I was once invited to one of those college parties with a group of friends.
We arrived at the address. It turned out that our hosts had drunk all the alcohol that was in the house, so I went with two friends, All and Kevin, to buy drinks.
We went back to the house. Most of the other people had already left and it was only my friends were theret. We split into smaller groups. At one point I saw that a beautiful, petite blonde women was sitting alone on the couch and I moved next to her. I recognized her from a class we had taken together.
“Hello,” I greeted.
“I thought that you might need a reinforcement,” I said and raised the 40-ounce bottle with the cheapest and lowest quality beer one could possibly find in the grocery, but with pretty high alcohol content.
“Oh. Colt 45 - my favorite,” the woman said and handed me her glass. I don’t know if she said it with sarcasm, but I filled up her glass anyway. I filled mine, too.
“Robert,” I Introduced myself.
“So, Lina, how is it going?”
“I am all right.”
“You know we took the same class together.” The alcohol was making me pretty chatty.
“Yes - Cell Biology. I remember you. You never talked to me.” Apparently she didn’t mind the awkwardness.
“Well I thought of talking to you but that’s me - I let go of the chances I get to talk to interesting people sometimes. Maybe because I just let things slip sometimes, hoping that there will be another chance to grab them.” I could not shut myself up.
“Oh, that’s not good. Sometimes you’ve got just one chance,” Lina said.
She told me that she was studying psychology and after college wanted to go to medical school. At that time I also wanted to go to medical school, and she asked me what type of physician I would want to be.
“Maybe Hematologist - I’d like to know about blood. Or Surgery” I wavered.
“You could become a plastic surgeon - they make a lot of money.”
“That sounds very mercantile. I wouldn’t want to be a doctor who operates on people who have some skewed ideas for beauty.”
“Why not? There are many people who need help to fix a defect,” Lina said. “Who are you to determine if someone has psychological problems or not?”
“What kind of plastic surgeon would you want to be, then - one who works in Hollywood for boatloads of money or one who helps people with defects but aren’t that well paid?” I asked.
She shrugged her shoulders nonchalantly. “You can do both, you know. Help people and make money. Right?”
After that we talked about books. We both seemed to like The Great Gatsby by Fitzgerald. We talked about Gatsby’s love for Daisy and how this love led to his demise, to his death. I was a little drunk and it felt great talking about love with that beautiful woman sitting next to me.
After a couple of hours, our group decided to go downtown and dance in one of the bars. While we were walking down the street, I was telling jokes and playing the clown in order to make Jess - another friend with us, and Lina laugh.
“He is kind of wild. Really cool. Is he always like that?” I was thrilled internally when I heard Lina ask Jess this question quietly.
“Well, obviously. I haven’t seen him like that, though,” Jess said, laughing, but I could tell that she was a bit jealous that I hadn’t paid her any attention the whole evening.
We ended up going to The Rat - one of the most popular student bars in Binghamton, especially for freshmen and sophomores. The floor of the bar was sticky, it smelled of stale beer, and the bathrooms were dirty; it was always crowded but was among the few places in Binghamton where they played music suitable to dance. We headed for the dancing floor in the center.
It was three of us dancing - me, Lina, and Al. Later it was only me and Lina; Al had joined the rest of our friends at the bar. We danced close to each other. It was very romantic. At one point I tried to kiss her but she withdrew from me smiling, “You are getting the wrong impression.”
“Yes, probably. Do you have a boyfriend?”
“Yes, I am seeing someone. Where is Jess?” Lina asked, and we started looking for the rest from the group. I walked after Lina and tried to be chivalrous by making way in the crowd for her with my hands - she was just so small. I felt like the crowd would crush her, and my heart was breaking.
We met up with Jess and Kevin by the dancing floor - both with a bottle of beer in hand. I knew that Kevin liked Jess, but when I saw them standing next to each other, facing the stage, not actually looking at each other, I thought that Kevin’s game was not going well. At the same time Jess looked at me surprised - I don’t know what she’d seen from my dancing with Lina and why she was looking at me like that - maybe because she never had seen me so “pushy” with another girl.
