Stay Like This

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Young Adult  |  House: Booksie Classic
Two friends have finished their first year of college, and the time has come for them to both go home for the summer. The narrator watches his friend pack, filled with words he wants to say, but can't.
(Personal note: any feedback would be appreciated!)

Submitted: July 20, 2012

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Submitted: July 20, 2012

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He heard the clattering and thumping noises as he approached the door. It was early, as most of the other students were still sleeping through the hangovers they had acquired through a night of post-finals giddiness or next to the person they had clumsily grabbed in the dark corners of a dance floor last night. Some other students were already long gone, as they had climbed aboard the first of many shuttles going to the airport that day. It was quiet – quiet enough for him to hear the sounds of a year’s worth of living being packed up.

He glanced at the door decorations as he had so many times before – a picture of Cap’n Crunch for her, the Trix Rabbit for her roommate – before knocking on the door. The noises stopped briefly before a familiar “Come in” rang out. As he opened the door, he tried to block out the thoughts rising within him – this would be the last time they’d talk in her room like this, this could be the last time they talk, this could be the last time they see each other, was this the right time, would there ever be a right time? He could practically picture her rolling her eyes, while saying there was no need to get so sentimental.

The usually neat room was now cluttered with boxes overflowing with books, papers, folders, which surrounded her as she continued to move at her usual brisk pace, pulling books from one shelf on her desk before swiftly arranging them in a box. She looked up quickly as she tucked a strand of hair behind her ear. “Hey,” she said, a smile flitting across her face, which was now shiny with sweat. “What’s up?”

“Not much. Just finished packing and was wondering how you were doing.”

“I’m jealous of you. I never realized how much – stuff I have. How did this happen?” She stopped to gauge her surroundings. “Good thing I can take my time with packing. When’s your flight again?”

“It’s at 3:00, but my shuttle’s leaving in about 30 minutes,”

“You excited to go home?”
“You don’t even know. More than anything, I’m looking forward to California weather.”

“I bet you are. But hey, congrats – you made it through your first real Midwest winter,” she said as she turned back to packing.

His thoughts flashed back to a day when the winter was beginning to finally release its grip. They’d been studying together in the library, as they usually did on Sunday afternoons. The weather was the nicest it had been in a long while; the sky was a cold, hard, but bright, blue, and the sunlight streamed through the bare branches outside the window nearby their table.

“Hey, question. It’s going to stay like this from now on, right?” he asked, trying not to sound too hopeful.

She looked up from her Spanish book with a slightly confused look. “What is?”

He gestured outside the window. “This. The weather. Is it going to stay like this?”

She let out a short laugh. “It’s only February. Believe me, the worst isn’t over yet.” His face must have betrayed how his disappointment, because she smiled and said, “You poor thing,” in a slightly mocking tone. She sounded more sincere as she said, “The winters here are rough – especially the first one.”

“Heard that,” He stared out the window. The weather here sometimes makes me wonder why I chose this school, in this place, out of all the places I could’ve gone.”

She looked back at him, her face unreadable, before staring down at her book once more, ending the conversation.

Now, as he stood here amongst the chaos, he realized what had been behind that unreadable expression. “You want some help there?” he asked weakly.

“Nah, I think I got it. Thanks, though.”

She always moved around quickly. For a while though, her motions had seemed more agitated than agile – it was like she was always running late, in a hurry to get someplace else. She was driven, ambitious, hard-working, he knew; her intensity was what had attracted him in the first place, but there had been something underneath – like something was burning out deep within her, and she was trying desperately to stoke the flames back to life.

“How’d your finals go?”

“Oh, you know – good. Could’ve been better. I’m just happy to be done.” She punctuated her sentence by dropping a stack of notebooks into a box. “How’d yours go? Did you destroy that physics final like you said you would?”

He grimaced. “Hopefully. It was a bit tougher than I thought it’d be.”

“I’m sure you did fine. But don’t worry about it, you’re done. No more problem sets, papers, or exams for three whole months.” She grinned widely. “And now you can go home and send me photos from the beach and be all smug about it while I’m stuck over here.”

He smiled too, but he also wondered how she could be so nonchalant about it all – didn’t she feel any sadness about it ending? He supposed this was better than all the times he had come to visit her in her room and found her teary-eyed, wiping frantically at her face. It was better than hearing her breaking voice, drifting into his room from the hallway, as she had talked on the phone with her parents. The worst had been those moments on certain Saturday nights when she became far too intoxicated for her light frame and her head would slump right before she would begin to cry. At times, she would lean over the garbage can in the hallway, retching, crying, groaning, “I want to go home.”

