CHAPTER 2 - IMAGINATION

My days at Eastfield Community College went by fairly fast. I was determined to get out of there and go back to Texas A&M University. Although I was focused on coming back, I couldn't help but think about her. I could never forget her beauty and how she looked sitting there on the couch by the fireplace. She actually cried reading The Notebook. Who was she? I should have asked for her phone number, but I was too chicken to do it. Instead, I kept the lighter as a reminder of her and in case I saw her again, I would have an opening line. Yeah, that's it. It's almost like Cinderella, except I had her Zippo, instead of her shoe.

After "serving" my time at Eastfield College, I was able to meet my criteria and I was granted another chance to attend Texas A&M University. All that hard work and perseverance actually paid off. I was back on the saddle again. Since I didn't have a dorm for the semester, I had to live with my older sister, Lauren. Lauren and I are friends more than we are siblings. I like that better because not a lot of people think of their family as friends. We share a lot of things and many "promise-not-to-tell-anyone-things", but it was never always like that. When we were little, she hated my guts. I donít exactly remember too much about those times, but she always tells her friends that we didnít get along. When we got older, she still really didnít like me too much, but that changed when I lived with her.

It was Lauren's last year in college and she was going to move in with a high school friend, Alison, into an apartment. The apartment was a 3-bedroom apartment, with each of us having our own rooms. The walls were made of brown wood paneling and the counters were painted yellow. We decorated the living room with paintings by George OíKeefe and portraits of Marilyn Monroe. Alisonís aquarium was filled with three goldfishes that were named Dolores, Mick, and Madonna. There was one for each of us and Dolores was my fish, but she died in less than three weeks.

Our apartment was very cool and living in that apartment that year probably changed my entire life more than anything else. It wasnít just the obvious reason of living with another girl, but it was more of the whole experience of being isolated away from home and dealing with the pressures of college life - in addition to living with a girl like Alison. To be honest, I didnít know about the college pressures until about the end of the year. It was to my demise that I could not say the same about Alison.

Before I met Alison, Lauren couldnít stop talking about how cute and pretty Alison is and how guys flock to her when they go out clubbing. So, before I even laid my eyes on her, my thoughts and images were already flavored. The first time I met her was in my room at the apartment and it was at that time that I knew that the flavor was not artificial. It took me a whole semester to overcome her silent beauty and it just about single-handedly delayed my academic pursuit at that university. There was something mystical about Alison that to this day Iíve never figured out. There was something about her green eyes that puzzled me. They were the eyes of a tiger - beautiful to behold, dangerous to desert. I never understood the "power" that she had within her tiny frame, which could be the reason that I was so fascinated with being with her. I hung out with Alison almost every night and if we werenít at the mall playing skee-ball, we were grocery shopping, studying, running, or walking to nowhere in particular. My favorite times were going to the church nearby and playing the piano together late at night.

During the first semester, I spent many nights deciphering every single one of Alisonís actions. I knew that my feelings for her could not be displayed outside of me, but at the same time, I knew I was flirting with disaster. I couldnít really tell her how I felt because we were living together and if things didnít work out, it would have just been too weird. And if it did work out, it would have still been too weird. Either way, I couldnít say anything. Each day that I hung out with her was a constant battle of leaving my emotions inside and it came to a point that I knew that I was losing the war.

* * *

We all decided to go skiing and spend our spring break at Brianhead. We had one of those timeshare vacation houses and we exchanged our time that we normally used to go to Tyler with a hotel in Utah. It was an interesting experience and because of me, Lauren had to go through one of those stressful worries that parents normally go through when one of their kids donít come home on time.

Alison and I thought we were so good that we decided to go down the "unknown" trail. There is a reason they call it the "unknown" trail. I would have to say that the trail was really awesome, but I would never recommend it to anyone. Alison and I got lost and instead of coming down the mountain and ending up at the hotel, we ended up on the other side of the mountain. Instead of seeing people watching and waiting for you to fall on your ass because youíre still at the bunny slopes, all we saw was a huge blanket of snow. For miles, we only saw snow. The snow covered the entire mountain, with no signs of the ground receiving rays from the open sun. I never saw anything as beautiful and serene, but I knew we were lost, and this breath taking scenery was the last thing I wanted to see.