We were talking for a while, and the bar started getting less crowded. Al appeared from somewhere and started dancing with Lina. I went to them and started dancing with Al with Lina in between us. We danced more after that. They had to kick us out when the bar closed.
Leaving, I wanted to tell Lina something, but I was at a loss for words - maybe for a first time that night. I just uttered, “Hey, Lina…”
She waited for me to finish my thought, but since I had not formulated it yet, at the end she joked,
“Bau!” I thought she was pretty smart to get out of the confusing situation so quickly and gracefully.
We took a cab and got back to the university. My dorm was the last stop, Lina’s the one before. When we stopped at her dorm, I rolled down the door’s window and told her, “Hey it was nice meeting you. Sorry that I tried to kiss you...”
Lina smiled and spoke gently. “Everything is fine.” She fell silent as if she wanted to say something but then quit and instead said “Goodbye for now.” We shook hands and she left.
I climbed the stairs in my dorm, went to my room, and lay in the bed without taking my clothes off. Andy, my roommate, woke up and turned on his night light and looked at me surprised.
Sleepily, he asked, “What are you smiling like that for?”
“Me? Smiling? Like what? No, why?” I said, keeping on smiling.
“You are a weirdo, Rob…”
“Andy, I had the best night since I’ve been in college.”
Andy glared at me, suddenly completely woken up. “Why? What happened? Where was the party?” He went on asking.
“I’ll tell you tomorrow. Let’s go to sleep. It‘s late.” Andy looked at me, disappointed, but then turned off the lamp. Soon his deep breathing told me he was fast asleep.
The whole night I couldn’t fall asleep. I lay still in the dark and kept smiling, recollecting moments from the evening before. Sometimes I covered my face with hands from embarrassment, reliving what I’d done. My heart was beating fast - lub-dub. At last the morning came, and the sun broke through the window glass into the room. The day had started but that didn’t mean that I’d stop thinking of Lina. The following days were similar. I was going to my classes, hoping to run into Lina somewhere on campus.
A few weeks later a friend of mine, Tom, organized another party. I and my friends went to it again. Lina also came with us. That time I didn’t talk to her at the party. I met a beautiful tall blonde named Daria and started a conversation with her. I could see that Lina was alone, but I didn’t feel like talking to her. At some point Tom invited her to dance with him. He was an excellent dancer, and she was smart enough to let him lead. I was observing them secretly and was jealous of Tom. I thought that his partner in the dance was the most beautiful woman I’d seen.
At some point Daria disappeared somewhere out of the room; I didn’t even notice. I got up and danced a couple of songs with Lina. Then we sat down and talked until the party died out and a few of our group decided to go downtown. It had snowed the night before and it was snowing again. Lina had inappropriate shoes for the snow, and I offered, “Do you want me to carry you on my back - so your feet don’t get wet?”
“No. It’s alright,” she answered with a smile.
“Don’t worry. This doesn’t mean anything. You will carry me the next time.”
Lina laughed and climbed on my back. She was so light. I walked down the sidewalk, carrying her over the box tree hedge that was covered with snow and then running down the street and skidding on the ice.
“Ou, don’t! You will fall…” she was laughing. But I didn’t fall. I carried her a few blocks. When we reached the bridge that goes over Chenango River and connects the part of the city where we were with downtown, I let her down on the sidewalk. We walked with the others, and I gave her secret looks. She also looked at me and smiling at something she thought.
We reached downtown and sank into The Rat. There we met Lina’s boyfriend - Eric with a group of his friends. He was a tall, blonde guy. Lina ran and hugged him. I introduced myself, and we shook hands. I stood around the group, but I felt awkward and unhappy standing by the two of them. I went to the bar and ordered a beer. Then I saw Lina and Eric dancing. I felt worse. I went to the dance floor and invited a girl I saw for a dance. I had rarely ever gathered courage to start dancing with a girl, a stranger in a bar, but then I had courage. I wanted to show Lina that I could pick up another girl. Fortunately, the one I chose agreed to dance with me. We pushed each other and other people a bit in the crowd in the middle of the dancing.
