Graphic by Shay Suban
Love was in the air, so Alicia packed up her laptop and some notebooks and evacuated the premises. She liked her roommate, and didn’t mind her roommate’s boyfriend visiting, but the two of them were inching closer while watching some rom-com and she saw where this was heading.
Her floormates were shouting and blasting One Direction in the floor lounge. The building lounge was hosting some midterm stress relief event. Alicia was starting to entertain the idea of actually making the trek to a library for once, but a text stopped her.
Chris: Yo I’m doing chem in my lounge if anyone wants to join.
Kumiko: I’m down
Alicia considered it. Study groups usually weren’t great for her productivity. That said, Chem was her weakness this quarter. Kumiko and Chris were doing well in that class, based on the first midterm. And a free lounge was a free lounge.
She realized then that she’d forgotten her laptop charger in her room.
It’s not even a real anything. It’s just them walking down the rain-soaked street, holding hands with arms outstretched because they have the room, skipping a little in the night. The air smells clean, freshly bathed.
One twirls into the other’s arms. She turns around to hug her properly. They could say something, but words wouldn’t be enough. So they hold each other for a second, and then continue on their way in the crisp night air.
There’s a real world out there somewhere, but it’s not their concern right now. Their only worry is trying to keep the fuzz in their hearts from getting wet, which is both an easy problem and not a bad one to have.
And what is there to say? It’s a feeling that’s warm but not too warm, smells like rainy leaves and her shampoo, the softness of a chinchilla and the light chill of an autumn night. It’s like her body is free and her heart is in her hug. It’s as contradictory and beautiful as love itself.
There is nothing to say. Just them two walking down the rainy road, holding hands with arms outstretched to take up the space they’re given.
“How’s it going with Carla?”
Jack grinned as he changed lanes. “Pretty chill. I think we’ve established we’re official but on the DL.”
“Why so secretive?” Alicia asked.
“Uh… She’s worried people will judge her for getting in a relationship right after breaking up with Neal.”
“Right after? Bullshit, it’s been two months.”
Jack shrugged. “Her words, not mine. Shoutout to double standards, ‘cause I broke up with Gabrielle around the same time, and I know I won’t get judged for being with Carla.”
“Also bullshit. How long is Carla in mourning for?”
Jack laughed out loud. “I think she wants to wait another month, at least. A quarter of a year is a respectable period of mourning for a young gentlewoman,” he said in an affected tone.
Alicia snorted. “Honestly, it’s nice that she’s moved on already. She’s heading into her next love story instead of rereading the last one for too long.”
“Instead of prolonging the period of sorrow and tragedy.”
“Exactly! And I mean – aw, man, not this song.”
“What’s wrong with ‘Thinking Out Loud?’” Jack said. He seemed to be taken aback at the thought that anyone could be less than enthusiastic about Ed Sheeran.
“I dunno. It’s too sweet. Like drinking syrup.”
Jack shrugged and changed the station. Alicia made a face at “Stitches,” but didn’t comment. At least it wasn’t sappy.
“Anyways. Carla broke up with Neal, so she wasn’t even in real mourning.”
“Right, so, on the topic of double standards…”
“She’s still expected to mourn at least a little? As the girl in the relationship?”
“And if she mourns a little, she’s expected to mourn fully.”
Alicia groaned and threw up her hands, hitting the car roof a little. “Remind me to never get into a relationship with a guy.”
“I mean, I didn’t think you ever would?”
Life as they know it is pink. A bit of a dry, light pink, a color you’d call rose and identify on the walls of an old-fashioned café. The color of jazz trumpets and strawberry lemonade.
They take a stroll – there’s no other word for it in this pink weather – in search of ice cream, but when the ice cream parlor is closed, they opt for lemonade. It’s not strawberry, and looks deceptively yellow, but don’t be fooled – it’s pink too.
