He knew by the way she touched her hair. She couldn't keep her hands off it. Her need to play with it was constant and compulsory.
Grasping it. Cinching it. Tucking it. Twirling thicker and thicker tendrils around her fingers. Flipping the whole mass across a shoulder. The itch to groom was so naked and obvious it seemed like a parody of a Buzzfeed article: 20 Signs She's Into You.
It was also effective. He was mesmerized. Entranced. Emboldened, even.
They were young, and new, and this couldn't be love. But that didn't stop them from experiencing the most excruciating sweetness in the other's presence, as their mundane conversation became the lines to a play being writ on the fly. They felt foolish. They felt stunned. Between bursts of words, they kicked a small ball back and forth, some part of them understanding that this was the privilege and the risk of youth: to kick a ball that was a stand-in for something else, too large and mysterious to name.
For an hour, they kicked the ball by a pond choked with lily pads, until they said goodbye.
And later, as their heads sank onto their respective pillows, the day assumed a permanent shine in their minds, forming a shape as celestial as any sphere.
The way he'd flipped the ball between his toes and insole, a gesture as quick and nimble as a warbler's flashing cut between cattails.
The way she laughed in the face of the wind, looking like the heroine of a nineteenth-century novel he'd been forced to read for school last year, liking it more than he'd let on.
How he'd looked down from time to time, keeping the ball too long underfoot, as if needing that time to catch his breath.
The whiteness of her underarm as she'd lifted her hand to her hair, one more time--again.
So that later--many hundreds or thousands of nights removed from that day--they would lie in beds separated by hundreds or thousands of miles, next to people they hadn't even known that summer, and felt, with an ache so profound it threatened to smother, that memory was the fourth dimension, a construction so nearly perfect, if always incomplete.
Thinking that time was a thicket of hair, passing through unknowing fingers, as they slid into their different dreams.