We sat there under the stars and I could feel him breathing next to me. In. Out. His head on my shoulder. I didn’t want to move. The moment would break. I would break. I was already broken.
The wind blew and everything shattered slowly, falling to pieces around us. He wasn’t mine. He could never be. He was hers.
“I really want to kiss you right now.”
I winced. The words were a knife in a wound that had been opening slowly, self-inflicted, carved into my heart.
“You have a girlfriend.”
His head was off of my shoulder and we were two separate people: different histories, different beliefs, different presents. I tried to imagine a life that he could be in. Every passing moment made it harder. What we were moving towards would erase him from my future. I wanted to cry. But I couldn’t. He would know what was wrong without me having to say it. He probably already knew. He was like that.
I looked over at him and he was shaking, staring out at the night. I wondered if it was from the cold. I opened my mouth to ask what was wrong and he turned to face me, shaking his head. Staring at my lips.
“I don’t care about her right now.” He paused. “I know I should, but I don’t. I only care about you.”
“John, you can’t save me.”
“This isn’t about saving you! It’s not about fixing you, either. Even though I want to. And I think I could. This is about me wanting you, and only you, right now.”
“But you wanted her yesterday. You will want her tomorrow. And the day after that.”
“And if tomorrow never comes?”
I smiled and shook my head. “It is tomorrow, John. And this isn’t philosophy. These are our lives.”
“And so I want you tomorrow.” He smiled back. “Philosophy is life.”
He was still staring at my lips; I couldn’t look in his eyes. I couldn’t even look at him. I wanted what he wanted, and I was disgusted with myself.
More than anything in my life, I have always wanted to be a good person. I have been bad at math, bad at soccer, bad at saying no to sweets, bad at time management, bad at flirting, bad at telling people how I felt. I had never been a bad person. Until then. And I hated him for it. I hated myself more.
“We can’t; I’m sorry.”
His hand was on my cheek, brushing away an imagined piece of hair. A speck of starlight, perhaps.
“I know.” He whispered. “You’re too good.”
I shook my head. “I’m not good enough for anything.”
“That’s not true. You are good. You are kind. You are more patient than anyone I know. More empathetic. More understanding. You want to take everyone’s pain and hold it for them. You never do anything for yourself. Whether you see it or not, you’re too good.”
I looked at him again and he was staring at me.
He looked sad. “Are we going to be okay after this?”
“I want you in my life no matter what.” And I did.
“Good.” A pause. “Me too.”
There was a long silence and I could feel the pieces of what we had been and what we were and what we could be falling all around me, slicing up my heart. We would not be okay after this. I knew that. But I also knew that I would pretend that we were okay and I would fight for it and dream of it for as long as I could, until it wasn’t possible. That was what he meant to me.
I didn’t realize it then, but I loved him. He brought out the worst parts of me, but he also brought out the best. He expanded my comfort zone. He argued with me. He challenged my beliefs. He didn’t let me hide from my past. He forced me to look at what I believed in and question why I did.
We sat there for what seemed like forever, until the sun began to rise and there was no way we could pretend that the night was not over. In the light, everything we had said and done and felt seemed false to me, fake, something that had happened under a spell mixed from the liquor, the drugs, the moon, the stars. It didn’t seem real. But it was.
He was breathing so evenly beside me, hood up, that it almost seemed as if he were asleep. I put a hand on his shoulder, lightly.
“I’m going to bed, John.”
He turned to me, eyes wide and very much awake.
“I’ll walk you back to your room.”
“It’s literally 100 yards; I don’t need you to.”
“Don’t be stubborn.” He was standing up, joints creaking, tucking the blanket tighter under my chin with a smile. “I want to. Let’s go.”
Across the lawn, up the stairs, down the hall, to my door. We got there and stood for a moment; I didn’t know what to say. Unwrapping my blanket, I pulled off his sweater and held it out for him.
“Thanks for letting me borrow this.”
He made no movement towards it. “You can keep it if you want. I’ll get it later.”
“I have lots of sweaters, John.” I wasn’t going to keep it, because I wanted to keep it too much for it to be healthy to. It smelled of him. “Please take it.”
I turned towards my door to unlock it, but he grabbed me, enveloping me in a hug that made me melt. Warm, the scent of him all around me; I felt safe. So I pulled back. And as I did, he kissed my cheek, slowly, lips grazing mine as he pulled away, smirking at me with that impish grin I could not refuse.
The next moment he was running down the hall, disappearing down the stairs. My cheek was burning. I leaned over the balcony and watched as across the lawn his door opened and shut. I imagined him slipping into the room, trying not to wake his roommate as he stripped out of his clothing and slid into his sheets.
The sky was bright. It was six-thirty. Quietly, I let myself into my room. I brushed my teeth mindlessly, hand held to my face. All of my thoughts were on his lips to my cheeks, his lips to my lips. The burning was my whole body. I washed my face. I changed into my pajamas: a big shirt and underwear. I fell onto my bed.
For a moment, I didn’t think I could sleep. He had left me feeling wholly alive. Completely awake. I lay there for a moment, the sun streaming through the cracks in the blinds, leaving streaks of light across my blanket. I traced my fingers across the edges, and watched the mountains and valleys of fabric form and reform, changing the shapes of light where they fell.
And then Rebecca stirred in her bed, and I whipped onto my side, facing the wall and pretending to be asleep, eyes squeezed shut. I would not sleep; I could not sleep after what had happened; I should sleep, though. I was out.