It was supposed to be just a phase.
It was supposed to be that one crush that every university student goes through and leaves behind in a cloud of regrets and embarrassing photos taken half-drunk at a frat party.
It was supposed to be a memory that one could hang on the wall and glance at it from time to time, remembering the green-horned feeling of flowers blooming in the pit of your stomach as you catch a whiff of their perfume when they pass you in the hall.
It was supposed to be the tangy aftertaste of puppy love, which, just like pomegranate juice lingers a bit longer that one would like it to.
Sometimes a year.
And yet, for Artur Łata, that feeling was like a piece of gum stuck to the bottom of a dress shoe - you don’t know it’s there, or maybe you just forgot; but once in a while, in the worst situation possible, it will make itself known and drown you in the sudden dread that comes from the complete loss of control over the simplest of things.
Things like falling in love with a person you could basically consider a rival.
Magda Wilk was an enigma. At one moment she was calm and collected, her words cutting the tension of the university classroom like a freshly sharpened knife and every argument of hers hitting just the right point in the discussion; in the next she was laughing with her friends, drinking beer in the local park, running away from the campus patrol and gossiping about anything and anyone.
To a quiet recluse like Artur, she was someone he looked up to. He often wondered, how someone born in the same year could be as different from him as Magda was.
And yet, there she stood, a walking contradiction.
The first time they spoke to each other beyond a courteous “hello” and “goodbye” was during the preparation for the university’s open doors days. Like in the movies he consumed in alarming amounts, they were both delegated to go out shopping for snacks. It was late April, and if Artur concentrated hard enough, he could clearly remember the way the sun reflected off Magda’s peach-colored lipgloss.
It was her who spoke first, breaking the silence that consisted of cars whirring by, an occasional elderly person nagging passersby about the way they were dressed and laughter of children who decided to skip school.
“Artur, was it? How did you do on the last assignment?” she asked, and her voice sounded like wind chimes in the breeze of the premature summer.
“From which subject?” he replied with a question of his own and cringed internally at the way his voice broke at the end of the sentence. Grown man, stumbling over his words because of stress. His dad would laugh at him.
“Latin. Honestly, I deserved that fail, I basically wrote my paper in 20 minutes the morning before the lecture. Got distracted by my roommate.” she laughed, and Artur wished he could listen to that laugh forever.
“I passed,” he muttered, adjusting the strap on the over-the-shoulder bag that he took in case the shopping bags tucked in their pockets wouldn’t be enough. Magda just gasped jokingly, nudging his side with her elbow.
“That much I know! If the top student in our group failed an assignment, the dean would have gotten a heart attack instantly, and everyone would know.” she shoved her hands inside the pockets of her thin overcoat, and Artur coughed once into his tightened fist, embarrassed. “I’m asking what grade you got, silly.”
“A five.” the man muttered, hoping to become one with the wind and disappear.
Magda gasped again, this time in honest surprise. Pirouetting around his smaller frame and stopping right in front of Artur, she said a single sentence that would change their fate forever;
“Tutor me, mister future prosecutor!”
A lot of things happened in the short span of time between that conversation and their graduation.
Unexpectedly being placed in the same debate group (which, Artur thought, was very much rigged by their romance obsessed lecturer), agreeing to take their internships at the same office, and most of all, the regular
dates study sessions in the lobby of Magda’s dorms were only a few of the situations that would make Artur’s heart beat out his chest each time the woman in front of him showed just the tiniest bit of teeth when laughing at his dry jokes or tucked the stray strand of her auburn hair behind her ear.
And then came the graduation.
Robed, eyes full of tears, families in the stand, they received their diplomas, bidding the university building goodbye forever. The entire day, Artur fought with himself - sure he grew a lot in these short years; he wasn’t afraid to order food in a restaurant by himself anymore, and he could look people in the eye when meeting them - but was he strong enough to say what he needed to say before he would lose Magda from his sight forever? The moment was coming up hot, and, honest to all gods that exist, he was feeling slightly faint.
