The second night she met him, she drew a sad cloud with tears falling from its eyes as raindrops on his foggy windshield that was actually only foggy because of their greedy breathing. Because of their gasping for air like they were about to go underwater. “Why is it sad?” he asked, biting the right side of his bottom lip, the way he always seemed to do when he was curious about something. His eyes looked like little circular brownies that she wanted to eat up. They were cramped in the backseat of his old BMW with the leather seats that reminded her of her Poppop and rain. It was a pleasant memory, actually. Their legs were twisted.
“I don’t know. Because sad is real.”
“So is happy.”
He raised one eyebrow and she wanted to put her hands all over his face.
“Maybe whenever it rains the clouds are actually sad, though,” she said and she imagined all the clouds aching. Sad and upset and lost. Clouds don’t have hearts but does that mean they can’t hurt?
He smirked and she fell in love with the sideways curve his mouth bent into. He leaned over her and drew some more raindrops but falling from the back of the cloud.
“Ew!” she squealed and smiled. “It’s much better as tears. I don’t wanna walk around in cloud poop all day.”
He smiled so wide a little town could be built on it. “You know rain is just water that has condensed from atmospheric water vapor and then precipitated from convective clouds— right? It isn’t tears. Or poop.”
She watched his lips move and her heart melted so fast she thought maybe it‘d slide right out of her. She adored his words, his brain, the way he made everything make sense. So simple and logical. She wanted to sauté his knowledge and eat it for dinner so that it would digest and become part of her.
She giggled. “Yes,” she said. “Right. Rain is not tears.” Though a part of her wished it was more than science. She thought about the other night, the first night they met, when it rained so fast that the cold drops felt pointy but they stayed in the vacant parking lot of the bar dancing anyway. They moved effortlessly and she taught him how to tango and it was like they were trying to dodge the rain while doing the promenade but there were so many drops and she was sure they got hit with every single one of them. That wasn’t science. That was more than science. It was bigger than science.
“Everything is science,” he’d said. And she knew she’d be trying to prove him wrong ever since.
Outside it was turning bright so fast she wondered if there was a light switch somewhere. Their half dressed bodies stuck to the old leather unpleasantly but they didn’t mind too much. He brushed some hair behind her ear and she didn’t bother telling him that she hated hair behind her ears because she found the gesture so sweet she thought there should be a crayon named after it. She imagined the color would be a kind of pink. The window fog was clearing and a jogger ran by trying not to look in the partially fogged windows but they did and then shook their head and kept running and they both laughed so hard that they added another pack to their stomach muscles. They scrambled to find the other pieces of their clothes and slid into them. He had to work in three hours. They hadn’t slept yet.
When he dropped her off at her house and she took forever to say bye because she hates saying bye, she walked away secretly hoping he would be tired all day at work and because he was tired he would remember that he was tired because they spent all night being silly and reckless and remembering he was tired from being silly and reckless with her meant he was thinking about her. Knowing he was thinking about her made life seem like one long happy ballad about love and luck and taking chances.
They were at a small Mexican restaurant that had large decorative sombreros hanging from the walls and she imagined little people beneath them, clinging to mini hooks while wearing the sombrero. On the back of the white paper placemat she drew a popsicle under the sun. It was melting and its little mouth was in the shape of a dramatic ‘O’. The sun had an evil smile spread across its face. He watched her hands move across the page and she wondered what he was thinking. She watched his hands a lot. She watched them when he turned the steering wheel or shifted gears, the way his knuckles curved and she wanted to kiss each and every single one of them like they were mouths that could kiss her back. When she looked up and smiled he smiled but he looked tired.
“Is this sad?” she asked, already predicting that he was going to ask her why she drew sad things again.
“Yeah,” he said, resting his elbows on the table.
He took her to his house that night and when she walked into his room the first thing she noticed was the stacks of books scattered all over the place. On the dresser, on the floor, the nightstand, a few on the bed. They were small stacks but they were practically everywhere like little literature skyscrapers and she adored this detail. Otherwise the room was dark and there was one window above his bed, and because this was technically the basement it was cool, which was perfect to sleep in. As he gathered piles of clothes and muttered a few apologies, she walked around and ran her fingers down the spines of the books. Most of them were about science. About the brain, time, space, and some graphic novels. She smiled.
“I like that you have books,” she said, and looked up at him. To be in his room seemed special to her. Especially because it was unplanned. Because it was real. He didn’t hurry up and clean and put things away. She got to see his living space the way he lived in it. Hours ago he might have been lying in this exact bed reading one of these books and the room looked just like this. It somehow seemed private for her to see the room in such an unprepared manner and her heart felt like it had been placed in the microwave briefly.
When they laid down he cradled her face in his hands and she wondered if there was a way they could just stay this way forever.
“You’re tired,” he said quietly.
“I am,” she said. Because she was. “How do you know?”
And then she got goose bumps across her flesh so intense she figured someone could read it like braile. When she was little, the people that knew her best, the ones that loved her best, used to say that everything she is thinking and feeling can be seen through her eye because they were so light blue they were transparent. She felt giddy imagining that he too saw this in her eyes. That to him she was obvious. That she could show and tell him everything without having to use words. “How so?” she asked, preparing for the romantic answer.
“They just look heavy,” he said, kissing the skin under her left eye and she finally understood what the point of that spot is. It was meant for his lips.
“Do you think they look darker?” she asked, prodding. She dated a guy once that said he could tell if she was mad or sad or tired depending on the lightness of her eyes.
