I moved through those soft, moist bodies with friendly, inebriated smiles that tend to occupy those kinds of spaces, and on the other side, I found him. His eyes were bright when he saw me, and he wrapped me in his arms and I melted there. He began to talk rapidly as he always did and I smiled and nodded and responded as I always did. He led me outside to a group of people who I knew but would never actually know. There was a beer waiting for me in his hand. I took it, sat by the fire and nursed my beer while I watched him and remembered the way we knew each other.

Illustration by Megan Mulholland

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It was the night of my first college party the summer before freshman year. We were walking without a destination as the cool summer night airbrushed our hot, sticky skin that made our hands stick together like Velcro. Finally we came upon a hill in the middle of a neighborhood, and lay on our backs, claiming our stake. After long moments of quiet, I like you Sundai rolled over his lips like a melody. I turned toward him — not smiling because he wasn’t — and told him I liked him too. And then he turned toward me, and finally he was smiling, and finally he was kissing me. We were lying under the trees, under the stars, and it was impossible and magical all the same.

What I expected to materialize after that night did not happen. I was angry and sad and hurt and confused when he wanted to be with other girls instead of me. Because he’d held my hand and kissed me on a hilltop and told me he liked me. He had this soul that was powerful and captivating and as much as I wanted to walk away and remember him only as a moment in time, I could not. So I set aside all animosity I had against our shattered romance and sacrificed the bitterness I wanted to feel, to have him as a constant in my life.

We were more beautiful this way than I’d ever imagined we could be. The deeper our friendship grew the more I realized that this was how things were meant to be. There was a loyalty that existed between us that could not have existed had it been any other way. Not to say that we weren’t reckless with our friendship at first. We jeopardized it often with slurred words and stolen kisses at late-night after-parties before I insisted that I make my way home. We never talked about these moments — either because they felt normal or because it was easier to believe they were imagined. These moments occurred less frequently until eventually, they ended all together. For a time, the memory of that moment on that hill when time stood still misguided me and led me to believe that we were meant to be. But our world wasn’t fit to hold that kind of love, only the love we had created that was and would always solely be ours.

My beer was still cold in my hand as we went inside and danced to music that made us nostalgic. And as we sat on the couch later that night, in that house, my head was buzzed from half of a bad beer and happiness and he was dreamy from slight sobriety, interrupted by a few puffs of Mary. For the last time, he leaned over and kissed me, more softly and sweetly than he ever had before. It was just once, slowly on the lips, and he pulled away, just for a flicker of a moment, before he became aware of what he had unknowingly revealed to me.

I looked into his eyes and I knew then that he loved me and would love me as long as forever might possibly be. It was a love that was baffled and heavy. Full of heard words and apologies that never had to be spoken. Our friendship, and this love we’d cultivated, was whole and intentional and deeply anchored in an almost-romance that had blossomed out of that summer we’d spent covered in sundust with hills of grass molding to the dips in our backs.

Sundai Johnson is an LSA junior.

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