May 16

Statistics

One of the reasons I chose a business major in college was because I hated math, so I wasn’t particularly excited to take Business Statistics 101. It was, however, required for my major, and I suppose you can say I found solace in the fact that it was at least better than calculus.

It was, by far, the most boring one-hour period of every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, only made worse by the fact the subject matter was difficult for me and that I didn’t know anyone else in the class. A study group or someone to at least mull over homework with would’ve made my life so much better, but most of my friends were art majors or science majors that either had fewer or much more difficult math requirements.

The lecture hall for Business Stats was on the smaller side – especially compared to some of the gynasium-sized halls on campus – but there were still 150 seats. Not around, not about – exactly 150. I know because I counted.

At first, I sat in the front because I was hoping that would encourage me to focus on the lesson, but after a couple weeks of that and still getting a C on my first exam, I felt fairly discouraged and ended up sitting wherever I was drawn to for that particular class. I was never a “back of the class” type of person, but since this class took attendance and I was basically having to teach myself the material as best I could every time we were given homework, I stopped caring where I sat. I just needed the attendance mark next to my name and be a warm body in a seat until it was time to go to my much more interesting marketing class.

It was on a Wednesday that I first sat next to Kelly, or I guess, more accurately, I should say that she sat next to me. I had started habitually taking the end seat on the back row closest to the door so I could get out of the horrid class as soon as possible. Kelly happened to show up late one day and took the closest seat she could to the door to avoid be disruptive to the rest of the class, and that’s how we met.

“Sorry,” she said as she shuffled by and sat down next to me.

“No worries,” I said. It wasn’t like I was paying super close attention anyway. I had actually taken to using my time in Business Stats to do homework for other classes, that way I could use that time later to learn Business Stats. I know it sounds stupid, but the traditional approach had earned me a low C, and this approach had earned me a C that was one point away from a B on the subsequent exam.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Kelly take her laptop out and start googling something that looked related to the class material. I don’t know why I found it so intriguing, but every once in a while I would sneak a peek of her screen, and it was always a some sort of resource that related to whatever the professor was currently discussing. She wasn’t taking notes, she wasn’t following along with his slideshow, she was just independently reading on the subject of the day.

I couldn’t make fun of the method though, could I? If that’s what worked for her, then more power to her. It was hard to blame anyone in that awful class for learning the material their own way.

Maybe I could try that method, but today wasn’t the day for that. I forced myself to look back at my own screen, which displayed an online assignment for my economics class that still somehow managed to be more interesting and easy to understand than statistics.

“Hey, is that the Econ 102 homework for Matheson’s class?”

“Yeah,” I nodded, unsure why she was talking to me.

“Are you in the 9:30 class?” she whispered.

“No, 10:30,” I said. I purposely didn’t schedule classes before 10 AM because I had trouble staying awake, which was a solution that I implemented in my second semester of college after I realized I was dealing with a problem that I had largely created for myself.

“Ugh, I wish I could switch to that one,” she said. “I practically have to prop my eyelids open to stay awake.”

I arched an eyebrow, because for a moment, it was like she’d read my mind.

“Yeah, that’s why I took the 10:30 class,” I said.

“Good foresight,” she said.

After that exchange, class proceeded as normal. When it finally ended, I left with a slight wave at her, and rushed off to Marketing 102.

My interaction with Kelly in that class is burned into my mind because I never talked to people I didn’t know in class except when we had to group up for one reason or another. Of course, at that time, I still didn’t know her name, but I did find myself wondering if she was in the same situation that I was in, and if she wanted a study buddy too.

Friday’s Business Stats class came, and Kelly showed up on time, but rather than picking one of the many other open seats, she once again sat down next to me.

“Hey,” she said. “I didn’t catch your name on Wednesday.”

“Eric,” I said.

“Well howdy Eric, I’m Kelly.”

“Howdy?” I flashed a smirk. “Are you from Texas?”

She laughed. “No, it’s just an affectation I picked up from an old friend. I’m actually from Virginia.”

“Oh, hey, I’m from Richmond!”

Her eyes lit up like mine must’ve just then. We were only a few states away, and like most universities, ours attracted plenty of students from out of state, but it still felt special to meet someone from the exact city you grew up in completely by chance.

We chatted for the seven remaining minutes before class started like we were old friends. It was strange how easy it was to talk to her, but when the professor stood in front of the class and started going through the motions that meant class was about to begin, I felt disappointed that we had to cut our conversation short.

Three more class periods went by that were bookended by conversation with Kelly. Over the period of just a week, I found myself looking forward to my least favorite class just because I wanted to talk to her more.

The entire weekend, I kept thinking about her, to the point where I began questioning if I was excited about her friendship, or if I was excited about the possibility of something beyond that. I didn’t know her super well yet even though our conversations proved that we had some sort of deeper-than-normal connection. And while I was single, I wasn’t sure if she was.

When I was in high school, I dated my best friend Kris for about two weeks before we shared a come-to-Jesus moment about dating having been a mistake. We just couldn’t understand why there were no sparks when we kissed, yet felt like we really liked each other. Turns out that 15 year old me and 15 year old Kris just didn’t understand that guys and girls can be friends.

That flash-in-the-pan of a relationship had laid the foundation for me that I still followed four years later in recognizing my own feelings. Sure, things hadn’t worked out in the two relationships I’d had since then, but for much different reasons. I’d dated four different people in my life, and the only time I never took a valuable lesson from a relationship was the very first one, which I probably shouldn’t even count, because we were in 6th grade. I’m pretty sure I don’t need to explain why I didn’t glean anything useful from a relationship that consisted of going to school dances and sitting next to each other at lunch, even if we called each other girlfriend and boyfriend.

I sensed that I was falling for Kelly, but to admit that felt like I was skipping all of the important steps that I always took to make sure I actually liked someone. The truth was that we’d had interacted for about an hour total, and to pretend that I knew her or think I could have feelings for her seemed silly. We clicked, and she was totally my type when it came to looks, but that didn’t feel substantive.

The Monday after that weekend, I woke up and told myself to stop being delusional about Kelly. She was just a classmate and nothing more. I drilled it into my own head over and over until I started to believe it.

Then Business Stats came, Kelly sat beside me, and my heart began to race.

