Merely Drifting

Harvey was sitting and looking out from the quad when he saw her, and it took only a second to understand what was going on. Her t-shirt was pink, her jeans tighter than spandex, and she was convulsing in laughter at a joke the hunk leaning over her side must've cracked. Her hair was frizzled up. The joke must've been good. She was leaning on him like a towel over spilled water, clinging onto him for mere balance.

"It's got to be a crime to be that beautiful and flirtatious," Harvey sighed.

"Oh, I'm sorry," Sam apologized, taking out his earphones. "You need help with something?"

Harvey shook his head no. "I'm just talking to myself. I'll bother you when I need to."

Sam raised an eyebrow and turned around to where Harvey was ostensibly staring. Did Sam know who?

An image of Amira sprawled over a table desk flashed through Harvey's mind. He shook the thought out. What if people actually knew what he thought of them? They'd probably like him a lot less.

Harvey took another glance down at his textbook before closing it. The cover was purple, and he hated purple. He hated literature, too, and the name of the book's editor, Joshua Stalinger, didn't help either. Somewhere down the line Stalinger had to have considered changing his name -- or at the very least considered hiding it. Wanting to sell more books, authors disguised their names all the time, from Mark Twain and Orwell to the ambiguous J. R. R. Tolkien, whatever "J. R. R." was supposed to mean.

Harvey glanced back up to Amira, now maybe half a football field away from him and the quad. She was still laughing at Alvin's joke, and together they were heading toward him, slowly, but nevertheless still making their way toward him. It made him feel claustrophobic. Nervous, he glanced back down at his textbook, and the bold white face font of "Joshua Stalinger" shouted at him some more, laughing at him like a distasteful clown might do to a child.

Harvey shot his eyes toward Samuel, his lit tutor, who was sitting across from him and doing his own studying. Samuel was humming a swing tune, "It Don't Mean A Thing," and not the slower Duke Ellington version either, but the faster more danceable Ella Fitzgerald one. There was always something annoyingly jovial about Sam. Sam could bite one for all he cared.

Harvey felt his hand clench slightly. He shot his eyes back down to his textbook, and again the author's stamp shot out at him; it was like a holograph in its need for attention. Harvey blinked. Above Stalinger's name was a bright bridge underneath a moodier sky. Somehow this was supposed to capture the essence of the book's material, an introduction to American Literature. The actual word "Literature" hung at the top-center of the book's cover in a bright purple, with darker purple streaks around "Literature" to make it pop, and an ever darker purple box around even that. Harvey knew his last snapshot on Earth would have purple in it. He clenched his fist harder.

He scanned the book's cover some more. Scattered were some random trees, a sailboat on an ocean beneath the bridge, and a caricature of two farmers on a beach at the bottom-left. Like Sam, they too shined ridiculous smiles. Were these pictures supposed to make any sense? The actual literature certainly didn't, and Samuel, though he tried, wasn't much help to him. Harvey's eyes shot back up. Amira and Alvin were maybe a hundred feet away, but now he was slobbering on her face, his left arm bear hugging the back of her neck, his right arm searching elsewhere. Harvey clutched himself into his jacket. Perhaps a wind passed by, but it couldn't have been. A trickle of sweat rolled down his cheek. Harvey clutched himself harder into his jacket. It really was cold, after all. Even Sam wore a jacket. Were Amira and Alvin wearing jackets?

"I got to go," Harvey suddenly told Sam. "I need to go to the library, pick up a few books."

Sam raised an eyebrow. "Isn't the--"

"I'll just be real quick."


As he had expected, the library was closed. It didn't matter, though. Harvey took a seat next to a trash can by the entrance and began rubbing his forehead with the palms of his sweaty hands. He closed his eyes.

Snapshots in time, he remembered Amira as if he were a child going through a View-Master. There they were going ice skating and bowling, and to a party before ditching out so they could spend some time alone. There they were helping each other study for finals and telling stories at a restaurant. There they were holding hands at a movie, later lying next to each other side-by-side on her bed, not doing anything in particular, but simply enjoying each other's warmth and consuming each other's presence. There they were ordering iced mocha lattes at Starbucks. There they were at a protest rally, protesting the school's new tuition hike. There they were staying up late to chat on the phone. There they were heading toward the quad, laughing and leaning over each other to stay standing. There they were heading toward the quad, slobbering on each other.

This was all cliché, he knew, but if banality was this good, then he sure wanted it back...

...I know you're thinking Harvey's a romantic, one of those fluff archetypes that fall head over heals in love at the blink of an eye, over and over again, like a character in a daytime drama. I know you're thinking that, but it isn't true. Harvey wasn't stuck in the idealistic fantasies of his imagination. He knew and knew consciously that things weren't always pissing rainbows, no kidding.

Amira threw her notebook on the tile floor -- not as dramatic as a porcelain plate would have been, Harvey thought, but still pretty damn dramatic.

"Where were you?" she screamed. Mascara tears were flowing down her plum cheeks. Outside, an airplane flew overhead. On the plane must have been a hundred people going about their regular lives. Some of them must have been reading or taking naps. Harvey imagined one of these passengers, a businessman, suit and tie and everything, talking up a ditzy flight attendant. The flight attendant, in her mid-thirties probably, liked the attention, smiling and twirling her hair a bit to flirt. The businessman asked for her number, and she gave it to him. The seatbelt light came on, and they parted ways, never to see each other again. At his hotel he would contemplate calling her, but he knew she wouldn't like that much. They were just having fun, and he knew it full well.

Amira squinted her eyes, letting a few more tears fall to the floor. "Are you even listening?" she accused.

He answered honestly, "No."

Harvey thought he'd be slapped. Instead, they watched a movie and broke up a week later on Halloween.

"The movie, though. You want it back?"

"Just keep it," she said, and those were their parting words.

So, no, Harvey wasn't made of cardboard. He just supposed that struggling was what life was made for, that it was better to try and fail than to never have tried at all, and all the other...

"Hey, you alright?"

Harvey opened his eyes. It was Sam, still smiling. He had since ditched the swing music.

"Yeah, I'm alright," Harvey lied.

"You don't look alright, man. You're sweating like a chimp."

Harvey checked his armpits. "Like a chimp? What does that even mean?"

Sam waved it off, and took a seat next to Harvey, who immediately pulled back. "Why the hell are you sitting next to a dumpster?"

Harvey glanced to the side. It was a nice trash can, not metallic or plastic, but concrete with pebbles glued into it for decoration. The floor was nice, too, with wavy designs engraved into the tile that headed toward the entrance of the library, beckoning you to come in, like a...

"Harvey, snap out of it. Why are you even here?"

"I don't know," Harvey answered. "It felt right at the time."

Sam widened his smile. Birds were chirping on the soccer field opposite the library before their birdsong was cut off when someone revved up his lawn mower. The birds took flight and left as a groundskeeper began mowing the grass.

Harvey had inspiration. "Get up."