I first met him in Educational Technology the junior year of college at SUNY Oneonta in Lee Hall. I sat behind him of course; I always found myself sitting in the last row no matter how difficult it was to see the board. This is why I only really knew him by the back of his head for most of the fall semester. He had red hair streaked with brown and broad shoulders. Later, I would discover that they were covered with freckles as well as the rest of his body.
I learned this later since “Chris” is what he went by. The only time we ever exchanged words was when he had a question about an assignment; he’d wheel his chair around and embarrassingly ask:
“Wait . . . what do we have to do?”
Even though he never appeared to be trying, he always had this presence. I distinctly remember one of his presentations for class; he demonstrated how to use the map feature of the Smartboard to carry out a Social Studies lesson. I leaned over to one of my good friends, Miranda, as he set it up. “He’s cute.” She looked up and examined him for a moment, “He’s got a baby face.” I looked at him harder this time, “You think?” before adding, “Not really with the beard though. . .”
“Yeah, I guess you’re right.” She smirked and looked back at her desktop, “He is cute.”
The first time we had a real conversation was at a party in the beginning of the winter, before Christmas. I went with two guy friends that were barely even friends at all at that point, but I wanted to go out, and this particular party sounded fun. Together, we walked into a strangely designed house with our spirits high and our mindsets buzzed. The ceiling came to a point like a ski lodge, and the floor plan was very long. We made our way through the tunnel-like hallways to the kitchen to the keg, and there he was:
Christopher Joseph Martorell.
“You’re in my Ed Tech class aren’t you?” He asked as he poured himself a drink from the keg. I smiled.
Because of the smooth Casanova that I am, I continued our conversation by talking his ear off about middle schoolers at the school as I was placed at for observations. Real smooth. Gentleman callers really love when you talk about awkward, zitty, smelly pre-teens that you get to hang with all day. Trust me.
It seemed to be effective though because soon enough, he was my beer pong partner. The combination of our competitive natures was obnoxious to say the least. Cheering soon turned to a team handshake, which then evolved into passive-aggressive taunting. Our opposing team and my “friends” were not amused to say the least. They were annoyed with our behavior — and victory — so they told me it was time to go even though I wasn’t ready. Regardless, it was a good night.
Afterwards, our occasional interactions transformed into regular hellos — we waved at the dining hall, I grabbed a coffee at Starbucks, which I “conveniently” went to during his shifts, he started to turn around in class to talk about more than our class’s syllabus. Our relationship was forced to the next step when we had our second real exchange, and I offered to give him a ride.
The snow was coming down in thick clumps: the kind that sticks to your eyelashes. I had conveniently drove to class that day living off campus and all and parked next to the building. After we were dismissed, scraping of the snow of my car, I could see Chris trudging up the hill.
“Hey!” I called out, “You need a ride?”
He was hesitant but then turned around and approached my car in agreement. He was very appreciative but visibly nervous. I tried to joke around to ease his tension, making comments about our peculiar professor. It seemed to work for the most part. At the short-lived ride, he reluctantly got out of the car when we reached his destination.
I could feel our chemistry. I knew he could too. It was undeniable.
After that, he became one of my best guy friends in the 607. We visited each other regularly at work, greeting with a hug, we confided in one another about the current relationships we were juggling, and we, eventually, exchanged numbers on Facebook. The first time he messaged me, he asked me what party I was going to and to let him know what my plans were that night. I eagerly responded with my number and then waited for my phone to light up for most of the night. Nothing ever came through though; my disappointment was prevalent every time I made an exhausted glance at my phone. My eagerness melted into frustration.
This frustration continued, but afterwards, after some debating, I decided to try another approach by texting him for coffee. I felt a pang of guilt.
Was it okay to get coffee with another guy?
I instantly regretted my efforts when he didn’t respond until four days later apologizing for not getting back to me sooner. I convinced myself it was sign that I should back off; he was taken and so was I. I knew this was the truth behind his vague and delayed responses. Chris was then immediately taken off my radar.
We remained friendly and things were pretty stagnant for the next few months until the night,the night that changed everything. It was the Relay for Life event: an annual fund raiser that our school participated in to raise money for cancer research. His acapella group was performing at the event, and I was there with the rugby team. I remember he was wearing a dark, three-quarter zip sweater. He looked and sounded brilliant up on stage; he had a solo. I couldn’t help but continuously look at him through the corner of my eye as I walked around the track. He’s cute and a musician? Kill me.
After his performance ended, he jumped down from the stage and somehow found me in the crowd. He greeted me with a hug, and we began to walk and talk; he was so easy to talk to. I felt like we were both trying to squeeze a word in: back and forth, we couldn’t say enough. We couldn’t stop talking. He told me about his love for music, his mother passing from cancer, and how he couldn’t stand his girlfriend’s family. We danced and sung as we walked loop after loop. I didn’t want the night to ever end, but after two and a half hours of walking together, we parted ways. I walked back to my team, and they gave me a suspicious smile, and that’s when I knew. To me, he wasn’t just a friend.