Why? Why was this happening? I knew better in every sense of awareness to act on these strange feelings, but it was like the universe was out to tell me that I was wrong.

“Hey Eric, do you mind if we exchange numbers?” she said, not more than a minute after sitting down and getting situated. “It might be useful to be able to text about homework or whatever.”

My already thumping heart began pounding out of my chest, but I still managed to respond in what felt like a normal way.

“Yeah, sure.”

And just like that, I got her number.

It felt strange to have it come so easily, like this was some sort of cosmic joke. But getting her number was a privilege not to be abused. She’d said it was texting about homework, and there was no way I was going to take advantage of that by bothering her with idle chit chat.

Or, at least, that’s what I thought, until she did exactly that during class. Her phone number was connected to iMessage on her laptop, and since I used an iPad with a keyboard to do homework for my other classes, I was getting the text popups on my screen just like she was.

hey, it’s me, the girl sitting next to you
thanks for giving me your number

I glanced over and saw her flash a grin in my direction.

yeah, no problem, though i might not be much help in the homework department. i usually have to teach myself this stuff every night after class.

maybe we should study together then?

My heart went back into overdrive. I had never met a girl this forward. Hanging out with a new female friend had always been about reading the situation, finding the right way to ask that wasn’t pushy, and then, if I was possibly interested in pursuing something more than friendship, asking in a way that didn’t put all of my cards on the table and that also didn’t make her feel uncomfortable.

Navigating the politics on a new friendship even with guys had always been difficult for me, but Kelly had completely taken the reins on this one. Of course I wanted to hang out with her, even if all we did was discuss graphing bell curves or whatever the hell the professor was going on about.

sure, that sounds like a great idea

Cool, my place then around 7?
i live right off campus

What in the world was going on? I was practically a stranger to her, right? How was she not uncomfortable with inviting some random guy from her class to the place where she lived? I liked to think of myself as a pretty decent person, but there’s no way that she could’ve known that, right? Hoping that I wouldn’t turn into some creepy stalker felt like a risky thing to bet on for an attractive girl. Heck, should I be worried about her being some kind of stalker?

yeah, just send me the address and i’ll be there

looking forward to it! can’t wait for you to meet my roommate, too
i think you’ll like her

Her roommate? This was getting more and more mysterious, but as much as the more paranoid side of me tried to raise flags, it just didn’t feel wrong. Quite the opposite, in fact.

When she sent the address over, I looked it up, and it turned out she lived in a popular apartment complex that a few of my friends also lived in. It was one of those places that wasn’t right off of campus, but rather, was just far enough away to need to either drive or take the bus. The closer complexes were almost all where the kids with rich parents lived.

My apartment was a couple blocks out from Kelly’s, so rather than drive, I decided to walk there. It gave me a little time to think about how to handle my interactions with her outside of the classroom, but I’d been adjusting to that all day since we hadn’t really stopped texting since we exchanged numbers. I wished I better understood this weird relationship we’d formed, but it felt weird to ask the questions I was thinking, so I kept my mouth shut.

My knuckles rapping on her door masked the sound of the thumping in my ears. I was early by five minutes, probably because I ended up walking faster than I’d meant to due to being incredibly anxious about this whole situation. I felt so dumb for feeling like this for a simple study session, but if I could help it, I certainly wouldn’t be standing outside Kelly’s door freaking out like this.

As the door opened, had a momentary crisis where I wasn’t sure how to greet her. Did I hug her? Shake her hand?

“Hey,” I said, arcing my hand in a slight wave. It was my first, stupid, awkward instinct, but there was no fallout.

“Hey!” she gestured toward herself. “Come on in.”

The living area that I walked into was tidy – much cleaner and more orderly than my own. More noticeably, there were decorations on the tables, shelves, and walls, which was something that my apartment was sorely lacking. I’d tried several times to care about buying some paintings or posters or something to add some personalization to my apartment, but I just didn’t have the eye for that kind of thing.

I did, however, immediately notice the painting behind the sofa in Kelly’s living room. It was a large, overly serious, stylistic oil on canvas of this cartoon character from an old show on Nickelodeon. It was unmistakeable what it was, because there was only one in existence, and Kris had painted it. I’d seen the thing hanging in her bedroom since 11th grade, which begged the question – why was it now hanging in Kelly’s apartment?

“Hey Eric, what’s shaking?”

I turned around to find Kris standing there, a huge grin on her face, and looking overall particularly proud of herself.

“Kris? What the heck is going on?”

Kelly laughed. “I told you that you’d like my roommate.”

“When did you move here?” I said, baffled by the idea of what was happening.

“At the beginning of the semester, dummy,” she said. “Remember, I asked you for help moving, but you were back in Virginia that weekend.”

“But I saw you a week and a half ago…”

Kris’ grin didn’t waver a bit. “You think I was going to tell you and ruin this surprise?”

“I’m still incredibly confused. How do you know Kelly? And how did Kelly know that I know you?”

“Do you not remember me mentioning my cousin Kelly that lived across town dozens of times back in high school?”

I must’ve had an incredibly stupid look on my face. She was right, I did remember the name, but I’d never met her. “Ohhhh.”

“The timing finally worked out for us to room together, so here we are,” she said. “But finding out you were both in a class together, that was easy. You complained about Business Stats on Twitter like six times in a single day, and I already knew Kelly’s schedule. I put two and two together, showed her a picture of you, and told her she should find you and introduce herself.”

Kelly nodded. “As it turned out, though, that had been the day I was running late and sat next to you by chance, so we’d already met. When I told Kris, she cooked up this crazy scheme to get you to come over, and, well, here we are.”

I glanced at Kris, and if the smirk on her face didn’t give it away, the twinkle in her eye did. I suddenly understood everything. Kris knew me better than anyone, and my guess was she knew her cousin pretty well too. She was, almost undoubtedly, trying to set us up. This was classic Kris; she’d done it before several times to our other friends, but this was the first time she’d tried it on me. Not that I was complaining.

And to make matters more interesting, the instant I looked at her and realized what was going on, I could tell that she knew that I knew. Kris was almost famous among our old group of friends for this type of stuff. She’d milk the awkwardness out of every situation, and it was even worse when you knew what she was doing.

“From what I’ve heard, you two get along well,” Kris said. “Almost too well.”