It’s half a degree cooler than beach weather today. It’s warm and sweet and tart out, like the lemonade sticking in their throats, and if you look around you might see a blue sky, green leaves, a gray walk – but today, for them, life is tinted with rose-colored glasses, and there’s nothing in their way.
Alicia: Anyone’s lounge free? There’s a rom com playing in mine .-.
Kumiko: You don’t like rom coms?
Alicia: The characters’ bad decisions are stressing me out?
Chris: My lounge is free
The study group wasn’t completely efficient – mostly because Alicia’s sister texted needing relationship advice, which Alicia was fully unqualified to give – but it was certainly better than having to watch 27 Dresses.
Sometime in the first hour, Kumiko asked her about a Chem practice problem. Alicia looked and cringed internally – proton NMR spectroscopy. Her weakest weak point. She could see it now: Kumiko exposing Alicia as a fraud who didn’t know anything about chemistry, Chris reacting in shock, both of them kicking her out of the study group. But then she realized–
“Oh, the chemical shift is farther upfield for this one because…”
Alicia explained her way through it, and it made sense. “Oh, okay. Thanks,” said Kumiko.
“No problem,” Alicia said, completely taken aback. She’d scored solidly below average in her last two Chem classes, and bombed the first midterm this quarter. By now, she’d given up on really understanding Chem. Getting NMR right, and especially being able to expound upon it, was unfathomable. So how…?
Alicia couldn’t explain why she thought Kumiko had something to do with it.
Over the next few hours, their separate work converged. They solved practice problems together. It blew Alicia away – she had forgotten what it felt like to understand chem, and to see science with a sense of wonder, and to work with someone this well. She kept getting the sense that they were on the same wavelength.
They dance (they don’t really). They walk to the side of the hill to see the city lights. This isn’t something they’ve ever done before.
Neither of them care for the view. The distant city is too far and detached from their little world above. But music soars in her heart, though she doesn’t know the words, and there is a warmth in her that’s more gentle than thermal.
They hold hands and wonder if they’ve finally fallen in love.
The music takes her over and she pulls her into a ballroom embrace. She can’t hear the music, but she steps and follows her and they only step on each other’s feet a few times. She hopes what’s in her heart – the color gold, smooth as satin, a flame warmer than the lights they aren’t looking at – is in hers too.
Their steps slow as the music slows, and they draw nearer. Her head rests against her shoulder, a cheek resting on top of her head. They could kiss, but why would they when they can stay in this embrace instead?
This is what it’s like to stand in love, they think.
It was so thoroughly not-a-big-deal, Alicia couldn’t even pinpoint what happened later.
She remembered getting to the lecture hall early and listening to the Hamilton soundtrack. She remembered Kumiko and Chris arriving in chem and sitting by her, like always. And at some point Alicia thought to herself, “____________”
(She didn’t remember.)
(It was something along the lines of, “Kumiko’s kinda cute,” but the words don’t capture the feeling, which was more about the person and less about her looks.)
“So what do you like about her?” Jack asked her five days later. Five days of Alicia’s feelings snowballing down a hill, in which the hill was getting steeper and the bottom was nowhere in sight.
“Um…” Alicia kinda shrugged. “I’m still trying to put words to it. She’s… I want to say genuine? It’s like she knows exactly who she is, and doesn’t have any reason to be anything else.”
“Confidence is sexy,” Jack said, nodding as he poked the boiling tortellini. “Shit, can you… Can you hold this for a sec?”
Alicia took the colander and held it over the sink while he poured a bit of water out of the overflowing pot. “I don’t know if sexy is the right word,” she said. “I mean, she’s cute, I just… I dunno. That’s not why I fell for her.”
Jack placed the pot back on the stove. “Is genuineness the main thing you like about her?”
“I think so? I’m still working it out. Don’t worry, I’m sure I’ll manage to overanalyze both her and my attraction to her over the next… however long I like her.”
