Days as a Freshman: 111
Mood: Cold and happy
“I didn’t know you knew Sammy.”
Justin and I walked away from the dorms, down a side path on the outskirts of campus, our breath grey against the dark shadows of the woods.
“I didn’t know you knew her.” The cold night air was scratching at my hands. I stuffed them into my pockets and gripped the fabric, flexing the ice out of my fingers. “You could have told me.”
“It never came up.” Justin pulled his sweatshirt hood over his head, jumping onto a small wooden bridge that led into the woods. “Wanna go down here for a bit? It might snow.”
“You sure nothing wild will eat me?” I joined him on the bridge. “I have finals tomorrow.”
“There’s nothing wild in these woods, kid. Believe me.”
Justin disappeared into the tall pines and I followed close behind, wishing I at least had a hat, and wondering just when I was going to go over my notes for the big English final on Monday.
Justin had knocked on Sammy’s door just to say hi, stopping dead in the doorway when he saw Rebecca and I. His eyes slid around the room, bouncing off our faces, his mouth trying to decide what exactly should come out first. Feeling the air pulling tight around everyone, I decided to do something I don’t normally do and spoke up.
“Rebecca and Sammy have a test to study for,” I had lied cheerfully, zipping up the jacket I had neglected to take off the entire time I had been in Sammy’s room. “I want a hot chocolate. Wanna come?”
Whether he had wanted to or not, Justin had followed me outside. Once our boots were crunching on the gravel outside Sammy’s dorm, I slowed down and let him lead the way, my direct deed done for the night.
Instead of the café we had made our way to the woods. I’m not sure either of us knew why or how it happened.
“Watch out for the branch.” Justin held a branch up over my head as I ducked through some low hanging birch limbs, sticks and leaves cracking and crunching under my feet. The woods at the back of campus weren’t very deep, but I didn’t normally go marching inside them at ten at night. It was hard to see. Hard to keep up with Justin’s long strides and avoid getting poked in the eye by any number of things.
“I like walking out here at night.” Justin slowed down as the path opened up, trees giving away to a wide, leaf and pine needle covered trail. “Usually there’s one or two stoners out here…but it’s probably too cold for them tonight.”
“It’s too cold for anyone tonight.” I ran my hand under my nose, wishing the freezing air didn’t always turn it into a spigot of snot. “It’s probably like, twenty degrees out here.”
“You want to go back?”
I couldn’t see his face that well, but could tell from his voice that he was actually concerned.
“I’m fine.” I smiled, not sure if he’d be able to make it out. “I just like to complain. I’m from Maine, remember?”
“So you should love the woods at night!” Justin punched me on the shoulder lightly, his smile close enough now to get a little warmed by. “It should be your second home.”
“We don’t live outside. We actually use houses up North.”
“Really?” His eyes went wide in mock surprise. “I could have sworn you guys lived under leaves and stuff.”
I laughed and kept walking, rubbing my noise again and hoping against hope I wouldn’t trip over a naked root and completely lose the confidence I had suddenly acquired. I was actually flirting. Whether Justin knew it or not.
“The trees clear up over here. I bet we can see the stars really well.” Overtaking my steps, Justin walked up ahead, stuffing his own hands into his pockets. His white sweatshirt bobbed in front of me like some kind of tall buoy, dodging wayward branches without so much as a stumble.
Justin had either forgotten our argument or didn’t care, and I suppose I was doing the same thing, feeling more at ease with being friendly than being cold. Whatever we were to each other, we were eager to make the other smile.
The clearing opened up ahead of me, and I prayed that my nose would stop running and my heart would stop ramming itself into my chest. Something about Justin made me comfortable and completely uncomfortable at the same time. Confident and uncertain.
I wasn’t sure if he could tell any of this. I wasn’t sure if he even cared. But for some reason, walking outside on a freezing winter’s night with him was the best thing I had done in a long time.