The sun loved Niall – but most of all it loved his eyes, because the shade of blue when they reflected rays of sunlight was the sparkling shallow depths of the coast by a tropical beach with white sand.
I tiptoed to your door and leaned in to listen to the voices leaking from inside
I thought – it was best to knock gently so I wouldn’t startle you
The café was filled with the sound of different conversations – someone’s friend just had a baby, some co-worker got fired today, someone broke-up with their partner. The air was light with the smell of idle chatter with friends and cappuccinos in small cups on a nice Saturday morning. It was 10 AM and I was only an hour early to a meeting over coffee with someone I hadn’t seen in a long time.
I was sat on a table right by the glass window that reached from the marble floor to the ceiling of the café – 49 floors above ground. The window gave way to a wide view the city which extended towards the sea in the distance – a pier and numerous boats docked to the side, tourists wandering up and down the historic site. This view was, of course, what the café was mainly famous for, because if I wasn’t drinking my coffee the wrong way, the beverage served here was nothing special, especially not compared to that of the corner café near my apartment.
I watched as the two women at the table near him stood up and left. Soon after they stood up, two new patrons replaced them. They were the third set of people on that table already since I had taken my seat the café – it was Saturday morning and yet people in this city still moved so fast. That was something I would probably never be used to despite forming the habit: the pace, the urgency of needing to be somewhere at some time every waking moment of my life. But that was how I lived, too.
The fact that I had taken a day out of my busy schedule (an entire day) to sit at this café, to wait, to think, to meet that person again, was highly unusual, and my friends (acquaintances and colleagues) had asked why. Why was I taking the day off – it’s Saturday, investment bankers didn’t get days off, not even Christmas. So why, on a Saturday where I could close another deal and get another fat bonus, did I take a day off?
But I knew why. I just regretted that I had spent so many years trying to figure it out. I wished I could have understood sooner.
Hey, you’re in there, aren’t you?
Would it be all right if I join you?
In your inner world
It had been a normal day in the summer of 2002.
I was sat on the wooden bench in my front lawn busily working at solving the rubik’s cube in my hands when a small truck drove by and stopped in front of the next house down the road. It was only about two minutes away – maybe thirty seconds by bike. I watched curiously as a man came out of the truck and removed the material covering the contents at the back. There was a sofa and a large cabinet perched in the middle of the truck as well as various large objects surrounding it that I couldn’t pick out very well. It was only a small truck and there wasn’t a lot of stuff at all, but nevertheless, I stood up and got on my bike, riding my way towards the new neighbors.
The man had a friendly smile on his face, his cheeks a natural pink and his pale blue eyes striking under the sun. When he spotted me making my way towards them, he waved and motioned for someone inside the truck to come out.
A smaller head peeked out from inside the truck and looked around quickly before jumping out and landing on the concrete pavement with a soft thud. I had stopped in front of the man. Getting off my bike, I wheeled the rest of the distance towards him and held out my hand.
“Hi, my name’s Liam,” I introduced myself seriously. “Do you need any help?”
The man chuckled and accepted my offer for a handshake. I vaguely wondered if something was funny.
“Thank you for your offer, young lad. I’m Bobby and this is my son, Niall,” he said as he patted the small boy’s head and ruffled his hair.
This boy called Niall had straight brown hair and pink cheeks like his father, but his eyes weren’t the same shade of blue – they weren’t pale, not the least. They were as blue as the afternoon sky on a hot cloudless summer day, and under the burning sun of July, they shone like sapphire fire, with a pure and wild energy that knew no bounds.
“Hi Liam, I’m Niall!” His voice was clear too, like his eyes. He held out his hand and I shook it with mine – noticing that my hands were a little bit bigger than his. “I’m nine years old. How old are you?”
“Me too,” I replied. “I’m nine.”
He gasped and put his arm around my shoulders.
“All right, boys,” Bobby chimed in. “Liam, did you offer to help? Well why don’t you and Niall grab a few of those flower pots and take them inside?”
Niall nodded and grabbed my hand, pulling me towards the back of the truck. Thankfully I had already kicked the bike stand so my bike didn’t fall (I could hardly go anywhere without my bike). Jumping on, he picked up a few of the flower pots Bobby talked about and motioned for me to take a few as well.
