Projectors Running With No Film

It was a bright, crisp and cold winter morning, the sky so blue and the sun so brilliant that it made the reality of a four-thirty sunset and five o’clock darkness feel like a distant, melancholy daydream.  In the kitchen, the girls were speaking in hushed tones, and in the bedroom, I was slowly putting the pieces of the morning together.  I was cold because the window was open, and because I had no shirt on.  My head hurt; that was from drinking.  I couldn’t remember when and how I’d gone to bed.  I sat up on the edge of the bed, my headache splitting as I moved, shut the window and looked around the bedroom.  I had only been there once before, but it was just as I remembered it.  Neatly arranged, fairly spartan, with furniture consisting of bed, dresser, desk and chair.  The far wall opposite me had a poster of The Killers, and I remembered wondering how old she was when she got it.  The wall to my right had a framed picture of Carla and two of her friends from high school, which I also remembered, because we had talked about who the girls were.  Best friends.  That was it for wall decor.  There were no clothes on the floor; they were all neatly folded and packed away in the dresser.

I found my shirt in the covers, buttoned it up, and left the bedroom, where the hushed tones abruptly stopped.  I stood in the entry to the kitchen and looked at the girls.  They stared at me from their seats at the table, coffee mugs before them, releasing steam trails into bright daylight.

“Hey, how are you feeling?” Carla asked me.  Her eyes were red and it looked like she’d been crying.  They both looked like that.  

“My head’s killing me.  And I’m really thirsty.”

She got up and filled a glass with water from the sink.  “Here.”  I took the glass and drank the entire thing.  “Do you want some more?”

“No, I’m okay.”

“How much do you remember?”

“Well I remember being outside the bar at some point, I guess after I left, and… I guess nothing after that.”

She and the friend exchanged a look.  “Here, let’s go sit on the couch.  Do you want some coffee?”

“Yeah, thanks.  And some advil if you have it.”

“Sure, hold on.  Nina, can you get the coffee?”

That was her name.  Nina.  I remembered meeting her at the bar, across the table.  I had been joking with her almost instantly.  And she liked Will, too.  She laughed easily.  She had been drunk but not too drunk, just the right amount.  She stood silently and moved to the coffee machine, looking down at the ground, and it struck me that this morning she was more sober than I had been in months.  I left the kitchen and sat on the couch in the living room, which contained warm, cozy furniture and a soft, friendly rug that under the intense brightness of the winter morning were only artifacts from a museum of a halcyon past.

“Here,” Carla said as she returned and handed me the advil.  “Do you need water?”

“No, I’m okay.”  I swallowed the two pills.  Nina came and handed me the coffee without speaking and sat in the armchair.  

“So you remember leaving the bar.  You remember everything that happened in the bar?”

I took a sip of the coffee.  Like the furniture, it comforted me with its warmth but it was black and bitter and tasted of reality.  “I think so, let me think.”  I took another sip.  “So I met you there a little after 10 o’clock, I came in – wait, where’s Will?  When did I lose him?”

She exchanged a look with Nina.  I didn’t like these exchanges.  “I’ll tell you, I promise, just go from where you started.  You came in with Will.”

“Right, okay, yeah I came in with Will.  I came in and we found you guys sitting at a table and we joined you.  And we met Nina and I introduced y’all to him.”  I looked over at Nina, but she looked down into her coffee.  “So then we started talking and drinking.”

“Do you remember what we were drinking?”

“I was on beer.  I ordered two pretty quickly.  And you guys were on sangria, right?”

“Yeah.  And Will?”

“Will always drinks rum and coke.  That’s what he got, right?”

“Right.”  I took another sip of coffee and in my brain set the night’s beginning aside.  It was slightly fuzzy, but generally organized and made sense.  I noticed for the first time the ticking of a clock on the wall.  I realized I had no idea what time it was, but it felt earlier than I’d usually be awake.  My instinct was correct; it was 7:54.

“Okay, so we were drinking, then what?” Carla asked me.

“Right, we were drinking.  And then… your friend came in and she saw you, she was a girl with her boyfriend.”

“Right,” she gulped.  “That was Veronica.  And her boyfriend Dante.”

“Veronica.”  Her face came back to me.  She was beautiful.  And I remember thinking that I had never met a Veronica before.  And I remembered feeling that I instantly preferred her to Carla, and it brought shame and guilt, but I didn’t say anything about that.  “She came over and said hi and she introduced her boyfriend and you asked if they wanted to join us.  And they did, they asked the guys at the table next to us for chairs.”

“Yep, that’s all right.”  

“And then we started taking shots, right?  Wait, why did we do that?”

“Veronica asked if anyone wanted to do a shot, and you and Will said yes.”

“Did you guys do shots?”  I looked to Nina.  She met my gaze and shook her head.

“We didn’t, we had already had a lot of sangria,” Carla answered.  I felt my head shoot sharp bolts of pain for every shot I had taken.  How many had it been?  Maybe five.  I remember thinking Boy, it’s been a long time since I’ve taken four shots.

“We did a lot, didn’t we?” I asked the girls.  Carla nodded.  “We got really drunk.”  She nodded again.  “So then what?”

“You don’t remember anything else?”

“Wait, no.  Hold on.”  I thought back.  Veronica.  I put her face back together again, but she was crying and looking at me from behind glass.  I thought perhaps I’d dreamed that image.  Even then, she was the most beautiful girl I’d seen in a long time.  Possibly ever.  And she was drunk and glowing and very bubbly and friendly.  And then…  “Veronica.  She was flirting with me.  A lot.  You guys saw that, right?  She touched my hair at one point, and she was leaning in and laughing at everything I was saying and she was really chatty.  She was, right?”

“You were flirting with her,” Nina snapped, bringing both mine and Carla’s eyes toward her sharply as if pulled by a string.

“She was flirting with me a lot, though.  I remember thinking how strange it was, because her boyfriend was sitting right there.  I wouldn’t have been flirting with her if she wasn’t provoking it.  Because…” I trailed off.  “Because I was on a date with you,” I said to Carla.  She nodded and took a drink from her coffee.  “I’m sorry,” I said, meaning it.  When was the last time I was a huge asshole to a girl?  A while.  Six months maybe.  “I got really drunk I guess, and she was-”

“It’s fine, just keep going,” Carla said.  

“Really, I mean I still think you’re-”

“Seriously, don’t worry about it, just, just keep up with what you remember.”

I swallowed hard.  I wanted my headache to be gone.  I wanted this conversation to take place somewhere else.  No, I wanted it not to be taking place at all.  I wanted to be far away, waking up in a cabin in the mountains in Tennessee and drinking coffee with sweet French vanilla creamer and reading the newspaper and watching the sun arc up over the ridge and pour light into the dark crevices of the foothills.  With Veronica.  Oh come on, get back to it man.

“Okay, so, yeah, we were flirting.  And I guess you guys were talking to Will a bunch.  And that boyfriend, what was his name?”

“Dante.”

“Right, he was quiet, he wasn’t drinking.”

“He was driving,” Nina answered again.  I looked to her and she looked like she was about to cry again, but she just sniffed and sipped her coffee.

“Yeah, and then, well,” and then it came to me.  I looked to the girls for help but they gave me nothing but wearied stares.  “And then she said…”

*****

“So who’s up for another shot?”  She wants another shot?  She’s ridiculous.  When’s the last time I saw a girl that small take five shots?  Four shots.  No, this makes five.  Though she is glowing like a Christmas tree.  Why is that the simile I always end up on?

“I’m in,” Will says.  He’s at the point in his night where each successive drink does nothing but bring him closer to dreamless sleep.  I’ve seen him here so many times… is this fun for him?  Not remembering anything?  I guess he’s still him when he’s blackout.  He’s having fun in the moment.  That’s what I should be doing.  He’s always been good at getting me to enjoy myself.

“JV, how about you?” Veronica asks me.  She’s smiling and leaning all over the table looking at me.  Fuck she totally is flirting, isn’t she.  Well maybe it’s all in my head.  Her boyfriend… he’s a scary motherfucker.  It’s always these big silent brooding guys with small peppy girls like her.  She should be with me.  She thinks he’s fun?  She thinks he’s a good boyfriend?  If anything was right in the world we’d be dating.  Hopefully in the alternative universe.

“I’m in,” I say.  I do not need this shot.  Fuck it, tonight’s been a blast.

“Carla, Nina, you guys wanna join for this last one?” Veronica asks.  

“Still good on sangria,” Nina says.  “I don’t know how you can do so many, if I take two I’m gone.”

“It’s an acquired skill I suppose.  Being in a sorority helped.”  Of course she was in a sorority.  She throws her hand up and flags our waiter.  “Helloooo, Jeff!”

“Helloooo, and what can I get ya?” he asks, smiling.  I think he likes our table.  We’re drunk but not obnoxious.  Our most obnoxious member is Veronica and she’s cute and funny so we’re fine.  And he knows he’s gonna get a good tip.

“Oh, I don’t know, me and the boys were thinking about another tequila shot.  Or do you suggest something else?”

“Hmmm… well you’ve got the tequila and lime routine down by now.  If you wanted to switch it up, well personally I always like Jaeger.”

“Jeff likes Jaeger.  Well then, Jaeger it is.  Three shots of Jaeger, please!”

“You got it, be right back!”  I wonder if there’s any part of him that thinks she should slow down.  I bet he realizes the boyfriend, oh what the fuck is his name, he’s the DD.  And the four of us seem pretty in control.  Yeah, I guess he figures one little hammered girl is safe with five relatively sober friends.

“So wait, Will, continue the story,” Carla says.  And she’s enjoying herself quite a bit.  Tonight ended up being really fun.  We’re gonna hook up, hopefully Will and Nina will hook up, and that makes this date a total home run.  Except for that boyfriend… Dante, that’s his name.  Ugh, I hate when people keep checking their phone.  What’s he gotta keep checking?  Does he have a dealer coming by or something?  I wonder if he smokes.  That’d make him cooler.  I could smoke tonight.  Oh yeah, we totally did smoke already, didn’t we.  Am I still blazed?  Is Will blazed?  I probably am a little.  But man I’m drunk.  

“Okay, so where was I?  Oh right, so me and JV, we’re just I don’t know, feeling goofy, and we’re on the floor, I guess it’d been a long day-”

“Wait-” Veronica interrupts.  “Is this going where I think it is?”

“If you mean like in a homoerotic direction, no,” Will says.  Everyone laughs.

“I was gonna say, maybe you guys are a little too close of friends,” Nina says.

“So we’re on the floor, and I’m just pinning JV, you know he’s a weakling, he can’t fight back.”

“It’s true,” I chime in humbly.  Veronica laughs and slaps my arm.  Physical contact – they always say that’s flirty.

“So he’s just laughing, just laughing his head off as I pin him, and the next thing I know, he’s laughing so hard he can’t breathe and he just starts puking.”

“Eww you puked!” Veronica exclaims.  I shrug.

“I don’t know what to say, it happened.  Sometimes it just comes out.”  The table laughs.  Even Dante chuckles.  Oh look, here come the shots.

“Three shots of Jaeger, for the madame and gentlemen,” the waiter, Jeff, says.  He’s funny, I like him.  

“Ready?” Veronica asks.  I guess so.  Am I ever ready for a shot?  I guess I always am.  “One, two, three!”  Down the hatch, burns, sucks, bitter, tastes like hell, ah shake it off, when does this go away?  Water feels nice, just a sec it’ll be gone, breathe, it’s gone.  Another shot down.

“Gross,” Veronica says and gulps water.  Will looks calm, like he barely tasted it.  I envy him.

“I’ll be right back.  Bathroom,” I say.

“Don’t fall in!” Veronica calls after me.  She’s cute, she’s fun.  I like having people like her around.  They talk to fill in the silences so you don’t have to.  I can be more chill and cool around her.  That’s nice.  Carla is like me, but maybe I don’t want someone like me.  Oh, there’s me in the mirror.  How do I look tonight?  Pretty typical, not a bad day though.  Hair’s cool.  This is a good shirt.  Too good.  I wear it too much.  But those girls have never seen it.  Yeah, it’s the ‘girls have never seen this shirt’ shirt.  Alright, yeah, pretty much as good as I thought I would look.  Man, Veronica is really flirting with me.  But she’s flirting with the waiter too.  But she keeps touching me!  She’s drunk.  She’s hot though, oh man she’s hot.  Stop thinking about her.  Oh come on, it’s fine, you’ll be hooking up with Carla soon enough anyway.  Wow, I got really fucking hammered tonight.  There is 0% chance I finish.  I did not need that shot.  So then that was the last one.  No more man, you’re just on the crest.  Stay here, don’t fall over.  But maybe that was the over the edge one.  Shit, I hope not.  No, tough it out.  Let’s get back out there.

I walk out of the bathroom and Veronica is right there.  She grabs me and pulls me into the women’s room.  Then we’re kissing.  I know this feeling.  This is always the best.  She’s new, what’s she doing there?  She’s great, she’s warm, wait a minute, we’re kissing?       

“Your boyfriend!”

“Don’t worry don’t worry, he hates me.  I hate him.”

“Wait no, why are you dating?  Fuck why couldn’t you be broken up?  He came with you, he’s here!”

“It’s complicated.”  She’s trying to kiss me and it’s so hard to resist it but I feel like there’s more words that have to get said.

“No, wait hold on, this… you and me we can do this, just, like, get my number, and break up with him and then we can be like this and go on a date and talk and hang out.”

“I can’t break up anytime soon, I have to go to his house for Christmas.”

“Ahh,” and she’s kissing me again and trying to get at my belt.  “No, hold on, why me?  Christ, like, you’re like, so fucking hot, just… no come on come on he’s here and I’m supposed to be on a date with Carla and also I’ll just hate myself tomorrow I know I will.”

“When’s the last time you just let yourself feel the feelings you wanted to feel and didn’t worry about how it would look in the future?”  Did she say that, or did my brain say that?  It makes sense.  I never get to do that.  I want all of her clothes off and I want to be as physically close to her as possible and I want to hear her breathing in my ear.  

“Okay, just, not in here though, it’s too suspicious, we’ve been gone too long.  I’ll go back first and you come in a minute.”

“So where then?”

“I don’t know, uh… have him take you home.  And I’ll come over and meet you later.”

“You promise?”  Her eyes want me to promise and her freckles and her black hair and her cute grey sweater and her eyes are just perfect.  And I’m definitely drunk.  And this is the decision I always hate myself for tomorrow.  But… it’s so good right now.  And she’s so beautiful she’s like…

“I promise really I do I want to fuck you extremely badly but yeah later seriously.  Okay I’m gonna go now.  Later I promise.  And be chill back at the table, stop flirting with me.”

“Oh, is it so obvious?”

“I don’t know, maybe.  Probably.  Okay, see you out there.”  I push through the door of the bathroom.  I wonder how long I’ve been gone.  Four minutes maybe?  Five?  How long does going to the bathroom usually- pain.  Holy shit my head my head what was it why why what is this?”

“What the fuck are you doing with my girlfriend?”  I look up.  It’s him and he’s standing over me and my head is killing, what did he do, slam it into the wall?  What do I – pain.  Did he just kick me?  Oh my stomach!  

“You get your ass the fuck out of the bar right now,” he says.  “Get out or I’ll fucking kill you!”

“I’m gone man, I’m gone just stop I’m gone.”  I scurry to my feet.  Fuck my head is killing me.  I touch it, it’s not wet, no blood.  I duck away from him and limp into the bar and try to look normal.  Shit why do I have to be drunk like this.  I always forget what it feels like, then it comes back and it’s always the same thing and it’s not even that great.  I go to the table.

“Will, hey guys.  Will, we gotta get going.”

“What, why?  You okay?”

“No, I’m not, I’ll explain outside, Will, we gotta get going man.  We gotta get the fuck out of here.  I’m so sorry girls, really, I was having a great time, it’s a family emergency though.  I’m really sorry but we have to get out of here.  Will, come on.”

“Are you serious right now?  What happened man?”  He’s drunk and confused but he’s standing up.  The girls look alarmed.

“Is everything okay?  Is there anything we can do?” Carla asks, concerned.  Fuck my head hurts.  At least my stomach feels okay though.

“No, nothing, it’s a weird thing and it’s happening right now and I can’t explain it and I gotta go but I promise I’ll see you again.”  Will’s up and he’s pulling his coat on.  I grab mine in my hand and I don’t want to take the time to put it on.

“Well, I guess I’ll see you later, sorry about that,” Will says as I pull him toward the door.

“Hope everything’s okay, text me if you need help or anything!” Carla calls as we leave.  

I get through the door, looking back over my shoulder for Dante, but he’s not by the bathrooms anymore and I think that he must be in the women’s single stall bathroom with Veronica.  Veronica!  Wait is he gonna hit her?  Is he gonna get violent?  Wait I gotta tell someone.

“Okay what the hell’s going on man?” Will asks me once we’re outside in the cold.

“Okay, so real quick, I was in the bathroom making out with Veronica and then I left and Dante was outside and he smashed my head in the wall and told me to get the fuck out of there.”

“Oh you asshole, seriously?  Why the fuck did you think that was a good idea?”

“It wasn’t, it still isn’t, but it happened man it happened and now he said he’s gonna kill me.”

“Okay so then we should get out of here, right?”

“Wait though wait, he’s a violent guy, he hurt me and now he’s in the bathroom with her and, jeez man what if he’s hurting her?  We gotta tell Carla.”

“Okay so let’s go tell Carla.”

“But then she’ll know what I did and what if they’re just fighting?  I mean like verbally, like just arguing?”

“She’s gonna find out anyway man let’s just go back and tell her to go check on them.”

Boy I’m drunker than I thought.  The snow on the ground is hazy and shaking, my ideas are far and hard to grasp.  And my head, Jesus Christ everytime I try to focus on something it swings back at me like a pendulum.  “Shit man, I’m too drunk to know what to do here!  What’s the right move here?  What do I do?”

“What if we told the bartender,” he says.  “To check on the girl’s bathroom.  That there might be trouble in there.  He’s a big strong guy he’ll be okay.”

“Yeah, wait that’s perfect.  That’s the idea.  Oh but then Dante will know I told the bartender and he’ll kill me man!”

“He’s gonna kill that girl, man!  Dude we gotta act.  This is like those moments where you see something bad happening and you can’t think, you just gotta act.”  

He’s right, he’s right this is the moment you always read about in the news, how nobody helped.  Fuck why do people as drunk as us have to deal with this?  “Okay I’ll go tell him, hold on.”  I go back into the bar.  I look to Carla’s table.  They look at me confused.  I keep my head down and walk straight to the bar.  It’s crowded.  I’m trying to get the bartender’s attention.  I wanna shout that I don’t have to order a drink, that it’s an emergency, but for some reason I don’t.  Carla is next to me.

“JV, you’re back, what’s wrong?  What can I do?  What’s going on?”

