Rachel had never thought that life could be so much better so soon. She was hanging out with Rose in Classroom 432 at 11 p.m., trying her best to do her musical theater history readings while Rose was visibly struggling to record a villainous monologue that seemed to Rachel to be unnecessarily dramatic.
They’d been in there for around an hour, and Rachel felt like her brain was about to turn to jelly. Instead of flipping to the next page, she tried to get Rose’s attention.
“In which currently-running Broadway musical does a poor writer pen a song to sing with his beloved, a heart-wrenching duet of forbidden, but no-less-real love?” Rachel chirped, attempting to make eye contact with Rose.
“Rachel, could you PLEASE SHUT UP!” Rose shouted, turning around to glare at Rachel as her phone spat out a robotic “click” sound. “Can’t you see I’m trying to record something here?”
Rachel shrugged at Rose’s completely justifiable outburst. “Sorry! I’m just really bored. My brain can’t take another page of readings …” Then, noticing that Rose was still giving her the stink eye, Rachel relented. “Sorry.”
With a soft sigh, Rose put down her phone and settled onto the nearest desk. “Look, what’s really bothering you?”
“Huh? What do you mean?”
“Rachel, don’t give me that crap. I can tell there’s something you want to talk about. And it’s not about finally beating me at musical theater trivia.”
Rachel was flabbergasted at that last sentence. Rose knew something was troubling her, the kind of thing Rachel didn’t want to burden her newest friend with.
“No, I’m just bored,” she insisted, her face feeling warm. Trying to keep eye contact with Rose, Rachel stood up in an attempt to prove her sincerity. “Honest.”
Rose’s eyes bore directly into hers, and after a few seconds, Rachel slumped back onto her chair and hung her head down.
“Okay, yes,” she began before a wave of hesitation stopped her in her tracks. Brushing it off, she continued, “Something’s been making me feel really ashamed of myself, and I’ve wanted someone to talk to about it. But every time I’ve tried since we met a few days ago, a huge balloon of anxiety rises up throughout me and … ”
Trailing off because Rose’s pensive face made her extra nervous, Rachel thought she had overshared. So she shut up and waited for Rose to say what she wanted to say.
“Rachel, just tell me what you want to say. I’m not here to judge how you feel. But I want to help you get that off your chest. Cause you’re my friend, and I care,” Rose responded without hesitation as she calmly cupped her hands between her legs, her eyes still meeting Rachel’s.
Rachel couldn’t comprehend how kind Rose was being to her. But what she did understand was how relieved she felt hearing that Rose felt that way about her. And a little guilty.
“Oh, well … Rose, thank you so much … for saying that,” Rachel sputtered. Rose’s expression betrayed nothing obvious, but Rachel considered the possibility that Rose was waiting for her to continue.
She didn’t intend to, but something inside her twisted and squeezed out a painfully uncoordinated ramble. “Rose … I don’t know how to say this right — or well enough to not make you feel super awkward — but I’m sorry,” she stammered.
Rose’s eyes briefly widened with alarm at that last sentence before her expression softened into a ruffled but empathetic look. Rachel instantly felt incredibly guilty. She had probably just made Rose really uncomfortable. She must have shared too much too fast!
Before Rose could speak, Rachel hurriedly added, “I’m sorry if this was too much! If this makes you uncomfortable, we don’t have to talk — ”
“Yes, we do,” Rose firmly cut her off. “Why are you apologizing to me?”
“I … ” Rachel began before her voice failed her. Noticing Rose’s concerned eyes encouraging her to just get it off her chest, she eventually found the strength to try again.
“I’m apologizing because I’m ashamed of how I acted the day I met you in this classroom. I was in the room before you came in, trying to process the aching loneliness that I’ve struggled with ever since I came to this university. When you came in, I took a look at you and immediately assumed that you must feel as lonely as I was. So everything I did after, trying to get your name and maybe trying to ‘look good’ as I left you alone, was me trying to take advantage of your loneliness so that I could feel less lonely.”
Having let out her shame in this burst of words, Rachel hung her head and fiddled around with her fingers.
When Rose finally spoke, Rachel was caught off-guard by the calm tone of her voice. “I came into the room looking for alone time. I was feeling lonelier than ever as I realized that the only friend I thought I had made on campus had abandoned me. They hadn’t texted me in three weeks, and when I miraculously ran into them that day, my attempts at striking a conversation were met with the cold shoulder like I didn’t exist anymore. That day sucked before I ran into you.”
Rachel felt a little worse hearing that last sentence, but Rose seemed to realize that. “Listen, I don’t blame you for already being here. You were lonely, and I was actually lonely as well. When I came in and saw you slumped like a corpse in the far corner of the room, I thought, ‘Is that me? Who is that, and why does she look like I feel?’” she explained in a strained but equally tender tone.
Rose pressed her palms to the table and stared up at the ceiling.“You weren’t taking advantage of my loneliness. I need you to know that I answered you because I wanted to, not because you made me. You really wanted to make a friend, and I … also wanted a friend, even though I didn’t realize that when I answered you.”
Rachel didn’t know what to say. She didn’t think a sassy and charismatic “queen” like Rose could ever struggle to find friends. Yet here, the seemingly-confident Rose was candidly sharing her own battle with loneliness.
Rose’s gaze slowly fell from the roof and into Rachel’s eyes, her expression inscrutable. Suddenly, it melted into a warm smile.
“You were being human, Rachel. Isn’t hoping that a warm hand will grip yours in the darkness of this world something we always dream of even though we’re made to believe that we shouldn’t allow ourselves to do emotional stuff like that because our f*cking society believes it’s stupid?”
Rachel still felt like broken stained glass inside. But her heart did feel just a little lighter. “Yeah. I think I need to remind myself of that.”
Without warning, Rachel’s stomach rumbled loudly. Grrr!!!
Both of them exploded with laughter, Rose almost falling off her desk. Regaining her balance, Rose eventually calmed herself down and remade eye contact with a chuckling Rachel.
“Seriously, I’m glad you told me this. I had no idea you had something so heavy on your chest. We can definitely talk more about this and anything else you want to talk about — if you want to. But more importantly, I’m always here for you whether you need moral support without having to explain anything or just need someone to just listen to what you want to say.”
Rachel thanked Rose, feeling grateful that she had a connection with such a thoughtful and caring person.
Out of the blue, Rose smirked. With a playful tone dancing through her next words, she teased, “I’m starving and it certainly sounds like you are too. Want to go walk downtown to see which restaurants are still open at this ungodly hour? I’m paying!”
Standing up and slinging her backpack over her shoulder, Rachel felt a smile briefly spread across her face as she shot a determined glare at Rose’s warm expression.
“Not a chance! I’m paying tonight, queen! The night’s still young: let’s go!”
The door to Classroom 432 slams shut. Two people are racing each other down the stairs, their boisterous laughs echoing throughout the empty building. Outside, a crescent moon smiles down at the university campus while a frivolous wind whistles through the night.