December for June (originally written in 2013)

A soft pitter patter was all that could be heard of the rain outside. It was a wonder that clouds let any light through them at all. The light that did push through the cloud-covered Portland sky swept past the towering buildings of downtown and crept in through the uncovered windows of the classroom. It came up from below and tickled his perfect face; warming his eyes and highlighting a subtle smile. June couldn’t see, or even think of seeing past this beauty to the board on the far side of the room. The board displayed the Periodic Table and a few notes jotted by the tweed-clad professor. It was for Chemistry 110; the last of the pre-req’s June needed before she began studying English full time, something she would be more than happy to start today. Sitting aways in front of her sat her dream, a boy, the same age as her, with short brown hair and sinewy muscles on his uncovered arms. She had never talked to him before, but she assumed he would be a wonder to converse with. He didn’t participate in class, but she had the firm intuition that he had a wonderful, deep speaking voice. The Justin Biebers that polluted the current pop culture environment disgusted her. She didn’t want some kid with earrings, a hoodie, and the voice of a prepubescent girl; she wanted a man. And there he was in front of her. He sat there, looking blankly at the white board, now showing a number of organic compounds, while the droll of the monotone professor added a breath of reality to June’s off-topic mind. That reality faded back to hopeless daydreaming at the first mention of “Benzene Rings.” She had discovered that the boy’s name was Chris through some sneaky eavesdropping on a conversation he had with some of his friends, one of the many skills June had picked up as a master wallflower. Today Chris sat with a ragged pair of jeans and a tight graphic tee, displaying the words “Holy Grail”. June assumed that was a band. Although June knew very little about this boy, her brain had filled in all the missing pieces. He was more than some kid to June, he was an ideal.

June was deep in the grip of a cold December. As she walked through the quad of her school on an extra blustery afternoon in Portland Oregon, she thought about how much she didn’t really mind winter. She wrapped her pea coat snug around her thin frame; her scarf and beanie allowing only enough room between them for her reddening nose and the frames of her glasses. She felt toasty warm. The rain had let up for the time being, turning instead into a small drizzle, and she had used this small window of opportunity to make the trek from the school library to her dorm on the other side of campus. She didn’t think she minded the cold rain that fell around her day after day. She even took a moment to stop and jump into a small puddle with her bright red rubber boots, but whether she knew it or not, the weather was definitely affecting her. As the sky turned gray, so did her spirit.

Portland is by no means known for its cheerful weather; one look at June’s beautiful pale skin could tell you that. June acknowledged the irony of being named after a summer month in a place like Oregon but the beauty of summer was the last thing on June’s mind as she walked across the campus, finding her way through the raindrop covered lenses of her glasses.

The warmth of her hall rushed at her as she opened the door to sophomore housing. She rubbed at her red cheeks as she walked to her door. Removing her key from her pocket, she looked up at the door. Since the first week of class, all the doors in the hall had tacky construction paper signs placed on them. These were made by June’s overly enthusiastic R.A. and displayed the names of the room’s current occupants. In this case, it read “June & Karen.” Since class started in fall, June couldn’t remember Karen actually staying in the room for longer than a night at a time. She was always staying with one of her boyfriends. She was currently on her third of the term. It is safe to say June despised her.

June turned the key and opened the door. Waiting for her inside was a large, brown cat. He meowed up at her as she hung her coat on its hook. She sat down at the edge of her bed and patted her lap for the cat to join her. He did so gladly, purring loudly as he rubbed against her outstretched hand. June smiled, but it wasn’t the kind that lasts. Of course cats were not allowed in the dorms. George had been strategically smuggled in, and it was only luck that had kept him from being found.  He didn’t mind the cramped living arrangement. He was an older cat and was content simply looking out the window while June was away in class.

June’s room was an organized mess. Piles of books dotted the floor, along with a food dish and litter box for George. Pictures on the walls displayed June’s best friends: Emma had been friends with June since they were both in elementary school. They shared everything and talked about everyone. Unlike many girls, their friendship only grew as they moved from elementary school to middle school to high school. Emma had gone to college in the East. She had received a scholarship she just couldn’t say no to. June talked to her on the phone every week or two, but slowly they were growing apart, they both could feel it. June’s other close friend was Sam. He had met her freshman year of high school and stuck with her ever since.  He was the creative type that had dreams of never needing to work for a real company. His dreams had left him with a job at a Starbucks in North Portland and an endless struggle to be able to pay to stay at the Art Institute. June visited him every week or so, usually meeting over coffee. They were far from romantically involved, and neither had ever tried to change that.

