I explicitly remember the following morning being spent in complete and utter disarray. Between packing my belongings and hailing a cab so I could get to the school and meet with Miss Lambert, I felt as though I would explode from nerves. Thankfully, though, I didn’t. I was somehow, someway, able to relocate my belongings into the dorm without much hassle.
By the time the morning was up, I collapsed atop the simple twin bed that had been provided by the university, and let loose an exhale that could have ruined the test of time.
“You’re fine,” I was quick to mumble to myself. “You made it.”
The fact that I was there, of all places, was nothing short of a miracle, given my background and the fact that I was not always the best student in high school.
Still, I had thought. Something got you here, and you know it wasn’t luck.
Luck? No. Talent? Possibly. I didn’t consider myself to be the best at what I did at the time—mostly because of my age, but also because of my isolated upbringing—but I felt I must’ve had something. Why else would I have been picked for such a prestigious writing fellowship? There’d been so many people—so many talented applicants—that they’d picked me, out of everyone who’d applied.
I didn’t know; and in the end, I guess it didn’t matter, because I was there.
In the Rio Grande Valley.
A smile parted my lips as I thought about everything that had led up to that moment—as I remembered all the hopes, dreams, sweat, tears, and long nights that had led to me getting on that plane and making my way cross-country—and wondered:
Was I blessed? And by blessed, I mean really, truly blessed?
I didn’t know, and in the end, it didn’t really matter.
As the thoughts drifted from my brain, and the subtle pull of acknowledgement over what was to come entered my mind, I’d drawn my cell phone from my pocket and was just about to lift it to double-check my schedule when a knock came at the door, startling me from thought.
“Hello?” I asked, convinced that I was just hearing things. “Is someone there?”
The knock came again, confirming its authenticity.
Frowning, I’d thrown my legs over the side of the bed, then began to make my way toward the door.
“Sorry to bother you,” a deep voice outside my door said. “I figured that, since we’re going to be sharing living space, that I might as well introduce myself.”
“You can hear me through the door?” I’d asked, incredulous.
“The walls are thin,” the man replied with a laugh. “You could drop a tack and hear it here.”
I’d leaned forward, then, to open the door—
—and would only find out later that that single action would change my life forever.
The stranger was a goliath of a man—or, at least he was to me, at the time. Given my height of five-foot-five, it wasn’t, and still isn’t, hard to find guys taller than me. But still: to a guy like me, scared of the world and most of the men in it, he seemed monstrous in comparison. His bare arms were muscled, his chest broad, his skin finely-tanned from the sun. His chin was riddled with a few days’ worth of stubble, and his gray eyes instantly captured and reminded me of rain on a cool summer day. He was undeniably handsome—and, to my cautious eyes: the most beautiful man I’d ever laid eyes on.
I was so dumbstruck by his appearance that I could only offer a, “Hey.”
“Hey,” he replied, peering into the room. “I got word that someone was finally moving in, so I thought I’d come over and see who my new neighbor was. You just get here?”
“Yeah. I did.”
“Cool.” He extended a hand. “My name’s Brad. And you are?”
“Dean,” I replied. “Dean McAllen.”
“Oh. Like the city right next to us.” He paused. “Nice to meet you, Dean.”
“You too,” I said, and took hold of his hand.
I still remember it to this day. His palm was warm, his grip strong, his fingers secure around mine. He’d kept eye contact as we shook—and as the magnetism that I know draws all living creatures together took hold of me, I looked into his eyes and felt something, then, that I don’t even know how to describe now. All I knew was that, as his hand left mine, I felt as though I was missing something—and, at the same time, that something had been found.
I tried not to think about it too much as the man named Brad crossed his muscular arms across his chest and leaned against the doorjamb. He’d waited several long moments, as if considering me for what I was worth, before clearing his throat and saying, “I thought I’d ask if you needed help moving anything in. I know it’s hard to move into a new place, especially if you’re lugging in practically everything you own.”
“About that,” I started, and turned to survey the room. “This… this is it.”
Brad frowned as I turned to face him once more. “You mean… you don’t have anything else to bring in?”
“I literally just got into town the other day.”
“Wait a minute. You’re not from around here?”
I shook my head.
“Where the hell did you come in from then?”
“Utah,” I replied.
“Utah?” he asked.
“What possessed you to come all the way down here?”
“It’s a long story,” I said, and took a step back into the room. “Do you want to come in? Or…”
Brad stepped inside, but not without closing the door behind him. He spun about slowly to view the dorm, bland as it happened to be, and smiled before saying, “I remember when I first got here and my dorm was like this. I couldn’t wait to fix it up.”
“I don’t mind it,” I replied. “It’s… well… not horrible.”
“It may not be horrible, but it sure as hell is boring.” He laughed and turned his head to face me. “Is there anything I can do for you, Mister Dean McAllen? Can I give you the grand tour? Take you to your first class? Help you set up the internet here?”
“I’ve already been given the tour. I may take you up on the other two things though, especially given that my first class is in—” I paused to consider my phone. “One hour.”
“Cool. Let’s get you online and then get you to your class.”
“What’s up first?”
“Come on. Smart guy like you should be good at math.”
“What makes you think I’m smart?” I asked.
“Would you rather I think you’re dumb?” he replied.
“Point taken,” I said.
And all Brad could do was laugh.