Forbes and Fifth

Until There Was Nothing Left

First came Andrea Lakes. She wandered into my dorm room on move-in day while my siblings were still unpacking my clothes, and my mother still had tears in her eyes. Andrea shook my father’s hand and introduced herself as the girl who would be living across the hall from me. She smiled, and bubblegum-pink lips parted to reveal teeth too perfect to have not been paid for.  

Andrea told me that she had been president of the student council at her high school and was a counselor at Bible camp every summer. She was prom queen, too. She took flyers from every club at our university’s activity fair and dragged me along to a dozen meetings a week.  

I gave her the key to my dorm room, and she gave me the key to hers. Her mother sent her to school with glow-in-the-dark stars from her childhood bedroom—something to make school feel a little more like home. She put them in my room instead, on the drywall ceiling above my bed. I never asked her why. 


Then came Connor Collins. He was Andrea’s friend from high school. They were neighbors and had grown up together, and within a week, the entire floor had bets on how long it would take them to hook up. Neither ever denied it, but to me, it never made much sense.  

Rumor had it that Connor barely passed high school and that he only got into college with a generous donation from his investment banker father. He was the type to deal molly and Adderall in the alleys behind lecture halls. He once tossed a Bible into the flames of the school-wide bonfire as a political statement. Andrea didn’t talk to him for a week after that. I’m still confused about what statement he was trying to make. He told me to fuck off when I asked him.  


For a few months, all three of us hung out with Casey Kourick. Connor dealt acid to her at a sorority formal and declared that night that he was in love. He told everyone she was the best lay he’d ever had. She told everyone who would listen that he had the smallest dick she had ever seen.  

Casey stuck around for a while after that, visiting for movie nights when she could tell her sorority sisters that she was at tutoring. When she was with us, she and Connor never acted like a couple, but they got along like best friends. In public, their torrid love affair played out for anyone and everyone to see. Their final “breakup” was in front of the new law building, and it involved one thrown notebook, a dozen crushed roses, and yelling loud enough for frat row to hear. Casey still came over after, and the thrown notebook quickly became a running joke between her, Connor, and Andrea. I lost touch with both Casey and Connor over the years, just in the way that friendships sometimes fade. I wonder if they’re all still friends. 


Neveah James and Jared Royce sat next to me in my United States history class. They were graduating seniors just trying to complete their last requirements. I was a struggling sophomore trying to figure out what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. 

They were quite the pair, so wrapped up in one another that nothing short of the end of the world could pull them away. There was something about the gravity of their love, the solidity of it, like if I wanted to, I could reach out and touch it, but only once. They had the type of love that I once believed only gave you one chance. Walking back from class one day, when Neveah had a meeting with her advisor, Jared told me that he had started looking at engagement rings.  

I asked him what love felt like, and he told me that he couldn’t explain it. He laughed when he said it and ruffled my hair like a child.  

They graduated the following spring. I never got an invitation to the wedding.  


I met Savannah Reynolds at the airport on the day that Andrea moved away. Savannah was sending her baby brother off to basic training, and my best friend had just moved across the country to transfer to the college of her dreams. Together we drowned our sorrows in whiskey from her passenger seat and weed from her glovebox. I had never smoked before, and I haven’t smoked since. She was the first woman I ever kissed. I was a week from turning twenty, and I felt like fracturing.  


Anita Morales was the treasurer of the student council. She pulled me aside on the sidewalk one day and asked if I was interested in joining student government. I said yes when I didn’t mean it, and I told myself that I only went to the meetings to work up the courage to ask the president to take me off their email list.  

Anita dragged me to karaoke nights every Thursday that first semester of junior year. She used her fake ID to get me so drunk that I would sing Britney Spears on stage in front of dozens of people. She didn’t need to get me drunk to do it. I would have simply sung if she asked. 


Andrea finally visited me in December of our junior year. It had been half a year since I’d seen her in the flesh, but there were dozens of letters and emails scattered between us. I had felt her absence like a missing piece of me, and I felt its return the same. We spent the day in my dorm room, watching old movies and laughing about people from one another’s lives that the other had never met.  

When the time came for her to leave, we found that the road had been snowed in and no cab company we called would come. I offered to let her sleep on my floor, but she somehow ended up in my bed. It was like freshman year again. We were just a little older, a little wiser; I knew a little more about myself than I did then, but it didn’t scare me.  

We had fallen asleep apart, but in the morning, Andrea was curled into my side, breath soft against my neck. I woke up with a flush tracing its way up my face and a swell in my chest that was both terrible and exciting. She woke up with a look of panic, like she experienced the terror more than the excitement.  

Andrea told me that she had to go. The roads weren’t much better, but she insisted that she had to leave. I offered to call her mother, and she looked at me as if I had hit her. She managed to find a cab company who would take her, and she didn’t look at me as we both waited at the curb.  

I watched the car drive away, keeping my eyes on the back of her head through the rearview window. I thought I saw her look back at me, but I long ago decided that that had been a hallucination.  

Andrea emailed a few times after that. She apologized, blaming her quick escape on remembering that she was due to have breakfast with her grandmother. Eventually, I stopped emailing back. I didn’t know what line I’d crossed. All I knew was that I had made it all go bad. If I hurt her again, I would have never forgiven myself. So, I did what hurt both of us less.  


