It was during our wedding scene that Logan slipped me the note. I felt the crumpled paper between us as our fingers interlaced, Hermia and Lysander. I held it, willing my hand not to sweat through the message, not to sweat into his hand.
I usually liked this scene, my lines all said and nothing to do but hold hands and dance and make googly eyes in the background as Pyramus and Thisbe made asses of themselves. The looks we would give, Logan Hansen and I silently vying to out-lovey-dovey each other! Tonight I raised my eyebrow in a wordless question and he smiled in return, his lips spreading slowly, his blue eyes skittish dragonflies. Tonight I counted down the lines to fairy time.
Once backstage in the safety of darkness, cloistered in the warm smell of sawdust, I peeled open the torn half-sheet of binder paper:
Find me on ICQ tonight.
I felt Logan watching me. The dragonflies had settled and his eyes were moonlight on the surface of a pond. I looked into them and nodded. His smile brought the spotlight backstage.
Later, at home, when I pulled up the chat program on the family computer,
🌼LiesOnHer was already there, at the top of my active list.
“What?” I typed into the white box, trying to appear more casual than I felt.
I waited for the familiar ding. “I need your help with something :-)” he replied.
“So. I like someone. I was hoping you could help me get to know her?”
My stomach sank as my fingers slowly traveled the keyboard, propelled by morbid curiosity.
“Ah, fair Megan! You’ve been captivated by the sparkly green eyeshadow. Methinks it doth show upon her face the brightness of her wit.” What the hell was I typing? I needed to stop.
Of course he liked Megan. My friend had followed me to the audition for moral support and ended up cast as Amazon Queen Hippolyta. I mean, not a huge role, but she walked into it, by nature of being tall and statuesque. Then again, maybe I was only Hermia because I was short and dark-haired. Maybe life was fair, or at least we were all playing by the same rules.
Megan was defined for too many people by her broad shoulders and long legs. Her short, jaunty hair left the smooth skin of her neck bare. She had a husky alto voice that people had begun to call “sexy” a few years back, and she used it without a hint of self-consciousness.
I planted my middle finger on the backspace key with a satisfying thunk and watched the lines of my nervous soliloquy disappear. So quick bright things come to confusion. I sighed out the breath I had been holding since the evening’s rehearsal. “Ah, fair Megan! Does she know?” I typed, after what I feared was already too much delay.
“That’s where I need your help...” he said.
I don’t remember what I typed back. Probably something stupid and innocuous like, “I’ll see what I can do.” I just remember drowning, my brain grasping for ripples of joy (I was his confidant in this, after all!) while the rest of me sank.
I was a good friend. Of course I was going to help. But I wasn’t going to make it easy. Megan, being Megan, had plenty of admirers among the cast of Midsummer Night's Dream. In addition to Logan, I invited the most ardent of them to our soiree that night my parents went out of town.
I drove Megan home with me after rehearsal. She was going to spend the night. Chris Bartlett shuddered up behind us punctually in his old tan Jeep.
“Good evening, ladies,” he said as he hopped down from the massive vehicle. His wiry body seemed to vibrate with the Jeep’s residual energy.
Megan gave me a skeptical glare, her green eyes narrowing. I shrugged and stuck my keys in the front door lock.
We heard Logan’s little white Prelude pull into the driveway by the time I put some pizza rolls in the oven and flicked the coffee pot into action. I greeted him at the door, leaning in to tell him, “Here’s your chance,” and was met with the spiciness of cologne, warmed into something delicious as it mingled with the scent of his leather jacket.
I looked away to hide my smile, noting Megan and Chris sitting on opposite ends of the sofa, Chris gesticulating fervently, his slender fingers awkward fledgelings, and Megan’s arms crossed. “You came prepared,” I said to Logan.
“Thanks again,” he whispered. “You’re the best.”
Second best, maybe, I corrected him in my head.
As Logan moved in to join the party, taking a place on the love seat across from Megan and Chris, I grabbed the step stool and rummaged through the top pantry cabinet until my hand wrapped around the angular edges of my dad’s Jack Daniels bottle. I brought it to the living room, where Megan had turned on the television, and placed it on the coffee table, where the tall bottle presided over the tray of pizza roles and four steaming mugs of coffee. It wasn’t quite Oberon’s Love in Idleness flower, but I was curious what it would do for our party.
