You had cut your hair too short to be pulled back into a ponytail, but too long to be kept off your neck and face. You groaned as you headed back outside to where Miriam’s truck was parked, the back filled with the objects the two of you had to move in. You two had recently moved into this apartment complex after the two of you had finally gotten jobs that could help the both of you move out of your parents’ homes—and it had only taken seven months. Miriam had been luckier than you.
“Think about it positively,” Miriam huffed as she pulled out a heavy box. “One day of torture is worth it. We don’t live at home anymore. We’re fully independent, functioning adults now, at the tender age of twenty-two and twenty-three.”
“We don’t have furniture,” you blurted as you reached in for the box that held all the kitchen stuff—the cheap pots and pans, for example. “We have two fold up chairs and an island counter.”
“That’s a bridge for another day, (name)!”
Why had you two decided to graduate half a semester early? Now you two were moving in during the hot summer—oh, right. So neither of you would be 7K more in debt that you two already were. You inhaled deeply and used all your force to bring the box up a steep slight of steps to your second-floor apartment. You two were almost done, and it was about six in the afternoon, so you two would soon be able to relish in the cool nightfall and a colder shower.
By the time you two had finished, you only managed to place down the last box before collapsing on the floor there. The carpet scratched your cheek, and there was still things to put away and your actual bed to build, but for now, you just wanted to rest. A nap wouldn’t kill anyone right?
Miriam might kill you though, as she had always had a headstrong and focused personality. You two had met as freshmen at your university, having been freshman roommates—and you two had remained close friends since, even if the both of you decided to move back home and simply commute. And you two had been dreaming about this moment since the second month of freshman year…but Miriam could wait. A little rest would do you a lot of good right now.
A melody trickled in, the soft strumming of guitar strings. You opened your eyes just barely and moved your head a bit, as if that could help you locate the source of the sound. You squirmed your way over to the balcony door, sitting up enough to push the glass door open, and you rested against the door frame as the music—and mosquitoes—began to fill your bare living room. Someone was singing gently, quietly, and it couldn’t be at a very far distance from your balcony—and it was all in Spanish.
You, yourself, didn’t speak Spanish (except for the occasional phrase here and there), but this brought back a lot of…old memories that you thought you had buried.
“This guy’s good, huh?” You looked up from your spot and smiled lightly at Miriam. She stepped outside, over your legs, and crossed her arms. “I know you have a secret thing for Spanish-speakers, especially ones who can play and/or sing. If he’s close to our age, than you’ve hit the jackpot.” The fantasy made me grin, even if I knew it probably wouldn’t work out that way. “Hey, it’s almost nightfall. That means it’s like 8:30PM, right?” You nodded. “Don’t you have to get up at 6AM? I think we should finish unpacking so you can sleep in an actual bed and have actual clothing ready for tomorrow. Also, so you might need your charged laptop and phone.”
All right, so Miriam didn’t beat you up for being lazy, but her logic had inspired a bit of submission, and you struggled to get onto your feet, ready to finish the work. It was now or never.
You had to remind yourself: this office job was only temporary. You’d only be working here for two years, maximum, and then you’d have enough experience for your dream job. These were the lies you told yourself as you stumbled into your kitchen after the first day of your job, which had gone absolutely…mediocre. You were young and inexperienced, so instead of being treated like an actual employee, you were more of the paid intern—going on coffee and lunch runs for the higher ups. Your shirt had been open one button too much, and one of the dinosaurs had called you a slut for that, for that square inch of skin that you had shown. You had worn heels, and they had your feet sore. The guy who delivered mail had hit on you, despite clearly being at least ten years your senior. And your boss has called you by the wrong name the whole day, as brief as your conversations with him had been.
Two years max, you promised yourself. You just needed the experience, and most importantly, you needed the money. You didn’t want to return back home, where your negligent step mother resided—nor did she want you back, as she had promised to help you get through college if you got a job and left the house. For the past month, you had been living with Miriam as the two of you hunted down an affordable apartment and a job for yourself. Your stepmother and you had had a deal, and you didn’t want her pity—you had received enough after being orphaned with the death of your mother at fifteen and then the death of your father when you were nineteen.