“I’m sure you already knew that we would,” I said. This was a strategic move on my part. If I didn’t control the dialogue that resulted from Kris’ questions, Kelly would end up saying something like, “What do you mean?” which would then open Kris up to say, “You two make a great couple.”

Why was I resisting that, though? It was the perfect opportunity to see if Kelly was as curious as I was about getting to know each other better and the potential of that resulting relationship. Wasn’t Kris doing me a favor, even if she was deriving a little too much pleasure out of making things awkward?

“Oh, I did,” Kris said, the look on her face absolutely devious.

She was going to strike. I knew she was about to, and the only way out of it was for me to strike first. Yet, I didn’t want to destroy what Kris was setting up; I just wanted it to be less awkward than I knew she was going to make it. The question was how I would do that.

“Kelly, has Kris ever told you how long we’ve been friends?”

“Didn’t you guys date for a couple weeks in high school?”

“Yeah, but we’ve been friends even longer,” I said. “Do you have our 8th grade yearbook, Kris?”

“Somewhere in my closet,” she said, pausing. “You want to show her the picnic table picture, don’t you?”

I was incredibly proud of how quickly I’d come up with that diversion. Our middle school yearbook had pages and pages full of candid pictures of students hanging out during recess, and one of them had captured the very moment that Kris and I became friends. We’d made a few new mutual friends at our college, and we’d shown that picture to most of them.

“If you don’t mind,” I said.

“Sure,” she said, with a slight knowing nod. I knew I hadn’t thrown her off of her awkward matchmaking game, but I wasn’t trying to. I just needed a minute alone with Kelly, and my tactic had worked.

As soon as Kris left the room, I turned to Kelly.

“You know-“

“Hey, so-“

We both stopped, realizing we were talking over each other pretty quickly.

“Sorry,” I said. “You go first.”

“It’s okay, go ahead.”

I could keep playing the game of being polite, but this was valuable time we were wasting, so I had to temporarily ignore the voice of social etiquette in the back of my head.

“I don’t know if you know this about Kris, but does this thing where she tries to set people up.” I couldn’t believe I was saying it out loud, but I knew what I had to do. “That’s what she’s doing right now, and she’s going to try to make it as awkward as possible. I just wanted to let you know.”

“Wait, you knew?”

I arched an eyebrow. “It’s not Kris’ first matchmaker rodeo. She used to do this all the time in high school.”

“Yeah, trust me, I know,” Kelly said, sighing. “She’s done it before to our cousin Steph. I told her not to pull this on me a loooooong time ago, and as much as I’d like to think she forgot, I’m sure it’s really that she just chose to ignore me.”

“That doesn’t surprise me,” I said. “Didn’t go well for your cousin?”

“Actually, Steph is still dating the guy that Kris set her up with.”

I’d never really stopped to think about it, but Kris had played matchmaker with four couples that I knew of. Three of them were still together, and the one that wasn’t broke up amicably because they decided to go to college literally across the country from one another. As much as I hated to admit it-

“Kris is actually pretty good at playing matchmaker.”

It was like Kelly read my mind. But more importantly, I couldn’t believe the implication of what she’d said.

“Wait, are you saying…?” I said, not really sure how to finish the thought.

“I think you’re pretty cool,” she said. “If you want to, it couldn’t hurt to try going out some time, could it?” Her face started to flush a bit, despite how collected she seemed.

“I mean, yeah, for sure. That sounds great, actually.”

“I have to warn you, though,” she said. “I’m kind of a dork.”

“Well, yeah, you’re related to Kris. That should go without saying.”

Kelly laughed. “You know, I was kind of confused and maybe slightly jealous back when Kris first told me about you years ago.”

“Why’s that?”

“I didn’t understand why you two were just friends, but at the same time, the way that she talked about you was so positive, and I guess I wanted to a friendship like that. My friends in middle school were the worst…it’s a long story, but I went almost friendless in 9th grade for a few months after a big falling out with them.”

“Oh wow, that sounds rough.”

“It was, but I eventually made new friends, and then the next year, I heard that you two started dating, and it made me really happy for her. It only confused me more when she told me like three weeks later that you’d broken up but were still friends.”

“Trust me, that confused a lot of people, and it’s kind of hard to explain, but-“

“No, you don’t have to explain,” she said. “The way she talked about you leading up to you coming over, and the way you guys interacted just now – I know it’s complicated, and maybe I’m simplifying it a bit too much, but there is a deep amount of respect and love between you two.”

She didn’t say it, but I knew what she meant, and she was right. Kris and I had spent two formative years together before we tried dating, and it didn’t work because of the exact type of platonic love we had for each other that I knew Kelly was talking about.

“That’s incredibly insightful,” I said. “Spot on, too.”

Kelly smiled. “She’ll probably be back soon. How do you want to handle this?”

I grinned. “Let’s turn the tables on her and act totally oblivious.”

“Oh, absolutely, yes. Let’s.”

Kelly grinned ear to ear, and in that moment, I could not have been happier about what Kris had done for us. My head had intially tried to convince my heart to slow down, but I guess sometimes following my heart couldn’t hurt, especially with Kris’ involvement.

There was no more doubting this; everything about interacting with Kelly had fallen completely into place, and I knew it couldn’t feel more right. Also, I couldn’t ignore that with Kris’ matchmaking success rate, there was a pretty good chance of things working out – you know, statistically speaking.

November 12

Six Years

It’s been a while since I tagged a story under the “Muse” category.  I don’t know if I’ve ever explained what that category means, but basically, they’re just stories that came to me in dreams.  Probably not the most traditional definition of a “muse,” or maybe not really even the definition at all.  But whatever.

Anyway, I don’t know how this one was supposed to end.  I haven’t written a love story in a while, and I feel like it falls a little flat in the end.  However, I’m posting it anyway because it’s been a while since I’ve posted something here, and my excuse is usually that I am not happy with something I wrote or that it’s not finished…but not this time!

——————

“Hey Ryan, you want something to drink?”

“Naw, I’m good,” I said, staring down at the smooth kitchen countertop, admiring the way it sparkled under the LEDs hanging overhead.  “Did your parents remodel?  I don’t remember the granite.”

“It’s quartz,” Ethan said.  “And yeah, they did.”

“Man, how long has it been since I’ve been here?  Six years?”

