A few months after I met him, things ended pretty badly with Bryan. I spent the following weeks depressed and quiet, unwilling to go to parties for fear of running into him. I heard he was already seeing somebody else, and I didn't think I could bear the thought of seeing them together, whoever she was. Finally, after about a month, I emerged from my shell, fragile and still a little unsettled, but far more composed than I'd been in a while.

It's 8:00 on a Friday night, and I'm sitting cross legged on my bed, l'√Čtranger in one hand, a French-English, English-French dictionary in the other, and a notebook on my lap. I've had a long week, and my way of unwinding is sitting down and slowly translating the French existentialist novel into English. It's a way for me to practice my French, which I stopped taking after high school, and give my mind something to do other than dwell on things that are better left untouched. My phone vibrates next to me. One new message from Rachel. Read. Exit. "Hey, so Nick texted me just now and said they're having a party at their place. Wanna go?" I sit for a moment and stare at the message on my phone. Part of me wants to go, to leave my room for the first time today (I didn't go to class this morning), while the other part just wants to be left alone. I listen to the first one. Reply. "Yeah sure, what time do you wanna head over?" Send. I turn back to my book, but Rachel answers me right away. "I'm thinking around 9? I think Talia from the end of the hall might come with us." Talia? Who the hell is Talia? I close my book and my dictionary and put them both down on the bed. I guess I should probably take a shower. I stand up and walk to the sink, looking at myself in the mirror. My hair is a tangled mess and my eyebrows need tending to. I sigh and grab my shower stuff, a towel, and a pair of squeaky rubber slippers. Time to clean up.

When I get out of the shower, Rachel is back and anxiously rummaging through her wardrobe. Wardrobe. What a strange word. Every time I hear it, I can't help but think back to that book, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. The city of War Drobe in the land of Spare Oom. Or something weird like that. Man, I really used to dig those books.

"What should I wear tonight?" Rachel turns to me as I set my stuff down. She's holding a foofy, girly black halter top in one hand, and a red plaid button-down shirt/skirt/dress thing. I have no idea what either of them would be called by anyone other than me. "See, cuz I'm thinking this one," she flaps the black one in front of my face, "would be super cute, but I wore it last week. And this one," she waves the other, "is new and I could wear my leggings under it."

I look at her for a moment. "Rach, just do what you think is best." I turn away and start to look through my own clothes. It's not so much a matter of what looks good so much as what looks clean.

"You are SO useless. Come on, I need your opinion!" Sometimes I think that the only thing going through her head is what to wear, who to wear it around, and where it'll get her. I like to tell myself it's not true.

"Who is this Talia again? She lives down the hall or something?" I abruptly change the topic.

"Oh yeah! She lives down the hall and around the corner. You've met her, she's the one with the crazy black hair and the cool jewelry."

I look at Rachel. Seriously, I'm beginning to have doubts as to whether she realizes who she's talking to. The cool jewelry? What do I care if she has cool jewelry? I shake my head irritably.

"Okay, so she lives down the hall, has crazy black hair, and wears cool jewelry. Is that it? That's everything I need to know about her?" The sarcasm in my voice is so heavy I'm surprised it doesn't crush her to the ground. Instead, her mind has already wandered and she's picking through her own jewelry.

I don't even bother to ask anything else. I just pull a pair of clean-ish skinny jeans from the pile of clothes pooled in the bottom of my wardrobe and start searching for a shirt. I dig out my favorite one, a Loyal Army brand tee with little planets and stars and spaceships flying all over it, and each one is wearing a goofy little smile. In seconds I'm dressed, and a few minutes later I've got on what little makeup I wear, and I'm even wearing my shoes. Good thing I've still got about half an hour to go. I sit on the floor and fiddle with the tongue of my left shoe. They're the Converse Allstars without the laces, and they're covered in graffiti-esque writing that is somewhat unintelligible. Except for the big yellow letters on the right side of each shoe that say "ZOMBIE." What can I say? I'm a sucker for zombie movies, so when I saw these shoes I pounced on them.

Rachel turns around from applying her makeup in the mirror and looks at me. "That's what you're wearing to the party tonight?" The disbelief in her voice makes me smile inwardly.

"No." I look at her for a second. "I'm also gonna wear my hoodie. Why?"

She just stares at me.

"You're not gonna wear something nice." It was a statement, not a question, so I just shrug. "What happens if you meet a really cute guy?"

I burst out laughing at that. I can't help it, I really can't. She's just so funny sometimes. "If I meet a really cute guy, I'll run back and put on something hot so he'll like me, alright?"

She frowns at me. She just realized I was making fun of her.

"You know, sometimes you can be kind of a bitch. I was just asking." She turns back to the mirror and pulls out her mascara.

