LEAH CIOCO - RED NIGHTS
I type in that rather well-accepted curse word and immediately send it. I don’t know how Phil would think of it, but before I could even think it through, it’s already too late.
Message sent. My phone hissed before me.
I close my eyes and hit the home button, sighing.
Happy thoughts, Lizzie. I thought to myself. Happy thoughts.
I force a smile, put my phone in my pocket, and shove the books I’ve been reading for the last couple of hours into my bag. They can’t fit. For some reason, I can’t get the last one in when all three of them fit perfectly well earlier. How lovely.
I look around the library to check if someone is seeing how helpless and miserable I am now. The people I was sharing my table with had already left and the old lady who welcomed me in the room was replaced by a younger woman. So much so, the reading room was close to empty.
17:50. The wall clock confirmed my being here longer than I had planned. Great. It means that I’ve been here for almost nine hours, and that I'm already late for tonight’s activity. I’m tired and hungry, and I'm dying on the inside. I might have already been dead.
And there is simply no way of hiding—not with the look I’m sporting.
For starters, my hair is sticking out in all the wrong places. I love my layered hair, but in times like this when I just read Anna Karenina in one sitting, I end up pulling my hair out of frustration more times than I wish I would. As a result, it’s as though I’d just rolled out of bed. I'm also wearing my favorite flip flops, but right now, now that I have to run for dear life, they're no good.
With these thoughts running in my food and sleep-deprived brain, I bolt towards the door and head for Annenberg, which is where I should have been since 5:30. Right now, all I want is to team up with some genius, invent a time machine, and eventually turn back time. You see, I’m carrying books as thick as the Bible, wearing something that I hadn’t planned on wearing for the event I’m about to attend: my worn-out cropped top and similarly worn-out jeans. Had I remembered about tonight’s Red Sox game (which I actually planned to attend but have completely forgotten about), I wouldn’t have spent my day at Lamont in the first place. I would have woken up a little later so that my eye bags wouldn’t even exist – at least just for today. Maybe, I would have jogged along Charles’ or something. I would have checked out my favorite make-up tutorials on Vogue and tried putting on the best make-up I’ve ever applied on myself.
I’m sure that there’ll be a lot of picture-taking involved, and I, like any other human being, want to look best. I would have done all of these cool things that would have resulted to a more decent, more human version of me because up until this point, everything that happened is just the total opposite.
I woke up at seven, thanks to the alarm I forgot to cancel the night before. I picked up my phone, noticed the dark circles under my eyes, told myself to go back to sleep but gloriously fail to. I decided to start the day unusually early despite my staying up ‘til 2 or 3AM; I can't even remember the time exact time I slept.
I stretched a bit, maybe a little too much, because I fell on the floor. SIDENOTE: I don’t understand why the beds are so narrow. As I lay helplessly on the carpeted floor, I contemplated about how I’d spend what I thought was a free day, and eventually deciding to read Anna Karenina for tomorrow’s report. Our professor required us to pick our favorite writer and I picked Tolstoy. I did this to impress her, and now I wish I hadn't.
I love J.K. Rowling, but I decided to look into classics because I’ve never really finished one before. And just like that, I put on the first thing I got a hold of and walked straight to the library. I hadn’t even noticed up until earlier that I was wearing my worn-out flip flops. Right. They are worn out to the core they look like they've been through a tsunami or some sort of environmental crisis.
I read and read to my heart’s content and ended up doing the same thing until two minutes ago. Wrong move. Lo and behold, here I am now, running late for the bus ride leaving for Boston. I feel like crying. My fear surprised me because I’ve never been anxious for being late or for saying “shit”. Looking rather unkempt never scared me either. For some reason, I would always end up arriving on the nick of time and being understood by the people I’m with whenever I look like a mess or whenever I utter “shit”.
Of course, I never said this when my folks were around, but whenever I did say it, I’d find whomever I’m with laughing so hard and eventually telling me that they didn’t expect it from me at all. In other words, we end up having fun. In fact, on the day I met Phil, I was running late. We met while I was freaking out over the orientation venue, which I did not know about. I remember running back and forth along the dorm hallway, desperately looking for someone in-charge. I bumped into a few students who were similarly clueless, and upon finding out that they also had no idea, felt completely helpless.
