Muffled excitement murmurs from the floor below, but Mathew drowns it out with his thoughts. Alone in his childhood bedroom, he twirls a mini Eiffel Tower figurine between his fingers. His jacket lies slung on the desk chair, dejected, while he sits on the edge of the bed he hasn’t slept in for over a decade. His brown hair, trimmed and styled meticulously, hasn’t changed much since those days.
People call him boring, but he considers himself consistent. He likes what he knows.
The blue wallpaper curls at the edges and corners, threatening to reveal the wall underneath. It should be removed. He shifts uncomfortably, partly because it is August and the central air broke yesterday but mostly because he feels suffocated. Mathew unbuttons the top of his white collared shirt and inhales deeply, as though he is about to plunge into the ocean and he is unsure when he will resurface.
The room smells of cologne and sweat. Mathew’s shirt has armpit stains. That’ll look fucking great in pictures, he thinks.
Then again, he might keep that jacket on all day, so it won’t matter. The whole day will be an intense photo-shoot; the only thing he hates more than attention focused solely on him is being photographed. He knows the camera shows him impassive and vacant. But he doubts anyone will notice—they haven’t so far.
His feelings should span a spectrum; instead, he is just monochromatic anxiousness. He stares at the white bud impaled on his jacket.
It isn’t her favorite. It isn’t a gardenia.
His knowledge of flowers is limited, but he would recognize a gardenia anywhere. They make him think of the anniversary of their first date—Pi day: every mathematician’s dream. When he handed her the bouquet, he had never seen her smile brighter than at that moment.
“Gardenias!” she inhaled audibly. When their eyes met, he felt butterflies in his stomach. Her green eyes always did that to him. “How did you know?”
He hadn’t known. Not then. The florist suggested gardenias as the perfect mixture of delightful and eternally romantic.
“Do you know what today is?”
She bit her lip, then flipped her phone open. “March 14.”
His heart deflated a bit, but he didn’t hold it against her. “It’s pi day,” he replied with a slight laugh.
She hesitated at first then giggled. “Oh, I get it. 3.14159 and on.”
“What do you think is the world record for knowing the most digits of pi?” she asked.
He found himself stumped. He had never considered it before. “I can do 23 myself.”
“NO! Really?” She tugged at his arm and forced him to recite it for her.
A week later, he showed up to their dinner date with a silver locket.
“It’s beautiful, Mathew,” she said, holding it up. The lights bounced off the locket making it glisten. “You don’t need to buy my devotion. My heart is already yours.”
Mathew wanted to give her everything she deserved, and she deserved everything. But while she wanted to experience the ephemeral and create memories, he equated emotions with tangible objects.
He hears laughter from the floor below and knows he should join his family. They’ll be eager to wish him well and start capturing every second in pictures. He just wants a couple more moments to himself.
He remembers the first time she left. She returned wearing a beret. As soon as she saw him, she rushed into his arms squeezing him as though they had been apart for months with no communication—when in reality her family vacation lasted only ten days, and they had emailed each other seven times. Her hair smelled like Pantene—the sweet smell of crisp clean. Every detail about her was his favorite. He cataloged them into his memory to access in twenty years when they would be sitting on their porch married with children. When she released him, he noted how empty his arms felt and how he yearned to touch her again.
Her green eyes beamed with excitement when she had presented the small metallic Eiffel Tower to him. She recounted her vacation to Paris with a tumbling stream of consciousness, some of her words unintelligible as the speed of her speech increased congruent with her excitement. He listened to her story and smiled when her lips curled in odd ways when she attempted to speak French. She kissed him on the cheek, said she had presents for his parents and sisters too, and grabbed his hand walking towards his house.
That had been seven years ago.
Since then, they went to separate universities. She studied abroad; he remained at home. But they had always found their way back to one another.
Today, he is getting married—his stomach lurches uneasily. Marriage is permanent. He reminds himself that he has wanted this since high school. He admires the way his parents love one another and wants that for himself. All of his plans have fallen right into place: a master’s program with honors; a successful job as a software engineer; an upcoming review and possibility of promotion.
