The mellow light of the night lamp was soothing, and the rain was making me sleepy. Suddenly a message popped up:
Hey, wanna come see a movie at a friend’s house?
Erm, now? I typed back.
how are we getting there?
I’ll drive, no worries. I’ll come get you in ten
This might be fun, I thought. I switched chats from “Ben” to “Nathan” and wrote: I have to go, a friend is taking me to a movie get-together. talk to you tomorrow, xxx
I left the computer idling and opened the wardrobe. I’d just hit a thrift shop earlier this week and I was really happy with the Fender t-shirt I’d found there – pink flames engulfed a skull protruding from a guitar’s rear end. It was black, it was sort of girly, it was very much rock & roll, I reckoned. In a few minutes, Ben was at the door – I grabbed a bag and a jacket and we were off.
“So, who are we meeting?” I asked over the clatter of pouring rain on the roof of the car, watching the wipers struggle to keep water off the windshield.
“A couple of colleagues and some friends. They’re cool,” Ben answered, eyes on the deluged road. Then a smile crept onto his lips. “Single, too.”
“Oh, so this is a set-up, then?” I gaped in his direction.
“Nah, just kidding. Do you need a set-up?” he asked with a tinge of surprise, and gave me a strange look when I delayed my reply.
“I… No. Something’s… in the works, I’m good, thanks. Never hurts to look, though!” I said and he agreed with a mischievous smile.
At the party, I met the host, Peter, and the others – Oliver and a couple, whose names I quickly forgot. While Peter went to get drinks, Ben and the couple went on discussing movies. I was pretending to listen intently – while actually I was silently preparing answers to possible introductory questions – when I saw a furtive smile in Oliver’s eyes as he looked at my chest.
“What do you play?” his eyes met mine. Burnished dark mahogany in perfect contrast with the fair skin. That, I wasn’t prepared for.
“I-er… Nothing,” I admitted almost ashamed. I thought this t-shirt was silently cool because only people already into the stuff would take notice. I wanted those people to take notice and, if our eyes met, we would sometimes exchange a knowing half-smile: ‘Yeah, I dig that. You and I are in the know.’ Or so I thought, but now I realised it was more of a silently pretentious kind of t-shirt. One that, given the opportunity, like it was now, would expose me as a wanna-be, an airheaded aficionado. Those eyes were still trained on me and I felt a rush of heat creeping up my neck. “I-I started to learn, but then a friend lost my beginner’s sheets and…” These ramblings were so unlike me. I pitched my voice and tried to save some face. “So, yeah, not meant to be, I guess. What do you play, then?”
“What makes you think I play anything?” he was baiting me but I wasn’t going down without a fight.
“Well, if you didn’t, you’d have asked if I played anything. Your question was more ‘do you play guitar or bass’.”
“You’ve got me!” his hands went up in surrender, but I was the one disarmed, transfixed by his smile.
“It’s the shirt test, weeds out poor company,” I raised an eyebrow and sat down on a chair next to him to avoid eye-contact, I feared I was blushing. Peter saved me, appearing with drinks.
“So, did I pass?” Oliver asked while I was getting up to take a beer from Peter’s full hands.
“Did you what?”
“Pass. The test?”
I thought for a second while he was holding my gaze. Then I looked down with a smile and rose a beer bottle to him “With flying colours! Cheers.” We clinked bottles and drank, he smiled but said nothing.
The movie was a blatant teen comedy, which I’d usually avoid like the plague, but I had fun watching the others get into it. Besides, I spent more time making fun of it with Oliver than actually watching. His proximity was comforting and exciting at the same time. A few times I caught myself watching him instead of the screen. A few times I caught him doing the same with me. Our arms or legs would touch sometimes – short accidental brushes at first, but soon he would lean a little too far to whisper a sarcastic comment and his nose would touch my cheek.
We didn’t shake hands goodbye, just gazed at each other while the others were hugging and kissing and waving. At a traffic light down the street, Ben pointed out his window, laughing. I leaned forward to see Oliver’s slim face stretched in a clownish grin behind a taxi’s window, waving one stiff arm. The light changed, we made sad faces and waved goodbye as the taxi slid away along the wet street. I wasn’t faking the sad face.
I didn’t brood much over it, but I kept remembering that evening. Or being reminded of it; especially on other movie nights.
“How was the movie night?” Nathan asked.
“Hm? Which movie?” I shot him a questioning look and pointed at the screen.
“No, last week. You said you’re going to a movie night with someone. How was it?”
“Oh, right. Yeah, it was ok. The movie sucked hard, but the people were nice. It was fun.”
“Good, I’m glad. Though a little jealous, too.”
“Awww, jealous already? We weren’t even officially dating yet, remember? Plus, you’re totally safe,” I smiled and kissed him on the neck. He squeezed me tight with a low ‘yeah-yeah, all right’ and we went back to watching the movie. Only I wasn’t really watching anymore but wondering if I had just lied to my boyfriend. Or myself.
I went to a party with Ben soon after. Oliver didn’t show up. I didn’t ask about him. I skipped the next few parties.
The sun gradually stopped going all the way up in the sky, as if too tired or dejected by the smell of snow in the air. It mostly lingered low over the horizon and shed little warmth from behind slate clouds. The streets were busy with sulky people in coats too thin for autumn. Refusing to accept that winter is coming, they dashed from home to work to the pub and back home, scowling either at the grey sky above or at the greyer asphalt under their feet. I was not ecstatic about snow in the city either, but being angry with it sounded like an even worse option. Instead, I had chosen to go play pool with a friend. The wind had picked up in the evening and we rushed into the billiards club bundled up to our noses with scarves. I had two on top of each other because I had also chosen a jacket too thin, and my friend had an extra scarf.
“Soооо? A couple of months in, how’s the new romance with Nathan?” she asked. “No. Wait. You’ll tell me in a second. I’ll go grab drinks, and you go save our table before those two snatch it!” she winked at me and veered towards the bar. I continued forward, unwrapping as I went.
The pool table we called our own was right next to a small comfy bar with a couple of stools, which made it an exception in the club and also the reason it needed guarding. “Those two” were some guys sitting at that bar. I dropped a scarf on the pool table in an only mildly possessive manner and started taking off my jacket. The guys nodded “hi” and I greeted them back, but only gave them a quick glance because something was choking me. I had forgotten the second scarf, and it was now tangled in my jacket. I sighed comically to myself and gave the guys an embarrassed smile because they were still looking over. When I managed to disentangle myself, I turned my back to them to see if my friend was coming. She was chatting with the bartender, as usual, so I went to get cues.
The cue stand was on the wall next to the small bar. I was still a bit uneasy after the scarf mishap, so I didn’t look over to the boys. Not until one of them said:
“So you do play something!”
For a second, I listened to my heart thumping. Before I could think about it, I looked at my chest, but I was wearing a different shirt. I looked up and there it was – that same bewitching smile beneath a pair of dark eyes I’d told myself I’ll never see again.
Story by: Yoanna Novakova
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