I had a crush on Kristy. She was of Italian descent, and she had thick black shoulder-length hair and olive skin. Her teeth shone white when she smiled. She had a boyfriend back home in Maryland, and they saw each other rarely. When she was feeling stressed or unhappy, she'd bring me her hairbrush, and I would spend as much time as she wanted brushing her hair, massaging her scalp, and -- if I were feeling particularly daring -- rub her back and shoulders. I always assumed she was straight, and therefore not interested in me, so I never presumed that she was interested in me as anything but a convenience.
And then February came around. I worked on campus for an drug and alcohol peer-education office. It was kind of a ridiculous job, but it did much to relax my views on such things as pot and mushrooms and alcohol. And the office was run by Diane, the only "adult" out lesbian I knew. She was the one who told me about the GLBT Valentine's dance. I wavered. My mom encouraged me to go and took me shopping. We left the store with a pair of black pin-stripe pants, a plain button-down men's shirt, and suspenders. I looked at the outfit dubiously. It was such a change from my usual flannel or un-pressed button downs and jeans and boots. Mama even bought me new shoes that would go with the pants better than my Timberlands.
It was the 10th of February, the day of the dance, and I whined about it to Kristy and Jill.
"You should go!" said Jill. "Maybe you'll meet somebody!" I was still holding out a bit of secret hope that S and I would end up together, and so I just made a little noise of dismissal in the back of my throat.
"Yeah, you should go," agreed Kristy. "I mean, where else are you going to be able to wear this?" She waved a hand in front of the outfit.
"Good point," I said. "Should I wear the suspenders, though?"
I shrugged. "They just feel odd, I guess." What I didn't like about them was that they went right over my breasts, calling attention to a part of my body I wasn't particularly happy with.
"What if it sucks?" I said, still trying to think of a good reason why I shouldn't go. "I mean, it's an on-campus, university-sponsored dance for the few gay people who go here. How could it not suck?"
"If it sucks, come home," said Jill.
"It won't suck if you just go to have a good time," said Kristy. "Just go and don't worry about it. Dance, eat the free food and drink the free sodas and you'll have fun. And if you don't, then who cares? Just come back home and you won't have any regrets that you missed out on something."
She did have a point. "Okay, I'll go," I grumbled. I closed the door to my room and changed into my new clothes. I brushed my straight, shoulder-length hair and wondered if I should try putting it up or something. I decided that was going too far, so I just tucked it behind my ears to keep it out of my face. Kristy looked me up and down when I came out of the room. The suspenders still made me a little uncomfortable, but I wore them. "I look silly, right?" I asked.
"No, you look fine," she smirked. I didn't believe her, but I left the apartment and headed over to the student center anyway.
I remember almost nothing of the dance. Diane was there, I know. And someone I later knew as Chris, and someone else who I only ever knew as Mutt (as in Mutt and Jeff, since she was huge and her girlfriend was tiny). And then there she was, out of my past.
"Amy?" I said. "Hi."
I looked at the 20-year-old version of the kid I'd known in the 8th grade at a science camp hosted at the university where we both ended up. I'd seen her once before on campus, at a poetry reading. She was with her mother, and I said hello and assumed she was straight, and when she handed me her number, I put it in my pocket and forgot about it. I had enough going on, trying to be a lesbian and a student. I didn't need another friend who I felt obligated to do things with. So I never called her. At the Valentine's dance, she reminded me that I hadn't.
"I thought you were straight!" I said, though as I looked at her, with her perfectly preppy and creased khaki pants and her perfectly pressed red button-down shirt from Abercrombie, I wasn't sure how I'd thought that.
We talked and caught up for a while, and then she suggested that we get out of there. Neither of us had danced (to be fair, I don't recall anyone dancing). "Hold on, I gotta tell Chris," she said. I waited around, and then, finally, she was ready to go.
"Where do you want to go?" she asked.
"Somewhere we can get a cup of coffee and talk?" I suggested. This was in the days before there were coffee shops that stayed open past 9pm on Saturday nights. We tried going to a restaurant/bar, but at that point, they were over-21 only, and we were both 20. Babies.
"What now?" she asked. I shrugged. I never went out, except, rarely, with Amanda, the one lesbian friend I'd made. I tried to avoid her as much as possible, though, since I knew she couldn't keep her mouth shut about anything important.
"Wanna get some coffee at the Scotchman and drive down to the beach?" she asked.