“Probably about that long, yeah.”

When we were kids, I was at Ethan’s house every weekend.  Now we had our own apartments in a different city, and this place where I spent much of my childhood felt so familiar, yet so foreign.

“When’s the last time you saw my sister?” he asked.

“I guess probably the last time I was here.”

“Wow, really?  That long?”

“If it wasn’t me being off at college, it was her.”

“Yeah, I guess so.  Just doesn’t feel like that long for some reason.”

“She home for the summer?”

“Yeah, she’s finally taking a break and not doing summer classes.”

I chuckled, remembering how hard his sister used to study.  She’d sometimes knock on Ethan’s door while I was over and tell us we were yelling at our video game too loudly while she was trying to do homework.

“Good for her.  She’ll miss college like a year after she graduates anyway.”

Ethan smiled.  “Feeling nostalgic already?”

“I’m not gonna lie, I miss the experience, but the classes…hell no.  I am so glad to be done with group projects.”

A door closed down the hall, causing me to arch an eyebrow.  “I thought your parents were out?”

“They are,” he said, lowering the glass of water he’d been sipping from.  “That’s Elaine.”

“Oh, I guess it didn’t click.  That’s why you brought her up?”

“Duh,” he said, rolling his eyes.

When she walked into the kitchen, I could feel my eyelids blinking at an unusual cadence.

“Elaine?” I said, not necessarily meaning to utter her name out loud.

“Ryan?  Oh my God, wow!  It’s been so long!”

Picture yourself as a 16-year old, and then again at 22.  In my late teens, I had long hair and wore whatever was cheap or handed down from my brother.  None of it fit right, and I didn’t much care.

At 22, I was wearing flannel button downs and slim, tapered jeans that ended in Red Wings that cost more than my entire warddrobe did in my teens.  And my hair?  Same as every other guy – short on the sides, long on the top, slicked back with American Crew.  Some people called it “hipster.”  My friends joked that I was a lumberjack.  But the point is that I was unrecognizable from my 16-year old self.

Honestly, my memory of 16-year old Elaine was a little blurry.  I remembered that she wore glasses for a while, and I think she went through a short goth phase.  Or maybe she just had a lot of black clothes?  She was cute, but I couldn’t really recall that she stood out.  Maybe that was because the last half a year or so that I’d been around her, I was dating Mindy Decker, which, if I’m still being honest, severely distracted me from looking at other girls.  I was sort of head-over-heels for her until we went out separate ways for college.

“Yeah,” I said, a bit flustered.  “Ethan and I were just talking about that.  Probably about six years.”

If I was unrecognizable from my 16-year old self, Elaine was, on the outside, a completely different person. She had on a patterned dress that was cut perfectly to accentuate her waist and hips, but stopped short at her thighs and made her legs seem impossibly long for her height.  She was no more than 5’2″, but from across the room, I’d have pegged her at least half a foot taller than that.  She wore thick-rimmed, tortoise shell glasses, and her chestnut hair flowed in waves down to her shoulders.

She was absolutely striking.  In a room full of people, she’s the one that would catch your eye, and everyone else would fall out of view.  It was almost unbelievable how different she looked.

Six years is a long time.

I got up off the barstool I’d been sitting on, trying to recognize the girl I used to know while she approached me for a hug.

“You look so different,” she said.  “You’ve got the whole lumberjack thing going on.”

Ethan snickered behind me.

“Yeah, uh…ditto on that, except for the lumberjack part,” I said, ignoring him.  “I barely recognized you.”

She laughed.  “I acquired a sense of style after you guys went off to college.”

“Tell Ryan what you’re majoring in,” Ethan said.  “No, wait.  Guess.  Based on what you’ve heard about her major, you’ll never get it right.”

I couldn’t remember what her hobbies had been back when we were kids, but it sounded like that wouldn’t have helped anyway.

“Uh…math?”

Ethan laughed.

“Close,” she said.

“Computer science?  Engineering?”

“Ah!  Very close!” she said.

“Which one?”

“The latter.”

Suddenly, Ethan’s comment made sense.  “Electrical engineering?”

“Bingo!” she said.  “Great guess.”

“Ethan gave me a hint,” I said.

“He did?”

“Our friend CJ was an EE major,” I said.  “There were no girls in his class.  Like, none at all.  He used to complain about it all the time, and it was a running joke amongst our group for a while.”

Elaine smiled and blushed a bit.  “Yeah, I’m the only girl in most of my EE classes.”

“That must be pretty rough.”

“Actually, it’s not that bad.  My friend John is in EE too.  It helps to know someone in any class, much less one that has a bit of a reputation for being a boy’s club.”

“Hey El, sorry to interrupt, but Ryan and I were about to head to Chili’s to meet up with Chad.”

“Oh, sorry to hold you guys up!  Tell Chad ‘hi’ for me.  I haven’t seen him in ages either.”

“No, it’s cool,” I said, pausing.  “Actually, if you’re down for whatever Chili’s is microwaving up tonight, you’re welcome to join us.  Maybe some drinks at Ginny’s after, too.”

She grinned.  “I’m meeting up with a friend tonight as well, actually.  But she has to leave around 7.  I’ll text Ethan when I’m done and meet up with you guys if you’re still out.”

As we pulled out of Ethan’s parents’ driveway, I couldn’t help but hope that I’d see Elaine later that night.  I could feel my heart beating a little faster as I thought about it, leaving absolutely no doubt that I’d suddenly developed the fastest crush of my life.

Do adults have crushes?  Is that what it’s called when a dude falls for a chick past high school?  Whatever, it doesn’t matter.  Maybe it wasn’t even that.  After all, what I knew of her was from 6 years ago, and those were foggy memories at best.  Was it just lust?  No, I wasn’t thinking about fucking her; I was thinking about talking to her – getting to know her better.  But I was also positively drawn to her vivaciousness, her style, and her beauty that seemed to pause time itself.  That’s what it felt like to fall for someone, right?

I didn’t enjoy my dinner that night, to be honest.  It wasn’t that the food was bad; no, it was fine for what it was.  The issue was that I was impatient and anxious, and talking with Chad and Ethan felt like the opening act to the main event, as awful as that sounds.  Yeah, they were some of my best friends, but that night, I knew what I wanted, and everything else seemed to not matter.

