The journalism classroom was set up as a sort of city room, individual desks topped with Dell computers to simulate the setting of a real newspaper for the student staff writers.
Bob Dotters, chief editor of The Light, had asked Hilary about plagiarism, a simple technical question that shut her up for a long 30 seconds. Would it never fade away? After ten years, the fear of getting found out still nailed her to the cross of the secret, punctured the center points in her palms, polished the floor of fear in her belly, and charged her feet with a quicksilver itch to run.
Even when she googled her old name, nothing popped up. The Colombia folks had been merciful out of deference to her father and let her drop from the program rather than be kicked out. Bless them.
Later that night Hilary walked the dimly lit corridor with the student writers, away from the newspaper office after they put the paper to bed, out to their cars. The odor of wet leaves left too long on concrete testified to the preference of the night maintenance workers to sit indoors drinking coffee instead of sweeping the maze of campus walkways with their push brooms.
She had parked in the faculty lot and not the student lot, so she veered to the left and hurried to her bright pink Cadillac this chilly fall night in early October a couple weeks before Halloween.
Looking across the lot towards the huge new PriceCuts, right next door to the college, she was grateful for their halogen lamps, not set up for her but rather to make their customers forget time, like a casino having no clocks and lit up 24/7. That was the only thing good about the massive new retail outlet, just opened a year ago in the fall of 2004, in time for Christmas shopping. One by one small businesses had folded just as predicted, the latest being Hubbard Hardware.
This week, the students were running an article about how friendly PriceCuts was as a neighbor to the college, letting them park in the lot. Hilary kept walking to the left and the editors to the right as they moved off campus. The students ducked across a dimly lit strip of grass separating the school's parking lot from PriceCuts'. Hilary could hear sputters of starting engines of the old clunker belonging to Bob Dotters.
She tried to keep an open mind, the way she advised her students, but she really felt for the local shop owners, getting squeezed out by the big-box retailer, even if they so far kept to the edge of the Lodi, out in the rural area, where land was cheaper. Customers did not seem to mind driving out there, the prices were so good and many of them were house poor from paying nearly a half-million for a house in the new tracts springing up like mushrooms after rain.
There were lots of cars in the PriceCuts lot, Hilary noticed, even around on the side near campus. The place stayed open until midnight, a wonder it wasn't open 24/7.
She was excited that Jacki Jones was coming to town in a few weeks to open her line of home furnishing in PriceCuts. The students were lined up to do an advance story on Jacki’s business holdings. Hilary just didn't want the story to get too big.