"Sure, why not." We stopped by the convenience store and poured ourselves the sludge favored by truck drivers and shift workers. I marveled at the array of "flavored" "cream" we could pour into our coffee. "Who would put this shit in their coffee?" I asked.
"The amaretto one is delicious!" she argued, grabbing two of the single serving tubs and pouring them into the sludge.
"No way," I said. "That's disgusting!"
I found some plain ones and doctored my coffee as best I could and we returned to her car. We found a place to park beside a public beach access on Wrightsville Beach, and we talked. I wondered if I was going to sleep with her. I listened to her talking softly about nothing, really, and I realized her voice was just like a really stupid woman I worked with. "I could never date her long-term," I thought to myself. "I'd just hear that stupid bitch Donna every time she opened her mouth." Eventually, the sludge in my cup made its way to my bladder, and I waited as long as I could, but I just couldn't concentrate on anything.
"Listen," I said, interrupting her monologue. "I really have to pee. I'm just going to go behind that dune over there, okay?"
"No, you can't do that!" she said, horrified. I realized that her real voice was not her seduction voice. She didn't sound like Donna anymore. "Somebody could see you or attack you or something."
"It's February," I said. "It's raining. It's, like 2 in the morning. Who's going to be out there?" Honestly, I didn't want to leave the beach. It was comfortable and a little exciting, and I really wanted to get laid, even if it was with someone I didn't plan to see for very long. At least, I thought, I deserve to make out in the car or something. I reached for the door handle and she cranked up the car.
"We'll just go back to the Scotchman," she said, almost frantic. "I just don't want you to go out there on the beach." It didn't make much sense to me, but I was willing to go along. After we'd refilled our coffee cups and used the facilities, she asked if I wanted to go back to the beach or if I was ready to go home.
"I'm happy to go back to the beach," I said. "If you want, I mean."
We drove back. I got up my courage to rest the back of my hand on her knee. Eventually, somehow, we were holding hands. I rubbed my thumb along her wrist, and we continued to talk nonsense as we pretended that we weren't actually touching one another. Finally, I looked into her brown eyes and leaned in and kissed her. We made out in the car for what seemed like hours, but by the time we finally got around to it, it was nearly dawn.
We broke away from each other as the cold February rain continued to fall. The sky was gray and dreary, and the gray waves crashed and hissed on the gray shoreline. I, though, was grinning. It was the first time I'd had someone else's tongue in my mouth since the 10th grade. I remembered my promises to myself. This relationship wouldn't last. I'd break up with her before the end of the semester. I'd get out of it what I wanted, and then I'd go back to my real life.
"Want breakfast?" she was saying.
"What? Oh, sure." I wasn't sure I did, though. I was hungry, but the lack of sleep and the Scotchman coffee was just about to do me in. I was willing to go along, though, to spend a little more time with her before heading back to my apartment, feeling pretty damn good about myself. The dance hadn't been a waste of time after all.
"Perkins okay?" she said.
"Yeah, that's great," I said. I liked Perkins, on occasion, especially late at night, when everyone was drunk, and I could sit at a table and poke at a bit of toast and a cup of coffee and write a paper for class long-hand. It was better than the dorms, and the library closed early.
I ordered the pancakes with blueberry topping and whipped cream and yet more coffee. And some orange juice. The pancakes were delicious and the coffee with actual milk was so much better than the Scotchman late-night sludge. I took a last bite of my pancakes and a last swig of coffee, and I put my hands flat on the table. I took a deep breath, trying to breathe my way through what I knew was coming.
"I'll be right back," I said, as calmly as I could. I walked deliberately to the bathroom, opened the door, found an empty stall as far from the door as possible, and vomited all of my breakfast, all of the coffee I'd drunk, all of the orange juice. It came up easily, as if I'd not really swallowed any of it. As if the esophageal sphincter was a door left wide open. I flushed the toilet and hoped like hell that Amy hadn't followed me into the bathroom. The last thing I wanted her to think was that I was bulimic. I was washing my hands and face at the sink and surreptitiously trying to rinse my mouth when she came in.
"Everything okay?" she asked.
"Oh yeah, fine," I said, smiling a bit shakily. "Just need to get some sleep."
I kissed her goodbye at my apartment, and we made plans to meet up later that day.
Three weeks later, I was at her house every night.
Four months later, we exchanged rings.
Five years later, she dumped me for one of my colleagues.
I'm still not certain if I should've skipped that dance.
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