After today, he will be able to tick another box for his life plan: married before thirty (a month shy of his twenty-ninth birthday, to be exact). Yet, he can’t quite understand the nagging twinge of emptiness.
The emptiness will subside, he rationalizes.
Then, he wonders: how many digits of pi is the world record? And before he turns on his iPhone, he hears his father calling his name from the kitchen below.
It is time to go.
Matthew grabs his suit jacket and slings it over his arm. It is too hot to put it on just yet. His button-down shirt and vest provide him with more than enough layers on this eighty-four-degree day.
The generic flower clings to his lapel unyieldingly.
The tie, he forgot the tie.
He pushes the wooden door to one side. The new tie hangs among his old ones. His eyes shift to the floor, to the sneaker boxes. Mathew eyes the tie once more, but again the boxes grab his attention. He needs to move on, but…
He abandons the tie and starts rearranging the boxes to reach the one nestled in the corner. He put it there intentionally—no one else would take the time and effort to retrieve it. Mathew lifts the lid of the Nike box surveying its contents: There are several sheets of paper, folded in intricate ways—like footballs, paper cups, and origami swans, all of which had been deposited into his high school locker. There are ticket stubs from movies and sporting events. And photos.
He flips over the top one. She is still the most beautiful person he has ever laid his eyes upon. The photo was taken during Senior Skip Day at Darien Lake Amusement Park in front of the Mind Eraser. He had caught her in a gorgeous moment of sheer joy. Her grin lit up her eyes, melting his heart. That smile was like a hot day at the beach when the sand burns his feet, but instead of pulling them away, he buries them in the sand, because despite the singe he’s addicted to the pleasurable warmth.
He shuffles through the photos like cards in a deck until he spies one of six teens standing in front of a roller coaster. It’s one he had volunteered to take. His eyes immediately find her, standing next to a boy wearing a red shirt. He could always find her, even if she were lost in a crowd of strangers. He could identify her silhouette. If he were deprived of sight, he could locate her by her laugh or her perfume laced with notes of gardenia. There is not one thing about her he hasn’t committed to memory like the Pythagorean Theorem. But he can never write a computer program as complex and fulfilling as she; even the program he wrote for her—a count-up of the minutes he’d known her. She can’t be confined by rules, equations, or strings of code. He is calculus. She is poetry, free verse.
Usually, he chose to sit in the middle but, in her presence, he always followed her lead.
“The front is where the thrill is,” she said grabbing Mathew’s hand and guiding him to the front row.
They were next to board the coaster when she spotted a guy from their class. Mathew couldn’t recall his name at the time. He still didn’t know it. “Hi there. Enjoying skip day?” she asked.
The guy in the red shirt nodded.
“Who’d you come with?” she asked as they boarded the ride noticing the empty seat.
He confessed to coming alone. Mathew found that curious. Senior Skip Day alone. But the boy’s confession did not strike her as odd, or if it did she did not let on. Instead, she invited him to spend the rest of the day with them.
And, with that, she had thrown off the balance of their group from the perfectly even pairs of coaster riders to an odd seven. But, at that moment, he had fallen in love with her, with her spontaneous and inviting heart. Somehow she made asymmetry appealing and disorder calming.
He studies the photo once more. With her, he felt in place.
A Build-A-Bear receipt sticks to the group photo. Before they had left for separate colleges, he bought her a lopsided brown bear and dressed it in a silly argyle sweater. She loved the sweater because she thought it made the bear look British. He recorded a message saying her name and a simple, yet significant, ‘I love you.’ The bear would be his placeholder—she would always have him with her, comforting her with words of love, even if he could not.
“You’re my favorite,” she whispered. It was a statement. A fact. Just as certain as a2 + b2 = c2 or A = π r2. He felt confident with facts.
At that moment, he had decided to weave her into his future. He knew he wanted to feel this way forever, f(x) = ex, a compound interest function, increasing exponentially, a nonexistent limit. With her, there were no limits.
He had lifted her wrist to his lips. “You’re perfect.”
“You’re so sentimental,” she joked.
“No, I’m rational and logical,” he replied.
