2 DAYS LATER
It’s half an hour till the exam starts and I’m still pacing up and down an empty hallway on the fourth floor. It’s early, and not many people walk the hallways of the university at 9 am, specially the ones on the top floors. Which is exactly why I like it here: I can be alone and let my worried mind work through its whole “I’m freaking out” process without anybody interrupting me.
Okay girl, you got this, I tell myself.
I studied as much as I could, I know everything I need to know. I just need to chill down so I can go back down to the basement floor and join the rest of the students that are probably already waiting by the door to be called into the master classroom.
I take a deep breath and make myself believe my own words.
“Oh, well, that wasn’t as bad as I expected! They asked me about all the things I knew!” My smile runs from ear to ear as I walk towards the cafeteria with Nico, my lab partner, and one of the few guys in my class I kind of get along with.
I feel refreshed, as if a huge weight has been lifted off my shoulders.
“That’s easy for you to say, you always know the answers to everything in the curriculum!” Nico runs a hand through his blond long hair, and then nudges me in the shoulder playfully as we step into the crowded room.
“Not true!" I complain "C'mmon, let’s go find an empty table somewhere.”
We only walk a few steps before hands are rising in the air and a group of older students are calling Nico over to go join them.
“Nico! How was your exam?” Yells one of them.
“Was it zoo? Damn, I remember that being a hard one!” says a ginger girl with amazing curls that run all the way down to her waist.
“Not too bad,” says Nico grabbing a seat next to her, “but I think Sam here did way better than me.”
“Oh, hi!” says the ginger girl, and her wide blue eyes make a spark of jealousy tingle in my insides. This girl is absolutely gorgeous; perfect porcelain skin with lovely freckles all over her nose and cheeks, a warm look in her eyes, a lovely little nose. She's just perfect.
I give her a shy little smile.
“Nice to meet you,” says another guy sitting in front of her, and I dare run my eyes quickly through the little crowd at the table. I notice every little detail in a matter of seconds; there are four boys including Nico, and three girls. They all seem at least a couple of years older than me, and I’m pretty sure I’ve seen some of their faces around the hallways. As I look through them, conversation restarts among them, and the awkward silence after I didn’t reply dissolves into nothing.
They all look so acquainted with one another and so confident in each other's presence, that a little something twists in my gut, so I look down at my watch, pretending to remember something.
“Hey, so sorry Nico,” I say in a voice that’s just a little more than a whisper, “I forgot I was meant to pick something up for mum on my way home, so I should get going.”
I think Nico looks slightly disappointed for a second, but he just mutters a little goodbye before I’ve already turned away and I’m walking out of the cafeteria, into the hallways to the main pavilion and then out of the front doors.
The fresh air coming from the nearby river hits me in the face, and I close my eyes for a second, taking a mindful deep breath.
I head down the stairs and take the path to the river, walking between all kinds of lovely trees, cypresses and pines, sequoias and poplars, walking past groups of students sitting on blankets in the grass, enjoying the last days of sunshine. The whole landscape seems like a painting, oranges and yellows mixing up with the reds and green on the leaves falling off the trees, the bark of some of them peeling away, and birds chirping happily over in the canopy. A perfectly lovely autumnal day.
I smile at the crunching noise of the leaves under my feet, and make my way over to the bridge that crosses the river, sitting on the edge and dangling my feet over. I’m so lucky to attend such a lovely university, with such amazing surroundings-
The thought is interrupted as I look down at my swinging feet and notice all the paper wraps and plastic bags rushing in the river’s current.
“Ug! I think it’s time to organize another cleaning day,” I mutter to myself.
I feel my phone buzzing against my thigh for what might be the fifth time since I started walking, so I fish it out of my jean’s pocket. There’s a message from mum asking how the exam went, and wondering what time I’ll be home. And then there’s five messages from my best friend.
Em: So, when are we going to catch up?
Em: There’s a new pub in town I want to go check out, are you keen?
Em: Actually, I don’t care if you are, I’m not taking a no for an answer. You need to go out Sammy, and I want to drink, and I want to dance!
Em: Okay. You took too long to reply, so I booked us a booth. This Saturday, 8 pm, I’ll send you a link with the address on the day.
