romanced: dream

A majority of us are raised in a society where we go to school, get a job, get married, have a family, and then our children continue that cycle. Where I am at currently in my life is post-going to school, but pre-getting a job or I am even further away from getting married; I have very little experience with relationships and romance in general. I only recently had my first relationship, and we agreed that the title was too… intense, and that we would prefer to stay as friends who date exclusively first, as we get to know each other better.

I am embarrassed to admit that I would actually want to be in a relationship. Not for the sake of being in one so that I am not single or to check part of another box off the unspoken to-do list of life, but more for the life experience that comes from it. Even if this relationship does not lead to marriage but rather ends sourly in a break-up, I don’t mind so long as I can learn something more about myself from the experience. Just being a part of the ride is enough to make me happy. To understand what it means to be somebody else’s significant other, while at the same time, being able to see a person as my own, it is important for me. I want to know that somebody out there who can make me feel and act that way exists.

The concept of love and relationships, it’s not something that can be approached logically. Maybe that’s one of the reasons why we as humans are always so fascinated by the idea. No matter what we try to find in somebody else as a mate, sometimes, our hearts may not always agree. Let’s say we want somebody who is tall, Caucasian, and muscular, but we end up in a relationship with somebody who is medium-height, African American, and scrawny. Yet, we are not un-attracted to the African American, despite them being not what we would prefer. And that is because of what they have to offer beneath the surface. While they do not physically resemble what we would want in an ideal mate, the personality and ethics of this African American appeals to us.

The concept of love has a lot of gray areas. For example, one might view a woman getting hit by her husband as domestic violence without any context. But what if the woman wanted her husband to hit her, because that was her kink? I’m not going to explore that idea more, because it is a very…awkward topic, but you get the idea. There are other emotions, primal, hormonal, and hard to understand in general, that cloud our judgement and make us act beyond reason and logic. Yet, that’s what makes being romanced such an exciting and terrifying journey. The unknown does not necessarily settle well with me, but being able to single out that special somebody out of the several millions of people in the world, it’s a wonderful feeling. And it’s a feeling that every human being deserves to have, or at least in the world of my featherlight dreams.

misty

Walking along the rugged path, a tall, tanned youth frowned to himself. He had left behind his home to find a cure for his beloved, who was lost to the cold. It was up to him to embark on this journey. He had to find those elusive smoke lilies. Those purple and black flowers held a nectar that, when mixed with ginger root, should melt his prince’s locked heart. These lilies bloomed at the very bottom of the mountains; beneath the mist rested entire fields of them. His prince, the youth dreamt of ending his ailment.His sweet master used to be so kind and loving. But then it happened. The mist began to flood the mountains, in the midst laid their castle. Their paradise together, away from the world beyond. The benevolent boy was saddened.His tears had caused everything to be shrouded in the dark clouds. THe prince’s heart then fell into the coldness. Snow crept onto their kingdom, their haven, slowly draining life from all of its denizens. The youth had to flee, not only to survive, but to find those smoke lilies. Diving through the mist, he was determined to save his home. His prince was waiting, alone and scared. He was separate to remove the snow. He pushed himself forward, through the dark and cold, reaching for any hope. He wanted so badly to hold his prince in a tight embrace. Not as his knight, but as his beloved.

Road Movie: Chapter 22

“So you guys both agree that it’s for the best that I leave?” Dakota was on the phone with her parents back at her apartment. “I think it’s good that you learn how to grow and I think you’re done as much growing as you can in Chicago.” Mrs. Logan chimed in. “I still remember when I went to Chicago for work after I graduated the University of Michigan! It felt good to be out of Michigan for once.” Mr. Logan grinned. “Oh, I just remember how we first met.” Mrs. Logan laughed. “If it wasn’t for the city of Chicago, you probably never would have been born, Dakota!” They both chimed in. That was probably a first for Dakota to hear. She knew that they were not saying this as a way to make her stay in the city, however. She interpreted it more along the lines of by them going into a new city, they created opportunity for themselves. “Oh, really, now?” Dakota had known that both of her parents were raised out of Illinois but she did not know much about the exact story of how they met.

