I was new in town, and had become begrudgingly hermetical. I should have known better than to expect to create a new cadre of friends and colleagues in just a few short months–for years, I had relied on my well-established social network in Portland, and took for granted the ability to text seven different phone numbers at random and be almost guaranteed to have someone free to do something, go somewhere. I had relied for so long on making friends through friends, that I no longer really knew how to branch out into a completely foreign environment. Of course, it didn’t help that the very nature of the college town I had moved to was to radically shift its population twice a year: In fall–when the students swarmed the campus like so many locusts–and summer–when they migrated back to Hoboken, Bowling Green, Marietta–wherever that year’s batch hailed from.
I tried bars, 4Chan, Meetup.com–to no avail. Craigslist–a hit-or-miss point of socialization in Portland–was completely a miss out here, full of nothing but panty-sniffers and lonely meth heads looking for a girlfriend in exchange for free room and board. There was one more option I could try…
I had used OKCupid in the past, with minimal success, but hope springs eternal for the desperate. It was, after all, only “OK” Cupid, not “over-achieving” Cupid–that must have been the paid version.
I went online, made an account, answered some arbitrary questions (Which is bigger? The earth, or the sun? Drinking and driving can be kind of cool—true or false?), and—despite having checked the “new friends” category, sifted through the poorly-spelled, brazen sexual advances that flooded my inbox (“Do you know how to use that tongue ring?” “Damn girl, u sexiii,” “Hey, my gf and me r looking 4 a third…”). It is a well-established fact that people present their “best selves” online, but not necessarily one that is accurate or candid. (2) I would hate to think what their unpolished selves were like.
I found a nice boy. An actual, normal human being. His profile picture was him petting a lion cub in Africa. He was a Whovian. He had a job. Did not have a girlfriend. He could have been lewd, could have been licentious and aggressive, but he wasn’t. He was smart, funny, and tastefully flirtatious.
Several weeks passed. One night, while at dinner with my aunt, The Boy asked me out for drinks at the local club. I agreed, and my aunt dropped me off, warning me to be careful and shoving a fistful of cash into my hand for a cab.
At the bar, I ordered my own drinks. I watched them with borderline obsession, slowly finishing each one before going to the bathroom. I was careful to keep the waterfall neckline of my shirt from draping too low. I wouldn’t want to give him the wrong impression.
The Boy was nice, but–as the night went on–he got a little handsey. He gently fingered my necklace as he complimented me, actively listened, and asked all the right questions you ask on a first date. We discussed Doctor Who, his travels in Africa, my writing and my recent move. But then there would be a hand on the knee, a touch on the arm—a little too often for my comfort. But nerds, I had long ago realized, were never very astute when it came to flirting rhetoric. I stifled the feelings of uncomfortability–I was shy, after all, and didn’t like to be touched. This was what you did on a date, right? This was how men showed you they liked you.
“You know what?” The Boy smiled—a brilliant idea had come to fruition in his head. “We should go back to my apartment and watch Angels in Manhattan.”
“Oh,” I paused. I stared at my drink. At his smile.
“That’s not really where I wanted this night to end up.” Although I was no stranger to drunken encounters, it was a first date, I didn’t want to go home with The Boy I barely knew. “That’s how you end up nekkid and dead in a ditch!” as my mother would say.
“Sure, sure,” he smiled. We moved on to other topics. I had another drink. Maybe two.
“Hey,” he said, eyes lighting up, “Would you want to grab some food? Maybe hit up Tolly Ho?”
“Sure!” I smiled. Food was safe, and–despite my best intentions–I was very nearly drunk.
We paid our tab and walked out to his car: a beat up, late 90’s Chevy with faded blue paint and a mismatched canopy. He paused after unlocking my door, holding it open for me while he pondered.
“Actually, you know what I could really go for?”
“Some Doctor Who. Let’s go back to my apartment and watch it!” I hesitated–this was not where I wanted this night to go. The boy was still waiting by the door. I mulled over my options in my fuzzy mind.
“I don’t want to be a rude bitch…and I already told him I’d go get food…he’s just being nice. He was okay with my saying no the first time…I can’t be a stuck up bitch.”
I got in the truck, flashing a quick, uneasy smile. I shoved my hands between my tightly-clasped legs and crossed my ankles, taking up as little space as possible. The truck smelled of motor oil and old plastic.
The Boy chatted amicably on our drive–I didn’t hear a word of it, but I nodded at all the right places.
“Lynn would be so mad at me,” I thought.
It was cold. His apartment was on the third floor of a student housing neighborhood, behind a church downtown. He unlocked the door, chuckling something about a dog–his? The neighbor’s?–as we walked down a narrow, poorly-lit hallway.
