Josef sat on the curb on the outskirts of the high school perimeter, shyly staring down at his shoes instead of at the pale, quiet girl sitting beside him.
Corina made something of a noncommittal grunt, shrugging one shoulder up as she mumbled, “Well, yeah. I told you that from the beginning. You knew I wasn’t going to be here for that long.”
“Yeah, but I-“ something powerful rose in choking bubbles against his throat, too big to get out. Josef tried to swallow them down. “I didn’t really….realize…that, well, that it would be so…soon.” That wasn’t what he had wanted to say. He had wanted to say that from the first time he had seen her he had been struck by her- her beauty that she seemed so unaware of or obsessed about, her cocky attitude, her intelligence, her proud confidence, her gentleness, her smile- and, without realizing what had happened, he had gone from passing notes to her in Drama class to falling head over heels in love with an unobtainable angel who had seemed so easy to approach at first.
“I told you from the start that nothing was going to come of this and to look at us as just friends….friends with a little bit more.” There was something severe and detached in her voice that hurt him, and he recoiled a little bit.
“Yeah, but….well….I mean, as I wrote to you in my note-“
Corina tugged at pieces of grass behind them. “I responded to your note. Didn’t you see?”
“Yeah…” Josef fingered the folded-up piece of paper in his pocket. “You didn’t even spell my name right…”
“I didn’t?” Corina seemed genuinely troubled by that for a second. “How did I spell it?”
“With an ‘e’ in it. And a ‘ph’ at the end.”
“Oh.” Corina chuckled and waved her hand carelessly as if to dismiss all his worries and anxieties as ridiculous. “That’s how my brother’s name is spelled. His name is Joeseph, too; I must have gotten the two mixed up.”
“But….I’m not your brother….” Josef started, then gave in. Not as if it mattered anyway. He would clutch onto that note like a drowning man to a buoy- as he had done with all her notes to him, poring again and again over her loopy half-script half-print handwriting until he felt he could see her in the lines and curves of her words- and push himself up with them from the unfathomable depths of a child suffering through his parents’ divorce, his father’s rigid distance, and his mother’s affair with another woman. He kept holding on to a wisp of hope that she would understand- her own parents were divorced, although she didn’t talk much about that- and that she could help him survive through this, help him cope despite a heavy sinking premonition in the pit of his guts that she wasn’t even listening to him when he tried turning to her for advice.
Desperation suddenly gripped at him from that bottomless pit. He turned on Corina and tried to grasp her hand in his own but only ended up startling her into snatching her hand away. “What? What is it?” she asked, perturbed.
Josef leaned in close, reaching a hand out towards Corina’s face. He forgot sometimes how dark he was in comparison to her until he saw pieces of their skin in contrast, and for some reason right now with her being more aloof than normal it made him even more anxious and desperate.
“Kiss me!” he breathed, leaning in abruptly towards her. Corina shied and twisted away from him, turning her head away so his own fell forward in despair. “Just…just one kiss,” he whined, trying to move closer. “You did it before…”
“Josef, I told you, we’re just friends….plus a little bit more. But I don’t think that little bit more is a good idea right now, seeing how you’re acting and knowing that I’m going to be leaving for three states away in a week.” Her words were so cut and dried, so clipped and precise; each one was as ostensibly innocuous yet profoundly painful as a paper cut. She made sense, he couldn’t deny that, but the way she said it was like a death sentence to his imagination.
Josef gave something of a moan and lay down curled up next to her with his head in her lap. Absently her fingers wound themselves into his soft loose curls while her eyes glanced briefly, blindly, across his face then back out over the football field some yards away. Josef ran away from the distinct impression that she didn’t even see him and lost himself in the feeling of her fingers tickling his scalp and getting lost in his long hair. Without thinking he murmured aloud to her, “I think I love you.”
Corina’s fingers paused for a second in their tingling and twining, but that was the only sign she gave that she had heard him at all. Josef opened his eyes to stare up into her glaringly white round face. She was looking down at him, but her shocking green eyes evaded meeting his own dark brown ones directly. “Do you….how do you feel about me, Corina? …Corina?”
It took everything in him to force those words out of his throat. He lay, taut to the breaking point from hope but drained of all other life energy just waiting for a word- or three- from her. He lay still as death, waiting-
Waiting for something more than the casual distant proclamations of friendship she had been making for the last three weeks; something more than the unconcerned, unencumbered proclamations of friendship she now calmly reminded him of. Waiting for her to feel something like what he felt the few times their lips had met or her hands had latched onto his; waiting for her to hang on every moment with him as he did with her and whisper the truth to him that she couldn't live without him, either.
Waiting to feel the solid weight of the buoy underneath his hand to pull himself up by instead of the shimmering mirage of rescue help shifting through his imagination as he sank further down into the deep.
Corina left him waiting; left him to lose herself looking for her own thread of hope to shine out from the depths of despair because she knew that this buoy that had seemed right in front of her was too far off for someone as far gone into troubled waters as she was. Josef waited a full year before finally letting go of his belief in her notes, of her smile in the curves of her handwriting, of her hands playing with his hair in the loops of her script. It took him longer to actually let go of the notes- eventually burning some, shredding others, crumpling the rest of the lot and throwing them into a trash bag right on trash day so he couldn’t sort back through them to rescue any- but a human being can only wait so long. Perhaps Corina had waited for so long herself that she had turned into something else, some vague shadow of what a human being is supposed to be; but with Josef’s last long-distance call to her, his last fleeting attempt to try and hear something in her soft, smooth low tones other than cold distance and apathy, he finally accepted that a human being can only wait so long for warmth from a stone statue before he freezes over himself- and a human being was exactly what he wanted to be.