Peter Logan was born and raised in Detroit for most of his life, before going to college in the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. He originally studied electrical engineering: for him, being an engineer meant being an innovator who got to create things. After graduating, he wound up getting a job working with a hardware development company in Detroit. In the company, he was in charge of doing the circuity for manufacturing equipment. The first few months were a lot of fun for him. Peter learned a lot about creating his own machines and using them to improve the production of equipment. It felt like the right thing for him at the time, because he was allowed to invent things. That’s all he ever wanted to do. Since a young age, Peter Logan was always a right-brained personality. He liked to think outside of the box. His college education helped give him the necessary knowledge to honing in on that inventiveness and create. And that was the secret to his success. Peter Logan was able to create things when he had little to work with.

While he had a successful job, he still felt something was off. He felt trapped, being in Detroit. He was born, raised, and now worked there. It was like he could never leave. So without a second thought, Peter quit his job, and packed up his things. He decided to move to Chicago on impulse, and due to his degree, he was able to quickly get a job as a plumber. While it sounded degrading, he made just as much as he did at the hardware factory, so he was content. Plus, in his job, he was able to get inventive in how he set up the pipes and draining. It might have sounded boring to a lot of people, but being able to see the water flow properly, it was oddly satisfying for him. And while helping the plumbing system at the Art Institute of Chicago, that’s where he came across the most beautiful girl he had ever met. A young art history graduate named Marisa Ellis, who had just been rejected at a job interview.

Marisa Ellis was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. She had always been fascinated with history, mostly because she believed that things happened for a reason, and that reason was their precedents. Additionally, Marisa loved art. She appreciated how difficult it was to create something beautiful, and because of that, she went on to become an art history major in Northwestern University. This wound up being a mistake, post-graduation. She struggled greatly to find a job. It was next to impossible for an art history major to find work anywhere outside of art museums. After feeling like she failed another job interview, this time as a curator for the Art Institute of Chicago, she found herself crying on the stairs leading up to the institution’s entrance. And then that’s when she met the love of her life: Peter Logan.

“Hey, what’s wrong?” Peter looked at the crying brunette. “I’m sorry. I don’t want anything looking at me like this. It’s just that I’ve graduated from college a few months ago, and I still can’t find a job.” She hiccuped, trying to fight back the tears. “Hey, there, there.” He grabbed a handkerchief and handed it off to her. Blowing into it, she wiped away her tears and looked up at the tall, blonde young man. “My name’s Peter. Peter Logan.” He smiled, sitting down next to her. “Marisa. Marisa Ellis.” “So you recently graduated from college?” He looked over at her. “Yeah.” She sighed. “So did I. What did you study?” “Art history.” “Oh, yikes.” The blonde male cringed at that. It was one of the harder majors to get a job for. “I applied to be curator, but I know that I failed this interview. I spilled my drink on my interviewer. How am I supposed to curate art if I can’t even be careful with a beverage?!” She cried. “There, there. You know, if it makes you feel better, I used to be a successful engineer, but I quit my job, just to come here.” He reassured her. “Wait, you quit your job, just to move to Chicago?” She was stunned. Peter had the opposite dilemma of her: he was hirable, but did not know what he wanted to do.

Peter and Marisa continued talking, and eventually, they fell in love. Marisa wound up getting the job, by some miracle, though she was not complaining. The two of them had successful careers in the city, but decided that it was time to settle down together. So they married, moved to Naperville, and raised Dakota there. It was because they had both chosen to go to Chicago that they met in the first place. Both of them had come from such different places, different backgrounds, and in both of their cases, they broke free from every norm and expectation set for them. Peter, who was firmly rooted in Michigan, studied electrical engineering, and wound up a plumber in Chicago. Marisa started in Wisconsin, studied art history in Chicago, even had a decent career as a museum curator, and ended up becoming a mother.

