My heart pounds at the thought of seeing Dean sitting at the tables in front of CC1080. My Biology labs fell on a Wednesday, the days I get to see him. I skim over the printed lab sheets as I think about what I would say to Dean and Evan, my lab partners.
I would make a joke about having freshman 25.
I would bring up the fake story of going on a date to see La La Land.
I would try not to stare into Dean’s hazel eyes.
The lab that day requires my lab members and I to dissect cockroaches and nematodes. I’m wearing my overly ripped tight jeans, cropped low V-neck t-shirt and winter boots. I remind myself to sit in a way that my outfit would be visible under my large sized lab coat.
The clock strikes 2:04 pm.
I know I should be there by two, but the labs don’t start until 2:10. Dean’s usually late anyways. Maybe I’ll catch him by the lab lockers and ask him about the Frank Ocean album I told him to listen to.
I run to the washroom beside the IT service desk, and I make sure my foundation is still in place. I apply two layers of lip balm and apply an extra coat of mascara contained in my makeup bag. Not my usual look. I hate myself for liking a boy so much.
The clock strikes 2:06 pm.
I grab my bag and winter coat and race to the biology lab in the Davis building on the second floor. I don’t see him, so I slow my pace. I go to the rows of the lockers near the middle of the hallway and throw my belongings in the bottom locker. Taking out my lab documents and pencil case, I see him from the corner of my eye as he strides into the hallway.
He walks with his back straight and his broad shoulders lead every step. He wears his snapback backwards with his hair placed in a neat low bun. From the 2 seconds I glance at him, his dimples are on full display as his laughter and voice fill the hallway. My heart beats a little faster and the heat rushes to my temples. I stay kneeling on the ground as I try to focus on grabbing my binder out of my bag.
I overhear his conversation.
“Yeah, I have a lot of family in Sweden,” Dean says.
“Oh my God I thought most of your family lived in Asia!” she replies.
I can feel my jaw clench and muscles in my forehead scrunch together as the heat fades away from my face and I shut my eyes at the thought of it. I didn’t realize he was talking to Margaret.
Taking a glance again I see in the corner of my eye her model like legs as she struts beside him. Her long arms sway beside her thin torso. Her olive skin and brunette hair shines as they walk past the window.
I roll my eyes listening to her laughter. He walks, too engaged talking to Margaret to notice me. Her presence towers over me as I stay kneeling on the ground, with my face nearly inside my locker. I grab my lab coat and documents and dash to the laboratory. There I see my other lab partner Evan sitting on his phone in the corner table where my group sat.
Evan looks up and smiles at me when I walk to the table.
“What’s up bitch,” I casually say to him as I sit down.
“What’s up assface,” He replies with a smile.
Evan stands at 6 feet tall, always wearing a bright yellow hat. He manages to make the labs more tolerable. His dark humour and satirical comments about girl’s asses and epic LSD trips make Dean and I laugh, taking away any awkwardness I felt between us.
The clock strikes 2:10 pm.
“Where’s Dean?” Evan asks me.
As I attempt to formulate a casual response, I hear laughter coming from the other side of the room. I turn my head to see Margaret flipping back her hair as Dean laughs to whatever she says. I jerk my head back and fumble with my thumbs. I stare down at the objects on the table. I notice the dissecting utensils for the day; pins, scissor, and a small sharp knife.
“Found him,” I said to Evan with my eyes fixated on the tools.
Dean places himself across from me and I try my best to remain calm. I glare at him with expressionless eyes.
“Hey guys,” he says. He rubs his hands over his chiselled jawline.
After the small talk amongst the three of us, we stand in line to collect the dead cockroaches in our trays. I stand 2 arm lengths away from Dean. We all sit back at our table, and we can’t help but sniff the fishy smell that comes with the cockroach. All our gazes are fixed on this disgusting looking creature.
“Hey Kim, did you hear the new Frank Ocean song?” Dean asks me.
My head jolts up and I gaze at him.
“Of course,” my response is quick.
“Do you remember his album that you told me to listen to? Holy crap it was beautiful,” he says. The spark in his eyes tells me he meant it.
I struggle not to smile, but my dimples expose themselves on the corner of my lips. I give him the “I told you so” look with raised eyebrows. He chuckles at that.
That fuels the start of our long conversation involving everything from the soundtrack of LaLa Land to how his father travels for his business around the world.
My uneasiness slips away from me. It felt nice just having a friend I could talk to.
The clock strikes 2:57 pm.
We lose track of time and have 30 minutes left to complete the dissection and fill out the worksheet. Our conversation steadily comes to an end and our focus turns to correctly making incisions in the abdomen of the cockroach. In the silence, I notice Dean sticking out his tongue and giggling in my direction. I continue to stare down at the cockroach, pretending to make an incision while he attempts to get my attention. A grin appears on my face.
