Awake with festivities to finish the excruciatingly long month of October was the entire campus and all the blocks in between. I, on the other hand, laid in bed, scrolling news articles online and clicking in and out of sitcoms and documentaries.
“Come out with me,” Margo tried for the hundredth time to persuade me to accompany her to various Halloween parties in her revealing nurse costume. I looked her up and down, thinking of my future in the medical field and how inaccurately she represented the people of my profession.
“I went the last time and regretted it deeply,” I told her, sitting up in bed.
“That one was soft,” she said. “It was the beginning of the year and no one knew how to throw parties yet”
“Yeah, it really is a learned art form,” I nodded sarcastically.
Her eyes evened at me, and I smiled in return.
“Call me and I’ll come out to get you when you need me,” I offered her.
She sighed, rolling her eyes.
“Fine,” said Margo. “Be the good little church girl you are.”
“Praying for you now,” I said to her, closing my eyes and clasping my hands together.
Her eyes rolled endlessly as she chided me for my basic, boring nature. I only nodded along. She defended her claim with a whole list of reasons as she finished putting final touches to her costume. I watched in wonder when she wrapped a stethoscope around her neck, which I found fascinatingly unnecessary, paired with the low-cut neckline and short length of her skirt, but I chose not to say anything in my observations. When she finally strutted out the door, I sat alone in our dorm room, hoping for her safety, as well as everyone else’s on campus.
Margo’s invitation to party on Halloween weekend was one of the many I’d declined throughout the semester. I realized from the one party I attended with her that the party scene wasn’t for me. Deep in the depths of me, I knew it had no place in my life, but I figured I’d try it to confirm, anyways. I was mostly denied, if I were being truthful, which was fine by me because I felt most in my place, lying in bed, flipping through shows for entertainment.
As the night ticked on, I found myself deep in a documentary about sea life when the screen of my phone lit up.
Elliot Harris: How’s the dorm life tonight?
I smiled at the text.
Me: Exhilarating, aquatic life is much more fascinating than life on land
Elliot Harris: Depends on who you’re doing life with on land
Me: And who are you doing life with tonight?
Elliot Harris: Everyone but you, it seems
Me: Life on land sounds bland
Elliot Harris: Tell me a truer story
My smile deepened. The friendship growing between Elliot and I was as organic as soil and water. We spent most of our time tutoring in the center together and working through the intensity of his third year science essays. The greater part of our Sundays were also enjoyed in each other’s company.
Elliot Harris: Meet in the middle of sea and land
Me: And where might that be
Elliot: The fountain
Me: I’m kind of designated walker for the night
Elliot Harris: For who?
Me: Uhm, half the campus?
Elliot Harris: Sounds like you need some help shouldering the load
Another text message came in at the top of my screen at that moment.
Silas: Death come save me
I looked at the time and marveled at how early it was for Silas to turn in for the night, and on Halloween weekend, too.
Me: Looks like Silas is up first
Elliot Harris: Meet you there
I forwarded the sorority house to Elliot and threw a zipped sweatshirt over my shoulders and pajamas. The walk to the sorority house took me across campus and into a neighborhood where I met Elliot on the sidewalk in front of the house in his Superman shirt. Scattered about the yard were other bodies, all wearing varying costumes.
“Original,” I greeted him.
“You look,” he said in return, studying the red sweatshirt I wore over my white t-shirt that read WILLIAM in bold black lettering and matching black jogger sweats, “comfortable.”
I looked myself over, shrugging, and smiled.
“Kind of what I was going for.”
“What’s the story behind William?” he asked. “A former flame you’ve yet to let go of?”
I laughed. That might’ve been a cooler story. In my freshman year of high school was when I was first introduced to Shakespearean literature. I whined about it constantly to Mom and Alex, who shared the same English extension class with me.
“Romeo and Juliet was a tragedy of poor communication!” I vented at Alex as we walked towards home together. “Two teenagers who didn’t bother to talk to each other about their plans for the future together,” I said in disgust. “Guess what? They died.”
