The Fleeting Here and Now
May 5th loomed in the distance, ominous and unforgiving. There would be a navy gown, a useless degree, and an exchanging of tassels from one side of a precarious cap to another. Then what?
Kyla Moore’s phone vibrated on her open Norton Anthology.
“I’m about to be there. You better have started working!!!”
Kyla smiled at the text. Eric had to know that she’d wasted the fifteen minutes spent waiting for him in the library. But at this point in their friendship, he likely wouldn’t care. The two of them had bonded in British Lit last year and were now grouped together for a final project in Senior English Practicum. Their relationship was, at this point, potentially something more, but also nothing really; mostly just two people fused into friendship by corresponding class schedules and a similar sense of humor.
“I brought snacks,” Eric tossed a bag of Chips Ahoy onto the table when he arrived and sat down across from her.
“I love you!” Kyla dove for the bag, tore it open, and seized two cookies.
“I know,” Eric smirked and pulled out his laptop. “I’m assuming you’ve done nothing, so let’s get started.”
“Not true!” Kyla huffed, spraying cookie crumbs all over the table and pointing to her Norton Anthology. “I opened the textbook.”
“Okay,” Eric rolled his eyes.
Kyla grabbed another cookie.
“Well, don’t eat all of them,” Eric yanked the bag to his side of the table.
“Eric, you can’t leave food in front of me and expect me not to eat it,” Kyla scoffed and yanked the bag back.
“Here,” Kyla piled the remaining cookies into two stacks and grinned. “Now it’s fair.”
“Cool,” Eric chuckled and began clicking away on his laptop.
Kyla opened her laptop too and they both started working on their final presentation for the semester. It was supposed to be an all-encompassing, prove we should let you graduate type project and they’d been collaborating for weeks on it.
A little after 6:30, bored and losing steam, Kyla drew a smiley face on the corner of Eric’s paper.
“Thanks,” he chuckled and stood up to stretch. “We’re almost done,”
“Thank God!” Kyla extended her arms above her head.
“I’ve been doing most of the work,” he shrugged and took a swig from his Hydroflask.
“Yeah right,” Kyla scoffed.
“Watch this,” Eric flipped his water bottle in the air, went to catch it, but fumbled and it dropped with a resounding clatter on the linoleum floor.
“Nice,” Kyla burst out laughing.
Eric blushed and quickly sat down as the librarian in the corner glared at them. “Okay, that’s not what I meant to do.”
“Yeah, that was embarrassing,” Kyla laughed.
Eric ignored her, the corners of his mouth perking up, and started typing on his Mac.
After a moment, Kyla bit her bottom lip and carefully stole the last cookie from his pile.
“I saw that,” Eric said. His blue eyes narrowed but stayed focused on his screen.
“So?” Kyla said with her mouthful. “You were taking too long to eat them!” She poked his pale arm with her pen. “Are you falling asleep?”
“No,” Eric yawned. “I’m just bored.”
“Let’s get coffee,” Kyla yawned too.
“No way, you drink too much coffee,” Eric shook his head.
“You don’t drink enough coffee,” Kyla protested. “That’s why you’re so bleh all the time.”
“Fine, let’s take a break,” he conceded.
They gathered their belongings and Kyla drove to the Starbucks near campus.
“Mmm,” she grinned into the steam rising from her to-go cup. “I already feel alive again.”
“That’s called an addiction,” Eric said as they walked back to the car.
“Whatever,” Kyla made a face. “Are you ready to go back to work?”
“I would rather not,” Eric chuckled and ran a hand through his close-cropped hair.
“What if we just…go chill somewhere?” Kyla leaned against the car door.
“Chill somewhere?” Eric leaned next to her.
After thinking for a moment, Kyla suggested, “What if we drive up to a lookout on Blue Ridge? We can watch the sunset.”
“Sunset?” Eric pursed his lips. “Are we ditching the project?”
“I mean, what would you rather do?” she raised a brow, wondering if she wanted him to say yes. They had gone up to Blue Ridge countless times, and hung out alone countless times, but never both at the same time.
“Yeah, okay, let’s do it,” Eric grinned.
“Yay,” Kyla cheered and unlocked her car. “One last something before nothing.”
“The future isn’t nothing,” he climbed into the passenger seat.
“It is if you’ve got nothing lined up,” Kyla clicked in her seatbelt.
Kyla wiggled in the driver’s seat, the car halfway up the mountain. “All that coffee was such a bad idea.” She pulled into a rest station.
“Sorry, I should have monitored your intake,” Eric said.
“Yes, that’s your one job!” Kyla groaned. “You know I have no bladder!”
Eric just laughed in response.
“Shut up, I’m literally gonna pee my pants,” she switched off the engine and quickly climbed out of the car, bouncing up and down and trying to hold the pee for just a few moments longer.
“I hope you make it,” Eric laughed as he watched her toddle away.
Kyla finished in the bathroom and they drove the rest of the way to the lookout, recounting the strangest locations they’d been forced to pull over for Kyla’s bladder. It was a tie between the mall parking lot and a graveyard. They arrived at the lookout and sat together on a big rock as the sun started dipping lower below the tree line.
“Want a snack?” Eric asked, producing two pomegranates from his backpack.
“Always,” Kyla’s eyes lit up. “When’d you get these?”
“While you were peeing,” Eric cracked his pomegranate open.
