Noise. Laughing, talking, walking, yelling. Doors slamming, phones beeping, bells ringing.
Sudden silence. One face in a crowded hall. Gentle command, effortless perfection. An aura of shimmering gold in a world of fading color.
Her name shoots in my mind. Sierra. People jostle me, oblivious of anything but the now. I think of all time—past, present, and future.
Some people never seem to change. But then one time, when you look away for only a second, the entire foundation of who they were shifts. I look at her, and see a different person. Only a shadow of who she was remains on her face. Where there was once naivety, there is now a painful hardness. Childhood innocence is altered to leave the result of a bitter collision with the real world. But I can still see the care, the empathy, the faith in the few good souls left.
She abruptly stops walking. Our eyes meet. My breath is caught. I turn to my locker and grab my books. I know she has walked away.
“Hey,” I whisper.
Emotion. Excitement, nervousness, anticipation, nostalgia.
Then nothing. His face. Tall, handsome. Older.
Memories, flooding in. Walls caving in. It all comes back like it's been no time at all. Cameron.
He's grown up. He looks like an adult. But I can tell he's still the same.
He looks up. I look down. My mind is collapsing, and the hall seems to stretch forever. His name is rolling around in my head. I can't say anything.
I raise my eyes, and they're instantly locked to his. A lifetime passes, and silent words seem to fly between us. He turns suddenly to his locker. I shake myself and quickly walk by.
“Hi,” I think.
I can't focus. I don't focus. My thoughts are absorbed entirely. Classes pass, I look for her in between them. A few times I see her ducking around a corner, or into a room. I want to go after her but I can't.
We used to be friends. Both twelve years old, on the same street, liked the same things. Wherever she was, I was too. Wherever I went, she was there. She was the best person I knew. She is still the best person I've known.
It's neither of our faults the way things ended. There was nothing either of us could do. She moved to be with her aunt when her parents died, and we just slowly stopped talking. I wish it had been different, but there's nothing I can change now.
I don't tell anyone that she's back, or that I know her. I just watch for her, and want to see her, to talk to her, but act on nothing.
Every night, I can't shut her out of my head.
Every night, I pretend to say “Hi,” to her, and wish I really could.
I want to talk to him now, but something has changed. We're not the same people anymore. When I moved away, I naively assumed that we would keep in touch. But we only communicated a few times. Now there is something between us, keeping us from going back to where we started. Somehow, I am not surprised by this.
It's funny how in only a few years, a lifetime can change.
I imagine how I would have preferred our first meeting to have gone. I would have run up, both of us so excited to see each other, and we would have hugged and talked all day. But it didn't happen like that, as many things in life don't.
I laid in the dark that night and whispered the word I wish I could get out.
I never talked to Sierra, all that school year. I wanted to, I don't know why I didn't. But she didn't talk to me either. I watched her a lot. She seemed so different, but now and then I saw her like I remembered her.
One day, I was studying for my midterms in the library. A soft laugh made me look up. Sierra was standing, trying to get a book from one of the popular football players that went to our school. He kept holding it up so she couldn't reach it. They teased each other, and she rolled her eyes at his antics. Then he bent down and kissed her right in the middle of the library.
Something in me jolted. There was no reason for me to care who she was with. But I did.
I had to pass them to leave. I avoided eye contact with both her and her apparent “boyfriend.”
As I slipped out the double doors into the hallway, I couldn't help but wonder if that would have been me, if I had just said, “Hi.”
I told myself everyday of the school year that tomorrow I would talk to Cameron, if he hadn't talked to me yet. But tomorrow came, and there was something else I found to do.
I started dating a guy on the football team. Everyone told me how lucky I was, how we were “#goals”, how we made the cutest couple. There was nothing really wrong with him, but I never loved him. He was a little like a child, always wanting to have fun, never taking things seriously. But we stayed together a long time.
I graduated with honors that spring. As the senior class threw our caps in the air, I made a decision to get on with this next chapter of my life, without craning my neck to look at the past.
Through the crowd of alumni, I saw Cameron weaving towards the parking lot. Suddenly, I thought, “why the heck not?” I called out, “Hey!”
But he didn't turn around.
Years passed. I graduated, and moved to a little town in the heart of Idaho with my parents. I went to a small college there, and studied engineering. I dated here and there, never really seriously. For some reason, Sierra always lingered in my mind. I couldn't help but wonder if it was obsessive. Nothing ever happened, so there was nothing to get over.
Even still, I wondered what would have happened, if I had only worked up the nerve to say hi.
After graduation, I can honestly say I forgot about Cameron. The whole, “Moving on” mantra was my anthem, and I was heading for the future with open arms. I decided to take a gap year after high school, and go on a road trip. Just me, the breeze, and some back roads. I visited places that were just quiet and unseen. I wanted them to feel seen. I wanted to know they were there even if barely anyone else did.
I went to New Hampshire, Illinois, Wyoming, and others. I went to “forgotten states”, I called them. My final destination was California. Yes, I knew it definitely wasn't a forgotten state, but I had always wanted to go.
There were snags along the way. I got lost countless times, I ran out of gas on the highway twice. And I spent the night in some of the sketchiest motels I could imagine. But I kept looking forward to California.
Once in a while, I would get lonely on the road, and only then would I think of what could have been, whether between me and Cameron, or between me and someone else. I really did regret not attempting to talk to Cameron sooner. Not even as a romantic interest, but just as someone who had been a friend. I tried to soothe myself with the thought that I had at least tried to say Hi.
One night, a few of my buddies and I decided to go to the local (and only) hangout. It was a small pizza place, called Eddie's, and they had live music every other Friday night. So off we went, joking around with each other, and drove to Eddie's.
Garish lights and hazy smoke filled the little joint. The band that week was loud and kind of obnoxious, but people were dancing, pizza slices in hand. One of the guys I went with, Jack, was probably my best friend in Idaho. He was always trying to set me up; but he never was without a date. Tonight was no different. A pretty blonde with a Jersey accent hung on his arm while Jack tried in vain to find me a girl to buy a drink for.
Finally, Jack pointed to a girl with her back to us, with shiny auburn hair, who was sitting on a stool, watching the band. I was tired of his attempts, so I agreed to go talk to her, even if it was only to appease him. I came up behind her, and spun a chair over next to hers. She turned suddenly, and I was back in that hallway in my old high school.
Oregon was the next state on my list. As I plodded along in my old Jeep, I had been driving through Idaho no more than an hour, when a strange rattling started somewhere behind my steering wheel. I groaned, wondering how on earth another part of this car could possibly be failing me. Sure enough, within a few hundred yards, I abandoned ship because there was now a curling string of steam rising from the hood. I called the closest mechanic, Bud from Buddy's Auto Repair, and he came to get my Jeep, chomping on some wad of who knows what.
I asked him if he could recommend a cheap place for dinner. He said Eddie's was the place to go (“Probably the only place to go,” I thought). Pizza sounded great to me, and Bud dropped me off, mentioning something about live music tonight.
Eddie's was small and crowded. I ordered two slices of pepperoni, and sat down on a little stool by the band. I was lost in thought, primarily about my stupid Jeep. My pizza came, and I ate it slowly. When I finished, I didn't want to leave yet, so I stayed on my stool. There was interesting people watching in Eddie's. Mostly what you would expect in a rural town. Lots of flannel.
I was startled suddenly by a chair being moved over next to me. I turned, and couldn't believe what I saw.
Him & Her