The novel continues here.
But, was Toff really the sort of person to only digest originality that was original in an unoriginal way? Orr had perhaps thought of his friends as trying to be normal and had rejected them for that attempt, but he had never thought of his friends as actually being normal under whatever facades they put on; and thus, they were not they the sorts of people who would reject originality in any form. But, suddenly, the thought occurred to him, was Toff simply not original enough to accept his emotion?
Orr remained silent throughout the rest of dinner, until Sarah forced him into a game of team Scrabble, which given that most of the group had revealed excessive gratitude for wine, soon devolved into hormone-rich social games like "I am a cool guy," and "I am a pretty girl, but I don't care about that shit." Orr's combination of derision and fascination distracted him from his thoughts for the remainder of the evening.
But, as he took the subway home, the question flashed once more in his brain, and even as he fought it with a fierce review session of the the various data structures he had learned thus far, he found himself, suddenly thinking, for example, Maybe she's not worth liking after all... and was forced to redouble his efforts: How does an AVL tree work? ... Well, when a new node... And, only the next morning had the question been fully relegated to his long-term memory.
The second time that Toff refused to vacate Orr's consciousness was in fact a direct product of his strategy of defense. As soon as the late November quizzes were over, his brain demanded temporary relief from the rigorous coursework, but the instant he consented, Toff flooded in once more, and now refused to leave. But the week-long pressure-cooker of his subconscious had worked wonders on the question of Toff, her originality, and whether Orr should like her at all. The first thought that came to him was, This is your problem. You're stuck in a Godelian bind. And, he was. If he consented that Toff was unoriginal, then he decided that she was not worth liking, and the ease with which this decision came to him suggested that he had never really liked her very much in the first place, which revealed that (after all) she was correct and not unoriginal at all, which made her quite intelligent and wise in Orr's eyes and brought a familiar jump to his esophagus, implying that he did in fact like her, and thus that she was incorrect in her judgment of him and thus unoriginal after all. And so forth.
He sat and reflected on this cycle of self-contradiction, then he went to lunch, sitting in a far corner to avoid being seen, and reflected on it, and when he went to sleep, he lay down and reflected on it. What does it mean to like someone? Is it the jump in one's insides or the blindness in one's judgment of the other person? Or is it just being distracted when they're around? Or, or, or.
It took him until Saturday evening to solve his riddle. But, his solution was elegant and precise, and would have made Toff proud. His conclusion, in its infinite simplicity was this: whatever. Lest this conclusion fail to emit the proper level of appreciation, it should not be confused with an arbitrary decision to set aside a question as too difficult, nor as an apathetic mantra. Rather, to Orr, "whatever" implied a fault in the riddle itself. That is, the questions of whether Toff was a perfect creature, whether Orr's internal movements resulted from attraction or not, and so forth, were less interesting than (for example) the unworldly questions of whether Curiosity (or Jack) killed the cat, how to turn giant "S"s into (equivalent) giant sigmas, and how to ensure that a tree maintains a B+. In other words, Orr's "whatever" was the most highly intellectual "whatever" with which that word had ever been bequeathed.
And, Orr ran with it.
He pulled the hook of "whatever" onto every aspect of his worried life, from his abandoning of his friends and family for fear of losing intellectualism to his absurd belief that living in squalor increased his intellectual prowess. "Whatever" became a weapon for him. He discovered dozens of walls that he had set up for himself for what now seemed no reason at all and quickly set about disposing of them. And, in the end, he realized that even the "whatever" weapon was something for which he took unnecessary pride, that it too had become a hindrance needing to be torn asunder, and so he set it to its own self-destruction and stared at what remained of his once cluttered belief system: a single structure to hold the tenet that learning was worthwhile, the tenet on which "whatever" had initially been based, and even it, which had stood throughout Orr's life, found itself on shaky ground, close to collapse. And, with that, he smiled, climbed into bed, and lay in it staring at the ceiling and drifting.
Orr awoke two hours later, with the feeling that he had no interest in disembarking from his bed, and yet, he thought, he had no choice. He wanted a new life, a life without the arbitrary walls that slowly narrow a person down until only their habits remain, a life in which the choices he made were based on simple truths, not complex conjectures about murky things like feelings and opinions. And, more than anything, he wanted to enjoy himself now that he was unfettered by the chains of his youth. In three weeks, he would be free of the idiotic, egotistic decision to take six courses, and he wanted to have friends with whom to celebrate and with whom to then spend time the following semester and years.
So, he set about rekindling his old friendships with the little bit of time he had left. He had no false premonition that he would come upon Toff and Tom dancing in the quad, merrily beckoning for him to join them with all forgotten, but he hoped that his honesty and perseverance would woo the two and perhaps even convince Toff to accept Tom's company again. (It is always so easy to be honest and to persevere in one's imagination.)
His plan was simple: he would accost first Toff and then Tom and convince each in turn that they should all spend time together once more, especially given the upcoming break. And, if they had other friends (Dan, for example), Orr would be all the happier, if only for the opportunity to make some new friends of his own.