I don’t answer her.  Finally the bartender looks at me.  “Hey, can you send someone to check on the girl’s bathroom?  I think there might be some trouble going on in there.”  He nods silently and heads that way.  I breathe a sigh of relief and look back to Carla.  “I think Dante and Veronica are fighting in there.  And I’m worried he might hurt her.”

“Wait, they’re in there together?  How do you know?  Also, I don’t think he’d do that, he’s a really mellow guy, he’s never hit her.”  

“I know they’re in there, I saw him go in after her, he was really mad.”

“Why?  He seemed fine at the table.”  I’m too drunk for this.  “Seriously, what’s going on here?  What am I missing?  Does this have to do with your emergency?  Where’s Will?”

“He’s outside, he, look, I-” The bartender is walking back from the bathroom.  He comes back to the bar to talk to me.  The anticipation is staggering.  

“There’s no one in there, man.”

“What?  There’s…”  Then Will is next to me and he’s grabbing my shoulder and turning me.

“Dude, they’re in his car.  They’re out there in his car in the parking lot.”  

“What?  How?”

“I don’t know, but they’re there.”

“What are they doing?”

“I don’t know, just sitting and talking from what I can tell.”

“Come on.”  I turn and walk straight outside.  I ignore Carla.  I think she’s following me.  The air is so cold but I don’t feel it because I’m so drunk and because I’m on a mission.  Wait man this is all going too fast.  How long has it been since I got out of the bathroom?  I should just stop and think about all this.  Are any of these decisions smart?  Will agreed with me.  But he’s drunker than I am.  I shouldn’t be acting this fast.  Would I do any of this sober?  Yeah but that’s the thing- you gotta act fast in situations like these.  People stop and think and ponder and then boom the girl gets assaulted or hit or killed and no one acted.  And then you read about it and you think ‘oh if I was there I would have acted!’  But hindsight’s 20/20.  No, you gotta ride this thing out.  You’ve got twenty-three years of living experience, you’ll know what to do.  Your instincts are right, even if you’re hammered.  Fuck I wish my head didn’t hurt so much though.

There’s the car, there they are sitting in it.  They look like they’re just talking, right?  Or is he shouting?  Oh yeah, she’s crying.  For sure, he’s shouting.  He’s shouting did he hit her already?  

“JV!”  It’s Carla.  “JV, what are you gonna do?”

“They’re in the car.”  I turn to her.  “You can help me.  Go check on them.  What if he’s hitting her?  Carla you gotta go check.”

“Okay, okay, just calm down, hold on.”  She walks away.  Yes, Carla!  She’s not that drunk!  She’s smart she knows these people she knows what to do why didn’t I consult her earlier?  Oh man I suck I’m such an idiot!  Okay Carla’s got it now Carla’s got it.  I watch her knock on the window.  It rolls down.  They’re talking.  Yes, it’s all fine.  I’m fucked with Carla, for sure, but no one is gonna get hurt.  I’m not gonna get in trouble.  Yes, I fucked up this date, yes I did, but that seems fine now.  I’ll take that outcome.

“Hey, Carla’s talking to them?”  It’s Will.  

“Yeah man, she is she is.  It’s gonna be okay.”  I turn to him.  Boy Will’s drunk.  I can see it in his eyes.  They’re like projectors running with no film in them, projecting nothing but a blank white screen.  None of this is being recorded.  Wait, am I like that?  Am I gonna forget this?  No it’s too much it’s too visceral it’s too real.  Oh man why did we smoke before we came out?  I’m faded, boy am I faded.

Here comes Carla.  She’s walking back.  She’s gonna be pissed at me, that’s fine, me and Will are just gonna go back to his place, eat some chips and queso, smoke a bowl and talk about this and laugh and it’s gonna be fine tomorrow.  It’s gonna be fine.

“Guys, guys, I think we need to call the police or something, you were right he hit her she’s bleeding.”  She looks very serious and sober and alert all of a sudden.

“Oh no, no are you serious?  Carla are you serious?”

“Yes I’m serious, I’m gonna go tell the bartender to call the police.  Stay here come tell me if he tries to leave.”   She’s gone in a flash.  And then he’s coming toward me.  He’s coming from the car.

“You fucking piece of shit, I’m gonna wreck you!”  Run.  I start to run.  Run man, run.  I’m running.  I look back.  He’s chasing me.  I’m faster than him but I’m drunk and he’s not.  Run where?  Into the bar?  What happens there?  He’s a bad guy he’s gonna go to prison wait am I gonna get fucking killed by this raging guy right now?  Does he have a weapon?  He doesn’t need one he’s huge.  I loop around the other side of his car.  Veronica is inside with her face against the glass staring at me.  She’s got tears and her face is red and I can see the blood coming from her nose and- wait did the car door just shut?  I stop.

“What the fuck- get out of my car!” Dante yells.  Who?  Who got in the car?  I look through the windshield.  Will.  Will got in the car.  “Get Carla, get help, I’ll get her out of here!”  Will shouts from the window as it rolls up.  Get Carla?  Wait Carla’s in the bar calling the cops, yes, get Carla.  Yes, Will, get her out of here.  Get her out of here now!  Will saved her, we all saved her!  Will the hero, yes, get her out of here!

The car starts to back up.  Dante is slamming on the side of it.  “Get out of my car!  Veronica, get out of the car!  What the fuck are you doing, get out of the car!”  But the car is backed up and a guy can’t stop a machine, not even a big guy like him, and the car is pulling out onto the street.  Dante is chasing it.  Now, get into the bar, get to Carla, get people who know what to do, oh god why do I have to be this fucking drunk I am way too drunk to deal with this, and wait is this all my fault?  No he’s a bad guy, you did the right thing, wait but I didn’t do anything at all!  Yes you did you helped.  I caused it though.  Okay just sort that out later get back in the bar man you’ve got moves to make.

*****

“Will!  He took Veronica away.  And Dante!  Wait what happened, shouldn’t I tell the police?  Why aren’t they here?”

Nina was crying and had been for awhile.  Carla was fighting back tears but I saw them start to roll slowly, and they reminded me of Veronica’s from the car.  “Somebody tell me what happened!  Where is Will?  Where are those guys?”

“So that’s it then, that’s all you can remember?” Carla asked, sniffling.

“I… I don’t know, for now, yeah.  Wait just tell me, what happened where is everyone?  Shouldn’t I be at the police?”

“You already talked with the police.”  Carla said.  “You’re done with them for now, you talked to them for awhile but you were really drunk, you weren’t making much sense.  They’re gonna be back later but they let you come home with us to sleep.”  

“Oh shit the police, am I in trouble?  What did I do?  And where’s Will?  Is Veronica okay?  Where’s Dante?”

They looked at each other for a long time, and I knew that it would be bad news.  How bad, it was hard to say.  I was in completely uncharted territory, and anything seemed plausible.  But there was a thickness in the air, some calm before the storm, that would forever be severed as soon as they told me what happened.  I didn’t want it to come.  I wanted to live there, in that cozy living room, with that bright winter morning sun streaming through the window, blinding me.  It was so warm, it made me feel like a kid again.  No responsibilities, no loss of memory, no hangovers, no drunken mistakes.  No texts that couldn’t be unsent, no words that couldn’t be unsaid, no girls that couldn’t be unkissed.  That world was so far away, yet in the warmth of the winter sunlight, I could grasp it, feel it, understand it again.  And I wanted time to freeze right there so that the moment would never be smashed into a million pieces.  And then it was.

“Will swerved into another car on the road.  They were going fifty.  Everyone died.”  

And my heart sank.  It sank so low and so far, to a familiar resting place at the pitch black bottom of the ocean.  The same place it went when I realized I forgot that I had an exam or when my parents caught me drinking.  Then I thought about the words Carla had just spoken and it sank to a place I’d never seen it go.  Then I thought about the night and the words and the fact that Will was dead and it sank to a place where I knew I’d never get it back.  And my role.  And what I did.  And the whole chain of events.  I was drunk and I kissed a girl and then Will and her were dead.  A beautiful girl and her parents got a call sometime in the previous five or six hours that she was dead and they would have to put her in the fucking ground.  And my best friend that I’d know since we were five, who the day before had been texting me about his idea for a restaurant built into tree-houses, the guy I was so excited to bring on a double date, he was dead.  His mom making us sandwiches in the kitchen in elementary school.  His sister hugging him at his graduation.  They got a phone call.  Their boy will never get married, have children, live a life.  He died at twenty-three.  And then there’s me.  Me on a couch with a coffee and a headache.

And that day was bright.  The kind of winter morning where the sun is so bright and calcifying and the sky so blue and crisp that you forget that very soon the cold darkness will consume absolutely everything.  

                          

Colors Over Marin County

We stopped on a grassy hilltop because there were some horses there.  They belonged to a stable down at the base of the hill, and were walking about leisurely in the sunshine.  They looked friendly, so I approached a large brown one cautiously and began to pet its side.  It looked at me with its enormous brown eye but otherwise paid me no mind.  I took a few more steps to the summit of the hill and turned around to get a look at the view.  Most of the city was obscured, but I could see much of the north bay and surrounding hills, and had a clear line of sight to the Richmond bridge.  The water sparkled in the afternoon sun and the hills rolled about around it in shades of light yellows and greens.

Jaime was petting the mane of a black horse.  He came up to meet me and we both sat down on the grass, enjoying the view and the warmth of the sun as a light breeze came across from the Pacific, bringing with it the smell of the ocean.

“You remember the first time you ever did cocaine?” he asked, looking up at me.

“Not really.”

“You really don’t?  What were you, real drunk or something?”

“Probably.  I was maybe 17, at a party.  I just really don’t remember.  There are a few times that might’ve been the first time.”

“I remember it,” he said.  It felt like he wanted to talk about it so I didn’t say anything and looked out toward the city.  “I was at a party, at a co-op.  It was after the party was dying down.  There had been this band there, and the cops shut them down and I was upstairs in some guy’s bedroom with maybe five or six other people.  And this real ratchet looking girl that I thought looked like she didn’t belong there just said ‘anyone want some coke?’  Just like that, just like in a movie.  ‘Anyone want some coke?'”

“So how was it?” I asked.

“I just got really anxious.  They had me spread it on my gums with my finger.  It was so much more bitter than I thought it’d be.  And I just got really anxious, that’s all I remember.  They always say you never really feel it the first time, probably because they don’t let you do much.”

I nodded.  Jaime laid back in the grass and shielded his eyes from the sun.  

“It’s funny that you don’t remember,” he started up again.  “First times like that are these big columns in my memory.  Like my whole history and memories are this long hallway stretching out behind me, and its held up by these Greek looking columns, and first times like that are definitely a column.  Part of the framework of my memories.”

I sat back on my hands and looked across at the roofs of the houses popping up here and there within the hills of Marin County.  They were gorgeous homes.  We had seen many of them walking up the hill.  I thought about who lived in them.  Wealthy white people, with tons of money that itself made them even more money by being invested in killer hedge funds by smart twenty-five year-olds in New York.  They had stock options.  They were involved with tech firms in the city.  Their houses were gorgeous.

“You think the people up here do drugs?” Jaime asked me, sitting up.  “I mean they can for sure afford to.”

“Probably depends on how depressed they are,” I said.

“What do you mean?”

“If they’re depressed they probably do.  If they’re happy and their kids are out of trouble, then probably not.”

“What kinds do you think they do?”

“Prescription pills.  Opiates.  Maybe cocaine.  I bet they all smoke a lot of weed.”

“Weed doesn’t count.”

“Yeah, I guess not,” I said.  Looking down, Jaime reached into the pocket of his faded, ripped blue jeans and pulled out a knife.  The sun struck its sleek metal blade.  It was a beautiful knife.  It was the most beautiful thing Jaime owned.  He took great care of it, polishing the blade while leaning back in his chair at his cheap little dorm room desk.  I stared at him and he stared at the blade.  Then he took it to his left wrist and drew a nice, thin line vertically from his hand to the center of his forearm.  The blood began to rush out in a stream onto the grass.  The brown horse I had been petting gazed at us from behind its enormous brown eye.  It wasn’t thinking anything.

“Why’d you do that,” I said.

“I don’t know.  I wanted to see what it would look like.  I wanted to color up this county.  It’s all just the same color.  I wanted to color it up a little bit.”

“Does it hurt?” I asked him.

“No.”

I started to stand but he spoke again.  “It would be a great way to go.  It doesn’t hurt at all.”  Then he took the blade in his right hand and brought it to his left wrist.

*****

The ER was depressing.  Everyone sitting around me looked poor and sad.  There were old homeless guys with food and dirt in their beards.  There were overweight mothers with babies and toddlers in their arms, wrapped up in blankets.  Little kids sat around trying to sleep in the uncomfortable metal chairs, looking bored and tired while their parents stared at the ground with emptiness in their eyes.  I wondered what I looked like.  I was in a dirty flannel shirt covered in blood, and my hair was greasy and messy.  I was white though, so I probably stood out.

My cell phone was dead.  I had brought a book when we went hiking, a nonfiction about Yemen in the 1930s, but after reading one page of it I realized that it was the worst thing you could possibly try reading under the cheap florescent lights of an ER and put it down.  So I just stared at nurses hurrying about in their scrubs and watched people in bad shape come in and complain and sit for awhile and thought about how tired I was.  I kept picturing my bed, and how nice it would feel to sleep in it.

“Are you with Mr. Vazquez?” a nurse asked me, her head popping up from a clipboard.  She was black and in her early thirties and had a nice soft, patient voice.  “Mr… Gilberto Vazquez?”

“Jaime Vazquez.  I’m with Jaime Vazquez.”

“Oh, right.  Wrong Vazquez.  Yours is a stab wound?  Self-inflicted?” she asked.

“That’s right.”

“Great,” she said and flipped some papers in her clipboard.  “Will you come with me?”

We walked through the doors of the waiting room to a little table in a hallway and sat down.  She had me sign a couple of papers.  “Now, we’re gonna keep him for a day or two for observation.  We’ll have him speak with a counselor as well.”

“Of course.”  That would mean he’d miss our physics exam.  We had an exam the next day.  I had an exam the next day.  

“Can we put you down as a primary contact?”

“Yes.”

“Great.  He won’t give us any info on his parents.  Do you know them?”

“Not really.  I know they live in LA, and that he’s not that close with them.”

“Well, since he’s over 18, it isn’t mandatory that we contact them.  Although another family member would be good to have.  Do you know if he has any siblings, cousins, someone he’s close to?”

“No.”

“Alright then.  Now just a couple of quick questions.  Has Mr. Vazquez tried hurting himself before?”

“Not that I know of.”

“And has he experienced anything traumatic recently?”

“Yeah.  His ex-roommate died last week.”

“His ex-roommate?”

“Mhm.  From last year.”

“How did he die?”

“Heroin overdose.”  She nodded and scribbled on the clipboard.

“Were they close?”

“I guess so.  Yeah, they were.  He didn’t come back to school this year, though.  The roommate.”

“I see.”  She finished writing.  “Okay, thank you very much for that.  I’m gonna have to ask you a few more questions before you leave, so don’t run off, but before that would you like to see him?”

“Sure.”  She brought me into a big room with lots of curtains drawn to form little makeshift rooms, where people bled and cried and tried to overcome drug withdrawal.  Within one of them was Jaime.  I went inside the curtain and he was sitting upright, staring straight ahead in a clean hospital smock.  Both his wrists and forearms were wrapped in white bandages.

“Hey,” I said.

“Yo.”  I took a seat in the chair next to the bed.  He kept staring while I tried to think of something to say.

“You aren’t gonna tell your folks?”

“Nah.  It would just do more harm than good.”

“Gotcha.”  We sat in silence.  

“Thanks for everything,” he said finally.

“No problem.”

“Can I ask you one more favor?” he turned to look at me.  He looked the same as always.  Short guy with big brown eyes that always looked kinda sad. Red hair, red beard.

“Go for it.”

“Can you grab my knife for me?  I left it back there.  I wouldn’t ask, except that it was my grandpa’s, and I kinda wanna keep it to try and give it to my grandson someday.  If I ever have a grandson.  Also I know what you’re thinking.  And if I was gonna do it again, I’d certainly be able to get my hands on another knife.”

“I’ll grab it,” I said.

“Thanks.”

“I guess you’re gonna miss the physics exam.”

“Yeah.  Will you tell Dr. Saunders something for me?”

“Yup.  I’ll tell her you’re in the hospital for an accident.”

“Perfect.  Thanks.”  He let out a big sigh.  “Are you gonna ask me about why I did it then and there and all?”

“I wasn’t planning on it.”

He smiled.  “You’re a good friend,” he said.  “A lot better of a friend than I am.”

“Well I’m trying really hard,” I said.

“Do you think I have severe depression?”

“Yeah.”

“What should I do?”

I stretched and thought about it.  But his life was too far away from mine.  Once upon a time, during those first few weeks of freshman year, they weren’t so far apart.  “If I knew the answer to that I’d probably be doing something important.”

“And instead we’re failing physics.”

You’re failing physics,” I said and smiled.

“Nah.  I always end up with a C-.”  He smiled too.  That’s all I was really waiting for.  We were silent again.  I wanted to go home, and I felt like he didn’t want me there anymore, so I said I’d see him tomorrow and left.

*****

When I went back to the hill it was practically sunset.  I would’ve gone earlier but I had to take that physics exam.  Dr. Saunders was very nice; she told me to tell Jaime not to worry about anything, and that she’d meet with him when he got back.  

I parked in the same spot as the day before and began up the hill.  As I walked up, I got a sinking feeling in my stomach and realized that I really didn’t want to be there again, so I started to run.  

The knife was easy to find.  I remembered exactly where we were sitting.  The horses were out, too.  The big brown one was right up by the knife.  I grabbed it from the ground and saw that its blade was remarkably clean.  I looked down in the grass at the blood there, and saw what Jaime was talking about.  It was so colorful.  Every color: blue, green, red, yellow, orange, purple.  Colors that didn’t have names, and some I had never seen before.  The colors shone deeply and vividly and glistened in the light of the setting sun.  They traced a path back down the hill where I had carried Jaime.  I smiled hugely and bent down to look better at how wonderful and warm the colors were.  I thought that it was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen.  The horse looked at me with its gigantic brown eye.  Then it shit in the grass right where it stood and walked away.

We Were No One

“This is the tunnel,” he said.

“Tunnel?”

“The one where on one side it was dark and grey and rainy, and then we came out and it was sunny and beautiful.  Remember?”

“Oh yeah, I think I remember,” I answered.  “Maybe.”

“You’ll recognize it when we come out the other side, you’ll see,” he said and drummed on the steering wheel to whatever song he had playing.  I couldn’t remember the name of the band.

