The ticking of the clock beats alongside the rhythmic scrapes and brushes of chalk against chalkboard, drooping eyelids and weighted pulses like mercury dripping down the side of a thermometer. A dose of summer’s sunshine weeps through the window, stifling the air conditioner’s feeble attempts to chill the classroom and keep our bodies awake. Beside me, I watch Mila doodle her notes — a warm blend of series convergence theorems, worked-out examples and worms wriggling through the paper’s edge. 

“Hey guys,” a voice cut in: Parker Starket, fellow first year and resident IM Secretary. “Do either of you want to play IM soccer today? We really need two more people, otherwise we’ll forfeit.”

To be clear, I had no business playing IM soccer. The last time I remembered playing was in middle school gym, spun head-to-toe in My Chemical Romance merch and totally, totally lame. But in a bout of innocent first-year spontaneity, Mila and I exchanged glances and before I was even conscious of them, the words slipped out of my mouth.

“We’ll do it.”


My limp limbs struggled to kick the ball even near the vicinity of my own team. My calves ached from running, and my skin stunk with sticky sweat from the blistering sun. That was when he walked in.

Well, he didn’t really walk — he leapt into the game, outfitted in a bulldog athletics shirt, aquamarine shorts and neon cleats. I watched him maneuver the ball fiercely and wrap himself through the opposing team’s defense like a weaver’s needle pierces fabric with its thread. No part of me wanted to come in contact with that soccer ball, but I craved a closer look at the handsome figure scheming its movements. When the ref called time, I turned toward Mila with a gaping mouth and blazing cheeks, but I couldn’t blame my flush on the heat. 

Two weeks later, when Alex pleaded for IM soccer players again, I did not hesitate. This time, though, I was alone, suffocating under the predominantly male atmosphere of the field. I looked around, not desperately (because desperate isn’t cool), but curiously, wondering if perhaps I might see the mystery man who nearly saved us last time. I tried to stay focused on my movements, ensuring that I would look cool in case, oh … I don’t know, in case a certain persona happened to hop on the field and strut my way and sway me in his strong, sweaty arms after our victory. Gross.

I was lost enough in my imagination to miss my shot to kick the ball (sorry, guys), but I wasn’t lost enough to not notice when the Trojan man bolted onto the field again, assuming the full confidence of an elite player. I watched him aggressively yet gracefully lead the offense and tangle his feet in a complex choreography toward the goal, claiming a win on the field and a throne in my heart. Well, maybe not a throne, but at least a spot on my radar of Saybrook Eye Candy & Dining Hall Delights. 

I found shelter in the boisterous emotion following our first IM soccer victory, relishing in the thrill of the win to distract myself from the skipped beats within my chest every time I glanced to my left, where he stood.

I remember, now, laying beside the small sidewalk in anticipation of the bus, the sinking sun in the distance a beautiful sight against the treacherous blasphemy reaching through my nostrils, the smells of sweaty armpits and worn cleats and dirt, gym shirts that hadn’t seen the laundry machine in days, at best. Maybe weeks. In a fit of courage, I turned to him.

“Hey, you were really good out there,” I squeaked. He smiled a boyish smile, straight out of those Disney Channel rom-coms with the fringy hair and pearly whites, a sweet gesture. 

“Thanks! I’m glad you came out—what’s your name?” 

We chatted politely onto the bus, plotting ourselves down beside one another, only a corridor’s length between our bodies. I laughed, I giggled, I couldn’t help but stare at the caramel core of his eyes, his rich golden-brown hair and the way he so effortlessly exhibited charm. I wanted to ask him everything, to know his entire life story and laugh at silly baby photos with his mom and make him his favorite foods and love him forever and ever and ever again. 

I was down bad.

“Hey, what year are you, by the way?” I asked. I haven’t seen him around, but maybe he’s a sophomore?

“Oh, I’m a junior. I’m double majoring in Poli Sci and Religious Studies,” he responded. 

