REPORT A PROBLEM
I found him leaning against the wall just outside the library, a cigarette dangling from his lips. He was standing, arms crossed, one leg up like the Marlboro man. Over his shoulder was a "No Smoking" sign, which had been rusted from too many acidic Detroit rains.
"I figured I'd find you out here," I said.
He laughed a little. "You know I'm allergic to books."
I smirked. "You're allergic to reading in general."
He looked at the sign I was pointing at, and shrugged. "Are you ready to go or not?"
"Yeah," I readjusted my backpack. "So let's go."
"So, how'd it go with Sam?" David unlocked his side of the car, then opened the door.
I shrugged. "It went."
He looked at me for a second, rolling a thought around in his mouth like the morning coffee. I didn't see him reach down, but he must have, because my door unlocked.
I opened the door, tossed my backpack into the back seat, and slid into the passenger's seat.
David sat down and took out another cigarette before starting the car. He looked at me again, as I considered the dashboard.
"You sure you're ok?"
"Fine. Let's just go."
We rode in silence for awhile. He flicked cigarette ash nervously into the tray, and fiddled with the radio buttons. I read a newly acquired book: The first part of Proust's Remembrance of Things Past. I'd settled in fairly well for a long, quiet ride... which was all right with me. I liked Dave all right, but he could bit a bit too boorish at times.
"Nice weather today," he said.
I mm-hmed and tried to focus on reading (even though Proust really wasn't the sort of thing one read in the car).
"Think the A's'll go all the way?"
I sighed and looked at him directly. He smiled awkwardly and flipped his head back to the road. I sighed again and looked back down at my book.
"If you don't want to talk, that's fine."
I clucked. "No, it obviously isn't. Look, I just ended my first real college romance. What am I supposed to talk about?"
David shrugged, then changed lanes. As distractedly as that... I'm not sure he even checked for traffic first.
"We all get broken hearts," he mumbled.
Nice. Pithy. Just what I needed just then... a simple-minded dweeb trying to assuage my broken heart.
Later that evening, Mr. Jangles the Wondercat was much more sympathetic and understanding of my feelings.
In exchange for some minor quality playtime with a catnip mouse, he listened attentively as a poured out my soul to him. He did nip my fingers a few times, but in the end, he was forgiven.
After he settled down for an early-evening pre-night nap, I drifted through my PDA trying to find someone to call.
I settled on Sasha. She was always good for either a good laugh or a suitably gloomy mood. This time, she invited me to the Karloff festival.
I met Sasha in the basement of the Student Union. That's where they were showing the movies, and I think I was the only one there who didn't have jet black hair.
The film was some bizarre thing called "The Terror." I was surprised to see Jack Nicholson in a Karloff flick, but there he was, fawning over a ghost.
Sasha, meanwhile, was fawning over me. Well, at least she'd cuddled up to me and put her head on my shoulder.
The seats were stiff wooden school-issue jobs, and the popcorn was stale, but it was enough to distract me.
After the movie, Sasha walked me back to my dorm room. Part of me wanted to alone, but a large part of me was happy to have the company.
She helped herself to a Code Red out of the fridge while I curled up on my bed. Jenny and Carol, my roommates, had each gone home for the long weekend. Thank the Gods.
"So, you feelin' better?" she asked, pulling up a chair and cracking open the pop.
I smirked and tried to look gloomy. "You just want me for my soda."
She frowned at that.. "No. That's not true."
I'd meant it as a joke, but it had misfired. That didn't really surprise me: I was off my mark tonight. Breaking up with Sam had hit me harder than I'd expected.
"Look, I'm sorry. I'm tired, maybe I should get some sleep."
Sasha nodded dolefully. "You're sure you going to be ok?"
I laughed softly. "Positive. I'll live."
"Well. I should go then. I'm glad you called me, though." She stood up and move the few paces toward the door. "Anytime you want to talk..."
Then she bit her lip and, before I could react, kissed me.
There was a moment of awkward silence. I looked at her, stunned and quietly intrigued.
She stood still for a long minute, and I could hear my alarm clock whirring softly to itself. The refrigerator's motor kicked in.
"Ok, look, it was just a kiss," she said at last. "I'm lonely, you're lonely, I was trying to be friendly..."
I wasn't stunned any more, but I felt compelled to maintain the facade. What would my parents think?
"Look, ok, I'm going now." She opened the door. "I'll see you later."
Then she was gone.
When Mr. Jangles meowed, I jumped.
That night, I had a dream. I was sitting at a table that was loaded down with delicious, mouth-watering dishes, the sort you only get in a really fancy restaurant. Every time I'd take a bite out of one, though, it tasted like mud. The detail was amazing: I could taste the grit, and smell the musty grass still embedded in the dirt. I tried to push myself away from the table, but no matter what I tried, it followed me. No matter what I did, I couldn't get away, and I couldn't find anything worth eating. I was trapped.