But when we came out of the other side, it was still grey.  Still overcast, still rainy, still looking like some ominous harbinger was creeping in on us from all sides.  “Okay, well I guess it didn’t get sunny,” he said.  “But you’ll start to recognize things.  We’ll be off the highway soon and onto the smaller road that goes into the city proper.”  The landscape outside hadn’t changed.  Strings of mountains lined two horizons, covered in dense evergreen forests.  At their bases, the land opened up into fields of wheat, a grassland filtered through sepia tone.

“This land hasn’t changed for hundreds of years,” he mused while ramping up to 120 km/hr to pass a car on the right.  “The cities, and the towns, they have.  Houses and things.  But not the farmland or the mountains.  I guess there are some things that never change.  I hope there are, anyway.”

“There’s nothing like that in Tokyo,” I said.  “Even the neighborhoods that were built twenty years ago are being torn down and rebuilt now.  There are almost no sections of the city that still look like they did during the Edo era.”

“I mean I’m all for culture changing, and our geography and cities reflecting that,” he said.  “But I guess if you’re a city planner or something, you gotta be able to recognize when things should stay the same.  When they’re perfect as they are, at least for a little while longer.”

I nodded silently and pressed my face against the glass.  A version of me four years ago had done the same exact thing, I was sure, but I only share certain memories with her.  This particular section of passing Hokkaido landscape was not one of them.

We got stuck in traffic coming into Asahikawa, and he was quick to remind me that the same thing had happened last time.  “I don’t understand who all these people are,” he said as we sat through the same red light for a fourth cycle.  “I mean I’m not in any kind of hurry or anything, but who’s driving into this city?  Who lives up here anyway?  Where are they coming from?”

“Maybe they’re just like us,” I said.  “People on vacation.  From Sapporo.”

“Probably.  But, of course, no one is like us.”  He smiled and leaned over to kiss me, and I kissed him back.  “We’re different from everybody.”  I smiled and nodded.  “You know that we are, right?”

“Yeah.  I know we are.”

“You’re sure?  We were then and we still are.”  I nodded again and he finally looked away, satisfied.  We were then and we still are.

We finally got through the light and turned into the hotel.  I was expecting the same valet driver as before to take our car.  I felt like I could pick him out if I saw him.  But of course the driver was new.  A young man, younger than the previous valet by at least thirty years.  He was extremely polite with us, punctuating every sentence with a pearly white smile.  I wondered what had happened in those four years to the previous valet.  It was possible that he had retired.  Or this could be his day off.  Maybe he had switched jobs within the hotel.  Or moved to a new city.  If he had kids, they would be about our age.  He may have moved closer to them.  They were more than likely in Sapporo or Tokyo.  People our age never stuck around the smaller cities.

We checked in and they gave us a room on the 11th floor, just like we’d had before.  “Same floor,” he said to me as we wheeled our bags into the elevator.  He was clutching the two extra pillows he’d requested from the front desk.  “Remember?  I wonder if it’s even the same room.”  It wasn’t the same room.  It was a room on the other end of the hall.  But it was an exact reflection of the previous room.  We put our bags down, he opened the curtain, I went to the bathroom.  When I came back he was on his computer on the bed.  “Come here,” he said.

I lied down with him and we kissed and held each other.  “Does it feel good to be back?” he asked me.  

“It’s like we never left,” I said.

“I love you very much.”

“I love you too.”

A while later we put on our robes in preparation for the hotel’s in-house hot spring.  “I have an idea,” he said, tying the sash of his yukata.  “Let’s smoke before we hot spring.  I bet it’ll feel amazing.”  He kneeled before me on the bed, grinning with excitement.  “Can we?” he asked.

“Sure,” I said.  I finished putting on my yukata and sat cross-legged, watching him pull out the materials from an interior pocket of his suitcase and prepare the pipe on the desk.  “It’s gonna feel amazing,” he said.  “Then we’ll be really hungry and we can go get dinner and drinks.”

“Mhm,” I answered, watching him from behind.  I didn’t really understand what he was doing, but eventually he turned and handed the pipe to me.

“I was thinking a while back about how nice it’d be to smoke and then hot spring.  But of course we didn’t the last time we were here.  We didn’t even have any.”

“Out the window?” I asked him, inspecting the pipe.  “Won’t they smell it?”

“I think out the window should be fine,” he said.  “We’re pretty high up.  Plus, no one knows what it smells like here.”

“I guess that’s true,” I said.  We opened the window, he lit it for me and I inhaled.  I held it as long as I could, like he taught me.  When it became too much, I blew it out in a huff and began coughing violently.

“Damn, big hit?” he asked me.  I was coughing too much to answer, but I nodded emphatically.  “Snap!  You’re gonna be blazed as shit!”  My eyes were watering and I went to the bathroom for some water.  When I came back, he was blowing smoke very slowly out the window.  He didn’t cough anymore.  “You want another?” he asked me.

“I think I’m good,” I said.  He finished it off himself and put the materials back into his suitcase.  He kissed me and it felt like his mouth was melting into mine.  “You baked?” he asked.

“I think so,” I said.  I looked into his eyes and they were the color of raw tuna.

“Well then, should we make a move?”

“Hot springs move.”

We entered the elevator and descended for what felt like ten minutes.  I would have thought we were trapped if it weren’t for the people getting on and off at various floors throughout the long ride down to the basement.  “Okay, meet back in the room at 6:30?” he said before we split into the men’s and women’s bathhouses.  I could only nod.  “Are you gonna be okay?”  He took me by the shoulders and I nodded again, more decisively.  “Can you talk?”

“I can talk,” I said slowly.  “I’ll be fine.  I’ll be back in the room at 6:30.”  He kissed me on the forehead and we parted.  His eyes were frightening.

The bathhouse was a blur.  I remember undressing myself and sitting down in front of a shower.  I turned the water on and let the shower strike me, my head, neck, breasts, while I thought about my teacher from the third grade.  I don’t know how long I sat there before I began to slowly wash myself.  There were four other women in the bathhouse, all older, chatting quietly to one another in the large central pool.  I looked to them nervously before shampooing, before washing my back, before washing my legs.  They took occasional glances at me.  I wondered if they thought I was acting strangely.

After I showered, I walked quickly and carefully to the opposite end of the pool and sat in the corner.  The hot water felt wonderful.  I didn’t want to look at the old women, though, so I faced the wall and let my thoughts drift.  

Just eight hours earlier I had been asleep in my childhood bed in Tokyo.  Just 48 hours earlier I had been in my adult bed in San Francisco.  The bed that we’d bought together from Bed, Bath and Beyond in May of the previous year, just after we’d moved in.  My first bed as a married woman.  In the coming years I’d buy my future children’s first beds, and one day they’d buy their first married beds, shared beds.  What was the difference between a married couple and a couple that shares a bed?  A couple that buys a bed together?  What did the ring mean?  I looked at it on my short, stubby fourth finger and suddenly felt it tighten.  I tried to pull it, but it wouldn’t come off.  I knew that I would lose it if I took it off in the hot spring, so I gave up trying.  But I still felt my finger pulsating underneath its grip.  Pulsating with every heartbeat.

My heartbeat was loud and it was hot.  It was all too hot.  I was sure the old women could hear it.  I looked over at them, and one caught my gaze.  I looked back down quickly.  They knew.  I got out of the pool, dried myself in the locker room, and raced up the stairs to the 11th floor to wait for him to get back.  I didn’t want to take the elevator.  I was afraid I’d never get out if I did.

I waited for years.  He finally came back.  “Did you have a good time?” he asked me.  I nodded and smiled.  “Was it fun being baked?”  I nodded again.  I knew I had to say something.

“The water felt really nice.”

“Yeah, it was amazing.  I was in the zone,” he said.  We dressed ourselves and he played music from his computer.  More bands.  How were there so many bands?  How did he know all their names, their albums, their hometowns?  Wasn’t the music the important thing?  “So we’re gonna go back to the two hour drinks place we went to on that first night, right?” he asked.  I had been staring out the window at the sun setting over the mountains east of the city.

“What?” I asked, coming back.  He was buttoning a blue plaid shirt.  He’d had that shirt for as long as I’d known him.

“We talked about it before, going back to the same place we ate on the first night the last time we were here.  The nine dollar, two hour, all-you-can-drink place with the private booths.”

“Yeah, yeah let’s go there.”  Suddenly I was hungry.  Oh god, I was hungry.  Was I dressed?  I looked down.  I’d put on a navy blue pencil skirt and white blouse.  That meant we could leave soon.  That meant we could leave right now.

“Wanna make one more smoke move before we go?” he asked.  That’s right.  I knew there was something else before we left.

“I’m good,” I said.  “I’m still feeling it.”

“Okay, I’m just gonna have one for the meal.”  He prepared his pipe again and I watched him from the bed.  He changed the music and blew smoke out the window, pausing in between hits to come kiss me.  His mouth tasted like smoke and I felt like brushing my teeth.  Finally, he’d put everything away and laced up his shoes.  They were heeled brown shoes.  He’d had them for as long as I’d known him.  “You ready?” he asked me.  He held out his hand, so of course I had to take it.

It had become twilight, and we walked hand in hand down the shopping street.  It was a Friday night, and other couples were making their way to dinner.  It had rained since we had arrived, and the street was darkly stained with the fading scent of fallen rain.  But the sky was clearing up, and it seemed that the night would be cool but not cold.  A perfect August evening in Hokkaido.  A previous version of myself had walked down the same street on a balmy August night four years earlier.  She was sometimes drunk, sometimes sober, and she shared with me these memories.

He had made a reservation, so although there were groups waiting outside for a table, we were shown to a private, curtained-off booth right away.  The waitress explained what drinks we could have, and showed us the buzzer that would call her in to take our order.  Otherwise the booth was ours.  The table was ours.  For the next two hours, this was our space.  

“Should we start the same way we did last time?” he asked me.

“Sure.  What did we get again?”

“We had a shot of whiskey and then went straight into a glass of Kirin.”

“Sounds good,” I said.  I pressed the buzzer and the waitress came in, and I explained our order.  He had begun poring over the menu.

Just as our shots came, I realized I was sober.  It felt like stepping out of a hot, steamy kitchen onto a Swiss mountaintop.  “Ready?” he asked me.  We raised our shot glasses and clinked them.  “To us.  One year of marriage in, and still twenty-one at heart.  Back in the place where we had the best ten days of our lives.  I’m so happy to be here with you.”  He smiled and it was real, and I smiled back.  I was very happy.  I was twenty-one again.

“To our marriage,” I said.  We took the shots and I grimaced, but didn’t cough.  He grimaced as well.

“Maybe we can’t drink like we’re twenty-one,” he said.  “But let’s find out, huh?”  He took a sip of his Kirin and I did mine.  “I feel really good that we’re here,” he said.  “I’ve been thinking about this for so long, I’ve felt like I couldn’t relax until we were right here, right in this booth again.  Sipping on Kirin.  August in Hokkaido, in Asahikawa.  With you.  And we’re older, but that’s okay.  There’s still so much to look forward to in life.  And in the grand scheme, we’re still plenty young.”

“I know what you mean,” I said.  “I’ve felt so stressed out.  Even the logistics of going to the airports, taking the planes, getting to my house, getting the rental car, checking in.  It’s so nice to finally be able to just enjoy it.”  He took my hand and went back to the menu.

We decided on boiled quail eggs, pork fried rice, salmon and sea urchin over steamed rice, chicken skewers with sweet sauce, curry rice, a spinach-stuffed omelette, enoki mushrooms and edamame.  “Can I order it?” he asked me and finished his Kirin.  I sipped on mine to try and catch up.

“Sure,” I said.  “Do you know how to say everything?”

“I think so.”  He practiced ordering in Japanese.  “How was that?”

“Pretty good,” I answered.  “I understood everything you were saying.”
“But did it sound natural?”

“Well, it kind of sounded like a little kid.”  I laughed and so did he.

“God damnit,” he said.  “Someday we’re gonna have kids, and I’m gonna try and talk to them in Japanese and they’re gonna think I’m stupid cause I sound like a little kid.”  I laughed more.

“Yeah, I have thought about that,” I said.  “But if they’re little kids, they won’t notice.”

“But when they grow up they’re gonna think I’m an idiot,” he said.

“Well won’t they think I’m an idiot in English?”

“Nah, your English is too good.  How about you order the food and I’ll order the drinks.  I think I can handle that much.”  I ordered the food and he ordered the drinks.  We had cocktails.  Then wine.  Then shots.  Then beer.  Then more cocktails.  We gave our twenty-one-year-old selves fair competition.  By the time we left the booth, it had become ours.  I knew the seats, the table, the plates.  That booth had become our cocoon, and once we had shed it we emerged into the night different people.  

We were not married, we were not twenty-five.  We didn’t live together in San Francisco, we didn’t wake up every day at 7 and have sex and shower and drink coffee and go to work and come home and make dinner together and talk about our day and watch a movie and drink beer and fall asleep and repeat.  We were homeless, jobless, ageless autumn leaves, floating on the wind that blew east from the Sea of Okhotsk and carried us out to the end of the world.  We were no one.  That’s who we were.  That’s how we were different.  And then we hadn’t changed.

We stopped into a convenience store and bought cheap alcoholic drinks in cans.  We also bought chips and cookies.  The night sky was clear and humming deep blue and purple and the stars were flecks of other worlds, ones we’d someday visit when we could disconnect from the life we had never intended to build.  We walked hand in hand back to the hotel and dashed across the street.  He deftly leaped over a parking barrier.  I tried to follow but got scared and tripped just before I jumped.  I fell on the pavement and he fell next to me and we laughed as people passed us.  I stood up and straightened my skirt, which had become dirty.  It didn’t matter.  Nothing matters when you’re no one.

We walked as soberly as we could through the hotel lobby, clutching tightly to our purchases, then slipped into the elevator and kissed sloppily.  We got out on the 11th floor and I pressed my hands against the walls to steady myself as I made my way to room 1124.  He fumbled in his wallet for the electronic key card and, after dropping it once, opened the door.  We fell through the doorway and collapsed onto the bed.  He kissed me and held me and stood up and put on music.  More bands.  Our clothes came off.  Our pajamas came on.  

“Should we watch a movie?” he asked me.

“Mhm!” I answered.  I was smiling hugely.  “I just have to go to the bathroom first.”

I peed for two minutes.  The bathroom was blurry, but I was stable.  I was centered.  I felt like I had escaped from prison, and was running naked through the forest.  The trees were blurry, but I wasn’t blurry.  I had nowhere to go but forward, out, away.  And so I ran.

When I came back out, he was opening his suitcase.

“I got an idea,” he told me.  He turned around, shirtless, wearing my shorts.  “Let’s smoke, then watch the movie and drink our drinks.”

“Again?” I asked him.  “I might be too drunk.”

“Oh come on, I think we’re okay,” he said.  “It’s our first night, why not go a little crazy, you know?  We smoked, we drank, we ate, let’s keep drinking and smoking and eating!  Who cares?  We worked so hard for this trip.  Let’s fucking live it.”  

I resigned myself to fucking living it and he lit the pipe for me.  I held it as long as I could, like he taught me, then blew it all out the window and began to cough violently.  He took a hit and held it, then let out the smoke slowly and evenly.  He didn’t cough anymore.  I fell on the bed and the room was spinning.  He fell next to me and kissed me, but I was fading away.  He said something about the movie, but I couldn’t keep my eyes open.  I wasn’t hungry and I wasn’t thirsty and I couldn’t stay awake.  I needed to get out.  I needed to go home.

It was still dark when I woke up.  I crawled over him in the bed and felt my way to the bathroom, where I drank three glasses of water.  Then I searched in the dark for my cell phone to see what time it was.

I found it under my wallet.  It was 4:23 AM.  I sat on the edge of the bed and looked at my husband, sleeping on his side, his face buried into the pillow, which was on top of his computer.  Had we watched a movie?  Maybe we had started something.  Something animated, in English.  But that might have been another time.  A shared memory with a version of me four years younger.  A version of me that wasn’t married, that came home happy and actually watched a movie, that didn’t fall asleep.

I flipped through my wallet and a card fell down to the ground.  I picked it up and read it in the light of my cell phone.  Kyoko Takai-Goodson.  Born July 1st, 1990.  Resides at 44 Museum Way, San Francisco, California.  Five feet, four inches tall.  One hundred and twelve pounds.  Eye color: brown.  

This was who I was.  Takai-Goodson was my last name.  It came last.  I was born one-thousand, nine-hundred ninety years after Jesus Christ was born.  There was a number on my house.  I lived in California, America.  My height was measured in feet and inches.  My weight in pounds.  My eyes were not beautiful, not sad, not stoic, not mysterious and not naive, but brown.  And he was my husband.  

We weren’t no one, we weren’t nowhere.  Not anymore.   

Self-Portrait

Her name will be seared into my mind until I die.  Kavitha Patel.  She had pink highlights in her hair and she smoked American Spirits and she was an art student.  I met her on September the 12th.  It was my 19th birthday.

“You must be the roommate,” was the first thing she said to me.  “I’ve heard a lot about you.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“I said I’ve heard a lot about you.  From my boyfriend.  He says you’re pretty mysterious.”  She was lying on his neatly made bed, black and white plaid shirt unbuttoned over a black cami, with white shorts.  Her brown gladiators were tossed haphazardly in the middle of the floor, one toppled over.  I was standing at the doorway, having just come back from an exam.

She hopped off the bed and stood before me.  “Sorry, I didn’t mean to scare you.  I should introduce myself.  I’m Kavitha.”  I introduced myself and we shook hands.  “He didn’t ever mention me?”

“Not that I can recall.  We’re both somewhat terse conversationalists.”

“Hmm, I guess that’s why he thinks you’re so mysterious.”  She jumped up and sat back on the edge of his bed.  “So tell me, are you mysterious?”  She tilted her head, her pink hair falling to one side, and I thought then that she looked very beautiful.

“Well, not to myself.”

“That would be pretty impressive.”  She laughed and bit her lip.

“Sorry.  Maybe I am, but not purposefully so.  I just don’t have a lot to say most of the time.”

“‘Don’t speak unless you can improve the conversation.’  Isn’t that the quote?  Who said that?” She asked the room.  I shrugged and took a seat in my desk chair, turning it to face her at an angle.  Her face was sharp and angular, her build slender with decent height.  Her toenails were painted hot pink, matching her hair.  She folded her legs up under her and placed her face in her hands.  All of her motions were casual but blocky, like they were discrete actions rather than flowing motions.  “Well, then, deshroud the mystery.  Tell me something about yourself.”

“Something interesting?”

“Anything you want.”

I thought about it in silence, but it was alright.  She kept looking at me, focusing as if to not miss the words that came from my lips.  “Well, today’s my birthday.”

“For real?”

“For real.”

“How old are you?”

“Nineteen.”

“Well then, congratulations.”  It felt weird hearing someone congratulate me on turning nineteen.  It wasn’t any kind of feat.  But she didn’t say it sarcastically.

“Thanks.”
“Are you gonna celebrate?  Should we throw a party?”