“Kinda,” he said with a smile. “But that might just be because of your iris. Your iris is actually a muscle that expands and contracts to control the size of your pupils. And your pupil gets bigger in dim lighting and smaller in bright lighting. So then when the pupil size changes, the pigments in the iris compress or spread apart, changing the color of your eye a bit.”
She wondered if there was anything he didn’t know. They spent the rest of the night curled up in his bed while he taught her everything there was to know about eyes. About saccades, the erratic and quick movements the eye makes unconsciously most of the time.
“A saccade is just rapid movement. Your eye is actually micro saccading at all times but your mind compensates and stills the image for your comprehension. The mind is amazing,” he said. They were quiet. “I like your eye saccades,” he said after a few minutes and she decided that that was probably the most genuine and romantic compliment she had ever received so she rolled over and kissed the side of his neck.
He taught her more about eyes and memory and the brain. She listened and learned and all she wanted was to teach him about love. She wanted to teach him all the ways she could probably love him the right way because so far she’d been really bad at loving. But there was something about him that made her think maybe it would be easy. It would be the kind of love that science can’t explain. The kind of emotion that doesn’t have a formula. The kind of feelings that are okay not being solved. She kissed his arm and his shoulder a few times and realized she had only known him for ten days and that maybe there was something wrong with her for feeling so attached already. She suddenly wanted him to pull out one of his books about the brain and to tell her that she was normal. This did not happen. They fell asleep so fast she didn’t even remember closing her eyes.
The next night they went on a walk and she felt like they were in high school again. There was sidewalk chalk on the pavement of someone’s driveway and she drew a picture of a large spider watching in horror as a smaller spider was being smashed by a giant foot. He laughed and touched the back of her neck with the tips of his fingers and it gave her chills down the left side of her body.
“Now what are those people going to think when they wake up in the morning?” he asked, still smiling.
She put the chalk down and brushed her hands off on her shorts, the chalky feeling on her skin making the inside of her mouth itch. “I don’t know. They’ll be sad maybe?”
“You know, there are better things than sad,” he said gently. She looked at the shape of his face and wondered if she was going to let him save her life.
“Maybe,” she said. “I just want to make people feel things.”
“Don’t you want to make people feel happy things?”
She slapped a mosquito pinching her ankle. “Happy is harder to achieve than sadness.”
“Or so you think. I bet if you drew happy things it would make people happy.”
They continued walking, their hands barely grazing. She wanted so bad to take his in hers but she didn’t want to be needy. But she needed him to touch her.
“I have to pee,” she said. They were nowhere familiar because they walked so far away. There was a 7-11 in the distance.
“Let’s go there,” he said. “But I’m sure they won’t let you use the bathroom. Lemme do the talking.”
“Okay,” she giggled as they ran toward it.
“We don’t have public restrooms,” the small man behind the counter said. He blended in with the shelves of cigarettes behind him.
“Right. But you have a bathroom here, right? You gotta. Listen, my girlfriend here needs to use the bathroom really bad.”
At the word girlfriend she felt her ears burn a little. She wondered what it was like to be his girlfriend. She imagined that while being his girlfriend she would learn everything about everything. She pictured them going to museums and watching documentaries and laying on their backs in the grass while he pointed out constellations. She even imagined she’d start drawing happy things. She would draw happy things all over his walls so that his mouth would be in a permanent smile.
“Forget it,” he said. “Let’s go.” She missed the entire conversation because she was too busy being crazy and imagining things. But when they left his pinky finger hooked onto a few of her fingers and her insides felt so warm it was like she swallowed a can of soup.
When they laid in bed that night they talked about time.
“Time is only relative when you think about it,” he said.
“But I am thinking about it,” she said.
“SHH,” he replied because they heard footsteps above them and he snuck her in because his mom hated girls in the house.
“But I’m thinking about it,” she said again in a loud whisper. She giggled because she liked the feeling of sneaking around.
In two more days she would be going out of state, back to school, back to the real world with all the real world problems. Time did matter. Time mattered because there was never enough of it and there certainly wasn’t enough of it right now. There wasn’t enough time to show him all the ways she could love him.
To get her to stop talking he kissed her softly and quietly on the mouth. She secretly hoped his mom would hear so that it would give them a reason to run.
The next night they went into Philly with sidewalk chalk and drew all over the silent streets. She drew his face everywhere. They didn’t talk much. They didn’t need to. She drew them in alleys and streets and hidden sidewalks until she grew bored of it all.
When they said goodbye the next morning it looked like maybe it might rain. It was dramatic and long and neither one of them wanted to leave but finally she got out of the car and went into her house and realized how foolish she was being and she wondered what the formula to get her sanity back is.
As she boarded the plane rain pattered against the roof like a million little feet trying to do the tango. She pictured the rain washing away all the pictures she drew with the chalk. She imagined his face nothing but a smear on the sidewalk. For some reason this made it easier for her to buckle herself in and leave.
About the Author: Liz is an MFA candidate at Columbia College Chicago where she studies writing and the teaching of writing and where she spends a lot of time trying to figure out ifshe belongs in Jersey or Chicago (right now Chicago is winning). If she isn't contemplating where home is, you can find her making life choices based on how good of a story will come from it later and/or dancing in the rain. Find more of her words at Word Riot, Hypertext Magazine, Hair Trigger 35, and forthcoming in Every Day Fiction.