She – Kayla – is kind of badass. Not like leather-jacket-dyed-hair-deep-violet-fight-me badass. She’s genuine. That’s pretty badass. She geeks out over chem and superhero movies and Kina Grannis. Her favorite color is pink, a dark shade, almost magenta. She doesn’t play by any of the lesbian stereotypes, flannels or beanies or softball, but she – Alex – doesn’t get the sense that she’s avoiding them. Kayla isn’t trying to be anything in particular; she’s just being.
It’s little things, like the way Kayla reaches up to brush the low-hanging leaves on the way back from class, or the change in her voice when she sees a dog, or the way she gets excited by the color of the sky. They stop one evening at the top of the tennis courts to look at the magenta-and-gold fire painting the sunset.
Alex sneaks a look at her face. Kayla’s eyes are full of light.
She can’t pinpoint why she’s fallen in love, but she knows these little things have made it happen faster.
They were theoretically studying for Friday’s chem midterm, but the study break was stretching into an hour and there were Buzzfeed quizzes happening. Alicia looked over Kumiko’s shoulder.
The question was, “What color are your eyes?” Kumiko’s cursor drifted between the separate answers of “brown” and “dark brown.” She must have known Alicia was looking, because there was no explanation when she looked up and implicitly invited her to stare into her eyes.
Kumiko’s eyes were lovely, Alicia thought. There shouldn’t have been anything remarkable about them. They were a shade darker than chocolate and a shade richer than coffee, and Alicia couldn’t figure out what made them so lovely. She wanted to describe the exact color of Kumiko’s eyes, but she didn’t trust her adjectives right now.
“Dark brown,” she said.
The entire world has turned gray, and Alex has never loved the color more. Puffy gray clouds spanning the whole sky, sheets of gray drops falling from above, cool gray puddles on gray concrete walks. The smell of petrichor floods her lungs.
Kayla kicks a puddle at Alex, who chases after her. Two adults on a grown-up stroll through a university have transformed into a pair of kids. Water flies as their feet smash through puddles, soaking their socks and the bottoms of their jeans. Laughter and rain and fresh air make running feel like flying, instead. Kayla slips on a leaf, and Alex catches up, concerned but mostly giggling.
The trees and buildings hum a song as old as the oceans. Kayla inhales deeply, and Alex knows the petrichor has reached her core.
Alex finally opens her umbrella so they don’t get wetter, and they continue their walk in a more sensible manner. Their damp hair and soaked legs are the only evidence that the colors of the whole world reside in their souls.
Alicia hesitated to knock because she knew full well that Kumiko was in there. She had real reasons for going over to Jack’s apartment, but the fact that Kumiko was nevertheless there made her worry that Kumiko would think she was only there for that reason.
Eventually she did knock, and Jack’s roommate Oliver opened the door, and when Kumiko saw her she said “Alicia!” like she was genuinely happy to see her, and Alicia’s heart lit up like a warm coal because this meant the world to her.
Alicia planted herself at the dining table, opposite Kumiko. “Are you here to study too?” Alicia asked.
“Kind of. Aaron invited me here to hang out, but he’s got a midterm tomorrow,” Kumiko said, gesturing towards one of the rooms.
“I know.” Kumiko picked up her phone. “Do you mind if I play music?”
“Not at all.”
At this point, Jack walked through the room. “Hey Alicia,” he said, grinning and wiggling his eyebrows behind Kumiko’s back. Alicia glared at him a little, but he plopped himself down on the couch instead of noticing her stare.
Kumiko put her phone down and pulled a stray thread from her faded purple tee. Guitar notes drifted out of her phone – Alicia didn’t recognize it, aside from knowing it was Ed Sheeran.
She and Kumiko got to work, Ed Sheeran’s tinny voice singing between them.
Nothing important. Maybe Alex will forget it completely one day.
It’s just two of them in a room with many others. They’re not alone at all. Two of them at the table, others flitting in and out of conversation. The room is always occupied by more than just them.
