So if I didn’t want to be in a relationship and he clearly did, why did I keep talking to him?
I asked myself the same question. I asked myself that question every time we went to lunch or dinner or the campus game room for a round of UNO. Because I asked, I had to know the answer. We shared a strangely beautiful friendship, and he didn’t ask anything more of me than that. I felt that if I walked away, I’d be walking away from the most priceless possession I had. If he asked to hang out, I rarely said “no.”
“Not bad,” he said, after I won a round or two. The game room was mostly empty with only a few clusters of people sitting at the scattered tables and chairs. It was a Tuesday, which meant most people were doing homework. Not us. Not until later.
“I learned the how to play in Croatia,” I explained. “The kids over there are crazy about this game. They play mean.”
“They trained you well.” He kept his face straight, but there was something at the corners of his mouth and the center of his mouth that suggested a smile was soon to follow, even if it didn’t. Sometimes I think I went places with him just to see if the smile would actually happen, which it did often, but only in bursts, like spotting the sun on a cloudy day.
“Play again?” I asked.
“Actually, I’m a little thirsty. Would you like something?”
Five minutes later, we were in a campus eatery. He had an orange juice and I had a cup of decaf. We talked about movies, music, and stories about our childhoods. Those were the supporting pillars of all our conversations. We would wander off to related topics, but we’d always come back to those three.
“You know the song ‘Moon River’?”
I shook myself mentally. I wasn’t sure what he had said immediately before that. I had gotten lost in his mannerisms: the tilt of his head, the crisp enunciation of his ts, the way he gestured with his wrists and elbows instead of his hands and arms, so freely, so uninhibited.
“Yes. I adore that song. I could listen to Sinatra forever.”
“It’s hard for me to pick a favorite song, but if I were to pick just one, I’d claim ‘Moon River.’ I have a lot of happy memories connected to that song.”
“I’ve always wondered what the song is actually describing, though,” I said, looking intently at my cup of coffee. It was hard to look at him when I spoke. It was easy enough to watch him when he told me stories, but the moment I opened my mouth I felt like a fool. “Who is the ‘huckleberry friend’? The river itself, or someone else the song doesn’t mention directly?”
“I always saw three figures,” he replied. “When I hear the song, I see the singer, the river, and the beloved beside him.”
“The beloved”? Not be-loved, two syllables, but a three-syllable be-love-ed? People still talk that way? Now that he said it, it seemed perfect. Not “the girl” or “the guy” but an all-inclusive “the beloved,” the person the song is really about.