You promised to write every day. Your two pinkies were outstretched and your parents met you halfway with theirs. You liked how the fingers wrapped around each other. They looked like little hugs. Your parents bent to kiss you goodbye. Two little circles on each cheek. You inhaled their scent of ripe persimmons and wet paint on portraits of dead pets.
Over their shoulders, you saw another boy leaning on his car. He had thin-lipped parents who stared straight ahead. They tapped their feet to an unheard rhythm. He offered his pinkie to them, and they swatted away his arm. They shoved him forward into the building.
“We’ll write to you, too,” your parents whispered, giddy smiles playing on their faces.
You slung your backpack over your shoulders. They slipped hastily back into the car and pulled away. When you entered the building with wrinkles and cracks forming by its eyes, you saw the boy. He had short, jagged hair and a sucked-in smirk.
The lines of students were winding and twisting. He was in the back of one of them. You filed into the opposite line. Glancing curiously in his direction, he didn’t notice you. But you noticed his eyes. They were layers of red, taupe, and orange. So much that they looked like sand dunes.
You hauled your luggage into your dorm, only to find out that you were sharing it with some boy named William. He was like you with lots of books. Words ripped and dog-eared pages. If it was any consolation, he was able to sneak extra dessert into their dorm after dark. His father knew the cook.
“My father owns all the ice cream shops along D’Alancy,” William boasted. “That street’s even named after my father. He was William D’Alancy, I’m William D’Alancy, Jr.”
You didn’t want to listen to him. His family was perfect and rich. Instead you lifted your portable radio out of your duffel bag. It had dents but still functioned properly. William made a face at it. Twisting the knob as far as it could go to the left, music leaked out. It was shattered and came in waves.
You danced with your eyes closed. Not the kind with cool moves and glow-up glasses. The kind where real robots cringe at your impression.
You spun around and hit your radio off it’s windowsill perch. It landed with a satisfying crash on the wood floor. You saw that it earned itself more craters in its skin.
“Oh, sorry.” There was a high-pitched voice. You saw the boy from before.
William didn’t so much give the newcomer a glance.
“Hello,” you said shyly.
“Is this dorm 73?” he asked, cracking his knuckles nervously.
You frowned, “No, it’s 173. The one is faded.”
“Oh,” he gulped, “sorry.”
You smiled and picked up your radio. He left without another word.
William made a low sound deep in his throat. He stared after the boy and stepped up to close the door. It shut with a bang.
“Do you know him?” you inquired, interested.
William shrugged with his eyebrows scrunched, “Kind of. He’s weird. And trans.”
“Trans?” you sat on the edge of your bed and bounced a bit.
“Transgender. That boy used to be a girl.”
You said nothing. It all made sense, though. The high-pitched voice and odd haircut. The unaccepting parents. After thinking while William hummed tunes to himself, you decided you wanted to know the boy’s name. But not now, it was too early. The sun was going to be setting and tomorrow bathed in its light.
There was a small library and you didn’t like it. You thought libraries were supposed to be big like the pictures of the Library of Congress your eyes had skimmed when you read books from American History lessons.
This library was cluttered and dusty with colors smeared because of scratched globes. There were zigzags connecting Brazil to China. Nobody wanted to admit it but you knew the girls with hair bleached at the roots and lipstick going over the curves of their lips were there because of the nerdy boys.
You were a nerdy boy but they didn’t look at you because you tried too hard. You had glasses like the nerdy boys did, with freckles peppered across your cheeks, and your nose stuck in a book. But the girls wanted the ones with abs and a sixth sense of humor. Those were both things you didn’t have.
When you checked out your book the librarian searched you all over. She tucked her hair behind her ears. She made a disapproving noise when you backed away.
The library was too quiet, something unusual. The silence secured its creased hand on your shoulder. Your dorm was where William was annoyingly listening to the radio. The library was too quiet. Where would you read?
You took a walk. The trees followed the path through the campus on both sides. The trees bent like rag dolls, hanging limply over the grass. This was because of the bright orange fruit hanging from them.
They hung in bunches on the trees. Most of the leaves had fallen off but some were sticking. You admired them with your mouth shut tight and in a line.
There was one tree that called your name. It was the only one with a spine. On this tree the fruits were heavy with orange blending into yellow. It was colorful and lured you in. You walked towards it with your hands in balls. They unclenched so you could brush your hand over the bark. Rough and sturdy and brown.
When you sat down against it you noticed how the curves fit your back. You rested your head in the perfect spot and glanced around. Nobody was watching so you took out your book. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë. You traced the words on the cover.
The moment was peaceful with the persimmons swaying lightly in the wind and ruffling the pages of your book.
After classes on your second day you went to the trees by the path. You found your tree and rushed to it.
He was there, under the tree. Your tree. The boy.
The persimmons appeared tinted gray today with the violet surrounding the boy’s eyes. He was tired but you didn’t care. You approached him carefully with hints of anger bundled by your forehead.
The boy’s head tilted up. He was reading a superhero comic with lots of bright color and speech bubbles. You didn’t like that because he was supposed to be reading famous literature like Jane Eyre.
“Yes?” he answered politely.
You licked your lips. They tasted like salt. “What’s your name?”
“LJ.” His face was smooth with honesty. “What’s yours?”
“Caeden. Why are you at my tree?”
“This is your tree? There’s no sign.” LJ let his shoulders drop and bit his lip carelessly.
You smiled cautiously. “There’s no sign, that’s correct. I just love the tree. It’s my reading tree. It reminds me of home, so I’d love it if you found another tree somewhere else. This one’s taken.”
LJ’s cheeks pinched with laughter and you noticed he had dimples. His eyelashes were long and pretty, too. “I’m not moving, Caeden. Sorry.”
“Oh, no, don’t apologize.” You waved your hand dismissively. LJ didn’t respond.
Instead of leaving, you glided around the tree in a nice, full circle. You saw and recognized the persimmons and the branches like muscles and the trails of green leaves. You’d come up with a name for this tree someday but that was in the future and you were currently stuck in the now.
Suddenly, you cracked. “I’ll give you twenty bucks for the tree.”
LJ laughed that same tempo with his head thrown back. “It’s not my tree. And even if it was, I’d say no.”
You pursed your lips, “Fine. Fifty bucks.”
He stopped laughing. “Are you serious?” His eyes glinted in the afternoon.
You gave him a look that your parents always gave you when they were dead serious. A look with a visible jaw. And squinted eyes.
LJ hesitated with his comic crinkling from all the pressure of his hands. Finally, he got up in one swift movement. You stepped forward and pressed some bills into his hand. An unsaid thank you passed between them. He was walking away, but you had one more question.
“Did you cut your own hair?” you called.
LJ turned to give you a funny smile. A crooked one. “Goodbye, Caeden.”
You smiled back and almost fell into the comfortable position under the persimmon tree. It was the same tranquil setting as yesterday.
Something abruptly landed beside you. It was large, fuzzy, orange, and looked like a mini pumpkin. There were dead leaves piled on top of it. You cradled it in your arms. A beautiful persimmon.
Your parents had told you they did not taste good and gave you cottonmouth. They were more like silky and slippery on the inside, you thought. Tangy and sweet. Thinking about them made your mouth water but you weren’t sure if you should try one.
Alas, you sighed and observed the passersby. Then you took out your book and began to read. “There was no possibility of taking a walk that day. . .”