Through it all, he had been by her side, watching closely, handing her water, trying to fend off the hangover, but failing at warding away the despair. He’d tell her that she couldn’t go home just now, but she’d spit back with equal parts venom and regret, “I don’t even care. I just don’t want to be here.“ before retching again.

Now, as he watched her smiling slightly and humming as she sifted through her drawers, he felt relief that she was happier now, although the source of her happiness was the same one that made him feel heavy inside.

“I can’t believe that our first year of college is over,” he heard her say. “We’re sophomores now.”

“I can’t, either. It doesn’t feel like long ago that we were unpacking our stuff and getting to know each other.”

“Yeah – and from then on, you called me Natalie for the longest time.”

“In my defense, you and your roommate look very similar at first.”

“Except for the fact that Natalie’s about a head shorter than me and is white, I’d definitely agree with you,” she shot back with a smirk.

“I don’t get the two of you confused anymore.”

“Took you long enough – only about two months.” With an armful of clothing, she sat down on her bed, the mattress squeaking.

He shook his head. “It’s going to be so weird not being your floormate, knowing that I can’t go down the hall to talk to you or head to the dining hall with you. Instead, you’ll be all the way across campus. You’re living in Boyle next year, right?” Inside, he cringed at his own feigned ignorance.

She stopped folding the clothes in her hands. “No…I’m not going to be here next year.” She fiddled with the blue sweater in her hands. “I thought you knew.” Her voice grew softer.

His stomach dropped, even though he’d been expecting this – of course he knew. He’d known since the day he had run into her in the mailroom to see her hastily hide a large, thick envelope behind her back, but not quick enough for him not to catch the “Congratulations!” printed on the front in distinctive, familiar colors. As the weeks progressed, the pieces had begun to fall into place. He realized why she had had so many meetings with her adviser over the past few months, spotted a slip on her desk – a consent form from the counselor of the school’s health center – and understood what was unfolding, although he didn’t believe it. Then came the forms stamped with “TRANSFER CREDIT REQUEST” across the top, scattered around her desk, her absence in the room selection process for next year, more appointments she had to rush off to. Above all, a visible sort of relief had passed over her; she was no longer desperately fanning the dying embers within her.

She went back to folding clothes, her face visibly more red than it had been before, and he knew it wasn’t due to the exertion of packing. He didn’t bother saying anything; he knew that he would only end up stammering. With an unpleasant lurch deep inside, he realized he didn’t know what to do next. He could ignore what she’d said, continue going back as though things were normal and she would be here next year and they’d eat lunch together on certain afternoons and she’d visit him at work and they’d gripe about homework together late at night. But hadn’t he been doing that all along? And where had it led?

“Yeah, I knew that,” he found himself saying emptily, more to himself than to her. “Of course – you’re transferring. I know.”

It was obvious that she was trying to remain calm, but her frustration seeped out as she folded a few more pairs of socks before saying, “Then why’d you even ask something like that, when you know” – a pair of socks was forcefully thrown down on the bed – “I’m not going to be here next year?”

He felt the slightest bit of anger rise up within him and wondered, for a brief, panicked second, if this would all end with the two of them raising their voices and him storming out the door, as it had a few times in the past. But the anger that had been rising faded as soon as he realized that her eyes were shining bright, in that way he’d seen too many times before.

“I’m sorry – I don’t know why – “ he started.

“No, I’m sorry, “ She cut him off. “I’m sorry. I really am. I shouldn’t be angry with you. I’m just – torn. I feel like I’ve made the right decision, but then I see you and all our friends, and I start wondering – “She stopped, blinked rapidly, cleared her throat. “I just wish I didn’t have to leave you guys.”

‘Then don’t,” he blurted out, surprised at his own candor. “Why are you leaving anyway? If you have friends here…isn’t that enough?”

“I wish it was. Please, please believe me when I say that my decision doesn’t have to do anything with you, or any of our friends, or anybody here – especially you. I’m not trying to run away from anybody.” She stood, her arms full of the now-folded clothes, and walked closer to him. “Out of all the people I’ll miss here, I’m going to miss you the most.”