And, with that thought, he jumped out of bed (banging his head on the ceiling), collapsed down the stairs, and proceeded to dial Toff's number to enact his plan as quickly as possible.
She didn't answer.
But, even as her phone rang, and her voice mail kicked in with its shrill, uncomfortable, "You've just called..." Orr's brain (now practiced in creativity) had concocted another scheme to find her, extracting somehow the phone number that Dan Copod had recited to Toff over three weeks prior: 754-631-8200, and even as he tried to make sense of a complete plan in his head, his fingers were already dialing the number with deft speed. And, now, in an instant, somebody answered.
The voice said, "Woodbury!"
Orr, confused, said, "Dan?"
The voice said, "I am sorry." And, Orr heard the almost inaudible click that marked the end of a cell phone call.
Though momentarily confused by the call, his brain was already hard at work on another solution. It analyzed haphazardly which places Toff could be. He doubted that she would ignore his call, which suggested that she was either watching a movie or was otherwise preoccupied... perhaps spending intimate time with Dan (the thought of which, to Orr's pleasant surprise, did not cause him the slightest uneasiness). The latter was more likely but the former more useful, because he could not very well barge in and interrupt a couple's time together, but he could loiter around a movie theater and wait for movies to end. (Doing nothing was, of course, not an option.)
So, Orr grabbed his calculus textbook and took the subway South to the closest movie theater to Columbia, hoping he wouldn't miss Toff as she departed from the theater, if she had ever gone.
It was, fortunately, a short ride, and one that brought Orr to the theater just as late night movies were ending. Unfortunately, his brain had been so set on the goal of discovering Toff that it had neglected the slightly less pressing goal of not freezing to death. And, the burgeoning winter, whose only goal is to freeze as thoroughly as possible, entertained Orr with blasts of frozen wind. In response, Orr took to jogging in small circles around the sidewalk and almost tripped at every half-second.
Just after his thirtieth trip, Toff's voice from directly in front of him said, "Orr?"
He looked up. At first he didn't recognize her, now with normal hair again, and a giant, white parka, but the voice had given her away, and he smiled.
She said, "What are you doing here?"
Orr said, "Looking for you."
Toff said, "For me?" She donned a bemused smile.
Orr said, "Yeah. I called you." He was out of breath. "And, you didn't answer." Another breath. "So, I thought you might be here."
Toff said, "And if I weren't?"
Orr said, "I'd have to think some more."
Toff said, "I see."
Orr said, "I'm sorry..." He was becoming cold again. "Mind if we start heading back?"
Toff said, "Not at all," and she started walking away from the theater.
It was only at this juncture that Orr noticed that she was alone.
He said, "Where's Dan?"
Toff paused in front of him and looked back. She said, "Oh... long... story."
Orr nodded, though she couldn't see him, and said, "I'm sorry." He caught up to Toff, and the two started walking together.
Toff said, "It's okay. It wasn't your fault."
Orr said, "True."
They walked in silence. Orr had twice attempted to apologize unsuccessfully. And, he felt a voice inside ridiculing him, insinuating that any further attempt must be prohibited at all costs. At one time, this would have stopped Orr.
He said, "Well, actually, I'm really sorry that I disappeared on you."
Toff turned to look at him as she walked and almost collided into a leather-jacket-wearing Jerry Seinfeld lookalike. She said, "It's... It's okay. I was kind of a bitch to you."
Orr said, "No..."
Toff said, "Yeah, I shouldn't have told you how you feel. That's ridiculous."
Orr wondered for a second if she was right. He said, "Whatever."
They walked in silence again.
Orr said, "So, the thing is this. I want to be friends again. And, I want us to be friends with Tom too. I really want to spend time with you two again."
Toff turned to look at him again and almost ran into what looked like the same person. Her body stiffened. She said, "I... I don't think so." She paused. "I mean, I'd love to hang out with you, but I'm done with Tom."
Orr nodded. He said, "I figured, I guess. It's just... and I mean no disrespect at all... but, I don't think he really did much wrong." She didn't respond, so he continued. "I mean, he shouldn't have led you on, but the thing is, we were all really good friends, and I don't think he was wrong to spend so much time with you."
Toff, her voice low, said, "I don't think that he was really that wrong, morally, but he still hurt me, a lot, and I have no interest in talking to people who hurt me like that, for better or worse."
Orr nodded again. He said, "I can't argue with that. Then let's us two hang out. And, I'll go see how Tom's doing by myself."
Toff, her body still stiff, her voice still low, said, "Okay."
Orr said, "So, changing topics... I had this idea for a game, and I thought that you and I could maybe make it together."
Toff, still sullen, but with voice rising and tinged with curiosity, said, "A game?"
Orr said, "Yeah. A logic-based board game."
He had her full attention now. And his own, since the idea was coming to him as he spoke it.