I was met with an appreciative chorus of, “Jen! Score!” At least I’d broken the ice—goal number one of a good hostess. I flicked off the television.
Logan picked up the bottle, opened it, and tipped it toward Megan with a self-satisfied grin. “Ladies first,” he said. Megan extended her mug and he poured the amber liquid with a dramatic flourish of his elbow.
“Jen?” he offered, and I sank down into the love seat, accepting my portion.
“Chris?” Logan asked, his voice smooth buttercream frosting, taking obvious pride in his manners.
Chris grabbed the bottle and poured himself a generous helping before clunking it back down on the table.
I was not a regular coffee drinker and sixteen, and had not had more than a few sips of whiskey. The idea of it just seemed so sophisticated and appealing, especially tonight. I sipped slowly, letting the bitter heat of coffee and the sharpness of strong alcohol linger on my tongue until my eyes watered.
My hospitality set the evening on an exciting course, and soon the four of us had agreed to a game of Truth or Dare, four bodies emboldened by the potent whirl of alcohol and caffeine, leaning in eagerly.
It was a party staple in my high school days, but I’d never played Truth or Dare in co-ed company before. At slumber parties, girlfriends dared each other to smear marshmallow cream on our faces—the threat of stickiness in our hair and acne days down the road enough to create a thrill. Now the possibilities seemed much more dangerous.
We didn’t arrive at dangerous all at once. Intuitively, we started small, testing one another’s bravery by intervals.
“I dare you to drink mustard water,” Megan said when Chris confidently chose Dare on the first turn.
“Are you serious?” he scoffed. “Isn’t that supposed to be an emetic?”
“It’s what John the Savage took to throw up in Brave New World,” Megan said.
“That’s stupid,” he said. “Why don’t I just take another shot of jack and see if it makes me throw up?”
“Are you declining a dare?” Logan goaded.
“Guys, I don’t think I have mustard seeds…” I intervened.
“Fine,” Megan conceded. “I dare you to take another shot.”
Chris tipped the bottle back like he knew what he was doing. “The alcohol kills the germs,” he replied to our wide eyes and curled lips.
I chose Truth and things escalated. “What’s the worst thing you’ve ever gotten away with?” Chris asked me.
This, I thought, not caring that I had gotten away with nothing yet. “I ditched my fifth period for an extra long lunch and used my journalism pass to cover,” I said, unable to think of anything better.
“Come on, you must have bigger skeletons in your closet!” Chris insisted.
“Nope,” Megan came to my rescue. “Jen’s about as pure as the driven snow. Maybe we can change that tonight.”
I felt my cheeks tingling and fixed my gaze on the tall bottle on the coffee table, unwilling to look at any of the laughing and grinning people in the eye.
Our game wound through prank calls and serenades before things got more personal.
Logan had introduced the Group Question—a bonus round that everyone had to answer. “If you had to make out with anyone in this room, who would it be?”
“Jen,” Megan answered.
“Megan!” Chris eagerly declared.
“Megan,” I echoed. “What about you, Logan? You have to answer your own question.”
He looked deliberately around the room. “I don’t know,” he drawled. “I think I’d have to sample you all.” Logan winked in Chris’s direction.
He was not making the most of the opportunity he asked for! When Logan chose Dare a few rounds later, I prodded him again. “I dare you to give Megan a shoulder massage.”
He gave a wide, slow smile, but I could see his eyes darting between Megan and me.
“For how long?” he asked.
“Not too long. He might get off on it,” Chris said, leaning forward.
“Until you make her moan,” I said, drawing out the last word seductively.
Megan rolled her eyes and then rolled her shoulders.
“Aye, dios mio,” I heard Logan breath. He rubbed his hands together in a show of warming them. “Do you have any massage oils?”
“It’s not my turn for Truth,” I teased.
Logan gingerly wrapped his hands around Megan’s shoulders and rubbed outward, down toward her elbows.
“Ooooh, that feels so good,” Megan feigned, far too soon to be any fun.
