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A Note for Simon
There he was, Simon Adon, standing in front of the first lecture hall he would ever take a college course at, googly eyes protruding his anxious little skull. He waited there, grey book bag swung over his broad shoulders and glasses twinkling in the sunlight, like the concrete was gluing his shoes into place, not letting him be on time to English 230. But it wasn’t the concrete, it was the apprehensive thoughts of what freshman year could bring -- good and bad -- that kept him from moving. A yelp from who he knew was his friend Po brought him out of his shock.
“Hey man, what are you DO-ing? We’ve got like two minutes until the Professor shuts the doors, c’mon,” exclaimed Po.
Simon’s little haze vanished and he waited for Po to come closer to the concrete steps until continuing through the brass door frame and stepping into an extended hallway with multiple doors on either side. They both bounced from door number to door number until they eventually found their designated hall and walked down into what would be the start of an era to Simon and just another day at University of Illinois to placid Sophomore Po.
Simon sat and listened carefully to the professor’s explanation of the syllabus, checking his watch a few times in anticipation of a lunch break. He was taking a note about the books he would need to buy this semester when out of the corner of his eye, he noticed a small, rose-colored paper folded up in the space below his desk. Curiously, Simon grabbed the note and waited until after class to open it with Po.
Simon read, “Dear Phillip, I’m so glad we’ve reunited after move-in day. I saw you around with Jessica the other day, but didn’t get the chance to say hi. Thanks for showing me around campus and taking me out to eat the other night. Maybe this is too soon and maybe you don’t feel the same way, but I really love spending time with you and I’d like to get to know you more if you’d be up for it,” to Po.
Below the little paragraph of confessions, a number was written along with the name of the smitten writer. Lee Varens. Po thought it was hilarious, stating that a “girl like that ought to crack down and end it all because that boy does NOT like her.” Simon thought it was similarly desperate, but somehow sweet, and ignored Po.
“Well whatever it is, I don’t know how we will ever find her with a campus this big. At least he didn’t get the note, because that would be VERY embarrassing if he did. I wonder what’s so special about this Phillip guy anyways,” Simon explained to a doting Po.
“I’m hungry man, can we please go get some coffee and a sandwich or something?”
Simon rolled his eyes and nodded to Po.
In line at the coffee shop, Simon checked his phone for any updates on Twitter or his Email while Po used the bathroom. The smell of freshly brewed espresso and pastries came flooding to him. He was next in line, and stepped up to order something to eat when he met a gorgeous face with green eyes and red freckles distracting him from what he wanted in the first place. Though he paused and his mouth was certainly gaping at one point, he finished his order and sat down with Po at a booth perpendicular to the coffee counter.
Twiddling his thumbs, he said to Po,
“Don’t look now, but at the counter--”
Po proceeded to look directly where Simon wanted him to avoid,
“my god do you ever listen? Anyways there’s the finest looking red head I’ve ever seen standing there just being all cute. Should I go for it?”
“Yeah, cause I, of all people, would say no to that question, Simon.”
So Simon finished his coffee and went up to the now-clear counter to ask for the girl’s number when her name tag flashed red lights at him. Lee V. His eyes bugged out. That was the girl from the note! How ironic! He didn’t want to stand there looking stupid so he blurted out the question.
“Is-your-name-Lee-Varens-and-did-you-leave-this,” he pulled out the note from his back pocket, “in-Mundy-Lecture-hall-for-Phillip?”
Lee’s green eyes opened wide as she scratched her red hair under the itchy coffee shop cap, seemingly looking for a way to respond. Simon saw her cheeks turned as red as her curls as she reached her hand out to take the note from his hands. She inspected it as if it were a dead animal brought from the road, with a look of disgust shining on her face and the embarrassment exuding through every glance. Lee squeezed her eyes closed and sighed.
“I can explain.”
After sitting down with Lee at one of the nearby tables, Simon had learned that Phillip was a guy she had met while moving in her things and they spent a great few nights out together, but then she didn’t see him much anymore. Lee explained that she “thought he was avoiding” her, and needed to reach out to him some way, so she wrote him the “embarassing, no-good, utterly mortifying” note and ended up there, talking to Simon, about the embarrassing, no-good, utterly mortifying work of lust.