Clutching the diploma he just received in his hands, most likely wrinkling it beyond repair, he paced the halls of now oddly quiet university. First floor, second floor, third floor. The short corridor between building A and B. Another flight of stairs, this time heading downstairs, to the little nook hidden between the lecturers’ offices and the lift, one that was basked in warm light at lunchtime, offering a safe space to study, and a comfortable place to take a midday nap in the early evening. The little space that they claimed as their own.
Sure enough, she was there, perched on the windowsill like a bird threatening to fly away if startled. Artur breathed out, the air shaky with uncertainty and the pure, unfiltered adoration.
She looked at him, face bathed in the rays of the golden hour, turning her hair into honey-like gold, and her, slightly puffy from getting emotional during the ceremony, eyes into a warm endless pool that he would like to lose himself in. The corners of her lips rose, and the small dimples that he worshipped so much appeared on her face, for him and himself only. Magda turned to him, that playful spark that always nested on her face ever so present.
“Artur,” she answered, basically radiating beauty and perfection in his eyes.
They were quiet for a moment, the silence comforting and consoling, enveloping their tired bodies in a thin veil of mutual understanding. Then she spoke again, filling the air with the smell of summer, the same summer that brought them together.
“What’s up? It’s so unusual of you to insist so feverishly upon a meeting!” she laughed, and Artur swore he was back on the street, waiting for the light to turn green as she asked him to tutor her.
Her eyes were full of what he could only describe as hope. What did she think he was going to say? Perhaps she was expecting a gift? He should have brought flowers, he thought grimly, his hand fumbling with the corner of his robe. He couldn’t look her in the eye - it was almost as if he was regressing in his growth as a human.
But this was the moment. The moment he was dreaming of for the last five or so years, the one he has planned so meticulously while laying down in his bed, the notes from the last lecture scattered on the floor in disarray, long forgotten in the rush hour of his thoughts. The moment he wrote down in his notebook a few months ago and practiced like the monologue of a Shakespearean protagonist.
‘Magda,’ he would say, standing proudly in front of her, his hands at his sides, his hair properly brushed, his face shaved and her favorite cologne sprinkled lightly behind his ear.
‘You’ve given me so many happy moments, many that you don’t even know about, and many that I would not even try to explain’ he would continue, coming just a step closer, close enough to be able to see the specks of blue in her eyes.
‘I can’t imagine continuing my way as a public servant without you at my side. And I don’t mean it as a co-worker.” he would reassure her, noticing the confusion on her face.
‘Please go out with me. I’m sure we could reach great heights together, ones that others would never even dream about.’
Then she would agree and they would go get coffee, see a movie, well, maybe change out of the graduation robes first, of course. All in all, they would stay together from now on. Everything was calculated and planned.
And yet, as he stood a good few meters away from the woman basked in gold, the thick lump in his throat made speaking impossible. He felt cold sweat running down his back, one that wasn’t caused by the heat of June. His mouth opened and closed, like a fish taken out of the water and placed on sand, gasping for its final, agonizing breath.
What was he going to say?
What was the script?
Was this really happening?
What would she say?
Was he sure?
Was he going to risk breaking their friendship that he so painstakingly created from scratch just to satisfy his selfish desire?
He bit his tongue so hard he tasted metal.
“Congratulations on your graduation. I knew you’d do well.” he croaked out, each word stabbing his heart like a red hot needle.
“You too. Thank you for all of your help, Artur.”
He failed to notice the cold, heartbreaking disappointment in her eyes.
And just like that, she was gone. The bird that was waiting so patiently flew away, leaving behind a hole torn out with claws of despair and self-hatred. The nook was empty, her scent of green tea and lemongrass, one that he once found comforting now choking him, bringing stinging tears to the corners of his eyes. He screamed out in agony as he kicked the radiator on the wall, hard enough for one of the pipes to disconnect and start leaking dark-colored water on the floor, and for his dress shoe’s sole to crack open.
He stood in one place as the water pooled around his feet.
Oh, how he wished to drown in it.
He lost himself in work afterward. Climbed the ranks, received an award after an award, learning from his mistakes as both a prosecutor and a person, growing more sure of himself and proud of the things he was achieving. He pushed the stabbing pain of that one June afternoon to the very back of his head as he thumbed through one paper after another,
Artur Łapa became a well-known persona. Artur, the university graduate disappeared into the background, forever haunting the slightly crumpled diploma that hung on the wall of his office.
