I’d started coming late to class on purpose, so she could see me walk in unapologetically. We had assigned seats or I would’ve sat next to her. It doesn’t matter which class it was. It wasn’t interesting. I brought along a notebook because computers were not allowed, and just wrote. The professor probably thought I was a very good student, but I was working on my stories and hoped that front row girl would notice the Little Prince drawing on the cover of my notebook.
I’d decided to write love stories because that was romantic. I was always writing the beginning because starting was the most fun. I couldn’t help looking her way all the time, and when she’d reciprocate I’d wear my lost look, not focused on anything, not even her, just exploring the depths of everything. I still hoped she’d realize that I was writing a heartbreaking story about her. She had a peaceful beauty, with touches of sadness that told me that she was intelligent and aware of things. I took my time though. I wasn’t sure. I was curious. I kept looking at the guy who was sitting next to her, wondering if they had a thing going on because of the way they smiled together about things. We never got the chance to talk because she’d always be the first to disappear as soon as class was over.
One day, at last, I got lucky. I was presenting with my group, and my friend Max made a fool of himself. He’d swallowed this concentration pill that special forces take to stay awake for four-day long missions, and he went completely off track and wouldn’t stop. It was fascinating, and hilarious. Our grade was dying but I was having a great time, and so was everyone. I looked her way and I kept laughing and when she met me with her eyes we did not avoid each other. You wouldn’t know how happy it made me that she smiled even more. I thought that maybe I had something to do with it.
Later that night, I was having some wine at a birthday dinner. The noisy smiles around me, the privacy of the night, and the alcohol gave me the wings to send her a message. I told her I’d noticed she’d enjoyed our scintillating presentation. She answered Haha and some more about that and then I told her she’d done a much better job on hers and she thanked me and so on and then I asked her if she wanted to have dinner next week and she said that she would love that. I sent her something nice to seal the conversation for the night. We’d had a tiny, perfect moment, and I was happy and trying to conserve that feeling, holding it gently in my palm.
We didn’t do dinner. My friend invited me to a private event that was happening at his fraternity. It sounded fun and it would give me social currency with her, not that I wanted a girl who was sensitive to social currency but I knew that everyone cared at least a little. I invited her to have some wine at my place before. Thankfully, she was five minutes late.
Before I meet with a girl, it’s always a hectic countdown. I’m cleaning and re-arranging everything, I’m doing this in my boxers because I’m often coming back from the gym, and the shower is running and waiting but I won’t stop until it looks like a hotel room and meanwhile the music is playing and I’m drinking Jack and life is beautiful and I put on my headphones to call Louis. I tell Louis about the date that’s coming up and we share all sorts of silly remarks about the sex that’s maybe going to happen. Of course, when the whole process started there was one hour but now there’s only ten minutes so I panic and hang up and have more Jack and dance a little bit and I won’t have the time to get drunk and I shower and I need to get out but the warm water is so nice and I forget about time and then I get out and I have four minutes and spray some cologne that maman brought me on her last trip and have more Jack and then spit it out because it tastes awful and I won’t have the time to get drunk anyway. And she texts me that she’s a little late and that only half-saves me. I grab some fresh boxers and I should have trimmed and I slip two condoms under whatever classic is on my nightstand and I am brushing my teeth as I slip on my pants and she’s downstairs she says and I don’t like the shirt I’ve chosen so I change into something that hugs me more and finally everything is together.
As I’m running down the stairs, I remember that I am myself, that I am driving my body and for the next few hours will have to be attractive in every way to another human being. I will have to entertain her and make sure that she likes me. Five, four, three, two, one, I forcefully push the door of the ground floor and she’s waiting for me, leaning against a cement pillar in a summer dress.
We share an elevator in awkward silence with a girl who looks at us like she has an opinion. We walk to my apartment and I pour her some wine and then ask her if she wants to share a brownie. I’ve just gotten a few from a programmer friend. I’ve never had one but life is short and I’m graduating soon and I want to see the world differently. We talk, I play some songs for her (on my computer), then I get bored of my songs and it’s stressful because I don’t know if she’ll like them all, if they’re too shallow or too sentimental, so I let her play hers. Then it’s time to go. We’re walking down the campus and I enjoy being seen with her as we pass by the café with the glass walls and the people watchers, and then I run into my two former Spanish teachers, who are both married and very adorable together. I kiss Estefanía on the cheek and give Gabriel a hug. I think that it’s cool to be able to do this with your professors and hope that she thinks the same. I speak Spanish to them pretty well, considering the brownie. I’m happy that all of this is happening in front of her.
We keep walking. I think of all the places I’ve ever been to and of everything that’s happening in the world at this moment, all the people eating good food, holding hands, lying in hospital beds, sunbathing, dying, making love. I could be any of those. I am here.
We arrive. I see people I know but talking to them feels like a lot of work. It also feels unnecessary. I see my friend Nathan (who invited me) and introduce him to her. They both make fun of how I’m feeling and the crazy expressions that are probably all over my face. We’re talking, bursting into laughter. He likes her, I can tell. When we’re changing rooms, I think he signals once or twice that it could happen, all three of us.
He disappears for a moment. I take her hand. It’s the first time. We sit down, facing the small improvised stage in the corner of the room. I don’t think holding a girl’s hand has ever made me feel like this. My heart is burning in my wrists and palms. Her hand is perfectly warm, so pleasant that it’s unbearable. I am smiling without realizing it. My face is melting. I don’t think she’s as affected as me by the brownie, but she’s smiling too, really. I am looking at her, freely now. I don’t want to hide. I don’t need to hide. And then I see my whole life go by in front of me on the screen of her face. I see the years flicker by, I see myself going through them with her, loving her, really, having children with her even though I’m not sure I want those, staying with her. And then I am old and of course that’s sad but I have no desire like the other old people to go back and relive, because there is this sense that everything’s been done well, that this has been a happy life. And I’m not sure reliving is worth the risk, especially since there’s no escape.
I can’t believe that I’m seeing all of this, that I feel as much holding her hand. I’ve never fallen in love. I am not falling in love. I’ve been curious to fall in love, to feel something. My heart has become stronger and more difficult to move. I already know that she’s not the one for me, but I like her more than all the others. The show. It’s the entr’acte. The characters are hanging around the stage. They’re real students, so I hear, so I know, but tonight the way I am and the way they are I can’t imagine seeing them tomorrow, in real life. They are such characters, so well defined. They’ve got personalities, they’re so sure of them, they’re so out of context, out of place, out of their time.
For one moment I am back looking at her, and not into her eyes. She laughs briefly, happily. I ask her Let’s go? and she says okay and we walk out of the house and back up the campus, holding hands still, and she disappears because the class is over. I think that one day, when I meet her, I will show her what I’ve written.