Disclaimer: Chapter title from '1 2 3 4' by Feist. [Yes, I know, it's old and unoriginal but I love that song.]
A/N: I'm back! And back at college, which is a time-sucker of horrible proportions, but I am proud of managing to squeeze in another update before summer is completely over. Here is the next installment.
Last time: Highlights are as follows. OH EM GEE THE BIGGIEEEE: ROBIN is le secret admirer, and asks Mimi in a cute and supremely awkward sort of way to be his girlfriend, thoroughly aware of how very high-school/junior high it sounds. (Or maybe that's just the author.) Mimi, of course, is pretty thrilled that she doesn't have to choose between the prospect of Robin Roe and the Notewriter, as they are one and the same person. Anyway, she says yes. And Seth and Mimi strengthen the foundations of their friendship and talk about trust, Cookie Monster, and kind of sort of parts of who they are. Slash he pops up everywhere. And the OTHER DUDE (now that we know it's a different guy) is still sailing down de-Nile and is pretty torn up about his ginormous (like, Jupiterian) crush/like/love-thing on our heroine.
Relationship. noun. According to Webster's Universal Unabridged Dictionary, 'an emotional or other connection between people.'
Webster, you fail. You have upheld the dictionary law through this clinical and frankly not at all clarifying analysis, and it sucks. What happened to your definition of love? Or your gloriously specific definition of booby trap: 'a hidden bomb or mine so placed that it will be set off by an unsuspecting person through such means as moving an apparently harmless object'? What does 'other' connection even mean?
Or how about 'boyfriend'? Choices: a frequent or favorite male companion, or a male lover.
Okay, well, I'm not getting any 'lover'-ing from Robin and I don't really plan on indulging on the…whatsitcalled, that phrase romance novels from the drugstore always use…like, the pleasures of the flesh anytime soon. Gorgeous as Robin is and everything, it's not like animalistic urges to rip off his clothing are tempting the beast within.
Besides, the great thing about dating a swimmer is that I can see him half-naked whenever I want if I just go to his swim matches, and people will think that I'm just supporting my school's athletic department rather than my libido. It's like a socially acceptable version of perving.
I look around the bleachers, which are fairly full given that swimming isn't football. All cameras on hand are hyper-zoomed, and all the cameras are aimed to where the team is warming up in their itty-bitty speedos.
"It's like repressed suburban mom central," I snicker. "Ew, Liv, look at the lady in the pink sweater!"
We both shriek in amusement, highly amused with our own observational skills.
"Shush, concentrate on your boyfriend!" Liv mock-scolds me, placing her palms in her lap and turning her gaze unrelentingly upon the well-developed upper body of David Chou. "That's why we're here!"
"Seriously, Mee, you're on top of this supportive girlfriend stuff," Kevin crows. "What's next, cupcakes before every meet?"
"God no." I chortle, and then chomp on my lip, going wide-eyed in dismay. "Wait, am I supposed to do that stuff?" My hands shoot out and entwine themselves into Jess's and Liv's sleeves. "So I've just realized that I have no idea what I'm doing."
Jess nudges me. "I don't think he's going to mind, Mee."
I look down towards the pool, where the whistle has just blown to conclude the informal meet. From the bench, Robin raises his arm with a wide smile. It's pretty cool that he knows where I am amongst the suddenly kinetic mass of people, but after all, he'd invited me to come.
"Go down and say hi!"
"Uh. Okay. I guess." I shuffle behind the woman in the pink sweater, who is squealing a little scarily to herself as she reviews the pictures in her camera. She's panting. I make sure that I don't touch a single part of her when I dismount onto the general floor area—what if it's contagious?
It's…weird dating Robin. That's the only way I can describe the last couple of days. More people talk to me—not by a whole lot, it's not like dating Robin is exactly the ticket to popularity—but enough to be noticeable. I have a regular ride to school, which incidentally means that I get to set my alarm twenty minutes later.
The strangest thing is probably just the new creation, in and of itself, of RobinandMimi versus Robin and Mimi.
And how I can talk to him now, although I was pretty convinced that I would automatically become a seventh-grader and actually find it skin-pricklingly more difficult to carry a conversation.
"Thanks for coming," Robin says when I finally battle my way through the crowds to stand in front of his dripping body. The adoring look in his eyes sends warm fuzzies through me, pushing past the smell of chlorine and designer perfume knockoffs. "You should come to more. I liked seeing you there."
