Waiting For Mr. Twelve-Thirty

Twelve-thirty at the People's Potato, he said. Okay, here I am – but where is he?

Jesus Murphy, the place is packed. It figures – free food for students, enough said. It's a wide open space with white walls, but for a moment, I still feel like can't breathe. The lineup to the counter snakes all the way to the opposite wall and back again, winding around a column, and almost all of the little plastic chairs and tables are occupied. A thousand conversations buzz in my ears – You're in Engineering? Hey, me too! How 'bout that quiz tomorrow, eh? – along with the clatter of plates and forks and knives. They're serving some kind of fuchsia-colored lumps I can't identify, along with a green soup and what looks like rice. I walk through the room, trying to scan it for Mr. Twelve-Thirty without staring at anyone too hard.

My search criteria: tall; Caucasian; short brown hair and a slight beard growth; dark jacket – what color was it again? Green or brown? There – no, the face is too round. Wait, is that him over there in the black armchair? No. I feel so rude, burning holes into all the guys with my stare, but he's got to be around here somewhere. It was his idea in the first place. Maybe he'll spot me in the lineup – how many other six-foot girls with glasses are there carrying baby blue coats?

Eventually I pick up a bowl of soup and a plate of rice and mystery veg, find an unoccupied chair and begin eating. The soup is pleasantly thick and salty, with onions, potatoes and maybe some leeks, but the brown rice – if it is rice – is dry, with a taste that makes me think of hay and horses. As for the mystery veg, it barely has a taste at all. Well, since it's for free, what did I expect – five-star gourmet food?

Now it's almost one o'clock, and where the heck is he?

The chair opposite mine creaks an alarm as some boy (black hair, coffee skin; result: negative) tries to carry it off. "Hey!" My voice comes out as a thin squeak. "Excuse me! That seat's taken!"

He gives me a strange look – If you say so – and puts back the chair. I park my backpack on it, marking the territory just to be safe.

Coming in late would be one thing, but by now a nasty , suspicious feeling is starting to clog my throat with every bite of horse rice. Maybe he's still at the library where he was headed two hours ago. Maybe he's hanging out somewhere with his friends, eating pizza fresh from the oven and forgetting all about me. It's not like we really know each other, after all. This wouldn't be the first time someone stood me up.

No – there's got to be a mistake. Maybe I wasn't looking hard enough, or maybe I'm in the wrong place at the wrong time. But he distinctly said twelve-thirty at the People's Potato – didn't he?

It's one-fifteen and he's obviously not coming. If I eat another bite of this, whatever it is, I'll choke. I put back the dishes and drag myself out of there, trying to ignore a familiar sinking feeling that's got nothing whatsoever to do with hunger.