The peeling numbers 1-37 made her doubt. Hadn’t it been a 38? Maybe a 39? She fidgeted as another gust chilled her, goosebumps growing in prominence. The sky blue umbrella, held upside down, bumped against her side as she brought out her phone. The white chipped doors and crumbling brick all looked the same. Grime gathered in the bottom corner edges of the wall. She took a step back, eyeing it and gnawing her lip as she scrolled. The text appeared and . . . apartment 504. Well then. Stomach clenching, she ducked out from under the eave, squinting in the rain as the umbrella exasperatedly bumped against her side again. She escaped back to the dry strip, bunching her shoulders against the cold and rechecking the text. Apartment 504, room 1-38. Biting back a laugh – and a sigh – she moved over to the other door and raised a hand. She knocked.
Um . . . so you look really nice like just like you’d be a nice person and all and I was wondering if you could send me a copy of the pages or something because I don’t have the textbook and that would be super helpful please???
She cocked her head, amused at the email. She hadn’t seen him in class, but Zoom classes made it difficult to see anyone. Add to it that college students were barely more motivated than high school ones when it came to cameras on, and she was pretty sure she wouldn’t recognise half the class if they paraded in front of her. Having been most often the only one to unmute their microphone, she was one of the prominent icons. She hooked her feet underneath her chair and leaned forward to reply affirmatively. His response popped back less than a minute later.
Thank you so much!!!! I dont buy the txtbooks because you dont really use them like we didn’t here because only now are we using them and its like three pages and I really appreciate this thank you! Hey . . . so . . . also I was wondering if maybe you could tell me a little bit about yourself because you were super cute and nice and everything and Id like to hear more if you want to share?
Her eyes widened. She glanced around the room as if somebody could’ve seen. Shaking her head in amusement at herself, she hooked her feet again and came closer, smile on her lips as she began to type.
The feeling rose ever higher in her throat. The tears came. With a hand, she wiped them furiously. The windshield wipers matched her ferocity as the rain came faster. At the corner, she turned away from the road to her own apartment.
It hadn’t hurt so much last time.
They had gotten farther last time, too, lasted longer. Or maybe they hadn’t actually gotten farther because this time he had kissed her, and she had kissed him, and she had never kissed a boy before - a man, really, because her parents and her grandparents and everybody else had been married before twenty-two, and she . . . she took a deep breath, a stuttering breath.
Her blinker tick-tocked its steady, reassuring beats as she waited for the lights to change.
Your coming back to the city!!!! Yes!!! I get to see you right?? I have all these great plans. So, you said you like rollerblading and theres this really nice rink just about five minutes outside the city and I’d love to take you there and hold your hand when we rollerblade and if you fall I’d definitely catch you, so you should definitely fall a couple times.
She had the email memorized, playing it back in his tone and with his lilt as she packed her few final bags. She had almost told him that she was required to come back because the college wasn’t allowing the distanced learning the proceeding semester, but she’d refrained at the last minute. It seemed that had been a good decision. He hadn’t rollerbladed before, he had said, but he was excited to learn and hold her hand and catch her when she fell, so she should definitely fall a couple times.
An almost giggle escaped her. The light, airy feeling grew in her gut. She’d float away if only the ground would let go. The words repeated in her head, and she could feel his hot hand in hers and the overpowering lights of the rink shading the inside of her eyelids. He leaned in close and whispered in her ear. His stubble scratched her cheek, and she leaned away. He brought his hand up, and he brought her cheek closer. He kissed her. She fell.
The door swung open almost immediately. “Hey,” he grinned with one side of his face. He wore a red shirt. His favorite one. His red shirt on the white door and the dark brown of the wall of his apartment far behind him. Red on white on brown, and it was a shirt from the college. His grin slid off a little at her lack of response. He shifted, jabbed a thumb inside, “Want to . . . ?”
She jerked into motion, hands swinging nowhere and feet shuffling in place. “No,” and she forced a quick smile. “I’m good out here, thanks.”
He was a gentleman, and she . . . she appreciated it greatly. He was a gentleman, and he opened the door wider and left it open and stepped forward into the cold, and she watched. She watched and gnawed her lip and forced herself to stop. He looked at her. She stared. “So . . . ?” He tried for another grin as he spoke. “You wanted to talk?”