He supposed that this would be the part in the movies where he’d grab her and kiss her hard on the lips and look at her as though it was the first time and somehow, everything would wrap up neatly, complete with an upbeat, alternative, singer-songwriter song. But this wasn’t the movies. This was far from any polished production, as he felt his heart beating slightly faster and his face flushing from more than the uncomfortable temperature of the room, as he tried to find the words to say so things could at least end happily before the credits rolled. But there was no script to work from, no one to aid him with his lines.

He felt himself turn up the corners of his mouth. “I – I honestly don’t know what to say, except that I’m going to miss you, too. I know there’s nothing I can do or say that’ll make you stay, and I don’t want to make you feel bad about leaving. I mean, you should be someplace where you’re happy, but I don’t know what – “ He stopped.

“What?” she asked, her question tinged with puzzlement, but also something else deep within – was that hopefulness he heard? But he knew already, just as he had from the very beginning. He knew that this was bound to fall apart, that there was nothing waiting to soften the blow.

“I shouldn’t say it,” he muttered. “I’m only going to make you feel worse.” Suddenly, it felt like he couldn’t look at her, as his gaze turned to the windows, the boxes, the bare mattresses, anywhere except her eyes.

“What?” she asked, sounding more worried than confused now. “It doesn’t matter – no matter what it is, I’m still going to feel bad about leaving,” She let out a short, bitter laugh. “So you might as well say it.”

He continued to look around the room, but he could see a genuinely concerned look crossing her face out of the corner of his eye.

“Please. What is it?”

“I don’t know – I just don’t know what I’m going to do without you here. You’re one of the best people I’ve ever met, and you’re the person I’m closest to here, and I just don’t want to lose you.”

There was silence on her part. He put on a slight smirk of sorts as he finally decided to look at her and said lightly, “That’s really cheesy, I know. I told you I shouldn’t say it.”

But he was unprepared for the look on her face. She didn’t laugh or even smile – she stared back with conflicted eyes before she said shakily, “I don’t want to lose you, either.”

Maybe he had been wrong. Maybe there was something waiting at the bottom of the fall.

“I don’t want to lose you, either,” she said again. “But I’m not going to stay. I can’t stay. And I can’t – “

Just then, a chirping noise from his pocket cut her off. He fumbled around for his phone, which reminded him that the Shuttle leaves in 30 minutes! He felt a rush of stress flood him like it did when he was running across campus to submit the paper that was due in five minutes – he’d never been good with deadlines.

“I need to go soon – got to catch the shuttle,” he said, talking faster now.

“What? Oh yeah, that’s right,” she said, also looking a little alarmed.

“Yeah, don’t worry, it’s not that far – we still have some time. What were you saying?”

“I – “ She bit her lip. “I was saying that I can’t.”

“Yeah, I know, you said that. I know you can’t stay, but – “

“No, I mean, I can’t - “ She stopped again. “I just can’t do – this.” She motioned quickly, jerkily at the space between the two of them.

“I…know,” he said, still left behind in the last part of their conversation and unsure as to where this was going.

Do you know?” She looked at him carefully.

And at that moment, something deep within him, that part of him that he hoped would never awaken, was beginning to stir and realize what was happening, but it would take him many sleepless nights for it to become clear to him. What he did know now was that he was afraid – afraid of not seeing her as he walked across campus, afraid of falling out of touch with her, afraid of being painfully reminded of her every time he saw a box of Cap’n Crunch cereal, afraid that his only interaction with her would happen as he logged onto Facebook one day only to find photos of her smiling with someone else, afraid of waking up one morning, years later, and realizing she had loved him just as much as he loved her, only it was much too late.

“I - I really should get going now – don’t want to miss the shuttle,” he managed to get out.

“Yeah, you’re right,” she said. In one swift movement, she laid down the armful of sweaters she was carrying and wrapped her arms around him. As he had so many times before, he held her close, but this time, his thoughts were distant.

He found himself staring out the window next to them, where the leaves were as green and the sky as blue as when they’d first met on that late summer day.

“Hey – it’s going to stay like this from now on, right?”

She drew herself away before staring out the window. “Yeah, it’s supposed to.”

Minutes later, after the rushed goodbyes, as he walked back down the hallway, it was silent, and if he’d been more attentive, he would have noticed that the noises of packing had ceased, and instead, he might have heard the squeak of bedsprings and maybe, just maybe, the beginnings of the broken sounds of sobbing. But at that moment, as he walked down that hallway, he wondered if she’d known that his question hadn’t just been about the weather.


© Copyright 2017 immichellek. All rights reserved.

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