1. Our days were numbered: we were seniors in high school, about to be college freshmen, and fated to go our separate ways for the first time since we were six. We were lazily flipping through our yearbooks when he stopped suddenly and brought his book so close to his face that his nose nearly touched the page. “Look at this face,” he said quietly, as if to himself, as he touched the paper gently with his fingers. “I’m going to miss it so much.” A rush of jealousy came crashing over me and I resisted the urge to storm off. But after a good, long moment, everything inside me softened as I realized he was looking at a photo of me.
2. Everyone knew we were in denial. I think we did, too. But sometimes we’d skim the surface of self-awareness and we’d both freeze, shocked, before scrambling to cover our tracks. That is, until one day we were eating lunch and he casually mentioned a girl from his class had asked him out. “Well, what are you going to say?” I asked. The way he looked up at me, so earnest, so uncertain, made my breath catch. “I don’t know,” he said slowly. “There’s this one thing… this reason I feel like I should say no. And I want to tell you what it is, but I’m not sure I should. It changes everything.” And without another word, everything changed for me, too.
3. I picked him up for a party in my old beat up Buick; he smiled mischievously when he climbed in. “Just us tonight?” he asked. I still remember that rough feeling in my stomach as I nodded, as if something bigger than butterflies were ricocheting back and forth deep inside me. It made me feel like maybe I could fly, too. We showed up to the party fashionably late and spent the whole night shivering on the balcony, the only place we knew we’d be alone. We traced the stars with our fingertips as we talked about life and the universe and every unsolved question we’d ever had, and though I didn’t say anything, I wondered then why it felt like I’d known him forever.
4. It’s hard for me to pinpoint exactly when I fell in love with him. Everyone told me they’d expected it for years, but it still came as a surprise to me. Maybe it happened in pieces, like a jigsaw puzzle I just couldn’t figure out, and every time he played my favorite song or woke me up with a phone call or waited outside my balcony late at night was just another step toward realizing the full picture. One day I just woke up and knew: I wanted his music, his phone calls, his smile waiting below my balcony. Him.
5. It was his last day in town and we both pretended like we didn’t notice the awkward tension every time one of us brought up the fact that in less than 24 hours, we’d be hundreds of miles apart. So instead we went to get sushi and drank a shit ton of wine and talked about the hypothetical future where we both ended up in the same place at the same time when he suddenly paused mid-sentence and grinned. “Interesting music choice.” It was that Celine Dion song from Titanic, but I only remember because at that moment I realized that when I was with him, the rest of the world ceased to exist. I hadn’t even noticed there’d been music playing at all.
6. He was driving me home late at night when we passed by a park I used to play at years and years before I’d even met him. “I’ve been here before,” he told me. “Once I found a fox in those trees and chased it around. It ran into the street and got hit by a car, and I felt so terrible I cried.” And though I laughed at how casually he’d thrown the story out, as if it were no big deal at all, my chest swelled. I wondered if I’d been there that same day, if I’d walked by him while he was crying to himself on a park bench. I hoped so. He always intimidated me with the way he seemed so put together, like nothing affected him at all, but there was something so vulnerable — so human — about him in that moment that all I wanted to do was pull him in close and never let go.
7. We spent an entire year falling in and out of love constantly, as if it were an exhausting cycle neither of us knew how to quit. To be fair, when I ran into him at our friend’s birthday party, I really did think we were done for good. I danced and drank and hardly paid attention to him at all, but then the bar started playing that damn Backstreet Boys song, the one we sang along to at the top of our lungs when we drove halfway across the country together. I didn’t have to look at him to know he was watching me, but I did anyway, and the second our eyes met, we couldn’t look away. When I casually mentioned it to our friend the next day, she laughed. “You think that’s weird?” she asked. “You should’ve seen the way he was looking you the rest of the night.”