It turned out that Niall had an older brother, Greg, but they lived with only their father, Bobby. Niall said that his family used to live together in Ireland but his parents didn’t want to live together anymore so Bobby had moved to the house down the road with the two brothers.
The neighborhood we lived in was a rural community and each house was separated by patches of fields. Sometimes, the land seemed to stretch on forever and the only way we knew we were connected to the outside world was the existence of the concrete road that cars drove past on every day. None of the cars stopped, of course, but sometimes I would watch as they flew by – red, yellow, black, silver; different colored cars – from the city, maybe? I knew that one day I was going to leave this town, this farm, so sometimes I imagined myself driving one of those cars.
The shape of you is burned into my heart, and it remains there like a suntan
Even when the sunflowers wilt, the glow never fades
It was the fall of 2005 and Niall and I had joined the school’s tennis team upon entering secondary school. That meant many afternoons of practicing under the unforgiving sunlight and enduring hours outside days on end without a drop of rain. But that was okay because – tennis, ah, it was something for us to do outside of school that didn’t involve hijacking Bobby’s tractor and mauling the precious fertile fields until they were worthless and the crops couldn’t sell in the following season.
We practiced almost every day, running laps around the courts and doing different serves until our arms couldn’t take it anymore. At one point, we started practicing playing doubles and it just clicked because – whenever Niall and I paired up, our play suddenly became that much better.
Later, we would find that our level of understanding of each other and our partnership on court would lead the team (a team from a town in the countryside, unseeded and literally unknown to the other schools) to earn a name in the regionals. But for now, tennis was a short-term thing – we went to practice, went home, and didn’t think about it again until practice the next day. They say you should take the days as they come, and that was exactly how it felt for us.
Every evening we would return to our homes from practice at around the time of sunset. Niall actually didn’t have a bike and it was very difficult for him to go anywhere alone most of the time – so whenever he needed to go somewhere, he would drop by my place and ask to borrow my bike. Sometimes, I would let him take a ride and we would go to wherever he wanted to go together. But almost every day after school, I would give him a ride home and he would sit behind me, looking off to the side, sometimes leaning his head on my back because of exhaustion from practice.
The sunset was particularly beautiful that day, like a giant orange fireball sinking into the horizon, its edges melting into what was once a clear blue sky now dyed patchy pink, purple, and yellow. There was a gentle breeze as we cruised through the fields of our neighbors. The rows of wheat swayed and danced to the rhythm of the wind and strands of Niall’s hair tickled the back of my neck as he leaned on me gently with one arm around my waist. The other hand held some wheat crop he had picked off some random field. He spun it around with his fingers and stared at the way the crop moved with ease. After one especially quick spin, he let go of the yellow crop and let it fly into the air. It was carried away by the wind and I watched as it flew past my shoulder and onwards, right ahead of us until it disappeared from sight.
It was a fifteen minute bike ride from school to our homes. Ten minutes in, Niall suddenly lifted his head and placed his chin on my shoulder, the side of our faces touching. His skin was cool despite being under the warm sun for hours – probably the product of the wind. I wondered if I was burning, because I must feel warmer than him if I could feel the coolness of his skin.
“What’s up?” I asked him. I kept my eyes forward but leaned in, bringing our faces closer. At the age of 12, Niall’s face still retained some baby fat from his younger years and had a plump, soft quality to it that felt smooth to the touch.
“When we grow up,” he began. From the corner of my eye I could see the way his blue eyes were focused on the sky as we continued to sail through the wheat fields on the bike. “We’ll go to the city, right?”
“Yep,” I replied quickly. “Definitely.”
Niall hummed softly and closed his eyes, enjoying the feeling of the breeze combing through his straight brown hair.
“Maybe we could go together.”
It was quiet save for the sound of the bicycle chain moving long with the wheels and the constant rustling of the wheat fields as they danced to the wind. Niall’s voice drifted into the air like a part of nature’s evening choir. It got carried farther and higher up until it reached the clouds and evaporated to become a part of the sky.
“That’ll be nice,” I replied. A small smile crept onto my lips as I imagined what life would be like in the city with Niall. We could go to work, come home and play video games, mess around and make dinner, and play tennis on the weekends. It’d be incredible.
