I get to the bar and sit two seats down from a girl drinking brown liquor and reading a novel. I pretend that I could do this in public, read and drink. When the bartender comes by I order water with lemon and wait to order an actual drink until he arrives. I only have five dollars and if he doesn’t offer to pay I’ll be forced to put it on my credit card.
I check the time on my phone, seven minutes to seven. He’s always a few minutes late – rushing in like he just came from somewhere important. I’d been getting ready since five, which is the time of day when I start to get bored. I tried to be late, too, but I’m early. I put my phone in my purse in order to not bury my face in it the way everyone else who is alone at a bar does, but then I don’t know what to do with my hands. I pluck at a string hanging from my skirt. I wasn’t totally sure this was a date so I wore a like, in between outfit – it could possibly be a date thing, could possibly be a just-came-from-my-job thing. Though I don’t technically have a “job” job. Not like a go-to-one-place-each-day job.
The bartender comes back and I overhear the whiskey-drinking book reader tell him she is studying classic literature at Berkley. I note the number of times she uses the phrase “like, literally” and am relieved.
I feel someone pinch my shoulder from behind and it’s him. He goes in for a hug but I can’t turn around or stand up fast enough, so it’s the one-armed kind. We aren’t yet at the stage where we could joke about this kind of thing.
--Hey, he says.
--Hey there, I say.
He orders a whiskey and water and asks what I want. I tell him house red but instead he asks for a glass of something that has a difficult-to-pronounce name and a description that contains the words “pepper” and “palate” which was what I was hoping he’d do.
--Your lipstick’s nice.
He says this and puts his phone on the bar in between us.
I say thanks, smile. I’d forgotten I’d put it on, so now I’ll have to periodically lick my teeth to make sure red marks haven’t rubbed onto them.
He asks me how my day was. He asks it in the casual way of someone who expects a regulation-style answer. We’ve only hung out a few times, always on Fridays, so he doesn’t really know things about me. Like how my sister’s dead and like how my personality is different on a Tuesday than it is on a weekend.
Our drinks come and I take a kind of large sip.
He recently broke up with a long-term girlfriend and she knows he’s dating again. This I know because he told me unprompted over dollar beers and tacos. But he didn’t actually use the word “dating.” He said “hanging out.” I think his exact words were, “She knows I’m hanging out with another girl,” or something like that. Girl wasn’t plural. This information made me feel oddly proud.
I tell him my day was fine and he talks about his. I don’t really understand what his job entails. He says he works for a for-profit company that does non-profit work. He is in charge of “a team.” I try to picture him in an office – giving orders and having inside jokes. He smells like sandalwood.
He asks me about my feelings on Syria because he’s still deciding if he likes me. The phone between us buzzes before I can answer. He looks annoyed, speaks in Spanish to whoever’s on the phone. He plugs up his other ear with his elbow out like men do, makes a motion that he’ll be outside.
His family is Spanish. Like, from Spain, but he was born in Santa Barbara and grew up there. When he returns he says Sorry about that and I ask him to speak in Spanish because it’s sexy and because I “want to practice” the Spanish I stopped learning six years ago. He smiles and tells me to Go ahead, give it a try. I stumble through a few sentences that later I’ll repeat back in my head and realize what I conjugated wrong. A bar is not the place to try to speak another language. He moves on quickly.
--What’s the most dangerous thing you’ve ever done?
He likes questions like this. He has a new one every time. Where would you go if you could go anywhere in the world right now. What would you grab if your apartment were on fire and you had time to take only one thing. I’m starting to think it’s some kind of psychosocial experiment so I never really know how to answer. I don’t answer in the way I think he wants me to, though. Like, for example, for the latter question, I told him I’d grab the photo album filled with Polaroids from parties in high school. They’re stupid questions.
I consider telling him I once snorted a Percocet in college.
--I ride my bike without a helmet.