Even though I was lost and scared with the thought of not finding our way back, I couldnít help but notice that nature is so fascinating untouched. It was obvious that man has yet to embark on this trail and destroy this part of the mountain. Itís somewhat ironic, that every time we find something so fascinating, we try to find out more about the curiosity with what fascinated us - that sooner or later, we build and create things - things that are useful to man, things that make our lives easier, but at the same time - things that are poisonous to nature. We are so interested in things that have yet to be touched, and for some oddity that forces our lives to be what they are now, we are the sole reason that the beauty and the grace of nature is destroyed. Through time and technology, through our laziness, and through our constant fascination, we justify our selfish needs and we eventually obliterate and deplete the things we were fascinated with in the very beginning.

Alison and I knew that we were in trouble. We didnít know where we just landed, but the first major problem we found out was that we only had two cigarettes left with only one match. Alison was more adept at lighting cigarettes than I was, so I trusted her with the lone match-stick and hoped that her mastery with matches would carry us through this momentary set back. With the strike of that match, the last burning flame of the hour was successfully transplanted onto the ends of our final cigarettes. At least we can die knowing that we had a final cigarette.

You see, a cigarette means more to me than the certain buzz that comes with smoking them. Letís face it, we all know that theyíre bad for you, but thereís just something about them that suddenly makes you feel cool. Not cool, per se, but more of knowing that everything will be all right. Every problem that I encountered during those rough stretches, there was a single stream of smoke originating from a lit cigarette that helped me find my way back. The problem with smoking is that some people think that itís cool, when in fact, itís not. I only began to realize this after many years of acceptance of these dangerous obstacles in my life. Even when running became a more difficult task, I still depended on a cigarette to calm my nerves and ease the blood running within my veins. I finally recognized that not only was I depending on the effects of this last remaining cigarette that I gripped tightly in the palm of my hand, like a sunken ship filled with all my lively possessions, but that I would deny any guilt of my wrongful act to satisfy my endless needs.

For those who smoke, a cigarette is like your life. When people smoke by themselves, it is because a cigarette is the only thing they have left. To smokers, lighting a cigarette is like a new life. A brand new hope. They inhale the smoke and they somehow think that life is breathed in with every puff. And every time it runs out, that person can light another cigarette. A new life. Irony, when in fact that itís quite the opposite if you look at it from the physical standpoint, but for people who donít have anything else to turn to, a cigarette becomes their best friend - the constant element. I no longer smoke as much now, but I still find that cigarettes back then helped light the way for the many chapters of my book of life.

The success of lighting those cigarettes was a good omen that we were not going to see the gates of heaven just yet. The time was 6:30 PM and the lodge closed at 4. We were very late and I could just imagine Lauren calling our parents saying that I was dead and that it was all her fault for letting us go down that trail not knowing what we were doing. Lauren can get so dramatic sometimes. After carefully smoking our cigarettes and enjoying them to the final puff, we knew that we had to try and get ourselves home. There was a trail that led up to the mountain and we felt that following that trail was our best option. This wasnít your simple dirt trail that you could easily walk on, but more of your complicated tapioca pudding that slowly swallowed your every step. In addition to walking on this already conspicuous trail, we had to carry our skis and poles because they were of no use.

"Dylan, I'm too tired to walk."

"Let's sit down for a second."

"I don't think I can walk anymore. Maybe you should just go without me."

"I don't think that's a good idea. We should stay together."

She didn't say anything. I felt like I was playing poker with my life on the line and the dealer had a better hand. He just raised me another hundred and I knew I couldn't fool him with my poker face. Frankly, my poker face could never win me any money in a table full of fat stinking men who smoke cigars and drink semi-warm domestic beer. They're belching and complaining about their boring jobs and scratching their crotch, while watching some game and bragging about how they caught the biggest fish in fish catching history ten years ago. Playing poker with your life on the line can be pretty scary. While I was sitting there and thinking about our next move, I realized that I was dealt a very bad hand.

I closed my eyes and knew that it was time to fold. I was so tired I couldnít walk another inch even if you made me. I started thinking about Lauren and I knew that she was scared. I was staring at the ground when I noticed that I had lost the camera. The camera was in my pocket and I noticed that the zipper was open. That really pissed me off. If nature didnít kill me, Lauren would have because that was her camera and she would have been real mad. I started worrying about the camera and for that brief moment, I forgot that I was lost.

