Viola had finished studying for her history exam, so she picked up her book and immersed herself in a world of cotton fields and southern belles. She sat at a table made of cherry wood, fist at her temple, supporting her head. She felt the shadow of someone in front of her but her eyes remained fixed on the ink-filled pages. The chair screeched against the floor as a man pulled it out to sit down. He drummed his fingers against the table, shifted in his seat, and drummed his fingers some more.
“Do you mind?” she finally said, eyes flickering upward.
“Not at all,” the man said, smiling at the attention. He crossed his feet on the table and leaned back with his hands folded behind his head.
“You shouldn’t put your feet on the table,” Viola said. He tilted his head and raised his eyebrows. Then his mouth slanted upward, a thin black mustache moving with it, into a half smile. The white shirt he wore underneath a red cardigan accentuated his tan, leathery skin. His jet black hair was slicked back and shiny. Viola abandoned her book completely when she noticed his playful gray eyes. She had known only one other person with eyes that shade of gray. The eyes she was used to were distant wells of tenderness. The ones in front of her were like smooth, flat stones skipping across a river.
“Those are some eyes you got there, Baby Doll,” he said.
“What’s your name?” he asked.
“Viola. Viola Standish.”
“Was that on purpose?”
“Actually viola are a genus of plant in the violet family. Flowers in this genus can range from violet to yellow.”
“What, you gonna write me a book?”
“It was intentional. When I was born my mother said I had the most intense violet eyes she ever saw. My point is, though it was intentional, it’s sort of inaccurate.”
The man smiled. Up until that point Viola had never studied a man’s smile before except her father’s, which was always soft, unless he was laughing. When he laughed it suddenly became wide and toothy. Her brother Victor’s smile wasn’t worth study. It was always a straight line that extended across his face. Since she had been in college, Viola didn’t have very much time to study smiles. If she wasn’t attempting to study things like math or science, she was engrossed in a novel.
Viola couldn’t count the number of times Diana would say, “Viola, a girl with your looks could get a ‘ring by spring’ easy! It isn’t fair! You’re so attractive and all you do is read!”
This man’s smile was playful and teasing. Only half of his mouth tilted upward at a time. She wondered how the mustache that hugged his upper lip would feel on her skin.
“What’s your name?” she asked.
“Bill Harvey. I’m visiting my sister Barb for the weekend. You know her?”
Viola shook her head. “At least, not well,” she added.
“She’s pretty shy, and I’m sure someone as beautiful as you would intimidate her.”
Viola cast her eyes downward, feigning modesty, in an imitation of the heroine she was reading about in her novel. Bill seemed to buy it.
“Are you going to go to the dance on Saturday?” he asked.
“My roommate is trying to get me to go,” she said.
“A friend of mine, Diana Ashley, is helping put it on,” he said.
“She’s my roommate.”
“Small world.” His hands were still behind his head, and he rocked on the back legs of his chair.
“I will probably go,” Viola said.
“Thanks for your help! I’m so glad you decided to come to the party!” Diana’s voice was airy with excitement. Viola knelt on the ground in a lilac colored cotton dress cinched at the waist and billowing down to her mid calf. Together they rolled up the rug that sat in the living room of their sorority house.
As soon as the music started Viola found herself being swung and spun by several different boys, but she could always find a way to glance at Bill. He leaned against the wall, coolly exhaling a steady stream of cigarette smoke and watching the others dance. He was noticeably older than most of the party goers. Several girls with wilting pin curls, plastic smiles, and glazed eyes attempted to drag him to the dance floor. Even Diana tried to get him to mingle.
“Bill Harvey! Put out that cigarette. You know they’re not allowed. Now, what do I have to do for you to have some fun!” Viola heard her say. Bill put out his cigarette by dropping it to the ground and grinding it with his toe. Then he looked Diana up and down and chuckled before reassuring her that he was having plenty of fun.
The lively music stopped and another record was put on. The beat slowed down. The bass kept time to the downward chord progression of the piano before voices broke into “Earth Angel.” Viola felt two cold and clammy hands—one at her back and one clutching her hand. She cringed as the boy she had been dancing with pulled her close. Viola pointed her head as far from his boney shoulder as she could.
“Excuse me, sir, you’re wanted on the telephone.” Viola’s eyes shone like two translucent purple-blue marbles at the sound of Bill’s voice.
“Oh, thanks, mister,” the kid said, dropping Viola’s hand to leave.
Viola felt her skin tingle with an inner warmth that came from the base of her stomach and up her spine. In her two-inch heels she only came to Bill’s shoulder. He held her tightly against his body with his entire arm stretched around her back and waist. He smelled of cigarette smoke and pine trees.
Viola opened her mouth to speak, but Bill shook his head.
“Don’t talk,” he laughed.
Viola looked up at him before closing her eyes and resting her head on his chest.
“It should be a crime for you to close your eyes,” Bill whispered.