The Mystery of the Adventure

Submitted into Contest #222 in response to: Write a story that includes someone saying, “You’ve got this.”... view prompt


Fiction Adventure Romance

Feeling stressed? reads the black and yellow sticker on the door of the bathroom stall. Below the two-worded question is a list of campus-provided resources: a phone number to call, a separate number to text, the email addresses of six counselors, another email address, this one belonging to the whole of the Campus Health and Wellness department, and then a four-step breathing exercise. 

“Oh,” I say, smirking. “Well, thank God for that—suicide averted.”

I lean over from where I’m sitting on the toilet and open the blue duffel bag I brought with me. It’s an oceany sort of blue, a few shades darker than my favorite color, and within it I find my book, the one she bought for me before I left: a copy of Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea, a softly textured cover of blue and, along the bottom, the earthy brown of an ancient village overlooking the vast waters. 

Abruptly, from beyond the four grimy walls of this stall, a door swings open and a set of loud, unhurried footsteps annihilates any form of the solitude I’d hoped to enjoy here at the end—the beginning, really—of my journey. 

I’ve come a long way, have survived great distances across the treacherous seas of life, and I am tired. My body is humming with exhaustion and all I had wanted from this restroom was some peace and quiet, but now I’m listening to the zipping of a zipper and the trickling of urine from a penis that has, I’m certain, been limp for days on end, due to the irresistible influences of society that are constantly, gradually, wearing away at our souls. 

When he’s finished, the zipper is zipped once more, followed by the flushing of the urinal, this tremendous liquid motion like the rushing winds of a hurricane, and I watch as his Vans sneakers carry his chubby form—I can tell just by the pace and sounds of his movement that he is a corpulent fellow—to the sink, where he washes his stubby fingers and crinkles some sheets of paper towel and… remains. I widen my eyes and shake my head at a smiley face that has been drawn in Sharpie on the wall, can you believe this? as he begins removing something from his bag, and… is he eating right now? Now, at three o’clock on a Tuesday morning? 

I listen to the first few hints of his mastication, and yes, he is eating here in the Student Center restroom at three o’clock in the morning, and this is the problem with universities, one of the reasons behind my dropping out and delivering myself here to the other end of the country, where I hope to find true adventure and actual purpose. 

See, the issue is, they really don’t care about you. They don’t. If they did, there would not be a single store or restaurant or any establishment of the sort whose hours of operation extend past eight o’clock PM within six miles of campus. There is no reason for the Tim Hortons in this building to be open right now; students should be sleeping, not eating at this hour. But, see, it is open, and the students are not sleeping, they are here disturbing the peace of a public restroom with their shameless chewing and swallowing and I am here on the toilet, thinking of her as I hold the book in my hands, remembering one of the last times I heard her laugh. 

We were leaving through the doors of our own campus, thousands of miles from where I sit now, and we were about to catch a bus back home when I asked, “You see all these kids here? These, like, forty fucking kids standing in line?”

A stream of air shot from her nostrils as she smiled up at me, our hands intertwined, the magnificent shades of the irises of our eyes like two rivers becoming one stream and, at the end of the bed that channels its momentous current, filling a great, single body of azure. “Yes,” she said. “I see them.”

“Well,” I said. “It’s pretty blatantly clear that they’ve become distracted, wouldn’t you say?”


“Well, that’s the problem. Those kids, they came through these doors, same as us, and they saw those big red letters and the Timbits and the Iced Capps, and they thought, Oh, good! Thank God I don’t have to worry about preserving my physical health while I’m studying here!

I love the sound of her laugh, the way it comes so loudly and without restraint from the rest of her timid self. I can almost hear it now as I allow a grin to tug on my lips, the chewing sounds of the chubby boy fading away as I watch our memories unfold behind my eyes, all the details of her and I making themselves clear, unfurling in scintillating shades like the feathers of a peacock. 

The playground was like a lost city as we stumbled across the uneven terrain of the field, the single oak tree behind it like a stain of blackness, a splatter of colorless ink against the softer blues and grays of the canvas of night. The vaster fields beyond the one through which we stumbled were as naked, the cornstalks having been harvested a week prior, and the black horizon of Conservation Drive stretched for as far as our eyes could see in either direction, to our left and to our right.

“Marae. I need to tell you something.”

We had kept walking until we were past the lost city and now stood by the picnic bench beneath the screen of the oak’s many boughs, our bags set atop the peeling wooden planks. 

“What is it?” she asked, her humor and the ecstasy of being together turning quickly to somber concern. 

I moved my lips around a little, unable to produce any real sound, and I had known all along that I would never be ready to tell her, not if God had halted the clocks of life for ten years and allowed me this wrinkle in time to think and ponder. 


I led her by the hand and we kicked off our shoes, pulled the socks from our feet and allowed our toes to taste the coolness of the sand, the grains of which were violet in the absence of light. The world was quiet and empty as we lowered ourselves into the swings; no cars, no wind, no sound beyond the gentle rhythms of our breath and the cold clinking of the chains that cradled us. 

Her next words were nearly a whisper. “Can I please hear what it is?”

“I don’t know how to say it properly.”

“Well, say it wrong then.” She smiled, forcibly. “We can revise it after.”

“I want to move to Alberta. For work.”

I could tell she knew I was serious, but she didn’t seem phased at first. “What work?”

“I’ve been talking to Dave a lot about working in the oil fields. We’ve been researching it, and there are a lot of opportunities out there right now, ‘cause they need more workers for the winter.”

