Post Classifieds

Mars Albedo

By Grace Dawson
On February 1, 2019

Dust swirled through the air like tiny insects, floating on the surface of the rays of sunlight that filtered in through the grand, airy windows. Mars watched as dust settled on the page of her open notebook, landing on the thin blue lines and everywhere in between.

Her sweater tickled her neck, the yellow polyester scratching at her collarbone. She lifted her hand absently to scratch it, moving the collar of it and skewing it just slightly, then rested it against her cheek, pink from the warmth and drowse of the mid-afternoon lecture hall.

"...and according to Heisenberg's uncertainty principle, the results of this box experiment would be neither persistent nor repeatable." Dr. Rey's voice floated against the tide of the descending dust, reaching Mars's ears from what seemed like a different planet. It wasn't that she didn't understand it, no; it was more that she was lost inside the expanse of her own brain. More specifically, she was lost in the corner of her brain that was solely focused on the notes that strayed from the twanging guitar of Jack Miller. Ah, he of the soft blonde hair and long, capable --


She felt an elbow dig into the flesh of her upper arm. Bony, sharp,  and persistent - unlike the box experiment - it belonged to Hazel. Of course.

"Earth to Mars," Hazel hissed under her breath, although Mars decided that maybe "growled" would have been a better word. Hazel switched from growling to a frantic scribbling on the corner of the notebook in front of her, the letters sharp and sloping just like her elbows.

"What the hell are you thinking about?" the scribble demanded, and Mars caught herself reading it in Hazel's high, gravelly voice. She just shook her head, trying her best to tuck her smile into the corner of her mouth to keep it from betraying her.

Hazel saw it anyway and her eyes rolled so far back in her head that she could probably see her brain. "Jack, right?" came the next scribble, the lead of Hazel's pencil scratching as if it were as annoyed as the owner of the hand holding it. Mars just shrugged, and Hazel let out an audible huff.

The first quantum mechanics lecture of 1973 finally came to an end, with Dr. Rey's voice swallowed up in the shuffling of his students' papers and the warm glow of post-lecture conversations which were mostly cluttered with the words coffee, tired, and later. Mars slid out from behind the folding desk and stuffed her notebook into her brown leather satchel before slinging it over her shoulder. The whole room smelled like aged academia and stillness, and as much as she loved it she needed to get out before it lulled her to sleep. At least it was Friday.

"I'm going to Carmine's," she declared over her shoulder, "you gonna come with me?"

"Sure," answered a voice that was very distinctly not Hazel's. It was louder, for one; much lower, and the tiniest bit nasal, and had a warmth and depth of humor that Hazel's had never possessed.

Mars wheeled around. "What'd you do with Hazel?" was the first thing that left her lips, which she immediately regretted when she saw the expression of the man in front of her. It was kind, that was the first thing she noticed; a long face with a nose to match, and a pleasant growth of stubble along his jaw. It matched his hair, which was an auburn reminiscent of dark honey and, although wavy and disheveled, reflecting the light of the afternoon sun which gave it a slightly haloed look. His eyebrows were raised almost imperceptibly in response to her demand in a mixture of surprise and mild injury as his eyes met hers. They were a brown so light that there, in the afternoon sunlight, she could almost see a hint of green in them.

"I'm right here," came Hazel's voice from behind him before he could reply, laced with irritation. She pushed past him, mumbling something about being short and easily missed, then passed Mars and looked over her shoulder at her. "And yeah, I'll come. But you better not talk about–"

Mars swiftly cut her off. "I'm not going to." She could feel heat rising in her cheeks. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw the man smile a little. Damn Hazel and her wagging tongue. Why was she even embarrassed?

"You can come too if you want," she blurted out, the words tumbling out of her in place of an apology. "We could use someone to, um..." What was she even saying? "To add to the conversation, I guess," she finished lamely. She could feel Hazel's raised eyebrow boring into her back.

"Really?" The man asked, his already-wide eyes growing wider. "I don't wanna barge in." A smile popped onto his face; the toothy, genuine kind.

"Sure," Hazel shrugged from the other side of Mars, "let's go then before everyone and their mother gets there and takes our seats." She jerked her head in the direction of the door, then started walking as abruptly as she'd stopped. Mars followed her as they wove their way through the crowd of their peers, checking behind herself every few seconds to see if he was still with them. He was, of course, his earnest face following her as they came to the edge of the group of students that was still milling about outside of the lecture hall.

"Who are you, anyway?" Hazel asked as they spilled out into the crisp air and the man took the space beside Mars on the sidewalk.

"What she means to say is, what's your name?" Mars said, issuing her a can-you-please-be-polite-to-this-poor-stranger-I-just-accidentally-yelled-at look before glancing over at him with what she hoped was a friendly expression.

"Joe," came his reply, accompanied by another toothy smile and a proffered hand. "Actually, it's Joseph, but that just makes me sound like my dad."  

Mars turned to accept the hand, giving it a shake. "I'm Marsha," she said, "nice to meet you."

"Hazel," said Hazel, ever the talkative one, with a lift of her hand and a nod in his general direction. "And nobody calls her that, she's Mars."

"Impressive handshake, Mars," was Joe's comment.

"Um, thanks." Mars wasn't sure how to reply, so she stuck to what she knew. Which, of course, was sarcasm. "I've been practicing it my whole life in hopes that someone would be impressed," was her wry answer.

Joe laughed, a clear ringing that swung through the cool air. "That was good."

There was something pleasant about his mouth.

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