The last short story I wrote for college. I look at it and go “meh.”
Gary just sent me a text. “B rdy.”
I asked him “For what,” but all I got in return was “7.” This is not the first time he’s done this. My guess is he needs a pong partner and a wingman. Apparently he’s not tired yet of playing point. When I open the door, Gary’s eyes are wide and he’s bouncing in place. I’d protest, but he reminds me that I didn’t go with him to the block party last weekend. I have lost my choice in the matter.
The house in Kaimuki looks too small to host the party it’s trying to contain. There are already four people on the front balcony in a muddle of board shorts, sun baked hair and cigarette smoke. Beer pong noises creep from behind the house, mixing with the thump from the indoor stereo and the white murmur of multiple conversations. It’s a cookie cutter college house with that neglected, weathered look. Like many houses in this neighborhood, it’s probably signed over to a new group of UH students every few years. I once dated a girl who lived on this street; though I can’t seem to remember which house she was in.
Inside, the walls are covered with posters of the normal cast and crew. Audrey smoking, Bob laughing, Obama hoping. On our way in to find a drink, we bump into Jeff and Stacy. Jeff just got accepted to his fellowship, while Stacy wants to study abroad. She plays with her engagement ring while we talk. Before the conversation gets too heavy, Gary and I move on.
We float past stumbling sorority girls and doe-eyed freshman, all of whom are yelling “this week was so hard” commentary over the latest indie-house re-mix from DJ Tiësto. The cloning process has already started, as the freshman convert to the standard issue short skirts, spaghetti straps and Ugg boots. My first couple of college girlfriends had the same wardrobe. I lose Gary at the second gathering of girls we pass. He needs to ask one of them if she is in his 10:30 Biology lecture, even though Gary has been out of college for more than a year.
I make it to the kitchen and push my way in to get a drink. After finding a cup that I hope is clean I go for the tap, accidentally stealing it from another reaching hand. I look up to a pair of dark brown eyes.
“You first,” the girl starts, but as she meets my gaze she pauses. She stands up straight and brushes a strand of her black, shoulder-length hair behind her ear. Her smile comes naturally. “Do I know you?”
“I don’t think so,” I say. I fill my cup and then hold to tab for hers. This is anti-chivalrous I realize, but at least it kept her around. She’s wearing an off white summer dress that ends around mid-thigh with sleeves that extend a bit past her shoulders. Her legs are smooth and toned, though blemished occasionally with old scars. She holds the red plastic cup with two hands and her feet are close together. The flats she wears are covered with plastic rhinestones. A splash of beer hits them and I hear her squeak.
“Shit,” I shake beer off my hand.
“I was going to say ‘stop,’ but I thought you were playing chicken with the foam,” she says. I offer a look of apology but she just smiles. “I’m Charlotte.” She extends a hand. I take it.
“Andrew.” Her fingers slide from mine. “Nice shoes.”
“I was wondering what your excuse was going to be.” My wandering eyes, caught again. “Most guys who stare go with ‘nice dress.’”
I wrestle with my tongue for a bit. “Sorry about your shoes.”
“Don’t sweat it,” she says, “ten bucks at a vintage shop.” She shakes her foot
“Good deal,” I say. “So, you go to UH?”
We trade small talk in the kitchen. I find out she is in the last year of her Sociology major. She’s originally from Seattle and has an older brother named Alex studying literature at Oxford, whom she’s planning to visit next month. Her friends are hosting this party, but she came more out of social obligation than any personal desire. I lean against the counter, occasionally shifting away from a random wet spot. Charlotte stands a few feet in front of me, exploring the linoleum with her flats when eye contact gets too strenuous. I ask her about her friends, but she punches my shoulder.
“Enough about me,” she says. “What do you do?”
“I’m also taking classes at UH,” I say. I tell her about the MA in Literature I’m trying to get which gets us talking about books. She asks me to recommend something, and I point her towards Eugenides.
“He does some interesting things with deconstructing the idea of ‘love’ as some concrete, universal truth.” I then summarize a part of the book where the main character realizes love is an internal struggle instead of coexistence.
“Sounds subversive. Your girlfriend must have loved that one.”
“No girlfriend,” I say. “That was sly.”
“I thought so.” She grins behind her red cup. A group of keg standers flood the kitchen, pressing her against me to make room. She lets her head rest on my chest as more people cram into the kitchen. Her hair smells clean. I suggest a change of scenery and she agrees. We make our way to the backyard.
Extending from the back door was a cement patio. A small crowd hovered around a fold out beer pong table. We find a couple of lawn chairs by an abandoned Quarters table. Charlotte tells me that she once thought about being an actress. She did a couple of TV commercials, but they were in Seattle so she doubts I’ve seen them. I tell her about my stint as a DJ at the college radio station where I ran a late night indie rock program. I don’t tell her that I got heckled into leaving for playing Muse.
“Little spawns debate in college like music,” I say.
“I like Green Day.”
I shake my head. “I don’t think we should continue this conversation.” Her eyes narrow to glare at me, but the corners of her mouth still curl up.
“I actually don’t hate them as much as I should,” I concede. The music conversation continues as we get out our iPods to compare lists, though we are careful to hide our screens from each other. We find common ground in alternative, both of us liking The Cure, as well as the nu-folk songwriters. I ask her if she’s ever heard of Rocky Votolato and she pulls out a ticket stub from her iPod case for one of his shows.