“Probably not.  My parents called me, and I got some texts from a couple of friends.  I might buy myself a movie or a new record or something.”

She stared at me vacantly, then shook her head.  “That might be the saddest thing I’ve ever heard.”  I thought back on my words.  They were depressing.

“Yeah, I guess you’re right.  But I can’t think of anyone I would celebrate with.”

“Kind of a loner.”

“Exactly.”

“Well what about me?”  I looked back up at her and she met my gaze with bright, enthusiastic reddish-brown eyes.

“You mean you and your boyfriend?”

“He’s gone.  He went home, won’t be back till Sunday.  See, he left you a little note.”  I looked to where she pointed at my desk.  Sure enough there was a post-it note detailing exactly what Kavitha had just told me, written in my roommate’s blocky, all-caps handwriting.  “He ran out to catch a train.  I had dozed off so he let me sleep.  But I was about to leave right before you came in.”  I nodded.  I hadn’t had time to wonder what she was doing in our room alone.  “So how about it, wanna celebrate with me?”

“Like go out for a drink or something like that?”

“Something like that.”

*****

Something like that turned out to be nothing like that at all.  I followed her out of the dorm and across the street, where her dirty, 90’s-era dark red Nissan was parked.  She got in silently and I followed suit without asking questions.  The backseat was cluttered with receipts, bags, empty bottles.  They mixed well with the stained beige upholstery.  There were two huge books of CDs on the floor at my feet and I began to paw through them.

She pulled out a cigarette.  “Is it cool if I smoke?  I’ll keep the windows down.”  I wasn’t about to tell her what she could or couldn’t do in her own car, so I said I didn’t mind.  She lit an American Spirit and tossed her wallet on the center console.  There was a translucent plastic panel on the front that revealed her driver’s license.  Kavitha Patel.  612 2nd Street, Burke Idaho.  Born October 25th, 2005.  2005?  I looked up at her and looked down to check it again, but she promptly swept the contents atop the console into the backseat so she could ash her cigarette in the cup holder.

“You can put on whatever you want,” she said, eyeing me as I scanned.  “This car doesn’t have an audio jack so I have to rely on good old CDs.”

“I like CDs,” I said as I looked through her repertoire.  “They remind me of my childhood.  My parents would get a new CD and then it would just stay in the car on repeat for weeks.  And when you start the car up, the CD starts up again right where you left it.  It becomes a part of the car or something.  A part of traveling.  Gives your life some continuity.”

I looked up and found her staring at me, the car engine purring lightly as we sat in park.  “Yeah, you’re right.  They bring back nice memories.  Ipods never bring back memories.”

“Maybe someday they will.”  She pulled out onto the street and I put in Animal Collective’s Merriweather Post Pavilion.  Her collection was filled with similar avant garde psychedelic and electronic groups.  Exactly what you would expect from someone with pink hair.

“Tell me more about your childhood,” she said as she drove.  The sun was setting and the sky was pink and orange and the clouds were brilliantly colored.

“What do you wanna know?”

“A story.  Or just like an anecdote.  Like about the CDs.”

I nodded and began the process of mentally parsing through my memories in search of a story that would satisfy her.  But parsing was hardly necessary.  There was only one story from my childhood that I thought about with any degree of frequency, but the idea of speaking it out loud was chilling.  Still, it seemed like this was the first real chance I had to tell anyone about it.  

“I’ve never told this one to anyone,” I said to her as a preface.

“Mysterious indeed.”

“Well, you’ll see.”  I cleared my throat and began.  

*****

I lived across the street from where I went to elementary school.  At my school we didn’t go home for lunch, we all ate in the cafeteria.  I always brought lunch, but one day, in third grade, I had forgotten it.  My mom had left it on the table for me, but I forgot to pack it.  I told my teacher that morning, and she said she would let me run home, just before lunch, and grab it as long as I promised I’d come right back.

This was an unbelievable concept for me to grasp, because no one ever got to leave school without their parent or guardian, and usually only when they were sick.  But I was always fairly well-behaved, so she must have trusted me.

Right as the lunch hour was starting, she showed me to the door and left it unlocked, saying to come right back in that way after I had gotten my lunch.  I had no plans to do otherwise; getting to leave the school by myself was a huge privilege, and even my nine-year-old self knew better than to ruin my teacher’s trust and risk getting into trouble with my parents.  I bolted from the door without looking back, knowing she was likely watching out the window as I looked both ways, crossed the street, and cut diagonally across my front yard and down the driveway to the back door, which I knew would be unlocked.

When I entered the house, something felt off.  The house seemed different, somehow.  Like it wasn’t ready for me.  The atmosphere had this feeling of you’re not supposed to be here.  Everything was the same as I left it that morning, of course.  The lunch sat in a brown bag on the table, the TV set was off, the noon sun was streaming through the bay window that faced the backyard.  But walking down the hall, I had this sense that everything was slightly askew.  But if I turned and focused on it it would quickly rearrange and right itself, so as to not ruin the illusion.  It’s taken me years to find the right words to describe that feeling to myself, and I think I’ll never be able to convey it perfectly, but that’s the general idea.  It was unsettling.

I grabbed my lunch off the table, clutching the top of the bag in one hand, and got ready to make my exit.  But then I smelled something strange.  After a few seconds I realized it was smoke.  I began searching for the source, immediately jumping to the conclusion that my house was on fire.  It seemed to be drifting down the stairs from the second floor, so cautiously I ascended.  The smell of smoke got stronger and I knew I had found the right place.  

I reached the second floor landing and looked around, immediately noticing the smoke drifting lazily from the end of a cigarette sitting on table that stood between mine and my sister’s bedroom doors.  The end of it was ashy and tilting precariously over the edge of the table, but it seemed mostly unsmoked.  I walked over and stared at it, not knowing if I should put it out or not.  I didn’t even know how to put out a cigarette.  No one in my house smoked, so we had no ash trays.  

Just as I was figuring that I would get a cup of water and pour it over the cigarette, in order to extinguish it without touching it, a new thought struck me; who’s cigarette was this?  A chill went through my limbs, fingers, stomach.  I took a step back and began to panic.  The cigarette was still burning.  That meant it was recently lit.  Some stranger was in the house.  My immediate reaction was to run down the steps and out the door at top speed.

But there was a mirror behind that table on the wall.  A small, thin mirror in a decorated frame.  I hardly ever looked in it; it was too narrow to see much of your reflection in.  But as I pulled away from the cigarette on the table, my eyes came to the mirror and looking back was someone else.  Well, not someone else; me.  But not third grade me.  A me from the future, an older me.  I knew it was me even though I couldn’t ever picture what I would look like older.  But still of course I knew it was me.  He looked just like me, only older.  Maybe it could have been someone else, but the eyes.  I know my eyes; they don’t change.  They were the same eyes.

He was staring back at me, looking as scared as I was.  It was dark where he was, so I couldn’t see what he was wearing, but his face was illuminated by some light source on his side.  There was another person too, but they were out of the frame of the mirror.  I only saw their arm and shoulder.  He swallowed and looked like he was about to say something, but then I turned and bolted.  My mind couldn’t handle what it was seeing, and I was frightened beyond belief, so I just turned, hit the first step and took off.  I don’t even remember running back to the school.

I got back through my classroom’s door expecting to disrupt my teacher and receive stares from my classmates, but the room was empty.  Everyone was at lunch.  I took a seat at a desk and started to try and calm my breathing.  Only then did I notice that the lunch bag was still clenched in my hand.  I set it down and began organizing my thoughts.

There were three strange things about the house.  First, the uneasy feeling that I shouldn’t be there.  Second, the cigarette on the table.  And third, the reflection of myself.  I had originally planned on telling my teacher about the cigarette and asking her to call the police, but after thinking through it, I wasn’t so sure anymore.  I decided I would let the rest of the day play out and see what happened before saying anything to anyone.  If something strange was truly going on, I figured I’d cross that bridge when I came to it.  But there was some instinct inside me that said let’s just see what happens first.  It’s like I was too scared to bring what I had seen out of me via speech.  I didn’t want to release it to the world.  That would make it real.

I hardly spoke the rest of the school day, and spent the afternoon at a friend’s house for a prescheduled playdate.  When my mom picked me up on the way home from work, she noted that I was strangely quiet and asked if everything was alright.  I told her that it was, anxious to get home.  But when we arrived, my dad had already been home for half an hour.  He had changed into casual clothing, meaning he had gone upstairs, but gave off no impression that anything was amiss.  I ran upstairs to see if the cigarette was still there, but it was gone.  So was the smell of smoke.  I hesitantly looked up into the mirror, but all I saw was myself looking back.  My normal, third grade self, with hollow, scared eyes, the same eyes I had seen earlier that day.   

*****

“So that’s it.  Nothing ever came of what I had seen.  To this day, ten years later, nothing has changed.  And I started thinking about it less and less until at this point I sometimes wonder if I made it all up.  I had to think about it less.  It’s sort of painful to recall.  The anxiety slips right back into my system.”  I sneezed and Kavitha blessed me.

“But when I really go back into it, like I just did, and think through every part, there’s no doubt that it really happened.  These details didn’t come from nowhere.”  I shook my head and let my hands fall in my lap.  “I don’t know.  There’s something about it that has never really left me.  I still feel uneasy talking out loud.  About anything, really.”

She nodded subconsciously and stared straight ahead.  “Huh.  Very spooky,” she said finally.  “But if it’s so hard to think about, what made you tell me the story now?”

“I can’t really say.  It just feels right.  Maybe because I just met you, there’s no pressure or anything to keep up the face of someone you’ve known to be normal.  I guess I don’t care if you think I’m crazy.  Or maybe it’s something in the air.  It just felt right.”

“Very spooky,” she repeated.  “One of those unexplained mysteries everyone seems to encounter at some point.”

“Do you have any?” I asked.

“Plenty.  But you never know when some kind of explanation will come along.  Maybe it could be years.  Or maybe you find out on your deathbed.  Or maybe you never find out.  Who knows?  At least it’s a reason to wake up every day.”  I thought about what she said and waited for her to continue, but she seemed content that she had made her point.

The sun had set, leaving the sky in a fading twilight.  We sat listening to the CD as the car drifted past restaurants, gas stations, inns and houses.  “So you like Animal Collective?” she asked me, lightening her tone as she changed the subject.

“Yeah, I do.  I found them on the internet in middle school.  They’re one of those bands where I can be perfectly content doing nothing else but listening to them.  There’s a lot going on in their music.  You can focus on all the details and it fills your head, or you can sort of drift away and let the colors and images take hold in your mind, but I never feel bored listening to them.  How about you?”

“That’s a really nice description.  My ex got me into them.  He got me into most of those bands.”  She motioned to the CD booklets, whose contents were largely burned CDs, their titles scrawled on the front in sharpie.  “I always just listen to music while driving or painting or something, but I’m not really paying attention.  I don’t think I appreciate it the way you do.”

“You have to be able to take pleasure in things like music when you spend a lot of time by yourself.  So I guess listening deeply to music helps me be alone.”

She looked over at me and then back at the road.  “Do you like being left alone?”

“It’s all I’ve known.  Ever since that day, I’ve been the quiet, solitary kid who was happy with an interesting toy or a book or a map.  I’ve never tried to deviate.  I’m nervous I won’t be able to find my way back.”

“So why did you come out with me?”

I thought about it.  “Well, normally I wouldn’t have accepted a drive with a total stranger.  But there was something comforting about talking with you.  I’ve really enjoyed it.  Even telling the story wasn’t so bad.  Kind of freeing.”

“Because I believe you?”

“Yeah.”

She smiled at me.  “Glad I could help.  No one should be alone on their birthday.”

We pulled off of a major road and wound through the suburbs until the houses gave way to sparse grasslands and foothills.  Kavitha navigated with practiced motions as if on autopilot, then pulled over suddenly in front of a two-story brick building.  The entire journey had taken just over half an hour.  She killed the engine and headlights and we became bathed in silence and waxing moonlight.  Neither of us spoke as I waited for her lead.

She opened the door and got out without a word.  I did the same.  She walked around to my side of the car and leaned back against it, crossing her arms and staring at the building.  The wind had picked up quite a bit and her hair whipped the sides of her face.  I looked at her while she looked ahead.  Beyond her profile were the mountains and the stars.  She looked ethereal.  I loved her.  

“Here we are,” she said.

“Yep.”

“Do you know why we’re here?”

“Maybe.  What building is this, though?”

“It’s my studio.  I’m an art student.”  I nodded and took in the building.  It looked out of place among the southwestern ranch-style houses spread generously apart.  “I know it looks out of place.  It was built for and by artists in the city back in the 70’s as a quiet space closer to nature where they could create.  There’s a nice garden around back.  It became too inconvenient and was abandoned, but I’ve been using it as my own studio since last year.  No one else seems to come in and out.  It’s mysterious and intriguing but alone, hollow and unknown to anyone but me.”  

We stood leaning against the car, staring at the building.  There was no rush.  The wind felt wonderful.  It was about 60 degrees out.  The sun had long since set and night was coming.  I looked back at Kavitha and she looked at me and smiled.  She grabbed my hand and squeezed it reassuringly.  “Are you scared?”

“Of going inside?”

“Yeah.”

“A little bit.”

She gave my hand a pat and started walking toward the building.  “Come on.”

When we reached the door, she put her slender wrist through a whole between two splintered pieces of wood, reached down and turned the handle.  “The lock still works,” she explained.  “I typically lock up when I leave.  Just in case.”  She brought her hand back and opened the door outward, stepping into the darkness inside.  I took one last look at my surroundings and followed her in.  

 “The electricity doesn’t work, but there are some candles and a lantern,” she said.  She used her cell phone’s flashlight to navigate to a table just beside the entrance, then pulled out her lighter and lit a series of candles within an ornamental candelabra.  She picked the candelabra up and used the light to guide her to the far side of the room, where she lit a lantern atop another wooden table.  I followed her path closely as to not trip in the darkness.  

The lantern provided much more light than the candelabra, and cast the room in a flickering orange glow.  The room in which we found ourselves must have covered the majority of the first floor.  The windows were boarded up, moonlight streaming in through the cracks.  The ceiling was high and an old chandelier hung from the center, ominously floating above the dusty wooden floor.  There were a couple of old velvet armchairs facing eachother in the corner.  A velvet sofa, a coffee table and two wooden chairs completed the furniture.  

Scattered on the floor were magazines and newspapers.  Multiple easels were set up in a sort of semicircle, each with a canvas that depicted pictures at differing levels of completion.  I walked over to inspect them.  The first was a charcoal sketch of a boy and a girl sitting on a bench, perhaps waiting for a bus.  The second, an empty apartment at night, with streetlights illuminating the inside through a four-paned window.  It was painted in oil but the details were still fuzzy.  The third was a color blocked landscape of a beach at sunrise, with umbrellas and chairs thrown about as if a storm had just come through.  The fourth and final painting was a portrait of a young girl’s face, perhaps Kavitha’s younger sister, or a younger version of herself.  It was nearly finished.  

“I work on multiple pieces at a time,” Kavitha explained as she lit a cigarette.  She took a drag and exhaled slowly.  “When I get tired of one, I move over to the next one and pick up where I left off.  I can never focus on just one idea.”  I ran my fingers over the dried oil of the portrait.  Or self-portrait.  I didn’t ask.  The girl in the painting was about ten or eleven, South Asian, with the same deep-set reddish brown eyes Kavitha had.  But there was something different about her.  No pink hair, but something in those eyes.  A melancholy pierced through them that I hadn’t seen before in Kavitha’s eyes.  The irises danced in the light of the lantern.  They were alive and haunting.  Suddenly I couldn’t look at the painting anymore.

“We have to go upstairs, right?” I asked.

“I’ll lead the way,” she said.

She took me to the staircase, which was through a doorway in a back hall.  The stairs were creaky and uneven, and the light from the lantern faded from view and left us with only the candelabra.  As we reached the second floor, it began to feel colder.  Or maybe not colder, but certainly different.  It was a feeling I had felt before.  I knew I didn’t belong there.  It was the same unsettling feeling that had so gripped me ten years earlier in my childhood home.

There didn’t seem to be any additional lighting on the second floor.  The candelabra provided a soft yellow circle immediately around us but nothing more, and I couldn’t make out any furniture or shapes in the darkness.  Kavitha put her cigarette down on the edge of a table.  Smoke trailed from the ashy end and disappeared into the blackness above.  She turned to me and I took her and kissed her.

“I feel like I love you,” I said.

“I know you do.  But it’s not real.”

“It feels real.”

“It’s just a trick.  It’s like that painting downstairs.  There’s no real girl there, but looking at the picture makes you feel like you’re looking at someone.  It’s almost indistinguishable, but it’s always only a painting.”

“So who’s pulling this trick on me?”

“No one is.  It’s just something that happens.  A repercussion.  It’ll be okay.”

“But aren’t I different?”

“I guess we’ll find out.”  The candelabra was burning.  The candelabra is burning.

“Why now?  Why tonight?”

“Because this is the turnaround point.  This is the celebration.  Congratulations.”  She pointed behind me and I looked to see the mirror on the wall.  

And my nine-year-old self.  He was scared to death, but suddenly it was no longer my memory.  It was something that was happening in real time.  He was there at the same time I was.  It was all simultaneous.  Everything had been simultaneous all along.  I had always been here with her, waiting for this.  I held my breath and stared back, tried to take in every detail, tried to make it last as long as I could.  But I couldn’t look away from my eyes.  They were frightened and hollow and constantly anxious and would remain that way for ten years and then they would become perfect.  And I tried to tell him that he didn’t have to be scared, that he didn’t have to run and hide inside my eyes for the next ten years, but I was gone before it would come out and suddenly I was looking at my nineteen-year-old self again but now his eyes were different.  They were my eyes.  And they were hungry and they wouldn’t be tricked and they were no longer scared.  And it was very dark here but Kavitha is beside me.

On Emptying

I hurtled through the front door of the library and into the lobby, garnering startled looks from the students inside, but I didn’t care.  I held my stomach and I felt like I was going to throw up.  It was always like that.  I nearly collapsed but I held myself up and made my way to the staircase in the far corner of the library.  I saw a librarian from the corner of my eye look at me wide-eyed and cover her mouth, whispering to one of the other librarians.  I continued on, eyes nearly closed, butterflies doing circles in my heart and my legs buckling beneath me like they could stop working at any moment.  I grabbed the railing of the staircase and began the gargantuan task of yanking myself up, one stair at a time, to the seventh floor.  The library was nine stories tall, but the top two floors were just study rooms; the stacks ended on the seventh floor.  I could’ve taken the elevator, but I knew I would pass out if I did.  I had to keep moving.  I’d always managed to make it, just in time, so I didn’t know what would happen if I didn’t, nor was I eager to find out.