The sun had almost completely sunken into the horizon by the time we got home. That night, we drew out a plan of how we were going to end up living in the city when we grew up. We both decided that we were going to get out of this town when we go to university and then later find a job in the city.
“But it wouldn’t work unless we go to the same university, so we need to apply to the same universities!” Niall added cheerfully. There was an enthusiasm in our eyes and in the way we spoke as we discussed our future plans. At this moment in time everything looked bright and endless. How could you possibly see the end from this height, at this age? When we looked out into the fields and the horizon, all we saw was infinity.
When I hold you, my heart beats faster
It seems it may take some time
to soothe, to quell these feelings
In the spring of 2008, our school’s tennis team won the district championship and qualified for the regionals. Our school had never gone to the regionals before, so we trained extra hard to prepare for it. We were an unseeded, virtually unknown team and that was an advantage because nobody knew the way we played or how to prepare for us.
In February, Niall had gone to the town center’s hairdressers – the only one for like a ten mile radius – and dyed his hair blond. Now, standing in the middle of the tennis court, his hair glistened under the blinding sun in a different way that somehow made his entire being glow and – even though his old brown hair suited him, his new blond hair suited him better. Recently, he had also bought himself some hair wax from the local drug store about thirty minutes away, and he’d been giving his hair a tousled look every morning before going to school.
Lately, I’d been sitting on the bleachers resting while Niall played, and sometimes, the sight of him – dressed in his tennis uniform and his white tennis shoes – running across the court and leaping in the air to return a serve – was breathtaking. His blond hair, longer now, would move with the wind and when he landed from a jump, the strands would fall slowly and cover his forehead. When he stood at the end of the court, his body bent and both hands on his racket, waiting for the opponent to serve, sometimes a breeze traveled past and lifted the same blond strands from his forehead. In that moment, his blue eyes seemed to light up, but it was because the shadow of his hair was lifted momentarily and the sunlight kissed his face. The sun loved Niall – but most of all it loved his eyes, because the shade of blue when they reflected rays of sunlight was the sparkling shallow depths of the coast by a tropical beach with white sand. Sometimes just the thought of it made my heart twist and my stomach feel strange, but as soon as these thoughts invaded my mind, I quelled them by thinking about ways to improve my own play instead.
We’d become known as the unstoppable duo, and it wasn’t just because we were great tennis doubles partners. In school, we were academically sound and everybody thought – no, they knew – we were going to get out of this town for greater things someday. But it was a small town; I knew being at the top of the class here didn’t mean much. I had to be better. We had to take the town out of its comfort zone and push it into an arena outside of its league (where it could reach new heights), so that year we trained extra hard and entered the district championship with a serious goal in mind – to win.
I was the captain of the team that year and made a long strategic plan for the championship which should lead us to at least the end of the regionals. Along with Niall, we devised a long string of combinations of players on the team we could use to put up against other players from opposing teams. We collected a lot of information about different key players in other schools and analyzed their style and skill in the videos from the previous year. I spent a lot of time and effort on this – sometimes even sacrificing my school work for it – but I just knew I had do it, or else no one would, and it would never happen.
We had predicted that we would get up to maybe the quarterfinals of the regional championship, but never had we expected to be at the final as one of the two teams competing. As Niall and I stood on the court for our last doubles game together, we knew nothing but to give it our all. I hardly remembered what I was even thinking that day, because my mind was so focused on analyzing the opponent to find a weakness and coordinating with Niall to ensure that our defense of foolproof.
And yet, the number one seeded team had that prestige for a reason – they trained hard, but they were also the biggest private school in the region where only rich people from around the country attended. The resources they poured into their sports teams were endless and there was no way we could ever come close to that. The fact that we were somewhat evenly matched was a miracle on its own.
That year, Niall and I led our school’s tennis team to the regionals and we finished as the first runner up. But that was okay because when the tennis ball bounced for the last time on the court and I was an inch away from saving it, I stood, stared at a ground for a while before feeling an arm wrap around my shoulders. Niall pulled me close with one arm and patted me comfortingly on the back. When I looked up to meet his eyes, they were a brilliant blue – that shade of blue when the sun was reflected in his eyes, and even though I’d seen it a thousand times before, my breath still caught, and I forgot all about tennis.