Simon just listened and sipped his slightly sweet, dark roasted coffee, Po long gone, while he admired Lee for a little while. It was a shame that the pretty redhead had a crush already, and since Simon didn’t see himself as very good with picking up girls, this REALLY added onto his self-deprecation. He’d had an afternoon of odd events and didn’t see anything coming out of the note mishap.
But what blossomed from the ginger girl with big green eyes and a hopelessly romantic soul and the smart, shaggy glasses freak in love with books exchanging a few words became the story of an amazing, tragic, bittersweet tale to tell.
Simon and Lee spent afternoons together talking in the quad and studying late at night in the library, where afterwards Simon would walk Lee back to her dorm across campus because it “just wasn’t safe” to walk alone at night as a young teenager in college. Lee always insisted that he had no logic because he too would have to walk his way to his dorm after dropping her off, but Simon continued to be her escort to Jeper Dorms and didn’t say a lick when she complained about it.
Under the shady Main Quad trees, Lee would talk about her life growing up with three sisters and a single-mom and her memories -- the best being the lake parties they threw every year since she was eight. This prompted Simon to make jokes about the whole house being painted pink and glitter-covered with 5 women, which always resulted in Lee giving him a playful punch in the arm, saying that was “sexist, and undeniably unrealistic.” She would describe the lake glistening late at night, and her watching from the bay windows, longing to go out and enjoy the beach and the beautiful Michigan breeze.
Simon listened and engaged every time -- probably because it was his favorite thing to do. He watched as Lee would pull a strand of her scarlett hair behind her ear when she was smiling, it being the blazing orange sun of his world. Or he would look down at her knees instead of up at him when she was embarrassed, and every little thing in between.
These little things Lee did that Simon started to think about even when she wasn’t around compiled into a nexus of colossal attitudes, smiles, and words that he found himself infatuated and intrigued with. He’d wake up and think about the time Lee and him fell asleep at the library and woke up at 10 AM to each other’s confused faces, and he’d even go to class and ponder what could have happened if Lee was never a hopeless romantic who liked to write love notes and leave them under stranger’s desks. But most oftenly, he longed for the times that they were supposed to see each other; his heart skipped a beat knowing he’d be able to bask in her beautiful aura for a few hours.
The connection that formed mutually, though, might have been described as normal for a friendship; they hung out all the time, texted funny pictures, comforted each other when something happened. The only thing that stood in the way frequently was Lee’s obsession with Phillip, the note guy.
Lee dramatically described Phillip as the Prince Charming of UIUC, and Simon rolled his eyes everytime she mentioned it. Phillip and her had gone out a few other nights to the bars, out to the library, and to his dorm, where God knows what happened, but it essentially distracted Lee from responding to Simon’s texts and his presence as her best friend.
This is what got to Simon. He tried to be happy for Lee, despite the small crush for her that he suppressed each time she mentioned her feelings for Phillip (though they weren’t too deep, since Phillip was, well, Phillip) and the bubble in his throat he got when Lee asked about any of his special friends. It was also her ignoring his texts when she was out fraternizing with the pompous prince of UIUC, surrounded in his little cloud of beer and deceit, that Simon found unbearable.
It was a sunny October day and Simon was sitting in English 230 checking his phone every glance he could take. His parents were supposed to be sending him a package of snacks, since for the last two weeks he’d been studying so much that food was the last thing on his mind. The professor wrapped up class early and he finally received a text from the postal system that his package had arrived and was at his mailbox in the mailing center for pickup.
Delighted, big, lanky Simon strutted out of Mundy Hall and towards the big building where all his snacks were waiting for him. The air was poking at him with the Urbana wind, and he hurried a little to avoid literally being swept away with it.
When arrived at the mail center, (and after struggling to open the wind-sealed door), Simon found his package sitting there under his ID number. He smiled a little, because although it was silly, he really needed a piece of his family during this stressful time.
He thought about his sister, Adalee, and the sticker she put on the box with a heart and some kid video game character, and smiled at how geeky she would be someday, just like him. They both used to go to the park when Simon was in highschool and she was in elementary school and play pirate games, while he taught Adalee about the stories of his favorite novels. He missed her alot. He also wondered what she would say about Lee if they met. Maybe he’d call the eighth grader later that night.
After picking up the package, Simon was just about to walk over to the exit and back to his dorm when he saw Lee Varens and the Prince of UIUC hugging in front of the entrance. In a hurry not to get caught, Simon scurried around the corner to spy on them, trying to hide his humongous box in the meantime.
