“I hate vegans! They’re always in my face about me eating meat! Like, get off of my dick, right?”
The girl in front of me grins jokingly, and I force out out a laugh. “Uh, right. Well, you know, I’m vegan.”
The smile slips off of her face. Her eyes drift away from mine as she takes a long sip of wine out of her fourth glass of the night. I really better call her a cab.
Later, after shutting the door on her ride home, I take a breath of relief. I’m feeling a little tipsy myself, since I had to drink two mojitos just to put up with her, but instead of ordering a car I start on down the street. It’s snowing lightly for the first time this winter. The weather provides the equivalent of an ice pack to my temples when I press my cold knuckles to my forehead.
Happily, I hum to myself as I head for my apartment. I stop for a moment to take a picture of the snow when I feel a hard shove on my back, sending me to the ground. As I fall, I hear a chorus of gasps behind me, and I scramble right to my feet as soon as I can. Glancing at my offender, I see a group of college-aged kids, a few of them with their arms linked. One of them shakes off the other two and holds their hands out to me.
“Oh, shit, I’m really sorry!” he exclaims. “Jesus. Really. Are you okay?”
“Of course she isn’t!” his friend hisses. “You knocked her down, idiot!”
“No, I’m fine,” I insist, brushing off some of the snow. I notice a run in my tights but other than that, nothing has popped out or snapped in half.
Another friend stumbles forward and attaches themselves to my arm, which makes me a little afraid. She doesn’t look dangerous, though. Just very, very drunk. “Ma’am, ma’am, really, we’re so sorry. We are so sorry becau…oh, shit, you’re bleeding.”
She delivers this information which such little infliction that it doesn’t even register at first. I look at my thigh and gasp as I notice a ruby-red trail of blood streaming from a cut. “Oh, uh…”
A girl at the back of the group walks to the front and silently rips off a strip of her tee shirt, kneeling down in front of me to bandage it up. “I’m Emmaline,” she says as she tears a bigger hole in my tights to access the scrape. “It really isn’t as bad as it looks. It’ll probably stop bleeding in a minute or so.” She glances up at me and smiles. “You can lean on me for support.” I place my hand on her shoulder to steady myself but don’t lean my weight on her. If she’s as drunk as her friends, that’ll be a very precarious support system.
Behind her, the group is chatting amongst themselves, not really paying much attention anymore. One is filming the encounter with a jovial giggle. I look back down. Emmaline hooks the fabric around my tight and pulls it taut, wrapping it around the wound and tying it tightly on the side of my leg. She stands up straight, her face dangerously close to mine. I smile involuntarily at her. Emmaline, upon close inspection, is beautiful. Dark brown freckles on her Black skin, curly brown hair, and a flirty smile that accelerates the beating of my heart.
I stick out my hand, almost jabbing her in the stomach, making her jump back in surprise and then smile charmingly. “I’m Lucy.”
“Nice to meet you,” she replies, giving my hand a firm shake. “Want to come clubbing with us? We’re just going over here, to Boomerang, or whatever it’s called.”
“Oh, sure. That sounds fun.”
It was fun. It was the first night since I graduated from college that I allowed myself to dance freely and drink with strangers. I smoked my first cigarette in three years, hopefully not awakening the long-sleeping tobacco demon inside of me.
And, well, Emmaline. She danced with me the whole night, grabbing my hands and tossing me all around the room, picking up my feet and wrapping around me and twirling away from and then right back to my chest.
At the end of the night, she walked me to my door, spun towards me once more, and then kissed me deeply. My mind swirled with the feelings of a new crush, something that I haven’t felt in kind of a long time.
She giggles in my ear as she tosses a palmful of chopped parsley into the pot.
I spin around with a surprised look on my face. “Hey! You have to do the tofu first.”
“Oh, relax, Lucy. You should take more risks.”
I roll my eyes into the pasta sauce as she sprinkles in the ground tofu. “Happy?” she asks, raising her eyebrows at me. I giggle as she picks a piece of pasta out of a different pot and tosses it into her mouth. “Mmmm.”
“Oh, I’m great at catching food in my mouth! Try me,” I say suddenly, remembering an entire phase of my college social life where that was my party trick.
She turns to me, surprised. “Oh, yeah?”
“Yeah. But the thing is, me and the thrower, we have to be perfectly connected,” I reply, nodding seriously.
She smiles and then starts to laugh. “Oh, really? Okay. Let’s mind-meld.”