The last of the steps conquered, blood dripping from my nose onto mouth and chin and sweat drenching my chest and arms and legs, I ran, doubled over, through the empty fluorescence of the stacks, weaving this way and that to find the correct section.  I tried to look at the call numbers, but there were tears in my eyes and everything was a blur, so I counted the rows instead.  Four, five, sixth one from the front right corner.  I ran the length of the stack and collapsed at the end, against the wall of the library.  Turning over so I was sitting with my back against the wall, I grabbed at the books on the third shelf up and knocked plenty to the floor.  Sorting through the pile, vomit rising in my mouth, I briefly panicked, thinking I had picked the wrong row.  I turned over the final book, and it was one I recognized.  Yes, it would do.  I opened it up to the middle, leaned over and began to read the words, saying them out loud to myself with whatever voice I had left.  Slowly I started to feel myself fade away.  Then I woke up.

 

We were on the beach and Joseph and Thayer were wrestling.  I set down my book, Fitzgerald’s The Beautiful and Damned, sat up on the towel, and watched them, smiling and sipping at a can of Miller Lite.  Thayer was in a headlock, with Joseph trying to force his roommate’s well-sized body to the sand.  Everyone around was laughing, including the combatants.

“Do you give up?”

“Never!”

“I’ve never gotten out of one of his headlocks,” Donald said.  “You might as well just quit.”

“But.  I.  Can’t.  Let.  Joseph.  Win!”  With this last word he wrested his head free and made a dive at Joseph’s legs.  The boys went falling to the ground, grappling blindly and trying to establish a dominant position.  I saw that Julia was taking a video with her iPhone, and I smiled and thought about how nice it was to watch two twenty-one year olds play in the sand like they were five all over again.  I had known them only six months, but we had become very close friends in the interim.

“Why don’t you get in on it?” Reagan asked me.

“Me?  Cause I’d fucking die, that’s why.”

“Maybe you could be scrappy.  You have agility.”

“I don’t know how far that’d carry me against these guys.”  I motioned to the wrestlers, who were both over six feet tall and two-hundred pounds.

“True,” Reagan said, and she laughed and we drank from our identical beer cans.  The sun was hot on my face and on my chest, and I had to squint because I forgot sunglasses, but it felt good.  It felt like it was scouring away all the stress, burning the assignments away one by one.  I wanted to live here, in this sunlight.

I fell back on the towel and picked my book up, open to just about the dead center.  I held it over my head and used it to block the sun, waiting for my eyes to adjust from the intense sunlight and focus on the small, seriffed script.  But the warmth was making me sleepy.  I blinked once, twice.  I tried to remember what was going on in the book, but nothing would come to me.  I tried to remember what day it was, but that wouldn’t come, either.  I tried to remember where I was, and that too returned nothing.  The sunlight was scouring away my memories.  It was so warm, and I began to drift.

“Sleepy?” Reagan whispered into my ear.  I didn’t open my eyes.

“Maybe.”

“Me too.”  She put her head on my chest and snuggled up on my side.  I couldn’t remember if we were together or not but I didn’t care.  I set my book down beside me and wrapped my arm around her.  She was warm and there was sand in her wet, blonde hair and she smelled like the ocean and oh God I hugged her so tightly I wanted her to become a part of me.

I opened my eyes and the wrestling match was still going on.  The boys were now further away than they had been.  Much further.  At least thirty yards, when before they had been right in front of me.  Or hadn’t they.  I couldn’t remember.  I closed my eyes and decided I’d ask Reagan.

“Were we always so far away?”

“We’ve always been here,” she answered softly, and without moving.

“That’s not true.  I’ve been much closer to the action.  I was right beside it.”

“But you didn’t join in.”

“Of course not.”

“Don’t you want to be playful?”

“Well sure I do.  But I didn’t want to wrestle.  I was reading.”
“So when was the last time you really horsed around?”

“Well, I’m having a lot of trouble remembering things right now.”

“You were never close to the action and you were never playful with the boys.  We’ve always been here.  I’ve always been here.”

I decided I wouldn’t argue with her and I held her tighter, and she felt smaller and smaller in my arms.

“What are you reading?” she asked me, softer than ever.

The Beautiful and Damned, by F. Scott Fitzgerald.”

“Read it to me.”

I kissed her forehead.  “Anything.”

I reached for my book and pulled it up to block where I knew the sun was, then opened my eyes again.  Reagan was no longer there.  There was no one wrestling.  Nobody was there.  There were beer cans all around me.  They sat perched in the sand, half-drank.  Some were empty.  Some had spilled over.  They leaked their contents into the Earth, where it disappeared.

 

I came back and there was a buzzing coming from the fluorescent lights overhead.  The books lay scattered around me.  I smelled vomit and found it on my shirt and pants.  I stood up, replaced the books, then made my way to the bathroom to wash away the blood and vomit.  I took off my button-up and threw it away, leaving me in just my t-shirt.  I looked hard into the mirror after I had cleaned myself up.  My eyes were empty and there was no feeling anymore.  It was all alright now.

I trotted briskly down the stairs and through the lobby.  The librarians had changed.  Some of the students had, too.  I saw a boy I knew named Thayer.  We had an English class together.

“Hey, how you been?”

“Busy, yourself?”

“Always busy,” he answered.  He smiled at me.  He was rather tall and stocky.  “But this weekend should be fun.  What are you up to tonight?”

“Term paper,” I answered.

“Ouch.  How long?”

“Twenty-five pages.”

“Sounds awful.  Guess you’ll be up all night.”

We said goodbye and he walked away and I left the library and strode back through the quad in the darkness.  It was cold because I had forgotten my coat and because it was December and because now it had become the nighttime.

I would be up all night.  That was alright.  I had always been up.

Nocturne

I did not know that it was raining until I saw the dark spots left behind by fallen droplets on the floor of the balcony.  It was a very fine rain, and I looked out at the darkness through the lights from inside and it was misting and it felt welcome and cool on my face.  I held the balcony’s railing and rocked myself back and forth, looking down as a party of four passed underneath.

“Hey!” a girl shouted to me.

“Hi!”

“You’ve got the tattoo on your side, right?”

“Yes!”

“I’ve always really liked it!”

“Thank you!”  And I waved and she waved back and then continued on, laughing and catching up with her friends.  My hand found its way under my shirt to my side and touched the black- and red-ink-covered skin that had once been so tender and now felt like nothing.  It was nearly two years old.  Perpetually my junior by nineteen years.  At first I had a nearly-memorized explanation of its importance whenever I was questioned.  In time this explanation had been reduced to asking ‘Do you get it?’ and required only an answer of yes or no.  It was an arduous, trying two hours that I often regarded as the most painful experience of my life.  After six months I had forgotten it existed.

“Thompson!”  I came back.

“What?”

“We’re making a move to Dante’s room.”

I turned around and looked back through the open window that partitioned the room from the balcony.  “Now?”

“Yeah.”

“Hold on.  Come out here a second.”  I gestured and Shahbaz ducked down through the small window and joined me.  “Do you have a blunt?” I asked.

“Yeah, we’re gonna smoke at Dante’s.”

“Let’s smoke one now.”

“Aight.”  We leaned over the railing and sent it back and forth while looking across the quad at the light coming from the windows of Jasper Hall, where the freshmen lived.  In one room on the second floor a boy sat typing at a laptop on his desk.  He paused and leaned back, stretching his arms in the air.  Just above him two girls were sitting on a bed painting their nails and talking.  The window was open and we could hear dance music coming from inside.  A third girl entered the room in a tight blue dress and twirled around while the others commented.  Two floors up and two windows to the right a beer pong table was set up and we could see two teams of two boys each shooting and drinking.  It was very much a Friday night.

“Do you remember when we used to pregame with beer pong?”  I was nearing the end of the blunt.

“Yeah.  Freshman year.  Those were fun times.”

“How many would we play?”

“I don’t know.  Two, maybe three games?”

“And it was very casual.”

“Yeah, we called it CBP.  Casual beer pong.”  Shahbaz looked back inside.  “Hey yo, we should get moving.  I think everybody left already.”

“What beer did we normally have?”

“I don’t know, probably just Bud Light.  Why you thinking about it so much?”  We had left the building and were walking across the damp grass through the fine mist of rain.

“Because- can you picture it?  I mean if you had to recreate it, for a movie say, would you be able to?  All the details?  All the dialogue?  The characters, the clothes, the setup of the room?  Can you picture it?”  I looked at Shahbaz and his eyes were closed and we were walking on in silence.  I looked down at my feet and waited for him to say something.

“Yeah, I think I can.  Maybe not every detail, but I think if I was actually setting it up, it’d come back to me, you feel me?  Like if I set up the table and the room, other details would come back, you know?  Like what we’d be talking about and what we’d be wearing.”

I nodded and we marched onward through the darkness.  A group of five or six girls passed us and Shahbaz knew one of them and took up chatting with her.  He introduced me.

“I’m Joanne,” she said.  We shook hands.  “What are y’all up to tonight?”

“We’re headed to Dante’s right now, but after that it’s open ended.  What about y’all, what are you finna get up to?”

“There’s supposed to be a big birthday party at East.”

“Whose birthday?”

“This guy Martin Girardet.  It’s his twenty-first.  Y’all should stop by.”

Once we were out of earshot I said, “I know Martin Girardet.”

“Oh really?  Is he a senior?”

“Yeah.  We had a lab together freshman year.  We used to race to see who could finish first.  And one time I ended up getting a ride with him from off campus and we went to eat together at like three in the morning.  That was all second semester freshman year.”

“Huh.  So he’s your boy?”

“Not at all.  We would chat whenever we saw each other sophomore year, then it progressed to just waving, and now we don’t acknowledge one another in passing.  I couldn’t even tell you what his major is.”

“Damn.  You think it’d be awkward if we went to his party then?”

“No.  Especially not if it’s as big as they said it’d be.”

We got good and faded at Dante’s.  Our very close friends were there.  The kind of friends that require no exchanging of pleasantries.  We laughed at ourselves and there was something very comfortable about knowing each other so intimately and not having to put on any face or say anything cool.  It was suggested we make a move to the birthday party.  No one objected and so we left.  While we walked I wondered if we wouldn’t have had a better time staying where we were, but I knew that some among us wanted to make new friends and encounter old ones.  There was very little time left to make new friends.

The party was a good one and I found myself sunken into the seat at the end of a very comfortable sofa, happily watching the denizens flirt and spill their drinks and squeeze back and forth between each other.  The seat next to me opened up and was quickly reoccupied by Martin Girardet.

“Thompson?”  We patted each other’s backs.

“Happy birthday.”

“Thanks.  Good to see you, have you had a drink?”

“I had a cup of punch.  It was nice.”

“Good, have fun, drink as much as you want.”

“It’s a good party.”

“Thanks man.  I know I should be out talking to people but I needed to take a breather.  I’m supposed to do twenty-one shots tonight.”

“How many are you at?”

“Twelve.”  He smiled and his eyes smiled too and we both laughed because we were so far gone and we knew it.

“Hey, can I ask you something?”
“Sure.”

“Remember when we went out to that Mexican restaurant at like 3:00 AM that one night freshman year?  When your friend gave me a ride home?”

“Oh yeah, I remember that!  Dang, that was a long time ago.  That was a fucking crazy night.”

“Do you remember what you were wearing?”

“Fuck no.”

“What about what we were talking about?  At the restaurant.  I remember we were laughing really hard about something, we kept on the same subject the whole time, but I can’t remember what it was.  Do you?”

He stared at the ground for a few moments, then shook his head.  “Man that was so long ago.  I remember too that it was really funny.  Fuck, I can’t remember.  Sorry I’m so useless.  The twelve shots probably aren’t helping either.”

“It’s no problem.”

Martin’s friends yelled to him from a doorway.  “Do you wanna do this one with me?” he asked.

“Lucky number thirteen?  Hell, why not.”

“Sweet.”  I joined him and it was not such a bad shot because they had gotten him an expensive handle of tequila for the occasion.  I stuck around for number fourteen as well.  Some of the more intimate members of the party joined us, and we laughed and danced and sang.  Shahbaz found us and we smoked a bowl out the window, and then everything became hazy and the world was really very wonderful in the night time, and Martin and I were laughing at Shahbaz and perhaps then we did number fifteen.  And we needed exchange no pleasantries among us because we had all become so very close.

The next day I slept in until past noon.  I finally dragged myself from bed and recapped my evening in the shower while fighting through a hangover.  I was able to walk through everything until Martin’s fifteenth shot, and then I couldn’t remember anything before walking home and falling into my bed.

I missed lunch and so I went to the student center to get a sandwich and a coffee.  I was eating alone at a table with my headphones in when I saw Martin walk by, wearing pajama pants and a big t-shirt and looking like he’d just woke up.  I smiled and waved to him, but he only nodded in my direction and kept walking.  I watched him go by, then returned to my sandwich.

Some freshmen were eating together and laughing at the table next to me.  I knew them only by sight.  They were three boys and a girl.  The boys were all wearing blue jeans, one in a pullover, one in a red sweater and one in a black t-shirt.  The girl had a simple white shirt tucked into a garnet high-waisted skirt and a black scarf and her hair was pulled back into a ponytail.  They were talking about a professor they all had.  Apparently he was a very awkward lecturer, and they each shared stories of his various blunders from throughout the semester and laughed.  I smiled in their direction as I threw away my trash, but they did not acknowledge me.

Then I left to walk home, and as I stepped out onto the grass it began to rain violently.

An Apparition, Courtesy Elizabeth

It was nearly one in the morning when all of Elizabeth’s friends left.  They had been in the hot tub for nearly two hours, and the pruning of their skin combined with a lethargy only amplified by the warm water and emptied bottles of Blue Moon had taken a toll on the girls.  Girls who were already tired from a long day of lounging and drinking in the sun and who were determined to get an early start in the AM.  Only Elizabeth remained, partly due to a nostalgic feeling of introspection brought about by the moon’s fullness between the trees above that reminded her of trips to the Ozarks as a kid, and partly due to a crippling inability to raise herself from the gentle cooing and calling of bubbling, one-hundred degree water.  Mustering up as much of her faculty as possible, she reassured her appealing friends of her sobriety and promised to join them inside within fifteen minutes, thirty tops.

Listening as the giggles and chatter disappeared into the cabin and gave way to the gentle purr of jets and rustling wind through tree branches, the twenty-one year-old found an inner calmness that had evaded her for the entire trip, and she settled deeply into the seat in such a way that everything below her bottom lip became submerged.  Closing her eyes and resting her hands on her thin, knobby knees, she found herself in the midst of a wonderful daydream in which she was giving an A+ calibur presentation to her Sex, Women and Gender Studies class as part of their final project, deftly answering questions from classmates and basking in the radiance of her professor.  The daydream, however, was not to last, as just as her presentation was ending, the unmistakable sound of a cabin door slamming shut wrested her from the fantasy.

Watching through the darkness, her vision illuminated only by a light from inside the hot tub and one additional motion-activated light positioned above the door of the cabin adjacent to her own, she witnessed one of the strangest sequences of events yet known to her relatively short life.

A young man, approximately the same age as she or perhaps a bit older, stood atop the steps leading to the cabin door and stretched his arms wide in either direction, then raised them toward the sky and bent forward, stretching his triceps and back.  He was clad in nothing but a seafoam green bathrobe and matching slippers, his blonde hair long and disheveled.  He was incredibly tall, and even with the bathrobe it was no secret that he was thin as a twig, his calves and arms hairless in the incandescence of the artificial light.  He proceeded to widen his stance and lean in either direction, stretching his hamstrings while grunting audibly and with great satisfaction.

After his bout of stretching was over, he banged three times on his chest and let out a loud cawing sound, like some bird of prey, before rolling the bathrobe off his shoulders, where it dropped into his hands before being hung upon the door handle.  He then descended the steps, unwound the hose attached to the side of the cabin, twisted the nozzle of the faucet, then raised the end over his head and let the water come splashing down onto his upturned face.  It soaked his hair, his thin frame, and his sky-blue trunks, leaving a muddy puddle around his slippers.

After thirty seconds of watering himself, the boy circled around to the back of the cabin, then re emerged just in time to reactivate the light, a large stereo resting upon his shoulder.  He placed the stereo on the steps, bent over to touch his toes, then fished from his pocket a small rectangle that, when placed inside the stereo, revealed itself to be a cassette tape.  Banging the top of the stereo once to close the jammed door to the tape player, he placed it back on his shoulder and approached the hot tub, stopping just before it and looking up at Elizabeth for the first time with bright, lively blue eyes.  This was the first time, and last time, that she would encounter Simon Christian Adamson the Third.

This is the first thing he said to her:  “Do you like The Beatles?”

“What?” was all Elizabeth could muster.  She had heard him clearly, but was still momentarily stunned after witnessing his bizarre ritual.

“The Beatles.  Paul McCartney.  John Lennon.  ‘Hey Jude.’  You know, the fab four?  You like them?”

“I mean, yeah, everyone likes the Beatles.  Why?”

He banged the stereo with the palm of his hand.  “I got Rubber Soul on cassette in here.  Mind if I play it?  I’ll keep the volume down.”

“Sure, go ahead.”  What else could she say?  Elizabeth watched, more mystified than bemused, as he placed the stereo precariously on the edge of the hot tub and pushed play decisively with a single finger.  The opening guitar riff of “Drive My Car” was inexplicably the perfect accompaniment to the casual flipping off of his slippers into the darkness and the smooth, almost practiced act of lifting his leg up over the wall of the tub and dipping it daintily into the hot water.  He grabbed the edge and brought his second, impossibly long leg in as well, then settled himself down without creating a single ripple.

“Hot in here,” he said after a prolonged exhale.

“Well, it is called a hot tub.”

He laughed in one wild, high-pitched burst before returning to an abrupt silence, as if some god had pressed the ‘mute’ button on the remote that controlled his voice.  “This is true.  Very true.”  He gave a rested sigh and shifted to a seat opposite Elizabeth.  “You’re in the cabin next door, right?  With all the girls?”

“Uhm, yeah.”  Elizabeth pointed in the light from the tub.  “That one.”

“I’m right here,” the boy said, jerking his thumb behind him, as if Elizabeth somehow had missed his grand entrance.  “Are you here for spring break?” he asked.

“Yeah.  Till Friday.  What about you?”

“Well, I was here with my girlfriend.  Until we broke up yesterday and she went home.”

“I’m sorry to hear that.”

“Why?”

“Why what?”

“Why are you sorry?  To hear that?”

“I don’t know, because breakups are rough.  It’s just a thing you say.”

“Well I’m not sorry.  It was really for the best.  She hated me.”

“She hated you?  Then why were you together?”

He raised his brow and looked at her suspiciously.  “Well because we love eachother.  Why is anyone together?”  He took his hands from the water and spread them out, like the wings of a great condor, to rest on the edges of the hot tub.

Elizabeth was sure that any attempt to discern meaning from this apparent contradiction would be futile, but some deep-seeded curiosity provoked her to do so nonetheless.  “How can she be in love with you and hate you at the same time?”

