I was late to my English class senior year. Thanks to Magenta, my traitorous penny board, I had spent several minutes before the start of class on my ass, staring up at a cloudless blue sky, a stupid grin on my face. The stupid board got caught on the bricks right outside of the Lawrence building, and the abrupt stop flung me off her, making me fly forward, not unlike those trained circus monkeys.
I eventually showed up to the classroom with my faded jeans ripped from my outdoor acrobatics, my forest green flannel askew, and that stupid grin still on my face. It was quite the entrance. I probably looked like shit, shit smeared against asphalt, but I owned it. I always enjoyed how differently I dressed from other students, who chose to dress like every day was Easter and every afternoon they were late for golf at their Daddy’s golf courses. When I walked in, bored faces and a sea of pastel polos and khaki shorts greeted me. With a single stern look from my professor, I was sentenced to finding a seat in the back of the class—and that was when I saw him for the first time.
I was drawn to him; I immediately started stealing looks in his direction. He was a lone island of golden and orange paisley in a sea of vineyard vines. As my eyes wandered, I grew increasingly curious about this hippy I sat next to, feeling pulled to him as if by a gravitational force, like two magnets when they came too close to each other. His shoulder-length chestnut hair looked fun to play with, and his sense of style made me think he had just rolled in a meadow for an hour before arriving at class. He probably did: he smelled faintly like how I imagined the mountains smelled during this time of year.
He paid no attention to me that first day, despite me making a show of sitting next to him: tossing Magenta underneath the table with a ka-clang before strewing my pens and notebook across our shared desk, some venturing daringly onto his composition book. The whole lesson, I found my eyes wandering towards him. As he introduced himself and I heard his name for the first time, Nicolas, it sounded like a deep, gentle bell chiming in the distance. I closed my eyes and thought of how I could get used to listening to that ringing.
“Favorite author?” I asked.
“Male or female?” Nicolas graced me with a grin, his dark brown eyes full of curiosity. We were supposed to discuss how Bell Hook’s work in Feminist Theory applied to the caretaker in Henry James’ Turn of the Screw. However, Nicolas and I often got off-topic during these discussions.
“Female, obviously,” I replied in challenge.
“Is it too much of a copout to say Toni Morrison?”
“I’ve never read her. I only know her from that one Cards Against Humanity card. You know, the one that says, ‘Toni Morrison’s vagina’? I just figured she was important somehow.” This made him laugh. It was a laugh that I was starting to adore, one that reminded me of how a raven cawed in short, sharp bursts. When I made Nicolas laugh, I couldn’t help but smile and smile and smile.
Some days, Nic wasn’t in class. I don’t remember much about those days.
I propped up Magenta on the coat rack of our school’s cottagecore coffee shop. It was late September, so I didn’t worry about her taking up space. It was still too hot for people to wear coats. I also thought seeing her dangle up there like she belonged was hilarious. I ordered two black coffees from Alex, and they gave me a knowing smile. “We’re just studying,” I said. “We’re just friends,” I added as an afterthought, narrowing my eyes and pouting my lips. They said nothing, but their smirk widened as Nic walked in.
“Did you ever make wishes on stars when you were younger?” Nic asked me. He was looking out of the coffee shop window at the blackening sky, and I could see the orange glare of university lampposts reflecting in his reading glasses. We were supposed to be working on our Henry James essays but kept getting sidetracked with conversations about things like the fashion sense of vampires or the benefits of studying to orchestral balloon music, which we were currently listening to as a joke. The table was littered with papers, laptops, and three coffee cups per person. I was typing the same sentence over and over again, trying to figure out how to weasel the word “ludicrous” into my paper. As we worked, Nic became suddenly pensive and stopped writing to stare out of the window. I took the opportunity to stare at him, trying my best to hold the sighs that wanted to escape from me like little traitors.
“Not really. Where I grew up, there weren’t very many stars,” I said, letting the sentence I was typing run away before stopping entirely, instead choosing to devote my attention to him. “Outside of Seattle, there were a few places to go stargazing, but I never really got the chance to.”
“If you could wish for something right now on a star, what would you wish for?” He seemed pensive. Far-off. Like he was looking at something I couldn’t see myself.
“Probably to be rich enough to do whatever I was passionate about for the rest of my life without worrying,” I stated after a few more moments of admiring him. If he didn’t look at me, I was fine staring. “I’m only half-joking.”
“What are those passions?” He finally turned his gaze to meet mine. His eyes were so intense, so full of a desire I couldn’t name. I eventually had to look away for fear that he’d see the desire in mine.
“Uh… I would travel the world and bring Magenta along, obviously. I would eat literally everything in my path.” He smiled at this. “And uh, I guess I would write about it all? Maybe compose it into a little book with all of my travels and the friends I made and shit like that.”
“Do you think you would have time for love in that big adventure of yours?”
“Maybe? But I’d have shit to do, you know? Places to go, people to see, food to eat. Did I mention a shit ton of places to go?” It was just another one of those stupid questions we always asked one another. Questions we’d ask each other in English class. But this time, something felt wrong. Especially after watching Nic’s face crumple inward when he heard my answer. “What about you, Jiminy Cricket?” I said, a little too fast and maybe a little too desperately. “What would you wish for?”
His silence lasted long enough for Hell to go through all four seasons. I wanted desperately to know what his eyes told me that I couldn’t see.
“I don’t know, honestly,” Nic said eventually, letting out a heavy sigh, his eyes traveling again to the window and then to a place utterly unknown to me. “If anything, I wish I knew what to wish for.”
“Seriously,” he said, and he let out a laugh. It reminded me of evening birds, frantic and scared, cawing before night engulfed the world and them along with it. “I guess I would wish that I was more…decisive. That I knew what I wanted in life, in love.” His eyes shot towards mine, just for a second, before shying away again. “I just don’t know what that is right now.”
“Isn’t that what college is for?” I prodded. I wanted to beg him to look at me again.
“I’m just afraid that right now, there isn’t enough time to figure any of it out,” he countered before going silent again. He was sitting on the edge of the universe. I opened my mouth, then closed it. For the first time, I felt like I had nothing to say. I dipped my finger in the nearest coffee cup. It had gone cold.
I spent a lot of time thinking about what Nic meant when he said there wasn’t enough time.
There were no more coffee dates after that one. Occasionally, I would get the courage to text him to see if he’d like to have another, but he would either tell me he was too busy or didn’t respond at all. I tried not to let it get to me too much. I still couldn’t help but stare at him while we were in class and smile whenever he smiled. When the semester ended, I rarely saw him again.
Sometimes, I managed to catch him walking around campus. I would always wave, and he would wave back, but there was always somewhere I needed to go. There was always somewhere he needed to go.
During my last semester of college, I spent several nights lying outside on the grass. I’d take Magenta out for midnight rides when the air was crisp and the world was quiet, just how I liked it. I would find a spot out in the open, and I would lay down in the cool grass and let it tickle the back of my neck and play with my hair till I was smiling at the feeling and the smell of it. Then, I’d stare at the night sky, hoping to see a shooting star. Once or twice, I did.
I never wished on them, but I often thought about it.