Before she figured out that she was gay, Elizabeth dreamed of a boy. He was always the same boy, his hair dark and skin tan but face slightly blurred. She could never remember his name when she woke up, but he was different from every boy she knew, and she felt like she was in love.
Thinking back on it, she realized that the reason his uniqueness appealed to her was because she did not like men. A very simple solution to a three-year-long problem.
For those three years, Elizabeth dreamed of him intermittently. In her favorite dream, he tapped on her window on a summer afternoon when the world was quiet and lay on the hardwood floor. She sat above him on her bed and they talked for hours. They never touched in these dreams, which should also have been a significant clue.
Elizabeth couldn’t help but think of him as she pushed through the frosted bushes outside Mel’s dorm. There were obvious differences- this was the middle of the night, for one, and her feelings for Mel were much more complicated than her feelings for the nameless boy. Still, as she counted windows and double checked the room number, she was struck with a faint longing for those imagined summer afternoons.
Mel’s face appeared through the blinds and Elizabeth jumped.
“Elizabeth? What the hell are you doing- it’s freezing out there.”
“Shh, I wanted to talk. Does this screen pop out?”
“Why didn’t you just come to the door?” Mel’s face twisted strangely as she pulled at the screen, trying hard not to laugh. Behind her, Clara shifted in her bed.
“Okay, don’t worry about that. Can you meet me by the front door?” Elizabeth’s eyes were fixed on Clara’s darkened outline.
Minutes later, Elizabeth was standing by the entrance to the dorms pushing the balls of her feet against the ground to combat the cold in her toes. Mel pushed the glass door open and Elizabeth felt a warmth in her stomach as she noted her flannel pajama pants.
“It’s a beautiful night out. Do you want to go look at the stars with me?” Elizabeth felt ridiculous saying the words. A fluorescent light above them flickered as an insect buzzed inside.
“Ah.” Mel’s face had the tautness of a person trying to politely refuse. “It’s super cold out and I’m in pajamas. What’s going on? Why are you here so late?”
“I wanted to see you.” The words hung in the air with the fog of her breath. “Do you want to go back inside then?”
Mel’s eyes seemed to stare just short of her eyes, somewhere around the cheekbone region. “No. Let’s walk, though, I’m freezing.”
Clara made to pull off her jacket but Mel stopped her frantically, redness rushing to her cheeks. “I have a sweatshirt, I’m fine.”
They turned and walked along the cobblestone sidewalk, and Elizabeth tried hard not to match her steps with Mel’s. The quiet felt heavy on her ears. She turned to Mel to say something, anything, and stopped.
Mel’s eyes were closed and her breath clouded in the air just beyond her slightly chapped lips. She was paused by the drooping magnolia tree that crested the sidewalk, smelling a flower, and Elizabeth hurt with how perfectly framed the scene before her was, the moonlight washing away the harshness of the lamps and the fog in the air. Mel’s eyes opened again, and Elizabeth abruptly felt like an intruder of a private moment.
As Mel beckoned Elizabeth to smell the flowers and began to talk about a similar tree that had grown in her yard as a child, Elizabeth focused on the warmth that Mel’s body radiated. It felt like an unbearable privilege to stand next to her in the moonlight, like the dream she was chasing was suddenly too much.
“Mel.” Elizabeth cut through her sentence. “You know why I’m here.”
Mel focused on the flower she cupped in her hand, tracing the browned edge of a petal. “I’m not sure.”
Elizabeth could not understand how Mel couldn’t sense the longing in Elizabeth’s throat, heavy as an overly ambitious bite of a sinewy meat, equally hesitant to work its way away from her airways.
Finally, Mel spoke. “Elizabeth, Clara is my roommate. I don’t want to assume anything, but you know that we can’t- I can’t- it just wouldn’t be a good thing, you know?”
“You can’t tell me you don’t feel anything, Mel. The beach-” Mel flinched “-was important to me, and you wouldn’t have said the things you said if you didn’t feel it too.” Elizabeth coughed against the cold. “Look, you don’t have to say anything back, but I like you a lot. I want you to know that. I’m tired of playing games, Mel.”
The silence felt colder now, the air thin. “It’s late,” said Mel.
“Yeah,” said Elizabeth.
“I’m going to go back in. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
She watched Mel turn and stumble over a raised bit of cobblestone before making her way back to the dorm. Elizabeth smiled slightly- they hadn’t even made it out of the courtyard before she was rejected. But the sky was still beautiful, and her waking dreams wandered to her nameless boy as she walked stiffly back to her dorm, the tears on her face cold in the night.