Me, a bitch? I'm astonished for a second. She's the one who was asking me if i was going to "wear something nice." I feel irritation and a bit of anger well up inside me, but I push it back down. She and I are just two very different people. Just then, someone knocks on our door. Rachel opens it and suddenly I feel like somebody just invited in a gaggle of geese. The room is filled with giggling and talking, and I look up to see a group of girls from our floor clustered just inside the doorway.

"Oh my God! Your room is so clean!" one of them exclaims, and Rachel beams. She's a neat freak sometimes, and I'm one of the laziest, messiest people I know, so living together can be a strain. I retreat to my bed while the crowd of girls slowly invades my room. I can only assume that this is the group we'll be walking with tonight. I can't wait.

Soon, but not soon enough for my taste, it's 9:00 and the tangle of girls decides to leave. I grab my jacket on the way out and give my room one last, longing look. I should have stayed in tonight. It's going to be a long night.

To my surprise, we drive to the party. Apparently Talia lives just outside Seattle and has a car that she shares with her older sister. Despite that, by the time we get to the party my patience is worn thin. Talia is the only one out of the group that I really don't mind, but she's not exactly winning a prize for it. We walk up to the front porch and there's already so many people there that they're spilling out the front door, down the steps, and onto the lawn. I sit down on the railing of the porch as soon as we arrive. I'm not about to walk into that mess of people they call a party, and besides, plenty of the party is outside anyway. I'm sitting on the railing, nursing a cup of beer that Rachel brought me and staring into its yellow, urine-tinted depths, when it happens. I hear his voice.

"Hey mothafucka, how's it been?" I look up and there he is, standing a few steps down and talking to some scrawny little stoner boy. I glance around, looking for his new girlfriend, and in an instant I spot her standing behind him, her hand clasped in his. Marisa?! The name shoots through my head like a lightning bolt, leaving behind a feeling that's just short of a headache. I thought she said he was "way too drugged out and a total player." Guess he's not too much for her. I look away and try to push back my growing resentment. It leaves behind a dull ache. I can't believe this. I guess I knew he would be here, but to see him in the first fifteen minutes that I'm here? My stomach churns and writhes, and I feel like there's a tangle of snakes trying to crawl up my throat and out my mouth.

Before he can see me, I get up and walk into the house, pushing my way through the crowd until I reach the back door. I can't stand the heat and the noise inside, and the feeling of hundreds of other people's bodies pressing against mine is too much. I open the back door just barely and manage to squeeze through. The backyard is cool and quiet, and there's nobody there. Thank God. I don't know why I come to these things, especially since I don't even like most of people here. I always end up hiding out in the backyard either by myself or with the other stoner kids. I must be a masochist or something. I pull a pack of Marlborough 27's out of my back pocket and light one. I had promised myself I'd quit smoking a few weeks ago, and until now I had been doing pretty well, but tonight is just too much to handle. I'm finally calming down. I didn't realize before how fast my heart was beating, but now that I'm alone in the cool still air, I can almost hear it echoing off the backyard fences.

The door opens and a flood of noise and light hits me in the face. A second later it's closed again, and I'm not alone on the porch. I hear rustling, like paper being crinkled, and then a click. A lighter flicks on and there, standing in front of me, is Josh. He lights a cigarette and leans against the wall of the house. Now that my eyes have adjusted to the dim light, I can see his outline easily, and a tiny beam of light illuminates his right cheek. We stand silently for a moment or two, smoking our cigarettes in peace. I always feel nervous around him, especially since the night he saw me crying outside the dorm. There's just something about him, how he's always so calm and collected, no matter where he is. And his eyes are beautiful.

"Why were you crying that night?" The question is completely unexpected. The sound of his voice in the darkness is so startling that I nearly jump.

"What?" That was stupid. Why did I say "what?" "Oh, um, don't worry about it, it's not important." I can feel the blood rising to my face, and I'm suddenly so glad it's dark.

"It must have been important if you were crying over it." I can't help but love the sound of his voice. It's deep, and it feels like it reverberates in my bones, especially when he talks low and quietly like he is now.

"It...I..." I can't think of anything to say. "I got into a fight with a guy." I hate the way that sounds. I always used to pride myself on not being the kind of girl who would cry over a guy, but hey, I guess I was wrong.

"You must have really liked him." That definitely wasn't the answer I was expecting.

"Yeah. Yeah I guess so. But it turns out we didn't get along nearly as well as I thought we would. But hey, it's done and over with now right? No need to think about it. Him. Whatever, you know what I'm talking about." I put my cigarette to my mouth to stop the flow of idiot words that is pouring out.

Josh just laughs and I feel a flutter in my stomach at the sound. Suddenly, involuntarily, the memory of his concerned look the night he saw me crying comes to mind. That night I felt like I was in a movie, and now that feeling fills me again.