This would be fine. Everything would be fine. You would persevere.
There was a lack of wine glasses in the cupboards, just stout glass tumblers from IKEA, but there was also a bottle of cheap, red wine to calm your nerves. You were slowly turning into a suburban mom, but you accepted it as you took off the cork stopper and poured some into one of the glasses.
Miriam wasn’t back yet. She was a middle school teacher, so she not only started later than you, but she also finished after you. Not to mention, she often did afterschool activities, so you knew that sometimes she wouldn’t get home until eight or nine. It was too much to expect the two of you would have dinner together, but you could at least make dinner that she could heat up later, if she got here too late.
Adulting was so difficult and annoying. You wanted to be fourteen again—back when everything was so much simpler, and you had your whole family together and your old friends. Not that you wanted Miriam gone from your life—God, no, she was the bestest of friends that you could ever ask for—but you often wondered what it would feel like if not much had changed after ninth grade. Would adulting be easier with parents around to give you cheesy advice? Would adulting be easier with people who had known you for longer than a few years?
You snapped yourself out of it and took out the organic ground beef. Today sounded like a good day to eat five homemade tacos and another cup of wine.
It would get better.
Miriam didn’t arrive late that day, as the softball season hadn’t started yet, so she was still able to come home a little earlier. She thanked you for the tacos as she sat down in front of the island counter, a stack of quiz papers to grade. You had to admit that even if your office job wasn’t favorable, at least you didn’t have to bring your work home with you.
You grabbed a book and headed out for the balcony, flicking on the light. You took the second fold-out chair and made yourself comfortable just as your neighbor began to play. Today was a little earlier than the previous day, the sun not yet behind the horizon, but it felt nice, like a private concert or a serenade.
And it reminded you of high school. It reminded you of the “good old days”, especially when the guitarist started to play Camila’s “Coleccionista de Canciones”—or “the song collector”. Even if you didn’t speak Spanish, that had been your favorite song in high school. It was a pretty old song, probably nine or ten years old, and you hadn’t heard it since you were sixteen, but you were surprised you could still hum along to the melody and sing along to some of the lyrics of the chorus.
“Solo tu. Solamente quiero que seas tu,” you whispered, staring in the direction of the sunset. “Hoy pongo en tus manos mi destino porque vivo parar estar siempre, siempre contigo amor…”
You were a sap for love songs.
You listened to the guitarist until he stopped playing, carefully glanced over at the balcony where he played—in the building across from yours, across the parking lot, and two apartments down. You couldn’t see him very well, especially in the fading daylight, but you leaned on your railing as you watched him go in.
You thought that, maybe if he played every evening, everything wouldn’t feel so bad. Maybe you’d really have the strength to persevere.
Miriam wanted organic, large brown eggs, but you had never actually had them until you had lived with her for the past month. You weren’t sure which to choose, because neither of these boxes looked like the ones she had at home. You very briefly did eenie meenie miney mo and picked out a carton, opening it up to check that all the eggs were intact. You placed it into your cart and moved on, glancing down at the grocery list you and Miriam had thrown together last night so that you could go shopping after work today. Miriam would have come, but she had a school event to attend, so it was impossible for her. You didn’t fault her, and it couldn’t wait either, as you were out of food supplies at home.
The cereal you needed was on the top shelf.
You moved your cart aside and stood on the tips of your toes, and your fingertips barely brushed the edge of the box, and you considered standing on the bottom shelf—but then you considered that you were twenty-two now, and you weren’t sure that it could sustain your weight anymore, not like how it could when you were a kid.
Someone came up behind you, reaching over you and grabbing the box. The person was really warm, your backside pressed against his chest, and your fingers reached for the shelf in front of you, grasping it as you tried to hold back screaming at this person. A stranger was pressed up against you, and a glance back told you this person was male—how could he not read the atmosphere or simply lack basic knowledge of society to know that going up to a girl like that was creepy?