In my defense, I didn’t receive an e-mail informing me about it, so I think—I know—I had a pretty good reason for running like a madman for what could have been a good ten minutes. Also, I might have been able to keep my cool if it weren’t for my 50-pound luggage that I struggled to tow while I tried to connect my phone to the internet connection just so I could access Google Maps and find out where I was supposed to be. So much so, it was kind of the same nerve-racking situation I’m currently in.
Of course, my navigating efforts failed me. My phone could not connect to the internet, and I wanted to throw it away and just sit right there in the middle of the hallway. But just when I felt my eyes tear up, Phil slowly entered the scene.
With his deep-set brown eyes and charming smile, he made me feel okay. Trust me. He is the epitome of all things attractive. Perfectly tanned and simply good-looking, he looked like High School Musical’s Troy, Cinderella’s Prince Charming, and The Kissing Booth’s Noah Flynn. Heck, even better, if you ask me.
He was, in brief, very enthralling and I was in a daze. My admiration for how he conducted himself, however, had nothing to do with romance; my instincts told me that we were going to be the best of friends. What made him even better was the fact that he seemed rather graceful, kind of feminine (I later found out that he was bisexual, and that made me love him even more). I always got along with that type of guys—you know, the girly, feminine, harmless type of male. He also looked intelligent, so that was another plus.
His British accent and his voice that was the right blend of smart and sexy-sounding were also impressive. Don’t get me wrong, though. I said this before and I'll say this again: I never thought of him as a love interest.
“I’m Philippe,” he said when we first met. “But please, call me Phil.”
I expected him to ask me if I was okay, but I badly wanted to make a friend—I think he felt the same way, too—so I responded with a smile as I held out my right hand for a handshake.
“Nice to meet you,” I replied in the most regal way possible. “I’m Lizzie, but everyone calls me Liz. It’s nice to meet you.” We shook hands, exchanged compliments, and eventually talked about why we decided to spend our summer studying at a place so far away. He was, after all, from the United Kingdom, and I, from the Philippines.
He told me about how hard he worked just to join this summer program, and how his parents didn’t even know much about his plans until he told them that he was leaving for the United States. I’m sure he’s very well-provided, and the fact that he worked hard for his attendance at the program made me look up to him even more than I already did. When it was my turn to tell my story, I decided to take the road I didn’t usually take: I, for once, attempted to make a joke.
“You know why I’m here, Phil?” I looked up when I asked him as we walked towards the program orientation. He’s almost six-feet-tall; I’m five-foot-nothing.
“Hmmmm,” he responded. “You’re here at Harvard because it’s your dream school?”
“Nope,” I replied with a smile.
He looked at me with eyes wide open and gave me a look that said, “Oh really?”
“I’m here to check out the really hot, smart, and maybe even rich guys because my friends have been nagging me about getting into a relationship, and I’ve taken it upon myself to find the most eligible gentleman in the most elitist university there is.” I playfully told him.
He laughed, I laughed, and we pretty much laughed the whole time that day. Since then, Phil has not only been my friend, but has also been pretty much my overprotective mom. He's been checking on me since then. Had I already had breakfast? Lunch? Dinner? Brain break? We could always have our meals at a nearby restaurant, but since he’s probably the most practical person I know, we always had ours at the dining hall. He reminds me about our passport activities, which are a prerequisite for “successfully completing” the two-week program. We signed up for the same activities from the Harvard and MIT Tour to the trip to Newport, Rhode Island.
One time, when I had to attend an event that he didn’t sign up for, he even taught me how to make the “first move” and make friends. This would have been a no brainer had I been back home in Manila, but since I was in a foreign land, I just did not have the guts to come up to anyone and introduce myself.
Phil and I, we're each other closest friend here. We just have this instant connection that I’ve never shared with anybody else other than my mom or my puppy. Every day since that day we met, I thank the gods that we both arrived late at the program. Had I been earlier or had he been earlier, we wouldn’t have met the way we did. He would have found someone else and that person would have been the luckiest.
Now that we were nearing the end of summer school, I just cannot afford to be late. I just can't. I am no longer fine with being late or arriving just on the nick of time. I cannot screw this up. It’s the second to the last day of the program, and I have to nail this last event on my list. I want and I need a positive feedback from my proctors that I could use for my college applications this fall.
I had to make it before the shuttle left for the Red Sox game at Fenway Park, which I almost forgot about until I received a text from Phil.
Liz. THE BUS IS LEAVING IN FIVE MINUTES!