Yikes…a junior. He’d never go for a first year. 

“Wait, that’s so cool. Why are you majoring in Religious Studies though?”

“I want to be a priest.” 

I had to admit, of the list of what I’d anticipated my college love life to be like, a Fleabag moment wasn’t really all that high on my list. Scratch that — a Catholic priest wasn’t in the memo at all. I was thankful for the bus driver’s abrupt stop and the scramble of students rushing toward the dining halls. Maybe I could save Saybrook for another night.


The Saybrook library (lovingly, our Saybrary) was more of my home than Vanderbilt Hall during my first semester. Cramming Directed Studies essays, laughing with friends into the midnight hours, snoozing on the couches, running my fingers along the edges of books charred with knowledge, etched with the care of generations long passed. I walked in unassumingly toward my favorite couch nook in the Japanese corner when sitting at the edge of the table to my left, I saw him. 

He wore what I took to be PJs staring intensely at his laptop, the ridges of his brow forming gentle creases down his rounded nose. Walking over, I watched his chin tilt upwards and the corners of his cheeks bud into a warm smile. 

“Hey, how’s it going?”

“Pretty good! I’m a little stressed because I have a p-set due tonight, but otherwise okay,” I laughed to lighten the mood. “Is it cool if I sit with you?”

“Of course!” Bye, bye Japanese couch. 

Shifting between my work and the far more interesting attraction beside me, I bid my time quoting Thucydides and stealing not-so-casual casual glances in his direction, drifting my corneas toward the nearest intellectual-looking item at the sign of any shift in his demeanor. I wasn’t so much fascinated by his beauty or anything of the sort at first, but I wondered to myself: huh, what was I going on about earlier? He’s not even that hot — I need to touch some grass.

A pause. Wait. He’s actually lowkey kind of ugly. 


No, he’s cute. 

Nearing eleven, he began to pack up his items — a sole laptop and his water bottle — into his bag. The library was relatively empty except for the two of us, soon to be one. 

“I love the Saybrary,” I chirped, desperate for slight conversation besides our simple greetings. “It’s always so quiet, and I love getting to see everyone I know.”

“Yeah, I come here like every night,” he responded, casual in his demeanor. “I honestly don’t really leave Saybrook.” Good. To. Know.

The next day, I was back for round two (#grindneverstops), locked and loaded and with maybe a little more mascara than the previous day. I stood a little taller, stepping into the silent room with a cool, calculated air, pretending to be surprised when I spoke, “No way you’re here again.” 


I gave into a cycle, repeating these gestures on a day-to-day basis for weeks, opting for quiet remarks and dainty, dimpled smiles. I hadn’t exactly forgotten he wanted to be a priest, but I figured there was no shame in at least making a new friend — especially one as kind and funny and intelligent and gorgeous as him. Afternoons turned to evenings turned to Saturday nights at the Saybrary, sitting side by side and doodling away the time. I doodled notes, words of encouragement I ripped from my notebooks and passed to him during particularly long intervals of staring at the screen. I built these puns and doodles from little facts I gathered about his life: “you don’t succ!” with a small cactus in a pot because he told me he grew succulents back home; a birthday card with flowering flora and fauna for his gardening aspirations; Handsome Dan meeting the Pope because… I think you can guess by now. 

I became impatient. On an early Tuesday evening, again on a whim as he exited the Saybrary, I called out, “Wait! I have a question—can I get your number?” He turned around, and I continued, “I’m uhhh… actually really considering the Religious Studies major, and since you’re, uh, the first Religious Studies major I’ve met, I would love to ask you some questions.”

A blank stare covered his face, taking a moment’s notice to process what I’d just asked. In simple compliance, he replied, “Sure thing.” No endearing smile, no brightness in his eyes, there was no picture-perfect movie moment awaiting my courageous pursuit of his number. I was only greeted by the same casual countenance that graced the dining halls and basement pathways of the college. The disinterest radiated from his very bones, from his straightforward texts and simple replies. Delusional as I was, that didn’t stop me from trying. 