My eyes rolled over in my head as Alex laughed and shook his head lightly next to me.
“I think they’re endearing,” he said.
“How?” I shot at him, eyes widened.
“They believed in their fate together,” he answered. “They trusted that the hope they had in their future together would align all the right pieces.”
“Ever the idealist,” I said in response.
“Do you think,” Alex started, “teenage girls in the 16th century were hotter than the ones today?” My face contorted at the question. “There isn’t one girl I see today that I’d be willing to run off with.”
“There’s the real Alex.”
It wasn’t until we read A Midsummer’s Night Dream later in that year that I found myself fawning over William Shakespeare.
“What do you think it’d be like to love an ass?” Alex posed the question on our walk home.
I envisioned the Fairy Queen Titania falling in love with the character of Nick Bottom, whose head was transformed into that of a donkey’s by the magical fairy, Puck.
“In an imaginary world or this one?”
“Painful, probably,” I answered Alex.
“Try to avoid it in this world, Reagan,” he said.
“On it, thanks.”
“I feel like you’ll meet an ass.”
So quick bright things come to confusion.
“Alex and I,” I started to explain to Elliot, “made shirts as an expression of our affections for our favorite classic poet during my freshman year of high school.”
“Everett?” Elliot asked. “You two knew each other back then?
“Oh,” I said, “yeah, we’re neighbors.”
Elliot nodded at the new information.
“Oh,” he said, “I didn’t know that.”
“I know,” I laughed. “Best kept secret.”
He smiled, just as Silas came stumbling through the front doors of the sorority house, music playing loudly inside it. As soon as we saw him on the steps of the porch, others fluttered out hurriedly after him, commotion stirring, and soon, we lost sight of him.
“What’s happening?” I asked, following Elliot swiftly towards the house as people cleared a path, some moving the opposite way as us.
I looked for Silas, but he must’ve been ushered back into the house. When we stepped into the house, to the left was the living room where a circle of people were gathered.
“Call 911!” we heard a cry. “Can anyone help?”
Elliot pushed his way through the crowd, his height and strength an enormous asset to him, and I followed behind. When we made it through to the scene of the panic, I saw Silas on the floor next to a woman and his roommate, pale with a stream of saliva running down his cheek. Whatever state Silas was in when he texted me, the sight before him seemed to sober him up. He stared at his roommate in quiet shock, and I looked much the same, frozen at the sight of the familiar scene, everything moving in slow motion for me.
People continued yelling things over each other, but all I could hear was ringing. Elliot moved to take a pulse and reposition Silas’ roommate, but all I could do was stand idly in my place. When Elliot looked up and motioned me over to help, all I could do was swallow. My breath slowed and quickened at the same time, the scene in front of me numbing the very core of me. I wanted to fight it, but nothing in me could summon a defense. Elliot looked in a different direction to flag someone else over when he recognized it wouldn’t be me assisting him with Silas’ roommate.
I felt a hand wrap around my wrist then that I couldn’t fight either, so I let it lead me out of the house, grateful to move away from the scene. I just figured they were ushering us out to give Silas’ roommate space as they waited for help.
“Rae,” I heard my name. “RAE.”
I shook my daze away and looked up to meet the face of Alex, a short distance from me. My gaze lingered quietly on him before it left him to take in our surrounding. I recognized the place where we stood to be the lit up pathway to the greenhouse on campus.
“How did we get here?” the question left me softly as I surveyed the area.
“How did we get here?” Alex asked just as quietly in response.
“Huh?” I turned to look at him.
“We flew here,” he answered me. I looked at him in his Greek god costume, his shirt off and toga barely wrapped around him. “On Pegasus.”
I blinked at him dazedly, unfazed by his joke, then redirected my eyes to the ground, shuffling where I stood. As feeling returned to me, embarrassment crept its way onto my face at the memory of my reaction to Silas’ roommate. I felt the burn on my ears when I reached up to massage them. Nervously, I bit at the inside of my bottom lip, moving my hands from my ears to pull at my hair.
