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Your Special Occasion

Your Special Occasion

Man with short black hair in white dress standing in front of a colorful Ferris wheel against a bright blue sky

Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of my imagination or used in a fictitious manner.

The door made a loud squeaking noise as we opened it and stepped out into the early morning air.

The sun had barely started to rise, and the street all around us was quiet save for a few cars milling about. I checked my phone — 5:35 AM. Had we really stayed up talking that long?

I turned to face the strange girl I had met only three days before. In the pale blue light, her blonde hair seemed almost white. We stood eye-to-eye, two twenty-year-olds of the exact same height, a photo and its negative.

A photo. That was how I’d met Jasmine in the first place. I had been having a particularly hard day at work. I wrote code for iOS applications, and it seemed that as soon as I fixed one error, another would take its place. I’d made a beeline for Penn’s Landing as soon as I got out, knowing that the sight of the water, and the giant ferris wheel that stood tall over the roller-skating rink, would instantly calm me down.

I have a bit of a photography obsession, so when I saw the wheel there, all decked out in its glitzy pinks and purples, I knew I had to get the shot. Jasmine had been sitting on a ledge alone with her headphones in, listening to music and studying the people rushing by. 

“Excuse me,” I said, tapping her on the shoulder and causing her to jump. “Do you mind taking a picture of me with that Ferris wheel in the background?”

“Yeah, sure.”

I handed her my phone and saw her eyes widen as I climbed onto the ledge, grinning.

“You’re full of surprises, aren’t you?” she asked as she gave my phone back. “I wouldn’t have pegged you as the type to climb stuff.”

“And I wouldn’t have pegged you as the type to judge people off of their looks.”

A look of surprise crossed her face, to be replaced by a smirk. “Touche.” She held out her hand. “I’m Jasmine.”

“Nice to meet you.” I shook it firmly. “What type of person would you have categorized me as?”

“I don’t know, someone —” she seemed to be searching for the right phrase — “fake, I guess? Basic?” Jasmine shook her head. “Most of the Instagram girls I know don’t pull shit like that.”

I laughed. “I’m flattered that you think I’m an Instagram girl. I’m actually just a software engineering intern.”

“What? No way. Me too.”

“Really?” Now it was my turn to be surprised. “Where do you work?”

“This startup in New York. I’m only here for three more days, actually. I wanted to get out of there for a little bit and just chill out. I get a week of paid time off for the summer, and I thought, why not come to Philly and see what the city of brotherly love has to offer?”

“And what’s your impression of the place been so far?” I was impressed that she’d come here by herself. Solo travel was something I’d always dreamed of but had never actually done.

She paused and thought for a moment. “The people walk differently. The buildings aren’t as tall.” She shot me a sly grin. “And the girls here are awfully pretty.”

“Nice line,” I snorted. “For your information, I don’t identify as a girl.”

“Who said I was talking about you?” she shot back, the smirk returning to her face as she saw my involuntary look of surprise. “Just kidding. And I don’t really identify as female, either. I actually shaved all of my hair off in  middle school and made everyone call me James. It was a … liberating year, to say the least.”

“Wow, now I’m the one to be surprised.” I found myself warming up to this strange girl — someone who had, until five minutes ago, been a complete rando. “Want to grab drinks or something? It’s Friday night.” I gave her my most charming smile. “I’ll buy the first round, and you can tell me how life was like as James.”

“Deal.” She took my hand and laced her fingers through mine, with her hand in front. “Let’s go.”

“Whoa, whoa, whoa.” I untangled myself and grabbed her hand instead. “I’m the one who’s showing you how to get there.”

“So that’s the way it’s gonna be, huh?” she asked, but her tone was teasing and her eyes were friendly. “Fine, fine. Lead the way.”

That was how it started, and the next three days passed like a movie montage, sans the cutesey music. I took her to this Mexican bar and we ordered margarita after margarita in all sorts of strange, vibrant colors — bright Barbie pink, hacker-terminal green, caution-sign orange. I learned that Jasmine was a data science intern who loved making models but hated using Python (“I used to major in computer science, but couldn’t stand coding, so I switched to applied math”), that she’d known she’d liked girls since she was five, and that she’d strongly considered transitioning to live as James full-time in the ninth grade.

“But I knew I couldn’t be James,” she’d said, when our conversation turned introspective. “Not all the time, at least. I don’t feel like a girl, but I don’t feel like a boy either, you know? Just a strange in-between. I’ve been feeling more like a girl lately, though.”

When a pair of rude, way-too-drunk dudes started giving us unwanted shit, Jasmine grabbed my hand again. “Let’s get the fuck out of here. I live just down the street.”

The next day, I’d woken up with the sun streaming in through uncovered windows and groaned at how painful it seemed to lift my head. Jasmine was stirring a frosty glass of Pedialyte and looking at me again with that impenetrable smirk on her face.

“Drink up,” she said, handing me the glass. “Damn, dude. You sure can put those drinks away. That’s another thing I didn’t expect from you.”

I gulped down the drink and smiled, trying my hardest not to look like I was ready to throw up. “I must have been trying to impress you. I haven’t drank that much since my first year. Must have worked, too, seeing that we’re here now.”

“If I remember correctly, it was a mutual effort.” She stretched, yawned, and walked over to her closet. I tried not to stare.

“Here,” she said, flinging a dress in my general direction. “This seems like something you’d wear, and I’m pretty sure we’re the same size.”

I caught it and marveled at how right she was. It was made of white lace, with cutouts at the waist that looked like little flowers and a skater skirt. I was pretty sure I had the same dress in five other colors back home.