"Alison, have you seen the camera?"

"The camera? No, did you lose it?"

"I think so. Look, the zipper's open."

"I'm sure Lauren's not going to mind."

"I know. Alison, maybe we should keep going. We should keep walking before it gets really dark. Let's go."

"Alright."

We got up and started walking up the mountain. My mind was so concerned with that camera that all of a sudden, I forgot that I was tired. After thirty minutes of hiking, I could see that the mountain was dropping off. It was curvy and narrow, but I noticed that there was a down side to the path. My eyes were correct and after a while, the path started leveling off. The level path didnít last long, but I was really happy to see that the path started going down. I decided that since I was good enough to ski for the Olympic Team, that I was good enough to ski this narrow path. I started gaining a lot of speed and thatís when my excitement turned into fear.

All of a sudden, the path started twisting and turning and my small knowledge of skiing made me fall off balance. Luckily, I was able to think my way through and I was able to slow down a little bit. After regaining my balance, I decided that I had to stop and my first instinct was to fall on my side. There was a wider gap a few feet away and it was there that I fell, not on my side but on my face, and I slid about fifteen feet. I thought I saw the "light," when in fact it was just ice that were resting on my eyelashes.

I got up and saw the umpire with his hands at armís length pretending heís an airplane yelling, "Safe!" After a few minutes, Alison came flying down the trail. She fell about ten feet away from me.

"Whoa!" She yelled as she fell on the snow.

"Are you alright?" I asked, while helping her up.

"Yeah."

When we finally realized that we were not of Olympic caliber, we decided to walk the rest of the way and hoped that the path would soon end. Did I mention that there were Bear tracks on our path? After nearly two hours of walking and skiing, we finally saw a building that resembled a hotel. We knew that it wasnít our hotel, but we were so glad to see something that didnít have a branch. We were tired and deflated but after noticing that we were only a few feet away from black asphalt, we were so happy.

We walked to the nearest hotel and told them what had happened. I donít know if we had a sign on my head, but everyone that passed by us said, "Hey, youíre that lost skier!" I guess you can say that we were celebrities.

A bus took us back to our hotel and it was in our room that I saw Lauren. I gave her a hug - the kind that says everything. She was so happy to see me. We drank about twenty glasses of rum and coke that night while thinking how lucky we were that nothing bad happened to us. Iím glad I didnít fold because those fat bastards up there were bluffing.

Later that night, we went downstairs to hang out near the fireplace. Alison and I were sitting on the couch smoking cigarettes and drinking beer. Alison had her legs up on the table, so I placed my right leg on top of hers. I was unconsciously rubbing my feet against the sole of her shoes. After I stopped, she put her right leg on top of mine. I was sandwiched by her legs. It was physically uncomfortable but I didnít want to move. It was one of those "suffering in comfort." I leaned my head on her shoulders while she was talking to the girl next to her. The girl finally left and we were alone on the couch. I didnít want it to end.

After midnight, we left the bar and went back to Alison's room. It was late when we got there, and everyone was already asleep. I was tired and drunk. I started to put my keys and wallet on the coffee table near the couch when Alison asked, "Do you want to sleep on the bed?" I didnít know what to say. The only thing that came out from my mouth was, "Is it more comfortable than the couch?" She said yes and I walked in her room. I took my shirt off and fell on the bed. I wanted to keep my eyes open, but I was dead tired. It was really late and I was tired from the adventure we recently survived. My thoughts were tired and they decided to go to sleep. I tried to wake them up but all they did was look at me and say, "Youíre on your own." She was in the bathroom for what seemed like hours and I couldnít stay up another minute. My eyes decided to leave with my thoughts. I fell asleep.

I woke up in the middle of the night because my head decided to stay up and play drums all night long. I couldnít sleep for more than twenty minutes straight. Alison was asleep next to me. She was wearing her old high school varsity tee shirt and a pair of boxer shorts. I walked to the kitchen to find anything that resembled a Tylenol. I went outside and after smoking a cigarette, I decided not to leave. I went back to bed, successfully not waking her up. I forgave her for not knowing.

