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My Beating Heart

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When you fall like a statue
I'm gon' be there to catch you
Put you on your feet, you on your feet
And if your well is empty
Not a thing will prevent me
Tell me what you need, what do you need

I surrender honestly
You've always done the same for me

So I would do it for you

-Phillip Phillips, (Gone, Gone, Gone)


There aren’t really any good opening statements for this story.
No riveting first words, no “attention-grabbers”…
But it’s still an important story to me. It’s essential to every piece of me that I am today. This is the story of how my life quickly became so helplessly entwined with the life of the closest friend I‘ve ever had.
And this may sound ridiculous…
But this is the story of how I offered up my beating heart to Jean Kirschtein.

                I can’t say the beginning was really that spectacular, either. I was just a freshman in college at Trost University, barely able to find my way from class to class. I didn’t know anyone. That’s right- I knew absolutely no one. I didn’t even have a roommate- the one I’d been assigned had transferred to a different dorm on move-in day.

So there I was, dawdling along with a campus map in one hand, my class schedule in the other, and my eyes were trained on the map when something hard slammed into my shoulder, spinning me around.
“Shit!” he hissed, and I found myself staring at a thin, tan-haired young man, a venomous scowl sliding acidly across his features as he stared back at me. “Watch it!” he grumbled, rubbing his shoulder with his free hand; the other held a steaming Starbucks cup. The guy looked as though he wasn’t someone you wanted to mess with prior to him getting his caffeine (this later proved true), and I’m not the kind of person to instigate a fight, so I backed away and squeaked out an apology. I may have been a few inches taller than him, but I was pretty sure he could take me on regardless.

He mumbled a “whatever” and went on his way, and that was that. I made sure to be more careful and pay attention to where I was going from then on.

                The rest of that week went on without a hitch. And by “without a hitch”, I mean aside from the usual college freshman problems. I struggled to find my way to my classes, and even showed up late to some. I still hadn’t been assigned a roommate, and to be honest, unless someone who had been assigned a different building decided to transfer to Sina, I wouldn’t get one. Most other people would kill to have their own room to themselves and no roommate to share it with, but for me, it was pretty lonely. It meant that I had the whole flat screen TV that my parents had bought and mounted on my wall to myself. Which wasn’t so bad I guess… but still lonely. And whenever I went out to eat, it was on my own. I felt incredibly homesick around mealtimes. But other than that, things went along smoothly. 

It wasn’t until the next Monday, exactly one week from the coffee guy incident, that I noticed…
The thin, tan-haired young man with the coffee? He was in my astronomy class.

During a brief pause in the lecture, I had taken the opportunity to look up from my notes and glance around the lecture hall… and there he was. One row in front of me, two seats to the left. I found myself transfixed by him, my wandering eyes settling comfortably on the form of his bony shoulders, a thin gray jacket hanging off of them. My gaze slid over the side of his face that was visible from that particular angle, and I found myself admiring his jagged features. He had a strong, sharp jaw, and his nose was prominent, pointed… I couldn’t see his eyes very well, but his thin eyebrows were furrowed as he glowered down at the notes he was writing, long and lithe fingers gripping his pen hard as he scribbled haphazardly across the paper.
I couldn’t help but smile softly at his harsh scowl… maybe he just naturally wore a foul expression all the time. That assumption made me feel a heck-of-a-lot better about bumping into him the week before. He probably hadn’t been as pissed off as he had seemed… right?
Unwilling to consider the more negative possibilities of last week’s screw up, I quickly returned my attention to my notes. However, the sight of the thin and tan-haired guy became a frequent distraction throughout the rest of that lecture.
And the lecture after that.
And the lecture after that.
And the lecture after that.
For the next few weeks, actually.

It wasn’t that I had a thing for this random guy that I’d managed to piss off on the first day of school… it was something else. I hardly ever even spared a thought for the guy outside of class, if I’m being honest. My fascination with him remained confined to that room. But I was never certain what pulled me to him in the first place, what it was about him that fascinated me so much, only that it was something inexplicable… unexplainable. Stealing small glances at him over the course of the following weeks, I began to learn more about him: small details, pointless tidbits, strange quirks of his… and with each new discovery, I’d find myself more interested than before, falling deeper and deeper into my own curiosity.

