(Melanie has insisted that I be utterly honest in what I thought and felt on this date, so I will abide that rule as best I can. It is not my fashion to be as frank as I think she wishes, but it'll turn out okay in the end. Promise.)
What Melanie may not know is that already have devised a score of reasons not to commit to her before I even meet her. Okay, so I have exactly three--her age, that she lives in Ohio when she is not at Bard, and that she is spending much of her summer in France or Ohio--and I only need these arguments because I am otherwise becoming rather infatuated with her sight unseen. She is eloquent and literate, sweet, funny, caring, scientific, sexy, polyglottal, brilliant, cute... I feel that I could grow to love her in time, a statement I do not make lightly or easily. I have this picture in my head of the perfect girl for me and it isn't Melanie, but it also doesn't matter. It wasn't Jen or Kate or Emily, and I loved them all. It wouldn't do to sit waiting for someone who does not exist when there is someone amazing who craves my company as I crave hers.
All of this suggests to me that I am in the grips of a fierce rebound crush, which may just be another excuse because, if this is real, I don't know what I will do. I have only ever before acceded at a chance at something authentic and lasting, at the seed of permanent romantic love. I have never had cause to resist it and have never witnessed genuine affection back down when confronted with the sword of logic. You may as well fight a fire with a frozen gasoline scepter for all the good it will do you. My exclamation of this was shouting at her every time she said something witty, "Be older!" though this quickly mellowed to giving her arbitrary and uncounted points for her multifarious virtues. Eventually, I just admitted to her that, were she a bit older, I would not have to see her to know that I wanted to be with her, and I meant it.
I enter the Campus Center at Bard, our designated meeting place, though I realize I will be unable to really recognize her amongst a sea of collegiate faces. She has only ever been two-dimensional, a series of letters and instant messages on my computer screen, the two photos she includes on her profile. I peeked at her Facebook when she added me and, while some of her pictures are very pretty, some looked too young (a playground behind you will do that) and one was unattractive (though this was largely owing to the monster face she was making). None of these are enough to render her properly. I should have suggested she wear something dramatic to help my recognition, a bright crocus in her hair. I decide to simply walk past the crowds and visit the bathrooms to ease my anxious bladder, when a brown haired girl sidles up to me and meets my pace.
"I suggest we keep moving," I whisper to her in lieu of a greeting. "Keep it casual. They suspect nothing." Melanie titters and I amend that I actually would prefer to visit the bathroom, where I give myself a mental pep talk. I had hoped that I would see her and there would be no attraction, or not the right attraction. While I am not about to rend her clothes from her small body, I do feel the right attraction to her, bolstered by the interactions we shared via the net. I don't love her on sight, I don't feel anything dramatic, but the inklings I do feel are enough to persist on this date. She looks old enough, she is prettier than her pictures let on, and I have enough shallowness that I actually care about these things. When she edged up, I almost couldn't look at her directly because I was uncomfortable with the idea that I would want her, but it isn't overwhelming enough to trigger discomfort, only warmth and curiosity.
I exit the restroom and look at her, trying to find a flaw in her appearance. Her cheeks are a bit round, the last vestiges childhood, but it suits her unfortunately well. I will have to actually hold a prolonged conversation to find a serious enough defect to discount her so I can return to my hermitage with just another lovely female friend in my pocket. I try to touch one of her cheeks to affirm her reality, and she shudders away. Too soon, I guess, though it feels I've known her for weeks.
We leave the building and she asks where we are going. "I don't know, this is your campus." But then I rethink this, that I have spent more than enough time either physically or mentally here. It is unsubtly the setting for We Shadows, though slightly altered for dramatic effect. As such, there really is only one proper place to go: Blithewood, the garden where Shane began her descend into the other world.
The garden is dead and fenced off. The thick ropes of vines seem almost like plastic in the winter freeze. "It's never like this in my stories," I huff.
"Do your stories only take place in the summer?" she asks.
"Well, no. But the garden is magic, it's always spring thereâ€¦ The rocks in it are piezoelectric, that they spark when they strike one another, did you know that?" This isn't a bragging sort of question. Melanie had a paper published in a legitimate scientific journal prior to her eighteenth year on this earth. She is frankly likely to know that and does, offhandedly affirming what I've said as though it were nothing more than "the sky often looks blue when it isn't full of clouds."
The garden is not the romantic setting I had hoped it would be, though I intellectually know that it could not be in late January. I didn't bother pulling her past the barrier to see the statue that presides over the waning Eden, to test her with its smile as I've been tested, as I've had my characters test one another.
For want of something clever to say, Melanie runs screaming down the hill and I follow suit, more quietly. I want to keep pointing out memories to her, that this is where I stood to watch Fourth of July fireworks my first Summer Scholars, but it feels too rushed for that. She leads me down the wrong path at first, to a steep cliff that ends twenty-five feet beneath in frozen Hudson River water. We backtrack and find a path that leads to the right end, a rock where she sat with an ex only a day before, though utterly platonically.