Ethan’s phone buzzed as we were leaving Chili’s to head to Ginny’s.  It was right after 7, and my anticipation had peaked and damn near erupted by that point.

“Is that your sister?”

“Can you look for me?” he asked.

“Sure,” I said, grabbing his phone from the center console of his car, trying to remain calm.  It was so strange having this come over me.  I felt like a kid on Christmas morning pressing the button on the chin of his phone to see the notification.

El: Finished dinner.  Ginny’s?

“It’s her,” I said, miraculously managing to hide my excitement.

“She wants to know if we’re still going to Ginny’s, I think.”

“There’s no passcode.  Can you respond for me?”

“Sure.”

On our way right now.  Meet you there?

A few moments later, the phone buzzed.

El: Yep, be there in 10.

Cool.

I figured that was the end of the conversation, but as I went to put the phone back in the center console, it buzzed again.

El: So…don’t hate me.  Is Ryan single?

I froze, but my heart apparently didn’t get the message.  I could feel it thumping and could practically see it beating out of my chest.  Besides the obvious ‘holy shit, it’s kind of obvious why she’s asking that’ that ran through my mind, I also immediately had the problem of ‘how in the world did I answer that question?’

I could tell her ‘no,’ put the phone back down, and spare her the possible embarrassment.  But Ethan would see his messages probably as soon as parked his car, and then I’d have to explain to him why I didn’t tell her it was me.  Or I could just tell her it was me, but that would be horribly embarrassing, right?  Maybe it wouldn’t be if I just immediately told her I was digging on her too.

Wait, there was a third option I hadn’t yet considered: lock the phone, put it back in the console, and pretend like I’d never seen the message.  Then there was no embarrassment for her, there’d be nothing to explain to Ethan, and I still would have the knowledge that she asked.

I put the phone back in cupholder in the center console.  “She’ll be there in 10 minutes.”  I was cool, collected, absolutely perfect delivery.  He’d never suspect that I saw that message unless he was paying really close attention and heard the phone vibrate in my hand, which I doubted.

When we pulled up at Ginny’s, Elaine was stepping out of her car.  It was absolutely perfect timing.  Even if Ethan saw the message, even if he suspected that I saw the message, he wouldn’t be able to ask me about it until we were alone.  No way he’d say anything right in front of her.

I walked over to Elaine, pretending I didn’t notice Ethan checking his phone.  My heart was still thumping, which was compounded on when she glanced down at her phone, smiled, then looked back up at me.  Had Ethan replied?  Is that what she was smiling about?

“Hey,” she said, flashing what was quite possibly the most enchanting smile I’d ever seen.

“Glad you could make it,” I said.

“Yeah, me too.”  She paused, glanced behind her, then looked at Ethan, saying, “Hey, you mind if we catch up with you inside?”

“Sure,” he said, passing casually by me.  I looked over and saw the biggest shit-eating grin on his face that I’d seen in quite some time.

All I could think was, “Oh wow, is this happening?”  And she was the one taking the initiative?  Was this a dream?

But still, I feigned ignorance.  “What’s going on Elaine?”

“This is going to sound silly, maybe, but I just…it’s just something I have to tell you.”

Hmm, okay.  Not how I thought she would lead off.

“Sure, what is it?”

“Back when you were in high school…” she paused.  “God, I can’t believe I’m telling you this.  Back when you were in high school, I had a huge crush on you.”

That’s definitely not what I was expecting to hear.

“You did?” I said, feeling a little let down.

“Yeah.”  She laughed a little, looking down at her feet.  “When I saw you again, those feelings came rushing back to me.  I guess maybe they never went away.”

I stood there frozen, unsure what to say, despite having heard exactly what I’d been expecting to hear.

“It’s fine if you don’t feel the same way,” she said.  “I just wanted to tell you.”

“No, Elaine, I-” I paused.  “It’s not that.  To be honest, I didn’t really have any feelings for you six years ago, but I definitely felt something earlier today when we reconnected.”

She smiled.  “You know, I tried so many times to tell you how I felt when we were younger.  I finally got up the courage one day, swore to myself I was going to tell you, even told Ethan I was going to do it.  Then I found you were dating that girl…what was her name?  Mindy?”

“Wait a minute, Ethan knew you liked me?”

“Oh yeah, totally.  He found out by accident, but he swore he wouldn’t tell.  Apparently he never did, either.”

“No, he didn’t,” I said.  “But, I did sort of intercept that text you sent him earlier since he was driving.  I replied to your first text, saw the second one, then panicked and put his phone back down.”

“Wait, so you…oh man, that’s actually kind of funny.  So you were probably expecting this to happen?”

“I don’t know that I was expecting anything to happen tonight, but it was pretty clear to me why you asked him that question.”

She shook her head and laughed.  “I always knew I’d have to be the one to make the move, but I never really thought it would go down like this.”

I laughed.  “But it went okay, right?”

“If you’re agreeing to go on a date with me tomorrow night, then I’d say so.”

“Yeah, I’ll definitely agree to that.”

She smiled.  “Then yeah, this went pretty well.”

July 26

Intertwined

In some cultures, it’s common to refer to the paths ours lives take as “threads.”  It’s such an interesting comparison to make, because threads have so many different qualities that make them unique.  Threads can be many different colors and sizes, and combine fabrics to make something that’s so much larger the sum of its parts.  Unfortunately though, like threads, lives can be cut short, and sometimes, threads can be stretched taut until they snap.

I met Carrie in my third year of college.  She was in one of my general education classes.  Despite our majors being substantively different, our threads still intermingled.  It’s weird how that works, and kind of beautiful in the grand scheme of things.

We didn’t sit next to each other, nor would we probably have ever talked, but we got paired up for a group project by our teacher and ended up hitting it off remarkably fast.  The reason our teacher paired us?  Both our last names started with “L.”

Carrie’s family owned a small textile company somewhere in the eastern U.S. that produced some kind of old-fashioned, high quality fabrics.  She was expected to go into the family business, but was majoring in a STEM field because, as she said, she simply lacked the interest.  I found it fascinating that she wanted to turn down the inheritance of a successful company business to go off and do her own thing, but that quality was what initially drew me to her.  Carrie knew what she wanted and was willing to work through every obstacle in her way to achieve it.  Simply calling her “driven” almost didn’t seem like enough.

