Open and Honest – Part IV
“I should walk home,” she tells me.
“Ok,” I say, “though it makes me sad.”
She pulls out her phone, calling her other half. She chats with him briefly, in strained tones. “I’m with Ben,” I hear her say into the phone, very matter-of-factly. The voice on the other end rises in tone, strained, angry. She seems pained, surprised, upset. She turns away from me, facing the parking lot, and my heart hurts. “Ok,” she says as she hangs up, “have fun.”
“Are you ok?” I ask.
“Yeah,” she says with a sigh. She stares into the night, pulling her coat a little closer around her. “You know what,” she says as she turns toward me, “it’s kind of a long walk to my place.”
“Yup,” I confirm, already aware of what’s about to happen.
“And your place is so close and warm,” she continues, echoing argument I made for her just moments before.
“Indeed it is,” I confirm.
“You don’t mind, do you?”
“No, of course not,” I say. But inside I’m not so sure. I won’t turn her away, but I don’t like being a backup plan, a second choice. I wonder if I’m vengeance, if I’m the easy solution.
By the time we’re in my bed, I no longer care.
“You headed to Very Nice?” he asks as he passes us.
“I am,” I tell him with a smile. I’m owed a beer. I’m planning to collect. She, however, is tired. Our night previous was amazing, full of novelty and effort I hadn’t known I was capable of. She’s already told me she’s headed home to rest and recuperate.
“Cool,” he says with a soft smile before driving away.
We continue the long walk to her car.
“You know,” she remarks, “I kinda want to go home, but I also kind of want to be social and have a beer.”
“It’s your call,” I tell her, but the paranoia has kicked in. I know she thinks he’s attractive. I know she wants to play the field. And I know she only changed her mind after he stopped to talk to us.
I don’t really listen to her vocally debate the pros and cons of beer versus rest on the drive down. I can’t tell if I’m happy when she chooses to come in for beer.
“I can’t drink two,” she tells me as we walk in. “Would you like my free one?”
“Sure,” I say. The free beer seems a consolation prize, and I dive into it, losing myself in its flavor and in the friends around us. I sit beside her and feel her slide just a touch further away from me, her eyes trained on the parking lot outside the window.
He doesn’t show up. I think I see disappointment in her eyes. I look more closely, wondering if she’s thinking about why she even came, wishing she had chosen rest. I feel her sadness.
“I’m surprised more people didn’t come out,” I say trying to get her to open up.
“Yeah, me too,” she says with mild annoyance at the world, snapping back from her reverie.
“Especially given how many people were asking if I was going.”
“Perhaps that’s why they’re not here,” another friend jokes.
I laugh, but in the back of my head, I really do wonder that. I wonder what isn’t meant for my eyes and ears, what sort of effect I have on the situation, and if the guy who asked chose not to come because I was here, because he knows whatever it is he knows.
Soon, though, I’m lost in the beer, in the conversation, and in her now attentive eyes as we chat. And when I notice her energy fading, her need for rest taking over, I glance about and do some quick math about who’s there.
“May I kiss you?” I ask.
“What, here? Now?” She looks away as she says it, trying to subtly scan the room. I’m watching her intensely, curiosity and desire keeping my focus.
“Yes,” I say.
“Hmm,” she says. “Ok.”
I lean in and kiss her, her soft lips warm against mine.
“Thank you. Though at some point,” I tell her as I pull away, “we need to discuss this more thoroughly. Not here and now, of course,” I say as her eyes widen slightly, “but soon.”
“Ok,” she says.
And though I dread the conversation, it’s one that’s necessary in my mind, if only for the clarity it will bring.
I don’t think the opportunity will come so soon.
I’m sitting at home, watching a movie and avoiding doing any real work. My mind won’t leave the jealous and possessive feelings running through my head. It’s not acceptable. She doesn’t want that. She doesn’t want anything serious, yet I can’t help but feel like this is. Then again, what do I know. I haven’t had a serious relationship in years, and the few casual ones have been far too short-lived to even count as relationships.
I knew this was a risk, that I might not be able to detach, and I wonder if it’s healthy. How is this any different from when we were at Centro and that beer showed up? I ask myself. But it is different. She wasn’t at Very Nice with me. We weren’t there together. We just both happened to be there at the same time.
My phone wakes me from my reverie, the flash and beep bringing my head around.
“I’ve changed my mind,” the text reads, “if you still want company.”
I won’t say no. I already know that, but I can’t just say yes. I’m too wired, too worried, too confused. Who knows why she’s coming this time. It could be to escape her house and living situation. It could be to escape the cold or because her driveway is iced over. I wonder again if I’m just an easy out. Of course, the sex has been fantastic, so it could be for that, but it makes me wonder how much value she actually sees in me. And then there was this afternoon.
“You’re more than welcome,” I respond, “though I want to have that conversation we started earlier.”
“I’m on my way. Be there in 10.”
And suddenly my heart is beating far too fast for far too many reasons.
We lie there, our sweaty naked bodies tired and ready for sleep, cozy in the warmth. And I know it’s time.
“So,” I start in the darkness. “Can we finish that conversation from earlier?”
“Sure,” she says. I can feel her breath against my chest. She doesn’t look up at me, not that there would be much to see.
“I just am not sure where our boundaries are.”
“It’s not simple,” she sighs.
“I know. That’s why I asked if I could kiss you tonight. I mean, the only person whose opinion matters to me is you.”
