Saturday, September 12, 2015

Short Story - That Rare Instance When Imagination Meets Reality

That Rare Instance When Imagination Meets Reality
words: 1678

Charlotte was a girl, but not girly. At least, not prissy. A jeans and tee shirt type girl. Mike had imagined asking her out, or even just talking to her, but he had never progressed past saying “Hi.” He had convinced himself that he shouldn’t ask out a roommate, that it would create a toxic environment or take time away from studies, but the real reason was that he was a coward. He couldn’t even think of anything to say to Charlotte.

Somehow he had missed that key lesson, and not just talking to girls but interacting with society at large. Somehow he always managed to fumble every interaction. This was the last week of classes. If he didn’t try, he would always have that regret and the upside was that if he made a fool of himself, he was leaving tomorrow anyway.

“You need a hand?” Mike asked Charlotte. She looked up from the almost packed cardboard box and smiled, brushing blond hair behind her ear. It had taken Mike the entire semester to say anything more than ‘Hi.’ No one had ever called him a master of timing.

Charlotte’s heart skipped a beat. She had wanted to ask Mike for help, but wasn’t sure what he’d say. He was always so quiet. She wasn’t sure if he was shy, busy, or a sociopath. His offer was a welcome surprise. “The semester’s over and I feel like we’ve just met.” Charlotte mentally winced after saying it. Why’d she have to make him feel bad right from the start.

“It goes by quickly, doesn’t it?” Mike pointed to a box. “Yeah, it’s ready.” Charlotte grabbed a  box too.

“I could have been more social. Too busy studying I guess.” Mike was doing a good job of all but claiming the nerd role. So much for impressing her. “I know being roommates in this suite was random, but I’m glad it happened.” He wondered if it was too much. He might as well just start serenading her.

“Yeah.” Charlotte racked her brain trying to think of something to say. She never had this problem. He was going to think she didn’t want to talk to him. Her eyes swept over her room, trying to find something to say. “I’ve got a lot of stuffed animals. I’m like a kid, I admit it.” She smiled, though after saying it, she felt silly. She was striking the line between dork and dweeb perfectly. At least she wouldn’t have to face him next week. It never seemed to work out when she approached a guy she liked.

Her last boyfriend she met in class. They happened to sit next to each other in psych class and it just happened. She hadn’t worried about what to say. 'Hi' progressed to talking about the class and then all of a sudden they were hanging out and then dating. Why was this different? How did she end up talking about stuffed animals?

Mike wondered why he waited until the last week of the semester to talk to her. Why bother when he would just fail? Maybe this was a triumph that he talked to her at all, but it didn’t feel that way. Maybe his inability to talk to girls had been a blessing, saving him from disappointment.

In his first year architectural history class, he had seen this girl Lindsey. He wanted to talk to her, but of course he didn’t. He came up with excuses, but he couldn’t even fool himself. It would be too obvious to change seats. The seat allowed him a quick exit and good visibility of the professor. She would notice and be put off. When he found out Lindsey was in his psych 101 class, that met right after, he imagined walking with her to the next class, laughing and talking, but it never happened. He was afraid to even approach her. The class didn’t last long enough for him to generate enough courage.

He had gone the entire semester and barely talked to Charlotte. They were roommates. It was the perfect setup, even if the pairing was random since it was university housing. He had made more dumb excuses. There were four people in the suite, would a pairing be awkward? She was too popular, too good for him, too busy. He spent most of his time on campus studying at the library. Was it because that prevented distractions or was he scared to be at the apartment?

Why had she not talked to him? He was hardly ever at the apartment, but that was a terrible excuse. She had watched him leave from the corner of her eye plenty of times. He did seem weird, and maybe that was why she liked him. The same thing that made her want to talk to him was the same thing that made her brain stop working.

“My car’s just out front. Luckily I found a good parking spot.” Charlotte said. Mike follower her, boxes in hand. “Are you packed up?” She asked.

“Yeah, just about. Did most of it yesterday. I just pulled onto the sidewalk since there wasn’t a parking spot.” Mike wasn’t sure if it came off as trying to sound cool, but it was the truth.