“It’s like predators and prey,” he began to explain matter-of-factly.  “Like deer and wolves.  Wolves eat deer, right?  They hunt them and chase them down and rip them up and eat them and drink their blood.  If deer could talk, and you asked one how it felt about wolves, it would undoubtedly say it hated them, right?”

“I don’t think deer can love or hate anything.  They’re just deer.”

“Okay, but if one special deer could feel, and a wolf had, say, killed its mother, then it would probably hate that wolf, right?”

Elizabeth shrugged.  “Sure.”

“Now, say there’s some disease that wipes out a whole bunch of wolves.  Then the deer are pretty damn happy, ‘cause we’ve already established that they hate wolves.  But you know what happens next?  There’s too many deer.  There isn’t enough food in the ecosystem, especially in the wintertime, to feed them all.  They begin to starve to death, and the ones that survive are frail and weak.  And starving to death is a far more painful death than the relatively quick and painless bite to the neck delivered by the wolves.  Really, the deer should love the wolves, for without them, they would live a starved, short and painful existence.  So while one individual deer might say in its short sightedness that it hates wolves, the omnipotent deer god that speaks for the species as a whole loves wolves.”

“So in your relationship, your girlfriend is a deer and you’re a wolf.”

“Precisely.”

“So why is it good that you broke up?  Won’t she starve to death now?”

“She will.  But she hated me in the moment, so she needs to starve a little bit to realize she loves me.  And quite frankly, I could use going hungry for awhile as well.  We’ve been getting far too fat as of late.  So you see, its all for the best.  That’s why I’m not sorry, and why you shouldn’t be, either.”

“Fine, I’m not sorry.”

“Thanks, I appreciate that.”  Elizabeth watched as the boy rose to his feet in the tub, bent his head as far back as it would go (nearly to the small of his back), then sank once again into the bubbling water.  The cassette went silent as side A ended, and so he reached his wet hands over to the stereo, opened the door, flipped the tape, and banged it shut once more.

“Can I ask you something?” Elizabeth’s voice questioned from the near-darkness.

“Go for it.”

“Why did you hose yourself off just then?”

“Ah.  The shower in our cabin’s on the fritz, and I felt like I should rinse off before joining you.  You know, for cleanliness reasons.”

“I see.”  Her curiosity satisfied now on two fronts, Elizabeth considered leaving the boy behind and returning to her own cabin, but her final mental decision to enact this course of action was interrupted by a question of his own.

“What’s your name?”

“Huh?”

Comment t’appelles tu?  How do you call yourself?

“How do I call myself?  I call myself Elizabeth.”

“Elizabeth qua?”

“Elizabeth Morris.  How do you call yourself?”

“Simon Christian Adamson.  The Third.  Pleasure to meet you Ms. Morris.”  He reached his steaming right hand up through the water and she shook it with her own.  “Tell me something, how come you didn’t go back in with all of your friends?”

“What, were you watching us?”

“Sort of.”

“Don’t you think that’s kind of rude?”

“How could it be rude if you never even knew I was doing it?”

“Well now you just told me.”

“I wasn’t watching you, I just glanced out the window every now and then because you were making so much noise.  So then the noise stopped and I looked out and it was just you.  So why didn’t you go back in with them?”

“I don’t know, I guess I didn’t feel like getting out quite yet.  I was enjoying myself.”  She put more emphasis on the ‘was’ than she had intended, but Simon didn’t seem to acknowledge it.

“Have you got a boyfriend?”

She paused momentarily.  “As a matter of fact I do.”

“You like him?”

Elizabeth was noticeably taken aback.  “Do I like him?  Of course I like him.  Why else would we be dating?”

“Who knows?  My girlfriend hates me.”

“I thought she also loved you.”

“That too.  But she sure as hell doesn’t like me.”

“What’s the difference?  If you love someone, don’t you like them by default?”

“Hell no!  If you like someone, that means you enjoy grabbing a coffee with them, or meeting up with them for a run, or listening to them talk about their problems because you’re actually invested in them.  If you love someone, you don’t enjoy any of that shit.  You do it because you fucking have to, because there’s this little imperfection in your DNA that says if you don’t see this person, if you don’t live a life that is dependent on this person, obsessed with this person, then you’re gonna fucking implode.  You fill your life up with people you like.  Then you throw it all away for someone you love.”

“Well, can’t I love my boyfriend and also enjoy his company?”

“You think deer enjoy the company of the wolves?”

Elizabeth heaved a great sigh and stood up.  “I think I’m gonna go back inside.”

“Really?  Now?  Why?”

“Well first of all I’m tired.  And second of all I don’t really enjoy all this talk of wolves and deer and love.  I’m on vacation, I’m not in the mood to talk about stuff like this.”

“Oh stick around a few more minutes.  What do you wanna talk about?  Any subject at all.  I’ll shut my mouth.”  Elizabeth pivoted on her hip and crossed her thin arms.  The tips of her straight brown hair were wet and stuck to her back, her light freckles, pale skin and upturned nose looking very sharp and precise in the crisp nighttime air.  She was trying to think of something further to say, but she was growing cold and so, dejectedly, she sank back into the water until a more serious attempt to vacate the hot tub could be made.

“Thanks,” Simon said.  Elizabeth had now gained a firm hold on their relationship’s upper hand.  “So, what do you wanna talk about?”

“I don’t even know.  But I’m too cold to get out.  Do you mind if we just sit in silence?”  Side B of the tape had recently finished.

“Not at all.”  As if on cue, the jets turned themselves off and both parties could clearly see the other’s tremendous slenderness through the increasingly translucent water.  Elizabeth rested the back of her head on the side of the hot tub and closed her eyes.  Simon Christian Adamson.  The Third.  What kind of a name was that?  Was he some wealthy foreign prince or duke or something?  He had no trace of an accent, but maybe he had gone to an American school.  The cabin she had rented with her friends had cost them a pretty penny despite being split seven ways, yet he was able to afford it on only his (and maybe also his girlfriend’s) dime for the entire week.  He was certainly well off for some reason.

“Whatcha thinking about?” Simon asked, disturbing her serenity once again.

Elizabeth didn’t open her eyes.  “About whether or not you’re some rich prince or something.”

“What makes you think that?”

“Your name.  And the fact that you can afford this cabin all by yourself.”

“My parents are pretty loaded.  And they are foreign.  But there’s no trace of royalty, as far as I know.”

“Are you a student then?”

“Nope.”

“You’re out of college?”

“You could say that.”

“When did you graduate?”

“Never.  I dropped out six months ago.  One week into my sophomore year.”

Elizabeth at last opened her eyes and looked at the boy.  “Oh.  I’m sorry to hear that.”

“You’re an awfully apologetic person, you know that?”

“Sorry.  Shit.  Not sorry.  I’m sure it was for the right reasons or whatever.”

Simon laughed his short, pitched hyena-cackle once again and grinned at the girl.  “You wanna know why?”

“You don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to.”

“I don’t mind.  It’s ’cause I tried to kill myself.  I slit my wrists up real good, then five seconds later I called 9-1-1 and started bandaging myself up and knew I wasn’t going to die, and it was really a terrible attempt.  Even the emergency dispatchers said I probably didn’t need to go to the hospital if I didn’t want to.  I guess I really didn’t want to kill myself, I just wanted to see if I would actually do it.”

Elizabeth began to say ‘I’m sorry,’ but caught herself and managed to hold her tongue.  “That’s too bad,” she said.

“It’s funny, I kept picturing all the people at my funeral.  My parents, my friends, my grandparents.  Kids at my school who maybe had a class with me.  Friends of my parents, cousins and such.  I figured they’d all be crying, but really they should have been pissed off that I put them through so much trouble, put everyone through so much trouble.  It was really just very lazy and disrespectful of me.  That’s why I called it off I think.  It’s not time for me to die yet.  I don’t know what I’m supposed to be living for, but I know that I’m not supposed to die yet.”

Simon abruptly ducked his head under the water and brought it back up, throwing it about and flicking water in every which way, including onto the grimacing Elizabeth.  Steam rose from his terrific paleness like the evaporation of his very skin itself.  “You want to know something?” he asked her.  “I wasn’t here with my girlfriend.  I’m here with my dad.  He’s just asleep.  We own the place.  They’re trying to give me lots of fresh air and wilderness and the like on account of my manic depression.”

“Why did you lie to me?”

“Because I have manic depression.”

“That makes you lie?”

“I just wanted to be someone else for a while.  Someone who was loved and hated and in the midst of some tumultuous breakup.  I felt like maybe you’d rather meet that person than a manic-depressive nineteen year-old who’s here on doctor’s orders with his dad.”

“You’re wrong,” she said.  “I’d actually rather meet the manic-depressive nineteen year-old.  At least he’s real.  The other one is like some character from a book.”

“Well then, it’s nice to meet you.”  He reached his hand out and shook her’s all over again.  “I’m still Simon Christian Adamson the Third, though.  My name’s too good for me to make up a different one.”

“And I’m still Elizabeth Morris.  But I did lie about something, too.  I don’t have a boyfriend.”

“And why did you lie?”

“Because the way you talked about love… the way you were saying that it’s such a give and take, and how confident you were that you were in love.  I just wanted to pretend it was simpler than that, that I had found someone and it was purer and simpler than that. I guess I’m just hoping that it is.”

“I see.”

“Maybe it made me a little depressed.”

“So why didn’t you get out when you were going to?”

“I guess I don’t get a chance to talk with book characters very often.  That and it seemed rude.”

“Well, I appreciate you sticking around.  I really do.”  With that, Simon stood up and exited the hot tub as gracefully as he’d entered it.

“What, now you’re just gonna leave?”

“I don’t like to stay in for too long.  Hurts my heart.”  He tapped his scrawny chest.  “Besides, now you can have the alone time you were looking for.”

“Ehh, I’ll probably get out, too.  I’ve been in here far too long.”

“Suit yourself.  Either way, if you’re around tomorrow and don’t mind ditching your friends for a while, we’ve got a canoe and a motorboat I’m allowed to take out on the lake.  It’d be nice to have some company that’s not an anxious fifty-five year-old.”

“Okay, I’ll keep it in mind.”

“Just come by and knock.  I’ll be there.”

She nodded to him.  “I will.  Are you gonna bring your boombox?”

He laughed his terrible laugh once more and stood smiling at her.  “Of course.  You like Bob Marley?”

But when Elizabeth rapped on the heavy wooden door of the neighboring cabin after lunch the next day, she was greeted only by the quick-speaking and British-accented Simon Christian Adamson the Second, who explained that Simon’s mother had, for reasons undisclosed, come to take the boy home just one hour prior, and that he himself would be leaving later that afternoon.  Curtly thanking the man, Elizabeth made her way back to her own cabin, where her friends were enjoying homemade strawberry daiquiris and sunbathing on the back deck.  When asked if she would be joining them, she said that she would do so in a while, after swimming a couple lengths of the nearby cove.

She made sure to stretch extensively before doing so.

Rolling Hills With Soft, Yellow-Brownish Grass

We were halfway to the North Carolina-Virginia border from Richmond when I decided to call it quits.  It was dark but the weather was calm and temperate, and I really wasn’t that tired.  But I was very hungry and wanted a beer, and knew I wouldn’t want to drive anymore after that.  So as soon as I saw a Hampton Inn & Suites with a couple of generic-looking restaurants in the parking lot, I pulled into a spot right behind a bar and grille called Rudy’s and turned off the car, staring straight ahead at the back of the restaurant through the windshield.

“Are you okay to eat here?” I asked Sam.

“Here?  What’s it called?  Rudy’s?  I mean do you wanna look around a little bit more?”

“Not really.  I’m tired and hungry and this place looks as good as any other, and then we can stay in the Hampton tonight.”

“Oh so you wanna be done for the day?  I don’t mind going for a couple more hours.”

“That’s easy to say when you aren’t driving.  Come on, I’m hungry.”  We unbuckled and got out, testing our stiff legs with awkward strides in the parking lot and stretching our arms skyward.  I cracked my back and pressed my forehead against the cool metal shaft of a lamppost.  Closing my eyes, I felt like I could sleep right there.

Finally coming to, I followed Sam inside where the hostess told us that it was a fifteen minute wait, but that we were welcome to have a seat at the bar.

“Why are there so many people here?” Sam asked as we sidled up in stools at the end of the glossy bar.  “We’re in the middle of nowhere.”

“They’re driving from the Northeast to the beach in North Carolina or Florida I guess,” I said.  “I hope the hotel has a room available.”

“Maybe we shoulda gone there first.”

“Nah, I’m too hungry.”  I ordered some local amber ale on tap and Sam got a Blue Moon, and we sat and drank our cold beers in silence.  My ale was just okay, but I was in the mood for a beer and nothing would have tasted too much better.

“You’ve been keeping your eyes open, haven’t you?” Sam asked me finally.

“Yeah yeah, of course.”

“Especially around Richmond.  I really thought it was around Richmond.”

“We checked every town, didn’t we?”

“Yeah, but maybe it was just a little bit further out.  We should have asked someone.  Do you need me to describe it to you again?”

“No, I think I got it at this point.”

“Then tell me.”  I looked at Sam, trying to picture my own exasperated expression, and burrowed my face in my hands.  Then I took a pen from my pocket and began to sketch on the back of a paper placemat I grabbed from just behind the bar.

“Okay, so there’s the central part of the town over here.  That’s where the restaurants are, along this street.”

“Trendy restaurants,” Sam reminded.  “And bars.  Like cute French crepêries and tapas restaurants and Japanese fusion.”

“Right, like a college town,” I added.

“Exactly.”  I drew in a couple of buildings on the first street of the map I was sketching.  

“Then up this way to the Northeast, it gets kind of hilly.  And there’s a shuttle that runs to the restaurants.  This is where the pavilions and dorms and stuff are.  And maybe some lecture halls.”

“Right, but it’s not a campus,” Sam corrected again.  “It’s still part of the town.”

“I know I know, I never said it was a campus.  But there are dorm-type buildings, right?”

“Yeah.”

“Okay.  And then up here and to the left, that’s where the serious hills are.”  I drew in some hills up and to the left of the campus part.

“But not mountains.  Just rolling hills, with soft, yellow-brownish grass in the autumn that you can roll down.”  He took another sip from his beer and then resumed his position looking at the map over my shoulder.

“Now up to the North, there’s a path that runs from the campus-like area to the forest.  And the forest is filled with very tall trees, like redwoods.”

“But not that tall.”

“I know!  Stop interrupting, I know they aren’t redwoods, cause we’re in fucking Virginia.  Just all trees, and nice grass.”

“Right.”

“Now to the East of the campus, that’s where the main road lies.  It goes North-South and it’s like a two-lane highway.  And there’s a path that leads out to it with little houses on either side.”

“Yep, but not with yards and stuff.  Just free sitting houses.”  I drew the houses the way he wanted me to.

“And that’s it, right?”

“Well, you forgot the other pavilion.”  He took my pen and drew a pavilion between the campus and the woods.  “This is where we were taste testing different jams and people were playing bingo.  And then also, to the South, there are like soccer fields, and some brick business buildings with apartments on the top.  And they bleed into the restaurants and stuff.”  Finishing up the map, complete with little sketches of hills and pavilions and trees, he slid it between us and slapped the pen down on top of it.

“And that’s all you remember.  Not what’s on the other side of the hills, or through the forest, or beyond the downtown or where the highway goes.”  

Sam shrugged and took another sip of beer.  “I’ve tried really hard, but I can’t.  I didn’t go there in the dream.”

“But you must have in real life.  You must have come and gone from somewhere.  Did you ask your parents?”

“Of course I did.  They don’t remember any town like that.”

“But you’re sure it’s real.”  

Sam looked across at me, and there was a little bit of hurt in his weary eyes.  Even though I was the only one driving (Sam couldn’t drive stick), I knew he too was tired.  He was mentally tired.  It had been a long week of searching.  “That is why we’re here, right?  That’s why you came with me?  You believe me, right?”

“I mean yeah.  If I really felt like I had to find a place, if I really felt like I had to do something, I would need my best friend to trust me and go with me.  So even though I think you’re crazy, I know I gotta do this with you.  And I know that sometimes these feelings really do lead to something.  So yeah, I’m with you.”

He nodded and looked back down at the bar.  “I’m sorry we haven’t found it.  And that I’m wasting your time.”

“It’s not a waste, dude.  We’re having fun, right?  Last night was pretty fun.”  The night before we had visited Sam’s friend at University of Virginia, where they hadn’t graduated yet and were in their senior week.  We went to a massive house party, got very wasted on Miller High Life and Svedka shots, and didn’t get started on the road again until noon.  I had been talking with a girl named, what was it now, Lana?  Lisa?  Laurie!  I had been talking to a cute, freckled, red-headed girl named Laurie all night and I was so sure I was in and then Sam got sick and while I was taking care of him she left.  C’est la vie.

“Yeah, last night was a blast.  Sorry for puking.”

“Nah it was alright.”

“I just feel like I need to blow off steam, you know?  Like I need to forget about the town for awhile.  Maybe if I can do that enough, I’ll forget about it for good.”

“You only had the dream once, correct?” I asked him.

“Yeah.”

“And it was April of junior year?”      

“Mhm.  The date in the dream journal is April 2nd, 2014.”

“So you haven’t stopped thinking about it for over a year now.”

“I mean sometimes I go a few days or a week without, but yeah it does pop back into my brain every time.”

This was all information I had heard a hundred times already, I just kept cycling Sam through it, hoping something new would come back to him.  I knew the dream by heart.  The beautiful town.  The campus.  Taking the shuttle, going out to eat downtown with his high school friend Saori.  Walking back to the campus area, going up the hills.  Rolling down them.  Finding me and our other friends in the pavilion, where we were taste testing jams and playing bingo.  It gets dark.  He walks into the forest with Saori.  They play guitars on the soft forest floor.  It’s a crisp, beautiful night and they go out running around together in the soft grass with their shoes off.  They sleep together in the dorms in the campus area.  But they hardly sleep, ‘cause they’re up all night talking with each other and cuddling and smiling and looking into each other’s eyes.  He wakes up and knows his visit is over and he has to leave.  They have breakfast in the downtown area again, at the crepêrie.  His friends all wave goodbye.  He sees a sign on the path into the town with the name, but as hard as he tries, he can’t recall it.  He hugs Saori and nearly cries as he leaves, knowing that it was the best day of his life and that he has to come back someday.  Then he wakes up.

“What was going on with you that week?” I asked him.  “You said April 2nd was a Sunday.  What happened that weekend?”

“Well me and Nina got jam at the farmer’s market, so I’m pretty sure that’s where that comes from.”  Nina was Sam’s ex-girlfriend.  They would break up later that April, under pretty rocky circumstances.  He really was in love with her, but the relationship was killing them, because there were so many differences and disagreements.  For months afterward he would find her when they were drunk and they would sleep together, then fight about it the next day and he would say he hated her, then he would do it all over again.

