We called them The Untouchables and had code names for each one. There was Herman, The Mountain, and Jeeves. Those were the names of our crushes, and our freshman intro classes were large enough that at least one of us had classes with them.
The Mountain was my crush. He was tall, seemingly unapproachable, and in my comparative women’s literature class. His name was Theo, and he wore a dark leather jacket, styled hair, and dress shirts because he worked at one of the school offices. Under his long shirt sleeves, his arms were peppered with tattoos. I was smitten by his rebel-without-a-cause charm. Despite always sitting one row behind, I never uttered a word to him or in class. During lectures on Virginia Woolf and Charlotte Brontë, I imagined a romance based on true love that culminated with a marriage proposal on New Year’s Eve.
A few weeks into the semester, my friends and I were invited to parties off campus. The hosts were often anonymous or a friend of a friend. No one asked about your identity or who extended the invitation. Anyone could walk through the door and easily blend into the crowd. The Mountain, Theo, was easy to spot because of his height and classic leather jacket.
Jane caught me eyeing him when he walked through the front door. “What’s going through your mind?” She shouted over the noise of the party. Oasis’ Wonderwall blared from a stereo in the living room.
“I wish there was an alternate universe where I could be my real self,” I said.
“What do you mean, you aren’t yourself? Who am I friends with?”
“The selves we’re meant to be—confident and working toward some lofty purpose.”
“Isn’t that what we’re trying to do in college?” She gave me a serious look.
“Only if you’re certain of your future and goals now.”
“There’s time to figure it out,” she said.
“I don’t have a clue what I’m working toward.”
Jane put a hand on my arm. The party was packed into a narrow two-story row home. Smoke hung over the hallway. People streamed to and from the kitchen, where the keg was kept. That’s when I made eye contact with The Mountain as he squeezed his way through the crowd. Also, Jane pushed me into him. Once I stumbled backward into the wall, he pointed a finger at me.
“You’re in my women’s comp lit class, right?” he said.
My eyes widened, and I nodded. Theo shifted his weight against the wall to let someone else pass by.
“What are your thoughts about the class?” he asked.
“It’s all right,” I began. He leaned in closer. My head went blank and my chest tightened, but I raised my voice. “I’ve never been into the classics.” I searched for a reaction; he looked disappointed. “There are no twist endings, no surprises.” I leaned back against the wall. “You?” I gestured with my hands to indicate that it was his turn.
He leaned in. “I want to study all the greats, but I’m unsure how worthwhile it is, given the cost of tuition.”
We introduced each other and shook hands. I asked him if he wanted to become a writer. “Right now, I’m only worried about paying for next semester. I may need another break to save up for it. Work-study isn’t cutting it much.”
I felt shame as I could relate to the uncertainty of college, but had no financial worries. Eventually, his eyes darted away, and he excused himself. I endlessly replayed those minutes of conversation with him in my head throughout the night. Jane squeezed my arm. “The Mountain spoke to you!” The thought of that brief encounter with him swelled within me. I felt I might levitate.
Despite the brief conversation with Theo, my interaction in class remained the same. When I caught up to him to say hello, he only nodded and mentioned an upcoming reading to attend outside of class for extra credit. He said he’d see me later. For the rest of the week, I picked apart and added meaning to that nonchalant, everyday phrase. Those words were currency to me, an investment.
Another weekend, another party with familiar faces that blurred in the haze. We were all part of the same crowd at a different address.
“This is Theo’s house,” Jane yelled into my ear. A thrill enveloped me. After navigating through the house and exchanging greetings with some familiar faces, I accompanied Jane upstairs to the bathroom. While I stood guard at the end of the hallway, I eyed the middle bedroom. A tie-dyed tapestry hung in place of a headboard. A poster of the cosmos adorned the far wall, and the telltale black leather jacket was draped over the desk chair. I retreated at the sound of heavy footsteps on the stairs. Theo emerged and walked into the room but didn’t notice me in the darkened hallway. When Jane opened the bathroom door, the light cast a spotlight on me. Theo turned his head. I instantly felt trapped and caught.
“Hey, you’re here,” he said. “I thought you said you couldn’t make it tonight.”
I glanced at Jane and back at him. The hallway was empty. “When did we talk?”
“A few nights ago, after the reading at Hemingway’s. “We all had dinner and then it was just you and me walking home. Do you remember? We had such a good time.”
My mind offered no words or recollection of this wonderful time he claimed we had. “Remind me what we talked about?” I looked to Jane for answers. She gave me nothing except a light elbow nudge to the arm, goading me to go with it.
“You mentioned how you grew up an only child and invented stories in your room. I’d like to see the book you’re working on.” He smiled and leaned casually against the door frame.
“It’s true. I wrote stories as a kid,” I stammered.
“Let me grab something from my room, and I’ll meet you downstairs.” He jabbed a thumb toward his room. I nodded, and Jane and I headed toward the stairs.
“Jane, did I tell you about this? I would remember a walk with The Mountain!”
“Hey, I’m not your keeper, but you would have told me if you had hung out with him.” She held her hands up in defense, denouncing culpability.
“What do I do? We’ve only exchanged a few words ever, I must have mentioned the books to him at some point. How else would he have that information?”
“Maybe your super self met with him in that alternate universe. Go be your super self. “Don’t miss out on this opportunity from the universe,” she insisted, nudging me downstairs.
Theo bounded down the stairs and walked through the crowd to me. I straightened up and greeted him.
“Shall we?” He extended his elbow, and I hooked my arm with his. I looked over my shoulder at Jane as he escorted me out of the house. Inside, I shook with the electricity of possibility.
We walked away far from the noise of his and other nearby parties. “Now we can talk without screaming. We seemed to have so much in common the other night. The books we’re writing, our backgrounds.”
“Are you first-generation Spanish too?”
“No,” He paused. “Now I don’t remember. But, being only children, writing since childhood, high school loners. You said you would show me your book cover illustrations and manuscript.”
He spoke far more than I expected, considering how quiet and introverted I thought he was. My brain couldn’t think fast enough for a response.
“Your place?” He asked.
“What? So, you can read the manuscript?”
“Yeah. I don’t know many other people writing books.”
“I don’t know. It’s sort of far from here. I’m not ready for anyone to read my writing yet,” I said. It wasn’t ready because it didn’t exist.
“Oh,” he said, sounding defeated.
“What about your book?”
“Like I said before, it’s just recorded interviews and scribbles.”
“That already sounds much farther along than me.”
“You’re the same person I spoke to after the reading, right?”
“I didn’t make it in time,” I admitted.
“But it was you.” He paused and looked through me to determine whether I was a fraud. “You’re not taking anything, are you?”
I shook my head. “Are you?”
“Nothing beyond beer,” Theo said.
He stared at the night sky hoping for a revelation. We had walked a considerable distance and had reached the dorms. It was still early, but I didn’t know what else to discuss. I assumed he was done speaking with me. “Maybe it was my future self.”
“It’s a joke. Everything you mentioned are things I want to do but haven’t done yet. This is my building,” I pointed to my dorm.
“Looks different. The other night it was an apartment.”
“Jane and I have been talking about one.”
“I find this all so strange that I want to believe it,” he admitted. He smiled without showing his teeth. His hands were in his pockets.
“Thank you for walking me. I’m sorry I’m not the person you thought I was. Maybe someday,” I said.
“You’re not the only one,” he said. “I bid you goodnight.” He gave me a slight bow and raised eyebrows in jest. “Let’s get to work so our future selves aren’t lying.”