David Shipko is a Los Angeles based scholar and writer.

Fifth

It is 3 am. The beginning of my day. My mom pulls the passenger van off the dark road and into the dimly lit parking lot behind the university. We say goodbye and I jump out into the cool, damp morning air. The university building looms ahead of me, windows unlit, brick face hidden in the shadows of a moonless night. Faint music echoes back into the parking lot from the street. I turn to find the source. The street is lined with brick buildings and gas lamps. Orange light dances on rain-slick pavement. I recognize the music as vaguely Irish. Incoherent shouted conversation and laughter and clinking glasses. I thought all the bars were closed by now, but one seems to still be alive. Its sidewalk patio is packed with late night revelers. I turn back to the university. From the din of the bar, a single laugh rises to recognition. It is not like the others, sloppy and stupid. It is sharp and fiery and alive.

Eyes straining to pierce the darkness, scanning the patio crowd, trying to pick her out, I walk toward the bar. The crowd remains blurred into a single dark and muddy mess. My heart skips a beat. There she is, a cocktail in her hand, a smile on her lips, laughing. I have never seen her laugh so freely. I wonder what she is laughing about, and with whom. My heart has recovered and is now working overtime to keep my body supplied with the blood I need to perform myself. I’m not just nervous. I feel like I am about to burst out of my own body. I draw near her. She sees me, recognizes me, and, somehow, her smile brightens. She calls my name and waves me over. Even in the smoldering light of the fading gas lamps, her verdant eyes shine, and her sunset hair shimmers. She is dressed in her usual style, although I have not seen this exact dress before: fitted top, billowing skirt, knee length, white fabric embroidered with an intricate pattern of blue flowers. There is a tension between the still-blueness of her dress and the flowing-redness of her hair, a tension that electrifies the air.

“I’m so glad to see you!” she yells, not drunk, but not exactly sober. She throws her arm around me. I’m stunned. I don’t know what to say. I don’t know what I was expecting, but this is not it.

“Having a good night?” I stammer.

Her fingers tighten around my shoulder as her arm pulls me in closer. There is an expectant intimacy in her expression. There is kindness, and excitement, and something like desire and longing. Something like. I can’t be sure. Maybe I am just seeing what I want to see. I stare into her eyes. All this time, I had thought I was crazy. I had thought it impossible she might feel even a faint spark of what I have felt for her for so long. But something in her eyes tells me that I have been wrong to worry. She pulls me down and leans into my ear to whisper--

It is morning, and I am elsewhere in a city. It looks like London. I panic. This can’t be happening. I whip out my phone and call her. A few rings. She answers. She sounds sleepy.

“I had a boyfriend…”

She trails off into static. I think she said had, but maybe she said have. I don’t know. The call fails, and the phone beeps and falls silent. I need to find my way back to her. I need to know.

Fourth