“My mom bought it for me to wear to high school graduation,” she explained, rolling her eyes. “I’m not a dress girl, but she insisted that I bring it with me to New York in case there was a quote-unquote special occasion to wear it to.”

“Just call me your special occasion,” I quipped. “But really, you don’t have to. I should be getting home, anyways. I don’t mind a train ride of shame.”

“Orrrrrrrr you could stay, and we could talk more about math and gender identity …”

Most girls I’ve been with, after an inebriated overnight encounter, will either kick you out of their place or make some excuse to leave. This one had let me something to wear and had straight-up invited me to nerd out about two of my favorite subjects. I tried to contain my pleasant surprise. “Well, if you insist.”

I ended up only going home to quickly grab a few changes of clothes, my laptop, and my toothbrush. Jasmine was one of those people whose interest was infectious. I had the urge to show her all of my favorite spots in the city. I justified it by telling myself that she was only here for three days, and I did know all the good local spots, having spent the first seventeen years of my life in the city before moving South for college. 

I took her to see the Navy Yard, which had once been a naval shipyard and was now the headquarters of the company I worked at. We went to Chinatown, where I showed her my favorite lion that looked like he was tripping balls 24/7 (“damn, I’m envious,” she’d remarked), to Dilworth Park with all of its fountains and colorful chairs, to my favorite coffee shop, to the roof of the Free Library of Philadelphia, to the tiny town I’d grown up in, with its quaint charm, water-ice shops, and pretty storefronts. 

Silently, I wished for time to slow down so that I could have more time with her. I’d never met anyone who had such a similar outlook on life as me. 

Was this how it felt like to fall in love? I thought of the other people I’d gone on dates with recently, whose texts were still waiting unanswered on my phone. I thought of the girl I’d broken up with right before my internship had started, and the one who had moved all the way to the other side of the world, but not before she’d told me she loved me. 

None of them could really hold a candle to Jasmine, but I’d only known her for three days. She was leaving in less than two.

Was it possible to fall in love with someone in a just a little over twenty-four hours?

You’ve been with previous significant others for years without really feeling anything, my brain reminded me. What does timing have to do with anything?

It didn’t mean anything, I decided firmly, and I wouldn’t say anything to Jasmine about it. Three days was too short of a time to base things off of.

My gut told me I was making a mistake, but I shoved that feeling down, too.

The time we had left sped by faster and faster, and suddenly there we were, standing outside of her door on that pale July morning. Her door was pretty — a deep green that was only a few shades darker than her eyes — and it squeaked shut as I let go of my hold on it.

We’d talked throughout the night that last night, lying in the dark with the strange intimacy of two people who had just met but already knew one another well. She’d told me about how lonely she felt at school, how much of a loser everyone made her out to be after her ex had shamed her publicly their second year. I’d told her about how exhausting work was sometimes, but how much I wanted to make it in the tech world and make things out of thin air for a living — how much I wanted it, more than anything else, and all the individual things I’d had to give up in order to attain that goal. And then we’d just laid there, her head in my arms as we both fell asleep.

It was Monday now. I had work in three hours. The feeling of wanting time to slow down was greater than ever. I wanted to reach out and grab her and take her with me. Instead, I gave her a chaste kiss on the cheek.

“I really enjoyed these last few days,” she sighed, smiling softly. “Maybe you can come visit me sometime in New York?”

“And you can see me in Florida,” I replied. “Come to Sarasota sometime, seriously. We have this amazing private beach where there’s dead trees sticking out of the water and sometimes you can see dolphins. I’ll buy you some margaritas for old times’ sake.”

“I’ll miss talking to you.”

My breath caught in my throat. “I’ll miss talking to you too.” Come with me.

A black sedan pulled up — my Uber ride. I pulled Jasmine in for one last tight hug. 

“See you around sometime.” I don’t think I’ve ever met anybody like you before, and I don’t know if I ever will again.

Don’t look back, I told myself as I got in the Uber’s backseat. I was holding an overnight bag of clothes, the dress she’d given me among them. The entire thing smelled like her perfume and an unfamiliar sadness was already settling over me. Don’t look back.

See, the clincher was that there really was no way to contact Jasmine. She had no cell phone that she used regularly — she’d been listening to music on an iPod, of all things, that day we’d met by the Ferris wheel. She wasn’t on any social media platforms. And I hadn’t thought to ask for her email or GitHub username. I’d written my number down for her right before we’d stepped outside, and it was up to her now to reach out to me.

Don’t look back. Don’t look back.

She’d be leaving in about an hour to take the train back to New York, and in a month, I’d be flying back to Florida. There would be new people to meet, new drama to endure, new girls to chase …

… and none of them would be Jasmine.

I looked back before my mind could manage another chant. The house she lived in with its bright green door was disappearing into the background. 

I had waited too long. I couldn’t tell if she had gone back inside or if she was doing the same with me, watching until the car disappeared from her view.

There was that weird heavy feeling again. I leaned back in the seat and pulled out my phone to look at all the photos Jasmine had taken of me during the three days in Philly we’d spent together. She was strangely photo-shy for such a bold person, so in all of the photos, I was completely alone.

There I was, standing on the ledge of the Ferris wheel that fateful night we’d met. There I was by a trippy lion statue in Chinatown, walking through the fragrant lavender farm in the rural part of town, walking down the streets of Old City after I’d had one too many mimosas during Sunday brunch. I wished I’d made her take at least one photo with me, so that she would exist somewhere other than my hazy, idealized memories.

They were beautiful photos, though. One day, I would put them all in an album to remember the adventure by.

One day, I’ll see you again.

One day …

She never ended up reaching out to me. ♚

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© 2019 by Marty Noel Chenyao. All rights reserved.

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