Hearing about this, it made Dakota feel better about her decisions. Even though she studied marketing and had this focus on medicine, she did not feel like she had to do it anymore if it did not make her happy. Her own father’s example was proof of that. He was happier as a plumber than he was as an engineer. Both of her parents made another place their own home. And they both grew because of it. It was her time to do the same thing. At this point, Dakota was convinced that, while she was still young, she needed to keep learning more about herself, what made her happy, what she wanted to do with her life: not for the rest of it, but for the present. She was not trapped. If anything, she was more free than she realized. “Thanks, mom and dad. I needed to hear that. It really does validate that I need to go out into the world and keep growing somewhere else. And I will find a place to call home. Unfortunately, it won’t be Chicago.”

Road Movie: Chapter 8

“Hi, you must be Dakota. I’m Jessica. Phillip’s mother.” A woman with round, brown eyes and long dark hair smiled softly at her. “Huh?” The brunette looked around. The two of them were sitting in a cafe, overlooking the lake. “So, Dakota, I hear you were going out with my little Philly.” She rested her chin on her hands as she continued to look at the girl. Dakota shuddered, feeling her gaze. It was as if Mrs. Hopkins examining her every movement, judging her decisions, reactions, personality. As somebody who disliked being marginalized, Dakota felt incredibly uncomfortable and vulnerable. “Oh. Uh, yeah, I am. We’ve been dating for quite a while now.” She began. She felt strange about this entire situation. The last thing she remembered was that she was in a car with Phillip. So this had to be a dream, right? But the woman sitting across from her, she definitely resembled Phillip; Dakota had never seen what Phillip’s mother looked like, because Phillip refused to show any pictures to her. For Dakota, this was the first time interacting or meeting Mrs. Hopkins ever crossed her mind.

Dakota recalled what meeting Mr. Matthew Hopkins was like. Since Phillip had met Dakota and her parents at their house, they decided to have a huge family dinner with the five of them. Mr. Hopkins and Mr. Logan immediately got along with each other. Both of them were blue collar workers, the former working in a power plant as an engineer and the latter working as a plumber. Mr. Hopkins took a liking to Dakota, mostly because of how polite yet openminded Dakota was; she was able to talk to Mr. Hopkins about football and athletics, much to his delight. Since Phillip was so busy in academics, he never really did sports beyond the two year minimum, where he did football, but had no intentions of making a full career out of it. It was that dinner, during their senior year of high school, where Dakota and Phillip truly felt as if they could one day have a happy family like this of their very own.

It started to dawn on her that this entire interaction should not even be possible. “Wait, who are you?” The woman sitting in front of her could not actually be Phillip’s mom. “I am Jessica Hopkins. The mother of your girlfriend. I died when Phillip was in middle school.” She answered, not even breaking her stare. “Wait, there’s no way that this could be real. This has to be a dream.” Dakota got up in disbelief. Mrs. Hopkins was long since dead. She should not be alive, interacting with the brunette. Dakota had never even met Mrs. Hopkins. She was conflicted. Either this was a dream, and the women before her was Dakota’s image of Mrs. Hopkins, or the woman was pretending to be Mrs. Hopkins. It was overwhelming and difficult to keep track of. Trying to back away, Dakota felt her legs freeze in fear. What was going on? She was paralyzed, shaking helplessly. “A coward like you is unworthy of my son. You are not the kindhearted girl he deserves to be dating.” She spat, glaring at her. “I will be taking him back from you. Your time with him is over.” Dakota’s heart sank at that statement. It was too much to hear for her. She could not believe the words she was hearing.