"Really?" I breathe, forgetting to shake myself.
"Why wouldn't I be happy to see you?" Robin pulls me in for a hug with a surprised laugh and a bit of wounded feeling. I don't even mind that he's still damp. I definitely don't mind that he's still clad only in a speedo. I love dating a swimmer. Being the girlfriend.
I thoughtfully roll that word around in my cranial bowl, liking the comfortable thud-thud it makes, I think. It seems like a tidy word. I am a frequent or favorite female companion.
"I have to go back to the locker room and get dressed now." Robin pulls away with some reluctance, probably to indulge in some congratulatory butt-slapping with the team. "But hey, do you want to get dinner later? We don't have school tomorrow, after all."
I blink, and then manage to get out between giggles, "Teehee, are you asking me out on our first date?" I'm so annoying. I deserve to be locked up. Teehee, really? I belong in a Looney Tunes cartoon, hanging out with a squad of squeaky woodland creatures. Alvin and his Chipmunks and their hidden helium camelbacks have nothing on me.
He bends down like a tall glass of wine served with a smile. "Yes, Mimi, I am asking you out on our first date."
That makes me take my spit right back into my throat. "I have to volunteer, but I'll be free at seven," I say, scuffing my feet and rubbing the back of my neck.
"Then I can stop by your house and we can go from there."
"UM!" I remember my horrendously socially awkward family. (Hey, I got it from somewhere.) And the fact that I haven't yet told them that I snagged my first boyfriend a few days ago. "Better idea! How about we, er, meet at the restaurant? I can bike from the hospital."
Robin frowns just a smidgen, his consideration too powerful to show any further signs of being put out. "I would like to pick you up. It won't feel right, otherwise." He placates me gently. "I didn't know you volunteered at the hospital. Which one?"
I tell him what I do.
"Doesn't my cousin work there? You know, Seth."
You know Seth.
Why yes, I do know Seth.
"Yeaaaaah…" I drag it out, nibbling on my thumbnail as I ponder this thing that does not require pondering. Really.
Robin is too polite to raise his eyebrows. "You're friends," he says delicately, his voice lilting up just slightly at the end.
"It's okay. We're not best friends, even if we are cousins. But I appreciate that you guys talk, I really do." Robin curls his hand familiarly around my neck. It tickles like a bitch, but I try not to let my jumping eyebrows reveal this. "I have to go now. But I'm looking forward to our date tremendously."
"What an adverb!" I rock back on my heels in amusement.
He pulls me back and places a kiss on my forehead. "You're tremendous. Amazing. Terrific."
I bite my lip. "You too." You're gorgeous. You're kind. You're incredible.
"I'll see you at seven thirty, then. Do you know where Soleil is? I think it's a few miles from the hospital, down 79th Street and towards the park…" I nod. "I wish you would let me pick you up."
"No, seriously. It would add another hour, anyway, with all the commuting back and forth."
Finally he heads to the locker room; by this time, the pool is practically empty. My footsteps echo as I trot towards the large double doors, behind which my friends have been patiently waiting for the last fifteen minutes. Lovely people. I make a note to return the favor and never to cock-block them.
"They went to get their cars," Kevin explains Jess's and Liv's absences when I push past the metal doors and into the sweltering heat. "They'll be back in a bit."
"So, like, how did the Rob thing happen, exactly?"
"I told you, he was the one who sent me all those notes. And then, well, he decided to tell me it was him and asked me out." I say lamely, suddenly irrationally grumpy with Kevin for making me explain it again. It sounds…kind of silly. Except it wasn't, it was beautiful and sweet and when the sun beamed behind him he had looked, for a moment, translucent.
Kevin grunts, trying to be a hardass. "Rob's a good guy." He concedes gruffly after that moment.
"I know, Kevin! Jesus!"
"I'm just saying!" He holds up a defensive hand, slipping back into the lazy and easy-going dude I'm more used to. It's always bizarre when he gets protective, because his ass is normally too glued to the big comfy couch of apathy to register what needs doing. He's also torn about what his duties are as the male friend of a triad of girly girls.
With me, especially. I think I make him feel a little awkward sometimes, because I'm so awkward, and because I've always been so awful with interacting with male people. Even if, like Kevin, I've known them for years.