“That’s actually a smart idea.” Charlotte opened the back hatch and set down the boxes she was carrying. “Right here is fine.”

“When do you finish exams?” Mike asked “I’ve got one more tomorrow.”

“I’m so jealous. I’ve got one tomorrow and then my last one is Friday.”

Mike held the door open for her as they returned to the apartment. “Do you need anymore help?”

“Sure, if you don’t mind.” She replied.

Mike didn’t. He would help her all day if she needed it. Studying for exams didn’t matter right now.

The conversation wasn’t going too bad. He didn’t seem too bad, and she didn’t seem to mind talking to him.

“Can you get this one? It’s kind of heavy.”

Mike squatted to grab the plastic bin. “I’ll be okay. Of course if I say that and then drop it I’ll look like an idiot.” He hadn’t meant to say that, but her laugh made him feel better about the slip up.

Charlotte liked him, and she liked that he acknowledged the need for men to be so macho. He didn’t even seem nervous. Why did he never stick around the apartment?

Mike strained to lift the bin. Grunting.

“You got it?” She asked.

“Yeah, can you get the door?” Mike waddled to the door. What did she have in this thing. If he dropped it he’d definitely look like a wimp. That was assuming his red face and beads of sweat forming on his brow weren’t already giving him away.

Once he was clear of the door, Charlotte bounded to the car. Just as the hatch opened, Mike pushed the bin hard into the car. “I’ll be honest, two more steps and I might have lost it.”

“I bet you would have made it.” Charlotte leaned against the car. “When are you leaving?”

“Oh, uh, probably after my exam tomorrow. Not much reason to stick around.” Mike sat on the bumper, taking a deep breath.

“Oh. Right.” Charlotte wasn’t sure if he got the hint. How could she rephrase it and not seem desperate?

Mike detected the drop in her voice, but wasn’t sure why that would disappoint her. Though maybe he was reading her wrong.

“Are you leaving after your exam on Friday?” Mike asked.

“Yeah, I’ll celebrate another year complete then head out.” Charlotte hesitated, looking at Mike. “You should stick around, join me.” Mike looked at her but didn’t say anything. It was a fraction of a second that seemed much longer for both of them. “That’s if you don’t have some place to be.” Charlotte added.

Mike felt like his stomach had jumped into his throat. He was excited that she wanted him to be there, but he wasn’t sure what to say. “I’d like that. I can definitely stick around for that.” He wasn’t sure if the ‘definitely’ was too much. He didn’t want to seem overeager. “Who all is celebrating?”

Charlotte smiled, “Right now you and me.”  Mike looked down, smiling. This was going better than he ever could have imagined. Was this going to be a date? Had she asked him?

“Maybe we can stay in touch over the summer. If you want to?” How do you ask for a number, but not ask for a number Mike wondered. As soon as he said over the summer, he realized how silly it must sound. It had been a line he had been practicing, knowing he’d never get a chance to use it. “I meant for Friday.” He added, trying to salvage the gaffe.

“Give me your phone. I’ll add my number.” Charlotte replied. Mike handed her the phone after unlocking it.

“Thanks.” She smiled. She wondered if maybe he was just nervous, but he wouldn’t ask for her number if he wasn’t going to call. If he said summer, maybe he was thinking long term. Judging by how red his face had turned, he was genuine.
She didn’t just want to enter her number, she wanted to be playful. She smiled when she thought of it.

“You must have a long phone number.” Mike said. He had reached his peak and was plummeting. The wait was making him nervous. Was it all a joke? What happened?

“You’ll see.” She handed the phone back. I added a reminder in your calendar to call me. I know how guys can be forgetful.

Mike took the phone, realizing that just maybe she liked him back. He looked up from the phone and into her eyes. She was looking into his. The connection he had always hoped to make, the one he had practiced and imagined had happened. It was completely different, but it happened, completely exceeding his expectations.

“I always wanted to ask you about that poster in your room…” she started to say.
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