The traffic light finally turned green. She steadied her breathing. It was steady. It matched the rain, the windshield wipers, and it wasn’t supposed to hurt this bad. It never had, but now it was chewing at her insides and wailing up through her chest, and the internal heat rose and rose.
She pulled into the park too fast, hit the brake, drove to the parking spot too slow. They’d been here just the other day, and he’d held her hand and taken pictures of her. They had pictures of them both, sunlight caressing the leaves and dappling the paths. They had sweat through their shirts, and he had taken his off – naturally – and she had left hers on – something he argued was unnatural. She’d snorted and ignored the comment, just like all the others. He didn’t really mean them, she was sure.
Like the one at the apartment, after supper, when he’d flicked off the lights as she closed the drapes, and she’d laughed it off and turned the lamps back on. He chose a slow song, naturally. It was a slew of slow songs and then a slew of deals to make him leave because it was late, and then it was later, and she worked in the morning, but he didn’t. Even if he did, he wouldn't have cared. That would have driven her nuts.
It drove her nuts, she reminded herself, hesitating with the umbrella safely under the car’s roof as the rain soaked her to the scalp. She shut the door. It beeped as it locked, as it always did. There were some things you couldn’t change. She took a breath, the rain slicking her crocs because this hadn’t been the plan. She ran.
She talked to him on the hours long drive over to the city, but talked to him only briefly because traffic was thick. She clocked in the time as she usually did. Once a day she tried for, though he often tried for the whole day. She only shook her head in amusement. Surely, he was joking.
She stared at him, at his red shirt, at the white door, and the rain continued its constant, quiet symphony. It dripped from the eaves and pooled in puddles that still failed to wash away the dirt. He shrugged his shoulders again, lips curled upward even as the edges turned down.
“I- . . . you’re . . . wonderful . . . and super sweet.” Her tongue tripped over every word.
He looked towards the wall. A strong profile. A fallen face.
“But I don’t want to be in a relationship right now.”
Because it was all about her, right? The voice whispered inside her, and doubt clenched her insides, and she was almost grateful that she didn’t know how to undo what she’d already done.
He nodded a few times. She braced herself for denial. The reasons leapt to the tip of her tongue. Her umbrella thumped against her side anxiously.
“Okay,” he said. Dark pink, near red, tinged the corners of his eyes, encroaching inward. She waited for the flying feeling of freedom she had felt every other time. Her tongue stuck to the bottom of her mouth. Her feet were too heavy to move. He nodded again. He shrugged his shoulders. To the side of him, the door stood ajar.
Her crocs nearly came off at the incline, but she’d ran in them before. She’d ran the trail before. A furnace heated her chest and her cheeks. Her eyes ran with the rain. She could still see it, taste it, touch it. She was domestic through and through, though she was planning to start a career with both feet moving. She was domestic, and he would’ve put in the hours, she was pretty sure. They wanted the same thing in that regard, or at least he was more than willing to give her what she’d assumed was the same thing.
She stumbled over a branch, catching herself and slowing down. The furnace blazed. She ran faster.
She could still see it, and she knew that he did, too. He did, too, and everything had been sunlight caressing the leaves and dappling the path, and she’d brought the storm. He had turned away, and dark pink, near red had tinged his eyes, and perhaps that was what hurt the most.
We’ll make cookies together too! You like chocolate chip right? Because you like chocolate chip and I like chocolate chip so we’ll have lots and lots of chocolate chip cookies. So many. We won’t be able to eat them all and we’ll put them in freezer so I can take some out when you’re feeling bad and say hey, remember our chocolate chip cookies? And you’ll snap at me yes and I’ll threaten to eat them all and then you’ll eat some and I’ll kiss the chocolate off your lips and you’ll be all happy again. Youll make chocolate chip cookies with me, right???
The door to his apartment was still ajar. She shrugged, unsure. She was always unsure. The weights grew in her gut, and the door to his apartment was still ajar. He stood at an angle to it, and the door to his not-apartment was still in view, the rain picking up speed, falling as a curtain behind him. He pressed his lips together and let them loose almost immediately. “Okay,” he shrugged again. His hand did a small, jerky wave. “Okay.”
The red at the corners of his eyes deepened. The door to his apartment was still ajar. The rain fell harder.
She walked past him and back to her car. The rain fell on her heated cheeks like cleansing, the wind chilled her legs. She stood a moment in front of her vehicle. She wouldn’t look back. The rain fell harder.
She opened the door.