My ledgers were filled with more notes than those in all my pages combined, but I couldn’t help it. I was hardly the studying type.
Then again, few of the students casually draped across the lecture hall chairs were really the studying type at this hour—it was a seven o’clock class, and the sun had barely stretched its arms over the horizon. Our dumpy professor held the cryptic ritual of running through the class list with his raspy morning voice every single meeting—occasionally missing a student who had fallen asleep as the roll call stretched on.
The entire idea of studying in these conditions was numbing—the dull droll of the professor at the front of the classroom, his limping hobble as he scratched equations on the board, the steady tick of the clock hanging just a foot behind my head reminding me that time is in fact moving forward despite the never ending lull in my head.
My perception of time was evermore distorted by a set of striking cheekbones bestowed upon some form of demi-god seated next to me. Poppy had a strange way about her—an almost unnatural focus on nothingness. She held herself casually, as if in contempt. I don’t think she ever cared about the class at all. Her name must have been called five times before she finally turned her head in acknowledgement. It ought to have been unnerving, but instead I’d found it endearing. She’d possessed a certain thoughtfulness I could not grasp. Amidst the dull intellectualisation of an otherwise mundane subject matter, there she sat—completely intent, always smiling when anything had caught her interest. She seemed rather alive in a class that wore everyone to death. What on earth was running through her mind? This question plagued me for the entirety of the period. The hours in that dull room became remotely bearable when she flashed her bright brown eyes at me, as a doe does once caught in glaring headlights.
I wish I could say that something--anything—of significance transpired between us, but I feel I was alone in implanting meaning to the glances we’d shared. In fact, every time I’d express some new “advancement” to my sister Carol, she’d have three words for me: it’s not real.
Because, really, how could any relationship be founded on speculation or one sided regard?
Yet there seemed a great dissonance between knowledge and feeling. Although I certainly knew that nothing could come out of such interactions (or, rather, the lack of them), the knowledge of such things did not quell the fluttering in my own chest—certainly not when she stared at me inquisitively with her doe eyes.
“Do you not know?” she asked me, but I hadn’t heard the question. I was preoccupied with the general look of her.
She rolled her eyes at me, amused. Or perhaps she was annoyed? Or flirting? “When the exam is, you know, the final?”
“Oh, right,” I said stupidly. “It’s, erm, Tuesday. Same day as Briar Friar’s Lunch Specials.”
She laughed. “Nice to know.”
“Have you ever tried their lunch specials?” I ventured, careful to look into her eyes and not down on her never-ending legs.
She shook her head. “Never.”
“Pity. They’re wonderful. Especially after a hard exam.”
She smirked. “Should we go after the final? I’d love a good meal to shake of a bad mark.”
I smirked. From the looks of her, it was quite impossible for her to get a bad mark. But I wasn’t going to ruin such a straight invitation with a snide comment.
“Sure. After the final, then,” I replied.
“Great,” she smiled, impregnating herself into my thoughts once again.
Carol, of course, was unimpressed. It’s not real, she urged even when I listed nearly a million reasons why Poppy might be remotely interested in me.
1. She started the conversation.
Carol said it didn’t count. It was a generic, class related question.
2. Even if it was a generic class related question, she asked me out of all the people she could have asked.
Carol said I was the convenient option. It didn’t mean anything.
3. Then why would she invited me to lunch?
Friendly gesture, Carol insisted. Not everything Carol did had to be related to my “obsession” of her.
Not that I was obsessed.
And not that my reasons ever summed up to nearly a million, but three was good enough.
Carol held firm to her belief, however, that apparently, none of my observations proved anything but my own tendency towards fixation. Not everything had to weave into a story. Sometimes, they were simply coincidences, chances, probabilities, sneezes.
Yet, hope was treacherous—the ledgers of my mind swelled with thoughts of Poppy the way riverbanks overflow when there’s steady rain. Hope, hope, hope flooded me all week. The withered Willow tree branches that swung lazily outside my window seemed almost cheerful. My no-bedroom student dormitory I perceived as some lavish dwelling. Carol’s nagging, even, seemed like some endearing form of encouragement (on this score, I was indeed stretching my imagination).
The day of the final came swiftly. Our dumpy professor drew his lips into an ugly sneer as he slapped exam papers onto our desks, snorting at us to begin.
Dismal was an understatement. But I’d expected that. Bad marks for bad students, all all that.
The bell sang its shrill song, and all thoughts on my final were replaced by thoughts of Poppy. If only her thoughts drifted towards me just as quickly. I craned my neck in search of her light long hair, but to no avail. She’d disappeared.
Carol, of course, gave me the obligatory I told you so before sympathising. Just as well since we both were in for the shock of our lives as Poppy stepped out of Briar Friar, completely immersed in her own company.
“Well, then. There you have it,” Carol said, taking a sip at her coffee, a smug smirk on her face. “It’s not real. It never was.”