Written by Jessica Liu
Art by elizabethaferry
I ran into you in the halls the other day.
Shit, was my first thought.
I ducked into the bathroom quick. Took a few deep breaths. Calmed my turbulent heart rate. Walked out.
Why the hell were you still standing there?
You waved to me with a huge grin. You idiot.
“Hi,” you smiled, so casual, so jolly, so stupid, so you. “Where are you going? Let me walk you somewhere.”
God, I hate you.
My no thank you’s blurred into my yeah sure’s like they always did when you were around.
Somehow, we ended up walking side-by-side, like we did at Little Tokyo and Old Pasadena. A million memories, captured in film, of late night walks and late night talks replayed in my mind.
“I’m actually lost. I’m looking for 3091,” I confessed, scanning the room numbers.
“Isn’t it, like, the second week already?” That all too familiar lopsided smile.
“I’m not the best with directions,” I replied.
I remembered all the times we went on the Metro together, the way you knew how to get anywhere, but still stubbornly refused to help me out because my utter lack of navigation skills was amusing.
I remembered the time we got lost on the way to the Union Station.
Did you remember the time we got lost on the way to the Union Station?
I opened my mouth to ask you how you’d been. I halted my breath with a sharp inhale.
Why did this feel so normal, so easy? Why did it feel so natural?
Silence. I was so scared of saying the wrong thing, the right thing, to let a hint of wistfulness peek through.
Because what if I fell again? Just like before. A little at first, and then suddenly crashing down, all at once.
I could hear my breathing behind my mask. It reminded me of the night you asked me to meet you at half past ten. It was later than I had ever been out. I should have been terrified. Sitting under a tall palm tree, shivering in my airy top, slipping on your purple hoodie, my warm breath painting watercolor clouds in the sky every time I spoke.
A side-ways glance. Eyes meet. Look away.
An accidental brush of our arms. Flinch away.
I really, really hate this.
You looked different. You looked good. You’d gotten a haircut, put on some actual pants, even thrown a ratty leather jacket on top.
Foreign. All I remember thinking. Foreign.
The sight was nearly enough to bring tears to my eyes.
I admit, I hated your old sense of style, mostly because it was non-existent, loved roasting you on your questionable haircut, and teased you on your habit of wearing the same crusty shorts every day no matter what the occasion.
But all of that was you. All of that was what I knew.
It wasn’t the 3-month absence, a you-shaped hole in my life that hurt so bad, marking the absoluteness, the permanence that I so desperately wanted to avoid. Rather, it was seeing you again that day, in a new light, in a new place, as a stranger.
“You always said you weren’t a leather jacket guy,” I said, cursing the longing note that bled into my words.
I looked up at your face, searching for something, anything, that I might recognize.
You laughed, shrugging your shoulders. But you didn’t say anything.
Why didn’t you say anything?
Was I kidding myself, torturing my heart by hanging onto every word, every glance? Reopening old wounds by entertaining scenarios that only played out the way I wanted them to in my dreams?
Our footsteps echoed against the empty hallway. A clock ticked above. 3:06. I was late to my English class.
Someone walked by us. You smiled at them.
You always gave out smiles too easily, like you had an unlimited supply stored away. That used to bother me before.
If you looked at everyone like that, then how was I supposed to feel when you looked at me like that? From underneath your dark fringed lashes. With a twinkle in your eye, like you were trying not to laugh, or make a joke that I would have definitely taken offense to.
How long would you haunt me as a what-if, as a never-was?
3095. 3093. 3091.
“There it is,” you said.
I grabbed the door handle.
“Alright, bye.” I never looked back.
I had art class, and my paint brush glided over the cream canvas, leaving behind beautiful stains of color.
Indigo and lavender daydreams faded into the gray of a distant and fleeting memory.