                For example, every now and then, when he used a pencil instead of his usual pen, he’d subconsciously chew the eraser off. On these rare occasions, I could barely contain my laughter when his teeth would collide with the metal of the pencil and his face would contort into something that could only ever be described as ‘sour disgust’.

I also found out that he didn’t always scowl. Mostly when he was concentrating. Rather, whenever he looked up from his notes to stare up at the professor, his expression turned soft, wide-eyed and earnest… his jaw would relax and his brows would unfurrow, and seeing him like that made me think that hey, maybe he wasn’t a completely scary person.
Not that I was scared of him.
More like… “apprehensive”. With a dash of “intimidated”.
Which is actually pretty ridiculous, considering I’d seen him balancing his writing utensils on his upper lip and glaring down at his notes with the most serious expression on multiple occasions. I often wonder how I could ever take such a dork so seriously.

But from what I could tell, with how studiously he took notes, and from that first awful encounter on the first day, he seemed to be a pretty serious person. So maybe he was a complete dork on accident. Even better.

Everything from him scratching at his scalp with his pen to stretching and arching his back in his seat to hunching over with his chin resting in his palm was an absolute treat to me. He eventually became one of the more interesting aspects of astronomy for me, and I didn’t even know his name.

But one day, in the first week of October, the nameless man didn’t show up to class. It struck me as a bit odd (I mentioned he was studious), and I was somewhat disappointed that my distraction wasn’t there that day, but other than that, he didn’t cross my mind too much. It was a Monday after all, and we had astronomy every weekday except Fridays, so I fully expected to see him the next day, same as usual. He’d probably just slept in on accident.
Except he was absent the next day as well.
Puzzled and a bit concerned, I glanced around the lecture hall, and strangely enough, found it to be rather vacant.

“Psst… hey!”
I turned to my right to see a short bald guy waving at me a few seats down, trying to catch my attention.
“Looks like we’re among the survivors of the zombie apocalypse, huh?” he laughed.
“A-apocalypse!?” What was he talking about?
“Calm down, man, it’s a joke. I’m pretty sure everyone’s just got the flu. It always goes around this time of year, y’know?”
“Oh…” I relaxed a bit, my eyes wandering back to the empty seat where he usually sat. So that was it: the flu.
Grinning, I turned back to the short guy and said, “We’re probably next then.”
He grimaced, shaking his head. “Dear god, I hope not. I dunno ‘bout you, but I sure as hell don’t plan on getting sick.”

The professor began his lecture right then, ancient voice wavering feebly and ricocheting off the walls of the half-empty room, so we both turned our attention to the front and didn’t talk after that. But I found myself hoping throughout that lecture that my distraction would get better and be back soon.

Sure enough, the next day, there he was.
Although not in the best condition, I might add. From where I sat, I could clearly see that his skin looked sallow, dark circles under his eyes making him look as though he’d stared into the face of death itself. His pointy nose was bright red as well, and I felt so bad for him… he looked miserable. He could barely even take notes, his eyes watered up so much, and judging from his sniffles, he had a runny nose. His coughs sounded awful as well. By the end of that day’s lecture, I wanted to roll him up in a blanket, shove some Nyquil down his pathetic throat, and not let him return to classes until he was better. Of course, I refrained.

Rather, something else happened.
As in, yes, something actually happened after that lecture.
This isn’t a story all about me stalking a stranger I don’t even know, after all.

I was slipping my notebook and pen into my backpack as most of the other students made their way around me, mulling over my options for lunch, when I felt a pair of eyes on me. When I looked up, two of the brightest amber eyes I’d ever seen were staring back. I froze.
It was almost as though I thought that if I didn’t move, he wouldn’t see me.
He did, in case you were wondering.

“Do I know you from somewhere?”
I could feel my heart slam up into my throat. Had he realized I’d been watching him that day!? I’m not a creeper, I swear! I thought. Trying to blow it off, I sat up and smiled innocently at him, though I wasn’t quite able to meet his eyes.
“Eh, yeah, sort of… I bumped into you on the first day of classes,” I told him sheepishly. I didn’t want to remind him of that, but it was much better than saying something like, “Oh, so you noticed I’ve been watching you? Yeah, you don’t know me from anywhere else, I’m just obsessed with staring at you is all, no big deal.”