“I am Samantha – Sam!” The girl I was dancing with raised her voice to shout over the noise.
“I am Rob. Nice to meet you.”
“I know you. We were in the same class last semester.”
We kept “dancing” for a short time before it got too crowded. We got away from the dance floor and sat at the bar. When I was passing by Lina, I caught her glance. She was looking me with a bit of jealousy, as I thought..
Sam and I tried to have a conversation, but it was very noisy. The only thing we could do was drink. Soon I got tired of drinking and wasting money and pretending to have a conversation, and I told Sam that I’d be leaving and started making my way through the crowd towards the exit. To my surprise Sam came with me. As we walked down the icy sidewalk, I realized I was quite tipsy. I guess she was, too.
“I am not really a bar person. You?” Sam said.
“So why do you go?”
“My friends go. They hope to meet girls. Lost cause. I just follow them. But it’s boring. Usually I don’t even talk to anyone. I can’t hear what people say because it’s too noisy. To be honest I don’t even often dance with girls. You are sort of an exception.”
“Oh. I am flattered.” Sam laughed.
“Yeah. I was mostly trying to prove to myself that I can find a girl to dance with, to be honest.” I said it and then I felt sorry about it - for possibly hurting her feelings. I looked at her secretly. She was a petite woman with a pretty face. Although she wasn’t a beauty like Lina, she had charm. We walked together for a while in silence.
At last she smiled and said, “You have a way with the girls, Rob, don’t you?”
“Yeah, indeed. I am sorry.”
“No. You are honest. I like that.”
We arrived at the bus station. The university bus had just stopped and was filling up fast. Sam got in and looked back at me.
“I’ll wait for the next. I don’t feel like being in a crowd again. The bars did it for me,” I told her.
Sam turned around and looked at me. She seemed disappointed. It seemed she wanted to get off the bus, but other students were in her way. She waved before she disappeared when the bus closed its doors and drove away.
I waited at the bus stop wandering what to do until the next bus came. The bus stop was at the beginning of the bridge over the Chenango River. I was full of energy; I wanted to go back to The Rat, where Lina was, but I knew it would only hurt me if I saw her with Eric. Instead I went down the path towards the river. Something from inside was driving me to keep moving, to be doing something. I couldn’t think of anything but Lina. I stood on the river shore and watched the ice chunks floating down with the current. Nobody was around. Surprising myself I started taking off my clothes. With only my underwear remaining, I got in the river. The icy cold water cut through me like electricity, almost making me stop breathing. I forgot even Lina. My thoughts concentrated on the cold. The river was waist deep, and one could swim in it.
I waded in then began swimming, diving from time to time under an ice chunk. When I reached the middle, I started swimming back. I wasn’t feeling cold anymore, just numb. On the shore I used my T-shirt to wipe myself dry, then I put my clothes on. The wet underwear and T-shirt I threw out in a garbage can then I got to the bus stop just in time to get on the shuttle going to the University.
In a few days I met Sam in one of the lecture buildings on campus. She told me about a party the next week. It would be interesting, she said, and invited me to go with her. I hesitated but then thought - why not?
The next Saturday evening Sam and I went together to the house where the party was. It was in a three-story building which was very crowded. We entered and climbed the stairs to the second story where we got beer from a guy who was pumping it out of a keg. We found a place to sit on an old couch in what seemed like a living room. We started talking - about books, then movies. We talked about her hobby - she liked doing pottery.
“I like to work with clay, to make something out of a clump of clay. It helps me comprehend the world through the right lens.”
“And what lens is it?”