Em: Can’t wait to catch up with you soon, bitch! Love ya! XX
I laugh out loud, a genuine laugh, and I push my thumb on the little microphone button on the screen to record a voice message.
“Hey Em! How’s it going girl? I miss you too. And well, it looks like I don’t have much of a choice now, so I guess I’ll see you at that new pub on Saturday, can’t wait!”
As I say the words, I realise that I’m actually pretty excited about going out with Em. As anxious and insecure as I might feel around other people, there’s something about Emma that makes me feel grounded, and so much more like myself. Like I can just say or do anything without being judged.
We have been best friends since we met in middle school, and it was pretty simple, it only took for the teacher to check attendance once on that first day for us to notice one another. It’s a memory that I’m sure still shines bright on both of our minds. It’s been over 10 years, but I remember it so clearly, as if it happened yesterday.
“Moon, Emma,” the teacher said in a sweet tone.
A little arm raised in the air, and I noticed two things at the same time: the first one was that the cute little girl named Moon, was indeed as white as the moon itself. Her pale skin made her bright blue eyes pop in her face like two sapphires. The second one, was that the girl was actually staring at me. Embarrassed, I looked down and tried to hide my face behind my black thick hair, which I thought seemed so dull compared to the amazing blond curls Emma had.
After my own name was called, I raised my hand shyly, not wanting to get anymore attention to myself. I could already hear a few of the other kids whispering about me in mocking tones. Hence why I was so surprised and skeptical when as soon as the recess bell rang, this Emma Moon girl came straight over to where I was, still standing next to my seat and about to walk out of the classroom. She stood in front of me blocking the way, her back straight, looking right into my eyes as she raised her hand and poked me in the cheek with a huge smile on her face.
“Your skin looks like chocolate milk,” she said to me in a loud voice that made me feel like every other kid was probably looking at us. I remember feeling the tears burning in my eyes and threatening to come out, but I was so used to other kids mocking me for my skin tone by then, that I didn't let them out.
Even if it never got any easier, I had grown somehow accustomed to the jokes. Emma frowned at the look on my face, like she couldn’t comprehend why I would be upset, and then kept talking, her finger still poking my cheek gently.
“But it’s like chocolate milk with not quite enough chocolate in it, you know? I like mine with at least 3 heaped spoons, what about you? Do you like chocolate? I wish my skin was like yours, mine is just plain boring milk. No one likes plain boring milk. By the way, I’m Emma Moon, and I couldn’t help but notice your last name is Sky," Emma took a quick deep breath then, and kept on talking as fast as she could, "Moon and Sky, I think we are destined to be best friends.”
With that, she hooked her arm around mine and walked me out of the classroom.
“Let’s go to the cafeteria and buy some chocolate,” Em added while we walked.
And that was it, we never again parted ways after that. Just like milk and chocolate should never be kept apart either.
I laugh at the memory running fresh through my mind once more. Every once in a while, Em still pokes me in the cheek out of the blue, and claims that she wants to drink a hot chocolate. She will even go as far as to blame me for her cravings.
I get up from the bridge and dust the dirt out of my jeans. I pull my bag back over my shoulder, and head over to the train station while reading the new message on my phone.
Em: Yaaaassss!! We have a date then! Can’t wait to see your chubby face!
During the train ride, I try to concentrate on reading The Little Prince, but my mind keeps turning back to the scene at the cafeteria that afternoon, running over what happened and thinking about case scenarios where I would have acted differently.
I can’t help but imagine how much better my uni life would be with Em here by my side. School became so much easier after that year I met her, once I had the perfect ally, once I had someone that always stood up for me. Em’s always been loud, proud of herself and confident, the complete opposite to me. And I often wish I was more like her, wish I wasn’t always assuming people think the worst of me, wish I wasn’t so scared to make new friends and interact with people.
Nico’s friends actually looked nice enough, so I can’t help but wonder why I had to make up a silly excuse and run away from them. Maybe I should have stayed to get to know them- No, I shake my head, getting rid of that thought. They all looked too confident and cool, and I’m sure they were all such good friends already, there’s no way I would have fitted in.
Note: Are you enjoying the characters so far? Next chapter introduces one of my absolute favourite ones!