“No, I mean before that,” he said, clearing his throat and sniffling.
That caught me off-guard. I didn’t think so…? I mean, it’d be great if he had, that might actually explain my uncanny fascination with the guy, but…
“I’m afraid not…”
His expression hardened again as his eyes narrowed a bit, and I found myself holding my breath until I realized that he’d just been focusing on me and probably trying to determine if he’s seen me before.

“Sorry then,” he apologized, “You just seem really familiar.”
“Oh, no problem! That kind of thing happens to me all the time,” I lied.
He let out a sneeze and rubbed his nose, then said, “I was kinda hopin’ we’d already met… that way it wouldn’t be so weird of me to ask if I can maybe see your notes from the past two days.”

It took me a second to realize what he was saying, but when I did, I chuckled quietly.
“If that’s all, then sure, you can borrow them.”
The guy blinked. “Really? You don’t even know me…”
But it was too late, I was already pulling my little black notebook back out of my bag, thinking, I have been watching you like a weirdo for the past month and a half, so it’s the least I can do. But I didn’t say that. Instead, what came out was, “Do I have to?”
“…Are you just that nice of a person?”
“I try to be.”
He raised an eyebrow. “You seem like a huge push-over,” he quipped.
“Gee, thanks,” I said sarcastically, “That really makes me want to let you see my notes.”
“Ah! Hey now, I’m just calling it like I see it.”
“Uh-huh,” I muttered, flipping open to Monday’s notes. And I was about to hand them to him, except…

Looking over my notes right then… well…

“What is it?” he asked.
"It’s just… eurgh. There’s a bunch in here that needs a lot of explaining…” I looked up at him. “When do you have class next?”
“I don’t have another class until 2:30,” he said.
I frowned down at my notes again before saying, “Got any plans for lunch?”
There was a pause, and he didn’t say anything, so I hurriedly stammered, “I-it’s just so I can explain what you don’t understand, th-that’s all…”
He smiled wryly then. “You really like to go all out, yeah?”
“You want me to show you my notes, or not?” I huffed, his cocky grin somehow managing to pull a tiny smile out of me.

“Yeah, yeah,” he said, making his way out from the cramped auditorium chairs, and I picked up my bag and followed him, watching the way his lanky legs moved. Skinny jeans suit him well, I thought. Once outside the empty lecture hall, he stopped, and I hurriedly returned my gaze to his face.

“What’s your name, by the way?” he asked, turning.
“Oh, yeah… I’m Marco,” I told him. “What about you?”
“My name’s Jean.”
Jean…. So that was the name of the guy I’d shamelessly spied on from behind for a month and a half. Good to know.
“Jsh-ahn,” I repeated, marveling that a name with such soft consonances and vowels belonged to someone with a personality so brash. “French?”

He stared at me for a long moment, and I thought I’d maybe said something wrong, but then he said, “Yeah… A-anyway, where do you wanna eat? I usually just go to one of the dining halls for lunch.”
“Me too,” I murmured. “Guess it’s decided, huh?” I tossed him my notebook then and walked ahead of him, exiting the building into the almost-noonday sun with Jean on my heels. We headed off in the general direction of the nearest dining hall, weaving through crowds of college students.

There were a few times where I was sure I’d lost him, but a cough or a sneeze always alerted me of his whereabouts. When we were in the clear, further away from the busier part of campus, Jean slowed down considerably.
Peeking over my shoulder, I saw that he’d opened up my notebook, flipped to Monday’s notes and was staring down intently at them, all while walking.

“The fuck is with the greek letters?” he said.
“There’s a key and some formulas in the top right corner,” I told him, resisting the urge to laugh as his thin legs stumbled into each other a bit. After a minute or two of more walking, I chanced a second glance back and found him squinting even harder at the notebook.

“You weren’t fucking kidding… I still don’t understand,” he mumbled.
“Told you.” I took a sharp left, and when Jean continued going straight with his eyes glued to my notes, I’d had to catch his attention with a, “Hey! Jean, this way!”
He scowled harder after that, cheeks slightly pink beneath its sickly-pale complexion, but he tucked my notebook under his arm and made sure to pay better attention.

“…and remember, you need to find the change in the wavelength first.”
“And that’s delta lambda?”
I sipped my pepsi as I watched Jean work out a practice problem, my plate having been long-since cleared.
“Oh, wait… once you find the radial velocity, you divide it by the speed of light, remember?” I leaned across the table between us to point at my notes.
“That’s the c in the formula…”
“Yeah! Aaaannd… you’re done!” I smiled over at him encouragingly.
Jean sat back, rubbing at his temple. “Radial velocity is shit,” he grumbled, and I laughed.
“You’re telling me,” I agreed.