“This is how I die,” I laughed to myself, reveling in the sheer stupidity. “This is how I fucking die, and no one will ever hear from me again.”
He led me into the tiny one-bedroom apartment. No dog–must have been the neighbor’s after all. A threadbare rug lay between a sagging cough and an impressive wood entertainment center. African masks and carved figures of wildlife stared at me from around the room.
“Want a drink?” he strode into the kitchen, pushing aside a few dirty dishes on the counter.
“Uh…sure.” No, I didn’t. I didn’t want to seem rude. I watched him carefully from the kitchen doorway. A tumbler full of whiskey with a splash of cran. I hated whiskey.
The Boy beamed as he handed me my drink. It was so full, it spilled over the brim of the glass and dribbled down my arm. Even at arm’s length, the fumes hit me like a double shot.
My previously-consumed drinks had now reached their full potency, as I not-quite-stumbled into the living room and sat on the floor in front of the couch. I set my drink on the faded rug. The Boy laughed as he carried his drink in the living room and turned on the tv.
“You can sit on the couch, you know.”
“Thanks…I’m more comfortable here.”
Doctor Who played. The Boy slumped onto the couch and swung one long, lanky leg over my head, so that I sat in between them.
“Want a massage?” A stone angel the size of a building dominated the screen in front of me–snarling over a brightly-lit New York.
“Uhm–” I didn’t have the chance to form a reply before he had started in on my shoulders.
“Drink your drink,” he suggested, digging into my back with his hard, bony thumbs.
“In a bit…it’s a little strong.”
“Okay! You’re so tense.” His grip tightened, massaging my shoulders, my arms, my upper chest. I found a moment of clarity and laughed.
“Oh yeah, that’s a new line.”
“Well, you know,” he chuckled, shrugging as if to say “boys aren’t always smooth.”
The Doctor was running on the screen. Don’t blink, he says, don’t even blink.
“Your skin is so soft,” he says lowly, leaning in near my ear. My shoulders were in significant pain as he slipped a hand down my shirt.
“Ouch! No…I don’t think so…” I winced from the pain in my left shoulder and pulled his hand back out of my shirt. Eventually, though, his hand wandered back down, under my bra this time with his right hand, his vice-like grip clawing my opposite shoulder with his left. I would be lucky if I didn’t have bruises tomorrow.
I looked to my left. His bedroom door was open, when it had been closed when we arrived. When had he opened it? He groped and prodded, began to pull my face towards him to kiss me. The pain and shock gradually pulled me back into sobriety.
“I have to go.” I stood up and grabbed my things.
“But you don’t have your car.” The Boy was concerned. He slipped his strong hands around my waist, pulled me in close, kissed me again.
“I’ll get a cab.” I could feel my heartbeat in my ears as he moved down to my neck.
“Want to wait here until it comes?” Hands on my ass, pressing me against him. His hot breath on my still-throbbing shoulders.
“N-no. I have to go.” I ripped myself away and ran to the door, fumbling with the lock before throwing the door open and all-but running down the hall, out of the building, and into the cold, fresh air.
I had no idea where I was, but I could hear heavy traffic nearby. I speed-walked towards it, every muscle in my body clenched, constantly shooting looks back over my shoulder. I should have been more assertive. I could have said no again. He would have taken me home.
“Hey,” I texted Lynn. It was late. I prayed she’d be awake.
“Can I give you some gas money if you come pick me up?” The screen lit up in response almost immediately.
“No, but I can come get you. Where r u?”
Several blocks later, I found a brightly-lit corner and huddled against an electric box to block the wind. There was a peeling sticker on it–a pencil sketch of a young woman’s face, feathers in her hair. Black and gray, except for her crimson lips. I slowed my breath as I waited.
Lynn’s car pulled up. I hoped to God that she wasn’t mad at me for calling her out here so late. Missy’s head popped up in the passenger-side window, her small, bright eyes wide with the excitement of a spontaneous, late-night car ride that ended with finding mom. Her tail wiggled almost imperceptibly–she was ecstatic.
I climbed into the car, pushing her gently aside. She immediately climbed back and stood on my lap, her wet nose marking the window with eager swipes.
Lynn pulled out onto the main road. “Am I gonna have to kill him?”
I sniffed, wiping my eyes and digging my fingers into Missy’s coarse double coat.
Finally home, I climbed into bed, all four pets now begrudgingly allowing me a sliver of the mattress. Purrs and quiet, wheezy snores surrounded me.
My phone lit up.
“Hey,” it said. “Hope you got home okay! We should go out again sometime!”