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We sat in a row on the ground in the backyard of someone’s house at someone’s halloween party. We were watching two costumed people fight with fake swords — I think the female version of John Snow won in the end, somehow; I’m not sure how you win a fake fight.

The backyard belonged to a house that belonged to a group of college students — anyway maybe that explains why the backyard was only patches of grass and the ground was mostly scraggly dirt, large rocks, a spare desk chair, and an old couch that everyone was avoiding. Most people were standing anyway, looped into circles of hand-made-costumed art majors waving clear plastic cups full of questionable mixed drinks around in the air as they spoke. My little group — three girls sitting on a row of lumpy rocks — cycled between watching the sword fight, chatting, and gazing around at other people.

I was in town from out of state, visiting my friend in her city for the second time in as many months. It was November 1st, and I had just  Mega-Bussed my way south for 8 hours, Halloween costume shoved into my backpack.

As we sat in our little artsy row, another person came to join us. And his costume was confusing but very good and I had to ask him what it all meant and sometimes that’s the way homemade costumes and art both are.  And the four of us continued the chatting and watching and gazing cycle. And really it’s not entirely true that my friend was the only person I knew at the party, because I had met this boy before, a month earlier, during my first visit to the city.

The rest of the party happened and then ended, after John Snow won the fight and we all got up from the rocky, dirty, chair-y backyard and danced in the room that is usually the dining room and drank more questionable drinks made by two college kids dressed as a werewolf and the universe. And the rest of my visit happened, happily, spending time with my friend and exploring the city she lived in which was slowly becoming my third favorite, after my hometown and Chicago.

I remember at one point during the next day how I found myself with nothing much to do for a few hours, as my friend was working on a project for school. And I could have done a lot of things with that free time. And I remember thinking about the boy from the party, the intriguing beautiful artsy boy, and I wondered what he was doing as I was sitting around (writing this), and if he would agree to get coffee if I asked him, or just wander, or chat, or gaze at other people somewhere in my new, third-favorite place.

These were all things I thought about but didn’t do. And I Mega-Bussed back home and his name was added to the list of “Cool People I Should Have Hung Out With.” Almost a year later, and that list slowly continues to grow. Of course the other list, the cool people I have hung out with, is much longer, but there are names that I’ve missed, people I’ve missed out on, experiences I haven’t had, for no good reason other than I was too afraid or too unmoved or too lazy, or a cycle of all three. And that’s no good. That list exists but it shouldn’t. This is a true story but it shouldn’t be.

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So there I was, wandering around in a slightly unfamiliar building on campus, searching for a lady I was supposed to be meeting. (Spoiler Alert: She had forgotten about the meeting and was already at home with her children as I circled the first floor, searching for her – someone I had never met or seen before.)

She was late. Or, was I in the wrong spot? I thought we said we were meeting at the chairs in the front lobby. But, maybe to her, the front lobby is what to me is the back lobby.

I wandered around. I went to the back of the building. There was a lady sitting there, who looked like she could be who I was looking for. I still had my doubts, though. We said the front lobby, right by those squishy chairs! She must be talking about the same place as I am. Maybe she’s just late.

I walk past the lady sitting in the chair. No, that can’t be her. My eyes search among the other people sitting around the high tables and chairs of the school’s cafe. I make eye contact with a black-haired boy sitting against the windowed-wall.

I don’t look away. He doesn’t look away. It feels like I know him, though I don’t know him. He looks at me like he understands. It doesn’t feel like I am looking at a stranger, though I am. I could walk over to him and it wouldn’t be weird. Instead, I walk away.

I go back to the front of the building. No one new there, only a few high school students still waiting for their parents to come and pick them up. (Yes, there is a high school inside of my University. It’s where I graduated from.)

I check the clock on my phone. She’s almost 15 minutes late now. How long should I wait? Maybe she actually forgot.

I check my email. Nothing. Where is she? I wonder how much longer I should wait for her. I’ve been waiting for what feels like forever – 25 minutes. How much time does she need?

I wait. My mind wanders to that boy. I should have went up to him. I should have said hello. I should have asked him if he felt the same way – if he felt like I wasn’t a stranger, though I was.

I wander around the front lobby, as if changing the location of my body, and my line of sight, will make the woman I’m waiting for suddenly appear. It doesn’t work.

I decide that I need to double check that that woman sitting in the back lobby isn’t actually the lady I’ve been searching for all along – I’m trying to be professional, here. I don’t want to leave without making sure. I don’t want to leave her sitting there, waiting for me.

I walk back around to the area where she’s sitting. I walk in the same direction around as I did before, intentionally avoiding the place where the black-haired boy was sitting.

The woman is still there, sitting, reading something in a folder. This could be her, I think.

I walk up to her, a stranger. She looks up at me as I approach.

Are you M.?, I ask. No, she says. Sorry, I say. No problem, she says, and smiles.

I walk back to the front, passing the boy again. We look at each other. I do nothing. I walk away.

Back in the front lobby, I’m about ready to leave, though I still have some hope that the lady I’m looking for will appear.

She doesn’t.

I leave.

I exit the building out of the back door. The boy is still there, watching me. I ignore him. I can’t do anything else.

As the door closes behind me, I think of him. Who is he? Why is it so easy to look him in the eye? That doesn’t happen very often. Why didn’t I say anything? Of course I didn’t say anything.

Later, I wonder. Our eyes keep meeting in my mind. I remember only his black hair, and his eyes, and how he looked at me, and how I felt. I remember how he was sitting alone in the cafe near the window. I wonder who he is, where he is now. I wonder what would have happened if I had been brave enough, or curious enough, to walk up to him. A stranger. A stranger who didn’t feel like a stranger. A stranger with the eyes of a friend.