Light starts seeping in as the door opens again and another person enters in, but this time I feel like it's my soulmate. In she enters with neatly braided hair, a grey sweatshirt, and a black-framed glass guarding her beautiful grey eyes. From the angle, she stands in sunlight gets reflected through her glass which of course is nothing out of the ordinary and I have seen the same spectacle lots of times before, yet this occasion seemed phenomenal. Something inside me stirred instantly, something that I have never felt before in my life.
"Hey, Nicole, over here", waved Brit. Thank god she is also a volunteer. So, we are here one up on the level of unison. We are here to help kids with disabilities who come from families with financial difficulties. People always come here to drop their kids or siblings off and I thought Nicole was one among them too. Nicole, doesn't it feel nice to say that name? At least that's how I feel.
"Nicole, meet Aaron".
"Hi" beamed Nicole attacking me with her smile.
"Hi," I said with a dilemma about whether to put my hand up for a shake or not before Brit pulled Nicole into the crowd.
For the next three hours my eyes were fixed on her and my mind was searching for excuses to talk with her. Most of them were epic fails obviously. By the end of the third hour, I have said a maximum of twelve words to Nicole.
Nicole and I were assigned to pack things up, lock the hall and hand the key over at the office. I was happy about it and at the same time, I felt shaky having to face her.
"So, taking the bus?" I asked in a tone that sounded weird even to me.
"Yeah. And you?" Nicole asked with a smile. I could watch those lips smile for eternity.
"Walk. I live only a couple of blocks from here".
"Cool. I can give you company if you wish".
If I wish, are you kidding me, I will die for that opportunity. "It's okay, I don't want to impose so much on you". I was so angry at myself for saying so but what can I say, maybe my brain knows better what not to say when compared to my Nicole-occupied mind.
"It's fine, besides, I have no other work to do". Thank god, a deep sigh of relief escaped me.
"As you wish" I smiled, probably for the first time at Nicole I believe. "And thank you. Where do you live?"
"A rough thirty-minute walk from here. Or more, I'm not sure".
"Wow". 'Wow' I didn't even know that was some weird expression to give for the reply. After an awkward pause, I gathered my guts "You've got pretty eyes".
"Am I not pretty on the whole then?" Nicole said with a face that showed some seriousness. Wait, the characters in movies usually say this line and get away comfortably but why did I feel like I ended up in some kind of deep shit.
"I didn't mean it in that way, you do look pretty, obviously. But I find your eyes way prettier than your whole self" I said in a trembling voice.
"Really?" she said with a face that would scare off a Pitbull.
"Look, I… I was just…"
"Relax dude, I was just kidding. Thank you" she blushed.
"Seriously dude" I took a deep breath with a slight smile "you scared the shit out of me".
"Sorry," Nicole said with a baby face. " Do you have any pets in your home?"
"Yeah, I'm planning to get one real soon".
"Ewwww, who would have cats in their house?" I said making a disgusted expression.
"People do. I do" she said and in that instant, I regretted making that face.
"I didn't mean to be offensive, sorry. I'm planning to get a puppy". Unfortunately, we reached the front of my apartment. "This is where I live".
"I can give you company till your place if you don't mind".
"And how are you planning to get back here again?"
"Take the bus maybe" I smiled.
"As you wish" she smiled back. I felt butterflies inside my stomach, I know it's a bit of a late reaction but still, I got those butterflies working.
We started walking in silence and a smile constantly lingered on our faces. "I don't understand what is so special in dogs that makes people run after them," said Nicole.
"For starters, they are not as mean as cats are".
"I beg to differ".
"I would like to stay with my opinion, which in fact is the truth".
"No, it is not".
"Yes, it is".
"Okay, I don't think we will come to a conclusion on this. So, let's agree to disagree with each other's opinion. What do you say, we drop this here and now or else it would go on like a hamster on a wheel?"
"I agree" She pauses for a second. "Hamster on a wheel" she starts giggling. I didn't understand what was so funny about it still I went with the flow and started laughing with her. "Do you like hamsters?"
"Not again, please," I said making a childish face.
Laughing hard Nicole went "Granted".
We talked a lot about our families on the way to her place. It felt like we were connecting on a whole different level. We reached her place after a twenty-minute walk.
"Well, this is where I live".
"Oh, that was quick".
Nicole smiled. "Thank you".
"No problem. Thank you for the company". Nicole smiled and started climbing the stairs as I stood there looking at her.
I got her number from Brit and was hesitant to text her. I felt like I was stalking her. But this time around my sedated mind took over my conscious brain and I sent a text. I was so nervous until I received a reply from her. We were conversing through texts for over a week. I don't know how but I asked her out for a walk, and she said yes. I got that feeling that you would get when you have conquered this world.