June kicked off her boots and fell back on the bed. In the room next door she could hear girls laughing. The only thing she knew about them were their names, and she only knew that because of they were displayed on their door, written in a flaring font with hearts for i’s on the cheesy sign the R.A. had made. June had never met the girls. Adding to her existential crisis, she had met so few people in her year and a half in college that she could count them on one hand.

June skipped dinner, and although it wasn’t yet dark, she slipped into her pajamas and crawled under the covers of her bed. June loved reading, especially Victorian-era romance novels, her favorite being by Jane Austen. Her thin fingers curled around her current read, her third time through Jane Austen’s Emma and turned on Bon Iver from her iPod that she kept on her nightstand. Her glasses half down her nose, her auburn hair held back by a ribbon and George curled up on her chest to get a good view of the words, she read.

The noises from the room next door increased. June could tell they had more guests over, including some boys. They laughed, their words blurring with the contrast of the Bon Iver coming through June’s speakers. June burned through the book, sucking the light endorphins from the very mention of romance from the characters. She read until George was fast asleep and not even her glasses could keep her eyes from blurring with fatigue.

As she fought back the curtain of slumber, her eyes fell on a passage, a she played through it in her mind over and over as she drifted off to sleep.

“It is such happiness when good people get together – and they always do.”

June awoke in a cold sweat. George looked up at her from the foot of the bed with worried and knowing eyes. June felt around the nightstand for her glasses and began a tiresome crawl out of bed.  Her mind was plagued with the dreams she had just awoken from. She was in no mood for that kind of pain, so she pushed them to the back of her mind.

She continued her morning rituals as if nothing had happened, although she had awoken well over an hour before her alarm.  She was greeted in the communal bathroom by an unconscious young woman; quite obviously “partied out” from the night before. June opted not to interrupt her sleep as she moved towards one of the grubby showers at the end of the bathroom. Hanging up her towel, she turned on the water. Frigid at first, the water began to slowly emit heat until it was a scalding, steam producing flow. Perfect. June stepped in, naked but for her pink flip-flops and let the world fall away as the water scorched her bare skin. As hard as she tried, she couldn’t fight the pictures presented in the dream she had just awakened from. Having protected herself for no more than ten minutes, she gave in.

Upon waking, most dreams first appear vivid; but as time goes by, so does the dream, until it fades into simple memories, such as colors or emotions, or small details that make describing such an experience near impossible. Ironically, the dreams we most want to forget are the ones we remember with the most clarity. For June, this fact was painfully true. Not just brief images of her nightmare now plagued her conscious, but the entirety of the dream, in painfully specific detail.

She had dreamt of a time in the future. This future, although simple, had presented the most terrifying of nightmares in the mind of June. She would have placed the woman she saw at about fifty. The woman had the deep lines of aging and grey hair, but the features of a woman half her age; as if a woman of a much younger age had neglected to take care of herself in any way, and produced this monster. This woman sat in a large rocking chair in a small room with tacky wallpaper and bookshelves lining the walls. Covering the floor was a multitude of cats, of varying sizes. She knew without any words that this woman was herself. This dream put her in the omniscient, though powerless. She watched as this “future self” sat and knitted while her many cats pranced around the room. The woman would often talk, seemingly to herself, sometimes directed toward one of the cats on the ground. The words she said were disconnected. June couldn’t understand them, but she knew what they were: the ramblings of a woman who had no human connections, and was forced to receive oral stimulation through conversations in which both sides were played by her, or trivial arguments held with animals that couldn’t understand more than their names and “no.” What June saw was a woman trapped by herself; alone more than anyone has ever been. This was the reality of the fear that June had more and more begun to adopt.

She watched as the woman in front of her began to cry. Not loudly, for there was no one to hear, just a dull weeping. June could see that these tears were meant for no one in particular. They were simply the outward expression of the depth of crippling depression. The dream suddenly took an unexpected turn as the woman caught herself. She wiped her tears with one angry arm; fingers clenched into a fist, and rose from her rocking chair. June could tell she was arthritic, as her movements from the chair were slow and calculated, but had the feeling of haste all the same. The woman looked at the floor of the room as she uncaringly threw her knitting needles beside her. Her eyes focused on one of the cats; a rather large one with a pattern very similar to that of George’s. For a brief instant she looked up to meet the eyes of the real June. The eyes that June saw were lifeless. They were empty and seemed to burn from the inside with some deep hatred. Although only lasting a moment, this stare seemed to go on forever. Even now, blanketed by the pacifying water of the shower, June could see those eyes; more than that, she could feel them.