He’s going into the Peace Corps next summer so he knows all about this danger thing. He wants to build an economy in a place where people sleep in clay huts and where it never really gets cold. He told me this at our last Hang Out, and I’ve since periodically envisioned visiting him in some foreign place where we’ll eat with our hands and be greeted like celebrities like white people always are in documentaries and travel channel shows. I think about what I’ll wear. I picture my hair wrapped in a patterned scarf.
I have two glasses of wine by the time he finishes his one drink and I feel my face flush. When the bill comes he pays like I knew he would. I try to glance at his license because I’m still not sure how old he is but I’m not from this state and I can’t find the DOB fast enough. He has a young face but acts more mature than I am – not in a condescending way, just in a put together way. He wears gel in his hair and somehow pulls this off, for example. He’s young enough to ask me what college I went to but old enough to not care what my major was.
We go back to his apartment and the picture of how I remembered it from the first night is different. That first night we met we had drunken unprotected sex. I say careless things when I’m drunk that I think the other person will like – things that I remember periodically and get embarrassed about later. I gauge that he’s a good guy because he hasn’t brought any of that up. We haven’t had sex since then.
He offers me something to drink but he only has dark liquors and I don’t want to end up vomiting in his pristine toilet, so I say no, thanks. He takes this to mean something else; like that I want to have sex, and rushes toward me and kisses me hard like men sometimes do in movies. He pulls my top off in the over-the-head way even though it has buttons that he could have undone, which would have been more time consuming but a bit more sensual, I suppose. The other clothes come off quickly, except for his pants, which he almost loses his balance taking off. He puts his hands on my shoulders and presses and I bend my knees because I know the drill.
I feel bloated and was thinking that I didn’t want him to see me naked, but here I am, on my knees, almost naked. I’m still wearing my skirt. He’s naked except for his socks. He puts his hand on my head and pulls me toward him and I think I must have set the precedent for this kind of thing without remembering having done so.
Later, he asks me if I want to stay over but mentions he has to go somewhere in the morning at the same time. I say no, but not because I don’t want to lie next to him all night, but because I don’t want to see the process of Him. Him getting ready for bed, Him snoring in his sleep, Him eating breakfast, putting in hair gel. So he walks me to the entrance of his perfect building and asks me if I’ll be okay getting home and I tell him yes and he says goodnight and I say goodnight and I leave.
I ride my bike home helmetless and nearly get hit when a man in a truck rolls through a stop sign. He blows past me and calls me a dumb slut. I yell something empty and ungratifying back. Then he stops the vehicle and gets out of it, looks at me. He drives a truck and I’m a girl. He asks rhetorical things like, What were you thinking you dumb slut, Why are you a stupid whore.
And what does one say to that.
I stare at him in silence until he looks disappointed and gets back behind the wheel. He revs the engine and drives off, making a squealing sound. There’s a woman in the passenger seat who doesn’t glance back at me in the mirror.
He texts me that he had a good time and he uses an emoticon because he’s older and his family is foreign and this kind of thing is embedded. I consider when it will be that he’ll stop texting all together. He knows I’m not the girl he’s going to love, and I know he’s not the boy I’m going to love. One day he will find a woman who will love the lame tattoo on his back. She will love him for a thousand nuanced reasons that she won’t ever be able to explain to her girlfriends. It made me sad, thinking that he would try to find her in me for a little bit longer.
I send him a text that says I had a good time, too. I make tea and lay in bed. And I think, that’s the thing about lying to yourself; you can’t really ever get away with it.
Alisha Ebling is a writer based in Philadelphia. Her fiction and essays can be seen or are forthcoming in Split Lip Magazine, Yalobusha Review, Junto Magazine, The Avenue, The Rumpus, Luna Luna Magazine, The Head & The Hand Press, Bangalore Review, Crab Fat Literary Magazine, Dhaka Tribune, The Stockholm Review, and other anthologies in Philadelphia and abroad. She holds an MA in Creative Writing from Oxford Brookes University, and she was a 2015 resident of Art Farm. In her writing she explores family, femininity, and the relationships that shape us. Read her work at alishaebling.com.