The day arrived finally, and we went for a walk early in the morning along the beach talking about our interests, our school life, college life, and stuff that didn't make sense.
"Do you drink?" asked Nicole. I felt like a deer caught in the headlight, should I tell the truth or should I lie?
"Occasionally. And you?"
"At least once a week. Do you smoke?"
"I'm a stoner. I guess you would have known what that is".
"I do" I smiled. "Do your parents know?"
"Alcohol and weed".
"Oh, my god. What did they say when they first found?"
"Nothing much. Just the regular parental advice, it's your body, why are you punishing it with these bad and harsh pieces of stuff? It's like who cares, right?"
"You know they are your parents; they do have concerns about you. We can't blame them for their care, right?"
"It's my life dude". I didn't like the direction this conversation was heading. Fortunately, a couple carrying a crying baby crossed us. Nicole's attention shifted. "What do you think about babies?" I love how she could switch between topics so rapidly and smoothly.
"They are cute and if you are stressed out watching them play and laugh can relax you a bit. And all of this applies only if they are not our babies, or we are assigned to look after them. If that happens then we are doomed" I said shaking my head.
"Exactly. It's like there is always someone who nudges you for attention and care. I still have no idea how my parents had four kids like how they were convinced to have more after the first".
Again, I was not sure how to answer. Fortuitously Nicole continued "I don't want to have babies when I grow up".
"That's too quick to decide".
"I don't know". Nicole looked at her watch "Okay, I'm getting I have to pick my sister up from the airport".
"Thanks for the invite. It was good to have someone to talk to and have a walk with".
"Pleasure's mine. Thanks for accepting my invitation" I smiled. "Text me once you reach your home".
"Sure. Thanks" Nicole smiled. "You too don't forget to text me once you reach your home".
"Sure. Bye. Have a great day".
We departed and all the way to my apartment I was thinking about my morning with Nicole. I received a text from Nicole ten minutes later that she had reached her place safely. I was still on my way. I texted her back once I got back to my apartment. I didn't get any reply from her. I waited for a day, two days, and a week passed in wait.
At this point, I was afraid something might have happened to her. Concerned I sent her a text asking about her well-being. I didn't get any reply from her. The fear inside me was growing at a rapid pace. My days were moving at the pace of a snail.
Nearly two weeks after my last text our volunteer meet-up happened. I reached there earlier than ever hoping to see Nicole. She didn't turn up. Almost ten minutes into the beginning of the session Nicole entered in.
"Hi," she waved at me casually as if nothing had happened. I reciprocated the same way but was confused.
"I was afraid something has happened to you when you didn't reply to my text," I said as we were walking out of the hall after the session. She nodded her head without saying anything. I had no idea what that meant. "So, care for a walk?"
"No, I have got my roommate's car. Bye". She walked off without even caring for my response.
Confused I kept texting her. At last, it happened after twenty texts. Nicole replied. 'Look, Aaron, it was nice getting to know you, but I'm not interested in talking with you outside the volunteering session'.
'Why?' The mundane scenario of no replies returned. Days passed by followed by weeks. I didn't want to disturb her but still, questions kept floating inside me. I decided to text her and find a remedy for this, good or bad, I needed something.
'Hey, hope you are doing well. I know you already have stated clearly about this but give me one chance. I have a lot of questions bugging me and I feel like I'm left blindfolded inside a dense forest and the only way out I know is you. Let's meet just once and that would be the final I assure'.
I didn't receive any reply until two days. Then came the reply 'I'm not interested in meeting. Just ask what you want.
'Why did you take this decision?'
'This was something I had right from the beginning'.
'I don't believe it. What happened after the walk?'
'Why would I want to lie?'
'I don't know but the level of zeal and excitement I saw in your eyes when we were expressing ourselves makes me doubt'.
'What? There was no excitement, okay.
'Eyes don't lie Nicole. Also, I need to know why I got so close and attached to you in just two meetings. To be honest I'm an introvert and I have trouble speaking with people. Ask Brit if you don't believe it, we've known each other for three years now and still, I speak with her only about the volunteering work'.
'I'm not here to find answers to your questions or guide you out of some godforsaken fantasy forest of yours. We had nothing between us and so this is over and done. Bye, take care. I won't reply anymore and am going to delete your number so don't even bother to text'.
That's it. I had no interest to text her. Not because I was angry about the way she spoke with me but with the intent not to disturb her and let her live her life the way she wants.
All of a sudden, the power goes off not just in my apartment but for the entire city resulting in a blackout. She is gone forever from my life; I know it would be hard to let her go but I had to. The phrase 'Love is not always about holding on, sometimes it's about letting go' never made sense to me but it made at that moment.