Me?  I was going for a career in journalism.  The art of writing, I guess.  Quite different from Carrie’s biology major, and yet, we found so many similarities between ourselves.  The way she could describe cellular functions was poetic, which was remarkable in that she understood her passion well enough to explain it beautifully in layman’s terms to someone like me, a person whose scientific knowledge started in my 7th grade life science class and ended in my 8th grade earth science class.  It’s funny, really, remembering her expression when I stared stupidly back at her during bar trivia the first time she realized how truly lacking my knowledge of science was.  She guessed – correctly, I might add – the answer to a question, “mitochondria,” and spent the next ten minutes explaining to me things I probably should’ve remembered from 10th grade, but totally either forgot or blocked out.

The weird thing though, was the joy that radiated from her eyes, her tone, the way she sparkled when she spoke about what she loved.  I couldn’t care too much less about eukaryotic cells, but I could’ve listened to her speak vividly about them all night.  She lit up so brightly when she got to talk about that stuff.

Carrie and I were friends for only a few weeks before we started dating.  I say “only” a few weeks because I never moved quickly into relationships.  The beginning of my first year in college, I spent so much time writing and submitting articles and columns to various sites, magazines, and papers that I literally ruined a budding relationship that I’d put a couple of months of work into by that point.  The same thing happened again at the end of my first year, so I just sort of swore it off unless it seemed like it could be a casual thing.  I was really focused on breaking into the career I’d always dreamed about, and for some reason, finally seeing that focus in someone else made me appreciate Carrie all that much more.

We both knew immediately that our time together would be limited as we approached mid-terms that semester, but that was fine.  I really didn’t consider anything about our relationship “casual,” and yet, I was supposed to have sworn that off.  I guess I found it really hard to have found something so special in someone, and yet have to not let fate take its course.  Our threads had met and intertwined, and I didn’t want them to drift apart.  That I was sure of.

Mid-terms came and went, and our time together was stretched thin, but even just meeting for lunch or walking her across campus to her dorm in the evening was enough.  I was in it for the long-haul, and if seeing Carrie infrequently now was what it took to see her more frequently at some undisclosed point in the future, then I was up for it.  Seeing her smiling face, hearing her laugh and gentle whispers of “I love you” when we parted for the day, I knew the feeling was mutual.  There was no need to confirm, no need to bring up pointless things.  Carrie’s thread and mine might as well have been one.

Every once in a while, Carrie visited her parents and fell off the face of the earth for a day or two.  She always told me ahead of time and blamed her lack of communication on spotty cell coverage in her home town, compounded upon her parents’ requests of family time.  I didn’t mind, of course, it was just another thing that kept us apart.

My senior year was spent searching for an internship, and subsequently pouring my time into the one I found.  It was exhaustively time-consuming.  Every time I opened up my word processing software, I thought about how much more I wished I could be texting Carrie.  It was a daily struggle to be responsible, and every once in a while, I could tell it was for her too.  I think we both did pretty well in hiding just how much we wanted to spend more time together, but there were times I really got depressed about it.  I don’t think Carrie ever noticed, because as soon as I saw her, those negative feelings evaporated.

I don’t think it ever affected my studies.  In fact, it might’ve even helped.  I knew that failure in my classes meant repeating them, which meant more time spent with books and Microsoft Word instead of Carrie.  That was something that really kept me going sometimes.

A month before we were set to graduate, Carrie started acting weird.  Or, maybe it’s more accurate to say that I started noticing that Carrie was acting weird.  Not in a suspicious way, but it was still very concerning.  I must’ve asked her twenty times what was bothering her, but over and over, she assured me that nothing was wrong.  I couldn’t figure out why she was lying to me, and I knew that’s exactly what her assurances were.  Carrie had never lied to me in such an obvious way, and I wasn’t sure how to confront her about it.  It was such a blatant shift in her character, yet I didn’t for a second suspect her of any wrongdoing.  I figured maybe the exhaustion from finishing up finals and college coming to a close had finally begun to take its toll, as she certainly had begun looking a little more fatigued than usual.

The day before graduation, Carrie stopped responding to my texts and calls.  The next day, her name was called and she wasn’t there to walk across the stage.  I was there, and I heard my name being called, but I distinctly remember feeling like I was somewhere else.  I shook the dean’s hand and accepted my diploma, but my mind was with Carrie.  I’d asked her friends, I’d left messages on her Facebook and Twitter; I literally didn’t know where else to turn.  She’d just up and disappeared.

Two days later, Carrie finally responded to my texts.  By then, I was a wreck.  I’d called the police, but they apparently don’t take 21-year olds looking for their missing girlfriends very seriously.  The night before she finally responded, I’d cried myself to sleep and ended up waking up with a fever.  I had literally worried myself sick.

Carrie’s reply was simple in its devastation.  “We need to talk.”  I expected what I thought was the worst, which in retrospect, didn’t make much sense.  In fact, looking back, the conclusion that I jumped to almost seems narcissistic.  I thought she wanted to break up with me.  I thought it was so awkward and embarrassing for her that she’d skipped her own college graduation.

In actuality, when I showed up to Carrie’s apartment that day, her family was there.  I didn’t understand why she’d ask to meet me with them present.  After all, it was the first time I’d met her parents and her younger sister.

And it’s when I learned Carrie was dying.

Carrie smiled at me when she broke the news.  She’d known for a long time, and she’d kept it from me, and from all of her friends.  I didn’t know what to say, I didn’t know how to react, so I just blankly stared at her as she explained.  Carrie had been sick for a long time, but she was fine most of the time up until now.  Those times she’d disappeared on “visits to her parents’ house,” she was actually in doctors’ offices and hospitals getting various tests and studies done.  But nothing had ever helped, and her diagnosis was a fatal one.

She didn’t want me to worry, so she’d never told me.  I didn’t – and to this day still don’t – fully understand why she would’ve thought keeping that from me was a good idea.  It was maybe even a little cruel, despite her circumstances, but as the pieces began to fall into place, I finally understood why she was so driven.  She knew that she didn’t have a future, so the family business was out of the question.  Instead, she hoped to be able to find answers to her own body’s malfunction by majoring in something entirely different.