“I think you should tattoo that somewhere. Oh, maybe I should get a tattoo?”
Mathew disliked the idea. “What would you get?”
“Honestly? Nothing! I’m afraid of needles.” She contorted her face in mock horror. “Plus there is nothing I want a permanent reminder of. It’s such a big commitment.”
His father is coming up the stairs now. Mathew grabs his tie and abandons his relics, plunging them back into the closet’s depths.
In the church, he feels acutely aware of everyone staring at him. He doesn’t like it. But this is his moment. His day. They all came to see him on the happiest day of his life. And yet, he has a fleeting wish to sit in a pew amongst the crowd.
But he is front and center. Where the thrill is.
The music changes, signaling that the bride will make her appearance. He realizes he is holding his breath. Right before the doors open her face flashes in his mind. Her emerald-colored eyes, her Roman nose, which she detests, but he loves so much, her perfect pout with the fullest lips, and the three beauty marks on her cheek—her isosceles triangle, which the mathematician inside him adores.
The music swells and the doors open. This is it. His future is beginning. No more uncertainty. He will honor the commitment he is about to make. The guests rise turning to face his bride, adorned in white and veiled, escorted by her father, a balding man contained by a snug suit.
She steps forward, and with every step closer his heart sinks deeper. He questions the validity of his structured ways and his road map that has pushed him to this moment. He calculates her steps and the speed at which she approaches. Each step closes the distance between them and will close the door on his past. He no longer notices the spectators. He looks at her and wonders if they will be happy. Can he be the person she wants him to be? Will she like that?
Can she rival the illogical dream consuming his heart?
Finally, she stands before him—the woman who will share his life. She is a rational, linear equation, his y = mx + b. His bride’s father pulls back her veil, kisses her on her tear-stained cheek, and whispers something into her ear. Mathew’s bride faces him, smiling. Her brown eyes bore into him, and he wonders if she suspects, but the moment passes unmarked.
Mathew notices that she has never looked so radiant—her caramel-toned skin is smooth and unfreckled, almost flawless. Her black hair pulled into a tight, deliberate bun, is sprayed smooth with every hair in place.
The priest begins reciting the words he has heard in countless movies, but Mathew’s thoughts drift to poetry. Then, without warning, it is time.
“Do you, Annie Wan, take Mathew…” Mathew stares into her eyes, searching for green, but he only sees the earth.
“I do,” she proclaims self-assuredly and with a note of binding finality.
When it is his turn, and the priest completed cataloging the list of expectations, Mathew agrees with a precise, “I do.”
And, by those two simple words, he is finished. She is, for better or worse, his life-long companion.
“I have a surprise for you,” his wife murmurs into Mathew’s ear as they stand on the dance floor about to take part in their first dance. When they had been trying to choose a song, he told her to pick anything that made her happy. He didn’t have a preference.
She presses close against her husband’s chest with her lips resting, slightly, on his cheek. “I chose your favorite song.”
His stomach plummets as if he were on a plane and they just hit turbulence when he hears Chris Martin begin crooning “Green Eyes.”
As Mathew and his new bride dance, he feels acutely aware of the lyrics to her song—the melody haunting a story Annie would never know.
The memories of her seem like dreaming: the moment when one awakes and realizes that everything had not truly been, and as the day progresses the fog of reality obscures the fantasies of the mind until they become a mere wisp of a thought evaporated. And in the end, Mathew thinks, wasn’t that what she was? All that she could ever be? His childish dream of true love. The only unreachable goal of his life. The one unattainable desire. All other aspects had fallen directly in line, like carefully stacked shoeboxes, but his design to keep her for his own had failed.
In the end, she had not returned his love the way he needed—she hadn’t loved him back the way he loved her.
Little did he know, that halfway around the world, at the very same moment, she is sleeping. And in her room, adorned with art from all the various places she has traveled to during those years apart, the lopsided brown bear wearing a silly argyle sweater sits on her dresser. Her chestnut hair tangles about her in disarray. She shifts mid-dream and pulls her arm to cover her face exposing the wrist below her palm and a small tattoo: π.