The snow drifted almost as if in slow motion around his face.
He repeated the word.
"You're writing a book?"
He kept saying it as if it was something momentous. Maybe it was.
"Yeah... I've rewritten the first chapter about a half a dozen times."
He laughed softly. A gentle, endearing laugh.
"It's been my baby all through high school. Now, I'm just trying to find an ending."
The night seemed to be closing in around them as they sat on a stone ledge overlooking a frozen fountain. She squinted. And shivered. Campus was cold and blurry, the sheets of snow dimming the lights that lit up the street. A few kids were seen scurrying in and out of the library, but other than that, it was just them. The intimacy of that fact was something that filled Anni with a strange excitement, and fear.
"That's so cool..." he began to speak quickly. "I've never met someone who was a writer like that."
She almost chuckled.
"I'm not a writer. I want to be, but... I wouldn't consider myself that."
He cocked his head at her as if an interested puppy. Meeting her eyes briefly, he looked away and smiled.
"You know something?"
He laughed at himself.
"I feel like only a real writer would say something as dramatic as that."
Punching him playfully on the arm, his wide smile escaped from his shy and dimly lit personality. That smile was something Anni found herself dreaming of. It was usually accompanied by a rushed laugh that was deep and personal. Her heart seemed to rejoice when she heard it. The moment lifted and he nudged her boot with the tip of his Vans. She watched his feet swing back and forth. She sensed him looking at the side of her face. There was a heaviness in that idea.
She continued to stare intently at their shoes.
His face was closer to hers now. She could see his breath as it seeped out in its icy fog.
"Would you wanna read my manuscript?"
He stopped swinging his feet and she pulled her chin up to watch his eyes.
"Yeah," he said somewhat breathlessly. "I'd love to."
She smiled and exhaled finally.
"Okay," she said happily. "I'll email it to you."
The dream of him kissing her at that moment was sitting inside of her.
But after a second of peaceful stillness and the soft padding sound of the snow against the pavement, he changed the subject back to his ex-girlfriend. His smile left him and his laugh seemed to retreat inexorably within himself. Again, their conversation centered around Jen. And how badly mangled Evan's heart was. Speaking freely and nervously about how things escalated after seven months of dating, Anni tried her best to hang onto the stories that rolled incessantly off his tongue. She attempted to piece together an image of this girl based on the things he would say. She couldn't see how or why he'd ever fall for someone like Jen. It looked as if all she did was bring him further misery. Tormenting him like he were some play thing that her pretty little claws could dig into and slash apart.
His eyes seemed to glass over as he stared out across campus in silence.
"I don't even know why I'm telling you all this."
Then he hopped off the wall and started walking away from her.
He didn't turn around. He just kept scuffing his feet along. She jumped down, a little too hard, and followed him.
"Hey," she pulled on his tall left shoulder. "It's okay."
His eyes avoided hers intentionally.
"Look," she said softly. "You can tell me anything."
He failed to not meet her gaze. The direct eye contact made Anni a bit woozy. He felt so far away. Even in his eyes. But the idea, even the smallest notion of her being close to him, to wrap herself around him, to swell within him, to fill him with comfort and light, was staggering to her. It knocked her off her feet.
"We're friends, Evan."
She said this firmly although she felt all together weak. Suddenly, chilled, her body was unable to resist trembling with chill.
He let a miniature smile rest on his face at the sight of her chattering teeth.
"Let's get you inside."
Two months later, crosslegged and squinting at her dim laptop screen atop her bunkbed, Anni finished the book.
Her roommate was snoring below her and the light outside their dorm door had switched to being half-lit, an indication that it was past midnight. Anni's fingers flew rapidly back and forth across her keyboard as she listened to the same few measures of a song. It had been about an hour now but the music fit her mood so perfectly she was afraid to change it for fear that she'd lose the notion of inspiration that she was caught in. The song was a familiar one. It had no lyrics. The beauty of a bare piano and a few guitars was one that needed no words.
She remembered showing it to Ethan before...
Halting her typing she took a deep breath and focused.
That was before she found out about the other girls. The one he had kissed and the one he was dating now. All while Anni dreamt of her being closer and closer to him. How sick and strange her heart felt, swollen with love for him.
He had picked up this song in no time. They listened to it together maybe once or twice and then he automatically began plucking it out on the piano. She remembered the sweet surprise of heading to a practice room and finding him there in the room over, playing the same song. Anni had knocked on the door with a grin so wide it could barely fit on her face. Standing behind him as he said,
"I've been working on your song..."
And watching his hands linger on the keys with an intentional delicacy, made that heavy feeling return to her, finding a place in the back of her throat where she could hardly swallow. His playing wasn't perfect, but the music was all there. And those notes. They were all that was needed to send these two specific people into a moment. A moment of absolute beauty.
Now, Anni listened to the same couple of chords and she poured all the hurt and heart out on the blank screen. She found it poetically just that at least her pain could find its place at the conclusion her beloved book. However, she didn't write spitefully. Rather, she wrote hopefully.
The ending was beautifully twisted with longing and belonging as the two lovers sat under the stars unbeknownst to each other. Finding each other there, in the same place where they had first gone stargazing as kids, the book rapidly returns to that time of youth and simplicity. The boy bringing the girl to a field where a few rocks lay. The girl resting her head gently on his shoulder as they sat atop the large boulders, looking up into the black-blue sky. That moment of intrigue and of fear as they sat perched on an edge of comfort and change. Both at twelve years old.
Suddenly she stopped.
That's it she thought. The end.
Unplugging from her music, she let the airy silence fill her within. She laughed aloud and then remembered her roommates sleeping. Then, without warning, she shed a few tears and hit Save. Her mind kept repeating the same thoughts.
It's over. I finished. The story has been told.
Closing her laptop she collapsed upon a pile of pillows. She stared at the ceiling where she had written a few quotes. Her eyes focused on one of them that she had put in Caps.
BEAUTIFUL THINGS DON'T ASK FOR ATTENTION.
It was from a movie she had watched. The words gave her a tremendous sense of hope and self-love. Recognizing that she is beautiful, she realized at that moment that there was nothing holding her back from being herself except herself. Why restrain her beauty?
An idea rocked her.
She opened her laptop back up and logged into her email.
I finished it.
Here it is if you still wanted to read.
She watched her screen from a moment before hitting Send.
"I'm not asking for attention," she whispered. "Am I?"
A whiff of courage seized her.
"Was the ending about me?" he asked, holding her hand as they walked down the steps by the fountain.
"You?" she laughed. "Do you just assume everything is about you, Ethan?"
He chuckled and turned her towards him.
"I never thought about you in all of this," he admitted. "I was a jerk. A big one. It never occurred to me how you felt. And that's beyond wrong."
Anni looked at their feet again. She avoided his eyes.
"I read and reread your book about three times over the last two years. Cat wanted me to read her stories and I lied to her and just read yours again. I wanted to hear your voice speaking to me in my head. I thought I'd never hear it out loud."
She took her hand from him. Everything he said made her question where she was standing. But the feeling was consistent.
"Why are you giving me a second chance?"
She thought for a moment and without restraint said,
"Because our story isn't over."