Cold shivers run down my spine. My breath catches, and I wake up from where I’d fallen asleep in the soft grass while studying. Opening my eyes, the first thing I see is a brilliant sky. I soak it in. Pink and blue and violet are slowly dying in the lower, western corner of the sky. I have exams to study for and papers to write, but I take this moment. For a few seconds, I smile and remember.
The wind rustles the trees, blowing against my face like a loving hand smoothing my hair out of my face. Still, I kept my pale, green eyes shut as I lifted my violin and tucked it under my chin. My small, dimpled hand grasped my bow firmly but gracefully. Then, the notes flowed freely into the silent air and sang the day into night. Once I'd finished, I opened my eyes. I soaked up the applause and praise, showering me from thousands of faceless people. At that moment, my fears fell away, and, I smiled.
Now, though, there is no overwhelming crowd surrounding me, and I haven't done anything astonishing. It is only me. The wind blew past me, but now the breeze is hot and sticky. Slowly stretching out each kink in my muscles, I roll onto my side to see my best friend, Kyle. He holds up a small, browning branch of leaves teasingly. Of course, this surfer boy woke me up from my procrastination nap. Dead leaves are a perfect fit waking me up. Those leaves are like the ones in my dream. They are like the ones form sixteen years ago.
The trees waved me forward. While the crowd cheered and cried out, “Encore! Encore, Mari Morales!”, all I saw were the branches high above me. I could make out each budding branch. When I put my bow to the strings, I played for the trees. This time I kept my eyes open. I didn't want to miss the way the last rays of light caught on those fragile, new leaves. Beautiful. As I played the last strands of the violin solo in Mozart's Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, I felt the same way: Beautiful.
Kyle laughs as I sit up. I reach up to feel the tangle of hair on top of my head, and know I must look terrible. The thought annoys me.
“Ha. Ha. So funny,” I say sarcastically, rubbing my left temple in an attempt to wipe away the grogginess surrounding me.
Kyle's smile widens. A set of perfectly straight teeth are revealed. He must have had braces at one time. I try imaging them on Kyle but can't. His well-distinguished biceps and mesmerizing brown eyes don't fit with the image. Still, I've seen the guy in glasses. Now that was an image!
I knock. There's no answer.
“Kyle! Answer the stupid door!”
Still, the door stayed shut.
“Bye, then. I'm not standing around here all day,” I yell through the door.
Turning on my heel, I started walking away. My anger growing with each step.
Finally, the door opened a crack, and I heard Kyle call out softly, “Mari, please! Have mercy. I'm dying!”
I stopped and rolled my eyes. Being a theater major, Kyle really had a flair for dramatics. With a sigh, I stop long enough to say, “Sure, and what's wrong this time?”
The door opened wider to admit me, I didn't see Kyle, yet. When the door shut, Kyle reappeared from behind his door. I couldn't help it. The pizza socks at to two different heights and his slightly small basketball shorts combined with an oversized sweatshirt made a hilarious sight, but the shaving cream on his overgrown stubble and hair sticking up at odd angles made the picture complete. I busted out laughing.
“This is not funny!” Kyle insisted as he tripped over a stray sock.
I laughed harder. Kyle just laid where he had fallen and glared at me. Except, because he had neither his glasses or contacts on and had terrible eyesight, he was staring intently at my chest.
“Wow,” I commented, “Is blush pink really that interesting? Your girlfriend would be so jealous.”
At my teasing, Kyle laid his head back down with an obnoxious groan. Throwing one arm over his eyes, Kyle moaned out something like “glasses.” He lifted his other hand to point at his messy dresser. I snatched up his circular, wire-framed glasses from their precarious perch an a pile of dusty schoolbooks. Kneeling down beside him, I say sarcastically, “Lucky for her, she doesn't have to see you like this.”
When he looked up into my eyes, I thought for a second our connection might run deeper than friendship. Kyle murmured, “Lucky her,” and something seemed to draw us closer. I didn't let it, though. Instead, I slid his glasses on hid face and broke whatever trance we'd entered. Then, I left.
Since that day several weeks ago, I've avoided Kyle and whatever had drawn us closer together. I know it's not friendship, and I know it's not some clique where Kyle realizes I'm his one true love either. Now, as Kyle dangles the branch over my head, he leans closer, and I want him to come even closer. I don't let him, though. This time I attempt grabbing the leaves. Joining the game, Kyle moves the branch out of my reach. Again I lung for the branch, and again he moves it. Then, Kyle catches me by the wrists, and I have to look him in the eyes.
“Mari,” he starts breathlessly.
But, I don't listen, Instead, I think of all the things I want to say. I've been almost for my entire life. I was almost a prodigy. I was almost a renowned violinist. I was almost Northwestern University Bienen School of Music material. I cannot be almost anymore. Whether it was Kyle's almost girlfriend or almost the perfect violinist, I want to be more. I want to be accepted. I want to be myself. As much as I want to scream each of these things at the top of my lungs, I don't. I don't say them at all.
“Let go, Kyle,” I whisper, struggling to wriggle out of his grip.
“No, Mari, I have to talk to you,” he insists as he tightens his grasp, and leans closer to me.
“I can't, Mari. Can't you see the hold you have on me? You're all I can think about. I want …” he continues talking, even though I'm not listening.
Finally, I wrench free of his grip. I get up, rubbing my wrists. Red marks form on my wrists where Kyle was holding me. I look at them disbelievingly. Then, I look back at Kyle. When he reaches out for me, I back up quickly and turn away from the boy who wants me. I walk away from the boy I want, too.
As I walk away, a breeze picks up, and I remember those budding leaves. It is time. I have to start fresh, and that means leaving the past behind.
He calls out, “Please, Mari, come back!”
I don't. I don't even look back. I won't be almost anymore.