Her eyes were cold and steady on the ground, no longer green but the same silvery blue as everything else in the tenebrosity. “So, you’re… what about your degree?”

“I won’t need a bachelor’s degree if I’m working out there. The starting positions we applied for pay seventy-K a year, and there’s no experience required. You start out as a laborer, cleaning up rubble and moving pipes and whatever, so it’s easy to start low and work your way up.”

The concern in her eyes had become wounded sadness. “You already applied? How long ago?”

“That doesn’t matter, Marae.”

She drew her hands away. “It matters to me. How long were you going to wait to tell me?”

“I’m telling you—”

“You’re lying, right?” she asked, and there was a breaking in her voice now because she did not need me to answer that question for her. “How do you know that job will last you? Wouldn’t it be safer to stay here and finish your degree—”

“I don’t want to get my degree. I don’t feel like a real man when I’m bent over a desk learning about psychology all day, Marae. I need an adventure in my life, and a challenge. And—safer? If anything, the oil fields are safer. I don’t even know what I want to do with my degree after I graduate, I’d just—”

“Neither do I, Aaron, but those things get figured out!”

We went on like this for a time, and when I told her I would be leaving in two weeks, she refused to say anything more. We took our things and walked the two miles to her house in silence, a walk we usually made for the laughter and smiles we loved to share, and she didn’t even look at me before she climbed the steps and slammed the front door behind her. 

“That… certainly could have gone better.”

It wasn’t until two weeks—two agonizing weeks of checking my messages obsessively, praying in vain that her name might appear at the top of my contacts—later that we spoke again, and I was surprised to see her name on my phone. 


“Aaron, I’m sorry.” I could tell she was crying, or close to it. “I’m really sorry. Do you think… can I please just see you?”

She met me at the airport, exactly one hour before my flight was scheduled to depart. I was texting Dave, my younger half-brother who moved to live with his dad in Red Deer, Alberta when I was fifteen and he was fourteen. They had a falling out after two years, and now he rents his own apartment at the age of seventeen with two other guys he met out west. 

Yeah my flight’s leaving at 9, and it says I’ll be in Alberta by 2:30.

Okay… listen it might be easier if you can get a cab to the university. I live right by there and I can pick you up.

Sounds good buddy, I’ll figure that out once I land. 

I saw her Adidas sneakers from twenty feet away, hurrying across the bustling cafeteria, and was immediately elated at the prospect of seeing her, holding her, just one last time. I dropped my phone on the table and my shoulder was immediately wet with her tears, streaming like hot rain as she showered me with apologies. 

“Aaron, I’m just so scared. I don’t want to have to lose you.”

I didn’t say anything for a while, just held her tight and let her shudder against me, until her sobs were congested gasps and she was ready to sit with me. 

“I don’t want to lose you either,” I said. “That is the direct opposite of why I’m doing this. I’m doing it because I’m really confused about what to do with my life, and I don’t want to be wasting time. I want to make myself into someone who can provide for you and who’s worthy of loving you. You just wouldn’t let me explain that to you.”

And there she was, crying again into my shoulder, our chairs pushed together as the crowds of humanity flowed about us. 

“I’m coming home to you as soon as I can,” I promised. “However that may look. By the time you’ve finished your degree, I’ll be able to either move back here, or move you out west with me. Regardless, Marae, all you have to do is not forget about all the things I’m making you feel right now. Remember it every day for me, the pain you’re feeling in this moment, and imagine how good it’s gonna feel to see it all pay off.”

She wiped her nose, still gasping for breath, trying to compose herself. “I can do that.”

“Good. Because I will never stop loving you. I promise.”

“I know you won’t.”

“Well, then, there’s nothing to worry about. You trust me, don’t you?”

She nodded. “Of course.”

“And you believe in me.”

“Of course I do. I know you’ve got this.”

We stayed at that table until it was time for me to go, but she stopped me. 

“Wait. Can I give you something?”

I took the book carefully from her hands, running my thumb across its laminated title. 

“I bought it because it’s about hope and overcoming hardships, and accepting that all we have is the present, this moment, and… and I think those are going to be some important things for us to remember. Both of us.”

I kissed her, hard, and I made sure she knew I would miss her dearly, for I do and I will, and now I am here in the bathroom stall at three o’clock in the morning, listening to the fat boy who is probably unaware of my presence, chewing. 

The surprise in his face is evident when I open the door and set my duffel bag by the sink. He dumps the rest of whatever it is he was eating in the trash and joins me in rinsing his hands, then positions himself in front of the mirror. I wait for him to go, but now he’s adjusting the greasy strands of hair on his melon-shaped head, and no, I do not know this boy; I just hate the way he’s standing here in the mirror instead of leaving. 

“Bro,” I say, turning from the sink. “It’s not that deep. Just go.”

He just glances at me and says stupidly, “Huh?”

“Man,” I say, “everybody thinks they’re everything. It is three in the morning right now, bro, and even if it wasn’t… I bet you three people total notice you today, and I bet you only one of them is going to give a single fuck about your appearance.”

I don’t wait for him to respond before I take my bag from the ground and push my way through the steel-handled door. I find a bench outside on the side of the mainroad, under the stars and the moon, all the open possibilities of the universe, and there is a lot of uncertainty in my heart at this moment, but I am smiling. There is a lot to be unsure about in this life, but the mystery of the adventure is what makes it so exciting.

October 27, 2023 17:36

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