Tom made his way through the fluctuating labyrinth of hallways and humans, feeling the weight of four classes' worth of textbooks pressing into his back through his backpack. As he dodged and weaved through the crowd of other students going to their classes or their dorms, he tried to keep a casual eye out for familiar faces he might happen to pass.
A guy who lived a couple doors down on Tom's dorm waved at him. "Hey," Tom called to him while they both continued to walk. The two were out of each other's sight before the syllable had completely left his mouth.
Tom continued across the main hallway of the building. A girl who had been in his math class the previous semester gave him a slight smile. "Oh, hi," he said upon noticing her. He didn't quite remember her name, but he definitely remembered her face.
He was almost to his classroom at the end of the hallway, which had become slightly less crowded as more students arrived at their various destinations. He looked at his watch. The next class period would start in about five minutes, maybe a little less. He would probably be able to chat with his classmates for a couple of minutes, about what they had done last weekend or how hard the homework had been, before class officially began.
He heard a repeated clicking noise from the other side of the hallway and looked up to see what it was. All thoughts of homework and classes temporarily left him. He saw a face that was just as familiar to him as it was pretty. Wavy blond hair hung down over a lightly freckled face with blue eyes and an inviting smile. The girl it belonged to had been in a couple of his classes, currently lived in the dorm next to his, and was, of course, on his Facebook friends list as well. They had talked together on several occasions and sometimes hung out in groups of mutual friends. Tom was used to seeing her around campus, but not like she was now—holding two long, metallic crutches in her hands at either side and hobbling along slowly.
"Hannah!" he called to her.
She looked up. "Hey, Tom," she said softly.
"What happened?" he asked.
"Oh, I got hurt playing soccer at the park with some friends last week," she said. "Tried to score a goal, but kind of fell down and hit the ground pretty hard. I think I tore my ACL or something."
Tom wrinkled his face slightly. "Ouch," he said. "That stinks. Must be hard to walk in those things."
"It's not so bad," she replied. "I should only have to wear them for a couple of weeks. Hopefully not much longer than that."
"Yeah," he said. "That'd be good."
"Yeah. Well, I need to get to class. I'll see you later."
"See you." Tom started to walk off, but stopped. "Hey, wait a second."
Hannah turned back around to look at him. "Yeah?"
"Um...do you need any help...like with getting to class, or carrying your backpack or anything?"
Her lips curved up into even more of a smile. "Would you? Yeah, that would be great! Thank you!"
"Sure, no problem."
She momentarily switched both crutches to one hand, freeing one arm so that she could slide her backpack down. Tom took the backpack from her and held it up off the ground with one arm.
"Where's your next class?" he asked.
"Down the hall, near the computer lab."
The hall towards the computer lab. It was the opposite direction from where his own class was.
"Don't you have to get to class or anything?" she asked him. "I don't want to hold you up."
"No, it's fine," he answered. "I've got a few minutes." He glanced at his watch again. He had three of them, to be exact.
The small, side hallway was to the left of them, in between two classrooms. Tom stepped over to it and opened the door, leaving ample space for Hannah and her crutches to come through.
"Thanks," she said, taking labored steps until she was through the doorway. "You know, you really don't have to do this. I'd be able to make it on my own."
"Don't worry about it," he said. "It's fine."
Hannah took her steps one at a time, slowly and carefully, as a toddler might do when first learning to walk. Along the way, as Tom awkwardly made himself keep pace with her much slower movements, the two of them made small talk about how classes were going and what their friends were doing. Hannah's classroom was only a couple doors down from the end of the hallway, so once they had arrived, Tom followed her to it, returned her backpack, and helped her get inside the door.
"Thank you so much for your help," Hannah said, emphasizing and elongating the word "so." "Seriously. I really appreciate it. You're awesome."
Tom started to smile, but tried not to let it show. Instead, he just shrugged. "No problem," he said nonchalantly. "Glad to help."
"Well, you're a great friend," Hannah said.
"Thanks," he answered. "But, uh, I've got to get to class now."
"Okay. Have a great class!" She smiled.
"Yeah, you too. See you later."
He walked quickly away from the classroom door, trusting Hannah to be able to get as far as her desk on her own. He glanced down at his watch and saw that it was time for classes to begin. He would be a few minutes late to his own. The professor would probably be lenient, as Tom was usually a good and punctual student, but still, he didn't like being late. He half-walked, half-ran through the side hallway he had just entered, crossed through the larger hallway where he had first seen Hannah, and rushed into the nearby corridor where his class was located. The professor was taking attendance as Tom sat down in his desk and began to get out his things.
Tom tried to pay attention during the class, but his thoughts kept wandering away. He caught himself smiling a couple of times for reasons that had nothing to do with what his professor was saying. At first he wasn't sure why, but then he realized that it had felt good to help Hannah like he had before class. He was glad to be able to do something good for a friend in need, and to be seen as a nice, caring guy who could be relied on. He had enjoyed the opportunity and Hannah had seemed very grateful to him. In fact, he wouldn't have minded having a similar opportunity again.
Tom's class was only an hour long, but it felt much longer to him. He couldn't wait for it to be over, and once it was, he spent no time conversing with his classmates, but immediately gathered his things and rushed out of the room. His next class was upstairs on the third floor of the building, and the quickest way to get there was through a stairwell right next to the classroom he was now exiting.
He walked away from the stairwell, stepped out into the main hallway, and went back into the side hallway that he had gone down earlier. He walked a couple doors down and positioned himself at a water fountain at the computer lab's entrance. He took a quick sip, then glanced around the area without seeing anyone he recognized. He bent down again and took a longer drink from the water fountain. He looked around at his surroundings a little more thoroughly.
The door to the classroom he had visited earlier was open a few yards away from him. Students poured out of it into the main area of the computer lab. Hannahstepped out of the classroom on crutches as the girl in front of her held the door open. Tom bent down and took another sip of water. Surely Hannah would notice him again on her way out of class.
A few moments passed and Hannah had not greeted Tom, nor had he heard her crutches approaching. He looked up again. She had hobbled further out into the main area now. Walking next to her was a large, dark-haired, fairly muscular young man who had just come out of the same classroom. He was talking pleasantly with her and carrying her backpack down at his side.
Tom didn't want any more water, and he didn't walk over to say hello to Hannah. He stood there looking on for a second or two, then lowered his eyes, took a deep breath, and raced back across the hallway toward the stairwell and his next class.