The back door opens and slams against the wall of the house. I step back in surprise and nearly fall backwards down the stairs. To my own embarrassment, I make the squeakiest, girliest noise and reach towards the closest thing. Josh. The next thing I know, I feel the fabric of his jacket against my cheek and my face gets so hot it feels like it's burning. His arm is around my waist and his hand is holding onto my hip. He kept me from falling back and cracking my head open. I am so embarrassed that I want to melt into the ground. Now not only does he think I'm a drama queen, I'm also a klutz.

"Oh! There you are!" I step away from Josh and brush my hair from my face. Rachel is standing in front of us, a little unsteady and obviously drunk. Great. I'm going to have to walk her home like this. "Oops, sorry. Didn't mean to interrupt. We're leaving soon, are you coming?" I want to laugh at the drunken, bleary expression on her face, but I don't.

"Yeah, I'll meet you out front in a couple minutes." The door slams shut after her and I nearly breathe a sigh of relief. Thank God she was too drunk to make any dumb comments.

"I guess we're leaving now. Are you planning on staying or what?" I can't believe I managed to say that without stammering or saying something stupid instead.

"Yeah, I think I'll go back too. This party is too much for me to handle." I smile. He's just as put off by this party as I am. That explains why he came out here at least.

By the time we get to the front of the house, Rachel and the others are crowded on the front lawn. One of the girls we came with is puking on the sidewalk, but at least Rachel is still intact. It turns out that there are too many people to fit in the car, and at least two of us have to walk back.

"I'll walk." Everyone looks at me. "What? I like walking. And the air is nice right now." Silence.

"Well, you can't walk by yourself this late and in this neighborhood. I'll walk with you. That should work, right? Everyone else can ride in the car?" I want to laugh giddily when Josh volunteers to walk with me. It seems too good to be true.

Talia nods finally and takes Rachel's arm. "I'll make sure she makes it back to your room alive." I can't help but smile at Talia. Maybe she's cooler than I thought. At least she's helpful.

Josh and I start walking towards campus. We have to go up a big hill, and by the time we reach the top, we're both exhausted.

"I hate smoking." The words come out sounding like an asthmatic gasp.

Josh laughs and nods in agreement. I think he's too winded to speak. Thank God I'm not the only one.

"At least we're at the top of the hill. Finally. All we have to do now is cruise back down the other side." He takes a deep breath. "Ready?"

I like walking with him, even though we're not really talking that much. It's comfortable. I hate when people can't stand silence. They always assume it's an awkward silence, which just means that they end up talking nonstop about stuff that nobody cares about, even them.

"Have you ever seen the gnome house?" The question takes me by surprise.

"Gnome house? Seriously?"

He looks mischievous and boyish suddenly. "Yeah, it's this weird house that's normal sized, but the doors are tiny and the windows are really low. It's the gnome house."

I can't help but laugh at how proud he is of his little gnome house. "No, I've never even heard of it. Where is this gnome house of yours?"

"It's on the next street, a couple blocks down. You wanna go see it?" I nod.

A few minutes later we're standing in front of the gnome house. "It really is tiny!" I can't believe my eyes. Sure enough, the house looks like it could easily be the home of a large family of gnomes, and the door is definitely less than two inches taller than me. I turn to say something to Josh but the look on his face stops me. It looks like he wants to laugh but he's trying to keep a straight face. He takes a step towards me and then I feel his arm around my waist, his hand pressing gently against the small of my back. Butterflies start fluttering like crazy in my stomach, and I can barely catch my breath. He draws me closer, slowly, and I almost feel like I'm hypnotized. The closer I get, the more the butterflies rage, and when my face is no more than two inches from his, I can smell the faint, clean scent of his cologne. The next thing I know, his lips brush mine and I nearly melt against his body. I put my arms up around his neck and kiss him slowly, relishing the touch of his lips against mine. He has the most beautiful mouth I've ever seen. Or kissed. It tastes faintly like beer and cigarettes, and for some reason I can't think of anything more attractive. His hands move to my hips, pulling me against him, and the stubble on his face pricks my skin as his lips move along my neck. I sigh and put my hands through his soft hair, my fingers tangling in his messy curls.

I didn't bother going back to my room that night. I didn't want to fall asleep to the sound of Rachel's drunken snores, so instead I curled up in bed with Josh. I rested my cheek on his chest and he wrapped his arms around me, cradling my head in the curve of his shoulder and warming me with his body heat. I couldn't sleep at first, but he murmured softly to me until I started to drift off, and just as I slipped into unconsciousness, I felt the touch of his soft lips against my forehead. That night I slept well for the first time in months.