All the love you give will eventually come back to you.
Turquoise-painted nails, gold stars spread across paper scraps. Glitter sparkling in the rays of light that streamed through the day curtains.
That’s what Eva would remember from her first encounter with him.
It was the first week of school and she hadn’t planned on sitting next to anyone during class. Each time someone walked past her desk, she’d prayed that they wouldn’t stop. So far, her prayers had been answered. Everything had been going the way she’d wanted it to.
Unfortunately, that was short-lived as a boy plopped himself into the seat beside her. He was distracted by the music blasting through his headphones, nodding to some rhythm.
Next were song lyrics scrawled over his page margins, smudges of ink decorated his notes. In all his glory, William was an organised ball of chaos.
“William Xu, call me Will,” he had greeted after taking off his headphones, tilting his head to the side while she blinked at him.
Had she met someone like him before? The answer was no.
Was she curious about this Will? Yes, she was.
He had a mischievous glint in his eyes that made her feel wary. To her, it spelt trouble. And who knew what befriending this sort of person would entail?
“Eva,” she finally said.
He gave a boyish grin at her reply.
“Eva, huh?” William pondered before speaking again. “Did you know it means life or living one?”
“Do you go around asking people whether they know the meaning of their names?”
“Yeah. It’s an excellent ice-breaker, after all.”
“Not sure about that,” she muttered, turning to her schoolwork and jotting down the next line of notes.
Looking to change the topic, she noticed his nails had glitter speckled across the surface.
Pretty, she thought.
“Your nails look nice. The colour suits you.”
He grinned, looking down at his fingers to admire the bright colour. “Thanks. I painted them myself. Have you thought of doing yours?”
She shook her head, mumbling a quiet no. Her parents hadn’t really expressed their concern for things like this. They were always about living frugal lifestyles with simplicity.
“Do you want to?”
He clearly registered the momentary hesitation on her face. Drawing to his side, he brought out a small bottle of pastel blue nail polish and gently placed it on her side of the desk.
“Hey, I promise it’s fine,” he said when she tried to nudge it back to him. “You can have it.”
“What do you mean?”
“It’s yours for the time being. Just return it once you’re done.”
When she came back the next day, her nails were painted a beautiful shade of pastel blue. He simply smiled when she quietly pushed it onto his desk.
William Xu slotted himself into her life, making the irrevocable choice to stay.
After years of treading through lower-secondary together, they really had gone through it all. The good and bad of every school experience, at least they were together to withstand the storm.
There were obviously pleasant moments too; coffee breaks, lounging across furniture in the school library, the celebratory treat of a nice meal.
“Tell me something I don’t know about you,” she suggested one evening.
The aftermath of running to a convenience store mostly consisted of them seated on the pavement, enjoying the gentle breeze.
“Are you going to judge me?”
She stuck out her pink finger, prompting him to link their fingers together.
“I can’t ride a bicycle.”
Her eyes widened, surprised as if his confession was anything more bizarre. “Are you serious?”
“Yeah! Is that so shocking?”
“No,” she stammered, flustered from his intense gaze.
Eva raised her eyebrow in curiosity. “You can skateboard and even rollerblade, but you can’t ride a bike?”
“Hey, you said you weren’t going to judge,” he said, taking a swig of his canned drink. It was some fruit tea that was meant to get him through the day when he wasn’t up for caffeine. He called it his ‘elixir of life’.
“Have you tried cycling?”
He held out three fingers. “Three hours. That’s how long it took for me to go down the neighbourhood street.”
“That’s still some good progress.”
“Not if it took forever,” he disagreed, tilting his head backwards to finish the remaining contents of his can. Once he was done, he crushed the can and aimed it into the nearest recycling bin.
“Show-off,” she mumbled.
“What was that?” William asked, whipping his head to look at her.
“Nothing!” she called, covering up her previous comment. There was a short pause before an idea came to her head. “I’ll teach you.”
“Nah, I’ve probably forgotten.”
“They say once you’ve learned how to cycle, you never forget.” She stood to her feet, stretching out her palm for him to grab, an invitation to another adventure. “Want to try?”
“Do you believe in yourself?”
A smirk graced her lips. “Let’s go.”
“Eva, it’s time.” The voice of her mother beckoned her to snap out of her reminiscing.
William was leaving, off to some good university far away. He was to go off and come back when he achieved top in his class, making everyone in the area proud.
He was their pride after all.
As she dragged her feet against the floor, the sickening feeling in her gut told her to move faster.
What if he already left without saying goodbye? He wouldn’t leave without seeing his best friend, right?
To her relief, William was still there when she reached his house. He was still lugging the last of his suitcases and bags into the car trunk, but it was soon shut with a loud thump.
“I wish you didn’t have to go.”
“Me too.” He sighed. “But university isn’t going to wait.”
William pulled her into a hug, wrapping his arms around her while she listened to his calm heartbeat.
“You’ll come visit, right?” she murmured as he nestled her into the crook of his neck.
She tried to memorise every last bit of him, the rhythmic beat of his heart, the warmth he engulfed her in.
William laughed; vibrations rumbling through his chest. It made her heart ache, wishing for that infinitesimal possibility of him staying.
Eva scolded herself silently. There was no reason to be selfish. William deserved the absolute world, she should be happy for him. She brushed away the lurking thoughts in her mind.
“Of course, I’ll try at least twice a year. Why wouldn’t I visit my favourite person?” He ran his fingers through her hair, ruffling it up before she quickly batted his hand away with protest.
Even in his last moments spent with her, William was still insufferable.
“Forget what I said, maybe don’t ever come back.”
“Do you really want that, Eva?”
She scowled, refusing to look him in the eyes. The windows to his soul, it would hurt her too much to see him go. “Just look after yourself. Don’t do anything foolish either.”
“We’ll be under the same sky. There’s no need to worry.”
Wordlessly, she stuck out her little finger, to which he responded by linking his own little finger with hers.
Their last promise for a long while.
As Eva watched the car pull away from the driveway, she quickly blinked back the tears that threatened to fall. Keeping a strong composure was difficult, and painful too.
Would he remember her? Would he really visit as he promised?
I’ll be back soon. Don’t wait for me.
He would, because William Xu always kept promises.
Under these skies, they were golden.
By: Zhen Li