Graduation arrived like an unexpected visitor. Ari wasn’t ready. He wasn’t ready to stop playing football for the Llamas. He wasn’t ready to leave the university and return to Apple Springs. But most of all, he wasn’t ready to say goodbye to Marisol Milito. She had become his best friend and confidante. Being near her was like the sun dawning in the horizon every morning, chasing away all the shadows. He was hopelessly in love with her, though still he had not been able to bring himself to tell her.
Marisol graduated early – one week before Ari. One moment, she was by Ari’s side, showing off her Fine Arts degree and smiling at him. And then, she was gone. Her bedroom was empty, her belongings whisked away to the little house she had rented in the suburbs of Apple Springs. Ari spent that first lonely night sitting in his darkened living room, strumming sad songs on his guitar and missing her. Somehow, he survived through that long week. He boxed up his own belongings, though he had no idea where he was going to live next, then he donned his graduation robes and went to the ceremony.
And there was Marisol, smiling proudly, her eyes shining with tears as Ari received his degree. And after the ceremony, she gave him a long hug. “I miss you, Ari,” she murmured in his ear. “What do you think about moving in with me back home?”
Ari could not believe it. Stunned, he accepted her offer. They went together to gather his things, then he and Marisol made the long drive together all the way to Apple Springs.
Before they entered the little house together, Ari touched Marisol’s hand. “Wait,” he said. “Before we move in together, there’s something I have to tell you.” His heart pounded like a hammer against his chest.
“What is it?” Marisol’s eyes searched his, puzzled.
Ari swallowed hard. “I’m in love with you,” he said. The words flew from his mouth and hovered in the air between them like a hummingbird. Marisol seemed paralyzed, just staring back at Ari with an unreadable expression. Ari’s heart pounded even harder. “I—I’m sorry,” he stammered. “Look, I just thought you should know. I’ll leave, if you want.” He started to turn away.
“No.” Marisol stopped him. “Ari, I’m in love with you, too.”
The rest of the night seemed like a dream. They entered their new home together as almost-lovers, not knowing what to expect. At first, they made light conversation and made awkward flirting, like high school kids. But then, Marisol appeared before Ari wearing silk lingerie, with a fire in her eyes he had never seen before. And just like that, the awkwardness melted away, and the new lovers came together smoothly, easily, like they had always been Ari and Marisol, Marisol and Ari, in one another’s arms through the night.