Going to California

Making Magic — 7.3

At a barbecue over at Mentor’s place, I’d run into a woman I’d known in high school, someone for whom I’d once nursed a pretty hard crush. She’d begun dating someone who’d gone to high school with Mentor, which made for a nice symmetry.

“Derek?” she said, walking up to me through the party, head-cocked and finger outstretched.

She and Mentor’s old friend were having a proper dramatic relationship, but she introduced me at one point to her roommate, a sharp woman with dark, thickly curly hair and a very femme punk look about her. She was the first girl I’d felt attracted to who had a nose ring; hers hung from the outside of one nostril. Even in counterculture Austin, piercings were only just becoming popular. It felt new, and it helped that she was hot.

Christine’s roommate needed a computer with Internet access to write a paper that was due the next day. She’d called me the night before — got my number from her roommate; we’d passed each other briefly at a party — to ask if I’d be around Sunday night, that she’d heard I had a computer on the Internet at my house, and that since it didn’t cost me anything to be online maybe I wouldn’t care how late she stayed up using it. This was just before when most people didn’t have computers. I’d said sure.

So with my car back, I was even able to pick her up. Actually, I’d planned to hang out a bit with Christine — we hadn’t spent any time one-on-one since high school, so maybe she wanted to check if she still had a good feeling about me before letting her roommate enter my lair — with the idea that we would meet up with her roommate later, presumably if I passed whatever test she had in mind.

I passed. Giving Christine a ride over to campus and swapping her for her roommate, she pointed back at the car and said, “Don’t keep her up too late, Derek, okay? She’s still gotta write that paper.”

Back home, it turned out she’d already eaten, so I set her up with the computer, and she got to it. I know the all-nighter deal, so I set out a blanket and a pillow. My sectional couch would more than accommodate her. To the clickity-clackity of my laptop, a rare creature in that age, I turned in for the night.

Maybe five hours later, I’m awakened by my bedroom door opening. She waves hesitantly, to make sure she’d gotten my attention. Half of her face was lit in dim stripes of blue, moonlight by mini-blinds, and the rest was darkness, with a glint of nose ring to one side.

“Hey,” she said. “Um, do you have a t-shirt I could borrow?”

“Sure,” I said, pointing to my open closet. The top shelf was just stacks and stacks of t-shirts. She grabbed a black one that must’ve looked good to her, holding it out to confirm it was appropriately baggy and long enough. Taking off her shirt and her bra, she slipped the t-shirt over her head before unbuttoning her pants. Still, I hadn’t been expecting her to walk towards me and slide into bed.

“Hello,” I said. We kissed for maybe ten minutes.

“This has got to be the first time that a girl has ever hooked up with a guy simply because he had a computer that was online.”

“I’m not sure that’s strictly true,” I told her. We kissed for a much longer time.

I played with her necklace. She took off the t-shirt. I traced her shoulders, I kissed the crook of her elbow, the tips of her fingers. One finger bore a highly polished ring made from a speckled stone that could have been greenish.

“Nice ring,” I said.

“It’s from my boyfriend,” she said. “I think he wants to get married someday, but I think that’s bullshit — don’t you?”

I didn’t stop kissing her, but when she said the word “boyfriend,” her level of attractiveness fell through the floor. Huh, I thought to myself, that’s a first.

I’d begun dating Cookie while living with another girl, who I began seeing when her boyfriend had gone away for a month as part of a medical testing experiment. That’s a long story. And then my previous girlfriend, Suzanne, the only really serious one in my book, had broken up with me after she’d been seeing someone else for quite a while.

I began to wonder how cool it would be, how much I could accomplish, if only I was coupled up with a girl I could trust.

We woke up with each other, though we didn’t end up sleeping together. She’d put her t-shirt back on. I gave her a floppy disk with her paper on it and dropped her off on campus.

“I’m surprised your professor won’t let you email it to him,” I said.

“Why would someone do that? They want something they can lay their hands on and mark up.”

I shrugged. As we pulled up to her building, she looked at me squarely and said, very seriously, “I like you.”

“I like you, too,” I said.

“Let’s hang out again,” she said.

“You’ve got my number.”

At work, over lunch, Andy was talking about getting one of his nipples pierced with a small ring.

“Hey,” I said, “that’s funny, I was thinking about a nose ring.” I could start many sentences with “Hey” because of the outward rushing air of the H-sound. It started the air moving out of my lungs which was generally key to falling into a rhythm of speech in which I’d be less likely to stutter noticeably. “That’s funny” was another phrase that was pretty easy to say and which would often lead better into sentences less suited to be started with, “Motherfucker.”

We agreed that we would go together — three of us: me and him and his fiancé, who wanted her belly done — and get pierced. It went well, up to a point.

 

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