They’re studying at the table, their laptops askew so they can talk to each other. Neither of them can focus because the whole room is abuzz. They talk about things anyone can talk about, like the music that’s playing from Kayla’s phone, or their favorite movies, or how the quarter’s going. No big deal.
Alex will forget what they talked about. She’ll forget what everyone else in the room is doing, and what she’s wearing, and what she’s working on.
In the end, what she remembers is the songs Kayla’s played. She remembers Kayla singing a little off-key, and the kind, unguarded way she looks at her, and walking home with her at two in the morning. Everything else fades into a soft lavender feeling that captures it all.
Alicia couldn’t remember the last time she’d been so silly-in-love.
She’d never looked forward to chem so thoroughly before. She woke up in the mornings excited and ready to go, even though her first class was three hours before chem. She laughed at herself whenever she realized it.
She’d been at lunch with Chris and Kumiko, and Alicia asked them what they’d do if a friend asked them out. Kumiko’s answer was situational – “It depends on the person.” – which wasn’t much use. Alicia still couldn’t believe the nerve of herself for asking the question, or for cautiously adding follow-ups. She was pushing her luck, but she was too dumb-in-love to care, and she knew it.
Chris: brave of you to ask
Alicia: lol too bad she didn’t answer the real question
Chris knew, and seemed to approve. Alicia took this as a good sign, because Chris knew Kumiko well. It gave her hope.
She’d never really taken a look at the fuchsias growing across from the chem lecture hall. They were in full bloom, the short point in a flower’s life when everything about it is perfect. They were full of joy, their petals outstretched, their magentas and purples in full vibrance.
Things were going well. It was life in love.
Wind sweeps Alex’s hair and spirits into the sky. The occasional rose petal twirls past her face, one hitting her in the mouth. There’s a song in the air which has nothing to do with sound, and everything to do with everything.
And everything dances. Everything is full of life and color – the roses around her are sweet and raspberry pink, the grass is a deep, healthy green. She can’t actually smell the roses in the wind, but everything tricks her into thinking she can. In her third-degree state of life-in-love, the wind could have tricked her into thinking anything.
I think I know why I’ve fallen for you.
The wind picks up enough to pull freshly fallen petals up from the grass. The air around her flutters wildly, a flock of birds in Kayla’s favorite color taking off. Petals kiss her cheeks, and she carries a rosy shade of pink inside. Dark pink, almost magenta. Fuchsia.
I think we have the same color soul.
Alicia felt guilty, as though it was her fault Kumiko had fallen asleep right beside her. She avoided looking in Kumiko’s direction, because the soft feeling that surfaced in her heart whenever she did felt like a betrayal of trust.
Alicia: ngl dying a little over here
Chris: do you want to trade spots?
Alicia: lol it’s ok. She’d wonder why we switched.
Chris glanced at their sleeping friend. Kumiko’s head lay on her arm, face turned toward them, a pair of electric pink headphones resting nearby. Alicia didn’t look because she already knew how Kumiko looked right now.
The midterm had gone well for Alicia. The others were trying not to talk about it, which made her sad because they were the entire reason she’d been able to solve anything. They were sort of halfheartedly starting finals prep, although it felt ages away. Hence Kumiko taking a nap instead.
Alicia: Have I told you the plan?
Chris: No? What plan?
Alicia: I’m gonna try and hang out one-on-one with her a few times before break, get to know her a little better
Alicia: Next quarter I’ll ask her out
She’d have loved to dive right in. Alicia was so ready for something to finally happen. But it was for the best, and if it made things more likely to work out, then she had to keep telling herself she was willing to wait for it.
There’s something autumnal about walking back from the library tonight. They’re not sure if it’s within them, or if the way their breath hangs frozen in the air has anything to do with it, or if it’s because finals are drawing near and things are ending. The night is a deep, solemn blue, somewhere between navy and royal, but if you pay attention you can see the turquoise streaks in the night.
