Beautiful Scars

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Dean Ross and his walker stood before the Eastern dorms, a decrepit building of worn bricks and darkened windows. It was in rough shape forty years ago when Dean first entered college, but now it was to the point of frightening decay. According to the school's policy, the building was a death trap that required immediate destruction. Destruction. The imbeciles at Dean's alma mater were planning to demolish the landmark of his first love, and there was nothing he could do about it.

He wanted to protest, of course, but he was too old for such nonsense. Instead, he was delivered by his eldest son to say goodbye, one last time. Dean shuffled toward the building, grunting in ways his young self never feared possible. The front door was ajar with only a strip of caution tape blocking Dean from the best four years of his mediocre life. He batted the warning away and wrestled his walker through the door. The building's smell was just as he remembered: an odd combination of sweaty feet, rotten food, and weak air freshener.

Over forty years ago, part of that odor derived from Dean's own feet, which rested in old cleats that he wore every day for good luck. His elderly bones struggled through the door that his young self once bounded through, back when he was a college kid in a real college dorm with real college girls.

Old Dean smiled at the memory. He closed his eyes and imagined himself sprinting through the halls and bursting into room 410. Now that he was old with a fake hip and prematurely weathered bones, Dean took nearly five times as long to reach that blasted 410. It, like all the others, stood with its door open, exposing the most beautifully ruined room a person had ever seen. The walls were more yellow than white, the floor more stain than carpet, and the window more streak than glass. Dean barely noticed the new scars of his dorm room-he was too busy searching for his.

He ticked them off one at a time: a blue handprint, two sharpied notes, three pink stains, and one dented door frame. Every bruise was there, and looking at them brought strange pangs to Dean's chest-pangs he hadn't felt for a long time. The scars were lyrics to a complicated love, one so rich and deep, it was too much for any two humans to bear.

Dean tipped his head toward the ceiling. The blue handprint was hard to see, but it was still there. Faded and thin, it was the green light to Dean's first love, the beginning note to his favorite song.

The girl's name was Eleanor Watson, which according to Dean, was the most beautiful name to ever touch his lips. They shared a literature course, where Dean studied her, rather than his notes. The dark-haired beauty was a firebomb if he'd ever seen one. Her lips were red and quirked in a way that suggested she had a biting remark always ready on her tongue. And though she didn't talk much during class discussion, something about the heavy set of her eyes told Dean she was the smartest person in the room.

He tried countless times to initiate a conversation, but it wasn't until an athletic fundraiser that Dean finally got the nerve. Eleanor sat at a face-painting booth for the diving team, only a few stands down from Dean's soccer one. He was supposed to run the dunk tank, but there was no way to focus with Eleanor so nearby.

"One painted hand, please," he said, striding over with feigned confidence.

"You want me to paint a hand on your face?" Eleanor asked, arching a perfect eyebrow. There it was, that sharp tongue already teasing him.

"No," he said, giving her a wide grin. "I'm supposed to look presentable for the soccer team, but I can't pass up a pretty girl with a paintbrush."

"Is that so?"

"That's so," he confirmed.

"Well all right then," she said, a mysterious smile playing her red lips. She grabbed a tube of paint, gently spread Dean's fingers, and piled enough blue goop in his palm to cover his entire arm.

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