The first time they talked, it was four in the afternoon. He told her about his ex-girlfriend. She had a couple of flings during the past summer but, for the sake of appearing naive and innocent, she told him that she didn’t really care about boys. They leaned against the fifth floor railing, facing the quadrangle, not looking at each other while they talked. He looked uncomfortable in his button-up shirt with an ironed collar. She thought he looked cultured and uncomplicated. He, too, thought she looked cultured and uncomplicated, but only because her blouse was properly tucked and she wasn’t wearing make-up like all the other girls were. He didn’t know that she was running late that morning and didn’t have time to put on her usual layers of powder and blush and lipstick. She didn’t wear make-up again from that day on.
The first time they talked, they discovered that they were nothing alike. He lit the fire of life and it was burning bright. He broke up with his girlfriend of four years, packed up, went, and lived on without regret. He spoke quietly and was genuine with his words. His shirts were always pressed, his pants never wrinkled. He smiled with his eyes. She, on hell’s hand, was a dying light. She had on a permanent frown (resting bitch face, to put it colloquially) and habitually pursed her lips as if a cigarette was wedged in between them. She cursed a lot. He flinched when she did. She thought he was too soft. He knew she was only sad.
The first time they talked, they thought it was the only time they would get to talk. It wasn’t. They talked a few more times. (She tells her friends exciting stories about him, just because he’s neutral ground and they never got to meet him. None of the stories are true. She isn’t brave enough to admit that.) She doesn’t remember. Neither does he. The lone tree in the open field, the headquarters of the school paper, and the small corridor east of the third floor remember for them.
The first time they talked, they skipped class – she didn’t feel like listening about economics and taxation; he didn’t feel like teaching. The fifth floor was wide and the halls were empty (except for the two people leaning against the railing). It didn’t look scandalous. They looked exactly how they were supposed to look – a young teacher and his student.
The first time they talked, he was a substitute teacher for economics. He taught world history. He was shaky and doubtful and acted like it was his first year of teaching (and it was). She noticed but didn’t say anything. She didn’t have the brain for economics, anyway. There wasn’t a lecture about mark-ups and opportunity cost and supply and demand, but she learned some anyway. She learned that people have unlimited needs and wants, that resources are scarce, and that people can’t have what they’re not willing to give.
The first time they talked, she fell in love with him. Predictable. It was her first time falling in love. It took a while for her to realize what that foreign feeling was. She didn’t mean to and she didn’t want to but, in later years, she learned that her heart isn’t something she can control. She learned that she wasn’t in a soap opera – her feelings cannot be unwritten, his feelings cannot be written. Her stomach clenched every time she thought about it and, the more she thought about it, the more she became confused. Suddenly, days didn’t seem drab. She began talking a lot less carefully and the creases that formed where her eyebrows furrowed turned smooth and eventually invisible. One day, she caught herself saying “I’m okay”. She was taken aback but, at that point, she wasn’t confused anymore.
The first time they talked, he saw her as just another student. And that’s all he ever thought of her.
The first time they talked, she recalls, was eight years ago. They never talked much after that. They didn’t talk enough to become friends. She was too insecure to start conversations (maybe that’s why she grew up suave and easygoing). He never knew what she felt. He didn’t have to know. She shouldn’t have felt anything in the first place.
The first time they talked, she was fifteen. She wasn’t supposed to fall in love. But she did. In fact, the first time she fell in love was also the last time. She will love again someday, but not yet. They told her it doesn’t count if she wasn’t loved in return. She believed them for a while but, soon, she realized that he didn’t have to love her for her to want to love him.
The first time they talked, he was a lot younger than he is now. He hasn’t seen her in seven years. He hasn’t thought about her in seven years. She still thinks about him everyday. She remembers the first time they talked – he had told her about his ex-girlfriend, the one he broke up with because he was running off to the seminary, because he was fueling his fire. He’s a priest now. One of these days, she’s going to get on a bus to hear him say mass. She doubts that he remembers anything about her. He doesn’t know what she grew up to become. She doesn’t mind.
The first time they talked, it was a warm day. They both remember that part. Somehow.