“Rae,” said Alex, but I didn’t look up. “Rae,” he said my name once again. This time, I looked up to see him approaching me slowly. “It’s,” he said, stopping a couple feet in front of me, “okay.”
I blinked at him before scoffing.
“Is it?” I shot at him, throwing my hands to my sides. “Here I am, trying to be a doctor, but I freeze at the sight of,” I cut myself off, “at the moment I see a,” I paused, “at anything that—” I shook my head in irritation and turned to pace myself back and forth, cracking my knuckles and massaging my hands fiercely. “I must be kidding myself,” I said in a flurry. “Dad does his big time surgeon thing with confidence, like nothing fazes him, and I’m over here, like,” I turned to look at Alex, waving my hands in all kinds of directions at the sides of my face, “oh my gah, I see a person suffering, so I’ll just freeze up and be weird and do nothing and act helpless and worthless and stare and—“
Alex grabbed both of my wrists and pulled them together, my closed fists raised between the two of us.
“Stop,” he ordered. I looked at my wrists in his hands and back up at his face. “You’re,” he said, “going to be a great doctor.” I swallowed at his words. “With lots of experiences,” I blinked at him and swiftly looked down, the both of us aware of the unspoken reality that I had yet to recover from the trauma of Alex’s overdose, “to teach you and grow you.” When he tugged on my wrists lightly, I looked up. “This just wasn’t one of them.”
I didn’t have a response, so I just stood there, my wrists in his hands, and looked to the ground again. Alex allowed for a few seconds to pass before he lowered my wrists and shifted his hands from their grip on my wrists to a hold of my hands. My eyes moved from their spot on the ground to our hands in each other’s, then up at his face. He didn’t react until he dropped my hands suddenly and pulled me into his chest, his arms wrapping around me as his hands searched for the tag at the back of my shirt.
“Is this mine?” he demanded, moving my hair to peer at the tag.
“What?” I asked in confusion, my face smothered by part of his toga and part of his chest.
“It is mine,” he declared.
I shook him off of me and took a step back.
“So what are you doing wearing my shirt?” he questioned me. “Just creeping around my room when I’m away from home?”
I nodded in mocking.
“Yeah, that’s what I do during my pastimes. Rummage through Alexander the Great’s belongings and take them for my own.”
“That certainly explains it,” he said.
My face scrunched in disgust at his retort.
“Your parents had a yard sale at the beginning of the year and I got it to replace mine because mine was becoming too small and worn,” I admitted.
“You bought it?” he asked in disbelief.
“Your dad tried to sell it for five dollars,” I told him. “I bargained down, of course.”
“Let me guess,” said Alex, “half priced.”
“Better,” I said. “Two shiny quarters.”
A smile crept onto Alex’s face, a comfortable silence passing between us as we looked at each other, one in a Greek god costume and one in a William Shakespeare shirt, both ridiculous all the same.
“Lord, what fools these mortals be.”
At Alex’s recitation of Puck’s line from A Midsummer’s Night Dream, I smiled.
“Thanks—” I started, but paused and looked towards the ground, struggling to finish my thought about how grateful I was for the kind words he offered me in my flustered rant about my inadequacies.
Fortunately, Alex filled in the silence.
“And though she be but little, she is fierce.”
I looked up in wonder at the person in front of me. I couldn’t remember the last time I experienced this Alex—the witty, fun, warm version of him, who was good at reminding me of my humanity and validating it at the same time. I had gotten so used to the version who opposed my perspective on life, told jokes at my expense, or dismissed me all together, that the one staring me back, understanding and encouraging, was foreign to me.
“Thanks, Alex,” I finally barely whispered in gratitude. He smiled in return. “I’m,” I continued, “going back to my dorm.”
He nodded as I turned to leave.
“Hey,” I said, turning back to look at him.
“Yes?” he answered quietly.
“You,” I started, “look stupid.”
I looked him up and down, my face scrunched at the sight of him. He only laughed, throwing his elbows back and chest out.
“Go home, William.”
I couldn’t suppress a smile at the small treat given me for Halloween.
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