Chapter 27: Rachel Arlington
Being in Toronto had made me a bit of a wreck. And starting school at York was an insult to my intelligence. “If you can hold a fork, you can go to York” is what we all said when we had been applying for universities in high school. I had chosen it because it was the second university that accepted me (newsflash, none of the other Toronto universities did).
The new school year was the year that I met Rachel Arlington and she was in my “Introduction to Literary Study” course that I was taking and we sat side by side on the first day of class by accident.
“Excuse me, is this seat taken?”
“No,” said the redhead girl with bright green eyes. I couldn’t believe how bright they were and that’s when I realized I had met her before. This was the same girl who I had met at BEING. The same Rachel.
“You could direct traffic with those eyes,” I told her as I sat down beside her. Yes, because pickup lines was how I greeted myself to strangers apparently. Especially pretty strangers.
“You have nice blue ones yourself,” she complimented.
“Name’s Art,” I said and stuck out my hand.
She shook my hand and then smiled at me. “Hey, weren’t you in BEING last year?” I nodded. “Cool. Art, let’s be best friends.”
“O.K.,” I said, a bit hesitant. The statement caught me completely off-guard but I guess we sort of knew each other already.
“Sorry, I just sense we’re going to be great friends.”
I smiled. “O.K., best friends we’ll be.” We shook hands again as if we had just completed a successful business transaction.
“Cool.” She beamed at me and I knew I would never forget that smile. I still haven’t.
“So what’s your story?” Rachel asked me when class was over and I was zipping up my backpack.
“Come on, everybody has a story. What’s yours?”
“Um...” I wasn’t about to tell a total stranger Alice’s adventure but it did feel nice to speak to someone else besides my parents.
“Alright, I’ll go first: I wasn’t born in Canada, I was born in New York City. Isn’t that crazy? York, New York?”
I nodded. We were now walking out of Curtis Lecture Hall.
“What class do you have next?” I guess she had just realized that maybe I was not going her way.
“‘Discovering The Artist’. But it doesn’t start until four-thirty.”
“Cool. So that means we can hang out.”
“Yep,” I nodded.
“So you’re taking an art course, eh? Do you like to draw?”
“I’m not sure,” I told her. “I work at this painting store near my house and we accept art by artists all the time. I took a course in Kelowna and I guess I just wanted to check out if York had one too.”
We were sitting down at Treats and Rachel had just ordered an omelette sandwich. I was still waiting for my ham sandwich and we both sipped our hot chocolates as our lunches were made. It was one-fifteen and we had left our class at around one.
“Kelowna is in British Columbia,” I told her once she sat down across from me. Treats had very small tables and chairs that looked like they had been constructed out of metal wire. Still, it felt homey.
“Cool,” said Rachel as I went up for my ham sandwich.
“What made you choose York?” I asked as I bit into my sandwich. The mustard definitely added flavour.
“I thought it was a cool school. Why’d you choose York?”
“It was the first one that accepted me.”
Rachel nodded as she went up for her sandwich. I stared at her back as I contemplated what I would tell her next. I had been speaking to my psychiatrist on what I was supposed to tell people if someone at school asked me why I was at York. It had come to the general consensus that the best reply was, “I was overstressed in Kelowna”. But since Rachel already considered me her best friend, I thought that maybe I should tell her the truth. But how much of the truth was necessary? I decided I would tell her that I had a mental breakdown rather than the “overstressed” reply I would normally give.
“So why’d you leave Kelowna?” asked Rachel once she was sitting down with her sandwich. “These are really good by the way. You should have ordered it.”
“Next time,” I said as I hoped that Rachel may have forgotten her question, but she just stared at me as she bit into her sandwich and waited for my reply.
“I had a mental breakdown.”
“Oh,” was all Rachel said.
“It was a stressful time.”
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to pry—”
“I fell in love,” I quickly said.
“Oh. Well, congrats.”
“No,” I said. “She’s gone.”
“Oh, well, I’m sorry then.”
Rachel seemed to have gone through three stages of emotions in three seconds. Three seconds that had been a year of my life.
I had decided to accept Alice’s journey but to also be wary of it. If she really did love me then why wasn’t she fucking here? All summer she could’ve shown up. All summer she could’ve at least dropped by from Kelowna. Sure it was far, but she still maintained her presence in Toronto. Or was I just hallucinating? Maybe that whole year had been one big dream. I was in reality, but in a dream state.
“It’s O.K.,” I told Rachel. I think I’ve found someone else.