But he tries to pretend to himself that he doesn't, you know? He tries so hard for this friendship, when both of us know that we don't really click on a deeper level, and if it weren't for Jess we probably wouldn't know each other. The fact that he tries this hard is one of the beautiful things about my image-conscious, thick-skulled boy.
"So is this where I, like, tell you that if Rob hurts you I'll beat him up?"
"Don't commit yourself to that. Robin has way bigger triceps."
Then I hug him, pressing my nose into his big shoulder, arms squeezed around the slight bit of extra padding on his waist, and say thank you, you big sillyface. I forgive him for being stupid about Jess. I hope he gets his head out of his asshole really soon, but I'll let it lie.
I can't believe this.
Take a dandy situation, and travel to the opposite side. Maybe 60000 miles to the other side. No, a little further. Why do I have such horrible luck with animals everywhere? I like animals. I'm not a vegetarian, but I adore animals and I have never tortured ants and I have never run screaming with limbs akimbo into a flock of innocent pigeons.
So why did Duck somehow manage to sneak his way into my messenger bag when I stopped by the pond to give him a tiny bit of bread before I left to volunteer at the home?
On the bright side, he hasn't been killed by a gate yet.
"Shush! Shushshushshush!" I say wildly as I lock my bike to the stand outside the hospital. I'm not certain, but it's likely that wild feathery animals are not welcome in hospitals, which are all about the sanitation. And Duck is not dirty, per say, but his tiny yellow feathers are still probably laden with more bacteria than a kindergarten classroom.
It takes an hour to bike to the hospital from my house. There is no way I can put him back where he belongs. There is no way I can leave my poor, one-legged Duck here by himself, either. He'll probably be gobbled by raccoons. Or enterprising senile patients.
I take a deep breath and place him carefully into my tunic's deep pocket. "Please don't poop in there," I plead, and take him in with me.
Yeah, I know, this isn't right. Not just because Duck is a petri dish of nasty things, but because he's a wild animal. I'd said at the start that I wouldn't get too attached to him, for fear of the SPCA's glowering disapproval.
But I can feel the warmth of his tiny body through the sheer cloth of my shirt, and he nibbles affectionately at my skin, and it becomes more difficult to remember why I shouldn't care too deeply about a kid-animal that is eventually going to need to go away.
Evidently the CIA will never accept me into their corrupt but influential ranks, because as soon as I enter the sunny room where my newest wheelchair-bound friends are sharing sex tips and primly chastising each other for the sharing, chaos springs forth from the shadowy depths of…oh, two weeks ago, the last time I accidentally maltreated an innocent animal.
I consider myself a compassionate person. Humans are rational creatures tempered by our ability to feel for other beings, and though I have less of the rationale, I like to think that I make up for it by not being afraid of emoting.
I cry during Oprah specials and I weep when Mufasa dies, every single time. Isn't this saying something?
(I care. I care.)
But sometimes I fear I lack the courage it takes to care for the living, breathing stranger standing next to me and avoiding my eyes, while I in turn avoid theirs.
For a brief and blissful space, the room is filled with quiet murmurs and the sun glints lightly off Virginia's powder-blue curls. Cutlery clinks and paper rasps as pages are turned. I beam.
Seth ruins the picture by shooting up from underneath the couch where he's been searching for Frank's missing dentures. Startled by his sudden appearance, I forget for a moment to be startled by the bubbles on his nipples.
He chokes on something, and accidentally rips a pillow.
"HEEHEEHEEHEEHEE!" Virginia cackles loudly, and then every single person in the room—with the exception of me—is making various noises of distress and hilarity as feathers explode seemingly out of every corner of the room. An entire flock of geese has died to make these pillows, and strike me if I'm wrong, but they are multiplying.
In that chaos of floating debris and discombobulated 80-year-olds, Duck springs forward and loses his tiny feathery yellow body amongst the tiny white flakes of feathers currently road-tripping frantically to every corner of the room.
Out the open window.
I shriek the shriek of a mother who is about to see her Darwinian failure of a child put his finger in the electrical socket. Which shuts everybody up quite nicely, even Frank, who is staring at the dentures dangling from Seth's little pinky.
"DUCK! ONE LEG! OHMIGAWD!" I huff and I puff and I blow myself out the window to dive directly after him.
For a moment, nature is benign and quiet.