“What are you doing?” Evan asks Dean.
I look up, trying to control the redness flushing to my cheeks. I notice his gaze pass over me completely. I raise an eyebrow. I turn around to the view of Margaret giggling on the other side of the laboratory. She sits on the further table directly across from us.
“Just trying to communicate with my friend man” He says. Dean winks at Margaret and gets back to his dissection.
The room starts to spin, and I feel the extra weight on my chest. The sound of my classmates become muffled, as I make a deep sudden cut into the dead cockroach.
The site of white guts and blood that ooze out of the fragile creature startle me. I loosen my grip on the knife. I gaze at the poor thing sprawled on my dissecting tray with it’s tiny heart and lungs exposed.
“I know how you feel.” I utter these words under my breath and continue with the lab of the day.
Time and Space
The grand clock in the middle of the train station chimed noon. Rays of sunlight pierced through the grey clouds and shone in through the large windows and skylights. The station hummed with rumbles and murmurs and the quick steps of people passing through.
Scarlett sat on a bench. The cold metal felt like ice cubes on her bare thighs. She smoothed her skirt, adjusted her sweater, and clutched the handle of her suitcase. Her hands trembled.
The woman at the other end of the bench yapped into her cell phone, her words shooting out like darts. Her grey pinstripe blazer and skirt were plastered to her thin body as if she was sewn into them. She tapped her red stilettos impatiently on the concrete floor and yelled business words and obscenities into her phone. She glanced at Scarlett and scowled. The woman hiked her Coach bag onto her shoulder and stomped away, her heels echoing on the floor.
People of all shapes, colours, and sizes flowed through the station like a rippling stream; in pairs, groups, or alone, everyone had somewhere to go. A frazzled mother chased after her young son as he gleefully ran away from her. A boy with a mop of brown hair and a skateboard under his arm pushed a small elderly lady in a wheelchair. A young couple swung their intertwined hands and gazed at each other as they walked. Men in business suits rushed past everyone, staring at their cell phones or chomping on large sandwiches.
The station continued to buzz with activity. The trains continued to arrive and depart. The people continued to rush their way to one destination or the next, passing through life like any other day.
Under the grand clock, a girl about Scarlett’s age ran towards a man holding a bouquet of roses. She jumped into his arms, almost knocking him over. They laughed and held each other like they never wanted to let go. The man looked at the girl the same way John used to look at Scarlett.
Scarlett hadn’t seen John for over a year. Would he look different? Would he greet her with a hug? Would he even want to see her?
Scarlett pulled out her phone from her purse and unlocked it. No new messages. And why would there be? He doesn’t know she’s coming, and no one at home knows she left.
“It’s just not the right time,” John had said a year ago. Their empty Chinese take-out containers littered his coffee table in front of his corduroy couch. “Maybe in the future, things would be easier. But not right now.”
Scarlett felt his words press on her chest. He couldn’t really mean it. He was just tired, like he always was. Long distance hadn’t been easy for either of them, but they made it work. It had only been a few months; surely he couldn’t mean any of what he was saying.
“What if I move out here and live with you?” Scarlett asked, one hand on his chest. “Then everything would be so much easier.”
“I don’t want you to do that, Scar. You still have one more year before graduation. I can’t make you leave right now.”
“Then after graduation.”
He sighed, staring out the window across the room. The sun dipped low over skyscrapers and apartment buildings.
“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” he said. “It’s not the right time.”
Scarlett’s pulse quickened. All of their promises swarmed in her mind. He promised he would go to medical school and become a doctor so he could provide a good life for them. She promised she’d support him, even when he accepted his offer to study in Toronto, miles and miles away from her. They promised they’d never give up on each other.
“So what do you want?” Scarlett’s voice trembled.
He leaned away from her touch. He covered his face with his hands. “Maybe we should take a break. Maybe that’s what we need. Some time and space.”
Scarlett bit her lip. Living four hours apart and seeing each other once a month wasn’t enough space? What happened to believing they could get through anything, as long as they had each other?
“Fine,” she said. “If that’s what you want.”
John nodded once. “Okay.”
At first, they talked on the phone at least once a week. But as the months went on, conversations became stiff and short, until they stopped completely. Scarlett knew it would happen, but she still broke down when it did.
Surely, after all these months, he’d at least be surprised and maybe even happy to see her. Time had passed and they’d had their space. Maybe, like Scarlett, John woke up in the middle of the night and stared at his phone, wishing she would call and wondering if he should.
Scarlett’s heartbeat quickened. Her train was scheduled to leave in five minutes. In four hours, she would arrive in Toronto. She would walk to John’s apartment with her hastily packed suitcase and her cautious hope. She took a deep breath and joined the crowd. She strode toward her train, the grand clock ticking past the seconds behind her.