The Rosewood campus was surrounded by woods, the place somewhat of a hidden enclave that gave the impression, at least so long as one was on campus, of being buffered from the world beyond. The hour was early; the sun was low over the tips of the trees, and Rowan exited from the front door of the Athletic Center.
He was tall and thick in the chest and shoulders, blond hair cropped close to his scalp and a closely shaven beard around the edges of his chin line and around his mouth. He wore a tank top, drenched in sweat, and in his hand he carried a towel that he dabbed on his forehead. He crossed the parking lot and headed towards the main cluster of dorms that were a short walk from where he was.
His mind was solely focused on his most recently complete activity. He thought about his morning’s exercise, about the success or lack thereof of his movements that day, what exercises would commence tomorrow, and how he would accommodate himself to this new equipment in the new gym that he was just today for the first time trying out. Exercise was close to an addiction for him, something that he needed on a daily basis and didn’t feel right when he had to do without. He never quite woke up until his morning routine was finished, and a quick session in the afternoon was like the necessary foreplay to sleep.
He noticed a car in the parking, a black one. It was notable sight since it was the only car in the parking lot and it appeared to be occupied. He could see a woman sitting in the front seat, wearing a pair of large, round glasses on her face, and though he couldn’t see the direction of her eyes behind the glasses, he guessed that she was watching him. And in the back of the car was somebody else, a shape in the shadows, hidden by the tinted windows. He could only see this person through the front windshield of the car as some black outline that occupied the back seats and occasionally shifted position.
It was a detail he probably wouldn’t have committed to memory, one of the many daily observations that passed before his eye and he noticed and then forget – if it weren’t that the car started following him. As he crossed the parking lot and began to ascend up the grassy slope on the opposite side, the car rumbled to life. He was soon walking on the side of the campus loop road, and he heard a car approaching from behind him. He stepped out of the road, walking in a drainage ditch that lined the side of the road, since it had no sidewalk, and he expected the car to pass, but it didn’t. He turned around to look and see if his ears had been deceived, and he did in fact see a car there occupying the road, its motor humming and the motive force of its internal combustion propelling it forward, albeit very slowly. However, it did not pass since the speed of the car was no faster than his own.
Rowan deliberately stopped at this point and turned around to look at the car, expecting that the car would come to a stop beside him and the occupants of the car would roll down a window and speak to him, probably politely explaining to him what had prompted such strange behavior. But that didn’t happen. The car rolled on by and gave the impression that behind the tinted windows eyes were watching him. The car then accelerated to a more normal speed after it had passed him and disappeared around a curve in the road.
When Rowan returned to his dorm room, he quietly opened the door. His roommate was sleeping in his bed, a red-hair-topped head buried in a pillow while he breathed heavily.
Rowan traded his gym towel for his shower towel and headed to the bathroom with soap in hand. When he returned, since his first class—his first ever class as a Freshman in college—was over an hour away, he began something that he’d been putting off for too long, and started to unpack the bags and boxes that he had piled up beside his bed. He had barely begun unpacked since he’d arrived two days ago.