Then she had her chance for revenge. “I dare you to trade shirts with Chris for the rest of the game,” Megan challenged me on my next turn.
“Hot damn!” Chris exclaimed. “It’s about time somebody got naked!” He quickly slipped off his gray t-shirt, revealing his narrow chest, drowning in brown hair.
It’s just like a pool party, I told myself as I slid my shirt over my head. I tossed it at Chris, facing the group in a pink cotton bra for a moment, pretending confidence before putting on Chris’s shirt. It smelled vaguely sour and I hoped there were no stray chest hairs lodged in the fabric. The rest of the group cheered.
Chris looked hilarious in my fitted “Girls rule and boys drool” t-shirt, which hit him just above the navel.
“You know, that design is placed in just the right spot so that if a boy is reading it, he’s drooling,” Logan observed. “Except on him. But Jen, you make a plain t-shirt look hot.”
I smiled. Did that mean he was drooling over my chest, I wondered? “Awww, thanks,” I said, the heavy dose of syrup in my voice hiding the conflicting feelings underneath.
That’s about as bad as our night got. In spite of everything, we were a group of squeamish kids. Nothing really happened, I told myself, though I knew better. I just couldn’t describe it.
I would almost say I got away with that soiree. I was grounded for a week when my parents came home to a pile of four mildly hung-over teen-agers asleep across the living room. It was worth it.
None of us really talked about that night after, but there were secret smiles and knowing looks among us for a long time. We all stayed friends until we left high school and dispersed across the country.
It was only later, in an English class in college, that I thought again of Oberon’s magic flower, pierced by cupid’s arrow: “Before milk white, now purple with love’s wound…” and realized that that’s what had happened to me that night. I had suffered love’s first wound, and it colored me.
It was the tiniest puncture—almost a throw-away moment—nothing I scribbled down in my journal the next day, but something I never forgot, either:
I had chosen Truth.
“If one of the guys in the cast came on to you,” Megan asked me, mischief fueling a lilt in her voice, “like, say, if Logan acted like he was going to kiss you—would you go along?”
I felt a stirring in the love seat next to me and glanced at Logan, whose eyes were wide, shimmering puddles. Unbidden, I imagined those eyes close up, looking deep into mine, his hand resting on my waist, pulling me closer. And I leaned into the warmth of him and met the softness of his lips. All of this happened in about three seconds, and it made my hands sweat and my head spin. It was not a comfortable feeling. Anyway, the difference between that Logan and the one shifting awkwardly beside me was stark. This Logan had eyes for Megan.
Miserable most to love unloved, I thought. “No,” I said, my voice low and much calmer than I felt. This was what three years in the theatre had earned me.
“Are you sure?” Megan pressed. “You paused. That means there was a chance you could have said yes.”
“No,” I said again, more loudly this time. My eyes locked into Megan’s. I couldn’t bear to let them wander. I didn’t want to see his reaction, whether relieved or deflated.
I wish now that I had been brave enough, if not to tell the truth in that moment, then at least to have explored the truth a little harder.
There were moments between Logan and me over the next year where maybe our eyes held each other for a second too long, where the silence between us was heavy like pregnant clouds on a winter morning, where I leaned in comfortably for photos and felt his arm linger almost imperceptibly on my shoulder. But that was it. Neither of us ever went any further.
I wondered if that game of Truth or Dare had shut any doors before they were open more than just a crack.
It’s not that I thought we may have stayed together forever. But what if we could have been together for a while? What if that whole chapter of my life could have been tied up with a colorful bow instead of this weird loose end? How would I be different?
I wouldn’t be asking these questions, for one thing. He wouldn’t still take up more space in my mind than he deserves. Maybe I wouldn’t get this pang in my chest when I walked into our same theater twenty-four years later for my niece’s high school play and breathed in the warm, pungent decay of sawdust.
That sawdust is what remains after a cut, when a board is severed—just a pile of what-ifs, light as tales.
So what if I’d answered differently? Would I still feel the same tightness in my throat, like jagged words flailing to escape, when I read the program and saw that my niece was acting alongside a Jack Hansen? Would my heart have pounded as I scanned the crowd for a pair of blue eyes, sparkling like dragonflies on a moonlit pool? I’ll never know.