Kevin Wang loved the color of her eyes. They were such a shade of brown, that if the golden rays of the sun struck them, and, at the same time, were burdened with her crystal-like tears, they assumed a color that seemed to represent the heavenly marriage between honey and chocolate. He endeavored, therefore, to create every opportunity to view her tearstruck eyes under the sun—gifts of rotting, flea-infested roses; boxes of expired, melting chocolate; cards full of euphemisms for the shortcomings of her “womanly body”—yet still she stayed by his side. Still she stayed by his side, and allowed him to savor the color of her golden-brown eyes.

Kevin hated ants. One night he had massacred an entire clan of them, stomping on them vigorously as they scurried across the sidewalk. That night his fingers had slipped, yet he had always taken so much pride in their loyalty to never slip. It had been the last few seconds of the championship basketball game, and he was right there, right under the net, about to flip a loss to a win, yet his fingers had slipped, and the ref had blown his blaring whistle.

He stomped on them hard that night, screaming and crying at his disloyal fingers. He believed that he was dangling with a yawning canyon at his feet, and that the only way to hoist himself over the ledge was to desperately flood his resume with a few dozen iterations of “champion” and “first place.” A single misstep, a single blunder would mean an endless fall into the Abyss of Failure.

But Kevin still loved the color of her eyes. He had only known her for a year, during eighth grade, and then somehow or other her family had moved away, and he lost all connection with her. But while he was walking around the campus of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, he saw her again. Years had passed, yet still she was the same: a petite figure, emblazoned with a white, waist-revealing crop top; baggy jeans, emphasizing her long, long legs; and eyes still so beautiful, so pure under the warm autumn glow.

He felt no shame in approaching her then and asking, without a doubt of her agreement, for her to be his girlfriend again.

Kevin hated it when she said no. Such a calm, definitive “no” as well.

“Why?” he asked her, gripping her arms forcefully. “Why won’t you be with me now, when you agreed back—back then—”

She twisted herself out of his grasp. “You don’t—remember—” she breathed in disbelief…

She had done the extra practice, sat through the extra-help lectures, and performed the all-nighters. But while taking the test, she had a feeling that her algebra was still wrong.

A few days later, she sat nervously as their teacher handed back their graded tests. She exchanged glances with Kevin, who was sitting next to her. By the way she instantly burst into tears and ran out of the room upon receiving her test, he could make a pretty good guess. He glanced over to his side, and peeked at the letter, circled in red ink…

A-. Of course. One minus away.

But he had finished the test early and received his A+. So she let him. She let him treat her however he liked, she let him savor the color of her golden-brown eyes, so long as he returned late-night ventures to her house, to tell her that she was stupid, that she was going to fail, to show her his way, “the right way,” to solve those algebra problems. 

He liked to believe that his heart and everything else about him was strong and mighty. But upon watching her nights grow long with algebra problems, he couldn’t help but feel a little sorry for her. One day, in an attempt to console her, he asked if she shared the same criteria as he did. It was the fundamental criteria that began with Confucius, passed around China for about two thousand years, ended up in his Chinese immigrant parents’ laps, and was later embedded into his Chinese-American brain:

“A+ means ‘phew.’ A means acceptable. B-C-D-F means Blatantly, Catastrophically, Disastrously, and unFathomably unacceptable.”

She had stared at him blankly, blinking in confusion. She asked him for help on Question #49 instead. 

“I didn’t understand what you meant then, Kevin,” she said to him. They had moved to a nearby bench while she was reminding him of what he had forgotten, and now that she had finished her story, Kevin sat dumbfounded, watching as her tear-filled eyes turned heavenly golden-brown again. 

“But I still don’t,” she continued. “At least, I don’t agree with you. I’ve always had big dreams. I wanted to change the world. I wanted the whole world to know me. And I knew I needed really amazing academic success to achieve those dreams. That’s why I worked so hard. I—I believe that my hard work was out of a hope for success, not a fear of failure.”

Suddenly she gripped his hand with her elegant long fingers. “I—I prayed for that test, Kevin. The night before, I knelt before the window to the stars for an eighth-grade algebra test. Do you understand, Kevin?”

Kevin did not know what to feel when he saw her elegant fingers slip something under the door of his dorm. It was late. So late that the only light in his dorm was the yellow sliver of light coming from the hallway, illuminating her hand vividly against the darkness of the room.

Months had passed since he had failed for her hand in companionship. Now, it was December, and his first midterm was tomorrow. Textbooks and notebooks and worksheets were sprawled all over his desk. 

He had not talked to her since, but he could recognize those fingers anywhere. They appeared under his door, but the sound of footsteps signaled that she had promptly walked away.

He walked up to the door, bent down, and picked up a red bracelet. Attached was a paper note, signed very simply:

Good luck on midterms.

—Catherine Huang

He flung the bracelet behind him, angrily sitting back down. “Luck?” “Good luck?” Not “Study Harder?” “Sleep Less?” “Do More?” Catherine wished him Chance? Accident? Contingency? 

But inevitably, with his desk propped flush to the window, the glint of the stars beyond its panes caught his eyes. He raised his eyes to view them. They were shining, like tiny diamonds of hope.

Suddenly the image of Catherine praying before a cold starry night appeared in his mind.

Perhaps he had it wrong.

He fell to his knees and groped in the dark for her bracelet, and found that it had landed just before his window. Holding it up to the window’s light, only then could he see it in all its detail. It was scarlet red, red like the Chinese color for luck, and so deftly crafted that it must have been the work of Catherine’s very own fingers.

He looked up to the window again. The glinting stars, the golden moon. It was as if the color of Catherine’s eyes, warm gold, was sprinkled all over the sky. Catherine’s eyes, he suddenly realized—they were hope. Hope in the rays of the sun to which they were tilted for better. Hope so strong that she was willing to lose herself to chase the stars at full speed. And most importantly, an ardent, unshakable belief that her dreams would one day come true…

Perhaps he had it all wrong.

I must have a 4.8 GPA.

I hope I do well in school.

I must do perfectly on midterms.

I hope I do alright on midterms.

I must have her as my girlfriend.

I hope, and can only hope, that she will agree to be my girlfriend…

He had it all wrong. Dead wrong. He rose and cleared his table, packing all his things away into his backpack for tomorrow. 

He faced the window, braving the light of the stars.

He put on Catherine’s scarlet-red bracelet. He closed his eyes, and brought his tired, hulking body to its knees.

There he prayed before the stars and the moon for his midterms assessment.

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