As I broke down, Carrie smiled sweetly and apologized for keeping her condition from me, but my head was too far into a down-spiral of melancholy thoughts.  What was wrong with her was very unpredictable, and though she’d originally been given another couple of years, the diagnosis had recently changed when the condition became more aggressive, and she took a turn for the worse.  Doctors were only giving her a few months at that point, maybe half a year if she was lucky.

It wasn’t fair that Carrie’s thread was so short.  We’d formed such an amazing bond, I just couldn’t imagine life without her.  Yet, four months later, I didn’t have a choice.  I watched her silently slip away, and personally bore witness to her thread coming to an end; to the parting of hers from mine.  To say that I was broken up about it would be an understatement, but I suppose you could expect as much.  The girl I thought I’d spend my life with was taken from me, after all.  I couldn’t write for a long time, but when I finally picked it back up many months later, stories started coming to me more easily than worldly observations.

I carry her memory with me even now, 6 years later.  The beginning of my first novel, just before the first chapter, contains a very simple memorial to her, and I couldn’t have been prouder that so many thousands of people had read those words: “For Carrie, whose thread was cut so short, despite all of the promise she brought to the world and to me.”

February 25

Chance

I usually expect letdowns. It’s my life; I’ve long become accustomed to it, but again and again, I allow my hopes to rise and expectations to form.

Normally I’d call it a rookie mistake. Quite sad for someone who is hardly a rookie.

I am of course talking about a girl I met. Well, I didn’t technically meet her. I’d only seen her. Didn’t know her name or anything else about her, but she had an infectious smile with little dimples that perfectly framed her dainty nose. It was impossible to mistake her for anyone else, and yet, I’d seen her in at least three different places.

First, she was at a clothing store in the mall. A few days later, I saw her pumping gas, and then the day after, she was ahead of me in line at the book store.

Coincidences aside, I had a strange feeling about her. It was like we were drawn to each other. How many times had I passed her before with noticing?

But that smile – how could my eyes not be drawn to it?

I was never one to believe in fate. It’s a silly notion, really. Things cannot be destined. To suggest that my choices are already made before I am even presented with them removes any notion of choice, and to live in a world where choice and chance are illusions just seems depressing. So I chose to believe otherwise.

This girl, though… In a city of 80,000, what are the odds that I’d see her on three occasions in such a short period of time, much less the odds that I’d recognize a complete stranger. Could that really be chance?

But here I stand, thinking of this all in an instant, staring her in the face in my first class in the new semester.

I don’t know if this is fate or luck, but there’s no way I am missing this opportunity to make my own destiny.

February 5

Missing

When I met Hayden, I felt as though every fiber of my being had suddenly connected to her. I became infatuated, helplessly and completely in love, and her returning my feelings was like a walk-in cooler filled with ice water in the center of the mid-July desert.

Hayden completed me in ways that I didn’t realize needed completion. She understood me, didn’t leave me wishing something was different. It was whimsically beautiful like a dream – captivatingly enigmatic like a labyrinth I had no desire to escape from. I wanted her closer even when she was right next to me, and when she said the same with just her gaze, my body became like beeswax in an oven.

I was 24 years, 19 weeks, and 2 days old when my life stopped. I could feel my pulse, and I breathed air, but it was for nothing. I’d gotten a call that no 24-year old should’ve gotten – one that I’d wish on no one and cannot think about without shaking.

Hayden had killed herself. Overdosed on some prescription drug I’ve long forgotten the name of. It was surreal to the point that I couldn’t even believe that I’d heard correctly.

Six months we’d dated without even the slightest hint she’d take her own life. Half a year I’d gone without realizing the person I cared about most in the world was hurting enough to want so desperately to escape.

Sometimes I’m okay. Other times I blame myself. No matter which though, I miss her touch. I miss her fingers in my hair and her nose brushing mine as we kissed. I can’t even begin to describe the gaping hole inside of me that never seems to get smaller.

But worst of all, I will never know why Hayden did it. I’ll never know why she didn’t talk to me about whatever was so wrong with her life. And that hurts almost as much as reaching over for a hand to hold, even knowing it will never be there again.

August 21

Justice

If I could choose to be alone,

If I had the strength to walk down that road,

I would still need you like I need you,

I would still feel your touch across time zones,

I would still have a heart that beats for you,

And I would still not have words that did my feelings justice.

August 10

Common Senses

“How do I even begin to describe these feelings?” he said.  His mind raced as he tried to think of words that came anywhere close to what he felt.

“It’s okay,” she said.  “I understand your feelings.  They’re the same ones I have.”

“But people experience feelings in different ways.  There is no telling that your experience is the same as mine.”

“Maybe not, but the end result is the same.”

“That’s adorably sweet,” he said.  In his head, he had an image.  It was him and her and nothing else.  Just the two of them and empty space.  And they held each other and smiled, because nothing else was necessary.

But that was too dramatic.  Perhaps too dark.  Maybe even far too simple.  How could he explain this to her?  The words simply escaped him.

“What’s wrong?” she asked.  Obviously, she’d seen the look on his face – the one he got when he was deep in thought.  Unfortunately, it looked strangely as though he was upset when he unwittingly acquired this expression.

“Nothing.  Just thinking.”

“About what?”

“About how to explain my feelings.”

“You really don’t have to.  I understand.”

“I know, but I want to.  I may even feel like I need to explain them to you, but I just don’t know how.”

She smiled and reached her hand out for his.  The look on his face relaxed, warmed.  He locked his fingers in between hers, carefully paying attention to the feeling of her fingers as they meshed with his.

She was there in a field, standing atop the only hill within visible distance.  The air was crisp, and the grass was the greenest green, though pockmarked with bright yellow dandelions.  He was at the foot of the hill, barefoot, standing atop the perfect grass.  He could feel every blade beneath his feet.  She looked down at him as he began to make his way up the hill.

A field?  No, that was too cliché.  Why were the feelings manifesting like this?

“You have that look on your face again,” she said.

“Sorry, I’m…”

“It’s okay,” she said, squeezing his fingers as they continued walking down the sidewalk.

As she touched him, as he took in the sense of her warm skin, the words suddenly came to him.  He could never verbally paint the pictures in his head, but the feeling of her touch reminded him that the senses were linked to emotions.

“I’ve got it!” he said.

“You know how to say it now?”

“Yes, I think I know how to explain.”