Until the possessed golf cart—yes, the, this newly introduced thing is a 'the' because nothing this evil can go without a definite article—notices my existence and with the ugliest and most fear-inducing honk I have ever heard after my great Aunt Bertha's pneumatic sneeze, begins to chase after me.
I kid you not, I holler like I've just seen Freddy Krueger, and if I had any liquid in my bladder, I would have peed my pants.
"WHY ARE YOU CHASING ME!" I bawl, scrambling across the green lawn, knees hiked up, head flung back to the wind. "WHY WHY WHY WHY—"
"Oh dear, that's Sam's newest present to Margaret. Did anyone turn that thing off?" I hear Amanda mutter from the open window the first time I pass by it in my attempt to outrun the ominously churning engine of the golf cart, which follows me unrelentingly. I run figure eights. I run loops and circles. I zig and zag. I trace a Picasso with my feet, and it still threatens to nom-om my heels.
"It has a heat detector installed in it, dear."
"It has a—"
"I heard you!"
An incredibly painful nip on my bum prompts me to promise out loud that from now on, I will be religiously fit. Richard Simmons can kiss his legwarmers a permanent goodbye. I save the rest of my breath for running.
Beyond the growls and honks of my pursuer, I hear a friendly—and rightfully terrified—peep. "DUCK!" I stop. The miniature automobile's engine farts smoke, a villainous crow of triumph. I run. Again. But looping around behind the building, I see Duck flapping furiously against the current of the largest, and foulest, river that I have ever seen anywhere near our nicely consolidated suburban county.
You've heard of the Charles in Boston? The Hudson Bay in New York? Perhaps the Marshes of Mordor, you know, the ones with dead people? In the same way that Madonna's sinewy, leotard-loving thighs will have nothing on mine after this friendly game of tag, those have nothing on the pool of sludge that is this biohazard.
"Oh, my god." With a poor attempt at Baywatch-sexy, I gallop into the river, squawking about Duck's safety and possible HepA. "You stupid thing!" I splutter, barely keeping my head above water. Tears rise to the surface from my hoping so hard that I don't swallow anything. Although that might be the noxious gases rising from the surface of the water. This river has to be illegal by federal EPA standards. "Don't ever…ever! Oh, ew, ewewew, was that a needle?"
I gently stretch my palm around Duck's oily body, gasping for breath. Having lost sight or whatever of my body heat, the golf cart rests against the bank of the river, deceptively still. Duck flounders, before he realizes that my hand is supporting him and he drifts towards me. His whole body beats with the force of his small heart.
There is a second that I love him.
"I got you," I coo, before I turn to the next problem. Getting out of this death-swamp river as soon as possible, and also managing to do so without alerting the golf cart. The other bank is covered with thorny brambles, and I'm having enough trouble staying roughly in the same spot without daring to swim further up the river. And as soon as I stop fighting the current, I'll drift downstream to god-knows-where.
No other option, then.
With a heave and a whimper, I throw my coughing, gasping, slimy body onto the grass, scoop Duck up, and force my tired legs to pump mad iron. Lucky me, I have a five second head start before the golf cart registers my body and is again on my trail.
"Let me in!" I scream as I approach the door that leads to the Home, an add-on to the hospital that has its own entrance. "It's gonna get me, oh my god, oh my god—"
The door opens just as I'm about to run full frontal at 7 miles an hour into it (which for my short little legs, is the equivalent of a car going apeshit on the freeway), and I almost barrel into the middle of a crowd of kind-faced wrinkly people who have been waiting for me.
Seth slams the door against the oncoming cart, which grinds horrifically at the door for a second before it reverses, and we hear the roar of the engine die.
"He's alive!" I whimper, holding Duck up like an offering. "I'm alive."
"I am very sorry for the trouble my present caused you." Margaret says awkwardly. "But," and defensively now, adjusting her enormous hat with a sniff of her prominent nose, "Sam worked very hard on it. It is supposed to be a joke."
I'm too exhausted to even bother arguing about the finer points of jokes and killing machines. "And you!" I flap in Seth's direction, twisting my facial muscles (the only muscles that apparently still work) into an expression of justified outrage, "you didn't even try to help me!"
My eyes widen. "You were laughing, weren't you? Weren't you!"
He waggles his eyebrows. He also has a shirt on now, and is bubble-free. I remind myself to w-t-f him later.