“Dakota? Dakota!” Phillip shouted. The brunette groggily opened her eyes. “10 minutes left!” He smiled at her. “Oh really?” She smiled at him. “Yup.” She started to recall her dream and felt worried. “Phillip, what was your mom’s name again?” “Jessica. Jessica Hopkins. Why are you asking?” He raised an eyebrow in curiosity. “I had a dream. I met your mom in it. She was beautiful. She had your eyes.” She began. “Oh, wow. That’s what a lot of people said to me.” He froze hesitantly. “Where did you see her? Wait, did you snoop through those old pictures?!” There was definitely a sound of panic in his voice. “No, I swear! I said it was a dream! I met her in a cafe by the lake. It was beautiful. But I got freaked out. I wasn’t sure if it was actually her, or if I was being trolled, since she was supposed to be dead. And she did not take well to how I reacted.” She admitted, trying to make sense of what just happened while also attempting to calm down the wound up Phillip. “What did she do?” It seemed to be working. “She said that I was not worthy of being your girlfriend.” Dakota sighed nervously. “Not worthy of being my girlfriend? Well, everything up until that sounded like my mother, but I’m not sure about that last bit you just said about being unworthy.” He chuckled.

“My mom wouldn’t have made a comment like that to my girlfriend, and I know for a fact she would have loved you. You’re a really caring, selfless, and kind person, Ducky. And if she saw how much you meant to me, she would not even care if you were a Satanist or serial killer. She would accept you for who you are.” He grinned reassuringly. “Thanks, Philly cheesesteak. But I have another question.” The brunette looked at him, half nervously. She was not sure what sort or response to anticipate. “What’s up?” “Why did you not want to show me pictures of your mom, or even really mention so much as her name or what she was like to me?” “Dakota, my mom represented my past. Being with you, it represented my present and my future. Hearing you say it now, yeah, you definitely deserve to know about my mother, but I was so caught up in growing up with you that I guess I forgot.” He admitted sheepishly. It was embarrassing to realize that he never really considered Dakota’s feelings or thoughts in the manner, even after all of those years.

“Okay, so I’m going to get off here.” Phillip signaled his right turn light. He needed to get off the  highway so that he could turn into the theatre. “Wait, Phillip! Look out!” Dakota screamed. A blinding white light flooded the car and the blaring sound of a truck’s horn filled the highway. Everything went silent. There was a flashing red, and then a blackness. “Phillip?” Dakota weakly groaned. She could not really move her head; the car chair had come unhinged and toppled over her. The car had flipped upside down from the collision. The brunette’s body suddenly seized up. She could feel herself gaining that same freezing sensation she had earlier in her dream. Her heart felt like it was going to stop beating. A dizziness took over, and her eyes slowly closed, as a blackness clouded her vision. A sound siren could be heard from a distance as people were gathered around the turned over car, nervously watching.

Road Movie: Chapter 7

“Hey, are you ready?” Phillip looked at the brunette. It was around 4PM, and the two were getting ready to head off to the Cascade Drive-In. “Yeah! What’s the movie playing tonight?” She looked at him excitedly. “Chloe and Theo.” He read off of his phone. “Oh, it’s supposed to be a comedy about a homeless chick in New York.” He was referring to the movie’s online summary. “Well, that’ll be interesting. At least now we’ll know what to do if we lose our jobs.” Dakota giggled. “True that!” The two were laughing together as they got into the car. Because it was the winter, the sun was setting pretty early. “It’s weird to think that the theatre is open during this season. Normally, they’re closed, right?” Dakota frowned. As excited as she was, something felt off. The Cascade Drive-In normally was closed between late fall until about March. “Yeah, it’s weird that they’re open during the winter, but I’m not questioning it.” Phillip laughed. “I even called ahead, and they said that they were!” He assured her.

