:: previous – Smiling Faces
Alright, Emilian. You consumed your liquid courage. Talk to Misa. She likes you.
I’m walking over. Each step feels heavier than the last.
Misa rises from her chair, power walks to the pool’s edge, jumps in and swims away.
I casually get two black pool noodles from a storage chest nearby as Misa stares at me beside the waterfall.
She’s wearing a shimmering pink bikini that shows more of her than I’ve ever seen. With her sun-kissed skin and dark hair, she looks like an exotic mermaid wading through turquoise.
I take a deep breath, filling my lungs with the clean scents of the flowing water mixed with grapefruit and berries hanging from the surrounding trees. It’s calming and precisely what I need to talk to Misa right now.
. . .
Here he comes. Ohmygosh. Breathe…
The way he said my name… His voice is seductive and manly at the same time.
He hands me a pool noodle.
“Hi.” I take it and turn away to hide my giggles.
“What’s funny?” Emilian swirls around me.
I turn around again.
“Nothing. I laugh… S-sometimes when I’m nervous.”
He comes face to face with me with his charming smile.
“What are you nervous about?”
“Uh… I…” I stare down at the water. My heart feels like it’ll explode in his presence. “It’s nothing. I didn’t recognize you with your cap on.”
“I recognized you.”
I’m blushing but manage a calm smile. “Thanks for the noodle.”
Emilian positions his pool noodle behind his back and tucks it under his armpits. It looks like he’s sitting in a chair with arm rests.
I’m straddling mine like a weirdo.
“So, what are you doing tonight?” Emilian asks.
“Nothing.” I respond, trying to act calm.
“Ah. Nothing is good.”
He’s silly. “Do you mean doing nothing is good, or that nothing is good, like at all?”
“Well, I like nothing, so doing nothing is good.”
“We can both do nothing.”
Emilian’s eyebrows raise above his pitch-black square sunglasses. “And how do we do that?” he grins.
“Separately.” I suggest, joking with him. Somehow, the more we talk, the more relaxed I feel.
His grin drops into something colder than ice. “But separately, how do I know that you’re doing nothing? You could be doing something.”
“Well, wouldn’t you want to do something when there’s nothing?”
“Wouldn’t you want to do something with company?” He challenges.
“Maybe.” I’m grinning from ear to ear.
“Good. Let’s do something. Starting now.”
I nod and cough to free my giggles. When I fake cough, it helps me to stop laughing. I’m so nervous around Emilian! Just weeks ago I couldn’t stand him… until he gave me that note, and my forever sunflower, and now…
“You’re funny,” Emilian laughs. His fingertips trail across the water’s surface like he’s thinking about something. “Did you think of a name for your sunflower yet?”
Why does it always feel like he can read my mind? “Not yet. It’s hard thinking of a name that’s so… permanent for something so beautiful.”
“Agreed. Anything of beauty and permanence deserves the best.” He wades closer to me in the water. “You know, the other day in class, Misa, I’m sorry. I didn’t intend to get you into trouble… I see you’re healing well, though. That’s good.”
“Wha? Oh.” On instinct, I touch my cheek, cupping the scar Instructor Inga gave me when she threw our ripped-up quizzes in our face.
“I shouldn’t have put you in that position. To cheat. Or get your face sliced.”
“No worries. I made a choice too that day. Anyway, I’m grateful for the suspension. It’s nice to take a break, sleep in, you know?”
“Agreed. And I was thinking, if you like… we can be study partners, to be prepared for the next quiz, I mean. Since we’re neighbors and all.”
Ooh. “Y-yeah, sure. I need all the help I can get; I’ve never been in any honors class before. Have you?”
“It’s all I know. It’s not too bad, just more work and lots of prestige. What’d you get on your placement test? If you don’t mind me asking.”
“Not at all. I got 350.” I say with pride.
Emilian clears his throat, then falls silent. He slides his thumb across his bottom lip, quietly studying me.
“What’d you get?” I ask.
“Hmm… 301. I should copy your work. A 350 score isn’t easily attainable. Good for you.”
“I know, right? Maybe when you wished me good luck that got my success in motion.”
He chuckles. “Everything happens for a reason.”
I smile and hold my hand under the waterfall, watching water fill my palm, then spill out.
“So… Timothy.” Emilian continues. Unable to look at his face, I stare at his gorgeous dripping chest instead. “Are you and him…”
“Nope. We’re nothing.”
“Are you…?” I ask, biting my lip.
I nod and twist my fingers under the water.
“But that one night… I heard you. Those night pleasures? It sounded like you were with—”
“A graphic movie I was watching. The TV was too loud that night. Lesson learned.”
“Oh.” Remember Timothy? Better get the truth out of this one too. “What movie were you watching?”
Emilian stares for a moment, then looks down at the water, hesitant to answer.
“Just something on Ghost Human Boned.”
“Oh!” Wow, so he watches adult entertainment. I wasn’t expecting that… That’s hot.
Emilian sighs. “Sorry if that’s… too much information. I didn’t want to start our friendship with lies.”
“N-no, it’s okay. I-I watch it too.”
“Yes.” I smile.
“You continue to surprise me, Misa Honey.”
“What do you mean?”
We both laugh.
“So, what’re you doing during your suspension?” Emilian asks.
“Mmm, you know, probably just sitting at home. I start my new job soon, so I’m going to clean and recharge my stones so they’re ready for the big day. They can help with first day jitters I’ll likely have.”
“Where will you be working?”
“Um… something systems, I think. Is that bad I don’t remember?” I smile. “I got a call for an interview the day I applied for it. At first, I wanted to work at the Black Mountain Library, but they weren’t hiring. This systems place pays well. It’ll do for now.”
“Is it… Grim… Systems?”
“Oh yeah, that’s it! Everything seems to have your family name tied to it in Black Mountain, huh?”
“Uh… yeah. What will you, uh, be doing there?”
“Reception. Just sitting at a desk.”
“I’m not sure… I believe I’m assigned to a desk on my first day. Why do you ask?”
“It’s my father’s company.”
“Are you serious?”
“Yes. I’ll be working there alongside him after graduation. One day I’ll run it.”
“Oh. So, we’ll be working at the same place. And living next door to–”
“Yes. I’ll still be here.”
“Me too.” I smile at the sky.
All these connecting dots.
It started with the eternal qualities of the forever sunflower I learned about that piqued my interest in relocating to Black Mountain. Once I did, I met Emilian in class and assigned to share a table with him, only to find out we live next door to each other. Then he gives me a forever sunflower that made my move to Black Mountain full circle. Now we’ll be working at the same place!
The signs surrounded me this entire time but Timothy blinded me. Now that he’s gone, my eyes are truly open.
Just keep breathing.
“I was planning on making pasta pomodoro tonight. Usually I have a ton of leftovers. If you didn’t have dinner plans, I’d like if you joined me. No sense in eating alone, you know?”
“That’d be great… I can bring wine if that’s okay? A white and red.”
“Ohh… I love wine.”
“Perfect. What time should I come? Over, I mean.” He clears his throat and straightens his shoulders.
“I’ll be there.”
I swim over to the ladder to climb out of the pool. Emilian follows.
“Where are you going?” he asks.
“I have to cook.” I return my pool noodle to the storage chest.
Emilian nods, still floating with his noodle wrapped around him.
I dry off quickly, then grab my water bottle and bag.
“See you soon.” We both say, echoing each other with matching smiles.
All these connecting dots…