June wanted more than anything to wake up. She knew how this nightmare was going to end. She didn’t need to see it; but we don’t get to choose when we wake up. June watched in horror as her older, crippled self, grabbed at the large version of George and threw it as hard as she could into the poorly wallpapered wall. The cat made an ear-splitting shriek followed by two thuds. The first, its body impacting the wall; the second, it’s now limp carcass falling to the ground.

June turned away. She couldn’t watch this, a small tear slid down her cheek as the older June fell to her knees; her tears once again renewed, this time with added vigor. When June turned back, the sobbing of the old June had stopped, replaced by an odd grinding sound. What lay on the ground in front of her was a body, very possibly days decomposed, being consumed by the many cats that had survived the brutal attack of the woman.

The dream was more than just an unfortunate nightmare. June knew that what she had seen was her worst fears sewn into painful ending to her story. The woman she saw, who hauntingly reflected her own appearance, was not crying for no reason. June knew that her future self was falling apart from a life of loneliness. She was unfulfilled by the cats she thought she loved so much, but whether she would admit it or not, she knew George did not fill the hole meant for human interaction.

She opened her eyes and gazed down at her open palms, noticing the pruning of her dainty fingers. She glanced up at an old analog clock that hung on the wall toward the back of the shower room. She had been in there for almost an hour. She stood up straight and got her wits about her. She grabbed her shampoo and made short work of washing herself before making her way back to her room, taking care not to step on the limp body of the wasted girl in the third stall.

Trudging her towel-covered body back across the length of the dirty blue colored hallway of the dorm, June hid her face. She didn’t want anyone to see the red of her cheeks, the obvious sign of a long cry, that she knew wasn’t far from returning. As she worked her way down the hall, she noticed a door open, squinting her eyes to get a better look, since she had left her glasses in her room, she could just make out the First letter of one of the names on the door. It was a sparkle covered K.  As June got closer, the name became more clear; Karen.  June and Karen. She ran toward the door, clenching the towel around her body in an attempt to not expose herself in the hallway. She peered into the room and saw an obviously angry Karen gathering clothes from her dresser on the far side of the small dorm room.

“I was wondering where you had run off to.” Karen said, looking up briefly and then continuing in her condescending tone as she gathered her clothing from the lower drawers of her dresser. “What the fuck were you thinking keeping a cat in here?” George. June scanned the room quickly, searching for her little friend. She had forgotten that it had been over two months since Karen had shown up, and June had thought her as good as dead, having decided to ditch her less important possessions and live with her current boyfriend. June had only had George in the room for about five weeks, and convincing her parents it was okay was far too easy. “Where is he?” June said in a panicked voice, having found no sign of him in her hurried search. “Fuck if I know. It ran out right after I opened the door.” June was not in the mood to continue this frivolous conversation while her only friend on campus was scared out of his mind in the large building of the sophomore dorms. She was about to turn around and begin the search for George immediately, except a slight breeze from across the hall reminded her of her current clothing situation. June was not the kind of girl to do anything in the halls in only a towel, save walk from her room to the bathroom for a shower.

She had to think fast. She grabbed her peacoat and a pair of sweats and, dropping her towel, quickly clothed herself. Turning from Karen without a word, June went searching for the lost George. The screams of “Where the hell are you going? Don’t expect me to be quiet about this, it’s my dorm too!” followed her out as she shut the door, leaving her whore of a roommate behind it.

She kept her eyes open for the small grey coat of George; worried people would wonder if she called his name, she opted to whisper it. “George, George. Where are you?” She looked up and down the hall, but there was no sign of him.

After hours of searching as subtly as she could, she had done everything she could to find George without acknowledging the existence of the smuggled refugee to the other residents of the dorm. She walked back to her room. Hurricane Karen was long gone, but the citizens of the small coastal town would deal with the damages for years to come. It looked like maybe this time she had collected all her belongings, high stripper boots included. June slammed the door and fell into bed. It was still morning, and June was still clad in little more than a pair of sweats and her jacket; her hair still wet from the morning shower. She pushed her face hard into the pillow to muffle the sound of her sobs from her own ears. She had not lost George, he had to come home. She had class in an hour, and as much as she wanted to, she could not bring herself to miss Chemistry, and the chance of seeing Chris.

June vaguely heard the sound of a knock at the door through her sobbing. It knocked a second time, June was sure it was meant for the neighbors. A third knock. They must have found George! She jumped out of bed and rubbed the tears from her eyes. She swung the door open and said, “Is there something I can help you wi- Emma!”

An untamed mop of curly brown hair and clothes askew were telltale signs that Emma had just gotten off the plane from Virginia. Her school had been released a week early. Emma threw her arms around June and squeezed.