We are debating the indie status of Arcade Fire when the beer pong table crowd yells for a new team. Before I ask, Charlotte raises her hand. As we play, she doesn’t giggle. Her questions about the house rules are purposeful, not bashful. She talks trash and dances around behind the cups to distract the other team. In the end, we got beat. Badly. Our punishment was three cups each on top of the three we had to drink from our side. She struggles a bit chugging her portion, but hits me when I offer to take one.
“Sorry,” I say. “Habit from playing with girls. They always ask me to finish for them.”
“Don’t play if you can’t drink.” She belches. Her hand shoots to her mouth and a shade of red rises on her cheeks. “I’m sorry, that was gross. And sorry I suck.”
“Not completely,” I say. “You’re plenty distracting.”
We pass by a couple of bedrooms on the way back to the kitchen for a refill. As we walk by the second one the door flies open. Gary comes stumbling out. I catch him and he squints at me, adjusting his eyes from the dark of the bedroom.
“Andy! Perfect timing,” he shouts. He grabs my head and pulls it towards his lips. “Condoms. You have?” I shake my head. Before leaving toward the living room, he winks and says “I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“That’s Amber’s bedroom,” Charlotte says.
“That’s Gary.” I’m not sure what else to say besides that.
Charlotte shakes her head and we keep walking in silence. “I’m sorry,” she finally says once we’ve reached the kitchen and filled our cups. “The hook up thing is just,” she cuts herself off. “Actually, it’s a bunch of Days of Our Lives crap that I really shouldn’t be boring you with.”
“Trust me, I understand,” I say. “Gary and I have been friends for a long time. I love the guy to death, but he’s kind of a pig.”
“It’s not just the pigs’ faults.” Her words stumble out of her. “The girls play this role. They enjoy it too! Then the guys expect some kind of accommodating. It makes it hard on us who are trying.” She drinks to slow herself down. “I shouldn’t be venting. I guess I’m kind of a mean drunk.”
The air between us thickens. I need to thin it out. “The past can hurt sometimes,” I start. “Once, when I was six, I got a tooth knocked out falling off my bike. I don’t think I got back on one till I was ten.” Charlotte starts laughing. She laughs harder when I told her I got the name Skidmark because of the road rash.
“Please tell me I can call you Skidmark!” she says, grabbing my arm. “Or at least Andy.”
“The memories are too painful,” I say with a fake sob. “And god no about Andy. That’s what my mom calls me. Gary just adopted it.”
“Fine,” Charlotte says, pouting. I cut a deal with her that if she tells me something equally embarrassing, she can call me whatever she wants. She agrees and tells me about the headgear she used to use, showing me two bottom teeth that are still crooked. I tell her it’s not good enough. She then shows me a scar near her right eye where she cut herself with scissors when she was eight after getting dubbed Chewbacca because of her unibrow. I almost spit out a mouthful of beer. I even get to see a picture of her when she was ten donning thick, plastic framed glasses and a Backstreet Boys t-shirt.
“Those glasses,” she says, scrunching her face while she refills our cups from the keg. “I was always insecure about them as a kid.”
“So you’ve always had those pretty eyes.” I stare at my cup. “I guess I’m a sappy drunk.”
Charlotte laughs. “Guess so. Believe it or not, most guys compliment my lips.”
“Most guys,” I echo.
“Oh my god, I’m sorry,” she says. “I must sound incredibly conceited. I just meant to say,” she doesn’t finish her sentence. Silence lingers again.
“I can’t imagine being hit on all the time,” I say. “All guys must come across as one skeezy mess.”
“Most guys,” she corrects me. She doesn’t finish that sentence either. After another beat of silence, she breaks in. “I promise not to call you Skidmark if you don’t call me Chewbacca.”
“Deal.” A cop arrives following a noise complaint, so the party thins out as all the under aged drinkers vacate. Charlotte and I head to the living room and claim an empty love seat. Our conversation runs randomly, as we talk about everything from classes to our preference in toothpaste. Old relationships sneak into the story lines, but we skip by them without further exploration. A couple of her friends drop in, complimenting her dress and asking her if she’s going to Amber’s birthday party next week. I see Jeff and Stacy again, who says they never see me anymore and that we should definitely hang out sometime. At some point I even see Gary wander shirtless into the kitchen, then return to Amber’s bedroom. Charlotte and I continue to talk as the house empties.
“Most girls would find sitting and talking all party boring,” I say.
She elbows me. “Most girls.”
“Looks like it’s our turn to go.” Aside from a guy crashed out on the sofa and a roommate doing some preliminary cleaning, we are the only ones left in the living room. I offer to walk her home.
I walk her a few blocks down to her house. At a certain point she stumbles over a crack in the sidewalk and grabs my arm for support. She continues to hold on even after she’s regained her balance. We exchange numbers a block away from her house under the premise that we avoid any date clichés for our next meeting. I walk her all the way to her front door.
“Thanks for the company tonight,” I say.
“Thanks for walking me home.” We hug. She loosens her embrace first. “You have pretty eyes too,” she says. I laugh and thank her, then fall silent. I replay the night in my head, searching for a hint for the right words or action to end it. Yet in my inebriation I can’t seem to find any. She smiles at me, almost anticipating what I’ll come up with. I lean in towards her. She leans back and presses a finger to my lips. Thank god she stopped me.
“Don’t ruin it,” she says. She wraps her arms around my neck for another hug. “Not yet, at least.” She kisses my cheek then unlocks her door. After she disappears into the darkness of her house, I linger for a moment hoping she won’t come back out.