The trip to the drive-in was a very stoic one. They were driving down the I-290 West, passing all of the parks, suburbs, and woods on their way to the movie theatre. The loop and Sears Tower were sinking into the distance as they were getting closer to their final destination. The sun was also beginning to set and the sky was turning purple. It was definitely winter in Chicago. But Dakota loved the experience. This was what it was like to drive home for her. Naperville was just 30 minutes south of where the Drive-In was, so a lot of the route was the same. Out in the suburbs, the city felt so big. She could still remember what it was like, being a high schooler and getting told that she got accepted into UChicago. At first, it was a bit terrifying. The idea of moving out into the city, being quite a ways from home, but as time moved on, she started to fall in love with the city and everything it had to offer. That became her new home. Whereas, Naperville felt a lot more slow-paced to her now. That sort of lifestyle, it appealed more to little kids, and working parents, neither of which categories Dakota falls into.

“Damn it, there’s traffic.” Phillip groaned. “We should have realized that. People are driving home from work now.” Dakota rationalized. “But at least we can see the sun set over the different forests. I think that’s Danada right there!” He pointed out. “Haha, Danada! If Canada got a downgrade.” The brunette chuckled. Back in high school, they had a field trip to the different forest preserves nearby for their AP Biology class. One of them was to the Danada Forest Preserve. One of Dakota and Phillip’s classmates, Megan, was not terribly bright; she only took AP Biology hoping that is was going to be an easy class to get an A in, a low-hanging fruit amongst the science courses. While Megan was not the best biologist, as her getting two D’s in the class would show, her commentary on that trip was nothing short of hysterical.

“Wow, it’s so pretty here!” The class of high school sophomores, juniors, and seniors were standing in a field of sunflowers on a warm April afternoon. “Class, this is Danada Forest Preserve.” Their teacher explained. “Since we’re learning about ecosystems now, I want you guys to observe different plant and animal life in the area and then write about how they interact.” That was their field trip assignment. “Danada? So like if Canada got a D and failed Biology AP?” Megan snorted. At that point, it was not even a secret that she was failing the course. Everyone laughed, but not with her. Instead, at her, for making such an unintelligent remark. Though Megan never went on to be a fantastic biologist or scientist for that manner, she did become a famous comedian. In the end, the joke was on the entire class; Megan had the last laugh when she was featured on Saturday Night Live. Though at the time, the entire class was too busy taking amusement in her stepping into horse poop and getting peed on by a toad.

Seeing the sky turn from yellow and blue to purple was mystifying. The outlines of the trees were getting less and less pronounced as they began to sink into the darkness of the night. It was funny to think that to their left was Naperville. It almost made Dakota feel a little homesick. She was wondering how her parents were doing. Her mother was a florist while her father worked as a plumber. You would think that a plumber would make a modest salary, but Mr. Logan was able to provide generously for his family. Dakota made sure to call them every weekend when she was not busy, or at least give them a text to update them on her life. It was funny when she first introduced the two of them to Phillip. Mr. Logan immediately sat down and interrogated the boy, demanding to know what his intentions with his daughter were. Mrs. Logan on the other hand, tried to hush her husband so that they could have a normal conversation. It almost felt like a scene from a sitcom because of how almost cliche it looked.

“Philly cheesesteak, how much longer until we get there?” Dakota yawned. At that point, she was tired from reminiscing so much. Being on the road, beyond just playing music, there really was only so much one could do. She wanted to talk more with Phillip, but she didn’t want him to get too distracted; even though traffic was bad, it could lighten up any second, and she did not want him to be too sidetracked with their conversation to drive properly on the highway. “Ducky, there’s a GPS. Just look at that.” He sighed, trying to focus on the dimming road. Phillip was exhausted from dealing with the traffic. Driving out of the city was stressful enough, but dealing with these cars and having to wait was agonizingly slow. The brunette frowned. She was not particularly fond of being treated like a child or being told the obvious. “Well, I guess we have 45 more minutes to burn.” She rolled her eyes at him, referring to the estimated time until they arrived. She rested her head on the window and closed her eyes. Half an hour was plenty of time for her to doze off and take a nap.

