By Paul Germano
They sit on the thin mattress in his cluttered dorm room, their legs propped up, their backs leaning against the wall, passing a big fat blunt back and forth. His roommate, a true-blue friend, is making good on his promise to stay elsewhere for the night. They’ve got the place to themselves.
This isn’t now; this is then. It’s a time when music is listened to on CD players and phone booths can still be found on street corners. The Internet is still kind of new, Michael Jordan reigns supreme on the court and Jerry Seinfeld is the king of Must See TV. The Clintons are in the White House and all is well with the world.
She passes the blunt back to him and starts talking about something from her class about the French Revolution that she finds especially interesting. She’s wearing tight jeans, no bra and a loose-fitting sweatshirt with the Syracuse University logo on it. She has long blonde hair, warm blue eyes and a charming habit of tucking her hair behind her ears when she talks about something that truly matters to her.
“Lucky Town,” his favorite Springsteen song, comes up on his CD player. The Boss is singing about a man with the walls closing in on him who seeks to “loose these blues I’ve found” by going down to Atlantic City.
They both sing along. He knows the lyrics, word for word. She knows some and hums through the lines she’s unsure of. They sway back and forth and he turns sideways for a good look at her. She is his Springsteen love; Rosalita, Crazy Janey, Sherry Darling, Sandy, Candy, Bobby Jean and Mary Queen of Arkansas, all rolled into one. A broad smile stretches across his lean face and she flinches when she realizes how intense his stare is. “What?’ she asks, slightly laughing. “Nothing,” he says. He inhales a deep puff of smoke and hands her the blunt. Before she can bring it to her lips, he leans in for a quick kiss. “I don’t see eye to eye with Bruce on this one,” he tells her. “Huh? What do you mean?” she asks, raising a curious eyebrow. “That opening line, ‘House got too crowded, clothes got too tight.’ It’s all about feeling trapped, confined and um.” He pauses, licks at his lips. “I can’t relate to that line, not now anyways, See, there’s no place else I’d rather be, than right here, just me and you and these four walls.” She twists her lips into a smile and glides her slender hand across his jawline. “You’re so sweet,” she says, handing him the blunt. They kiss. He unbuttons his shirt and sheds all of his clothes in a hurry. She shimmies out of her tight jeans and he helps her lift off her sweatshirt. They hug and slowly slide down into the bed. From the CD player on the shelf in the corner, Bruce Springsteen continues to serenade them.
They remain a happy campus couple for what’s left of their senior year. On Graduation Day, they brace themselves for an emotional farewell to Syracuse University, sitting side by side in their caps and gowns and playing with each other’s tassels. They make a promise that they’ll stay in touch, forever. They don’t. He goes back home to New Jersey and she goes back home to Ohio.
He gets on with his life. He gets a good job at a public relations firm and joins a gym. He makes both sides of his family proud by regularly attending Italian and German cultural events. During a weekend getaway to the Jersey Shore, he stops in at a beachside bar and meets an amber-haired dental hygienist with bright white teeth and alcoholic tendencies. She is, by her own definition, “a good Catholic girl with a bit of the devil inside.” They date for a while and eventually wed in a Catholic Church jam-packed with their families and friends thanks to their strategic choice of a church that’s in between both of their Jersey hometowns. They rent a small apartment and talk about starting a family. But her love for alcohol and his love for weed, get in the way. They divorce and rent apartments at opposite ends of the city. Without kids in the mix, they have no ties that bind, yet they promise they’ll remain friends. They don’t.
He gets restless with his job and switches to a different public relations firm that offers him more money. The new job is in the same city, so there’s no need to uproot. But he’s got more cash to play with now, so he rents a better apartment and buys a new car. At the grocery store, he starts buying more expensive cuts of beef and skips over the store-brands in favor of name-brand soda, coffee and canned goods. He finds love, here, there and elsewhere, but no one quite gets to his heart.
Tonight, he sits in the dark in his fine apartment with its hardwood floors and exposed brick walls, somewhere in the comforts of Jersey. He sips at his name-brand coffee; Maxwell House, French Roast, black, no sugar; letting the petty annoyances of a rough workday drift away from his mind. He thinks about taking a ride down to Atlantic City and trying his luck at a few games. It wouldn’t be the first time.
“Alexa, play ‘Lucky Town’ by Bruce Springsteen,” he says. Alexa is only too happy to deliver the goods. Springsteen comes on in full force with his seen-it-all gravel voice. He sips at his strong cup of joe and thinks about his sweet college love from so long ago, the one with those warm blue eyes. He pictures her, tucking her hair behind her ears. He clears his throat and takes another sip of his coffee. A broad smile stretches across his lean face; it’s a slightly sad smile, but a smile none the less.
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Paul Germano lives in Syracuse, NY, with his dog April, a charming and strong Pit Bull mix. Germano’s fiction has been published in roughly 40 print and online magazines including *Boston Literary Magazine, The Drabble, The Fictional Café, Microfiction Monday Magazine, Sledgehammer Literary Journal, Voices in Italian Americana* and *Word City Literary Journal.* His flash, “Bourbon on the Rocks,” appears in *Bright Flash Literary Review’s* August 2021 issue. In his nonfiction adventures, Germano has worked as an editor/writer for Le Moyne College, Syracuse University and *The Catholic Sun* and as a freelance writer for *Syracuse New Times, The Post-Standard* and *Stars Magazine.*