WHERE ART THOU?
And just like that, I impulsively texted him back: Shit. Knowing Phil, I just can’t imagine him making dirty jokes or tolerating cussing. This is why I’m anxious about his reaction to my message. Well, shit. I shouldn’t have sent that in the first place.
Even though I should focus on just running, I thought about sending him another message to apologize. Then, I received three more messages from him.
Message 1: LMAO.
Message 2: Shit is putting it mildly.
Message 3: You better bring out the Olympic sprinter in you and get your ass here or you’re basically dead.
It’s the message I was both dreading and hoping for. I’m glad that he isn’t as saintly as I thought he was, but the thought of missing the event and getting called on by the head proctors almost killed me. I run faster.
I check my phone again. 17:58. This time around, I definitely need a miracle because according to Google, I’m still a hundred meters from the bus stop.
This is all it takes for me to sprint. There are more people around because the bus stop is behind Annenberg, and it's already dinnertime. I bump into some people lightly and trip a few times. I probably look like a lunatic, but I don't care. I just have to make it before 6:00 PM, which, according to my watch, is one minute away.
The gods, in their almighty and mercurial ways, saved me. By “saved”, I mean that they spared me from being late, being reprimanded by my proctors, and eventually feeling some mild degree of depression for failing. Thank goodness.
I can now see Annenberg from a distance, so I slow down to a jog. I can also see two buses at the loading zone. There are supposed to be three, so I speed up. The other one might have already left. Slowly, I get a better view of the convoy of buses. Bus A, which is the bus I should be in, is nowhere in sight. After all, it’s already 6:00. I start running again because right now, it looks like Bus B is about to leave as well. I run faster, I can barely breathe. I’m about 25 meters away when Bus B’s driver decides to leave. He must not have noticed me running towards their direction. I now want to scream at the top of my lungs, but I no longer have the energy, thanks to the facts that I neither had a proper sleep nor a proper meal.
Finishing this one last passport activity would be the first good news of my day but the prospects of this happening is close to nothing. Bus C is now my last hope, and I could not miss it. Not now. Not today.
I have to do something that would get the driver or any of the passengers’ attention. I want this “something” to be the right balance of subtle and eye-catching. A cartwheel? I’ve never really done one and I’d probably fail unless the odds grant me beginner’s luck. Shout “wait!” It would definitely take the attention of the bus driver and everyone else. But then again, of them might be my professor or dorm proctor, and I don’t want to risk it. Nope; bad idea.
What else? What else is there? I raise both of my hands and waive them like crazy. It would probably be noticed by the passengers of the bus, especially those who sat on the side adjacent to the path I’m running in. It’s a struggle to keep on holding them up with the heavy shoulder bag, but I do it anyway. I’m pretty sure that I look like a fool, really, but my looking like a fool is necessary, and I just hope that it’s worth it.
I continue doing this—the hand-waiving, that is—for a bit more because no one is noticing me. Desperate, I decide to cut the distance from the bus and the pathway short. I’d be more visible by running through the grass area, which didn’t have any sign about not walking over it. Besides, if it were, I wouldn’t have done it. There is no way that I want to get in trouble.
I leave the pathway and head for it, half sprinting, half skipping. I jump every now and then because the blades are wet. Now that I am closer to the bus, closer to succeeding, one of my flip-flops decide to give up. Its strap loosened and eventually cut off from the flip-flop itself. Thanks to the running I did since five minutes ago, I left my left foot’s support a step back and stepped on something mushy.
“SHIT!” I shout. My scream was brief, but it was ear splitting. Everyone’s eyes are now on me.
I lower my gaze, and literally freeze. I no longer want to move. I’m no longer interested in catching the last bus. I just want to go back to my room, clean myself up, and go to sleep. Standing on the exact spot I was in when I gave out that not-so-little shriek, I take a closer look at my foot and realize that it was just mud. And boy did I want to wipe it off right now, right at this very minute.
While balancing on one foot as I wiped the mud off my left foot, I heard someone approaching me. The footsteps were light and quick, like the person was running. I want to see who it is, but I’m more focused on keeping my balance. After all, my right foot is supporting my whole body right now since I have my left foot raised a few inches off the ground. I’m still holding my bag filled with books, I might add.
“Are you alright?” the person asked.