We sit on the rock and talk idly, she mentioning how we could kill one another and toss the body into the frozen water. I think that she would make a good picture against this January backdrop and suggest it, but she says that photos are always too posed and artificial. I mention wanting metallic eyes so I could always be taking pictures in hopes of creating a perfect one out of the tens of thousands a day, but it sounds pretentious and strange. Transhumanism is not readily a subject for a first date, either far too creepy or geeky depending on the other party's prior experiences. But, given how recently she was plotting the disposal of my corpse, I think I can be forgiven this eccentricity.
She looks at my head and gleefully says I am balding, though I am not. I frown at her and tell her I will always henceforth wear a hat in her presence, but I am not put off enough to call this the fatal flaw. She quickly apologizes, claims that she has a knack for saying the wrong thing and that I am not balding, that she was just being random.
The grayness of the day gets to us within an hour and she suggests that we retreat and seek coffee to warm ourselves. This had been a part of the date for as long as we had been planning one. Standing at the passenger's door of my car, she narrated that this is the part in the movie where our heroine makes a stupid decision and ends up murdered. Then she gets in anyway, having temporarily decided that I don't with to kill her. I drive her from campus to a coffeehouse that was once called The White Rabbit and which change its name to something less charming that relies upon a pun not worth mentioning.
She orders a latte and, after scanning the menu and deciding that nothing appeals to me, lay my coat over a sofa to claim it as ours. She is still waiting and, contrasted with the high school girls with braces and low cut blouses, I realize for the first time how young my date can look in the wrong lighting. I offer to take her coat and try to affectionately caress her hair, and she flinches away again, demurs that she would prefer to keep the coat on. I shrug, a bit abashed, and hover near her until she is served.
Melanie's hands shake slightly from a preexisting and harmless condition, but it gives her the air of someone always nervous. There was a time when this was more accurate, but she has gone through the crucible and come out the other end a charming, if cynical, young woman who seems to have trust issues with older dates. Perhaps she simply has trust issues. I certainly would not begrudge her uncertainty with me, a strange man from the internet.
She sits on the sofa and we look at one another, flirting sweetly. I feel that the date is going well now, as I am getting to know her in a more climate controlled environment with comfortable seating and ready access to chemical stimulants. She asks what I feel toward her and, opting for frankness, I show her the initial two paragraphs of this entry (after my parenthetical) which I had prepared in advance. When I lob the question back at her, she admits that she doesn't know. I appreciate the honestly of this answer much more than I let on; I've had enough of half-truths for a while. I feel more affectionately toward her, as though this kiss may be germinating between us, though it won't be happening in the erstwhile White Rabbit, too crowded and public for something so significant (at least from my perspective).
She finishes only half her latte, too vexed by the chittering blonde teenagers at the parallel couch, before deciding we need to leave fewer then twenty minutes after arriving. I have no issue with this, I am getting hungry and the ambient noise level of the cafÃ© is too much for proper conversation. It is almost as through this will not feel like a proper date if I do not at least offer to buy her a meal. And, if it isn't a proper date, I cannot be properly kissed. This is not acceptable as I have yet to find a reason that will dissuade me from my attraction.
As we stand at a traffic light waiting to cross for dinner, I lean in and kiss her hair as an excuse to catch its scent. I love that women always have hair that smells of flowers or spices. Melanie's smells only of hair and I almost disbelieve it. What kind of a girl actually smells like aâ€¦ aâ€¦ girl? But I laugh away the stupidity of this as an objection and hope that didn't count as the first kiss I hope we both eagerly await. But I was able to kiss her hair. She let me. That is progress.
The meal rushes by at the Red Hook Curry House. I want to impress her, I want this to be memorable. As she comes toward me in the buffet line, I reach up my hand to brush her cheek with my fingertips. She looks so soft and I just want to touch her to convey that I am growing fonder. Again, she flinches and pulls away, a signal I take to heart to avoid such gestures for a while longer. But I am so physical, so used to contact for communication, and I hope that her reticence is merely owing to this being our first date and not a perennial condition. I do not know how long I can proceed without being able to touch.
When we leave, I ask her what she suggests we do now that night has properly descended and the chill is getting more persistent. I fear for a moment that she will suggest that we end this evening with a chaste peck on the cheek as I drop her back at her dorm.
"We go back to your place," she insists as though this were as obvious as the piezoelectric stones.
"Weâ€¦ what? No, I mean, it is messy andâ€¦" I fumble for more reasons, though this is almost enough. "The dishes haven't been done and the apartment has a smell andâ€¦"
She shrugs to stop my tongue. "I will happily do your dishes. I would love to, actually. And I'm not trying to have sex with you," she assures me. "There is just nothing else to do. And you want to kiss me, you know you do, and that is the best place to do it."