“And the crepêrie?”

“Hmm…. we ate at Slice of Paris a couple times last year.  We may have gone that week.”

“Okay how about the hills?  The grass?”

“Those are always in my dreams.”

“And your friends?  And the guitar playing?  That’s in a lot of your dreams too, right?”

“Yeah.  Repeated imagery.”

“And Saori?”

“Well she’s my soulmate of course.  So she pops up quite frequently too.  But we never have as good a time together as we did in this dream.  We never slept together in any other dreams.”

“So isn’t it possible that this dream was just a conglomeration of all the good shit from your other dreams?  All wrapped into one really, really good dream?”  I sipped my beer and weighed the silence.  Sam shook his head and looked at me fiercely.

“You don’t understand.  I’ve had hundreds of dreams.  Thousands.  I catalog as many as I can, I write down as much as I remember.  I’ve never, never, been able to so perfectly picture a place.  I’m not saying it’s exactly like how I saw it, but it has to be based on someplace, right?  It’s gotta be based somewhere!  I can’t just make up these beautiful scenic towns from nowhere!  I’m not like someone from fucking Inception or like Michelangelo or something.  I’m a C.S. major!”  He pounded his fist on the bar, and the bartender gave us an uneasy look.  I signaled him to bring us two more beers.

“But-”

“Hold on,” he said, interrupting me again.  “I’m not a creative type, I couldn’t sculpt this place out of nowhere.  But I can’t remember where it is, so that means it’s from my childhood or at least adolescence.  And the only places I went were around the Northeast and the mid-Atlantic.”

“You did say you took trips out West with your family, though.”

“Sure, but this didn’t look like that.  The grass was from the East Coast, I promise.  It was such nice brown grass, so soft and only a little itchy and perfect for rolling on.  I remember that grass.  That’s East Coast grass.  That’s not Rocky Mountain grass or California grass.  You know what I mean?  And the beckoning.  The call.  The need to go back.  None of my other dreams have ever affected me like that.  None of them.  Why this one?  There’s something there, you said it yourself.  You gotta follow this stuff up.  I asked you two weeks ago if you thought I was crazy and you said no and said I should go for it.  I gotta go for it.  It’s calling me.”  The bartender brought the next couple of beers and we sat silently again while he sipped at his new one and I rushed to finish my first so that the bartender could take the glass away.

“Maybe,” I said, speaking slowly and calmly, “the dream isn’t telling you to find the place.  Maybe it’s telling you something else.  About Saori.  Isn’t that possible?  Wasn’t she the best part of the dream?”

“Me and Saori were born under an unlucky star, that’s for sure.”  He ran his hands through his long brown bangs, pushing them back, and checked his cell phone from his pocket before shoving it back in.  “Sometimes I don’t know if I’ve spent more time with her in dreams or in person.  She’s different in dreams.  She’s flighty and she doesn’t pay a lot of attention to me.  She’s always trying to get somewhere and I’m just following.  But not in this one.  In this one, we were in it together.  We were right where we wanted to be.  There was no rush, there was no following.  We spent as much time as we wanted to, and she looked at me and talked to me and wanted to be there with me.”

“When’s the last time you talked to her?”

“Ehh, I texted her when I was home last week, and she said she was still in school but maybe we could try and get together after her semester ended.”

“Maybe you should go out to Yale and see her.  Maybe that’s what this is telling you; not to find the town, but to find Saori.”

“Ugh, but it was so miserable the last time I visited her at Yale.  I showed up and she picked me up at the train station.  We talked the whole time walking through New Haven, and ate at a nice restaurant and got to drinking, and it was two dollar drinks!  Every cocktail was two dollars, every beer!  It was amazing!  We drank and we got drunk and then we went back to her room, and I was so excited, and we were sitting on the couch together under a big fluffy blanket watching Adventure Time, and then all of a sudden she gets up and says she’s going to stay at her pseudo-boyfriend’s place and that I could sleep on the couch or in her bed, and that she’d be back in the morning.  And then she left and I fell to pieces.  I don’t know if I wanna go back to Yale.  She didn’t mention him once all night up until then!  Fuck.  That was really rough.  Fuck.”

I gave him a pat on the back and swiveled around on the stool, looking at the denizens of the restaurant.  Old married couples.  Parents with their kids.  Middle-aged people.  A group of women in their thirties, sitting around drinking and laughing.  No students from what I could gather.  But then again, Sam and I weren’t students anymore, either.  There were no beautiful young couples or dreamers or free spirits or anything of the kind.  Just normal people stuffing food into their mouths, rushing to get back to their cars so they could drive off and get back to their lives.  So they could die a little quicker.  Rudy’s was where passion and excitement went to die.  It was disgusting.  I turned back to the bar and watched my beer bubble under the hot yellow lights.  

“And you know what?” Sam started again.  “I’m always with someone, too.  It’s partly me.  I want to be with her when I’m not with anyone else, but when I am, I don’t think about her too much.  She’s like some old standby reservoir.  But not for anything physical, more like a basin to store my emotional shit in.  So maybe I’m the same for her, and I don’t even notice because I’m always with someone.  Does that make sense?”

“Yeah, like you only need each other when you’re single and it never lines up, right?”

“Exactly.”

“How about now?  Is she single now?”

“She actually is,” he said.  “She just ended things with some tennis player a few weeks ago, she said she wanted to be single for a long time.  She told me in the last letter she wrote me.”

“So maybe this is the time.  You’ve graduated, you’re not held down anywhere, right?  Maybe you should go see her and think about moving to New York or something.”

“I can’t live in New York.”

“How ‘bout New Haven?”

“Fuck no.  Have you been there?”

“Providence?”

“Fuck the bears out of Provincetown.”

“What?”

“It’s a song lyric.  Vampire Weekend.”  He sighed.  “Thinking about Saori always bums me out.  You’d understand if you met her.  She’s just so absolutely perfect for me.  I feel like I’m gonna get married and I’ll still think about her and feel like I missed it.  That I messed up what this life obviously set up so perfectly for me.”

“Or maybe there’s someone out there even more perfect than Saori, and you just can’t fathom it because you’ve never met anyone like that.  Like trying to comprehend a fourth dimension.”

“This is true.”  We drank our beers and I gave Sam a nice look over.  He was the same height as me, five eleven.  He was lanky and had green eyes and brown hair and an excellent smile.  His smile was by far his best quality.  His laugh was awful, but I’d seen him win people over just with one smile.  

But I was seeing it less and less, especially toward the end of the year.  He smiled, but he wasn’t happy behind it.  He got drunk constantly our last semester, going out and sleeping with whoever he met and running and playing guitar and soccer and taking trips almost every weekend, but at the end of it all he was nervous and his smile was not genuine.  I can’t say how I knew.  It’s something you can just tell when you’re close enough friends with somebody.  I was worried too, but I was also brave.  Sam was not brave, but he was an excellent actor.  That was the difference between us.  

“Look, we’re only in Virginia,” I said.  “I’ve always wanted to visit Yale.  Let’s say we turn around tomorrow and head up to Connecticut?  We could make it by tomorrow evening if we’re not looking for the town, and you could surprise Saori.  That’s what the message is, isn’t it?  Of course!”  I grabbed his shoulders.  “You’ve been getting these signs from the dream for a year, but now we’re actually pursuing it because it came to a head.  Why did it come to a head?  Cause you’re both single now!  And you’re in a place where you can move anywhere!  This is the sign, don’t you think?  This is what you have to do!”

Sam stared straight ahead for a few seconds, then planted his flat palm down hard on the map we had drawn.  “No, Nick, it’s this!”  Slap.  “This right here!”  He slammed the paper hard a few more times and the couple next to us paused their conversation about Netflix to look over.  “This is what I have to find.  This.  And you said you’d come with me, and now you’re trying to be my dream interpreter all of a sudden ‘cause you’re sick of this trip.  You have no idea, you know that?  You only know what I’ve told you and you weren’t there and you never met her and I guess that’s not your fault but now you’re fucking bailing on me.  Well then you go out to California and have a nice life, and I’ll take a bus and ask everyone I see and I’ll sleep in the fields if I have to just to fucking finish what we- we– started!”  

He practically fell of the stool standing up and bumped right into the hostess, apologized rather calmly, then stormed out of the restaurant.  I took a deep breath and sipped my beer as I watched him go.  The other patrons watched as well, then looked at me, then cautiously returned to their conversations.

“Uhm, we have a table for two ready,” the hostess said to me carefully.

“Can you give us five minutes or so?” I asked.

“Absolutely.  We have a few tables opening up.”

“Thanks.”  I took a couple of minutes to finish both my ale and Sam’s Blue Moon, then paid the bartender, grabbed the map (which was damp in places from spilled beer), and walked curtly outside.  I circled around the restaurant and saw Sam sitting in the back of the car, the door open and his guitar neck poking out.  He didn’t see me and I faintly heard the strumming of chords between the sounds of the highway in the twilight.  I paused where I was, then walked back to the front of the restaurant and took a deep breath.  

I sat on the curb and thought for a while.  I suddenly remembered something from back when we were sophomores.  Sam was going on and on about how his friend Saori was visiting during her fall recess.  His best friend, soulmate, really smart, tons of fun.  He had mentioned her before, but in the days before she was to come he was practically gushing.

Then a funny thing happened.  She didn’t come.  Sam told us that she wasn’t coming, and that was it.  Her break lined up with our own, so Sam took a trip by himself out to Big Bend and camped.  He said he needed some alone time, away from technology and school and friends and just about everything.  When he came back he was quiet for a few days but was back to himself by the next weekend.  Though he never really talked about Saori much after that.  Not until the whole business with the dream came up this semester.

I circled back to the car and approached my friend, who looked up but didn’t stop playing.  I listened to him sing a song he had written sophomore year, one that I had heard bleeding through the wall that separated our rooms many a time.  From what I could interpret, it was about climbing a mountain with someone who wanted to separate from society.  When the song ended, I handed him the map.

“If you’re gonna go around asking people, you might need this,” I told him.

“Thanks.”  He took it and tossed it on the seat behind him.

“But we should keep searching together.  I think I know what it looks like better than anyone else.”

“You don’t have to.  Thanks for coming with, but you can go home if you want.  I know it’s crazy.  I know I’m never gonna find it.  I just feel like I’ll know when to stop.  Something will tell me and I’ll know.  But I haven’t felt it yet.”

“I’ll stay on for a little while longer.  I’m having fun.  It’s not like I have anything better to do.”

“Really?”

“Sure.”

“Thanks man.  Sorry for throwing a fit in the restaurant.  Lots of driving, I’m tired, you know?”

“Yeah.  It’s okay.  You scared the shit out of the hostess though.”  We laughed together and he put the guitar back in the case on the back seat.  “Do you still wanna go back in there?”

“Not really.”
“Wanna go through the Wendy’s drive through and eat in the hotel room and order a movie?”

“Yeah, that sounds great.  Can we pick up some beer from a grocery store or a gas station or something?”

“Absolutely.”

“Thanks.”  We went through the drive through and got a bunch of hamburgers and fries, and got a thirty rack of Milwaukee’s Best from a big Wawa gas station, then started the movie and ate and drank in the room.  But after about an hour, Sam fell asleep in his clothes right on top of the bed sheets and everything, staring perfectly straight up and snoring quietly.  I didn’t care for the movie too much, so I shut it off and went to bed too.  We were supposed to search around North Carolina the next day.  Sam had a hunch that it could be near Wilmington.  Then again, it might be back up in Eastern Tennessee.  We’d get there eventually.

A Reflection in Vermont

I pressed my face to the glass and watched the winter scenery of small town Vermont move by as if in slow motion.  All of the houses and the ground were coated in a thin layer of dirty snow that piled up along the sides of the road and carried with it none of the air that pretty, freshly fallen snow carries; feelings of Christmas, of snow days, of sledding and hot cocoa and long walks and tranquility.  This was permanent snow; it would be here until sometime in March, and really it was just a nuisance.

“This was our school,” Luke said from the front seat.

“Yeah, fuck that place,” Jackson added.  Jolted from my daze, I brought my eyes to the front of the car and looked out through a chain link fence in the darkness at the brick building beyond, illuminated by an array of streetlights spread through the parking lot.  Its many roofs and wings were a confusing sprawl to me.

“I guess you were still in class just like six months ago, huh?” I asked.

“Damn, I guess that’s true,” Jackson said, pausing to stare at the place another moment before turning the car onto a side street and continuing on through a windy road flanked on one side by homes and the other by a frozen lake.

We pulled into a small, empty lot that may or may not have been for parking and descended down through the trees to the edge of the lake, where Jackson pulled a spliff from his pocket.  He fiddled with it while I stepped out to the edge and gazed across the lake in the moonlight.  So much empty space plopped in the middle of a dense forest.  The lights from a raised highway were seen far beyond the opposite shore, and I could faintly hear the sound of cars.

“This is probably the most beautiful place I’ve ever smoked,” I commented as Luke passed me the spliff.

“You should really see it in the summertime,” he said.  “It’s gorgeous.”

“Gorgeous,” Jackson reiterated.  “We smoke here all the time.”

“You guys are spoiled,” I said and hit the spliff.  I coughed a riot and gave it to Jackson.  “I grew up in the most suburban place you could imagine.  Although there were woods nearby, with lakes.  But I didn’t live among them.  And then even if you did go there, there was still like a 7-11 and some housing developments and a McDonalds and shit like that right in the middle of it all.  But this is nice.”

“Yeah it is gorgeous,” Jackson said and hit the spliff again.  “I don’t know, I wouldn’t mind living here when I’m an adult.  Would you?” he asked Luke.

“If I got a good job I guess.  I don’t know, there aren’t a lot of jobs around here.”

“You could work at Dartmouth,” I suggested.

“I don’t think I’m quite cut out for the old academia,” Luke said.  We had a laugh and he offered me the spliff but I declined.  I was already feeling very baked.

It was freezing cold out and we pranced back through the ice and snow to the car and drove to some dumpling house right in the downtown.  The waitresses were three middle aged Chinese women and they were running around frantically between the tables filled with lively students recently returned from their winter vacations.  I was very hungry and ordered both sushi and dumplings, then set about looking around the room at all the faces.

Seeing students I didn’t go to school with was odd.  I kept thinking I knew them, that I had met them somewhere, but in reality I’d never seen them before in my life.  They were going to class, breaking up, hooking up, drinking, studying, crying, making new friends, the same as me.  But they did it all in a completely different place, in a much colder place.  I wanted so badly to start over at their school and meet all the people I never got to meet.  I wanted to do that a million times over, at a million schools.  Every time I see students I get depressed.

As we were waiting, Jackson saw a friend of his from high school at another table.  I watched him walk over, talk with her for a few moments, and then come back.

“Yo, would you be down to go sit with my friend and her friends?” Jackson asked me.

“Sure,” I said.  I couldn’t say much.

We joined their booth and I looked them over.  Three girls.  We were three boys.  What a party.

Two of them were okay looking but not great.  They were okay because they were young and presumably very bright.  One was Chinese and very FOB-y, hair tied back, pearl necklace, frilly white blouse, small furry jacket, light blue jeans and boots and two rings on her fingers and jet earrings and glasses.  She was just okay looking.  Then another was a white girl with blonde hair and she was in a North Face and black tights and she was very short and freckled, and she was okay looking too.  She was maybe slightly less cute than the Chinese girl.

The third girl though, she was beautiful.  She had dark hair like a raven wing that looked so full and lovely that I wanted to bury myself in it.  She had deep brown eyes and tan skin, she was maybe Greek or Italian, some type of Mediterranean, and looking at her eyes for too long was painful because of how beautiful they were.  She was dressed very simply in a red v-neck t-shirt, a white scarf and black jeans, and she had ordered sushi and she ate very well with chopsticks.  I was seated opposite her at the end of the booth, and I too eat very well with chopsticks.  But she was far more adept; her hands flashing quickly and violently with each motion, the distances so precise; sticks to wasabi, to sushi, to soy-sauce, to mouth, back to plate.  I was so busy watching her eat I didn’t realize I hadn’t spoken a word since I’d sat down, so I decided I would say something.

“You eat very well with chopsticks,” I said to her while Jackson and the blonde girl, who was the friend he had known from high school, were explaining some story to the Chinese girl.

“What?” she said, looking up at me a bit startled.

“I said you eat very well with chopsticks.  I’m okay with them, but you look really natural is what I mean.”

“Thank you,” she said.  “I eat here a lot, I guess I’ve picked it up.”  She smiled and looked back down uncomfortably.  I couldn’t tell if what I had said was normal or I had only said it because I was baked.  I wondered if my eyes were red.  But then she looked back up at me.

“What do you study?” she asked.

“English.”

“Oh, cool.”  I felt a bit embarrassed because it sounded like an easy major and she was from an Ivy League school.  I wouldn’t know because I was a Public Policy major.  I just felt like saying I was an English major.

“What about you?”

“I’m a music major,” she answered.  “I play viola.  But I may pick up a business minor.”

“Maybe that’s why you’re so good with chopsticks,” I said.

“Huh?”

“I mean the viola bow work is very subtle, and so are chopsticks.  Maybe that’s why you took to it so well.”

“Huh, I never thought about it.  Maybe.”

“Do you like it?” I asked her.

“What?”

“Do you like being a music major and playing viola?”

“Yeah, I do.  I mean I don’t know any different.  But I really love the instrument.”

“If you could play viola for the rest of your life, would you?  I mean for a living?”

“Well, that is the plan right now,” she said and laughed.  I smiled and ate another dumpling.  I was trying to pace myself, or else I would have been finished long before anyone else.  I was very hungry.  “Do you like being an English major?”

“I really like books, and reading and writing.  So yes, I do.”

“What do you wanna do with it?” she asked.

“I’d like to be a novelist.  I don’t know if it’ll happen, but that’s the plan right now.”

“Wow, that’s quite a plan.  I hope it works out for you.”  I was looking right in her eyes when she said that, and she was looking into mine and right then I wanted to grab her hands and run away from the dumpling house with her.  We would spend one night and then take the bus first thing in the morning to New York.  From there we would fly to Houston for a layover before continuing on to Bogota.  We take a bus into the mountains and buy a beautiful cabin on a nice patch of land for next to nothing in American dollars, and she would play the viola every day for me and I would write and we would sit in front of the fire in the winter and swim in the summer and drink the local red wine every day until it put us to sleep in each other’s arms in a big, warm bed.

“Would you read them?” I asked her.

“What?”

“My novels.  Would you read them if I became a novelist?”

“That depends.  What would they be about?”

“I don’t know.  I need to have a life experience first.  I’ll just write about that.  I’m going to backpack all summer and hopefully that will be enough to write a novel.”

“That’s exciting,” she said.

“Have you had any good life experiences?”