“How can I express it? Creating something out of nothing has a magic in it. I like the feeling, the “magic”. I am sick of getting online and picking out of a hundred things which are already made for me. There is no magic in it. No life. Someone made it, but you usually don’t know anything about the person. Well - you know most about the product - it’s specifications. You read it momentarily. And although you know so much, something’s lacking. When I work with clay, it’s not like that. You never know what you’ll make.But when you do finish you recognize your pottery even if you see them in someone’s possession in two years’ time. I see that little part of me in my pottery. You know, to create something is a bit like falling in love.”
“Falling in love?” I marveled and laughed. Sam was so much more than I had expected. The room was crowded. There was a constant stream of people passing by in front of us. There were three college guys hanging on the other end of the couch.
Before I could ask something, Lina appeared from somewhere.
“Hi!” she greeted cheerfully.
“Hi, Lina. Where is Eric?”
“He got lost somewhere. And he left me alone.” Her full lips turned down in a pout.
“It’s a crowd. He will come back. How do you feel? How is the studying?”
“Not so good.”
“You must be daydreaming a lot.” I guessed.
“Must be the reason,” she said and smiled at me. My ears got red from embarrassment.
In this moment Eric appeared.“Well, come on, where did you go?” he turned to Lina.
“Where did I go?” Lina marveled.
“Yes. You disappeared. Hi Rob.”
“Hi Eric. How are you?”
“Not too bad,” he said and leaned over me. “You know I have some pot. I bought it from some dude. Do you want to buy a blunt?”
I hesitated. I’d smoked pot before. It excited me but not in a good way. Actually, it made me feel sick. I looked back at Eric and shook my head. He straightened up and said, “Alright, we will look around. Have to find some friends” he said with a wink. He then grabbed Lina by the hand and both of them left the room. Before disappearing through the door frame Lina smiled at me apologetically and waved.
I sat looking at the door where they have left through. Someone next to me laughed. It was Sam. I had all but forgotten about her. She was looking at me cheerfully.,“You like that girl!”
I started guiltily, “No. She’s just a friend.”
“You are silly, but you have a good heart and can’t lie. I see it clearly. You look at her in that way…”
“The ‘in love’ way.” I shook my head. She put her hand on mine and continued, “Don’t get offended. I am just pulling your leg. Listen. I will go and get us some beer. Is that alright?”
“Let me come with you?”
“I am admitting it is chivalrous, but there is no sense to it. I can carry two cups. Keep our spot.”
I remained alone on the couch. I started a conversation with some people standing in front of me who asked me if I liked the author Albert Camus. It wasn’t too long after when Sam came back and saved me. I was just arguing with two guys about the Myth of Sisyphus and how it pertains to human existence. Sam carried two cups full of beer and a blunt. She handed me one of the glasses.
“Where did you get that from?” I nodded at the pot.
“Your friend Eric sold it to me.” With these words Sam sat on the couch and lit the blunt. She took a hit and passed it on to me. I thought for a moment that it wasn’t a good idea to smoke, but by then I had two-three hits anyway. I started coughing and felt the soar of energy that followed after smoking pot - as if I was preparing to rip out of my own skin. I saw myself from a third person’s perspective.
Some music was playing on the background. I stood up and led Sam after me to the middle of the room. We started dancing. Time slowed down. I was in a semi-awake state. A few times we went to refill our glasses with beer in the next room. We danced again. At some point I realized I was kissing her. She returned the kiss. Everything was happening unexpected, unplanned - like making pottery, I exclaimed in my head. We were dancing to a slow song, and Sam hugged me tight. I looked up.
Lina was leaning on the door frame, crossed arms in front of her chest. She was looking at us longingly. I moved my eyes from her and concentrated on the dance. After some time, Sam couldn’t stand on her feet anymore. I led her to the couch, and we sat on it. She leaned her head on my shoulder, and I was looking ahead at the students who were dancing in front of us. I found the semi-finished blunt and lit it up again. Strange thoughts rushed through my head. It was if people in the room were moved by an invisible force and I was, too. That force pushed them forward, made them think in a certain way and I also knew what their thoughts were somehow. I knew what they would do and say before they did.