I had spent this month declining everyone and everything, usually without saying a word. She is so assertive, so sure that this would be what we were doing, that I stop resisting and let her into my car. It almost takes me out of the moment, takes me away from wanting to kiss her, but I return to myself in the anticipation that accompanies me on the ride. What I told her was true. I had, in fact, not cleaned up because I was so certain that she would not yet be seeing the interior of my apartment. It was unkempt as if to force my hand should I wish to prematurely bring her home with me.
As we pull into the driveway, I tell her that her cover story is that she is my cousin. She wouldn't be spending the night, but I want her presence to be above reproach should someone notice her entering and decide to be nosy and unfortunate. Once inside, I shut her into my bedroom, which I had cleaned days ago for the addition of my new bed. I grab what detritus I can--movies and video games, books, clothes-and throw these into the storage room that was once the meditation room, where so much of the remnants of Emily's occupancy remain pending their removal. I light scented candle and incense to mask any unpleasant odors. I feel that I am doing a good job until Melanie calls from the bedroom to inform me that my bathroom is in desperate need of a woman's touch and I laugh, utterly embarrassed.
I release her and beckon her onto the sofa. I suggest that we put on a movie to give us a focus, a plan she nixes. I am hesitant on how to do this with no tertiary stimuli that I ignore as her head rests on my chest. I try reading her poetry -- the Pablo Neruda love sonnets Eileen gave me as she said we could never be -- to be romantic and express myself in a way most comfortable to me. She picks up the book and reads one about a tiger consuming its prey, her hazel eyes blazing ravenously, and I vacillate between being terrifically aroused and simply terrified.
"We can sit and stare at each other more or we could just snog," she says conversationally and, before I can render a decision, she does for me. Her kisses are passionate bordering on violent. They are unfamiliar, something to which I need to adapt if I am to retain my bottom lip. In short, they are nothing that I want, but also nothing I will stop. I try to meet or alter her pace, to find a place in this kissing for me, but she is teeth and tongue and lips and I have to lean back to breath before she pounces on me again. And I let her keep kissing me because I want to be kissed, even harshly and possessively. I've spent so long with tentative kisses that there is a charm in someone wanting me enough to physically push me to the sofa, writhing against me. I am taking the advice to stop thinking and start feeling. Even if I can't find her in these kisses -- let alone us -- I feel her lips and that is enough for now.
"Do you kiss and tell?" I asked during a quick breather, quite certain that I do, though in a general and euphemistic way. I have no issues with her telling people about me, it will make me more a part of her world, though she assures me that she is likely past that stage in her life.
We move to the other sofa, she stating that it might be more amenable to our affection. Her downpour of kisses becomes a drizzle and I now find her in them. I see the Melanie I thought was there, the one who was fond of my mind and not merely how our bodies wish to conjoin. We want one another in these kisses, not merely the artifice and lust. Given what happens to our clothing later on, this is the moment where I feel the most naked before her.
The kisses take hours, framing our conversation. My passion aroused by both, I ask her, "What would it take for you to love me?"
"You would have to let me wash your dishes and clean your bathroom," she answers without hesitation. The answer puzzles me. First, shame again, that my apartment was not perfect for these moments, so much so that it is a requirement before she could consider that level of attachment. Then, hope, that this is all it would take. And I wonder if I should even be plotting these things out. As successful as this has been, it is only still a first date. I may be restraining the rest of my body, but my heart is too slippery to be kept from darting ahead to scout out the relationship territory into which I am not yet ready to venture.
Our conversation turns briefly to our prior relationships and I tell Melanie of Emily's new house on her clan's property and she laughs a little too hard at the idea. She is an atheist and takes it seriously, while I am a Pagan and fairly laugh at the idea. Still, in my new and tentative lover, I feel a bit of her derision splash onto me. "Do you think if I became a Wiccan, I could maybe have a pony?" she titters. I tell her it is possible, maybe a car at best, and get back to kissing her because it is too late for this flaw.
We move to my bed. Holding her against me, feeling the warmth of her skin, I sigh that I want her to spend the night with me. It feel like it has been so long since I have had someone sleep next to me, someone whose eyelids flutter open at daybreak to wish me a good morning.
"Okay, but I have to be back before 7:30 tomorrowâ€¦" she whispers back.
It takes me a moment to translate this. "No," I correct. "Not tonight. Eventually. Soon. But not tonight." Still, from recoiling from my fingertips and jokingly fearing that I would kill her, she is now willing to share my bed for a night, to wake up in my arms. That alone feels entrancing and breathlessly lovely.
I return her back home too late because I don't want the night to end. As I pull in front of her dorms, the streetlights illuminate the fog on the front windshield from our conversation, Melanie sees where Emily had written "M was here." She breathes on it and writes "Melanie is here" with an arrow to her seat.
And I know it is just infatuation, that I am not in love with her. But I am in liking, respect, and adoration. These are the things that can develop into love, even and especially with my Unlikely One, whose kisses that I taste into the next day, to say nothing of the kisses she leaves on my neck as a memento of our night together.