I left the door to my apartment unlocked for her, and she entered. We played Marco Polo, following each other’s voices. The three rooms transforming into the playing board of a very nuanced game.
Upon finding one another, we neither feigned nor embraced our nonchalance, ever platonic. She had come to help me pack, and I put on a personal fashion show for her. Her eyes maintaining contact with mine, never darting down, nor displaying any sign of being nervous if she was. Our game of Marco Polo had flowed into Battleship, and we both understood the rules. No looking at each other’s boards, trust was of the utmost importance.
But on her serious lips danced the prospect of her victory, and in recognizing this, the victory was mine. Predictability is vanilla, but erraticism is a coffee-malt milkshake.
As my suitcase filled up, she cozied further into my freshly laundered blanked. Suddenly jerking up, she put a pillow in my lap and nuzzled into me. With each breath, her head rose and then fell. With each heartbeat, she smirked. And with each sigh, her head shuffled up until it was resting on my chest.
Her hair smelled like agarbatti and we talked about ‘70s porn. People we’d hooked up with. Except we’d only met thrice before. I began to read to her stories about power, about relationships and sex.
My arm sprawled across her chest as she clutched it tightly. I read and she raised her eyebrows. The occasional gasp was mixed in, until my eyes shot away from the book. She was biting my arm. Sucking my arm. Licking my arm. And when she released, we traced the marks she left on my swollen skin. Spotting a tooth imperfection and then finding it between her lips. Then we read the next story.
We lay like that for hours until I shot up, realizing the time. I wanted her to stay. So as I packed, we talked. Until the space between us felt unnatural and she pulled me toward her. I perched on the bed, and her hair flowed, parting in the middle.
Her belly button peaked between her fading blue jeans and my cream turtleneck that she had taken a liking to. Her vulnerability, for the first time ever, showed. While my skin had become tender, hers had become exposed.
She told me she’d never felt so powerless before, and we rationalized it with the way puppies laying on their backs is a sign of trust.
“Do you trust me?”
“Apparently. I wonder why dogs like their bellies rubbed.”
“Rub my belly.”
“Do you want me to?”
“I don’t know. No. Um. Yes.”
“Do you want me to?”
“Rub my belly.”
So I did. First there was friction. The awkwardness of a teenager’s first handjob. So I slowed down. Tracing circles and hearts. Writing her name with my fingers on her skin. And with her each breath, my hand rose and fell. With each tightening and release, each pulse in her stomach, I smirked.
She asked me to take her home. To carry her. To take care of her. But I had to go. So in my silk boxer set and socks, I walked her to the L train. Flurries fell as we talked, soft and melting. And we said goodbye without a touch.
We meet at a sports bar. He orders a beer, I order a jack and coke.
Now he orders a jack and coke, and I order a beer. Both eager to understand one another, conversation insufficient.
I find myself meek in his presence. He is older. A publisher. As the beer bubbles in my stomach, my personality comes to froth. Only he doesn’t seem to have one outside of his persistency. He wants me, but I don’t know why specifically.
“How do you have a personality already? You’re so young,” he asks, brows furrowed. Which is fine. It’s only an hour of my time that he’s wasted.
He has a book with him, Asymmetry. I’ve seen it before. It’s about a young writer and an older publisher. Their asymmetrical relationship. Fitting, life imitates art.
He hands me the book. “You can have it.” I thumb through the book and see that his number is written under the dedication. Artful.
I take it, knowing I won’t be using it. Our moment is too curated—he is not a writer. He is a reader. He wants us to be like his book. But I cannot be molded into a character. I write my own.
He has an advanced copy of a book that isn’t out yet. A writer whose style I’ve long admired, imitated even. When he suggests we go back to his place, I think of ways to decline. And I do.
My feet are not calloused enough to brave a walk in these shoes. Still, I leave with him.
As we walk in the direction of his apartment, excuses are regurgitated. But it is a four-minute walk, and now I am only feet away from words I’ve been yearning for since he teased me with an excerpt not even an hour earlier.
I drink his wine and we make out. He gives me the book and I tuck it under my leg. Now I make more excuses. I haven’t eaten all day and I feel a bit sick. He reaches toward his wooden side table, tugging aggressively at the brass knuckles. He hands me an energy bar, and I take a bite of it.
I swallow and it goes directly toward the knot in my stomach, which is growing as my heart beats faster.
I’m on my period! I haven’t shaved! I’m being abstinent! Arrogantly, he first fields my attempts. “You think I haven’t fucked a girl on her period before?”