“You know, you can ask for help,” the stranger offered unhelpfully as he brought the box down, and he stepped away from you. You turned, wondering if you should thank him or scold him or both? “It usually makes things easier.”
The stranger smiled as he looked at the floor, his dark and messy and curly hair twisting around his ears and forming ringlets against his olive and strong neck. He wore a dark brown T-shirt and fitted khaki pants, and he seemed wiry and lean. His face was innocent, and he had a strong nose and long, curly eyelashes. A few freckles and beauty marks dotted his face like stars filled the sky, and his lips were full and scarlet. But the key point was his green eyes, the color that reminded you of a hot summer day with the sprinklers used to cool off as you played on the yellowing grass.
You never thought that you’d see Antonio Fernández Carriedo after he graduated when you were sixteen, and yet here he was, holding your box of cereal for you. He was real and palpable and no longer faded memories of old pictures and missed Skype calls from one state over. There were his thick and strong hands, calloused from years of guitars and general lack of thought to take care of himself and his appearance. There was that beautiful grin that sent your heart racing in less than a second. There was his heat, his form, his existence—once again available to you after so long.
But the relationship was gone. On purpose, but nonetheless gone.
He looked up at you, and his eyes widened with recognition. He placed the box in your cart as his smile wavered, turned uneasy. “(name) (last name). I didn’t know you still lived in this town. I thought you had moved out after…um…your father?” Died? No, my step-mother had moved out, but only a few miles west from here—a thirty minute drive. “It’s so good to see you, after so many years. You recognize me, right? How many years has it been?”
“Of course.” That came out as barely a whisper. “Five years.”
How could you not? You had known him since you were fourteen, had been best friends with him even if he was a year older. He had graduated your junior year, and you two had managed to keep up the contact until your father’s death, when you had ended up pushing everyone out. How could you not remember Antonio? He had been your first love, your only love so far, the boy who would sing Spanish love songs and completely enrapture you with his sweet, honey-like voice and his father’s old guitar.
He broke your gaze, looking at his shoes. “So, how have you been?” He always had such a bright, cheerful expression, and you wondered if he had missed you as much as you had missed him. Even if you had been the one to push him out, it didn’t mean you hadn’t regretted it every day since. “Do you live nearby? I actually live down the road, at the Magnolia Garden Apartments?”
“I do too,” you blurted, and your eyes widened. “You’re the one who plays in the evenings, right?”
His cheeks were scarlet, your words causing him to laugh out of embarrassment. “You can hear me? You must live near me, then.”
“The building across the parking lot from yours.” You turned to your cart, picking up the grocery list and awkwardly playing with it. “You have improved. I knew it sounded familiar.” You still had to buy romaine lettuce. “You still sound very beautiful. It’s…it’s very comforting.”
“Oh, really?” You noticed he only carried a small basket with him, with only a wet umbrella inside and a bag of cilantro. “Do you live alone? Or are you…living with someone?”
You laughed lightly, looking over at him. “No. My freshman roommate and best friend. As far as I know, she’s a girl. She hasn’t indicated otherwise.” You indicated at his basket. “Is it raining? It wasn’t when I came in. I thought it was supposed to rain later this evening.”
“Ah! Yes. Very hard. You didn’t walk here, did you?” You nodded awkwardly. “Then…you should let me give you a ride back, okay?” The corner of his eyes crinkled when he smiled helpfully at you, giving him this sort of…sleepy puppy look. How could it be that Antonio only got more attractive and innocent looking in five years? “You don’t even have an umbrella, and since we live so close to each other, it would be a shame to let you get wet.”
You nodded, trying to suppress your grin.
You were going to be alone in the same car as him. You two hadn’t done this since you were sixteen, and you felt just as fluttery at the thought as you did every time he had ever given you a ride home when you two were teenagers. Being near him, you felt as if you were sixteen again, nervously walking beside him in the hallways of your school as he excitedly told you about his life, and you supposed this was the effect of never having received closure. You had never told Antonio you loved him, had always been too afraid to be rejected and ruin the relationship you two already had, so when the two of you fell apart, your feelings were never resolved—never dissolved, never validated or discarded.