“Hey Marco.”
“Thanks… I’d be completely screwed without your help.”
“No problem,” I said, watching as he pulled his phone out to snap a few pictures of my notes. “It’s just that…”
“What?” he stuffed his phone back into his pocket and frowned up at me.
“You could have stood to miss another day of class. You’re sick as a dog.”
As if to prove my point, he erupted into a coughing fit.

He coughed for two straight minutes until I ran off to get him another glass of water, which he gratefully sucked down.
“Uh-uh”, he finally managed. “I can’t miss any more classes. I've had plenty of recovery time. I’m lost enough after just two days!”
I cocked my head at him questioningly.
Was lost enough after just two days,” he corrected, and I grinned appreciatively.
“Okay, true, but you’re just helping to spread the flu by walking around like this.”
“I don’t get close enough to people on a daily basis to spread it,” was his excuse.
I raised my eyebrows pointedly, and he spluttered, “I-shit. If you get sick because of me, I’ll make it up to you, I swear!”
I laughed. “Don’t worry,” I told him. “I have a really strong immune system, so I doubt I’ll get sick.”
Jean just stared at me skeptically over his cup as he downed the rest of his drink.
                An uproar of laughter erupted at a table behind me, making me jump a bit in surprise. “They’re showing ‘The Conjuring’ tonight at the student theater, man, you gotta go!” someone at the table shouted.
Across from me, Jean leaned to the left to peek around me at the loud table, then slunk back in his chair and rested his chin in his palm, elbow placed on the table.

“It is Halloween season, isn’t it,” I wondered out loud, then said to Jean, “You plan on going to see any of the scary movies this month?”
He shook his head vehemently. “Oh hell no.”
“Not a fan of scary movies?” I grinned.

“Don’t you know? Jean hates scary movies! He pisses himself and screams like a little girl.” I turned to the where the voice was coming from, and it was the short mixed kid from astronomy at the table behind me.

“CONNIE!” Jean shouted, and the entire table broke out into laughter once again.
The bald guy- whose name was Connie- got up and walked over to our table, smiling cheekily.
“Ah, hey!” he said to me, “So you’ve met Jean.”
Jean glared between Connie and me. “You two know each other?”
“No,” Connie said. “Well, sort of. We were just talking yesterday about how we’d survived the flu epidemic so far. Not all of us can count ourselves as lucky, huh?”
“Shut up,” Jean sighed, sniffling as if on cue.
Connie turned to me. “I don’t even know your name, man.”
“I’m Marco.”
“Alright, Marco, I’m Connie. You’re welcome to join us for ‘The Conjuring’ tonight, since Jean sure as hell won’t,” he offered.
I laughed. “Thanks, but I’m good. I’ve got a lot of homework to do,” I lied. To be entirely honest, leaving my room for a night would be a welcome change of pace… sitting in my room has been awfully lonely. But I didn’t really know Connie and his friends that well, and I would feel uncomfortable if I went with a group of strangers who were all already friends.

“Alright. Well, if you change your mind, we’ll all be in the student theater tonight! See you guys later.” I waved to him as he went back to his table. Jean snorted derisively.

“Friend of yours?” I wondered.
“Sort of… he’s one of my roommates.”
I frowned. “Do you not like him?”
“Huh?” he said, nasally. “No, he’s fine. I mean, he has his annoying moments, yeah, and he’s tough to take seriously at times, but we get along ok… which is more than I can say for most. Why?”
“Um, nothing.” I pulled out my phone to check the time. “Oh!” It was 12:45.
“What is it?”
“I’ve got class in 15 minutes, I’ve gotta take off.”
Jean slid my notebook across the table to me, and I placed it back in my bag before slinging it over my shoulder. I hesitated to get up, though.
Jean frowned quizzically at me. And I was nervous about asking this, but… now was my chance.

“Hey, Jean?”
“You wouldn’t mind if I asked you for your number, would you?”
I expected him to ask why, and I had no answer for that question, but-
“Yeah, why not?”

I could only shrug, and we quickly exchanged numbers before I had to run to my next class. I wasn’t sure why, but having successfully gotten Jean’s number filled me with a strange sense of accomplishment. I walked to class with a new spring in my step.

