I have to tell him how I feel. And tonight is my last chance.
It’s gotten to the point where I don’t care whether he likes me back or if rejection is the only thing coming my way. We are moving out. Come tomorrow we won’t be living next door to each other anymore. It’s too late for serious us. I just need to know if what I have been sensing this whole time is real.
All of these feelings flushed in right from the very beginning. The week before senior year, I was walking around my front lawn after I’d just finished unpacking. I kicked off my flimsy flip-flops and began pacing barefoot on the cool grass wearing only a loose white v-neck and faded Levi’s. I wiped the few drops of sweat from my brow and took out my pack of Parliaments. I needed a cigarette to help me relax after my grueling moving-in. But September in Chicago is notoriously windy, and my lighter, like most things I owned at the time, was cheap and unreliable. I kept flicking it, cupped my hands around the flame and tried to keep it going long enough to cause some serious damage to my unlit Parliament, much to no avail.
I was starting to get frustrated when I noticed a boy plopping down the steps of the porch next door and slowly heading towards my direction. He was wearing a pair of forest green shorts and a white t-shirt similar to mine except wrinkled and with grass stains, as if he’d been doing cartwheels or wrestling on the grass. His dark brown wavy hair swayed in the wind and from his dry pink lips dangled a lit Parliament. It took me a second to recognize him.
“Hey there, I’m Boy in Color, your neighbor apparently,” he said looking at me and then glancing at my house. I shared a front lawn with the boy who had taken my breath away the minute I had first laid eyes on him at that party not so long ago. And exactly like before, the world went grey as he glowed in multicolor. Being next to me got me in some sort of visual trance.
“Hi,” I said staring straight into his juvenile eyes as he continued to approach me cutting through the grass. “You got a lighter? Mine’s a piece of shit.”
“Here, let me show you a trick,” he said taking my lighter from my hands. “Put the cigarette in your mouth, and pull your collar over it to block it from the wind.” I was skeptical and pictured my white shirt engulfing in flames, but I followed his instructions. “And now light it from underneath,” he said and reached under my shirt, gently gracing my happy trail as he made his way upwards with my lighter in his hand. It tickled, and the sensation stretched from my belly to my back and down my spine.
He got the lighter up to my chest and lit my heart on the very first try.
And in the nine months that followed, our entire senior year, the flame between us continued to flicker in the wind, never dying down. During our late night conversations sitting on the rackety bench on his porch, our knees touching while we waited for the sun to come up, I’d lean on him slightly and feel him applying pressure back on me; while watching cheesy scary movies on rainy Sunday afternoons, he’d turn to me with and flash me a soft smile whenever I made a clever comment no one else understood; or after the brief, silly friend fights we’d get into for pretending not to care, we’d hug as a sign of peacemaking, but our hugs always lingered as a sign of something else.
During all of this, I made sure to guard our flame while he kept fanning it. Because whenever we’d undergo a cold front, it’d only take a longing look, a tender touch or a few words to bring us right back to the warm sentiment I felt we shared.
And now on the last night I’ll be seeing him before we both jet off into opposite sides of the country, and I can’t believe I never got close enough to confess how I feel. I have been so afraid of getting burned, thinking that in this fire, a friend is the worse thing to lose.
But I have to know if this is real. Because I feel like I’m burning, and if Boy in Color can’t save me, he has to let me cool.
I have to tell him how I feel. And tonight is my last chance. I think again as I walk out my front door, light a Parliament under my collar and make my
way to the sports bar our entire senior class will be at on our last night of college.
[To be continued…]