Right there, that table sheltered by the shade of the trees—that’s where she sits everyday with her friends. Just every day, like it was required of her to come home to her table. She has lunch there, and studies there. When her friends come by, they’re a really noisy bunch, and when she’s alone, it’s just her and a book. She’d pop on some ear phones, and it sometimes feels like I can imagine the music play in the background, but only when I look at her.
This is what it feels like in campus every day; this is what feels normal. I guess I got really used to it, because this table across theirs is like home to me now too. There’s an odd shift in the air whenever she isn’t around. The scene is incomplete when I glance up from my homework and she’s nowhere in the peripheral.
But today, the odd shift isn’t caused by her absence, but the presence of another person. I know this one: he comes around every day for a class in a nearby building, but he’s never talked to her. I didn’t really think he knew her. I didn’t know her; I just saw her every day, that’s all.
I get bored of my calculus exercises, like a healthy person should, and end up watching him try to borrow her laptop and surf the internet. But the odd thing is, he’s behind her, with his arms reaching out over her shoulders. Her friends are there, watching, and they giggle. I can hear one say something like a taunt, and the girl just put a finger to her lips, shushed them with a smile she can’t push back. But the guy was uncomfortable, and it seems like she is too. I don’t think anyone else noticed, but she was about to lift her hands to take his arms and ask him to hug her or something, but she didn’t.
The guy finally backs away, and thanks her, bids her goodbye with nervous laughter.
When he’s gone, her friends huddle up and discuss. She tries to ignore it with light laughter, and before she looks down at her laptop, our eyes meet.
I look away.
I never get used to it, when things change around here. I do my homework during my free time, and I see the same girl and the same set of friends when I look up. The guy came back again, and I’m certain he never passed by or visited in the past two weeks.
His visit today seems to be longer than the first time I saw him around. He has a pack of candy, and he offers it to the group; they naturally decline. He shakes the pack in front of her, her slight hesitation is overridden by a sense of politeness. She takes a piece.
She pats on a seat and invites him to join the table. He takes the seat, but he’s being ignored. The girl seems unusually animated, her conversation with her friends turn into a show, and the guy is reduced to an audience member. They sat next to each other, but he felt pretty distant, even at the points when he seemed to try to join in.
The next time I look at them, I see him stand up and awkwardly say goodbye.
The entire circle of friends immediately transform into a small council, advising her to stay away from the guy and not encourage anything.
I could get it, I guess, for friends to tell you to stay away from jerks and stuff, bad people who would hurt you and break your heart or whatever, but the guy seemed pretty decent to me. I mean, his glasses look pretty good on him.
I think I should take back what I said about the small council. Those are for kings. This is a democracy, and the sovereignty lies with the constituents—she isn’t getting advised; she’s trying to please her people.
It’s like she’s trying not to hug him or something. Maybe, I don’t know. This guy really distracts me. I can’t do homework when he’s around. She’s alone today, and she just put down a book when he came over. Now I’m pretty fixated on the pair of them, trying to see if she’ll be like how she was when her friends were around them both.
When he came by today, she just waved hello without looking up from her book. He took a seat and tried to make conversation. He even brought her something new to read. She lit up when she saw it, and started to make recommendations. Now they’re talking like normal.
But it’s still kind of odd, like, unnatural. Whenever there were dead bits of silence in their conversation, she would revert to her old ways of ignoring him, and just giving him a show—and this show is pretty boring because she’s just there, reading. But she doesn’t pop her ear phones back on, because, you know, he’s still there.
But he isn’t leaving, and she’s just waiting there. I don’t even think she’s really reading because she never got to flipping any pages anymore. He breaks the silence, but the new topic doesn’t succeed at provoking any comments. He gets up and says goodbye, and she puts down her book and gives him a smile and a wave.
There’s something almost political about the way she says goodbye.
Once a week is the most I see of this guy, and in the span of seven months, his awkward visits are kind of normal now, and I’ve grown pretty tired of watching them back-and-forth their attempts to sway each other towards something more favorable.
And I know I used to say that seeing him is weird, but today is really, really weird, because they’re next to each other and they’re holding hands.
I don’t know what happened.
I see him today, and she’s busy on her laptop. Must be some homework thing. He sits down next to her, but she ignores him, except for the trained hello-goodbye smile and wave combo. So I guess yesterday was a false alarm.
And yes, I said yesterday. I see him twice in a week—and two days in a row. What a record.
And then he’s gone again, for like, two days. He’s back now, and he’s kind of trying to be sweet, actually. He nudges her on the shoulder, and takes her by the wrist and asks her to go with him. The girl whines, wanting to stay. How territorial. But she pats on the seat next to hers, and gives a real smile this time. He looks around the table only for a second to see her friends pretending to ignore them both, and dismisses the idea with a nervous chuckle and turns around. She groans. “Okay fine,” she stands up. “Where are we eating?”
He wasn’t here yesterday, but he is now. And I think I’m watching a re-edited replay, because it’s all the same. Except when he turned around, he just left, and she just smiled and waved. That choreography must be by muscle memory. That lunch the other day must have went badly.
I thought I was finally going to have a month clear of this distracting drama. It’s almost pre-finals week, and I’ve got to study. And here he is again, few weeks after. How long have I been watching these two?
And that thing I said about her friends being a small council is kind of pretty true if you’re considering how well-dressed advisers to royalty should be.
I don’t think that she thinks he’s a loser.
But she’s ignoring him again, but let him sit next to her. It’s both obvious and confusing. He tries to say something with a smile, and she’s almost irritated about it. He pulls out a couple of tickets to something.
At first, her hand instantaneously comes up and she gently pushes away the tickets using the back of her hand. She says something quietly. His smile becomes unbearable to keep up. He tries to hold any expression on his face, and the best he could do is press his lips together.
“What don’t you get?!” She snaps, but her body is completely composed—or stiff, nervous. “Do I have to say it to your face?” Her brows are pushing together, and she’s trying to loosen her jaw as she waits for a response.
“I’ve been trying to be nice to you. There’s nothing wrong with a girl just trying to make a decision about her life, right? I mean, I have a say in things—that I don’t have to force myself into something I don’t want?”
“Well, I’m sorry.” He gets up. “I’m sorry I just kept on trying.”
Her friends begin to leave the table, uneasy about the atmosphere. I would have done the same, but I’m locked on to them.
“You were always just there.”
“I’m sorry I kept on bothering you.” I don’t know if he was beating himself up about it, or if he was just trying to not be so angry.
“And you were so scared! Scared to say anything, to do anything—scared to make a mistake and you’d go missing for a long time until you try again. Just a scared little boy!”
“I’m sorry that I couldn’t be a man.”
“And stop with your stupid apologies!”
“I’m sorry I fell in love with you, okay? Not like I could have done anything about it!”
“Oh please! You’d feel that way about any other girl who pays you a bit of attention.”
It shuts him up for a while, but he starts back up. “I was going to say that I’m sorry I seemed so pathetic to you, but I feel even sorrier for you. That you actually think someone would only want to be with you if you’re the last choice they had.”
He calmly walks away.
I never saw him around again, except for the times like right now when he needs to pass by to get to another building. He scans the environment, making sure she wasn’t there at the table.
But she never was.
She never came back home.