back to school

"the edict the public was given back in march was to go outside," the voice of the director drones over the speakers, and kolya has to fight himself to stay awake. no one signs up for paperwork or boredom in their jobs β€” it's still essential. he's always told himself this. even with the restrictions beginning to lift, however, the meetings are still done by zoom until the week coming up. he has to try his best to stay awake through it all; it was all too important to miss. "that edict, my friends, was not the right one. we have many things in the parks to address now: cleaning up after the public, attempting to meet our needs in the summer, and how to go forward. we still have some time before schools are back in session, and we must address the best way to keep our parks beautiful this year."

the task ahead is more than daunting. kolya knows that for himself, having taken the time when he could to go back to the parks, picking up as much as he could, trying to usher people where people needed to go, attempting to stem some of the damage. some days it had felt fraught, and other days, he didn't possess the capacity to go forward thinking of the future. everything seemed so up in the air, uncertain at the time.

the year had been a ball of frustration, with little relief. relief was on the horizion, and as much as things looked like they might finally get back to normal, their was still a change to adjust to. kolya took his duty to assist seriously. even if his fingers are still idle on the paper before him, tracing that same peak of mountains he'd drawn on monday morning. the lingering taste of cold air lingered in his throat every morning, having to be chased away by the taste of coffee, and the dreams he was having lingered around those snowy peaks.

try as he might, cross referencing himself with maps and idle google searches between tasks, he couldn't place where that mountain range was. nothing seemed close to them, as sometimes he thought they resembled jutting teeth more than a true range. the sky around them, the trees, didn't even make sense either. they seemed almost out of this time, out of this world.

then again.

it was a dream. of course it was.

just in time, he raises his hand, lending his voice to the meeting, "i know we haven't organized ourselves for after school programs as of yet. i think that could be a way to help incentivize clean ups and make it a little easier on ourselves in the long run. the interest in the parks is something we could use in this situation, while we have people's attention."

there are several nods, some rustling of paper. "i can only speak for my park in that respect β€” my staff is willing however, and it could help ease ourselves into our normal education programs. with, er, appropriate precautions."

the director seems to be smiling, her eyes crinkling right at the corners. "that's a good suggestion. could you make us a proposal and submit it within the end of the week, ranger nikolai?"

he doesn't correct her; she's always been one of those with a stickler about nicknames. "yes i can, i'll have it to you early, even."

the rest of the meeting flows in a similar manner, trying to keep up with the needs before them, bracing themselves for what was going on. and still, kolya's hand idly made it's way across the page, still trying to place the mountain range that kept permeating his dreams, trying to see if they were in any way real.


"you don't need me to help you with this course," luna's voice is steady, calm and has that flint of tone that alexander was starting to recognize as an opening silo to an argument. "you haven't opened up that book the entire time you've been here with me."

caught, alexander isn't quite sure how he should respond to this. he keeps looking at luna's hands, poised in front of him perfectly clasped together, not touching the food alexander had ordered a few minutes ago. he feels as if he's been chastised by this man he's looked up to for months, who he followed onto this campus to know better--even if he would never admit such a thing outloud for fear of what it could mean, to admit to that. he swallows, looks up and tries to say something that doesn't feel foolish (luna makes him feel deeply foolish, sometimes)...

and comes up empty. his mouth closes, jaw clenching with the inability to voice what he wanted to say.

luna is patient, saintly almost, with his silence as it stretches onward.

it takes a few more moments of silence until alexander can finally voice, "no. i don't," he looks up fully, still struggling with what precisely he's feeling, sitting here in luna's kitchen, fingers nervously reaching out to start unpacking the chinese food before him. "you're smarter than-- i..." he feels as if there's something just beyond his grasp for what he wants to say, needs to say. he wants to get there, to stop feeling thrust under a spotlight like this.

luna's fingers touch his own on the bag. alexander freezes at the sudden touch. there are a thousand reasons as to why luna would have reached out to deliberately touch him with the first five being the ones that make him uncomfortable, as none of those ideas are something that he thinks luna shares.

and yet, he can't make himself pull away.

Till we're lost in the heat of the moment

whenever alexander mentions the boarding schools he's gone to, there is always an assumption that such places helped to engender a community of brotherhood, understanding and safety. anyone who has actually gone to such schools knows that such an idea is laughable.

for many people, they eventually made it out with friends, connections, rivalries that mattered in the real world, could always be circled back to, and in a manner, could make something of it.

most boys were not alexander, who routinely found himself sneaking off to other places on the grounds to eat his food alone, who kept to himself whenever he could manage, who's one friend lived elsewhere, and who preferred the company of his nanny to his parents' voices over the line interrogating him on grades.

it was all this to say that to have any semblance of kindness or friendship was sparse and lacking. most contact with other boys in the emotional and physical sense, for him were ones laden with tones of annoyance or purely punitive in nature. his roommate bodychecking him roughly in the hallways, the sports he hardly participated in left him bruised, and the visible irritation others had whenever those necessary social engagements happened and alexander, somehow, failed to miss a social cue, or did not understand the joke being said.

to be suddenly touched by luna ibarra, in his kitchen, in a way that does not feel punitive or laced with irritation is strange. stranger still is that there is a yearning alexander finds in those moments before he bolts from the apartment. a yearning to have that touch spread, to have it linger in a longer way than the few moments he was permitted there, to have a true sense of... of something he has no name for.

So draw me close

two days pass between the hasty retreat. luna texts him, emails him. alexander ignores it, tries to actually pay attention to the course laid out for him. he feels however, his mind starting to wander every few pages. he thinks about what he's left there, about the warmth of luna's hands on his in that moment, on how much he had wanted from it. the words, the emotions are still there, at the very edge of his mind, sitting there, wanting to be understood.

worse, really, is that he misses luna. it isn't the same thing as missing other friends, as missing his parents or missing anything else. it is deeper than that, sticks in the craw of his mind in a way that he can't dismiss the same or push down like anything else.

so when, on day three, luna sends him another text, asking him to meet him for lunch, alexander says yes.

when luna asks him if they are still friends, alexander says yes.

and when luna asks him if he wants to leave for awhile, to make up for time, alexander says yes.