Road Movie: Chapter 5

“So, it’s the first day of winter break! What do you think we should do?” Dakota looked over at Phillip excitedly. “Stay inside, hibernate, drink hot chocolate, watch a funny movie?” Phillip chuckled lazily. The weather was horrendous, it was less than 0 degrees F outside, and he would like nothing more than to stay indoors where their heater was on. “When were you, Phillip Hopkins, the lazy one in our relationship?” Dakota giggled. It was not to say that either of them were particularly unambitious or lax individuals, but between the couple, Phillip was the bigger overachiever. “Go graduate college in 2 1/2 years, go to medical school, and work at the same time.” He growled, laying back in their bed. “Wow, wasn’t this me a couple days ago?” She giggled, poking him playfully. It was amusing to her that he was the one who got her out of bed, and now the roles were reversed.

Eventually, Dakota was able to drag Phillip to their living room, where they drank hot cocoa and were watching Christmas movies. “This kind of weather makes me wish I was a polar bear.” He chuckled,  as they put their hot chocolate mugs down on their coffee table. The two were sitting on their couch, snug up against the snow-covered window. “So you can hibernate?” She raised an eyebrow at him, trying not to laugh. “This is why we’ve been dating for six and a half years. You get me, Ducky.” “Of course I do, Philly cheesesteak.” She cuddled up against his arm. “Oh, look! Frozen is on right now!” He pointed out one of Dakota’s least favorite movies. “Ugh. I really can do without another bout of “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?” or “Let It Go” right about now.” She quickly turned off the television, as if doing so was quarantining some kind of plague or disease. In this case, that disease would be called “Frozen-Fever.” Coincidentally enough, also the name of a short sequel to the same movie.

“I really just want to enjoy this break, you know?” The two mustered the bravery to finally leave their apartment building, journey through the snow, and explore the Lincoln Park ZooLights Festival. The Lincoln Park Zoo would be transformed every December from the usual zoo set up; it would become Chicago’s ideal image of a winter wonderland. Music, ice carving, carolers, and trees and structures decked out in Christmas lights, it was a sight to behold. Holding Phillip’s hand, Dakota smiled. She enjoyed these kinds of romantic dates with him, because they’re so busy in their day to day lives that they never really got to spend time together. Walking through the hall of light-covered trees, they continued to marvel the colors that filled the night’s sky and danced in the nearby water. The brunette was really happy at the moment. She knew that moments like these were rare, and in the near future, will happen even less as the two of them continue in their careers. That was Dakota cherished every second she spent with Phillip.

“Well that was a fun night!” Dakota giggled. The two decided to go to dinner at a restaurant, Parachute. They came across it from a recommendation by Virginia. The chef and owner, Beverly Kim, was close friends with Virginia because the two had met at a Korean-American Professionals Conference in the Midwest. “Wow, having friends in marketing rocks!” Phillip grinned goofily. They managed to get a table on a Saturday night, despite having no reservation, just because Virginia made a couple calls for them. “It really does! We get so many different connections and clients, it really opens up the world to so many opportunities.” Dakota nodded in agreement. “Look at the two of us. A marketing manager and an aspiring doctor. We’re such Millennials.” The brunette giggled. “That just means that the world is our oyster.”

“That was great.” Phillip looked like he was about to burp. “I’m stuffed.” The two of them were driving back to their apartment in Phillip’s car, a small black Chevrolet. Phillip was behind the wheel while Dakota was sitting in the passenger seat. “Hey, so I was thinking that maybe we could spend Monday going to a drive-in theater? John was telling me about Cascade Drive-In having a showing of The Lady and the Tramp and I know it’s your favorite!” He smiled. John was one of Phillip’s friends in med-school. “I’m down. But isn’t December 12th coming up soon?” She got out her phone. “Philly, it’s going to be on Tuesday.” She reminded him. “Yeah, don’t worry, I know that. I figured why not spend the day before with one of the two women I love the most in my life.” He shrugged. “You’re such a momma’s boy, I can’t even!” Dakota laughed jokingly. “But she definitely is lucky to have a son like you. Somebody who always goes out of his way for the ones he loves.” She finished, trying not to hurt Phillip’s feelings. “She raised me right, that’s for sure.” He agreed, as the car began to pull into the garage.