Alex drinks in the almost-winter air and catches Kayla’s eye. She smiles.
Maybe it’s because of the weather; maybe it’s because of them. But the solemnity of the night is interwoven with a relaxed kind of optimism, cool and blue-green.
The end is upon them, but the true beginning has yet to arrive. There is so much promise ahead.
Alicia: Chris, do you mind flaking on lunch tmrw?
Alicia: So it’s just me and her?
Chris: Sure, good luck!
It wasn’t… the most awkward lunch Alicia had ever had. But it was up there.
It seemed like Kumiko had something on her mind the entire time. She’d mentioned finals early on, so Alicia figured she was just stressed out.
They tried. Alicia asked questions; Kumiko answered them. Sometimes Kumiko bounced a similar question back. Every conversation hit a wall. Kumiko still seemed preoccupied, and Alicia worried about how to get her to relax and save their lunch. They’d been alone before. They could handle this.
Things didn’t improve, and they headed out. Alicia blamed herself for roughly twelve seconds.
“Can I talk to you for a minute?” Kumiko asked.
Kumiko was careful with her words. She wasn’t sure if this was true or not, disclaimer, disclaimer, trying to be gentle but direct, but if Alicia liked her–
“Where did you get this idea?” Alicia wanted to know.
“Does that mean…?”
“Just… hypothetically,” Alicia said, knowing full well there was nothing hypothetical going on anymore.
“Um… You know when you asked me and Chris what we’d do if a friend asked us out?”
She’d figured it out herself.
“So… You don’t have to say anything, but if that’s the case… I want to make it clear that I’m not interested. I mean, I’m flattered, but I really don’t want to lead you on. I recently started dating someone.”
“You don’t have to say anything,” Kumiko said again.
“No.” There was nothing hypothetical. “You’re right. I slipped up.”
“It’s okay. I just wanted to make it crystal clear.”
Alicia nodded again. Sure. Crystal. Like ice.
“Okay… I guess I’ll see you later?”
Study group later. “Okay. See you.”
It’s raining again. Someone told you rain couldn’t be fun and blue and gray couldn’t be happy. So here comes the sky, letting you down.
There’s two girls… It’s not Alex and Kayla. You idiot. There never was Alex and Kayla. There was just Alex and her hope.
It’s the internal version of when you go out without a coat or an umbrella and it starts pouring, and your shoulders and everything up to your thighs are drenched. There are better ways to phrase that. It’s raining internally? Does that imply crying? Is that too much? I don’t know. Just imagine being miserable.
She fell in love and hoped to stay this time, but now she’ll have to climb slowly back out. Again. It’s a long, slippery way to the top, and she’s exhausted, and she wants to stay here but can’t.
One girl. Standing in the rain. Nowhere to go.
Never mind. I can’t do this.
Alicia’s fingers stilled on the keyboard. The spacer ticked on the page, pestering her to continue. She scrolled down so she wouldn’t have to see it.
It was one in the morning. She was at Jack’s. The study group had gone badly – she and Kumiko didn’t talk and the atmosphere was weird and eventually she gave some excuse and left. Chris said he was there for her, if she needed him. Which was nice. Right now she didn’t want to disturb the study group. Finals prep would go fine without her.
Alicia didn’t know what to do. She’d had all these plans… none of them accounted for this.
Alicia pulled her earbuds out. She wasn’t actually listening to anything. Jack was dozing off on the couch against the far wall, with Carla curled up next to him. They weren’t cuddling – they were barely touching – but their arms were outstretched so that their hands could meet.
They’d found a new love story to be happy in. And to have problems in, and find solutions in, and to be hurt in. At least something was happening.
Alicia closed her laptop. Jack woke up long enough to lock the door behind her. She started her trek down the lopsided apartment stairs.
Maybe she should’ve been used to it by now. This idea of her love stories ending before they could even begin. Maybe it was the world compensating for the love stories she wrote.
The night was cold and still. Alicia walked herself home.