Layne shivered each time the November winds waltzed past our bodies. She hugged herself. She was a sort of subtly reckless girl: drink one too many shots of warm Captain Morgan on a weeknight, smoke her Camel menthols within fifteen feet of building entrances, go out into fifteen degree weather in black soffe shorts, flip-flops, and a boyfriend's hoodie. I'd been getting ready to leave campus for Thanksgiving break when she'd called me and asked if I could meet her. We sat together on one of the aging wooden benches outside her dorm and listened to the scratching sounds the dead leaves made as the wind pushed them along the sidewalk. For a long while, neither of us spoke.
"You didn't say anything about my bandana today," she said. She looked up at me, blue fabric with a white floral pattern wrapped around her forehead, something lifting at the corners of her lips. The lamppost to our left hummed a hymn.
"It's pretty," I said. "What put you in the bandana mood?"
"I don't know. You wear one every day. What's your excuse?"
"My hair tickles my ears when I walk." I paused to light my cigarette. I admired the blues and grays of the smoke as I blew it from my lungs. "The bandana is practical."
"I think it's cute on you," Layne said. She rubbed her thighs to warm them. The last classes had let out hours ago. Campus was mostly empty. A few acorns fell from the branches above us, breaking open on the sidewalk, and the menthol smoke of my cigarette took its place up in the trees. Layne took the cigarette from me and placed it between her lips.
"Did you call me to talk about bandanas, or is there something more important? I'm expected home in a couple of hours."
"I went to the doctor today." Layne looked up toward the top of her building. She took a drag from the cigarette. "It's not just a headache." The smoke hung above her like an industrial halo.
"Oh." I gripped the seat of the graying bench.
"I'm going back to Wilmington," she said, "for awhile." Layne passed the cigarette back to me. A campus police golf cart crunched down the gravel path to our left. We both looked over as the blue and white cart squeaked to a full stop. I matched stares with the aging police chief. A slight nod passed between us. Satisfied that there was no wrongdoing, he turned and drove past us. Layne forced a smile his way.
"Do you remember when we tried to steal that golf cart?" she asked. We both shared a small laugh. The wind started to pick up again. We heard it in the dry leaves of the tree above us before we felt it against our faces. I tossed the smoked cigarette and we watched as the last of the tobacco burnt itself into an ash of many grays.
"Layne," I began, "I'm sorry. This must be awful to deal with. Is there anything I can--"
"Don't say it," Layne said. She took her small hands out of her pocket and wrapped them around my own. "Please."
Years later, I still wonder. Was it the pre-winter chill in the weather? Was it the cigarette smoke blackening her pink throat? What was it that made her voice crack when she said that?