absently when she was enjoying a conversation, from the smoothness of her cream-colored skin and the weight of her hand on his arm.
He closed the book decisively, realizing that libraries were probably the worst places in the world for a man in love, and moved to the stacks to put the book back and leave. Weaving between the shelves, he absentmindedly scanned the spines of each volume, searching for the right letters, the SAL he needed to signal to him to stop, slide the book back into place, and head back to his room. But similar to the letters on the page, these letters danced together, forming names, Emily, Laura, Charlotte, Rebecca, Amanda, and he scanned through each one, hunting for familiar syllables that might form the elusive name he had sought for so long. And as he drew closer and closer to the name, definitely an R, but was it an A or an E that followed? he could nearly smell her on the air in front of him, the musty, flowery scent of pressed petals and cigarettes, and the—
The front of his face felt warm as he fell, his cheeks stinging, his chapped lips damp with sticky blood, and he hadn’t even realized that there was another person in the entire building until she panicked, dropping her books, and said (rather loudly for a library), “Oh my God, I think your nose is broken! Did you hit the shelf?”
He opened his eyes, slowly, dizzy, propped himself up on one arm, and nearly fell to the ground again when he recognized Three Thirteen’s golden eyes looking directly into his as she pulled a tissue from her pocket and reached to wipe the blood from his face.
Now, it wasn’t the pain in his nose or the adrenaline of his fall that started his heart racing faster and made his breathing ragged. It was sheer panic that he wouldn’t be able to escape thanking her by name — a name he still didn’t know — and that all his efforts would be for nothing. He opened his mouth to say something.
“Shh,” she responded. “Don’t want to get blood in your mouth, do you?”
And then, “Hey, don’t I know you?”
Jake nodded, slowly, glad for the excuse to keep his traitorous mouth shut, not to reveal the fact that he had forgotten her name, not to unveil himself as the disingenuous monster he felt himself to be. And then, Three Thirteen, with her honey-coated voice, began to speak again:
“We talked the first night we were here. Joe, right?”