Dakota’s phone buzzed as the brunette was with Phillip in their apartment living room. “Oh, Frida sent me a Snap.” She was referring to SnapChat, which to almost everyone’s surprise, the 85 year-old knew how to use better than most high-schoolers. “Oh geez. She’s getting hammered.” The brunette laughed in excitement as the video played. Frida was in a club with flashing neon lights, holding a party yard cup, screaming. It was a sight to behold, and to anyone who did not know Frida, they probably would be very concerned at that point. But Frida was the type of person who could take 48 shots of vodka, go to work the next day, and still get her job done faster than anyone else. “I just can’t believe some of the people you work with. Especially your boss. She’s crazy.” Phillip raised an eyebrow in amusement. “How she never got internet-famous is a huge mystery to me.” “She probably doesn’t want the fame. She’s the type of person who does outrageous things not to be noticed, but more because she’s old and wants to enjoy living her life out.” Dakota explained, yawning. She was tired. “Alright, I’m going to go to bed.” She stretched, leaving the room. “Wait for me!” Phillip dashed after her, not wanting to keep her up with him being awake.

“We’re losing him! Quick, somebody hold him while I bandage him up!” It was a blur. All that could be heard was the blaring noise of a siren and the loud screams of people who were scurrying about the road. “We can save him! You need to hurry up!” “I’m trying my best!” “And what about her?” “She’s going to be fine compared to him. She might have suffered some minor head trauma, but she was not crushed by the door. He has definitely damage to his organs. The body is suffering from internal bleeding. And the way he is bent, that is not natural! We need to focus on him first!” The sound of the siren drowned out anything else. It belonged to an ambulance. A body could be seen, being carried on a stretcher into the white vehicle with flashing red lights. And then everything faded into black. Was it a dream? Or was it a memory?

Road Movie Chapter 4

I knew I wanted to date Dakota from the first time I had met her. She was so shy and quiet, but there was something about her that made me feel nervous. In life science, all of my friends were jerks and partnered up while I was dozing off. And then, lucky me, I get to be partnered with the prettiest girl in class. “Hi, Dakota, right?” I at her, trying to blanket my excitement with a smile. “Yeah. What’s your name?” She looked down at me as I took my seat next to me. “I’m Phillip. Phillip Hopkins. Nice to meet you! She nodded at me in acknowledgement before going back to looking at the front of the classroom. I never really understood why I was attracted to shy girls. There was something about them being so closed off that I guess I took as a challenge? I wanted to see if I could be that guy who could help them warm up to the world. My parents, they told me it was important to be outgoing, because people who are shy always fall behind. And I would rather not let that happen.

Crap. I looked down. The beaker slipped my hand and landed on the floor in pieces. I thought that being lab partners with Dakota would be easy, but being around her, it made me feel nervous. Being flustered, it sucks. It feels like everything is going in fast motion, like a blur. “Oh god, we’re going to get a zero on this.” Dakota shook her head worriedly. “I’m so sorry.” I looked at her. “We can talk to her about this. She can fail just me.” Dakota frowned at my proposal. I really felt bad. I did not want her to get an F because I was being an idiot. “No, we’re partners, so we both deserve the grade. I’m not going to bail on you just because you’re the one that messed up. If it was the other way around, it would be no different.” She reasoned. The brunette was clearly unhappy, but hearing what she said, I was touched. She stood by me, despite how clumsy I was being. Unfortunately, the rest of our partnership was spent with her getting snappy and passive aggressive at me. I tried to make small talk, but she would just scold me and tell me to focus on the lab. 7th grade ended on a very awkward note for us. I just lost interest in dating her, because she was too high strung. Girls can be weird sometimes.