When I woke up the next morning, I needed Code Red. Badly. Preferably with coffee in it. And maybe infused with tea.
I was late for class, but I couldn't seem to wake up. Mr. Jangles hopped on my chest and licked my chin. He wasn't being altruistic, though: His dish was empty.
(In case you're wondering: Yes, Mr. Jangles is verboten. Me and the RA, we have a deal. I don't show my Polaroids of her and her boyfriend in her room around campus, and she lets me keep Mr. Jangles. I have a long career in politics ahead.)
I met up with Dave around noon, just outside the Union. It was Friday, and that's what we did on Fridays.
I had just gotten out of PHI101: Introduction to Philosophy. Dr. Faberman had been prattling on about the distinction between Kant and Sartre. I'll keep my Proust.
Meanwhile, he'd gotten out of GER201 (Advanced German) about half an hour before. He was curled up under a beech tree in the Quad, sucking on a popsicle and reading a comic.
"Hey, didn't your mother ever tell you not to snack before lunch?" -- was my greeting.
He shrugged. "I was hungry."
"Was ist den loss?" Dave asked over a taquito in the Union.
"Hm?" I asked.
"It's German, it means, 'What's wrong?'" He squeezed the third packet of hot sauce onto the poor roll.
"I know what it means. Why'd you ask?" I was having a Mandarin chicken salad with those crunchy noodles. In case you were wondering.
He shrugged. For a moment, I thought I saw a way of empathy pass over him. "I just, you seem..."
I tried to coax him into something resembling being in touch with his feelings, but I just couldn't stop thinking about Sasha's lips.
I shook my head. "Something strange happened last night, that's all."
He looked like he was paying attention, and also somewhat expectant, so I tried to deflect: "Look, it wasn't anything. I called Sasha up, we went to a movie down in the basement, then we talked for a while."
Dave looked down at his taquito. "'Talked.'"
"In guy-speech, that's code for something, you know."
I flared, despite myself and too noticeably. "Well, this isn't guy-speech. It was two girls talking."
"So..." He continued to stare at his lunch. "How was she?"
I pursed my lips. "We talked. Ok?"
"Ok, ok, you don't have to get nasty."
"Me get nasty? You're the one having fantasies about girls naked and rolling in the bed!"
"It's not a fantasy. More like a --" He stopped himself, and I probably would have caught on if I weren't already in an overly defensive tizzy.
"A wet dream, eh? Is that all you men ever think about? Sex? Hot panting Lesbians pressing their sweaty nipples together? Muff-diving dykes waving their asses?"
It was about this time that I realized that I was shouting, and standing up.
The Union was quiet, until someone said, "Go on."
I turned expecting... Sasha? Sam? My parents, dropping in like a bad scene from American Pie 2? In the split second, I wasn't sure who to expect, I just knew that I had dug myself into an embarrassing situation, and wasn't so sure I wanted to be brought back into reality just yet.
But it was nobody. Just some wise-ass buttinsky who was far too amused in his schadenfreude.
I sat back down and stared at what was left of my lunch.
Dave was also quiet, and the room drifted back to its normal level of noise, traffic, and bustle.
That afternoon, I ran into Sasha. She was going out of the Henderson Building for Fine Arts. I was going past it on the way to my ENG156: Elements of European Literature class.
We made eye contact. This was fairly unusual for her during the day, because she was usually watching the ground or the sky, lost in her own world.
Her lips made a motion that was somewhere between a smile and a smirk, and I felt like the ambiguity was deliberate. It annoyed me mildly that she was being myserious with me, because that's what I was doing.
"We should talk," I said.
She looked at me quietly, with a depth that both repelled me and drew me in. "We're talking now."
"That's not what I mean..."
She shrugged. "It was a kiss. An affectionate trifle, dearling. Don't make it into anything else."
"So it was meaningless to you...?"
She frowned. "What, do you think one kiss and I'd fall in love?"
Now that she mentioned it... but I laughed it off, and she laughed it off just as insincerely.
"I'm messed up from dumping Sam. I'm not thinking straight."
"Heh. 'Thinking straight,' that's good." Then Sasha smiled.
It was good to see her smile.
"Do you want to go get some coffee?" I asked.
She shook her head. "I've got class."
"So do I. Do you want to go get some coffee?"
She bit her lip and looked at the book she was carrying. She shifted her weight to adjust her backpack. "It was just a kiss. I'm sorry."
I closed my eyes and rehearsed a dozen lines as quickly as I could. None of them sounded right, and most sounded downright unbelievable. "Look, I'm interested, this is just... new to me. Let's get some coffee."
Coffee was Starbuck's, just on the edge of campus. I had a mocha decaf; she had chamomile tea with a lemon wedge. It suited her.
She sat with her legs tucked under her; I sat with my knees together and my feet flat on the floor.
I watched her drink, and lazily stirred my own. She watched the streetscene through the window. I caught my eyes wandering down her neck -- what an interestingly evocative pendant -- to the space between her breasts.