"You're awful. Awful! And you know what, this is partly because of you!" I hand Duck to Amanda, who predictably squeaks with adoration before bustling off to clean him.
Mildly, "Oh?" Seth gently takes my arm and hauls my shivering body to a standing position. He accepts a towel from Frances and briskly begins to wipe some of the nameless grime off me, starting with my arm. He's not gentle at all now, and the abrasive threads of the towel leave my skin red and stinging. But his eyes are trained on mine, and his face is very solemn and concerned. Except for the fact that his eyes are still laughing hysterically and there are deep smile lines in his cheek because he is trying not to move his lips.
"A-hole," I throw in there. Seth moves to my other arm. "Awful things happen when we're together! Dogs die. People vomit. Pants vanish. Inanimate objects go berserk. Etcetera. Pattern recognition, hellooo? Obviously, Armageddon is just one more casual hangout session away."
"Mimi," he says, and gives up on keeping his smile hidden. Which I suppose is sort of okay, because he has one of the more phenomenally great shit-eating grins I've ever seen. "Are you really angry at me for not coming to your rescue?"
"Yes!" Then I think about it. "Yes?"
He moves to my face, scrubbing roughly at my forehead. I feel like with this scrub, he should be a hefty middle-aged housewife with red forearms the size of hams. "I am not a dish, Seth Deleuw!" I say imperiously, but let him do what he does, even though he's rubbing the skin on my nose raw.
"On the contrary," he says absent-mindedly, focused on what must be a particularly stubborn piece of crap on my right cheek, "you are a dozy of a dish, Chicky. Left."
I dutifully turn my head to the left, and then whip it back around. "Don't order me around. And I am sick of you cleaning me up," I add, grabbing the cloth away from him. It doesn't matter that he's doing a much better job of this than I can, because this is about principle, man.
That crooked, mocking grin again. Though actually I'm never sure whether he's mocking himself or the person in front of him. Maybe both. "I don't believe in rescuing. Just…helping." He snatches the towel back and returns to my left cheek, his long fingers soft on my jaw to hold my head still. "Here." The last stroke of the towel is surprisingly gentle. He gives the blackened thing back to me, smeared with dirt and probably remnants of decaying bodies. Is the Mob in Oregon?
"I don't want to be predictable or anything, okay?" I snap defensively. I don't know what makes me say it.
"You dove into a river probably infested with as-yet-undiscovered diseases after Duck without a thought. I don't know anyone who would have done that."
"What are you talking about? The little dude has like, one leg!"
He settles back on his heels and regards me with some fondness—or condescension. In my experience, the two often look the same. Then he throws me a towel and pushes me towards the bathroom. "Take off your clothes and take a shower. You smell. I just finished helping Frank wash up, so the water should be warm." Well, that explains the bubbles.
I look at my ruined outfit, which cannot be fixed with all the Tide-to-Go pens in the world.
I have a date tonight, no clean clothes, and more importantly, no clean underwear.
When I was very young, I had a very specific life plan. I didn't want to be a ballerina, or a vet, or an astronaut.
I wanted to fall through the back of my closet into another realm, and save a kingdom. I wanted to be best friends with my horse/unicorn/Pegasus hybrid after a difficult beginning, tug the effervescent shimmering tails of mermaids between coral fans, be a queen in wool tights and a ragged tutu among fairies, adventure across deserts and oceans and forests and mountains, ride lions, and grow wings.
For a long time, I was quite convinced that this would happen, because I was too special to have a dull and normal life. If nothing else, my letter from Hogwarts would be arriving in the mail shortly.
Then I settled.
Shards of grass tangle in the waves of my shirts and my hair, and I reach for a different future. This is a compromise of unicorns and steel. My mom told me that I had to stop burrowing into the back of closets and my dad gave me a nonfiction book on nuclear weapons for my twelfth birthday.
But in the back of my mind, the orange sun of Hiroshima is still a terrible and majestic thing that I cannot understand. I non-comprehend love the same way. I cannot diminish love, to restrict it within the boundaries of two-dimensional type on white paper.
Victoria holds up a scrap of lace nothing and says, "See? It still has the tags on it!"
