“***”. I said, looking at my phone with wide eyes, “***”.
“What?” Anna, asked, blowing on her too-hot pop-**** breakfast.
“Tony, my ex-boyfriend’s coming - TOMORROW - for the university tour. - He’s asking if I want to meet up with him.” I said, twiddling my thumbs over my phone keyboard. Tony’s ID had flashed on my phone last week - but I hadn’t picked up. His tour was set for 8AM.
“Did EVERYONE at your high school get accepted here?” Anna asks.
“Apparently.” I moaned and found myself biting my lip in concentration.
Last summer, before I’d left for college, there’d been a brief window, when the pandemic looked beaten - if you were vaccinated. There were parties upon parties after the long virus lockdown. I’d decided it was time - I wasn’t going off to college as the only ****** in the ivy league. It was a summer of kisses and other things - with Tony.
In the end though, we never even got a chance to say goodbye because his dad, who lived in Arizona, was in a car wreck. Tony had to escort his little brother out there. We were pickpocketed by circumstance and parted on imperfect terms.
Now, suddenly, as if it were a surprise - there I was - and there he was, stepping out of an Uber. I moved toward him, tugging at my hair that chose that moment to writhe, like a live thing in the wind. I cursed myself for not digging my best clothes out of the trunk under my bed. I’d told myself that I didn’t need to - I wouldn’t - put on a show for him but now I was sure my reward for stubbornness was looking like a scarecrow.
His parents were climbing out of the other side of the car. His dad first, whom I liked and then his mom, who is a straight up *****. I overheard her sourly calling my family “foreigners” once. For some reason I hadn’t pictured them there.
Tony reached me first. My initial response to seeing him was joy, then it turned to a vague dismay. Tony, who’d stepped forward for a hug, noticed the shift and faltered. Our hug was off-kilter, as stiff as the embrace between two mannequins. Still, He managed to lean in and kiss me on the cheek, without saying anything.
When I’d imagined our meeting, I hadn’t accounted for adrenaline, for shaking knees and sweaty palms. I gripped my skirt with my hands, to stop them from quivering and dry them.
“I’m nervous. Why am I so nervous?” Tony said, laughingly.
“Don’t be,” I replied, trying to sound casual, “we’re old friends.”
His face showed a flash, a microexpression of annoyance at the word “friends,” and he said, “Old lovers, actually,” low enough that his approaching parents couldn’t hear it. He towered over me, could he have gotten taller?
As we walked across campus, to the welcome center, there were a lot of other groups of parents and students. Spring break is when most tours happen, when nascent, ivy league dreams come to be evaluated. Tony and I walked in front, and I fell into tour-guide mode, trying to entertain. “Yale’s old campus follows the pseudo-Gothic style, like Oxford University, in England - but the style originated in France - with cathedrals and abbeys.”
After a couple of minutes of similar pablum, I asked, “Where are you guys going next?”
“Harvard,” his mom said, adjusting her purse proudly, as if she’d personally been accepted. “Ahh,” I said, Tony and I exchanged a look rich with silent communication: “Ignore her, please,” he said with his eyes.
“Harvard is built in a flat, ugly, red-brick, neo-Georgian style that was originally used for colonial outhouses.” I mocked. Tony and his father chucked - instantly getting the ivy league rivalry humor. His mother pursed her lips and soldiered on.
After a moment she said, “It just goes to show.” I waited to hear what it went to show but the thought would remain forever incomplete. I finally delivered them into the custodianship of professional tour guides - right on schedule - and took my leave to meet Leong for coffee.
As I settled in, Leong asked, in Chinese (our private gossip language). “Zenme yàngle? (How's it going?)”
I started to give her a rote answer, but posturing, with Leong, would be dumb. “Zhè shì yi chang zhèngzài jìnxíng de zainàn ” (It’s a disaster in progress), I answered, despondently.
Why was I doing this? It was full-on awkward. But deep down I knew. I’d wanted to see him again, badly enough to endure seeing his mother (who, on some unconscious level, I had to know would come too.).
Later, as we waited for their Uber, Tony studied me and Yale’s manicured lawns. “I tried to picture you here,” he said, “and couldn’t. What’s it like here?” He asked.
“Oh, I’m livin’ the good life,” I answered at first, but then I added, “Everyone studies hard, hardly sleeps and is ravenous for fun.”
“Oh, like everywhere,” he says grinning.
“Like everywhere,” I agreed, and we laughed.
“Now that I’ve seen you here - you fit - you seem at home.”
After a moment of silence, I admitted, “I couldn’t stay, and risk another lockdown.” I didn’t know if I wanted him to exonerate me or confirm my guilt over leaving.
“I get it, I’d have left too,” he shrugged, “forget about it.” Hearing him say that brought tears to my eyes, we clasped hands and after a moment, the Uber arrived, and we hugged goodbye.
As they drove away, I felt a relief. You have to live in the moment here, not in the past. Summer kisses only last as fond memories.
Besides, we’re headed for spring break in Paris in - I checked my watch - 2 hours!
BLT word challenge of the day: Nascent: "coming or having recently come into existence."