Morning came and I felt Alison leave the room. I heard voices in the living room and I decided to wake up. Alison and Lauren were sitting on the couch talking about some book. I sat next to Alison and slumped myself comfortably on the couch. She didnít look at me. Her eyes were fixed on a commercial playing on the TV. I asked them if they were hungry and Lauren was the only one that said yes. The situation was far from normal, and Alison was acting similarly. I went to lunch with Lauren and I told her all about it. She was shocked to not find me sleeping on the couch so she can just imagine how I felt.

For the remainder of the trip, nothing happened between us. Alison and I talked a little, but after that night, things were somewhat uncomfortable. I could tell you more about our trip, but all we did afterwards was drive to Las Vegas and stay at some cheesy motel. We made it back the next day after driving straight from Las Vegas to Dallas through Amarillo.

After our spring break trip, things came back to normal. Although I can't forget what "could" have happened, I tried my best to not let it distract me. I failed. Alison had to finish typing her report at the Blocker computer lab so after finishing my assignment, I followed her. I had to talk to her because I couldn't keep these feelings inside of me any longer.

"Man the lab is full tonight."

"Hey Dylan, what are you doing here?" she asked.

"Just checking my email." That was a complete lie.

"Oh yeah?"

"Yeah...I was wondering..."

"I am so glad that this thing is almost over.. ..Iíve been working on this report for weeks..."

"Oh, I was wondering..."

"...and I hate typing in this lab. Thereís so many people."

Iím not sure if anything was coming out of my mouth because I never completed my sentence. Finally, I told her that Iíd be right back. I walked out of the room to gain some composure. After counting ten Mississippis, I marched right back in there.

"Hey Alison, I'll be at the student lounge. Could you come by after you're done here?"

"Sure," she said.

"Good.. Iíll see you then."

She asked why I wanted to see her, but I couldn't talk about it there with all those people. She picked me up at the student lounge and instead of hanging out there, we decided to drive around for a while. After driving around for a few minutes, I started my confession. However, I sort of did it the roundabout way.

"I have a problem... I donít know what to do," I said.

"Whatís your problem?" she asked.

"Alright. Now, Iím not sure if I saw a UFO or not. I think itís just an airplane, but Iím almost sure itís a UFO. Anyway, thatís my problem."

"Oh really?" she asked.

"Yeah."

"Well, does it have lights?"

"Yeah, but every time I get closer, for some reason, the lights disappear."

She was smiling from ear to ear.

"Hmmmm. Can you see the pilot? Is it an alien?"

Sheís having fun with me now.

"Iím not sure, but the more I think that itís just an airplane, it comes back and gives me more reasons to think that it really is a UFO. I really think itís a UFO, but I donít want to come out and say it... I donít know..."

"What do you mean?" she asked.

"All right... I normally wouldnít think anything of it. An airplane is something that everyone sees and every time it flies over us, we never stop and say, ĎWowÖan airplane.í But, a UFO is something very special and extraordinary. Not everyone is lucky enough to see one in their lifetime and for someone to see one, it would be dumb on their part to not acknowledge it. I really think that this thing is a UFO. But I donít want to say anything just yet... you know? Do you know what Iím talking about? What do you think?"

"I donít know."

She was looking straight ahead at the road and I was looking out of my window. At the stoplight, I turned to look at her and said, "Iím not really talking about UFOs." Under her breath, she said, "I know." She turned away, a smile perhaps. After she dropped me off, I asked her if I had thanked her for cooking me dinner the other night. She said, "No" so I told her, "I will" - straight from Desperado. I never got to thank her the way Antonio Banderas did to Salma Hayek, but I think Alison got the point. I really thought that she knew what I was talking about.

I went home to Dallas the next day and I had no clue as to what Alison thought about our conversation. I wanted to see her again, but I couldnít get a hold of her the night before. I called her several times and left as many messages, but she didnít call back. I went home that Friday with nothing but endless thoughts and imagined feelings. I called her as soon as I got home.

"Hello."

"Hey Alison, itís Dylan."

"Where are you calling from?" she asked.

"Dallas. I got home earlier this morning."

"Iím sorry I couldnít call you last night. We got home pretty late."

"Alison, so, what did you think about our conversation the other night - about the UFOs?"

"I donít remember, can you refresh my memory."

She was really giving me a hard time. I started feeling nauseated.

