Thomas O'Connor entered the room with a heavy step. He took off his hat and let it linger in his fingers for a moment before setting it on the desk. His blue eyes searched the room quickly and efficiently. It was dirty. A bookshelf covered the northern wall, filled with old tomes and pictures frames that were dusty. There was a cluttered desk covered in papers and books that lay to the south and against the western wall was a small bed with a tattered blue blanket. All of this was illuminated by the sun that streamed in from the east window. It was almost midday.
Walking a few steps in, Thomas removed his dress coat and turned it inside out with his leather gloved hands. He could not think of a place to put it down. A thin layer of dust had settled over the room and its contents and the fur of an absent cat had clumped together in all of the ignored nooks and corners.
"Hello Thomas," said a voice behind him.
He turned to face the woman who stood in the door. She was clad in a pair of old jeans. They had some tears that were fraying on her calves. Her shirt was slightly wrinkled. She wore no makeup and her mousy brown hair was pulled back into a halfhearted bun; tendrils of brown escaped here and there.
"Hello Jennifer," Thomas replied. He played with the coat in his hands.
"Well, make yourself at home. I can't have you standing about when you've traveled so much today," Jennifer said, taking his coat into her hands. She walked across the room and put it on the bed. Thomas took off his leather gloves and put them in the pockets of his brown slacks.
He sat quietly on a rickety chair that stood by the desk. The wood creaked beneath his weight. Jennifer smiled at him and walked back across the room until she leaned against the doorframe opposite him. She leaned back and slowly let herself drop into a sitting position on the floor.
"You're looking well," Jennifer said, placing her hands on her knees.
Thomas nodded in thanks. There was a brief silence. Jennifer moved her arms to her sides and let her hands rest on the floor. She reconsidered this a moment later and returned them to her knees. Thomas picked a stray cat hair off of his hunter green sweater.
"Things have been busy around here this fall," Jennifer said, "Mom's been trying to finish her Master's degree online and my sister has been busy with my nephew. He's starting first grade next year. Amanda's trying to get him to learn the alphabet ahead of time, but he has trouble remembering anything past P," She brushed a strand of hair from her face. "I don't think he'll ever be a librarian."
Thomas leaned back in his chair and smiled, "Daniel says that kids today get too much stimulation. They have so many things presented to them incessantly that they can't even begin to desire to retain anything. There's always something shiny, obnoxious, and new to distract them."
Jennifer considered this. Her eyes, also blue, seemed to focus inward momentarily and then she replied, "I suppose, but I think a lot of stimulation is good. You can't ever learn anything if you're not exposed to anything. And, you can't ever be interested in something if you don't know it's there, you know?"
Thomas began to drum his fingers on the desk. The soft rhythm quietly supported him as he asked, "How's your brother doing?"
With a quick snort, Jennifer replied, "Oh, he does what he wants. It makes him happy."
A grey tabby cat sauntered into the room. Upon seeing the two of them it began to purr loudly. Jennifer extended a hand and the cat nuzzled it. Bits of pink showed as it ran its muzzle across her palm.
"This is Copernicus. He's my room mate," Jennifer said with a smile. Dimples formed in her cheeks.
Eyeing the cat, Thomas asked, "When did Galileo die?"
The cat's ears swiveled around after he had spoken. A yellow eye turned on him. Then, purring loudly, the cat walked over to Thomas and starting rubbing the length of its body on his leg.
Thomas shifted his leg a little and the cat followed it. With a soft sound, the cat plopped onto Thomas' shoe. It looked up at him, still purring, and twitched its tail.
Jennifer shifted again. She crossed her legs and straightened her back. "He died three years ago. It was a few months after you left."
Thomas stopped drumming his fingers. Not wanting to look at Jennifer, he bent over and reluctantly began to pet the cat. "I'm sorry to hear that. I liked the thing."
Jennifer laughed, "You hated him. Remember when he used your bookcase as a scratching post? You wanted me to get rid of him. You told me to get a fish."
The cat, enjoying Thomas' attention, purred louder.
"It was an antique," Thomas said, "Anyway; I never made you get rid of it. I even let it sleep in the bed once, when you had that nasty cold," he laughed, "There were tissues all over the place and you drank all of the green tea. I made you chicken noodle soup, remember? And we laughed because I'd forgotten that you're a vegetarian."
Jennifer, laughing, reached over and began to pet the cat as well. Accidentally, her hand brushed against Thomas'. They looked at each other. Thomas sat up and began to pick cat hair off of the cuffs of his sweater.
"How is your fiancée?" Jennifer asked. She kept her eyes on the cat.
Thomas shifted in his seat. He replied, matter-of-factly, "Doing well. We're going to the orchestra with her parents next week."
Jennifer smiled politely, "How lovely. I've heard that the orchestra is sounding wonderful this season."
The cat, bored suddenly, stood and walked over to the bookshelf and began to groom itself. Jennifer brought her hands to her knees.
“Her father keeps telling me that we should have a Catholic wedding, but Heather doesn't think that's a good idea. She doesn't want the ceremony to be too long and have the guests sitting there bored."
"She's anxious to be Mrs. O'Connor," Jennifer said. She followed the cat with her eyes. It was grooming its tail.
Smiling, Thomas stood. He walked over to the bookshelf and ran his fingertips over the spines of the dusty tomes. Then, he ran the fingertip of his index finger over the glass of a picture frame. It left a streak.
Jennifer stood and leaned against the doorframe. She crossed her arms. After a moment, she walked over to the desk. The sound of rustling paper filled the room. Thomas turned to watch. "What are you looking for?" He asked.
Searching a moment more, Jennifer grabbed a slightly yellowed piece of paper. It was folded into a small square. She turned to face Thomas, "Here, I'd like you to have this."
After giving her a confused glance, Thomas took the piece of paper in his hand and looked at it. It felt fragile. He recognized his handwriting. "What is this?"
Jennifer sat in the chair. It creaked. "It's the letter you wrote me from Cambridge," she said coolly.
Thomas unfolded the paper and began to read it quietly to himself. His lips formed the words silently. He did this for about a minute and then said, "Jen, I can't take this. I wrote it for you."
Jennifer looked him in the eyes. He noticed how blue her eyes were. No, he had known that. He'd just forgotten.
"I know what it says. I don't need it," She said crisply.