I was never an advocate of true love; the word was over-used and the idea of willingly giving up everything for one certain person was as insane and frightening as standing on the edge of a cliff with nothing to hold you back but the delicate balance at the balls of your feet.
That is, until I met her, in a room whose vintage wallpapers were starting to show age and tubes mysteriously extended from behind walls and spewed out of machines.
I first saw her one rainy summer's day when volunteering at a hospital and retrieving some paperwork. She lay under a thick teddy bear blanket and her black hair spilled down and around her shoulders, cascading in a messy and knotted current. Her eyelids drooped low, but her eyes were focused on the small television screen that hung from inside a single white cabinet.
Her lips were thin and painted with a natural light coat of pink and my eyes lingered on them as I felt my stomach twist.
I could not help but think that the sun hid behind a curtain of clouds because she brought a warm, yellow light to the otherwise cold room.
It didn't dawn on me, however, that I had stopped short on my long strides to look at her until a hand touched my shoulder and jolted me from the close examination of her square jaw and shy nose that lifted up to the sky.
"Young man, is there something wrong?"
Yes, I wanted to answer at that moment, it seems as if my heart isn't properly working, doctor, but my better judgment urged against it, and so I replied with a brief shake of my head.
"No sir, I just got distracted for a moment."
There was a moment of silence between us before I stole one last look at the girl I had come across. She had turned her attention towards us; our voices must have ratted us out and suddenly I was left looking straight at her. She must have heard what I said and realized that she was the source of such distraction because she smiled faintly towards me.
And I would have stood there all day just if I could have looked at that smile and those eyes but the burning gaze of the adult and her awareness of my presence brought heat to my cheeks and before I knew it, the soles of my old sneakers squeaked away from the entrance.
On my way back she was already looking my way and waved as I walked past.
I had expected for this encounter to go over my head, like with any other case when you forget a beautiful face after your mind begins to think about other things, but it proved to be a failed hope: I was sent to her very room the following day.
One of our jobs throughout the day had been to accompany the patients and play games for however long they wanted to. Or simply talk to them.
At first I had been doubtful as to how things would turn out; she had seen me staring the day before but after thinking about it for the whole night, I didn't regret my actions one bit.
So when they told me to go to room 405, my heart skipped a beat for more than one reason.
Her name was Li, which meant orchid in Chinese, and I told her that my name was Bryan, nothing too unique or different, but she begged to differ.
"Bryan," She repeated, my name escaping her lips and I could not help but feel privileged to have it spoken by such pair of lips.
She was fascinated with my green eyes and I with her brown ones and sometimes our hands sometimes brushed against each other when we passed back and forth a pen during games of tic-tac-toe and we would silently blush.
At some point, she commented on how being confined to this space until they finished her tests was nerve-wracking at times.
And I wanted to take her out, out to a place where fresh air kissed her skin and my lips could kiss hers but I was just a volunteer and I could not take her away. So I pushed opened the window even though we weren't supposed to.
"You'll get in trouble," She had protested but I insisted that I didn't care; after all, it was the first sunny day after a long week.
At the end of the first day when I was instructed to go to another room Li took my wrist and said, "Please come back tomorrow."
So I did.
I came back to her the following day and the day after that and sometimes we made it a game to speak through written conversations or brief glances.
I would sit on an old armchair that I pushed to the edge of her bed and she remained seated most of the time. I stayed the longest I could with her and spoke of whatever came up, or sometimes we just sat there in a silence that became comfortable for the both of us.
Li, among many other things, told me that her favorite color was yellow, that she played the harp, and how the last quarter of the previous year she had gotten a B for her trigonometry class and her parents had flipped out.
"I thought all Asians were mathematicians."
She laughed and shook her head, "Well, then I would be a mathematician and I would be out solving math instead of being here getting ready for a surgery that never seems to come."
Her tone had been light but her eyes dropped down to her hands and she fiddled with the edge of her teddy bear blanket.
Everything is going to be fine, I wanted to tell her, but I knew that it was the last thing she wanted to hear; everyone told her that and while it was true she was sick of those kinds of phrases that were thrown around the hospital halls.
Instead, I reached one and placed him hands on top of hers. They were cold and shaking, nothing like they had been on the previous days.
She said nothing and her eyes widened for a second. I had been ready to pull them back when her fingers laced through mine in a silent approval.
"Do you me mind asking what kind of surgery it is?"
We stood in silence for a while before she spoke again.
"My heart doesn't function properly all the time and blood goes backwards... It had not been anything serious until about a month ago when I began to get strong chest pains more often than usual and dizziness attacks began to happen. I know a lot about it but I don't like to listen to the results."
My chest had tightened because there I was, remembering how my heart had felt as if it had malfunctioned when I first saw her when hers really was.
"Sometimes," Li had continued with a short, broken laugh, "I watch sad movies just so I can cry and pretend that my pain is a result of my emotions."
She shook her head silently and a small smile spread over her face as if she found the thought funny.
"Let's do it, then."
"Let's watch the sappiest movie we can find. I promise I'll cry too."
Li had laughed at that and her eyes narrowed to thin lines and I couldn't help but laugh along.
And so we did watch that sappy movie, and by the end of it tears that pooled in her eyes and flowed down her cheeks shamelessly, and still she had a smile on her face and a fist to her chest.
And I looked at her and didn't stop even when she noticed my gaze on her.
And my own heart hurt at that moment because I could not believe that this girl had a broken heart, and I couldn't believe that somehow she had broken my own to a place of no return and made my body fall forward into the precipice with no distinct ground.
I had lost my balance the moment I saw her face and was hopeless when she began telling me about how she had played a tree in the school play when she was five.
And I could have not been more privileged to have been proved wrong about love by her laugh and her voice and her very presence.
Today, I rest my hand on top of hers and it no longer shakes; I place my head against her chest and her heartbeat is the most beautiful rhythm I have ever heard.
Today, I continue the plunge down and I hope to never hit ground.
YOU ARE READING
Room 405Short Story
The Best Of Me Movie Contest entry about first loves. Bryan never trusted the idea of love (something he believed all sixteen year-old guys agreed on) until he volunteered at a hospital one summer and met Li, a girl whose heart had begun to fail an...