Her lips raised at the ends to form a smile that seemed too caring for him to deserve.  “Tell me how you feel.”

“It’s the scent of cherry blossoms and freshly brewed coffee; the feeling of silk against skin, of an ice cube on your tongue on a hot summer day.  It’s the sight of shooting stars, of lightning that flashes across a deep purple sky.  It’s the sound of the wind blowing through your hair and of waves gently lapping at the shoreline; the taste of fresh apple pie followed by a cold glass of milk.”

She stopped walking and stared at him for at least 15 seconds before saying a word.  He felt the intensity of her gaze and immediately knew what she was trying to convey.  She’d understood what he meant, and now she was the one at a loss for words.

He smiled.  “It’s the feeling of wanting to spend our forever together.”

She nodded, brought herself closer to him, stopping just for a moment.  “I don’t know how you did that.  I don’t even understand why I understand what you mean.  But I do.  And I love you.”

The kiss that followed made all of the things he’d said pale in comparison.

August 1

Function

My arm extends and falls atop the pillow upon which her head had lain,

My stomach twists and there is an ache in my chest that pills cannot cure.

Only one pillow had decorated the bed, and now there are two,

The second serves as a constant reminder that she had been there,

That I had lost myself in her eyes right there, and she into mine.

My arms had never felt better than when they were wrapped around her.

Now, nothing is there except the pillow and an empty spot in the bed.

When my arm reaches out for her, it grasps only at emptiness,

And I don’t know how to function without her touch.

July 24

Brakes

The day her brakes failed was the day my life came to a standstill.  She was rushed to the hospital, operated on, put in some care unit that had her hooked up to dozens of different beeping machines and fluid-carrying tubes.  I wasn’t allowed in the room at first.  Had to look at her through a window.  I wanted to hold her hand and brush her hair back with my fingers, but I couldn’t touch her.

Eventually, she stabilized a bit, and they moved her to another room.  I could visit, and I could finally feel the sensation of my skin touching hers.  Even though it was as simple as putting my hand on her cheek, it felt like I’d finally been given a torch in my pit of darkness.

But she was still out.  The doctors didn’t know when she’d wake up.  She probably would, they said.  There was no physical reason she couldn’t.  It just hadn’t happened yet.

The days were full of impatience – waiting to see her after working eight hours at a job I didn’t care about.  And the nights?  Well, those were torture.  I’d memorized the imperfections on the ceiling of my bedroom.  Didn’t bother setting an alarm because the nightmares always woke me up at least an hour before it ever went off, and there was no point in trying to go back to sleep.

My weeks were blurs of loathing the world.  Sometimes specific things, sometimes myself.  I began to lose track of when Saturdays turned into Sundays.  It was all the same to me.  Just another day without her.  Just another day spent telling her that I missed her and loved her, hearing nothing in reply, and not knowing for sure that I ever would.  The calendars said months passed, but time was frozen for me.

Her parents thanked me for coming at first.  Thanked me for caring about their daughter.  But as time passed, they grew worried about me.  They’d always liked me.  Treated me like one of their own, even.  That’s why they told me maybe I should let go.  “Move on,” I think is what her dad said when he pulled me aside and asked to talk.  As if that had ever even been an option.  Like I stood there every day in hopes that I could have his permission to move on.  It was almost an insult to me, but I knew it was my loathing of the world getting in the way of any rational thought processes that I had left.

Her birthday fell on a Tuesday, and though I’d gotten used to absorbing myself in work so I could possibly have some semblance of a normal day, it wasn’t happening.  All I could think of was the party I’d thrown her last year.  The one where most of our friends showed up and ate chicken fingers and cake and drank vodka and rum until the sun had circled the planet.  She said it was one of the best nights of her life.

And now, a year later, she was confined to that bed in the hospital.  There would be no party.  There may be a trickling of friends throughout the day.  I wasn’t sure.

There were roses on my desk that I planned on bringing to her after work that day.  She didn’t like roses.  She said there was no point of being given a beautiful flower if she couldn’t touch it.  Normally, I gave her chrysanthemums or lilies, but every time I’d tried to bring flowers to her hospital room, I couldn’t bring myself to buy those.  They reminded me too much of her plucking them out of her vase and taking a big whiff.  Roses seemed more appropriate.  They were dangerous and beautiful, just like love.  A perfect symbolic flower, perfect for a situation where the thorns would never reach her delicate fingers.

I sometimes thought how funny it would be if she woke up and found that I’d brought her roses.  She’d probably act mad, but have that cute smile on her face that showed appreciation and thankfulness.  Thinking about that smile was something that kept me going, something that made me give a shit about a life that seemed so completely pointless without her.

I went over to the hospital after work, holding the roses in their ordinary glass vase and silently praying to myself that she’d wake up when I walked in the door, just like I hoped and prayed for every day.  But she was sleeping, and she stayed sleeping even as I set the vase down on the nightstand too hard, even as I gently stroked her hand and said “happy birthday.”

For a moment, I thought I heard her voice, but I was used to imagining things.  But then I heard it again.  It was soft and gentle, just like I’d remembered, even though it had been months since I’d heard her utter a word.  But it sounded atmospheric.  I looked up, but her face was still frozen in slumber.

My face contorted in confusion as I struggled with the harsh reality that I might be going crazy.  Again, I heard her calling out to me.

“What is this, what is going on?” I called out, yet her voice continued to echo in my ears.

I didn’t understand.  She was there, in front of me, lying lifeless.  Was it truly going mad?  Did I actually have that little sanity left?

I fell to the floor and stared down at my hands until tears started to fall onto my palms.  I didn’t care anymore if I was going crazy.  It didn’t matter anyway.  I lifted my hands up to my face and cried into them as if it would make anything better.

Then, the blackness was lifted from my eyelids as they slowly opened.  My hands were at my sides, and I was lying down.  Something was wrong.  The room was different.

But suddenly, memories came flooding back to me, and there, standing over me, with tears in her eyes, was the girl I couldn’t live without.

I had been the one in the wreck.  I had been the one that couldn’t wake up, and the world I was living in was all just a fabrication of my unconscious mind, while she had been awake the whole time living out my nightmare.

I couldn’t believe it as she held me, crying, telling me she loved me.

A year she’d waited for me to wake up.