I laugh, too, as she steps towards me and puts her forehead to mine. Her smile expands as we stare into each other’s eyes—more like one big eye when it’s that close—and finally she takes a step back, picks up some pasta, and then hops back some more. Grandly, she windmills her arms a few times with the air of an Olympic gymnast. She locks eyes with me with a mischievous grin and then lets the pasta rain, faster and faster each time until I’m laughing too hard to even chew.
When we’re sat down to eat, Emmaline pours us both two big glasses of wine. “Wow, Em. Pace yourself,” I comment, then immediately regret it. I sound exactly like a mother, not like a date.
She gives me a quizzical look. “Sorry. I mean, it’s not like we can’t keep track of how much we drink. A bottle of wine is like two glasses for each of us, right? We’ll know.”
I force out an easy laugh and a smile, though really, I’m a little worried that she might rely too much on her instincts in her life. I shouldn’t be judging. She might be completely different than that.
But then, later:
“I like to rely on my instincts,” Emmaline tells me when we’re on our desert course; Italian pastries from down the block. “They’re a good guide, you know? I’ve never gotten in serious trouble before, never been in a near-death experience. So it’s been working.”
I bite my lip nervously. “I can’t imagine that. I’ve always done things, like, properly, I guess?” She smiles, encouraging me to go on. “High school, I was an honors student, joined clubs and whatever. I figured out exactly what I wanted to study in college and what my career would be after that. College, I did what I planned to do. Four years, and done. I had a job and experience by the time I left and now, two more years later, I have everything pretty much in order.”
She smiles again, but this time it’s a surprised look, with widened eyes. “Seriously? Everything is in order?”
“Well, yeah. I literally studied finance, so I’m great at managing it for myself. I have this apartment, and I have furniture. What else is there?”
“My friends,” Emmaline begins an hour later, when I’ve asked her about her social circle. “Are really great. We mesh well, totally, and we like all the same activities. When you met us, that’s kind of what we do every week. It’s really hard, to get through college without anyone. I need them.”
“I should probably be more social. I go out on dates every month, though, and I make it a habit to meet up with friends once a week,” I say, almost proudly. It’s an achievement of mine to be so organized about my life.
“You need more than once a week!” Emmaline insists. “I see mine every day.”
“Dorms,” I remind her, and she sighs.
Thirty minutes later, we’re on our second round of screwdrivers after the bottle of wine was finished at dinner. “I know. I know,” she says. “But it’s just how I like it. I hate having schedules.”
“How do you know what to do every day?” I ask, feeling silly for not being able to imagine my life without to-do lists.
She shrugs. “I wake up, usually late, and just do what I think needs to be done. Usually, if something is urgent, I do it right away.”
“Well, that’s good,” I reply uncertainly, and she nods.
Suddenly, she smiles softly, looking at me affectionately, and scoots towards me. Her gaze falls to my lips and I smile, too, as we lean in for a kiss.
Later, when she hooks up her phone to my speakers to play me some songs that she likes, I shout, “I love this band!” as the first song plays. “God, this is so good.” I start to dance, hopping up and down even though my downstairs neighbor will probably complain. She joins me happily, taking my hands and jumping with me. My head is going up and down with the beat but I keep catching beautiful glimpses of her, smiling and full of light.
When the song is over, we fall back on the couch, tired. “Lucy, you’re a great dancer,” she says.
“Thanks. So are you,” I reply.
She takes my hand wordlessly. For a few seconds, all that we hear is the music, our breathing, and a content peace.
“This is one of the best dates I’ve ever been on,” she says suddenly. “It kind of, like, surprised me. Because I usually don’t like older girls. It’s not even a big difference, but they always make me feel bad. They have jobs and apartments and whatever, and all I have is a stupid fucking dorm room and a nicotine dependency. But with you, it's different. You don't make me feel bad. You make me feel...independent. Like you are. You rub off on me, you know?”
I turn my head to look at her. She doesn’t look so intimidating all of a sudden. I mean, the intimidation mostly faded when I drank the last sip of my second glass of wine, but she was still phantasmic to me. A pretty, airy dream that gets down on her knees and bandaged strangers without being asked and who makes impulsive decisions like when she told me about when she sky dived during Spring Break. Now, she’s not a phantom. She’s a girl who I really like and who really likes me.
“I'm glad. Because you should never feel inadequate. I mean, you're one of the coolest people that I've ever met.” I tell her honestly. “You are way cooler than me, at any rate.” There’s a beat, and then I continue with, “It surprised me too, the date. On most of the dates I’ve gone on in the past, big personality differences usually don’t work. Everyone always says that opposites attract, but that hasn’t been true for me so far. But now…we’re really different, it seems. And I think that’s a good thing.”
She turns to me with a meditative smile and nods. “Yeah. I agree. This is a very good thing.”