You had been asking to feel like a teenager again.
And here was your answer.
He parked in front of your building as opposed to his, even if it wasn’t a far walk to either building. The Spanish music station trickled songs quietly between the both of you, and the rain provided to a rhythmic and comforting background noise. He turned his cars off, and the car filled with the grayish-blue light that came with rainy and overcast days, even if it was only five in the afternoon. Antonio turned over to you, and his smile could provide light to the world.
“It was nice seeing you again, (name).” You agreed and raised your hand to open the door. “Wait. Don’t open that yet.”
Antonio grabbed his umbrella and got out, rushing over to your side of the car. He got the door for you, holding it open for you to climb out and grab your groceries. He held the umbrella at such an angle that you could see his back getting wet, but he wanted to keep you dry.
“You know, I’ll just get wet, anyway,” you protested as you closed the door behind you. “It’s fine. I don’t mind a little rain.”
“You can’t get wet if I walk you to the door.”
You opened your mouth to tell him that wasn’t necessary, but no sound came out. Instead, all you did was nod and stepped closer to him, interlocking your arm with his. This way, the two of you could get covered by the umbrella better—as you knew that he was trying to protect you from the rain only, letting himself get drenched one-sidedly in the process.
You two headed towards your building, and once you two entered, he closed his umbrella. Even if his job was done, he still walked up the stairs with you, offering to carry your groceries as well. You declined that as he followed you up the stairs, placing the groceries in front of the door as you reached down into your purse to look for your key.
“Um…thank you. For walking me home and keeping me dry.” You glanced at him, and he was still smiling, still looked so cheerful. You quit searching for your key and held out your arms, because you knew that he was touchy-feely. He wouldn’t object to this, even if you two hadn’t seen each other in five years, or talked in four. “It’s really nice seeing you again, Antonio.”
His arms went around you automatically, his wet T-shirt negating his efforts to keep you dry. He was practically burning, and his wet curls left streaks against your cheek, and he held you tightly—as if he had missed you all these years. You grasped onto his search, finding comfort in his jagged breathing and rapid heart—how, if you two had only walked up the stairs?
But when you two finally pulled back, his hand rushed to your cheek, and you felt his face closing in on yours, and you felt your emotions getting caught in your throat, and—
“(name), is that you?”
You stepped back and looked at the stairs, where a soaked Miriam stood, clutching a waterproof bag to her chest. “Oh, Miriam! Um, I just got back from the grocery store.” Her eyes flickered over to Antonio. “This is Antonio. He and I were really good friends in high school. He’s actually, um, the Spanish-singing guitarist who plays in the evenings.” She raised a quizzical eyebrow as you turned to Antonio. “Well, thanks for the ride and walk home. I’ll see you around, I guess?”
He nodded at you before smiling at Miriam. “Nice to meet you. Goodbye.”
He disappeared down the stairs and out into the rain, forgetting to open his umbrella. Miriam finished going up the last few steps, holding out her key to get the door. She smirked at you and whispered, “So, that’s why you’re obsessed with Spanish-speaking guitarists.” She winked at her. “He’s cute.”
You simply shook your head. Your head was too muddled to dwell on this.
You hesitated outside your door. You walked down the stairs with resolution, but once you reached the base, doubt filled you again.
Last time, Antonio…he had definitely seemed like he had tried to kiss you. He had definitely tried, right, after the hug? So, was there a chance that he had loved you in high school again, and now both of you were resurfacing your old emotions? You wanted to go on over, as you saw that his car was parked near his apartment, which meant that he was home. You wanted to go over, and this time, you’d have your answer. You’d be honest and tell him how you had always felt, and if it was reciprocated, you two could start a beautiful relationship, at last.
Okay. Okay. You would do this. You walked out of your building, headed towards his.
No. No, you couldn’t do this. You froze in your tracks as you saw Antonio come down the stairs with a beautiful girl, probably not much older than either of you. The two of them were laughing so naturally together, and he seemed to be holding her bag for her, and he walked her to her car. Had they spent the night together?
