I walk down the hallway, laughing boys and girls scattered along both sides. There is a repetitive thud coming from the room I’m walking towards. I nervously twirl the glittery bracelets on my wrist, trying to ignore the pinching of my gold high heels. The lights are low as twilight approaches and my stomach flips silently as I arrive in front of the entrance. My friends stream through the doorway all around me, but I hesitate. The music is louder. My hands are clammy as I take a deep breath and enter.
From across the room I see him. We lock eyes and he smiles. My face warms as I take a step forward, but from the right, a tall boy rushes over and grabs my hand.
“Hey, you all made it! Let’s dance!”
I’m lead into a sea of other students, stumbling slightly as I attempt to find the dohl’s rhythm. The purple skirt of my lengha swishes as I sway, the sequins sparkling in the roaming spotlights. I glance to my left, then my right, over the boy’s shoulder, then back to the left. There. His face is shadowed as he walks toward me on the dance floor. My eyes travel upward as he stops in front of me.
It’s 2:00 am. More laughter surrounds me while I sit under the staircase, but this time it’s much louder and I am not alone. He’s close to me, soft brown eyes staring into mine, quietly listening to every word of my story. His hand brushes mine and I hold my breath. My body feels light. My heart races.
Hours later, the sky beings to turn indigo, then violet, then pink. We are still awake, talking and giggling quietly. This happens the next night, and the next. We share our dreams, our fears, our histories. Lying on our stomachs on my powder blue comforter, we peer through the blinds and joke about sharing our third sunrise together. He turns to me and smiles. I smile back.
I stand on a grassy hill. My back is to the sun and the fabric of my shirt burns against my skin. I look at the brick buildings, at two girls walking by with their backpacks, at the dirt as I twist the toe of my sneaker into the ground, but not at him. His brown eyes are wet. His voice high.
I shake my head, my hands splayed in front of me.
“I wasn’t thinking. It just happened. I’m sorry I lied to you. You deserve better.”
He walks away.
Sobs rack my body as I curl up on the cold tile floor. He enters the bathroom, stoops down, and settles my head against his chest. The front of his soft, gray t-shirt is soon covered in dark, wet splotches. He lightly strokes my hair.
“It’s going to be okay.”
Minutes pass, one by one. I once again hear the patter of raindrops against the building in the absence of the chaos ringing in my ears. My eyes are closed and my breathing settles as I clutch him close. It has been years, but it’s the same, warm embrace.
In the taxi, I excitedly answer the ringing cell phone.
“I’m on my way to sign the lease! How soon can you get there?”
Silence greets me.
I look at the phone puzzled as the cab driver and I race through the city. I ask if he’s there. After another pause, he says,
“Are you sure you want to do this?”
I peer out the window, noticing the stained, dingy sidewalks slowly transition into clean stores and amicable pedestrians as we coast up Polk Street.
“Definitely! It’s what we’ve been talking about since we knew I was moving here. Don’t you?”
More silence. My brow furrows until I hear him slowly say,
The chair quietly rumbles against the white tile as I slide into my seat. The savory scent of freshly grilled onions and beef permeate the air. Across from us, my father settles his glasses on the wooden table and puts a kabob on his plate.
“So when are you two planning on getting engaged?”
I laugh nervously and glance at him next to me. He takes a sip of Diet Coke before answering.
I smile at him, putting my hand on his knee. He doesn’t smile back.
The windows are filled with darkness. One lamp is on. I sink into the soft couch and my hands are in his. He tells me he can’t do this anymore. He tells me we’ve had too many ups and downs these past eight years. He tells me he’s sorry. He leaves.
My head is spinning, my chest is empty. I walk into what moment ago had been our bedroom and pick up my laptop from the bed. Cradling it heavily against my chest, I return to the living room, ungracefully plopping down in a spot between the sofa and the lamp. When I open it, my inbox highlights an email from an old friend waiting from this morning. There is a link and a brief note:
“You need to look at this.”
The website opens up to a rosy background with graceful script. A soft, sweet song starts to play, trickling into the room as I read his name paired with another’s. Underneath is a professional photograph; he’s smiling over her shoulder, his arms wrapped around her. Her adorned left hand rests lightly on his, the sparkle of the diamond captured in the moment forever. Below that is a date. The date is two weeks from today.
I close the laptop. A car honks in the distance. My legs are warm where the computer sits and quietly hums on my thighs, but I feel nothing. I look around the room.