“Oh hell to being creepy,” Simon thought, and watched with cumbersome analysis.
He saw Lee and Phillip talking, Phillip’s hand pulling back an orange curl behind her ear and Lee looking up at him with amiable eyes, and wanted to gag right at that moment. He could hear a snippet of their echoing voices in the mail hall.
“So when should I swing by to pick you up?” said Phillip.
Lee looked hesitant.
“We have open mic night Lee, SAY NO!” thought Simon, struggling to keep his box steady.
“Around seven should be fine, let me just get ready and I’ll text you.”
Lee’s lackadaisical comment made Simon turn back against the wall he was peeking over and sigh, eyes screwed shut. He breathed in and let out a sound of defeat, cheeks turning red, and slouched down the wall with his mighty box. Simon ran his hands through his chocolate hair, feeling every little word of Lee’s stab in to his side.
Open Mic night was their tradition ever since they became friends, and missing one was virtually never an option. They’d listen to poets and singers under the string lights of some campus coffee shop, with the look of teenage faces lighting up at each applause, and never had a bad time. Simon had put up with Lee’s obsession with the junior, Phillip, and his obnoxious blonde hair and muscles and ugly lines about how business was the only major fit for a man for so many months now.
He waited until he heard Lee say goodbye to Phillip and then picked up his cardboard shipping box of snacks and walked back to his room.
Simon snatched his headphones out of the dresser within two minutes of returning to his room and shuffle played his music to distract from his anger. All he could think about is how Phillip tucked Lee’s hair behind her ear -- the hair he loved the tangerine color of, along with the tightness of the ringlets, the way it would stay put even with wind -- and the way she said okay to him when he asked to cancel her and Simon’s plans. He hadn’t even realized she didn’t text him to let him know she wouldn’t be at open mic night, so he whipped an innocent toy basketball against the wall in spite of his wrath. It was childish to be so mad over such a small thing -- friends did this all the time. But Lee wasn’t just his friend. He then realized she was the wild, languid, amiable redhead he had become a smitten teenage boy with, and there was nothing to do about it.
He sat there sulking, wondering what he could do now that he accepted his feelings, but he wasn’t going to pout forever because it was unlikely that Lee would show up and profess her love. The tall, dark haired boy took his jacket and stood to go to exit the dorm room and head to Janey’s Java Shop’s open mic night.
“So what about….these feelings I’ve got…”
Simon sat in a blue beach chair, shoulders slouching while his head tilted and his eyes watched the singer perform valiantly on the small stage. The notes sounded jazzy and rung melodically in his ears. Po was watching attentively next to him, as well as a group of 35 students or more who he usually saw crowd at these events. The setlist for the open mic was pretty dull this evening, but Simon enjoyed the effort put into their show, even if he didn’t have Lee to critique it with.
At the end of the night, Simon had lost Po, so he stepped out onto the street alone, left to his own thoughts. It was chilly and there were a few kids holding their jackets close to them, fighting the early November wind while walking down Green Street.
Simon had just turned the corner when he spotted the one and only Lee Varens walking towards her with the Prince of UIUC. He stopped, hands in his pockets, and contemplated turning around and running towards anywhere that wasn’t where he was at that moment, but Lee had already seen him.
“Hey! Simon! Heeeeeeeeyyyyyy!!!”
He gave her a half smile and proceeded to walk. Lee looked back with her mouth turned down, confused and a little upset. The Prince of UIUC hugged her a frantic goodbye as she hurried to catch up to Simon.
“Hey man, wait up!” she said, her legs slowing down on the concrete sidewalk next to
The boy kept walking, and he didn’t slow down until Lee physically did it for him, grabbing him by the arm and whipping him around. They just looked at each other -- Simon’s face blank and Lee’s full of confusion -- and stood for a few seconds until she spoke again.
“What is up with you? Did something happen?” she said.
“Nothing at all. How about you? Did you have a fun time out with the Prince when
I was enjoying mic night ALONE?” Simon replied with hostility.
She sighed and closed her eyes, something Simon knew she did when she was nervous. He thought she looked so beautiful, eyes closed and mouth crimson as ever.