We walked over to the net and shook the hands of the opponent, congratulating them for their victory. When we turned, we looked at each other and there was a silence but then he smiled and I smiled, and suddenly the world was perfect because we were young and the sky was endless.
I want to depict you as realistically as possible;
Will you give me some time?
I’ll draw you more beautifully than even the greatest painters could
You don’t have to sit still, you don’t have to smile
Just be yourself and look towards me
In the summer of 2009, right before school broke off for the summer, someone in our school decided to throw a massive party to celebrate the end of the school year. Where we lived, we rarely had huge parties like that because everyone lived so far apart and it was difficult to get everyone at one place, but this was the one time it happened.
Luckily the person hosting the party didn’t live outrageously far from Niall and me, so we were able to get on my bike to go there. It was only a thirty minute ride. As we made our way there, the evening was just descending and the cool air was soothing and Niall was warm against my back with one arm around my waist as usual.
Looking back, I’m still undecided about whether my decision to join a group of a dozen other people in a traditional game of spin the bottle was a good idea. When the bottle landed on me, I felt like I had my lungs ripped out of my chest – my breath was knocked out of me in an instant as I thought about the consequences, the implications, and the fact that Niall was already making his way towards me in even, confident strides. But wasn’t he the slightest bit hesitant about this too? Yes, we were supposed to kiss whoever the bottle landed on no matter if the person was a boy or a girl (because then, what would be the fun in that?) but I didn’t think this outcome would occur. The chances were slim and it was all supposed to be meaningless because we didn’t know any of the people in the circle too well and we could just forget about it after tonight. But Niall – wasn’t one of those people.
When he crawled in front of me on his knees, he put a hand behind my neck and pulled me towards him. I was frozen to the spot with my eyes wide – I must have looked completely stupid while Niall handled everything with ease. Then, he leaned in and I had never seen his blue eyes this close; they weren’t anything like the blue summer sky on a cloudless day like I had always thought they were, because up close, there were simply no words to describe that shade of blue. I must have gotten caught up with thoughts about those eyes, because when he closed them and those lashes fluttered gently from the movement, it suddenly hit home what was about to happen.
Suddenly I was sitting in an empty white space with just Niall and me and there was no sound apart from the rustling of Niall’s clothes as he moved closer and the deafening noise of my heartbeat pulsing through my veins, drowning out my entire world. Then, I felt something soft against my lips, something like velvet and silk but with a few creases because it was real and they were Niall’s lips. Faintly, I heard what sounded like wolf whistles in a distance and maybe a few cat calls, but I was too busy trying to figure out if we were supposed to move against each other or if sitting perfectly still with our lips touching was okay. I didn’t figure it out fast enough though, partly because I felt awkward and tingly from the tips of my toes all the way to my lips where Niall was closer than he had ever been before, and partly because the knots in my stomach were twisting painfully and I could barely ignore the feeling anymore, and then partly because Niall pulled away and suddenly we were just sitting there facing each other with burning faces.
He couldn’t meet my eyes and stared pointedly at his hands as he fiddled with his fingers but – naturally pale – his face was flushed red all the way from the back of his ears to his neck and I would have thought it was adorable if I wasn’t probably the same and if the guy beside me wasn’t nudging me with more force than necessary. Then, Niall stood up and shuffled back to his spot. We didn’t exchange anymore words that night.
The ride home was quiet and Niall didn’t put his arm around my waist or lean on my shoulder. It must have been difficult balancing on the backseat of the bicycle without holding onto anything.
We never brought up what happened that night ever again.
The moment I get ahold of ‘happiness’, it always goes out of focus
So in the moments before, I take a good hard look through the lens
But sometimes I wonder if it’s even possible?
To capture happiness
It was a regular Friday morning in the spring of 2011 and everyone was on study leave to prepare for the finals. It was also the morning I woke up feeling nervous and jittery because today was the day my dream university was sending out decision emails and I knew that when I opened my inbox there would be an email waiting for me.
I could barely remember anything between the moment I checked my email to the next moment when I was suddenly at Niall’s house because I was overjoyed and yes the world was really endless and the sky was not the limit. I had hopped on my bike and raced over to his house – I needed to see him, I needed to share the news with Niall. There was nothing but pure joy and a need to share good news with Niall because I knew he would be happy for me and I could already imagine his face as I told him.