It didn’t matter. You turned around, rushing up your stairs. It didn’t matter if they were together or not. Even if they weren’t, you couldn’t ruin possibly being his friend again with your messy feelings. You had held in your emotions this long, so it would be a shame to expose myself now.
You cried that evening.
You had sat in your balcony when you heard him begin to strum his guitar, and he had waved at you when he noticed you. And then, as if on purpose, he began to play “Coleccionista de Canciones”, and the nostalgia filled you. Countless afternoons spent at his apartment, listening to him practice and attempt to write songs—but he was always best as covering songs. He had loved this song, and when you had looked up the translation of the lyrics, you had thought it so perhaps.
“Only you. I only want it to be you. Today, in your hands I put my destiny, because I live to be with you forever, my love.”
Your emotions bubbled out of you, even if you hadn’t meant them too, because you remembered all the bittersweet memories—of him and your mother and your father, and how happy and satisfied you had been with everything when you were younger. You could handle not being his girlfriend, but you were sure that, knowing he was back in your life, you couldn’t stand losing him again. And you’d let him know.
He was an important piece of your past, and even if he didn’t love you back, that was okay. He existing in your life was more than enough.
He was at your door.
He smiled as you let him in, peering around your apartment before he sat down on the sofa Miriam and you had purchased just this weekend. You sat down beside him, and his calloused and warm hands found yours.
“Do you want something to drink or eat?”
He shook his head, and you noticed that his attitude and smile were just a little less bright than usual. “Five years ago, I left the state for college, and I never saw you in person again until a week ago. Four years ago, you broke my heart.” His words were blunt and surprising. “When we had a fight after your father’s death, you pushed me out of your life, and it tormented me. Yo no quiero eso. Ya no mas, por favor.” He leaned over to me, attempting to smile as he spoke—as if he wasn’t allowed to look serious or sad. He had always been a bright star, burning in front of me, and even when we had fought, he still tried to smile through it all. “I don’t want to wonder where you are and what you’re doing. I want to be a part of your life again, (name).”
“I do too. I want that, I mean.” His hands tightened around mine. “I’m really sorry, but I promise I’ll cherish you properly this time.”
He shook his head, grinning a little—but it was forced. It was so awkward. “I’m not done, (name).” You lowered your eyes. “I want you to know that I’ve been in love with you since I was fifteen, and there had never a moment that I ever stopped loving you. Te amo tanto como lo hice cuando era quince. If you don’t love me back, I understand, but I just wanted you to finally know. Despues de tantos años…it’s finally time.”
The confession was abrupt, awkward. You felt blindsided, and even if you had dreamed of this moment a lot when you were a teen, you had always imagined it would be more romantic—you know, him playing a song and dedicating his love to you at the end of it or something. You had never thought it was be random, on a whim, on a Tuesday afternoon—your hair still in its chignon and still clothed in your business casual attire outfit from work, with your tights running and the air sticky. Random Spanish had been thrown in, even if you didn’t speak it well after a lack of practice for four years—though in your dreams, it had always been after a Spanish love song, no English mixed in. You hadn’t expected to be after four years of zero contact, in the most unspectacular way possible.
But hadn’t you attempted to that too, the previous day?
“What about that girl? I saw you walking her to your car yesterday. You’re not…?”
He laughed when he heard you say those words. “She lives across for me, and she injured her back, so I was helping her to her car.” He shook his head. “I promise…solo tu. Solamente quiero que seas tu.” He brought your hands up to his mouth, kissing them. “Can I have your number? I want to make sure this time, we stay friends.”
The confession had been abrupt and awkward and casual…but you supposed that was a part of being an adult now. There were no grand romantic gestures—there was no time, no money. It was just honesty and courage, two things you still lacked even after twenty-two years of living.
You exhaled. It really was time, after so many years.
You smiled. “Why friends? If we both love each other, isn’t it better to start off as my boyfriend?”
And then his mouth met yours.