“I-I thought it wouldn’t matter. You know how much I like Philip, and I thought maybe--”
“I DO know,” interrupted Simon, “I know how you like to look at his shiny forehead and his shiny teeth and god-knows what else is shiny that you like to feel and hear and see, or how you say he is the smartest business major you’ve ever encountered even though you’ve been here for two months and have only talked to ten people in total. I KNOW you like spending time with him at OUR favorite places and doing cheesy things and taking cheesy pictures. But I didn’t know you could flake on your best friend for some guy with the moral deepness of a kiddy pool. I mean, c’mon Lee look at the guy!”
Lee opened her eyes in shock. Simon even was a little surprised at how mad he was, but it was justified and would come out at some point.
“Simon, why are you so upset about it? It was just one time, I’m sorry” she tried.
He attempted to hold everything in, to apologize for raising his voice and go back to laying with Lee under oak trees in the quad and drinking too much espresso at the library and making the lamest jokes ever. In a flood of emotions, Simon took a leap of faith and let it all go.
“Because I LOVE you Lee, and I want to spend every waking minute laughing with you,
loving you and being with you, but you go run off with Phillip and expect me to sit
and watch! I’m sorry. I can’t do that, not for you, not for anyone.”
At this point, Simon was breathless, Lee just standing there with little tears in her eyes. The glow of her hair was like starlight to Simon, but everything else was fuzzy and he needed to get out of there quick.
“Oh Simon, I don’t --” Lee sighed.
Simon didn’t need to hear the rest. He knew what she’d say, and it wasn’t the admittance of love he wanted, so he turned on his heels and walked, leaving her behind. He walked and walked and then ran and ran, until he was sprinting and bolting towards his dorm with a hole in his heart and a girl on his mind.
For a few days after the big night, Simon stayed under the covers. He’d come out to eat or go to the bathroom and occasionally show up to class, but the fear of running into her was too big to overcome.
A blanket of snow had laid itself over campus within two nights, covering the small amount of leaves, still hugging tight to their bare trees, with white crystals. Simon blamed the snow for freezing his heart to stone. Although he put on two jackets and multiple pairs of socks, nothing could warm that endless hole of ice. So he stayed bundled in his bed, watching the flakes fall from the inside and didn’t smile for a week.
The heartbroken boy would replay the moment he told her he loved her, and tried to rid his brain of the memory, but it never seemed to work. The mention of her name stung like a hornet, so Po was subjected to addressing the mishap with a code name.
He cried once. The rarity of tears could be explained by him growing up in a family with masculinity enforced to the core; boys “didn’t cry.” Lee made him feel different, and he started to dwell on missing her.
One Tuesday night, Simon was working on his paper for English and saw an object slip under the door. It was an envelope, yellow like the sun, and addressed to him in a familiar handwriting. It had been three weeks since he saw Lee last, and he avoided her calls that came less and less with the days passed.
He picked up the peculiar thing, felt its slender and soft surface, but hesitated to open it.
“Am I really ready to do this?” he thought.
Simon smiled a little with pride and tore the yellow package open.
“A Note for Simon,
There’s a little farmhouse out in Michigan near where I live, and it’s decorated
with all sorts of paintings done by the local artists. I used to climb to the top deck and watch the sunrise fill the sky. It was my favorite thing to do, and no one ever found the spot and I didn’t want them to. One morning, there was a sunrise so beautiful that I stayed there, just looming over it for a whole two hours until my mom called me to come home.
When I came here, and met you, and you found me through some silly old note, I didn’t think it would be the best thing that could happen to me. You remind me of the farmhouse sunrises. You’ve brought me a joy I never knew I needed. I don’t want anyone to take that away from me, and I know that is selfish.
I also can not give you what you want from me. I love you, but like my best friend. I know that stings, because I’ve been there before, but I miss you and everything crazy you used to tell me about books and your life and anything between the lines.
I’m not asking you to come back to me and hurt yourself more, but I can’t go on without knowing how you are. It’s killing me. I even tried to break my way into your dorm one night but they wouldn’t let me in. Just give me a sign that you’re okay? Please don’t shut me out forever.
Again, I wish the best for you.
Simon folded the note and tucked it under his laptop. He didn’t touch it for months.
Simon finished off the semester without thinking about Lee, and she still tried her best to contact him. He knew he had to do it at some point.
Heartbreak was never easy, and Simon took the entirety of his freshman year to be alright again. The feeling of emptiness and longing for Lee faded, and he actually ran into her at open mic night a few times and had a conversation.
Healing came and presented itself in a note for Simon, and he ran with it again and again.