When Lina sat next to me on the side of the couch I knew she would. She looked at me deliberately, just like I knew she would. Next to me Sam had passed out, leaning on my shoulder. Lina smiled and made a motion with her arms ahead, towards the middle of the room, “Do you want to dance?”
I really wanted to dance with her, but I knew that she had a boyfriend and we shouldn’t. In the condition I was in, with fallen inhibitions and strange thoughts passing through my head, what would I say or do? So I shook my head, declining. I don’t know if it was because of the marijuana, or for any other reason, but I felt connected to her. It was the body language, we were talking to each other through our bodies, or so I thought.
A song started that I had never heard before - “I Want You to Want Me” by Cheap Trick. How appropriate.
Lina looked me in the eyes and asked quietly, “Do you think I am pretty?”
I didn’t answer, just looked at her. She was pretty. I had heard the question, but I played deaf and dumb and looked at her questioningly.
She added, “Do I have a pretty face?”
“You look like a chipmunk. With a snub nose. A real chipmunk indeed,” I said. It wasn’t much, but what I meant was that she was the most beautiful chipmunk I’d seen. She understood and smiled. Eric came from somewhere and stood in front of us. Just so I say something I indicated Lina and said, “Guys, why don’t you dance?
“Do you want to dance?” Eric said a little clumsily and stretched a hand towards her. She shook head and looked at me.
“Eric can’t really dance.”
I thought that Eric would react, but he just moved over to the other end of the couch and sat there. Some kind of bond formed between the three of us in that moment. Eric knew that I was in love with Lina and she with me - at least I thought so then. The room was crowded again. Everyone was dancing and had fun except us three who sat in bitter silence and observed the rest. It seemed to me that I just had to get up and take Lina by the hand and she would come with me wherever I led her to. But I didn’t. She was with Eric.
I just told him, “Eric, do you understand?” and he looked at me and it seemed that he understood everything about everything, as I did. I don’t know what would have happened then if Sam had not thrown up. I took her to the bathroom and washed her up. Then I called a cab, and I took her to her dorm. Her roommate was there, and she helped me put Sam in bed. Then I left.
The marijuana effect held on the entire night. I walked along the paths between the buildings on campus, I was getting on buses, and I talked to some people. In the morning I met the sun at the river. I took a bus to my dorm. I tried to get some sleep, but I just couldn’t.
After the party I hoped to meet Lina on campus. Instead, I met Sam.
“Why didn’t you call or look for me?” was the first thing she said.
“I don’t know, Sam. I am sorry.”
She looked at me upset. Then she said, “I wanted to apologize for vomiting on you that night. Usually I don’t get so drunk. That night was strange...and nasty. The whole atmosphere was nasty. It was somehow very sad. Whatever. I made a fool of myself.”
It was a nasty night for me as well. I told Sam, “Don’t worry. You didn’t do anything bad, really.” She looked at me and smiled.
“I thought of making up to you. To cook you dinner in my apartment. My roommate is out of town on Saturday. Agreed? Actually, why am I asking? When a lady invites, you can’t say “No”’
I laughed. “All right. But I at least hope that the food will be good.”
“I promise it will be.”
I suspected that on the date I might be having sex. By then I had not indulged in such adventures, and I was a little nervous. When I left for Sam’s dorm, it was raining a nasty, cold rain. My shoes and socks got all wet and cold. When I finally reached her apartment, I was freezing and in a terrible mood. I rang the bell, and she opened the door. She had just come home from outside. We both sat on the couch in her living room and started drying ourselves with a towel.
“I am sorry. Something came up at the last moment, but I will cook you dinner as I’d promised.” Sam said.
“Don’t worry. If it’s a problem we can postpone it.”
“No, it’s not. I’ll cook you something tasty.”
“Let me help you,” I offered.
“No, it’s all right.”
“Please. I want to, really.”