"You know, I had a problem about seeing a UFO - remember - and I wasnít sure if it was a UFO or notÖ do you remember?"

"OK, yeah, I remember."

"So what do you think?" I asked.

"Well..."

Silence. I wanted an answer and I wasnít going to let her get off the phone without an answer.

She said, "Well... I think some things are better left off for the imagination."

My heart stopped. I wanted to crawl under my own skin and never come out again. I ended the conversation and quickly hung up the phone. What did she mean by "better left off for the imagination?" I spent the whole weekend in bed because I got real sick. I was so sick that I didnít even go back to College Station till Tuesday. I did my best to avoid Alison and for three weeks, I didnít spend a minute in the same room as her. I didnít see Alison for three weeks. I would stay at the library longer and work on assignments in the lab, instead of at home. When I was home, I would stay in my room and lock the door. I did that for three weeks. As soon as I started getting used to not seeing Alison, she knocks on the door.

"Who is it?"

"Meow..."

"What?"

"Meow..."

"Lauren?"

"Meow..."

It was Alison. The Cuban Missile Crisis was finally over. What was she doing? Why did she say, "Meow?" I donít remember what we talked about that night, but I remember not wanting to hear her voice. We went out the following week and things seemed to be back to normal. Although she acted like nothing happened, I felt really out of place. Everything was shaken and my thoughts were not ready to settle. I began to wonder if she really knew what I was talking about. I started to think that maybe she really didnít think anything of it or maybe it was all in my head. Regardless of what she thought, I never felt comfortable around her.

During that time, I didnít know how to handle the situation. I was beginning to understand the concept of "better left off for the imagination," but I never actually believed it. Alison invited me to a party for the last day of school and I really didnít want to be there. Before the party, I helped her finish an assignment. I donít remember why, but she wanted to get pictures of marine mammals from the internet. We were the only ones in the lab and I felt very uncomfortable.

I liked being with her, but it was the things that she did that made me nervous. She was sitting next to me looking at her computer while I searched for dolphins in mine. I found some good images and when I showed it to her, she would lean so close that I could feel her warm breath. She would turn to look at me and ask what I thought of the picture. She was inches away from a kiss. Even the dolphins knew what was happening. Her arm would rub against mine and I had to leave the room to catch my breath. I was craving for a cigarette and I had to bum one from an old professor outside the building. After a few puffs, I went back inside and I was so glad she was ready to leave. We picked up her printouts and she asked if I was going to their party. I told her that I wasnít sure, but she cajoled me into going. I went.

The party was packed with friends and acquaintances. It wasnít my crowd, but I planned on drinking enough to make them one. Aside from Alison, I didn't know anyone there. I was sitting outside smoking a clove when Alison sat next to me.

"Hey."

"Hey Alison."

"Why are you sitting here by yourself?"

"I don't know, I don't really know anyone there."

Someone asked her if she was going back inside. She just waved at them.

"Dylan, are you mad at me?"

"What are you talking about?"

"Well, you were avoiding me for a while there, and I don't know. Was it something I said?"

I put the cigarette out and didn't say anything.

"Dylan?"

"Alison, I don't really know what happened. Actually, I do know."

I took a deep breath.

"Why did you tell me that it was better left off for the imagination, when at the trip, you asked me to sleep with you? I was really confused about that. Granted, nothing happened, but..."

She looked away for a second.

"I liked you Dylan. I did, but I knew I couldn't really do anything about it. I'm sorry for asking you that night, but I just wanted to... we were drinking and I don't know. I shouldn't have asked you."

"So you actually thought about it?"

"Yes, I did. But at the same time, I didn't want to find out if it was anything. Dylan, I have a confession to make... I like being with you. I've never felt more comfortable with anyone. I never thought I could live with a guy, and to actually like living with him, I never thought that could be possible. I've never really had a good male presence in my life. I don't know what I'm trying to say here."

"What is it?"

"Dylan, I don't really see you as a friend. I see you more than that. I don't know if I should say this, but I see you more as my brother."

For some reason, I didn't feel bad when she said that. If anything, I was really flattered when I heard her say "my brother."

She thought my silence meant disappointment.

"Are you OK?" she asked. I stood up and took her hand. She took my hand and we went back inside the party.

Chapter 1 Chapter 3 Chapter 7