September 29, 1995
“I’ve never kissed a girl.”
As anticipated, all the guys in our room raise their drinks to their lips. What surprises me is that half the girls do as well. I stare at the tall, plastic cup in my hand. It’s been an hour since Alice, my roommate, poured three shots of amaretto and filled the rest with sour mix and ice.
My cup is just as full now as it was then.
Only I could end up co-hosting a drinking party where the chosen game almost guarantees that I’ll go to bed sober. Sighing, I rotate my wrist and watch the amber liquid swirl around against the inside of the cup. The room is strangely quiet, so I look up. Everyone is focused on me.
Alice pokes my arm. “It’s your turn.”
“You know…say something you’ve never done.”
“I’ve never done much of anything, including get drunk. And you know what? If the questions stay sexual, I never will.”
“We’ll skip Izzy,” Alice says. “That brings us back to me. Hmmm…” Her eyes brighten, and her smile turns evil. “I’ve never had a crush on my roommate’s brother.”
I raise the cup to my lips, and when the liquid enters my mouth, I’m surprised by how sweet it is. I’m so happy to be able to finally take a drink, I don’t care what I’ve just owned.
It’s not as if it’s a secret worth keeping. Even if it were, no one in the room knows him except Alice and me, so it’s not as if there’s any risk of him finding out. It doesn’t matter anyway. Edward barely acknowledges me, and then it’s only because I live with his sister.
A few hours and several drinks later, our room clears out. I kick off my shoes and head to the bathroom. I don’t think I’m drunk, but I’m not sure I’d know it if I were. What I do feel is warm, happy. The stuff I worry about is still there, but it’s fuzzy, and it doesn’t seem all that important. In fact, everything is fuzzy, and nothing seems all that important.
As I brush my teeth, I wonder if maybe I am drunk, and how I could know for sure. I don’t think about it too long, though, because I need to wash my face. Bending over the sink without falling into it seems to require all of my attention. After I pat myself dry, I linger in front of the mirror.
I’m pretty enough, I guess. Nothing about my looks stand out, but I have nice hair and eyelashes. Both are long and thick. My face is rounder than I’d like, but my mother insists there are cheekbones in there somewhere, and that eventually it’ll thin out. Then again, she also told me my boobs would be bigger than an A-cup. Since that hasn’t happened, I’m not holding my breath as I wait for a natural improvement in bone structure. I take my index fingers and pull the flesh of my cheeks taut, trying to imagine how I’d look. Though I can’t picture myself with a more angular face, I do realize why I’m staring at myself—and it scares me.
There’s something wrong with my skin. Usually, my complexion is pale enough to make the Goth girls jealous, but tonight it’s…well…not. It’s ruddy and blotchy, like I’ve over-exerted myself. Except I haven’t. Panicked, I hurry back to our room, wanting to ask Alice if she can see it, too.
Still in her clothes, Alice is stretched out on top of her bed, hugging a stuffed animal of Baby Simba to her chest.
“Does my skin look weird to you?” I ask.
She sits up and squints at me. “Should it?”
“Ugh,” she groans, looking at the clock. “It’s already past two. I don’t want to get up, but I know I’ll wake up with six dozen zits if I don’t at least wash my face.” She tosses Simba aside and rises to her feet, which slide right out of under her. She falls back onto her bed in a fit of giggles. “Okay, I can do this. Help me up.”
I hold out my hands to her and pull her to her feet. Despite the fact I’m tipsy, it’s easy—Alice weighs almost nothing. She takes a deep breath as she straightens her posture. I keep my arms extended in front of me so I can catch her if she falls.
“I’m good,” she insists, after steadying herself. “I’m going to take a shower.”
I wait for her to make it out of the room before I flop onto my bed. By the time the phone rings, I’m already asleep. Its bell sounds in two quick pulses, indicating whomever is calling is doing so from off-campus.
“Hello?” I answer, slurring the two syllables.
It’s a male voice—deep and sexy. I’m not sure whose it is, but I want to snuggle up to it.
“Mmmm. You sound yummy.”
“I sound yummy,” he repeats. “Is that even possible? I mean, to the best of my knowledge, tastebuds aren’t at all connected to auditory senses.”
“They can be.”
“Really?” He laughs. “How?”
“By sucking on an earlobe. Duh.”
“Oh. And based on your earlier statement, am I to assume this something you’d like to do to me?”
“Yes..I mean…no. Maybe?”
“Now there’s an answer that isn’t at all open to interpretation.”
“I’d like to lick your voice; it’s pretty. I might want to lick other things, except I don’t know who this is.”
“Sure, it is. God,” I wail, pulling my scrunchy out of my hair. “Even my dreams are lame.”