She nodded. We went to the small kitchen and started cooking. I don’t remember what we cooked, but it felt good to help each other, to bump into each other. After we finished and put the food in the oven, we went back to the couch carrying a bottle of wine and two glasses with us.
“You never told me about your hobby,” Sam asked.
“Writing...” I hesitated for a second. She felt it.
“Why are you unsure?”
“I like writing, but I don’t do it often.”
“Why? No time for it?”
“No, I just started recently. It is mostly something that I want to make into a hobby rather than a real, current one.” I said quietly.
“What do you want to write about?”
“Why? What is so unique and interesting about your life?” Sam was really interested, it seemed, in my future attempts in writing.
“Nothing particular, I guess, but it is the only story I know that is true.”
“Real stories are not always interesting... So do you want to write an autobiography?”
“Yes, some day.”
“It would be hard. In order to make it interesting you would have to add this or that, to spice up things” she teased and smiled.
“I am sure. I think that you have to write a fiction story and include elements of your life in it. And just call it fiction.” Sam concluded and sipped from her glass.
Sam thought for a while, then said, “Because that way the fiction will contain elements from your real life, not the other way around. People always prefer a made-up story with a bit of reality in it over an autobiography with a lie in it. Fiction gives you more freedom to write a good story. You see, when writing an autobiography, it’s not like you would be able to explain everything, your whole life, just what you think is important. That’s why even then a story isn’t “real”. No matter how much you would like it to be. It would still be subjective. Writing is always an abstraction. It is never a simple and correct portrait of real life.” Sam concluded victoriously.
I thought a little then answered, “The experience of life itself is an abstraction, isn’t it? We pay attention only to certain things, don’t we?”
“Well, yes. What’s in it for you to write an autobiography, anyway?”
“Confession. A prayer for forgiveness. Settle the scores.”
“Settle the scores - with who?”
“With myself, mostly.” Sam looked at me, surprised. Honestly, I was surprised I was being so open.
“It is impossible to achieve all that in an autobiography. No one would like to read it. Maybe if you share part of it in every book that you write, if you write a lot of them in your life...maybe a lifetime wouldn’t be enough to settle the scores with yourself.”
“How do you know so much about writing?” I marveled.
“I like to read...not so much to write. Anyway, will you tell about me in the autobiography?”
“It depends on if you become important to me or not...what do you like reading?”
“Different things. There is my bookshelf. Take a look.”
I went to the bookshelf. She had quite diverse tastes; there was the Odyssey by Homer and Ulysses by Joyce. There was Milton Freedman and Marx, Jack London and a collection by Eliot. I picked it up and opened to a page of a poem I’ve learned by heart a long time ago - The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock and with pathos I commenced reciting. Sam looked at me surprised and started laughing.
“What is it? Am I not doing it well?” I said, a little irritated.
“No, I’m sorry. Just before now I had never been serenaded with an existential “Love Song” by a boy with an accent. Sorry. It’s very sweet. Continue, please.”
I recited the whole poem, while Sam followed along in the book. In the end she clapped, cheering “Bravo. Perfect. I liked it a lot. You know, I feel like smoking. Toss me the box of cigarettes from the bookshelf.”
I handed her the American Spirits.
“They are my roommate’s. Sometimes I feel like having a drag. Do you want one?”
I nodded. We started smoking. After a while she exclaimed, “Don’t you inhale?”
“No. it makes me cough.”
“You are not smoking. It’s just a waste of a perfectly good cigarette.” Sam noted after she gave it a thought.
“This is as good as I can do.”
“Ts-ts-ts - he hasn’t learned yet. You are interesting to me Rob. Seems like you are ahead of the curve in some ways and behind in others.”
“I guess that’s true, but isn’t it valid for everyone else?”
“There is that,” Sam agreed. We finished the cigarettes in silence, then we went to the kitchen to have a bite of what we’d cooked.
After washing the dishes, Sam came close to me, looked me in the eyes and asked, “Do you have a girlfriend?”