That evening, as I slumped at my desk and attempted to finish my homework by lamplight, my mind kept replaying that day’s events, particularly lunch with Jean, and every time it did, a silly grin appeared mysteriously on my face. Had it really been that long since I’d successfully socialized with someone? I mean, I had plenty of friends back home who missed me, and phone calls from my family came at least twice a week…
But I was still so lonely. Incredibly lonely.
I was even all alone in my room.

I guess that’s just what happens when one doesn’t get involved with campus life.
No clubs interested me, I didn’t particularly like the idea of joining a fraternity, and I wasn’t very religious, so I ruled out campus ministries.
Oh well. I’d just shrugged my shoulders and thought I’d make friends some other way. I’d been wrong, apparently.

So, the prospect of calling Jean my ‘new friend’ filled my stomach with butterflies. Who’d have thought that I’d be able to get along so incredibly well with the guy I’d happened to stare at for the past several weeks?

I really enjoyed Jean. He was smart, and snarky, and even though he probably didn’t know it, a huge dork. Even though he might seem mean or rude at first, he was actually pretty nice. He just… I don’t know. Wasn’t afraid to speak his mind. And I really liked that about him.

Sighing and grinning stupidly, I pulled out my phone and scrolled through my contacts until I saw his name. ‘Jean. I had to resist the urge to send him a text right then.
I hoped I’d get another chance to talk to him soon.

Lo and behold, the chance presented itself the following morning.
The second I swung out of bed (narrowly avoiding slamming my head against the vacant top bunk above me like always), my skull throbbed painfully with each rush of my pulse, and I dove for the trash can. It was filled with regurgitated stomach fluids and liquefied food in seconds.

In case you were wondering, I decided to not go to class that day. Hacking up phlegm and shaking uncontrollably, I rolled back up in my blankets and went to bed. Except I couldn’t quite get back to sleep, so I just sort of laid there and coughed into my pillow for the next hour or so. Jean, you son of a bitch, I thought, glaring at my phone from across the room; it was sitting on my desk, charging. I was much too sick and lazy to hobble across the cold floor to where it sat, even though I desperately wanted to tell Jean off for getting me so horribly sick. He'd probably guess what'd happened once he got to class and saw that I wasn't there, anyway.
Bzzt. Bzzt.
Two vibrations. A text.
Instead of actually getting up out of bed, I just sort of… rolled onto the floor, still in my blanket, and inch-wormed my way to my desk. Once there, my hand shot up and I groped along the desk’s surface until I located my phone.

(1) New Message.

Guess who?

From: Jean
tell me ur not

I smiled-sneezed-and smiled again. Laying there on the cold wooden floor, I snuggled deeper into my blanket and typed a reply.

To: Jean
How are you going to make this up to me, Jean?

His response came not even 20 seconds later.

From: Jean
“rly strong immune system” my ass

I laughed at that, but laughing only hurt my head and made me cough more.

To: Jean
Yeah… this is awful. :(

From: Jean
aw man, i am so so fucking srry. what can i do to make it up to u?

I grinned mischievously. Hmmm, so now I had Jean in my debt, did I? Perfect.

To: Jean
Soup and a movie.

From: Jean
soup AND a movie?

To: Jean
I’ve already got the movie right here, you just have to watch it with me. But I could really use some soup… I don’t quite feel like going out and getting it myself. :(

From: Jean
i see. ur even treating me to a movie? i shuld start owing u things more often. Ill bring u ur soup later tonite then. hows 7:30 sound?

To: Jean
That sounds great!
Oh… and Jean?

From: Jean

To: Jean
It’s a scary movie. :)

Holding in my giggles as I pressed ‘send’ was hard enough, so when his response came, I burst out laughing.

From: Jean

To: Jean

From: Jean
dont u “hehe” me, u little shit! im not agreeing to tht, fuck tht noise

I sighed.

To: Jean
But Jean! You owe me! I feel terrible and I could really use the company… :( Please?

From: Jean
just the soup isnt enough?

To: Jean
No. :(

I had to lay the frownies on extra thick. His reply this time took five whole minutes.

From: Jean

I squirmed happily in my blanket-burrito on the floor.

To: Jean
Yaaaaay. See you at 7:30! I live in Sina 323. :)

From: Jean