Now he relents, rubbing my back, trying to be understanding after spending $40 of his first-year publishing salary on me. Only now that he is rubbing my back, tracing circles on my body as an act of hopeful dejection, his accidental foreplay has gotten me in the mood.
I kiss him. Wrapping my legs around him, the book is pushed along with me until it falls.
Crushed, I pull it out from under the bed. It is morning now. We leave his building together, and I clutch the pages to my chest, hiding the marks he left on me from the world.
In the Seaport District of Manhattan, tucked in between Wall Street and luxury brand stores, is the Hideaway Seaport. I came in for a glass of wine, and spent an hour listening to tragically-not-toxically masculine Ryan talk about his resting angry face as a salesperson.
He’s never been in the city in spring or summer. His experiences with New York are limited to commercial holidays and cuffing season. The chilling air has weathered Ryan, and he has since taken to sports betting. Only having been to a casino four times, it is safe to say that Ryan has been on a losing streak.
Coupled with the week he recently took off work, it’s no surprise he had to come to the Hideaway for a beer and a burger. They have happy hour all day and a $10 combo deal after all.
The owner, who presumably knows Ryan from before, is quiet. His eyes remind me of the sea, his bearded scruff is that of a lighthouse keeper. As I sip on the house red, I feel Ryan’s eyes on me. The owner is doing his best to not acknowledge this.
He knows I know better, but even then I engage in conversation with Ryan. Ryan is not bad. He just doesn’t know better. To him, I will forever be the girl at the bar who distracted him from the game during his lunch break, even if for just a minute.
But the boys who don’t include him at work just yet will always come before me. Our story is over before it started. As a human, I’m not sure I wanted him to uncap the pen to our possible love, but as a writer, I cannot help but want to read this story.
So I will spend the next minutes of my wine-drunkenness pondering what could have been. And then I will order another glass of wine.
Except the owner poured me a second glass of the house red, on the house. “This is for saying the place is nice.” He means it. There is sincerity in the wrinkles by his eyes. He has a wife, but she has gone to visit her sister. He misses her.
He watches Ryan look over at me and say things that might pique my attention. He watches me do the same. For a journalist, I engage in a lot of clickbait conversation. But he says nothing. It is the mark of an intelligent person to listen.
I am still working on becoming a listener. Instead, I write in my head. Rearranging the words of others to become more pleasing to my ear. Daydreaming or an act of journalism misconduct, I am unsure of still.
And thus ends the story of Ryan and I. Until a song we both knew came on.
And after fielding his advances, I feel naked without his eyes on me. Funny how that works. His attention, after having been draped on me, leaves me chilly in its absence.
Acoustic versions of Paramore songs vibrate against the wall of wine bottles. I am way too young to be here.
The women wear sweaters and sensible shoes. The men wear loafers and khakis. I am on the Upper East Side, draped in a silk skirt and ribbed turtleneck.
Soft fabrics rub against me, insulating me in my separation. Everyone here knows each other, comfortable in their space.
I wonder if they know each other outside of this coffee shop. If their relationships will every progress past this two-storied haven of croissants and coffee. Do they make plans to meet here later, when the espressos turn to wine and the decafs turn to beer?
When the regulars work up the courage to ask one another out on a date, do they say “I’ll pick you up at 8”? Do they look each other up on the internet hours before, deciding in advance whether they’ll kiss one another goodnight?
Or are these boundaries never crossed? Are the relationships cultivated here like class crushes? A reason to paint your lips roguishly and leave your hair scruffy?
Do they see things on the streets that remind them of each other and write them down in their little black books? Rehearsing how they’ll tell each other their stories from the outside world, each so vastly different from the 72 degrees and smell of roast coffee that they grow accustomed to together every day?
Does David, the barista, wonder where his friends are when they’re running late, or is he well acquainted with the nature of unreliability?
The chair I am sitting in is placed too confrontationally toward the entrance, so I head downstairs. There is nobody here except for the portraits on the walls. I trace the oil paintings, hoping there aren’t cameras.
I melt into the grey canvas couches that line the striped walls. Arching my back to press the knots against the cushions. There is a speaker next to my ear and it talks to me. The lighting here is dim, lulling.
I want David to come downstairs and ask if I’d like another coffee. In case he does, I should think of an interesting response to spur a conversation. I need inspiration and a distraction.
I’ve been stood up, but I am not disappointed. I’d rather be alone with my thoughts, pouring them into pages instead of quippy one-liners. Still, we reschedule for tomorrow.
Photos by Esther Faciane / Getty Images