“Jeez June, I love you, but you look like shit.” Emma was definitely the best friend type, and she wasn’t about to go soft on someone she loved like June. She spoke the truth as she withdrew from their hug. June raised her arm to her face in an effort to wipe the redness of pain from her face; all she got was salty tears.

June didn’t need Emma’s pity. She quickly decided she would make up an excuse other than George for her rough exterior. “Sorry I look like this, you caught me in a bad time, I just got the grade on my first quiz in Chemistry. I just can’t seem to wrap my head around carbon chains.” Emma looked at June with the concern of a mother. She could see through her lies, but hadn’t seen her friend in a long time, and would let June talk to her about these problems in her own time. With a hard sniffle, June fought to change the subject. “How are you and what’s-his-face doing?” Emma’s face brightened. “Rick? Yeah, we are doing great! I actually just got off the phone with him before I came up here. I can’t wait ‘till you meet him. He is a really great guy.”

June forced a smile as Emma explained her recent fallings into romance. Her head was so full of everything else. George wasn’t the half of it. As Emma talked of her outing with Rick to a beach in Maryland, June realized that of the regulars of her dreams had been absent from this most recent nightmare, Chris. Why was this boy plaguing so much of her subconscious? Why did a visit from Emma have to be so much work?

Emma described her trip in romance novel level detail, even producing pictures from her phone for evidence of “just how fun it was.” Why wasn’t this June? What had she done differently? She imagined walking up to Chris and just saying hello. He would turn and look in her eyes and smile. They would talk. He would ask her to coffee after class, and the rest would be history. That’s it. She had made up her mind as Emma’s story dissolved into background noise.

She would talk to Chris.

June took her usual seat in the back of class and pulled out her current page of notes from her pink binder. A few rows in front of her, Chris sat on the top of his desk, chatting with a few of his friends. Her head down at her notes, June peered up at him above the tops of her glasses and through her auburn bangs. Although his figure was slightly blurred compared to the image of him she usually saw through her expensive prescription lenses, she could still notice his eyes move from the conversation to the girl in the back of the room, whose nose in her pink binder wasn’t fooling anyone. June tensed her back as their eyes met. For a second she saw the ecstasy of the relationship she had dreamed up. Butterflies filled her stomach until she felt she would burst. Chris looked at her with the deep dark brown eyes that June loved so much. He winked at her, making June nearly drool on the page of notes below, and turned back to the conversation with his friends.

June’s heart began to slow back to normal. She composed herself and began again to arranged her notes before the class started, occasionally stealing quick glances at the god in front of her. She noticed a change in the tone of the conversation that Chris was participating in. She noticed their eyes move to her direction far more than before. One pointed a finger in June’s direction, followed by a nod by Chris. June shivered. She swallowed hard as she realized the conversation had turned to include the quirky girl in the back of the class with the obnoxious glasses. She was out of earshot, but it wasn’t hard for her to fill in the words to fit the expressions and body language of the group. June was sure she was being made fun of.

The rest of class flew by. She could barely hear the professor through the cloudiness of her thoughts. As the professor called for the end of class, June glanced at her notes, she didn’t recognize a word she had just written. Naming hydrocarbons was lost on a girl trying to unravel the hard questions of infatuation briefly seen as love rolling through her mind. June decided that although she had once seen Chris as a wonderful ideal, she had been kidding herself. Wrapped up in the embarrassment of being made fun of by a group of childish boys, her peers, June had seen the real Chris; a mere boy who had no understanding of women and was far from dateable. She didn’t see it as a stretch to call him an asshole.  She recalled the line from Pride and Prejudice: “A lady’s imagination is very rapid; it jumps from admiration to love, from love to matrimony, in a moment.” June took this passage to the next step, and in a moment more, a lady can realize the horrible crime she has committed and come to her senses. She gathered her things, threw her backpack over her shoulder, and left the room without a word.

Following close behind, but unseen by June, Chris reached out a hand to confront the cute girl whom he had been noticing all term, but hadn’t found the courage to talk to.  Her glasses and bangs of auburn hair offering a small shield between her and the rest of the world. The hand never found its mark. A slammed door made the separation final, and a disheartened Chris sulked back to his friends.The trudge across the waterlogged quad brought a shower of familiarity to June’s troubled mind. Quite a literal shower, as heavy rain covered her coat and glasses, creating a speckled view of the world. The moist air was reassuring, and although her hands were cold as she grasped the iron handle of the dorm door, it felt right. Kicking the mud from her boots in the entryway, she began the walk up to her room. Under the familiar gaudy sign displaying the names June and Karen sat a small figure. George looked up at June with kittenish eyes and meowed. June could barely contain herself as she grabbed up this little beacon of hope in her life and squeezed him hard enough to produce another meow.

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