If his texts were dry, though, his laughter was fertile throughout our conversations, feeding the seeds for my delusion. He laughed often and openly in harmony with my own bouts of giggles that filled the room on empty Saturdays and filled themselves in the crevices of the pauses of our speech. A stupid joke from him matched by my own subpar pun-making. At the fall formal, I found my rival partner in his ridiculous jigs that matched my godforsaken dancing. 

When I saw avocados in the dining hall during a Latinx Heritage Month celebration, I gasped. I didn’t even like avocados, but I knew he loved them. I watched the guacamole station fiercely, wondering whether he’d seen the spectacle during his own dinner plans. Mila sat beside me, chewing.

“Mila,” I began, “what if I just … take those avocados?” 

Her twinkling eyes betrayed her serious stare. “I mean, I don’t think they’ll care. Why?”

When I returned to the Saybrary that night, I held two large, wrinkled trophies. I held them behind my back steadily; the grin on my face revealed my excitement. His own eyes lit up as I had never seen them, and bringing the avocados towards his hands, he began to hold mine. 

Just for a microcosm of a second, I felt this touch in all its weight and power — not in an electric shock, but in a distinct, nearly uncanny spectacle of feeling just… right. I felt the comfort I had only felt lying in bed, under sheets that caressed me and peluchitos that puckered kisses of love.

But wait, Maria! What about the whole — you know — “wanting to be a priest” thing? Isn’t that kind of important?

Yes, it was. Though I continued crushing on him, I had dug myself a purgatory between puppy love and blasphemy. Poli Sci and Religious Studies. Religious Studies, right — priest. Priest.

I didn’t presume I held the “rizz” necessary to convert him away from the Way of The Lord, nor did I wish to: I had met him as priest-wannabe, and I recognized that in no world was it my place to come between him and his religion. The sweet, silly Catholic boy who attended mass twice a week and prayed during every possible pause should be left on his own to assume the priesthood, if he so wished, to deepen his relationship with his God and spread His Gospel. 

On the other hand: I felt undertones of flirtiness. And after a few weeks, I could no longer blame it on my delusion. My friends relished in my giddiness, interrupting my doubts with well-crafted evidence and instances, behaviors that proved he was, had to be, totally and completely in love with me. 

The first time he studied in Sterling was by my side. Through our conversations, I found out that he had never studied in many places besides the Saybrary; in my one semester in college, I had delved into more libraries and study corners than he even knew existed. So, of course, I just had to show him the stacks. 

We had agreed to meet at 8 p.m. in front of Sterling. At 8:02, I stood expectantly on the steps, overlooking the mystic gothic landscape before me in search of him. 8:07, and he still hadn’t come. My gut sunk in disappointment, preparing to digest my feelings. 

Why does this always happen? Is every guy truly the same? I swear you can never trust a nice man, I mean what even is a nice man anyway—

The buzzing of my phone interrupted my grievances. Ah! “M— IM Soccer,” or so his contact name listed him, was calling.

“Hey, where are you?” he spoke in a whisper.

“I’m in front of Sterling. I’ve been waiting for you.” 

“I don’t see you — I’m in front of Sterling, near the couches.”

“Wait, are you inside?”

My heart breathed a sigh of relief and somersaulted into feeling guilty for the way I’d assumed he hadn’t shown up. When I entered through the carved wooden doors and passed the security, I found him waiting patiently on an armchair to the right of the Alma Mater. His hair was slightly wet and combed, face freshly shaved and bright. When he caught my eye, he jogged over apologetically for the crime he didn’t even commit. 