She considered.  The rest of the table was talking about Game of Thrones and had seemingly forgotten about us.  “I taught viola to kids at a music camp all last summer.  I think I learned a lot about myself.  It’s not a very good one.  Have you had any life experiences?”

I looked around at all the students in the dumpling house.  Some were standing up and putting on their coats and hats and scarves and others were eating and talking and some groups of boys were laughing loudly and some girls were staring at their cell phones.  “No, I haven’t had any yet.”

“That’s too bad.”

“Yeah.”

Jackson’s friend invited us all over to drink in her room.  The room was fairly spacious and very old, with a fireplace and three four-paned windows with neat, white windowsills.  She shared the room with one other girl, who hadn’t come back yet.  It was Friday and school didn’t start until Monday.  The only downside was that the bathroom was down the hall.  And that the fireplace was sealed up.  It was also a bit cold.  But I liked the room; it had deep brown hardwood floors and a high ceiling and came equipped with an old velvet armchair.  It was a good room.

We played King’s Cup and drank freezing Keystone that had been chilling outside on the ledge of the window.  Our host also had shots of peppermint vodka and I indulged in five of them spaced generously apart because I was hoping to time it such that as I faded out of being baked I would fade into being drunk.

We played the game and laughed and the other girls were very good company.  They drank because there was no homework to do and nothing to wake up for the next day, and my friends smoked another spliff out the window and drank and laughed and we all had a very nice time.  After an hour I finally had to break the seal and went down the hall to the old bathroom, which was very small and the same grey, brown color that college bathrooms always are.

I stared at myself in the mirror for a long time, and even took a picture so I would have a distinct memory of this moment in the evening.  In the picture, the night’s festivities would be in progress.  The boy in the picture was in the middle of having a good time, and whatever would end up happening once he left the bathroom was a mystery to him.  Whenever I looked at the picture afterward, there would be no mystery, and the night and the fun would be over.

She was standing just outside the bathroom when I exited, jumping back in surprise when I opened the door.

“I was just about to knock.  You were in there a long time so they sent me to check on you.  Is everything okay?”

“Yeah, I’m fine.  I was having a life experience.”

“In the bathroom?”

“I think so.  Come here.”  I took her hand abruptly and led her inside.

“I’ve never been in a boy’s bathroom before,” she said.

“It’s an exciting place.  Okay look here.”  I positioned her next to me, facing the mirror.  “You see your reflection?  And mine?”

“Yeah.”

“Okay, so once we leave the bathroom, those reflections will be gone, right?  I mean they won’t just be sitting there.”

“Okay.”

“So they only exist right now.  If we were to come back, they would be different reflections, because we would be different people.  Maybe just slightly, but we would have just a little bit more knowledge about what’s going to happen in our lives.  Even in twenty minutes, we would experience moments of this evening that these here reflections never will.  You know what I mean?”

“Huh.  I never thought of it that way, but I guess you’re right.”

“So it’s kind of nice, to be able to trap your current self, built up over all the life you’ve lived right up to this moment, and it will never change.  Those reflections will disappear but they won’t change.  And we will, and we’ll get older and all this will just be memory, but those reflections will always have the rest of tonight ahead of them, the rest of their lives ahead of them.”

She took a step closer to the mirror, reached out and touched her reflection’s hand.  I watched her do it.  And I watched her eyes in the mirror and they were deeper and blacker and sadder than any I had ever seen.

“I wish I had known you,” she said.  “I mean it’s sad that I haven’t known you up until now.  You’re very interesting.”

“I wish I had known you too,” I said.  “All of you.  All of this.”

“I’ll read your novels,” she said.

“Really?”

“Yeah.”  And then our reflections kissed and then we returned to the party and we drank and laughed and had a good time and the next day I took a bus back home and then I took a plane back to school and my classes started and I did homework and hooked up and drank and partied and studied and slept and ate and knew all the people I had known before and met a few more and eventually I graduated.

And sometimes I would wish I had a picture of our reflections so I could look at it and try very hard to remember how it felt to be the people in the mirror who still had that night ahead of them and the rest of their lives ahead of them.

A Faint Disassociation

She lived in the attic, or rather the top floor, of their house, just two blocks East of campus; all the convenience of living on, with the exponentially increased living space and lack of authority granted only to off campus denizens.  I subconsciously slid my military-style jacket off my shoulders, letting it fall to my hands which placed it on the back of a desk chair, and looked around the room while I heard the sink run from the bathroom, just outside the entrance to the bedroom at the top of the stairs.

The bed was large and commanding, sitting in the center of the room at the far wall, covered in a royal purple comforter and backed by five or six red and purple pillows.  It was probably a queen size, but I don’t have a good idea of what king sized beds look like so it might have been a king.  A bedside table stood between it and the left wall, hosting a lamp, a digital clock and a framed photograph.  The desk sat against the right wall, covered by an open laptop among notebooks, textbooks and empty or half-empty cups.  It faced a large window, lacking curtains or even a pane, that faced out over the dark street below.  I put my forehead against the cool glass and looked out and down, where a few students holding solo cups stood out on the sidewalk talking to each other in front of a house hosting a well-known end-of-the-semester rager.  The music thudded lightly throughout the room.  The left wall played host to a full size mirror and a shoe-rack, alongside a closet made from a two foot deep alcove in the wall.  A beanbag chair and a bowl chair sat at opposite corners, each facing a cluttered coffee table in the center of the room.  The hardwood floor was coated with a thin layer of girl clothes.

Each wall was covered in two-dimensional memorabilia I could only imagine had played host to some remarkable or unremarkable but nonetheless joyous memory or interest.  A large flag of Korea was was draped over the back wall, covering it almost entirely.  A large poster of a famous Art-Nouveau style woman was framed above the bedside table, but I couldn’t place the name of it.  Another poster displayed the lineup of Austin City Limits 2012.  A series of seven postcards from Hawaii were arranged in a line above the bed frame.  Photos developed from a disposable camera were arranged in an overlapping collage to the right of the window.  They were faded and haunting somehow, mostly showing her in some arm-over-shoulders embrace of a group of three or four friends, likely at a party.  A series seemed to be taken somewhere tropical, including a handful of beach shots.  Others showed friends laughing on the floor or dancing or wearing silly clothes.  I started to pick out a couple of repeating faces, girls I had seen her with at the party.

“Sorry it’s such a mess,” she said, hurrying into the room and picking up a pile of clothes from the floor and dumping them on the bowl chair.  “Do you want something to drink?”

“I’m good,” I said.  I hadn’t turned around, but was rather fixated on the photographs.

“That’s my wall of photos.  They’re all from disposable cameras.  I really like being able to hang them up, unlike iPhone photos.”  She had taken up a position next to me, gazing at her scores of pictures.

“I agree.  There’s something about the film.  Like, they’re haunting or something.  The contrast; it’s so pale and faded… they look like they could be from the 80s.”

I looked over at her and she nodded, slowly, her softly glowing face silhouetted by the floor lamp in the corner behind her.  She was very pretty.  Textbook nine out of ten.  Korean, jet black shoulder-length hair, bangs, decent bust, cardigan, white frilly blouse and jeans, nothing more.  She didn’t need anything more.  She was simply pretty.  She didn’t have to try.  She had great posture.  That’s how I noticed her; she was sitting so straight up, legs crossed, leaned in and talking with a group and brushing her hair aside and I thought she looked so perfect like that.

“This is your friend Geneva, right?” I asked, tapping on a girl who appeared in at least a dozen of the photos.  “The one I met?”

“Yeah, we were freshman year roommates.”

“That’s nice.  You got paired up well.  My roommate moved off campus in September of our freshman year.”

“Really?  What did you do?”  She looked at me and laughed and I laughed too.

“Nothing!  I was fine.  I had a few friends over for drinks now and then but that was it.  He just didn’t like how loud it was on campus.  Too much going on, he was distracted I think.”

“Sure, sure.”  I looked away, the world spinning slowly as I did so, then gazed back, her face blinking softly in my drunkenness.  I took her head between my hands and kissed her deeply.  Then I looked back at the desk.

“Here it is.  Cellular and Molecular Immunology, 8th Edition.  One of the best books out there in my opinion.”

“Oh is that right.”

I sat at the desk.  “Yep.  I’m asking for it for Christmas in fact.  I remember getting 3rd edition for my fourth Christmas back in ‘97.  I must have read it a thousand times.”

“Hmm, somehow I don’t find it quite as interesting as you.  Maybe you should read some to me.”

I cleared my throat and glanced down at the page the book was opened to.  The text was small and fuzzy and I had to close one eye to read properly.  “Chemokines produced in the extravascular tissues act on leukocytes that have excited the circulation and stimulate movement of leukocytes along the concentration gradient of the secreted protein towards its course, a process called chemokinesis.”  I closed my eyes and shook my head.  “Boy that passage takes me back.”

“Well then, maybe you should be been my immunology tutor.  Too bad I already probably failed the exam.”  She picked up a cup on the table, notably one from our dining hall, filled with what looked like Sprite.  “Cheers to that shitshow of a class being over,” she said, raising the glass before downing it and grimacing.

“But surely you must sort of like this stuff.  I mean, you are a bioc major, right?”

“Ehh, not really.  It was just for pre-med.”

She took a seat on the bed and I stood up and stretched my arms.  I approached where she sat, leaned forward, my hands planted on either side of her, and kissed her lightly.  “I thought you weren’t pre-med though?”

“I’m not now.  But I was up until this year.”

“So now you’re just stuck with bioc then.”

“Exactly.”

“And you’re a senior.  And you’re from Fort Worth.  And you like Disclosure and Arctic Monkeys and Taylor Swift and Beyonce and old Blink 182.  And you were born in Seoul and your sister’s a freshman and you’re a vegetarian but you still eat fish and you have two dogs and you studied abroad sophomore year in England.”

“Well done,” she said and gave me a peck on the nose.

“Speaking of all those bands, want to put some music on?”

“Sure.”  She sat up and went over to her laptop, opening up Spotify.  “Do you have a preference?”
“Do you like James Blake?”

She stared hard at the floor, thinking.  “I think I’ve heard of him before.”

“Put him on.  First album, self-titled.”

“As you wish.”  I fell back on the bed and listened as the first subdued tones of “Unluck” came across from the laptop speakers.  I rolled over on my side and watched her fix her hair in the mirror.

“Take your clothes off,” I said.

She looked sideways at me, eyes raised, as if she had just then noticed I was in her room.  “What?”

“Take your clothes off.”

“Don’t you wanna do that?”

“I like to watch.”

She laughed.  “Okay.”  She removed her cardigan and began unbuttoning her blouse.  She was tremendously thin.  Her wrists were like sticks.  Her ribs and stomach and chest were a thin, dying tree.  Not unattractively thin, just tremendously thin.  “You know, you did forget one thing,” she said to me as she unhooked her bra.

“What’s that?”

“The most obvious thing about me.”

“You’re tremendously thin.”

“Thanks.  But no.”

“You’re awfully good looking.”

She laughed again.  “Thanks again, but no again.  No, something I do.”

“You said you played on the powder puff football team.”

“Not that.”

“You… you were in the pre med society?”

“Come on, you don’t know?”  She was now topless and I took in her image as best I could, hoping I would always be able to remember it despite being fairly drunk.

“I guess I don’t.”

She pivoted on her hip, perfect contrapposto, her hands covering her breasts.  “I’m the Student Coalition President!”

“You’re May Choi?”

“You really didn’t know my name?”

“Well I knew you were May.  But I never knew what May Choi looked like.”  She squealed and jumped on the bed, rolling around laughing in her jeans and nothing else.  “But I certainly know what you look like now.”

“How many Korean girls named May do you think there are at this school?”

“I don’t know, probably like five.  I’d say five.  Or four.”

“Well, I suppose I should be disappointed to learn that one of our school’s most promising students, and a senior at that, is so apathetic about student government that he doesn’t even know who I am.”

“That’s me!” I said smiling and grabbing her.

“But maybe I should be happy.  Because that means you like me for me, and this isn’t some power grab.”

“Do you often hook up with guys who are in it for a power grab?”

“I mean I don’t often hook up with guys, period.”

“Well then, I appreciate you giving me a chance.  And full disclosure, I am now experiencing a light power trip at the thought of sleeping with the S.C. President.”

“Oh shut up.”  She rolled over on top of me and kissed me and started unbuttoning my shirt.

“Well, I’ll certainly know who you are next year.  S.C. prez at this school, you’ll probably be the president someday or something.  At least a senator.”

“No way.  I’m sick of government.  I’m sick of responsibility.  I just want to disassociate and fade into nothingness for awhile.”

“A quiet life in the mountains?”

“Something like that.”

“That sounds nice.”  We made out more.  But I was still thinking about it.  “It must be nice to be free from the imposition of med school.  You can do anything now.”

“I guess so.”

“So what are you gonna do next year?”

“Like I said, a quiet life in the mountains.  Now are you going to play the role of my father all night and talk about my future or are we gonna fuck?”

 

*****

 

I watched her pull her pajamas on from the comfort of the bed.  The covers were so warm, the pillows so soft.  I never wanted to leave that bed.  I wanted to watch cute girls put their clothes on and take them off from the warmth of that queen (or king) bed for the rest of my life.  After she had finished dressing in a pair of orange short shorts and a grey t-shirt, she walked over and sat beside me as she began to brush her hair.  The James Blake album was repeating itself.

“Why do you have to brush your hair?  We’re going to sleep, aren’t we?”

“I just don’t like it when it looks disheveled.”

“Evidence of your recent activities.”

“Exactly.”

“Like they were so bad.”

She smirked at me and continued brushing.  “They were wonderful.”

“Agreed.”  She finished brushing and snuggled under the covers next to me, and I kissed her again and took off the shirt she had just put on.  I was laying on my back, looking up at the ceiling.  We hadn’t turned off the orange and yellow filtered lamp or the music.  Someone would have to do that.  I dreaded the thought that it might be me.  I glanced out the window.  The music had stopped.  The wind was howling, bouncing the branches of the dead trees up and down, casting eerie shadows against the opposite wall.

“This house is great,” I said.

“Yeah.  I’ve lived in it two years now.”

“It’s gotta be at least fifty years old, right?  It doesn’t match the other ones on this street.  It’s not as new.”

“I don’t actually know.  It’s been passed on from students to other students for at least ten years.  That’s all I know.”

“I guess you can’t keep it if you stay in town, then.  Do you think you’re gonna stay nearby?”

“Maybe in the short term, but ultimately, I hope not.  I want to get out of here.  What about you?”

“I’m doing grad school in Colorado, in Boulder.”

“Oh, in what?”

“PhD in geology.  It’ll just be me, getting paid to do research and being solitary.  Hiking, biking, maybe fishing, running, playing violin, reading books.  The opposite of my life here.”

“Ugh, that sounds so nice.”

“I mean the pay is shit, but that’s okay, I don’t need much money.  But I might be lonely.”

“You’ll make friends.  I’m sure you will.”

“I hope so.  How about you?  You have a job in town?  Consulting or something?”

“Not yet.”

“Oh, are you still applying?”

“Kind of.  I don’t know, I might go back to school next year.”

“Fifth year?”

She sighed and loosened free of my arms.  “Maybe.  Or I might switch schools.  Try something new.  I don’t know yet.”  She rolled over and faced off the edge of the bed.

I closed my eyes and thought about my life in the following year.  I would have no friends.  No family nearby.  But I would be okay.  I’d make friends.  Maybe I’d even start a family.  Things would begin moving very fast.  I rolled on my side and looked at May, whose eyes were open and gazing out the window.  I wondered what I would do if I met someone like her in grad school.  If I dated someone like her.  Chances were I was never gonna meet anyone better.  At least not at that point in my life.  Would I ask her to marry me?  Probably.  After how long?  Long enough for me to be sure.  A year maybe.  We’d have to live together.  If I still liked her a lot after living together I’d probably ask.  But what if I didn’t like her that much?  Maybe I’d ask anyway.  Maybe I’d ask because I knew I wouldn’t ever meet anyone prettier and smarter, and because there was a whole year of my life spent on her and I wasn’t going to get that back and I wasn’t getting any younger.  Maybe I’d learn to love her.  They say arranged marriages have much higher success rates.

“What are you doing over the break?” I asked her.

“I”m going skiing with some friends.  In New Mexico.”

“Are you going home?”

“Just for a few days, over Christmas.  I kinda don’t want to be at home any longer than that.”

“I see.”  She was still staring out the window.  I wondered what she was thinking about.  She seemed cold.
“Hey May,” I said and tapped her on the shoulder.  She turned her head over to look at me.  “May.”

“What?”

“You don’t know what you’re doing next year, right?  Like nothing for sure?”

“I’m applying to some internships, so maybe those will turn into something.”

“Come to Colorado with me.”

“What?”

“Come to Colorado.  You’ll find a job out there, no problem.  And we can go hiking and running and biking together.  I’m scared of being all alone, you want a quiet life in the mountains.  Let’s do it.”

“But I just met you.”

“So what?  I’m okay, right?  I mean you like me enough, right?’

“Yeah, I like you.  But I can’t just go off and live with you in Colorado.”

“Who says?  You’re an adult, you make your own decisions.  We can date next semester, make sure we get along, then you can come out.  We won’t need anyone else, it’ll just be the two of us doing the quiet mountain life and you’ll find a job at the university or in town and we’ll both be fine.  You see?  We’ll both be fine.”

“But my family is here.”

“I thought you were only seeing them for a few days.”

“I still love them, I can’t just leave out of nowhere with some guy I slept with one time.  How does that make any sense?”

“Why can’t you?”  I sat up, my back against the cool wooden headboard.  “Let’s just do it!  What’s here for us?  There’s nothing here for us!”

She got out of the bed and slowly put her t-shirt back on.  “Hey, I’m actually pretty tired and I have to wake up and study tomorrow.  Do you mind if I slept here by myself?”

“Wait, are you upset?”

“I just think I’d rather sleep by myself if that’s okay.”

“Okay, look, I didn’t mean to scare you or anything.  I was just putting it out there.  I just wanted you to think about it is all.”

“I’m sorry to kick you out but I just want to be alone now, okay?”

My heart in my throat, I sat up from the bed and somehow managed to dress myself, my motions slow and careful and automatic and my thoughts a million miles away.  She turned off the light and shut the laptop.  I didn’t look up.

“I’m really sorry May,” I finally said from her doorway.  “I like you, I didn’t want it to be like this.  It’s just that I get excited.  Can we at least talk tomorrow?”

“I have to study tomorrow.”

“Won’t you at least hear me out?  When we’re both sober?”

She didn’t answer me, just sat at her desk and stared out the window.  I opened the door and turned to leave.

“I don’t need saving,” she called after me.  I looked back into the room at her, staring out the window, a stream of tears on her cheek illuminated by the faint moonlight and eerie shadows being cast upon her face from the bouncing dead branches.  I didn’t want to say anything else to her so I left.