It was yet another June afternoon when he stepped into the familiar courtroom, one that he made a home over the past months. This case? Not even that difficult - the defendant refused to give his testimony in both the police investigation and his own questioning. If he continued to stay silent like that, Artur would just have to use that haunting silence as proof of his guilt, collect his paycheck and go to sleep at the office, as he would always do. He couldn’t remember the last time he was at his actual home.
The courtroom smelled of aged oak, cough drops, and resin - and he found that mix of scents comforting. It always seemed to welcome him back, in a way that no one else did. Sometimes, just sometimes he would smell the faintest hint of citrus, and his heart would squeeze in the most uncomfortable way, one that would cause him to grimace as if he has eaten a whole lemon. The memory of the golden hour would knock at the door of his subconscious and he would throw his papers on the desk just a little bit harder than he would have liked.
That day, that smell wasn’t there. Sure, there were many scents mixed with the usual musk of the hall of law, but there wasn’t anything familiar about it. The same cold walls, the same dark desk, the same empty pews on both sides of the main entrance. If someone asked him to draw the layout of that single room, he could probably do it with his eyes closed.
The guard stepped into the room, his arms behind his back, shooting Artur a friendly smile on the way to the center of the room. They would most likely go out for drinks sometime that week, as Artur found the guard to be a rather amusing drinking companion. Too bad he could never remember his name.
“Everyone rise. The presiding judge will be Anna Maria Wesołowska.” the man spoke, and just like that, disappeared into the background. Artur took a deep breath. Another day, another trial.
The lady he knew so well walked into the room, bringing silence and a sense of what nearly seemed like monarchy into the room. The judge took her place behind the bench, checked if the gavel was indeed in the place she has last left it, straightened out her robe and glanced at the file provided by the lawyer next to her before finally addressing the room, her cold, monotone voice reverbing in the room like a one-person choir solo in an empty cathedral.
“The case of Andrzej Jurkiewicz in face of the district court is now open. The defendant has been brought into the hall of judgment from the federal prison, alongside his defense attorney..?”
“Defense attorney Magdalena Wilk, your honor.”
Sound of windchimes. The scent of early summer.
Artur’s head snapped up so fast that he felt blood rushing into his head all at once.
There she sat, the cause of his suffering for these last years, looking in his direction with the warmth he didn’t know he missed. Her hair was shorter now, at most shoulder-length, kept in a neat low ponytail. Her face was a bit more tired, but given this line of work, he wouldn’t be surprised to find a stray wrinkle or two near these captivating eyes.
“Sir? Mister Prosecutor?” the judge asked, worryingly leaning out of her desk in his direction. He snapped out of his daze instantly, switching into his professional mode as naturally as he could.
“I’m sorry, your honor. Prosecutor Artur Łapa, at your service.”
The rest of the trial was… odd, to say the least. If he was to look back at that day, he would recall with surprise, that he does not remember much of it, just the random snippets of testimonies, and the defendant breaking down in tears by the end of it. One way or another, he was cleared of his charges and the key witness that was supposed to be the final nail in his coffin turned out to be the real perpetrator.
And then he was out, waiting by the back exit door, still in his gown, still in a daze.
A good few minutes went by before she walked out from behind the corner, phone in on hand, car keys in the other. The moment she spotted him, she stopped walking, her eyebrows shooting up in surprise.
“Aren’t you going to change?” she asked, and suddenly, the citrus aroma was back, playing with every fiber of his very being. “Artur?”
Maybe it was the citrus, or perhaps the dam that went loose in the back of his head, but as he closed the small distance between the both of them and smashed his lips into hers, he couldn’t hear his logic screaming bloody murder from somewhere inside of his brain.
Magda didn’t pull back.
And when he finally let go of the sides of her face, letting out a small shaky breath that was waiting in his lungs since the day of his graduation, he laughed silently, finally locking his eyes with hers.
“You didn’t change either.”
It was supposed to be just a phase.
Sometimes a year.
But at that moment, as the woman he loved for as long as he remembered leaned in for another kiss, he was glad that that part of him newer grew up.