“How the heck do you eat this?” Kyla picked out some of the bloody red beads and popped one in her mouth. “Is this supposed to be good? I’m literally eating a seed with some juice on it.”
“You’re ruining it,” Eric rolled his eyes and reached for her pomegranate. “Gimme, I’ll eat it.”
“No way!” she hugged the fruit close and devoured a handful of beads. “But next time get Cheetos!”
The sky turned from a burnt yellow to a dusty pink and purple. The sun had disappeared beneath the line of pines hugging the mountain.
“I’m going to miss this,” Kyla said as twilight settled around them.
“Just because we’re graduating doesn’t mean we’re gonna stop hanging out,” Eric ate the last beads of his pomegranate.
“Maybe, but it won’t be the same,” Kyla said. “You’ll get a girlfriend and I’ll get a boyfriend.”
Eric cocked his head. “That’s what you think will be different?”
“No. I don’t know,” she frowned and threw the remains of her fruit behind a nearby bush. “I don’t know why I said that.”
“Do you…want a boyfriend?” he asked slowly.
“I don’t know. Why is it so cold up here?” Kyla shivered in her yellow t-shirt and rubbed her arms.
“You can use my jacket,” Eric offered.
“No, no, no don’t do that to me,” Kyla scooted away. “Don’t confuse me before finals.”
His blonde brows knitted together. “Confuse you?”
“Yeah, with all the flirting,” she waved her hands at him.
“Here, use my jacket,” she imitated his gentle tone.
“Oh please,” Eric rolled his eyes. “Flirting is all we do.”
“Is not!” Kyla protested, avoiding eye contact.
“Am I not allowed to flirt with you?” Eric asked, scooting closer.
“Do you want to flirt with me?” Kyla raised a brow.
“I don’t know,” he chuckled.
“Why are you laughing?” she smacked his arm.
“I’m sorry,” he grinned. “I don’t know. How did we even become friends?”
Kyla folded her arms across her chest. “Because you kept following me around.”
“Yeah, okay,” Eric smirked and moved over, filling the empty space between their thighs. “I think it’s because the other English majors couldn’t handle you.”
“Handle me?” she made a face.
“You’re a lot to take in.”
Kyla scoffed. “What the heck is that supposed to mean?”
“Are you offended?” Eric asked.
“No,” she shoved her pointer finger into his forearm arm. “I’m curious what heck you mean by that.”
“I think I just get you,” he shrugged.
“I guess so,” Kyla smirked. “Mostly.”
Eric leaned in and met her lips with his own.
Kyla quickly pulled away. “Why did you do that?”
“I don’t know,” he frowned. “I thought we were having a moment?”
“No, no moment,” she snapped and stood up.
“Okay, well, my bad,” Eric held up his palms in surrender. “I’m sorry.”
“Sorry, no, it’s just, we’re graduating,” Kyla paced across the landing with tingling lips, feeling sad all of a sudden. “Don’t confuse me.”
They drove back to campus in silence, listening to Top 40 radio even though they both disliked pop music. Kyla parked in a lot near the library, pulled her keys from the ignition, and exited the car.
“Should we talk about this?” Eric asked, shutting the passenger side door.
“Probably,” Kyla kicked a pebbled and it skittered across the pavement onto the grass. She felt Eric looking at the side of her face as they meandered down the sidewalk.
“I’m sorry,” he said again. “First of all.”
“Maybe we shouldn’t talk,” Kyla suggested, anxious about whatever the outcome of “talking” might be.
“We don’t have to if you don’t want to.” Eric pulled open the door to Nethery Hall and they walked inside. Dark and quiet, the only light came from the lamps outside the window-paned door. Eric fell into step beside Kyla and they walked slowly down the dimly lit hallway. Pointing to the closed auditorium room doors he said, “It’s crazy that next week we graduate in there.”
“Don’t remind me,” she sighed, not wanting to think about the huge stage and the huge future that came after it.
Eric scanned her face and asked, “You’re not excited?”
“Not really,” Kyla shrugged. She stopped walking and leaned back against the wall. “Everyone knows what’s next.”
“No, they don’t,” Eric leaned sideways next to her.
“Then why does every person in our class have a job?”
“That’s unrealistic, not every person,” he said. “Name five.”
“Dan’s working at Newsweek. Madison got a job at some tech company. Abby’s going to grad school,” Kyla ticked off on her fingers. “You’re gonna be a kick-ass teacher.”
“That’s four people,” Eric said.
“Whatever. I’m going to be stuck in my parent’s house, without any shred of talent, working at some random Burger King…” Kyla’s voice cracked and she rolled her eyes, annoyed that she was actually crying. She slid against the wall to the ground.
“Hey,” Eric slumped down next to her, their shoulders touching. “It’s okay.”
“I’m sorry,” Kyla rolled her eyes again. “I don’t know why I’m crying. This is so stupid.”
“It’s okay,” he said.
Kyla pulled her knees up to her chest. “Are you scared?”
Eric leaned his head back against the wall. “Shitless.”
“Same,” she wiped her eyes. “I’m just sick of uncertainty.” She rested her head on his shoulder.
“Don’t confuse me,” he said.
“Shut up,” she chuckled.
“You’re gonna be fine, Kyla. We’re all gonna be fine.”
“Maybe,” Kyla sighed into his shoulder, relaxing just a little.
“You will,” he nudged her thigh.
Kyla let her pinky touch his. “But what happens next?”
Eric shrugged. “Everything.”