This won’t complicate anything, now will it?
He says it’s nice, and I have to say the feeling is mutual. He nestles up beside me – spent as Danielle Steel might describe, from the vigor of these recent activities – and I jealously observe that his physique is much better maintained than my own. By then I’ve vowed to keep my curves surreptitious by all means measurable. Obtrusive objects like pillows will do for now.
We used to be good friends, he and I. Good enough that I would always arrive late to meet him at the D.C. for unofficial dinner dates, and would wolf down fries and Cokes without a care in the world as he delicately nibbled on salads and other healthy dishes offered there. But now I’m always on time. In the courtyard where he first kissed me, and in the liquor stores where a search for the perfect craft beer leads to petting in the back room. And even to Grendel’s Den before the kissing, when he leaned forward and gently rubbed some spilled beer off my mouth. For each meeting, I made a point of being punctual.
Chalk it all up to some random act of fate and university housing. Were it not for someone else’s desire to bed and maybe date him, perhaps none of this would have happened. The night we crossed paths, I was fretting in front of a computer – one not yet made noisy through misuse, not yet made to miss both its J and Ctrl keys – and socializing was the last thing on my agenda. My nights prior to it had been both sleepless and wretched, the stuff that inspires college-age alcoholism. I’d just found out my boyfriend was cheating on me.
So I’m at the computer, weeping, typing, gnawing on my fingernails and thinking about how I can never really be certain my boyfriend will be truthful to me again. And then one of my suite mates comes in. She prefers my roommate but talks to me, us having bonded over a mutual affinity for the Bay City Rollers song “Saturday Night.” In she comes, offering to take me to the party she’s headed to later in the night. Not because she likes me very much, but because she’s on suicide watch. I acknowledge this, but give her the brush off. I’ll take free booze, thank you, but not if there’s pity attached to it. Yet the next few hours fill me with dread and loneliness beyond compare. Wallowing in the hollow glow of the computer screen, I decide I cannot be alone.
That’s when I hear voices still in the suite. I step outside, and the door to my suite mate’s room is ajar. Three people sit on a bed: a boy and two girls. The girls look frumpier than me, so I deduce that they must not be friends of hers. The boy isn’t frumpy, though. He’s kind of cute. I smile at my suite mate, and she catches sight of me, welcoming me into their fold with all the requisite introductions – “Oh, this is Shayna, etc. etc. This is – ….” And she motions to the girls, whose names I don’t care to remember, and then to the boy. We hadn’t yet progressed to witticisms, to hand waves signaling familiarity and closeness, or even yet to waving fists and threatening violence. No, he and I have never met, so instead we exchange a polite, I’ll-forget-you-anyway hello. He’s her date (or so she thinks). She invites me to stay for a drink, and that’s the reason why I stumbled out here in the first place, right, so why not just accept it? I take her up on the offer, sipping out of a plastic cup with cartoons on it that remind me of the Burger King cups I collected when I was a kid. I think of “Batman Forever.” I think I’m not yet drunk enough.
We chit and chat, and somewhere along the way, something hits a nerve. When someone mentions Ayn Rand, I seize upon the opportunity to parade my intellectual prowess and to say her name properly, as I have read a book recently, entitled “Intellectual Morons.” Among it’s many other complaints the author contends that Ayn Rand was crazy and her name was not Ann. It was Ayn (rhymes with mine). He stressed this, thus I feel the need to stress this to a group of strangers. And then I think, why stop there? Why not gripe about Frank Lloyd Wright and Fallingwater and the murders that happened at one of his houses, and why “The Fountainhead” is just a bunch of pretentious crap anyway. When I’m done talking to myself – because that’s ostensibly all that I’m doing – my suite mate doesn’t say anything. She stirs her drink and looks at me like I’m drunk and ought to be embarrassed. They all do, except for the boy, who seems to be strangely amused by my outburst. I guess that’s the watershed moment when our friendship is forged.
The rest of the night passes in a flurry of photo shoots and conversation. We converse, and I remember thinking he was that elusive guy that everyone predicted I might hit it off with in college – the kind that they can’t grow organically in inner-city public high schools. I don’t necessarily think we’ll ever see each other again, which emboldens me. Fueled by hard liquor and the comfort that we’ll never be friends on Facebook, I make obscene jokes that I know I’ll never be held accountable for. Somewhere in the midst of this I do think – perhaps with some foresight – that the meeting is a good omen of things to come. It’s just too bad that I’m utterly hung-up on someone who doesn’t love me, because maybe I could kiss this new guy right now and it wouldn’t be so strange. But I don’t do this. Instead I just say goodnight and watch him head up that pathway in Sylvan that leads to Eastman Lane. I watch until I can’t distinguish from the hordes of raucous weekend partiers, and then I step inside, leaving my newly kindled feelings outside where they belong, where they can’t mess around with my relationship.
Now as he pulls me into his arms, I wonder if it was all a mistake and we should have been doing this from the beginning. Since I probably won’t be getting much of this any time soon (either from him or from anyone else), I decide to savor it. This is the sweet, hopeful sleep that comes before I’m forced to brace myself for a walk of shame or maybe triumph – a potential initiation of the many walks to come now without the steadfast grounding of a built-in life partner hanging over my head. Am I ready for it? Yes, yes, I insist as he kisses me again. And even if I’m not, I have to keep my strength up because it’s a very long walk, indeed. Friends of mine don’t mind this; many pride themselves on being conquistadors of the male form. I suspect I would mind, though, after a while. Too often am I given over to quiet pining and bad poetry writing – that explorer’s fervor that carries my friends into each new bedroom tousle just doesn’t belong to me.
Despite this, as the night ambles along, I can’t deny that’s what I’m doing. I tip-toe around the floor and tip-toe around the fact that in the morning light, it feels more like I’m an overnight guest than it did before. Don’t be deceived by the way his hand slips comfortably around you, says my inner watchdog, which by morning has resumed its normal post. Sure this is new and exciting and fresh, but maybe there is a reason why people don’t fall from serious relationships into new sexual dalliances in less than a few weeks’ time. With friends. Because sex and long-standing infatuations aside, there’s one thing I have to keep reminding myself: we’re still just good friends.
S.K. Murphy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org