“I’m just not that into PDA. It puts people off, makes them uncomfortable.” People you’re interested in, I add in my head, wishing she could just come out and be honest and straight forward. “I’ve never really been into that.”
“That’s fair,” I say. The argument is fair, for sure, but her choice to make it seems disingenuous.
“Plus, I generally show intimacy in more subtle ways,” she goes on. “Especially in public, there are other things we can do.”
“Ok,” I say.
The silence that follows is deafening to me. Soon it’s replaced by her steady breathing fading into sleep.
I stare at the darkness wondering if I should be mad, wondering if I should care, and knowing that there’s so much more I want her to say, even if it hurts, even if it makes things difficult. I want her to tell me I’m great but… I want her to say that this guy has this and that guy has that and that she wants to experience it all. I want her to tell me why I’m not enough, to tell me exactly how I’m deficient, to actually open up and tell me exactly why she does things the way she does.
But she’s already asleep.
It’s only a few more weeks, maybe a month, then I’m gone anyway, I rationalize. Why rock the boat?
In the darkness, as sleep closes in, her arms draped across my chest, I wonder if I’m even capable of not rocking the boat.
“I can’t look sideways,” she says, staring slightly off kilter as the bus drives on.
“I’ve been looking over there,” she says, nodding off diagonally, away from the couple making out in front of us. It’s the same coworker whom I suspected of enticing her to Very Nice only a week or two before. He’s pressed firmly against his current love interest, their lips locked in a sensual moment that seems so foreign in the drunken madness of the party bus.
I feel like I know what’s been going through her head as we’ve been making out in the darkness. I feel like she’s been angry and scared and insecure, the other men pursuing her suddenly distracted by the rowdy drunken girls hanging from the bus’s hand rails and leaping about provocatively. I wonder if I’m feeling our age and maturity gap; it’s never felt like an issue before. For whatever the seven years I have on her is worth, right then it feels a huge chasm. She honestly doesn’t know what she wants. She doesn’t want to decide, torn by emotion and hormones. And I’m just another stop on the way.
I kiss her again, perhaps to make sure she’s there with me, or perhaps because I can and I want to avoid the reality of the situation. Maybe I’m trying to ignore the fact that she gave her number to another guy, that she spent the majority of the evening flirting with the Buffalo Farmer—a slimy gentleman, several years older than me, divorced, who hit on everything that moved and would undress her with his eyes every time she looked away. Here I was, toting her stuff, knowing she’d come home with me, and kissing her in the darkness, but only when she knew no one whose opinion she might care about was looking.
Despite the warmth of her lips pressed against mine, I had never felt so cold.
She shivers in the chill of the night, refusing my jacket. The Buffalo Farmer kisses another girl under a tree behind the crowd.
“Let’s go,” I say, hating the moment.
“Hold on,” she says, delving into another hopeful conversation, waiting for him to come back and dote on her.
“Let’s go,” I say again insistent.
“I can’t believe that!” she exclaims to someone else in another conversation.
“Let’s go, unless you want to watch the Buffalo Farmer make out with her,” I whisper, trying to force reality into her head.
Suddenly, she is walking with me, and I can’t tell if she heard me, if she saw what I was trying to show her, or if she simply came to her senses. She doesn’t wait to say goodbye. She doesn’t wait for him. And I know she’s better off.
But as we walk, in the cold, in the darkness, away from prying eyes, she still won’t take my jacket, just like she threw it off before the lights of the bus came on, just like she wouldn’t wear it when others could see. I foist it on her as we cross the street and disappear around the corner. I wrap it around her shoulders, and she glances about as we walk, but she doesn’t say no. I feel then that I am a dalliance, and my novelty is wearing off. I can string it along for a few weeks, perhaps a month or two, but she seems over me, and she’s searching for the next new thing.
“I was pretty pissed at you,” I tell her. I’m surprised I’ve said it; it’s not a conversation I want to have.
“Why?” Her eyes show surprise and concern I didn’t expect. At the time, I had felt like an afterthought, but here, in her pained, hungover state, swathed in my sheets, I know I have her full attention.
And I know I have to tread carefully if I want to maintain the incredible status quo into which I’ve fallen.
“Well,” I say, delaying the flood of annoyance I want to spill out, trying to decide how much to reveal of my paranoid overthinking, how far to take the conversation, “You spent a lot of the evening flirting with the Buffalo Farmer. Every time you turned away, though, he would act differently.”
“Yeah, I know he’s kind of flirty,” she says, “but it wasn’t going anywhere.”
“You argued with me when we got off the bus about going to car,” I tell her.
“Yeah. And you argued with me when we got to Ned that you could drive home.”
“Oh, man,” she says, suddenly aware of how much she drank, how little she remembers. “I’m sorry.”
I want to tell her that I didn’t appreciate her expectations given her actions. I want to say that if we’re there together, we should be there together. I want to say that if she hands me her things to hold on to, she shouldn’t be going off and flirting with other guys all night. I want to scream, “I am not a coat rack! I am not here to clean up after you! I am not a second choice!”
But I don’t say these things.
Instead, I stare into her eyes, my anger fading at the sadness and embarrassment she’s exhibiting. And I want that hurt to go away. I hate seeing her like that.
“I don’t want you to think you’re on shaky ground,” she says, as if that opening is at all reassuring, “but I told you I’m not looking for a relationship.”
“I know,” I say, at once thankful for the reminder and disappointed, “but I don’t feel like you treated me very well last night.”
“I’m sorry,” she says.
“It’s ok,” I lie.
And in my head, I’m praying that it really is.
Open and Honest – Part V