Cailin Hoang

He wears good-boy cologne. The type that reminds me of sweet tulips and red berries and honey. The type that my mom would like and my best friend would approve of. 

He walks slowly, as if he’s in no rush at all, as if he’s got nowhere to go and no place to be, as if the entire world is waiting on him. 

He holds his cell phone tightly in his hands, fingers sliding across the screen. He’s texting somebody. 

Perhaps his father. He wishes they were together now, sitting on the edge of the dock like they used to sit when he was a little boy, legs hanging into the cold water, catching fish and sharing a bag of salty potato chips. His cheeks tighten — he misses home. 

Or perhaps it’s his sister. She’s younger than him, maybe 10 or 11 years old. She tells him about school, about her new friend and her theatre class and the way she wants a pet puppy or, at the very least, a pet goldfish. He tells her to be patient. 

Maybe it’s a lover. That beautiful blonde from his biology class. That spunky brunette from his Latin class. He smiles ever so slightly as if he were still in middle school, flirting with his crush, dreaming up their wedding. 

As we pass one another on the sidewalk, he looks up for just a moment. His eyes are green. The shade of green that reminds me of leaves floating in a glassy pond and a freshly-mowed lawn and summertime. Our eyes lock for just an instant — his green eyes meet my brown eyes, like a Granny Smith apple dipped in milk chocolate, like a baby caterpillar climbing up a piece of old tree bark. 

And then the moment passes, and he’s gone. But still, his cologne stays, sticking to the air like honey, smelling of sweet tulips and red berries. Good-boy cologne. 

I will probably never see him again. But, in this moment, as we walk past one another, our feet touch the same ground and our hair blows in the same wind, and we share the same scent of his good-boy cologne. It feels oddly wrong — the fact that we are sharing the same ground and the same wind and the same scent, yet we don’t even know each other. I don’t even know his name. For a second, I think I should ask him. I should turn around and run back towards him — backpack slapping against my shoulders, hair brushing against my ears, feet pounding against the sidewalk — and ask him for his name. But that would be strange. 

And, even if it weren’t strange, I wonder if I really want to know. I wonder if I really want to know his name. Because, if I knew his name, he couldn’t be whoever I wanted him to be. He couldn’t be just a collection of leaves floating in a glassy pond, of freshly-mowed lawn, of fathers and sisters and lovers, of summertime. 

I turn my head, watching as he crosses the street, and I think that there’s something wonderfully mysterious about sharing the sidewalk with a stranger. Because, as the soles of my shoes touch the cold concrete, I remain convinced that he wears good-boy cologne — perhaps naively so, but nevertheless, I remain convinced.