It was the voice of a boy: deep, full, and somehow, caring. For some reason I cannot quite fathom, it’s as though I’ve heard it before. I want to answer and tell him that I am not okay. I am far from being okay.
I am sleep-deprived, wrongly dressed, and late for an event I almost forgot about. This was what I thought, but I didn’t want to come off pessimistic. Just when I try to look up to tell the guy that I am okay, I lose my balance. I break my tree-pose, and before I know it, I’m falling.
I fall, not on the ground, but in the arms of a man. As I lay there, cocooned in my savior’s embrace, I open my eyes. In front of me, or above me, rather, was a boy my age. On his angelic face was a smile that made my heart skip a beat in an instant. He had deep, hazel brown eyes that told me everything was going to be alright. The look on his face showed that he cared, and I didn’t doubt that—not for one second.
While I normally freak out around strangers invading my personal space, I’m currently at peace. I’m surprisingly calm. I try my best to suppress my smile as I force myself to snap out of this state of mild euphoria. The only idea that pops into my mind is to get up.
As though he’d read my mind, he moves his left arm away, and slowly pulls me up. Despite his sudden shift, I remain completely stable. Electric sparks run across my body as he pulls me up.
“Thanks,” I say softly.
“It’s all good,” he answered, as he looked straight into my eyes. “No problem.”
“Look,” I say while pulling the creases out of my crop top, doing my very best to focus and not be distracted by his charm. “I’m not usually this clumsy,” I say.
I stop for a moment because I am awestruck as soon as I get a better look at him. He’s quite tall; I’d say around 5’10’’. He’s also sporting a semi-fit V-neck in crimson, which sported the words RED SOX.
“I was trying to get to that bus over there,” I continue. “And I’m running late, and I stepped on the puddle over there and I tried to wipe the mud off my foot but I lost my balance.”
“I figured,” he replied.
We smile at each other for the longest second, and just when it’s beginning to get awkward, he bends down and picks my things up. My bag, my book and even my dirty flip-flop. I cannot believe how thoughtless I am for just standing here and looking at him gather them up.
“You don’t have to do that,” I tell him. He gets up and gives me another look, sending chills down my spine. “Thank you.”
“Here,” he says while handing me my flip-flop. “No problem.”
“Like I said, you don’t have to. But thank you,” I say while protracting the last word, hoping that he’d give me his name.
“Thank you, Red.” I finish my sentence while holding out my right hand. “I’m Liz.”
“Great to meet you,” he answered, shaking my hands.
A long honk breaks our handshaking moment. I look around and notice that the honk came from Bus C, which I thought had already left. It appears it’s waiting for me. Maybe even for us.
“Before I forget,” he says while grabbing something from his backpack. “Put these on. You’re lucky I forgot to leave them at the dorm.” He hands me a pair of black Ultraboost 19. I was about to bring up how it was too big for me, but then he handed me a pair of black socks.
“Don’t worry,” he says while zipping up his backpack. “They’re clean; I haven’t used them yet.”
He seems to be in a hurry so I do what he asked of me so I take off my other flip-flop, my book, and my bag, put them beside me, and wear the socks. The socks are probably a size 9 and I’m a 7, so I fold the ends in before putting the shoes on. While I’m putting them on, he bends down, grabs both of my flip-flops and puts them in his backpack. “I’m sure these can no longer fit in your bag,” he says. “So let’s keep it here right now, and I’ll give them back to you later.”
I’m now down to the laces. While doing the one on the right shoe, I decide to ask him another question.
“Are you also joining the ride to Fenway Park?” I ask while tying the laces. “And I suppose, as proven by your shirt, you’re also a big fan of Red Sox?”
“I’m not supposed to attend the game, actually, but yes, I am a fan,” he says as he bends down and ties the laces of the left. He finishes before I do, gets back up, and offers me his hand.
How did he do that?
“Thanks,” I grab his hand.
“Don’t forget Anna and your Longchamp,” he says.
“Oh!” I look around and sure enough, my bag and my book are still beside me on the ground. I grab them with my left hand and finally get up. “Thanks.”
“Shall we?” he asks as he slowly lets go of my hand and gestures towards the bus.
I give a soft chuckle at his little act.
“We shall.” This time, he smiles at my remark.
He turns around and begins a slow jog; I follow his lead and eventually run past him.
“Last one treats the other for dinner at Fenway!” I shout as I look back.
And just like that, we sprint towards the bus while laughing our hearts out.
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