I felt her eyes, so I looked back up. She was blushing. "I --"
I silenced her with a kiss.
She pushed me away. "Not here, not like this."
I slumped back into my chair. "Why not?"
"People are watching," she said quietly. "This isn't a game, you know."
I glowered into my coffee, feeling confused. Did she want it or didn't she? And didn't she want me?
"Look," she sighed. "Last night we were alone. In private. I don't like to share everything about me with everyone, ok?"
"So you want me as long as we hide everything?"
She rolled her eyes and bit her lip. "That's not what I said. I'm just -- this is new to me, too.
I didn't know what to say anymore, so I didn't say anything. I just stood up and walked away, leaving her brooding into her tea.
I bumped into somebody on my way out, hard enough to bruise my shoulder, but I don't remember anything about them. I think they said something rude to me.
I went home. On the walk back to my dorm room, I considered all the benefits of hermitage and celibacy. I pondered reuniting with Sam -- it had only been a day, after all. Dave entered my mind, and was chuckled out -- he was like my brother.
Mr. Jangles the Wondercat stared at me expectantly, and meowed. He wanted food, but I was willing to pretend that this show of attention was empathy as long as he was willing to wait a few more minutes before getting fed.
I rewarded his patience with a heaping bowl of Friskies, which he purred as he ate hungrily. He let me tlk to him while he ate, and afterwards, I felt better. Who needs a psychiatrist when you've got a cat?
Later, I curled up around my oversized teddy bear and let myself drift off to sleep.
Tomorrow was Saturday.
Mr. Jangles woke me up by standing on my chest and licking my chin.
Ah, Saturday! What a glorious day, perfect for stretching out and lolling in bed while your domestic beastie tries to goad you into feeding him. A day for eating stale Froot Loops right out of the box, padding around the dorm floor in your bunny slippers, trying to avoid the gravity from the TV in the common room as it called out cartoons.
Three days -- long weekend -- until class. Maybe I could avoid Sasha and Sam for the entire time. Just me and my cat. Maybe.
Dave called me around noon. I should have known it wouldn't last.
"I need to talk to you. Can I come over?"
"Can't we talk on the phone? It's Saturday."
So I let him come over, against my better judgment. All the same, I made sure to meet him at the door in my PJs and slippers, as if he were being a major incovenience.
"It's open," was my reply to his knock on the door. Mr. Jangles considered him briefly, decided that he wasn't a viable source of food, and went back to sleep.
"We need to talk."
I could tell he'd been drinking, although not a lot. Enough, I guessed, to loosen him up.
"What's so important?"
He sat down, too heavily, and for a second I wondered if he wasn't drunker than I'd originally thought. He was lost in thought. "I ran into Sasha last night."
"Oh?" I tried to seem disinterested, and vaguely annoyed. I was annoyed; I wasn't disinterested.
"And I have some things to tell you."
"So... quit beating around the bush and get to the point." I scritched Mr. Jangles between the ears, and listened to him purr.
"First: I love you."
I blinked at him. "I love you too, you're my best bud."
He sighed and rolled his eyes, but said nothing.
"Oh." I said quietly. "Go on."
"Frankly, I was hoping that, after you broke up with Sam, you'd see that you and I were meant to be..." he grimaced. "Something, I don't know what. But, well, you just didn't seem to get it."
"Get what? You didn't say anything. You just..." Mooned over me. That's what he did. Gave me every sign he could slip in without looking pathetic.
"That's not really the point of why I came here."
I shrugged. "Ok. Then what is it?"
"I spoke to Sasha last night."
I frowned at him, but gestured for him to continue.
"I was in the Union, and I happened to see her. She was going through some notes from a class or other." He sounded like he was apologizing for something that I hadn't accused him of doing. "I asked if she was Sasha, and she asked me why I wanted to know, and things just evolved from there."
I looked at Mr. Jangles. He looked at me, unhelpfully. "So what conclusions did you come to about us?"
"No conclusions about the two of you, because... well, there is no 'two of you.' You're taking things too seriously, and you're making everything so large. Life is just life, and you'll get through it, but sometimes a kiss is just a kiss, and that's all there is."
"You're saying that Sasha doesn't care?"
He shook his head. "I'm saying that it doesn't need to be that big that quickly. I'm saying that not everything has to be meaningful and important. Sometimes things just need to be what they are."
"Listen to you, Mr. Buddha."
"I am who I am."
I looked at Mr. Jangles. Well, I guess that's it, then -- all there was to say. No neat little ending, no life lesson learned and then we jaunt off to the Cinderella castle. Even if I did wind up in a long relationship with Sasha, there'd be other problems. And maybe that's the purpose of life, in the end -- Mr. Buddha aside, letting it be and not getting so caught up in the beginning and the end that we miss out on the middle.
If you wanted a neat little ending, sorry, but you're not going to get one.
The Tip Jar