By Jabril Faraj
Special thanks to: Adam Carr
Day One (she)
Morning air sneaks through a cracked window. The rustle of covers.
Her eyes open to a still-dark room, its wood floor and rugs steeped in shadows.
5:39, reads the clock at her bedside.
Sheets are thrown off; feet tip-toe
across the floor; the lights come on. The sun will be up soon, but there’s no use in waiting.
Clothes for the day, chosen for how they feel: an assortment of flowers — red, yellow, violet and blue — on a starched, white sundress. A yellow bow, tied around her hair.
She adjusts wireframe glasses as the family’s silver Honda Civic approaches the school building.
I love you, Dad yells, as the car door closes; but she’s already halfway up the walk. In another moment, opening the heavy metal doors. Walking through halls of marble and iron, her thoughts elsewhere.
She finds her locker and opens it. Suddenly, glancing to her left, she sees him. The spitting image of herself, standing still. She looks down, and then, in a fit of curiosity, allows her eyes to level — he looks at her, as if he can see past her skin.
She smiles. He smiles back.
A loud, beeping alarm.
The first bell doesn’t ring ‘til 7:55 — no need to worry. Besides, the dreams were miraculous.
Why would you want to wake when sleep is so interesting?
He closes his eyes for a second more, trying to recreate the scene, and ultimately rolls out of bed.
Cargo shorts and a flowery button-up shirt, strewn on the floor the night before, find their way back to body. Glasses — sporting frames of someone five times his age — settle into place.
The walk is short, and even more so with a piece of fruit in hand. As he bites the banana, sunlight bounces from feathers strewn throughout the trees.
A flash of white and color catches his eye. He walks toward it,
and then stops; their eyes lock. He averts his at first, but brings them back.
Two figures leave the school campus, unimpeded.
Eight minutes, give or take, to catch the 19. They glance at each other fleetingly between the shuffle of feet. While in transit, every now and then, risking a word or two, venturing a touch of the hand.
Finally inside, both breathe a sigh of relief. The mall is air conditioned and empty.
He slouches, staring at his feet; she feigns fascination at an unexplained speck on the wall. They notice no one but each other.
She slides her hand down his forearm, teasing the fingertips as she skips ahead. Over her shoulder, catching his eye once more before turning away.
They steal each other’s glances, though both would offer them freely. They peruse the corridors, skirting the outermost parts. They are invisible to those around them, blind to the strangers they see.
They meet in the depths of the east wing. A long-past general, encapsulated in stone, oversees their welcoming embrace.
“I missed you,” he whispers.
She closes her eyes as the honey-like drip of his voice echoes in her ear, a special sort of homesickness lingering.
His lips brush her cheek as they pull away;
her fingers fall off his neck,
grasping for his hand; he acquiesces, as they ascend the spiral stairs.
Gliding through aisles and shops — no purchase necessary — in and out of now. They stop inside the Corner Store, window shopping lottery tickets. Special attention is paid to a bag of French Burnt Peanuts, well past its prime. They discuss its likely loneliness, its feelings about being left on the shelf.
He leans over to say: “I love you forever.”
She smiles. “For today, at least.”
She holds him tighter, fingers driving back the color of his skin. They stop for a smoothie, enough cash between them to share.
The old man’s weathered hands offer a cup, as he smiles across the counter.
He rests his hand on her knee, and she on his; they tangle up with one another, their ending and beginning quite unclear. They sit, one across from the other, exchanging secrets in plain sight, careful not to be discovered, afraid to look too long lest they be blinded.
She waits for him outside. He looks up for a moment and catches her eye. The street, mall, signs and people fall away.
He produces a note, handwritten, though authored elsewhere. She reads the words slowly, enjoying every one. She eyes him over the paper. The letter, re-folded and tucked away;
a kiss on the cheek.
An embrace, longer than those before.
He is beside her, as they clutch for familiar skin, whispering dreams in each others’ ears. They wander — blue plaid shorts hiding almost-athletic legs, a white, tucked linen blouse hanging from shapely shoulders — both pairs of eyewear eerily similar beside each other.
She brings him into the women’s bathroom; they stand in a stall, door open. She un-tucks her shirt, glancing toward his waist. “How long have you had those?” She asks.
They’re new, but
deciding never to wear them again.
This time, they meet at the bookstore. Plucking a book from the shelf, they read first and second sentences, wondering out loud how a given story will end. After buying a $3.99 copy of The Catcher in the Rye, they read it together on the stairs.
“Close your eyes,” she says, as they sit. She takes his hand, tracing the cracks on that lakefront path she likes. Like calligraphy.
“Can you kiss me first?” He asks.
“Please. I need you to to go first.”
“I don’t know.”
Their parents were waiting for them — the looks on their faces said it all.
But they did not feel wrong.
Forbidden from seeing each other, things are different but haven’t changed. The place under the tracks they agreed to meet
though hard to find. Drenched by warm rain, her clothes cling to thighs and shoulders, hair tracing swirls on her face and neck.
It’s midnight, just like they’d promised. Except
he never came.