“No, I don’t.”
“Would you want to have one?”
Her eyes showed a shock of hurt before smoothing out. “Well...fine. Whatever.” She lifted herself on her toe tips and kissed me. For some time, we were kissing. I was getting the impression that all that kissing was going on somewhere, but for some reason I couldn’t get excited. Even when I was kissing her, I couldn’t get an erection. I don’t know if it was because I was cold, I didn’t like her enough or I was shy, but something didn’t work down below.
Sam took my hand into hers and led me to her bedroom. In the dark we took our clothes off. Just in case, I had brought a few condoms, and I put them on the nightstand. I wasn’t sure which one would work for me, so I had grabbed a handful from my roommate’s collection. I lay down in my underwear next to Sam and for some time we were groping and kissing.
In the end she said, “Well, come on…”
“Well, won’t you..you know?”
“Honestly...it’s not working.”
“Don’t you like me?”
I thought that the reason was most likely that I was shy but didn’t want to tell her that. “I think I am tired.”
“Am I not attractive?”
“Please don’t say that. You are pretty. It’s my fault. I don’t know how to do that.”
“Are you a virgin?”
“Maybe a little.” I confessed.
“Aha. I understand. You are, and I don’t attract you enough.”
“It’s not that. I am not in love with you, it is true. Not that it matters...Look, I will just go.”
“No, please stay. Sleep here. We don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do. Sleep next to me. Please.”
I stayed with her. I hugged her. All night long I caressed her - petted her hair, back, her neck. I felt pretty bad that I was lying next to her unable to “perform.” I preferred to be in my room with the whole embarrassing mess behind me and to think how everything got fucked up instead of still being neck deep in the fucked up. Even in that moment I thought about Lina. I tried to fall asleep, but I couldn’t.
Early in the morning when the dawn broke in the room through the window panes I stood up and started dressing. Sam woke up and lifted herself on her elbow. I looked at her. The sun rays coming through the window were illuminating her figure from behind, delineating the shape of her body under the bed sheet. She looked at me; her face was pale, and her disheveled hair was like a black halo around her head. I felt that I wanted to be with her.
“Tell me honestly - am I ugly?” she asked, ready to cry.
I wanted to tell her that the fault was in me, but what was the point in that? Instead, I let my jeans drop on the floor and took a condom from the small pile on the nightstand.
“All right. I think that the magic is working. But don’t expect me to fall in love with you.”
“I think that given the circumstances, maybe you want too much from me.” She laughed and lifted the bed sheet for me to sneak under.
We made love the whole morning. Then we ate leftovers from the food from the night before and then we made love again. Actually, we did for the best part of the day. In the end we used up the last condom and went out for a walk.
“So what now, are we a boyfriend and a girlfriend?” I asked.
Sam looked at me and laughed. “I don’t know. Time will tell, right?” she said, then she got serious. “But you might hurt me.” She was looking ahead. Down the alley was walking Lina with her boyfriend. A thermonuclear bomb exploded in my stomach at their sight. Lina looked at us curiously and waved. Sam waved back
I turned to Sam. “You might be right. Will you be able to survive it if it happens?”
She was silent for a moment, then picked up an old, shaken down, dry leaf from the ground. “Do you see this leaf - how sad it looks? See how withered it is?”
“No, I am serious. Remember. I will never let anyone make me look like this leaf. Not even a boy, who I fell in love with because I thought he had a good heart. Do you understand, Robby?”
“Don’t you worry about me. Live your life as you think is right. I will accompany you till I feel like.”
She handed me the leaf. I took it and my chest went hollow. The leaf was brown, withered and wet from the rain - a leaf from the autumn of last year. I held it for a moment then I tossed it behind my back.
After my final exam in Biochemistry I was sitting at the fountain in front of the library with my head resting on my hands. It was my major, and passing the exam was very important for me and I had not done very well. My constant craving for Lina was probably the main reason I hadn’t study well. I just couldn’t concentrate well enough.