“At least, I think I’m drunk. I’m not even sure, because until tonight I never drank. I don’t know. Maybe I am drunk. My skin looks weird, and I’m having strange-though-pathetic dreams. I mean, I’m talking about how much I want to lick you. This is my dream, right? Reality is non-issue.”
“In practice, or in theory?”
“Does it matter? Theoretically, I should have part of you in my mouth right now. But no! Instead, we’re having a conversation. Do you know why that is?”
“Because I called my sister?”
“Uh-uh. Because I wouldn’t even know how to suck a guy’s earlobe, therefore, I’m incapable of dreaming about it. It’s humiliating.”
“Not if no one finds out about it.”
“True,” I concede. “Maybe I’ll won’t even remember this when I wake up. That would be awesome. Then it will be as if this never happened.”
“Unless I decide to remind you.”
“Has Alice heard any of this?”
“About how I want to lick your earlobe?”
“No, of this conversation.”
“No. She’s in the shower, I think.”
“Right. Do you think you can remember to tell her I called?”
“Probably not,” I admit, sighing.
“Fair enough,” he says. “There’s something else you can do for me, if you don’t mind.”
“As long as I have a say in this, I’d rather do something to you.”
“Do you have any water in your room?”
“Yes, in the fridge.”
“Go get it.”
“The cord won’t reach.”
“Put down the receiver; I’ll wait for you.”
I do as he says. I think I always will.
Faucet-filled bottle of Evian in hand, I hold the phone up to my ear with my shoulder. “Okay.”
“I want you to drink it.”
“Is this part of Alice’s stupid ‘I never’ game?”
“Is that what you were playing earlier? God, I miss undergrad. No, this is to make sure you don’t feel like hell when you wake up. You don’t have to drink it all, but try to have a few big sips before you go back to sleep, okay?”
“You got it.”
“Oh, and Isabella? I’d say I’m sorry for waking you up, except I’m not. Goodnight.”
I plunk the phone back on the hook, chug some water, and curl back into bed. My next dream is better than this one was, even if it doesn’t involve me putting my mouth on him. Instead, he puts his mouth on me. The only way it could be better is if it were real.
November 21, 2009
Washington Dulles Airport
I’m last to exit the plane, even though I am seated at the front. The strong part of me, the stubborn part, the part that moved to Chicago on my own, says this is because I shouldn’t take advantage of any perks I have because Edward decided to upgrade my ticket. The truth is that I’m too wrecked to move.
But I do move. I get up, and I walk through the jetway and into the terminal. I stop in the ladies’ room and splash water on my face. There’s a line at the hand dryers, so I wipe my hands on the front of my jeans. I’m about to leave when I notice my reflection in the mirror. My eyes are bloodshot, my skin is blotchy, and my eyelashes are stuck together in clumps. It’s not like me to care, but I do. My hands are shaking as I reapply my make-up, but somehow I manage to do a decent enough job with it. The result isn’t good, but it beats the alternative. I’d rather not look how I feel. At the moment, I’d rather not feel at all.
I arrive at the luggage carousel to find Alice waiting. The moment she sees me, she jumps up and down and claps her hands in excitement. It’s not how I thought it would be. Familial resemblance notwithstanding, I don’t see Edward when I look at her. There’s only Alice—my best friend—whom I’ve missed beyond what I can express. She throws her arms around me, and when I relax into her embrace, it’s as if we’ve never been apart.
With my face against her hair, I take a deep breath. She smells exactly as I remember.
“Lavender and vanilla,” I say. “In a world of chaos, you are a constant.”
“You sound like Edward.” The moment the words are out of her mouth, she stiffens in my arms. “I’m sorry; I didn’t think–”
“He’s your brother. It’s okay for you to say his name. I hear it all the time, you know? It’s kind of unavoidable. Besides, he and I were on the same flight. He upgraded my ticket so he could sit next to me.”
She takes a step back and looks at me. “You’re kidding.”
I shake my head.
“I want to hear all about it.”
“I’ll gladly fill you in, but I’d rather hear all about this Texan you’re shacking up with.”
“But if you need to talk–”
“What I need is for this week not to be about my relationship with Edward. It’s bad enough I let my feelings for him keep me away from you as long as I did. I can’t change that, but I won’t let it go on a second longer.”
Her smile is huge as she hugs me for the second time in as many minutes.
“I’m thrilled to have you back.”
The lights flash above the luggage carousel, and with battle-weary cacophony, it begins to move. Its noise make any conversation of value impossible, I turn my focus to the arriving suitcases. After a few go by, I find myself looking through the bags themselves, studying instead the apparatus on which they ride. It’s gray—dirty and twisty—and people only go near it because it’s in the way of something they need—baggage they may not even want, but can’t live without. It doesn’t rest until it’s alone and empty, forgotten by everyone who’s seen it.
Just like Edward’s already forgotten he’s seen me.