Nearing 11, we left our study post in pursuit of the stacks. Floor 6M. We rummaged through the books, impressively pointing and searching the titles before us, relishing in the simple distractions from the tension that consumed us both until we stood face-to-face, bodies aligned at the end of a corridor letting out to a window. I placed my hands carefully behind me, but I longed to connect with him again. Outside, students were lining up for Hallowoads.

From the way he’s staring at me right now, he either likes me or wants to kill me. Otherwise, he wouldn’t be looking into my eyes like that; I don’t think anyone has ever looked at me that way.

“Hey,” I emboldened. “Would you maybe want to come to a Halloween party with me?”

“I’ve never been to one. I don’t think I have a costume,” he sheepishly replied.

“Easy. What if we do a group costume: you be Shaggy and I’ll be Velma? It’ll be fun, and all you have to do is wear a simple outfit, and maybe just roughen up your hair a little more.” I rustled my fingers through his hair lightly, rushing a blush toward my cheeks that I was glad he couldn’t see in the darkness. He shifted toward me. 

“That would be nice.”


I should be clear — a group costume is not a group costume with just two people. That is a couple’s costume. And I knew I had a perfectly fine Velma outfit sitting patiently in the back of my dresser. That night, when I met him outside his entryway, he looked like a vision in his worn green shirt and slightly too big khaki pants. 

Inside the party, we danced with each other in a small corner, away from the fevered crowd and in our own little vision of heaven where all we had was each other and the music coursing through our hearts, numbing the nervousness that nearly sickened us. I could hardly pay attention to his dancing for fear of getting the ick, but I gazed deeply into his eyes, dark under the red LEDs but sweetly crinkling at their edges, gentle betrayers of his secret smile. 

“Hey, I have something for you. Do you think you’d want to maybe leave for a little bit with me?” he poised. The thump, thump of my pulse hid itself within the blaring music, and my nod signaled my agreement to his proposal.

He entered his room for less than two minutes when I heard him running down the stairs, exasperated but totally excited. He pulled out his arms from behind him, revealing a small potted plant. “I got you a succulent!”

I couldn’t hold back my excitement — I ran toward him and embraced him in a long, passionate kiss smack dab in the center of the Saybrook courtyard. A crowd gathered around us, he tilted my frame downwards, holding me like a telenovela lover, and the fireworks lit up onto the screen of my eyelids. Everything around me was light, even though my eyes were closed. A clanging interrupted our world, and an ominous voice dropped down from the heavens. You, traitors! You have violated the most Holy Priesthood! You are forever banned from entering a church EVER AGAIN!!!!!

Okay, that didn’t actually happen. Our first kiss was actually quite quiet — the sweet, innocent gestures of a first kiss, our hands cupped around each other’s faces in the intimacy of my dorm room. We did break up after a day of “dating” because he had a religious crisis, but we have been together since.

I won’t say it’s been easy, despite his good-natured spirit and kind heart. I’m not openly religious in the way that he is, I never attended church before I went with him for the first time (boy, was it a culture shock). Still now, I struggle to understand his religious philosophy at times, and we bicker on subjects neither of us intends to change our opinions on — we’ve come to terms with compromise, with embracing the hot takes engraved onto our bones and hardened still within our hearts. 

I still recall the nights I spent on Old Campus, pacing through the geometric sidewalks and debating with Mila on whether he liked me or not — “he was definitely flirting with you.” “No, he wants to be a priest.” “Are you sure they can’t marry?” “They definitely can’t.” “I still think he was being sus.” I still harbor the doubt that one day he’ll wake up, realize he actually does want to pursue priesthood, and I’ll remain right where he left me. 

But I’ve also learned to let myself fall face-first into love. I’ve learned to be honest, even when I’m afraid and vulnerable. I’ve learned to relish in the warmth of his embrace without letting it suffocate me; I’ve learned to listen to myself, my gut and my heart, and I’ve learned to speak the truth they tell me. Had I let myself remain silent, I never would have been able to know the love I feel today. And though I’m not well versed in religion, that is a blessing to me.