It was just as I had imagined because the moment the smile broke into a grin on his face I thought the world was a beautiful place and I leapt towards Niall and hugged him with every inch of my life. Then we must have laughed and cried and laughed some more because two hours later when we were eating some of Aunt Maura’s delicious cooking my face was still damp and Niall’s eyes glistened with moisture. I had been stressing out with Niall about this for months and now that it was over it was like the moment sunlight broke through the clouds after rain on a cloudy day.
Distracted by our joy from my good news, it took us a few more hours to realize that it meant that Niall and I wouldn’t be going to the same university and that we were going to separate after graduating secondary school. In the midst of my own hysteria, I had forgotten that Niall had applied to the exact same universities as me and I had forgotten to ask if he had gotten accepted. I knew the answer when – he didn’t say a word when it occurred to us what it all meant, and the mood dampened.
I couldn’t suppress the uncomfortable feeling in my heart when I realized – also – then, that Niall had genuinely been happy for me, and had laughed and cried for me because he was happy for me despite knowing that he had gotten rejected.
We stayed in his room that night talking about how we were going to keep in touch and how we were going to meet up in the summer and go traveling together. I think it might have something to do with the moonlight and the angle in which it kissed one side of Niall’s face, illuminating his light blond hair and his blue eyes – a little dark but still striking in the dim lighting – but I think I’d just blame it on some ambiguous magnetic force. One moment, we were going over some plans to travel to different countries in Europe and backpack our way across the continent, and then the next moment our faces were extremely close and in that proximity, Niall smiled at me and the corners of his eyes crinkled a little. Then I closed the gap between us – and there didn’t need to be a reason for that because it was right and as always Niall just took my breath away without trying.
We kissed for the first time in two years since that night at the party. The feelings were the same; the sound of my heart was the same as it filled my head with a rhythmic monster of a noise, and we were in that white space again, just the two of us and the occasional rustling of Niall’s white t-shirt as I gripped the front of the fabric to pull him even closer. There was more movement, less awkwardness, and more time and privacy. I didn’t know how long we were there, just enjoying being close to each other and grasping on to whatever we could and whatever remained. It didn’t feel like it was too long or too short, but something was conveyed in that moment – and it sounded oddly like ‘see you later’.
With an unguarded smile, the boy inside me raced on his bicycle, rushing to see you
You don’t need to hide your weaknesses from me, because I will accept it all
I’m reaching out to join you – in your inner world
At exactly 11 AM, a blond man wearing a maroon polo shirt and a pair of jeans walked into the café and stopped at the front to look around. I nearly jumped from my chair to wave madly to try and catch his attention but I schooled my emotions just in time and simply raised a hand calmly until he saw me. When our eyes met it was like rain on fire and all that was left was smoke, and things seemed right again.
I stood up as he got closer and held out my hand – just like the first time. As he held my hand in his, he smiled his – familiar – smile at me and the corners of his eyes crinkled a little bit. The sun was shining in from the window on the 49th floor of the building and it kissed Niall’s face at a certain angle that made his hair look lighter than usual and, of course, the shade of blue in his eyes was indescribably beyond any metaphor I could possibly put here. If anyone truly glowed in person, it was Niall and somehow his existence lit up very core of my being. I smiled back because that was what he did to me, but the smile on my lips was nothing like the smile in my heart because that – was permanent.
Briefly I let my gaze flicker to the window at the sky that looked bluer than it had for years and suddenly I felt light and I thought maybe I caught a glimpse of infinity.
I hadn’t seen it in a while, but just like the way it had in my youth, the sky looked endless today.
The shape of you is burned into my heart, and it remains there like a suntan
Even should the cicadas die, the glow never fades
After graduating college, we had moved on to live in different cities and accept different jobs. I had taken on the busy schedule of an investment banker while Niall had entered a joint venture for a startup internet business. For years, we hardly had time to see each other, so when I received a mysterious email from a business address one day, I thought nothing of it and nearly didn’t check it. I still thank heavens and all that is holy that I decided to click on the unread mail during a five minute break I imposed on myself because – I think it might be one of the best things I’d done in a while.
I’m relocating next month to your city. Maybe I’ll see you there?
All sweaty, the boy inside me raced on his bicycle, rushing to see you
You don’t need to hide your worries and your sadness from me, because I will accept it all