Marissa Michaels approached me in the park on the last warm day of fall. My writing professor had given me the task of going out into the wild and writing down all the conversations that I overheard. He said that my dialogue needed work.  

She walked right up to me and stood in the path of the sun, hands in her pockets, insisting I tell her what I was writing. She said it with a grin on her lips, curiosity tinging in her voice until it rang my head like a bell. I opened my mouth to reply, but my tongue misfired. My brain was consumed by the curve of her full lips and the way the sunlight reflected off her sepia skin. 

“I’m writing about you.”  

I could have written a hundred sonnets about the crook of her eyebrow as she raised it at my reply. And I did.  

She was a welcome fixture in my apartment for that unusually cold winter. I spent my days sitting on the couch with my legs over her lap, fingers toying with the necklace that she had given me for Christmas. I spent my nights awake beside her, staring at a ceiling covered in glow-in-the-dark stars. Some nights I swore they stared back.  

I broke her heart the night of graduation. She asked for her necklace back.  


Carson Polonski was interesting enough, but I never took him up on his offer to go to the bar after work. He was the assistant to the magazine’s editor-in-chief. I was the temp hired as an assistant to the assistant editor of the celebrity gossip section.  

Carson’s desk being next to mine was both a blessing and a curse. It was a blessing in that his constant babbling cut through the dull ache of boredom that terrible job laid deep into my bones. It was a curse in that he babbled about the most annoying things known to man.  

He talked about the ex-girlfriend that dumped him after he kissed her best friend, but he was “completely wasted” at the time when he did it, so he didn’t think she had a right to be mad at all. He talked about hitting his neighbor’s dog with his car and burying it in his backyard before they could notice. He felt bad seeing the missing posters they put up for poor Max every day, but he was already driving on a suspended license, and he couldn’t risk being charged with a hit-and-run. The final straw was when he asked me if lesbians actually scissor.  

The temp agency pulled me shortly after that, and my desk partner at the next job was an old woman named Janice who only talked about her nephew, Ricky.  

There are some days that I miss Carson Polonski. It’s been so quiet lately.  


I saw Connor again on the evening of my mother’s funeral.  

It had been four years since I saw him last, when he stopped by my dorm room the first day of senior year to ask why Andrea said that I never called her anymore. He looked different all those years later, and it wasn’t just the tawny beard and the well-tailored black suit. We went to a bar afterwards, and he bought me whiskey sours to drown away my sorrows.  

He told me that his father cut him off after an arrest for possession in the fall of ’07.  He told me about the six months he spent in jail before his mother called in a favor and got him out on ‘good behavior’ as a goodbye to her only son. He told me about a stint in rehab where his roommate called him a white trash rich kid who was going to die before twenty-five and maybe the world would be better for it. He told me about the same roommate helping him get clean together and giving him a family even better than the one he had lost.  

I asked him if he had talked to her recently. The pity on his face made me sick.  

“You really should call her,” he said, hand on my shoulder in the way I used to do to him whenever someone new broke his heart.  

I made him promise to visit again soon and to bring his husband next time. He kissed me on the forehead before he left, and the old fractures in my heart truly and fully broke.  


She met me at a restaurant on the side road of a small town. My city was only an hour from hers, but we agreed to meet in the middle.  

The last time I saw her, her cheeks still wore baby fat, but on that night in a windy December, she wore her skin like it was made of gold.  

She ordered a red wine that cost as much as a diamond ring. I expected to find one on her left hand, but all I found were the same delicate veins I used to dream about tracing with my fingertips.  

Dinner was pleasant and appropriately cordial. She told me about her new job working for a nonprofit. I told her that my therapist recommended that I start writing down all the people in my life whom I felt like I had let down. I was too much of a people pleaser, he had said, and if I wrote it all down, I might realize that my thoughts were irrational.  

“Well then,” she said, if I would indulge her one last time… 

She asked me to drive her home, and of course I obliged.  

The car ride was short and silent, and when I parked, she didn’t get out of the car. 

“Can I ask you one thing?” she whispered. I couldn’t tell if the light reflected in her ochre eyes was from the moon in the sky or from the streetlights outside.  

I told her that she could.  

“Did it hurt you like it hurt me when I watched you watch me leave?”  

I remembered the last email I sent her. I told her that I forgave her quick departure, and I promised to write again soon. I knew it was a lie when I wrote it. I remembered her eyes as she looked at me from the backseat of that cab, and I remembered feeling like the breath had been stolen from my lungs. I remembered the snowflakes in her hair, standing at my door on that fated December night. I remembered wanting to reach out and put one on my tongue. I remembered watching her plane leave through the tall windows of the airport. I remembered my breath against the glass. I remembered nights in my freshman dorm when she arrived at my door crying from a phone call with her mother. I remembered the shadows on her face as she slept and wanting so desperately to stay in that moment forever. I remembered the glow-in-the-dark stars. 

“Andrea,” I said, leaning across the gear shift to tuck a lock of hair behind her ear. It felt like silk in my hands, the blackness of it stark against the pale expanse of my palm. “You’re the only person I’ve ever loved.”  

In my teenage fantasies, she always kissed like fire, like an exploding star. She had felt like flame dancing down my skin, burning every cell until there was nothing left of me but the love I’d left in her.  

But reality was so much better.  

She kissed like earth, like rain. Like the night sky leading me home, leading me to her.  



Volume 20, Spring 2022