My phone rang. It was Sam.
“Where are you?” her voice sounded cheerful.
“In front of the fountain.”
“How was your exam?”
“Fine,” I lied.
“Good. Come to my dorm. I have a surprise for you.”
Sam waited for me in front of her dorm in front of a beater. It was an ugly, green machine which reminded me of a hearse.
“Guess whose car is it?” she asked excitedly.
“Belongs to a serial killer, doesn’t it?”
“Ha! You guessed it. All mine! How about a loop around campus?
We got in. The car started with a roar, and Sam drove down the streets of the university campus.
Soon the semester ended. I thought of taking two classes in the summer, when it was not so busy. Sam found work as a waitress and remained in the city. Lina had left town for the summer.
Those three months of the summer were some of the best in my life. Sam and I were inseparable and spent all our free time together. We had a group of friends remaining in Binghamton, so we didn’t get bored. We loved jogging together or making trips to hike the trails around Binghamton. Sometimes we got in her beater and drove to the hills behind the university and sometimes we carried food with us. We sat on the car’s rusted hood, eating and talking while the sun set behind the hills. Then we drove down some unknown roads, until we got lost - we never used navigation - it would not be fair. Sometimes we met the dawn far from Binghamton but somehow we always managed to find our way home.
At the end of the summer during one of our trips, we found a small lake, nestled between two hills. It was at dusk. Villas perched up on the shores of the lake, most of which were with their windows dark with their owners being away. Without thinking too much, we parked at the street in front of one of the villas. We entered the yard and went to the shore of the lake. We took off our clothes down to our underwear and waded in the water. It felt really nice with the black water underneath and the starry sky above.
After swimming for a while, we got out, dressed, and sat on the shore by the lake. “Robby,” Sam uttered quietly. “See how motley the sky is. Full of stars.”
I didn’t answer, just waited for her to continue.
“Sometimes when I look up at the sky I feel so far away from everything that happens. I feel so alone.”
“You never said that.”
“It never came up to say it.”
“Why Sam?” I said and hugged her. “Why do you feel alone? I am here.”
“You are here, and you are not, Robby. You are always somewhere else. I thought it would be like that only in the beginning. Sometimes I feel so far away from you - like you are some of these stars. I am here and you – you’re up there and can’t even make me out from so far, nor I you. And I don’t know how to reach you.”
I didn’t know what to say. I felt affection for her, but I was still not in love with her. I felt guilty.
“I was accepted at Michigan University,” Sam continued. “I need to decide if I should go. What do you think? Should I stay or go? What do you think, Robby?” she repeated and gazed in my eyes from close up, as if in the darkness she could read the answer in them. I thought about it. It was as if she was asking if I would love her or not. Just so she can make up her mind and make a choice.
I wanted to love her. But how could I love her, when I didn’t? I was in love with Lina.
“You are a smart girl. You know the answer.”
She thought for a while, then she said, “All right, Robby. I’ll listen to you. You know Robby...I love you. I wished you loved me too.” We sat there in silence. A lazy breeze came up, the crickets were chirping. Somewhere in the lake a toad croaked. A tender mist had fallen. It was an idyllic picture, but very sad too. Sadness had fallen over the lake, the grass and us. The sky was high up above and the stars distant and cold. I wanted to leave but I couldn’t move. I just waited for Sam to say what she wanted to say. She tore a leaf from a small tree by the shore. She smelled it, then she passed it through her fingers.
“Do you remember the leaf, Robby? The shriveled leaf? This is what happens when the fall comes. When the sun doesn’t give warmth...You are a good friend.” She played with the leaf some more. “However, I have to leave. I promised myself not to become like that leaf. The fall is coming, and if I stay here and I give you love but you don’t love me back I will dry out like it.” She got up, and started to pull the grass off her. She looked at me and gave me her hand to help me to get up. “I am sorry if I’ve made you feel awkward. I am just babbling. Let’s go. I don’t want to stay here anymore.”