In order to go alone, I insinuated to Richard that I needed to catch up with a girl. He accepted this with a series of knowing winks and tongue clicks but eventually rode away. I unlocked my bike and pushed off of the curb, cutting across Clark down Foster. Little Caliente felt steady beneath me: unhesitant, responsive, like an extension of my body. I always felt this way riding a bike after a few drinks. When I was first learning the art of city biking Georgie had coached me by saying, “You spend too much time calculating. You just have to go and go hard.” Now, I bent over my handlebars and went hard towards the beach. The breeze coming from the lake met me headlong, and I felt the stickiness of the day lifting off of me.
I pulled away from the bike path to a little hill that overlooked the lake, and sat down in the grass. Cicadas screeched rhythmically above me, and further down some teenagers drank beer and hooted on the jagged concrete wall. Here you are, I said to myself. This is your life.
It was beautiful. The lake was slick black, and above it handfuls of stars sparkled between patches of pinkish clouds. At the edge of a body of water like this, I could taste possibility like the slight tang of an aluminum can. The night was still open and alive. Anything could happen, and I held that feeling, let it flutter inside me. But what else could I possibly want? What did I keep hoping would come hurtling through my open window? I lay down, a starfish in the grass.
I remembered a night in Spain several years ago when I’d gone skinny-dipping in the ocean with a friend I was madly in love with. Elena had an extra long torso and short wavy hair that bobbed up and down when we ran into the warm water. After our swim, she and I lay on a towel together looking up at the sky. “Do you know any constellations?” she’d asked me and I’d said no—which wasn’t true, but I wanted her to show me some. “Me neither,” she admitted, her tiny nose scrunching as she laughed.
Instead she pointed out a group of stars, and made up a story about an ancient flying shark for which this constellation was named. Elena had a simmering laugh and a silver bar in her left nipple. I got the feeling everyone we knew was partially in love with her. That the two of us were alone and naked under the stars seemed to me like the most fortunate of coincidences. I’d felt so lucky to share the beauty of the evening with her, to know that it hadn’t been wasted.
That’s what I wanted, now. Somebody with whom to share this quiet moment, to enjoy its ephemeral beauty and let it go. Only everyone I knew seemed poised to set their feet and dig in. Richard was hounding me about commitments because he must have wanted some of his own. Youngsu and Georgie were evaluating their joint future for the rest of their lives. Whitney was a certified accountant, and with Logan, she would have a Subaru, a kayak, and a dog in no time. Meanwhile, I was lying alone on a hill in the middle of the night.
A week before I left Spain, Elena and I had coffee together and she teased me about letting her down easy. I had slowly stirred my coffee and asked her what she was talking about. “We were naked, lying in the sand and I was whispering stories into your ear,” she said, exasperated. “What did you think I was doing?”
I sat up in the grass and adjusted my hair. I was stupid. I hadn’t known—still found it unbelievable—that it was possible for such a charming woman to find me attractive. And not kissing Elena meant she would always be exciting in my mind. But I wasn’t twenty anymore and I wasn’t—as Richard had rightly pointed out—Paris Hilton either. It was probably time I started hoping for more than ripe potential and fleeting beauty. Not just hoping, actively trying. “Why the rush? What do we have to lose?” I heard myself annoyingly prodding Richard.
I saw the screen of my phone light up in my bag, and I pulled it out to see what I had missed. There were some texts from people who heard I was in town, a message from Georgie about a pimple she’d popped and a “night” from Whitney. This was everything I had.
I stood Caliente back on her feet, and rode her home over the gentle hills of the bike path, singing to myself about myself: “What have we got, what have we got to lose? Have we got, the losers have to choose, have we got, anything but booooooze?”
Whitney and Logan’s usual Saturday tradition was going down to Metropolis, and reading the Savage Love advice column out loud over coffee. I discovered this when I woke up after a restless sleep, and I also went down to Metropolis to get some writing done. I had brunch plans at the Heartland with “the ladies,” as Amanda had put it in her text invite, and I knew I wouldn’t work afterwards.
I locked up Caliente and walked toward the front door, but stopped when I saw Whitney and Logan through the window. They were in the back room, bent over a table. Whitney had a baffled look on her face, eyebrows at acute slants. It made her eyes look pretty. Logan was laughing with his mouth open, and he spun the paper on the slick tabletop to show her something. I was momentarily paralyzed by a sense of betrayal and insane curiosity. Despite the petty fights, they had their own little world together and that was a place I wanted to see. I watched the way Logan placed his hand gently on Whitney’s shoulder. It was a soft, sassy “you won’t even believe this” hand. He was like me, but without the over-thinking and the crises of being.
A couple on the street walked by, and their galumphing dog licked my leg. “Sorry about that,” the man said, tugging the dog along.
“Oh, it’s fine,” I waved them off. It wasn’t the dog’s fault that I was smelly and salty.
When I looked back up Whitney and Logan were waving and making faces at me. My inner-cynic reared up to sting them with something nasty, but I came up with nothing. Objectively, an adorable freckled couple in summery shirts were waving at me from inside my favorite coffee shop. They could have been related, and I wondered if there was some unconscious attraction in that. There was nothing to do except go in and join them.
“Listen to this,” Logan said excitedly, when I sat down. “This guy got a handjob from a sex worker who had a hole in her cheek from a screwdriver fight.”
“What?” I was definitely amused.
“What a unique circumstance,” Whitney observed.
“Yeah, totally. So what’s his question?” I asked Logan.
He sipped his coffee. “It was stupid. She rubbed her cheek on his dick when he was coming and he wants to know if he can get any diseases. Dan basically said unless his dick was torn up and raw, no.”
“His dick was torn up and raw,” I repeated slowly. “Wow. That’s a way to start the day. What I’m going to take away from this story is screwdriver fights.” I already had a picture in my head of a girl gang in coveralls with bold eyebrows and wild hair, fencing with screwdrivers.
“Ugh,” Whitney gagged. “There was mention of a peeling skin crust earlier that I can’t get out of my head. It’s not good.”
Logan nodded his head emphatically, “Disgusting, yes. But this is reality for some people.”
“And that,” I said, “is why you, Logan, will make a fabulous doctor.”
He smiled uneasily at me, not sure if this was a real compliment. But I meant it, and I thought it would sound more fake if I went on to express my sincerity. I mentioned that I was going to the Heartland for brunch and that they were welcome to join if they wanted. Then I excused myself to sit at my own table and write.
“Wait, really?” Whitney asked. “Sit here and read the paper with us.”
“You guys came here to do your thing and me to do mine.” I was making circles over the table with my palms, literally trying to smooth it out. “Nothing personal.”
Logan nodded. “Whitney has soccer so we can’t do brunch, but we’re still going dancing tonight. You should come, it’ll be fun.”
I nodded my head. He was always so polite. It gave the impression of confidence, even if it was just habit. “Thank you. I’m having dinner with the Summertowns, but I’ll call you afterwards.”
A few tables over, against the bakery window, I pulled out my computer. Logan continued to read from the column while Whitney rolled her eyes at me. This was a normal kind of distance, I told myself. I put in my earbuds so I couldn’t be interested in their conversation, and soon I wasn’t. Instead I was with Gloria, who today was clad in a bright blue one-piece swimsuit, standing on the beach, hands on hips, preparing to face the ocean for the second time. She was only a little afraid. What could she expect? I set my fingers to the keys and headed out to sea.
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