8th grade. It was not fun for me. Well, it was at first. My friends and I hung out a lot, but then December 12th happened. I was in English and I was asked to come to the Principal’s office. I had no idea why, and I was scared. Was I framed for something? Am I going to be expelled? I have no idea. When I arrived in the dusty office, I got a phone call from my dad on the Principal’s line. “Phillip. Your uncle is going to come pick you up really soon.” “Pick me up? Wait, where’s uncle Rick taking me?” He could hear his dad holding back tears from the other side of the line. “To the hospital. Your mom, she got into a really bad accident.” I could feel my stomach sink. The entire world just went black and white to me. Everything slowed down. “Phillip? Phillip!” The principal shouted.

The car ride to the hospital felt like it took an eternity. I wanted to make sure that my mom was fine. Every red light and stop sign was just prolonging that wait. “What happened?” My voice, I could hear it cracking from not speaking for so long. I looked at Rick, treating his answer. “She was driving to pick you up from school, and the ice on the road, it was too slippery. Her car slid through a rail and into the river.” Rick began, finding it difficult to summarize what had just happened to his sister-in-law. “We don’t know what happened. The driver behind called 911, and they retrieved the car and her body from the DuPage. She’s in the hospital, but that river was freezing cold, and-” I could tell he was on the verge of tears. “Uncle Rick…” I did not know what to say. I was only 13 years old. How was I supposed to know what to do in this situation?

She died before we could even arrive at the hospital. I felt so helpless. We couldn’t do anything to save her. The doctors and my dad refused to let me even see the body. I still remember what my mom told me when I was little. How she hoped for me to grow up to take care of others. To love my own children as much as she could possibly love me. But she’s not here to love me anymore. She was gone. She was in heaven, loving and caring for the angels in the sky. That’s what my dad and uncle Rick assured me. It was hard getting over her death. I went to therapy for a couple months, and tried different hobbies. My dad insisted that I get out of the house more often, just so that I would not be reminded too much of her. And we moved into a smaller apartment, just so that it would not feel so empty. Uncle Rick would visit often.

One of the hobbies, or rather goals, I took upon myself was trying to get as many 5s on AP tests as physically possible. By freshman year, I had already attempted the Physics and Spanish AP tests and got 5s on both. Sophomore year, World History, Chemistry, and Economics. Junior year, Calculus AB, US History, Biology, and Language Composition. And Senior year, Literature, Calc BC, Physics C, and French. I wanted to get as many credits as possible going into college applications, just so that I can work and pay for less when it came to college tuition. I did not want my dad paying my tuition. School became a huge focus for me. Until I met Dakota again in Junior year. I was not expecting to see her, let alone get placed in the same group as her. It was awkward at first.

“Hey, I haven’t seen you since like 7th grade!” I laughed. “Fancy seeing you in Bio AP!” I tried my best to diffuse the awkwardness of the situation. She looked uncomfortable and like she was fighting the urge to roll her eyes at my remark. The first few weeks were bad. She was not happy that we were put in the same group. But I tried my best to contribute. This time was different. I was not flustered or embarrassed being around her. I knew what I needed to do. Back then in middle school, I did not need to try. High school, one bad misstep and I will have to go to community college. I refused to be a statistic. I did not want to be one of those kids from a single-parent home who could not afford to go to a good college. And I think somewhere down the line, Dakota started to recognize and respect that. She knew that I had changed.

The funniest thing was when we started dated. That kiss, I was so relieved that I did not get a concussion from falling over; my backpack broke my fall onto the concrete. I used to have a crush on her back in middle school, and now 7th grade Phillip gets his wish come true. I get to date one of the prettiest and hardest working girls in my school. The first thing I noticed when I got to know Dakota was how ambitious she was. She was taking AP and honors classes consistently, she knew that she wanted to go into marketing right away, and she was kind above all else. Whenever anyone was struggling, she offered to help them. She grew up, just like how I did. She went from being passive aggressive to nurturing and loving. And that’s why I was glad to have somebody like her in my life.