Not too long later, I went up to the Starbucks where he worked to get a coffee with another friend. We were going to the movies to see a horror film and dropped in to grab a cup and say hello. Chris’s shining face was on the other side of the counter, but today, he seemed not like himself; he seemed down. It wasn’t really a coincidence that I suggested to go that morning, I knew he worked on Saturday mornings.
I thought maybe it was possibly a hangover — which wasn’t abnormal on Saturdays — but when I approached him, I knew it was more. He looked like he was trying to keep himself together. I whispered, “You okay?” The first thing he said was, “Nikole broke up with me.” I was shocked: “What?! I am so sorry, Chris!” I didn’t like seeing him this way. Regardless of how I knew I secretly felt, whether I could admit it or not, I didn’t want him to be hurt, and nobody enjoys a break up. Unless it’s mutual, you’re either the evil heart breaker, or the devastated victim. He told me that she has been talking about wanting to see other people. He rushed around the baked goods, his eyes glazed over, he whispered “It’s okay” as I squeezed him in an embrace as if he was comforting me. I knew it wasn’t though.
I went into friend-mode rather than jumping on the opportunity to pursue Chris; I really wanted to respect that he needed to figure out his situation. I also knew that I had feelings of my own for my current relationship that needed to be figured out. It was winding down to the last few weeks of the school year, and my interest in this particular character dwindled at this time. May had sprung, and Chris and Nikole were officially over, but he was having fun and living it up with his friends as was I. He seemed to be happy. I was glad that he was moving on and hadn’t let Nikole dictate the rest of his school year in Oneonta. He even asked me for some girl advice at one point. Flattered and a little jealous, I was there as his friend for whatever he needed whether it was a lunch buddy or his female condenseur.
This is how it went until the night where I went to the last show his acapella group was putting on that semester. My friend was also in the group; I was baffled by the musical talent that they displayed. Oh, and Chris had a solo.
His booming voice filled the small room in the Fine Arts building as he sang the Red Hot Chili Peppers’s “Under The Bridge”. I melted in my chair as I tried to play it cool. A bald, stocky man and a young girl half his size cheered in the crowd.
That must be his family, I thought.
His friends behind me whistled and cheered his name. It was obvious he had a lot of people who loved him. He was swarmed at the end, but I was able to sneak in quickly and quietly letting him know that I would be at the after party. I hugged him goodbye in one, quick motion.
I left the event with my friend, Michael, and headed straight for the part. We were the first guests there. The place was small but festive to say the least. The walls were covered with decorations from every holiday and their coffee table was scribbled with doodles. I read them as I sipped on my drink and sat on the couch like a wet noodle. Michael smoked hookah with his musically gofted friends. He leaned over and said:
“Chris asked about you the other day.”
My heart fluttered.
He did? What did he say? How did he say it?
I had to shake my eagerness though, “Oh. . . hm, really? About what?”
“He asked how you and Cameron are doing. I think he likes you.”
I couldn’t help but smile. I wiped it away by taking a sip of my beer, the foam kissed my lips. It was then that he walked through the front door of the cottage-like house. I acted as if I didn’t see him stroll in by turning and continuing to talk with my friend. In the corner of my eye, I caught a glimpse of him, he wore a seafoam green button up and his typical toothy smile. I took another sip and felt its coolness run down my throat and quickly transform into a warmth that brewed in my stomach.
He gave out a couple bro-shakes as he maneuvered the crowd — more guests had arrived as the event dispersed — then came right over and sat on the floor next to the couch. “Hey!” I looked down and finally met his eyes, “Hey, you did great out there!” He thanked me, and informed that his family had come, and that was the first time they had seen him preform in this group. I expressed my shared excitement. He then asked in an assumed tone, “Beer pong?”
I felt his hand on the small of my back as we moved through the crowd of the party, and he lead me to the table. I couldn’t focus on anyone else though. It felt like it was just the two of us all night. We talked and laughed as the drinks made their way to my head; I was light and confident. We played again — not as well as before though, but it didn’t matter.
The party began to dwindle and the talk of heading to the bars began. I knew Chris couldn’t go — he hadn’t owned a fake and was a few months shy of 21. I didn’t want to leave him, but I wanted to go with my friends. I felt myself being pulled to say something that would hold onto the night, and then it came spilling out, “Let’s be honest! We have a crush on each other, and quite frankly, I don’t want to pretend anymore.”
A grin appeared on his face and stretched from ear-to-ear, “Lauren, I have liked you for a long time.”
I didn’t exactly feel surprised because I had always felt the chemistry between us from the beginning, but it was finally out in the open. Our moment was cut short though when everyone started headed for the bar and demanded that I follow, calling my name to catch up.
I wanted to go back with him or bring him back to my place to talk about this huge elephant we just released into the wild, but I couldn’t. Cameron was still waiting for me miles away. He smiled like he knew what I was thinking and said, “I’ll walk you there.”