"Um." My dress is genuine vintage—like, the 1950s, legit, makes-me-feel-like-Audrey-Hepburn vintage and gorgeous and thank god all the women brought their entire accumulated wardrobes to the Home with them because Soleil is a rather upscale restaurant—but that piece of Victoria's Secret is very modern and very see-through.
"I bought it for myself two years ago before they put me here, but I never got the chance to wear it! Though it probably wouldn't have fit these glorious cheeks, after all." Victoria chirps, and with an air of great ceremony, puts it into my hand. "I give it to you."
I hold the thong up to the light and gulp. I can't go commando, because that would not only be sluttish (and on a date!), but also rude, because it's not like I own this dress. I wouldn't want some strange girl running around commando, however reluctantly, in a dress of mine.
This year will not be my Britney year, though I have already hit the mark with hair disasters. Despite the fact that I am a boyshorts and bikinis girl and have never worn a lacy thong in my life, I guess everybody has to grow up one day.
"Thank you." Reaching under my voluminous black skirt, I pull on the thong. It snaps into place. It is rather uncomfortable.
"Oh, darling, you're gorgeous," Virginia gushes in her patented Virginia-gush.
"Thank you." I repeat, trying to hide my grimace. I feel like I have a chopstick in my ass-crack.
When I get on the bike, punching the skirt to make it stay down, this has upgraded to a large tropical fruit.
I can briefly ignore the discomfort on my way to the restaurant, distracted as I am by the ordeal of keeping my skirt from flying up and getting out of control, but as soon as I arrive at the restaurant and pull my body off the seat, I have to pause and regain my bearings.
"Arrrr!" I choke as my knees spontaneously snap together and my feet splay outwards in a desperate attempt to separate my buttocks. Slow, shallow breaths. This takes courage and willpower. 'Disciplined stoicism' has my picture by its definition in the dictionary, and as I waddle into the restaurant, I do not betray my deep agony.
I am grateful for the wide skirt that hides my recently acquired bowlegged-ness.
"Welcome to Soleil! Do you have a reservation?" The perky hostess asks me as I stumble into the door.
"Er, I'm with, um, Robin Roe? Mr. Roe?" I cough, trying to master the art of coherent speech before I have to jump into first date conversation with Robin. Oh god. "Is he here yet?"
"Yes, I can show you to your table right away. Please follow me." She whips around. I drag my feet after her. I glumly note that there are no panty lines showing through the stranglehold her pencil skirt has on her equally perky butt, and that as a woman, I fail.
If anything, my faux-wedgie gets tighter when I see Robin's face, framed by leather upholstery and candlelight.
"Mimi, you made it." He looks so happy to see me, and it's quite unfair that all I can manage is my glittering grin of supreme fakeness. "Was it a long ride?"
"I'll get you your menus!" The hostess perks off.
Infinitely long. Still focusing on breathing, I just shake my head. I wonder if my smile is creepy. But if I stop smiling my muscles will automatically spring back into a frown. I have no choice! I must creep!
His hand rests lightly on the white linen tablecloth. My eyes are so bad that in the dim, romantic candlelight, I can hardly make out his features. Oh dear. I can't see, I can't speak, and I can barely hear past the roaring in my ears.
Conversation is a must. I manage to gasp out, "Wow! Didn't realize this place was so nice!"
He shrugs. "Why do the pizza and movie thing just because we're teenagers? Besides, you're special." He tilts his head at me. His eyes are huge and dark, liquid like nighttime. "You look amazing."
My cheeks tingle from my blush. That could also be my pain nerves alerting me that something is wrong with my body, specifically in my back nether region. My head bobs in what I hope is a complimentary way, a ditto-yourself sort of bob.
"Your menus!" Perky chipper-chirps above us. "Would you like any drinks tonight?"
"I'm fine with water, thanks," Robin says, and looks expectantly at me.
I fleetingly wonder how he would react if I asked for a Shirley Temple. With a cherry. And, like, those umbrella thingies, because they're super fun.
(Would your five-year-old like a toy with her Happy Meal today?)
"Yup," I gargle.
"I'll be back to take your orders in a bit," the waitress beams and waltzes off to terrorize another young couple who, as an older young couple, get to look all elegant and crap with wine glasses. Suddenly I feel uncomfortably like we are trying too hard.
The orchids on the table are beautiful and exotic and somewhere I can hear the subdued trickle of a water fountain and the clink of silverware, and this is dim and golden and perfect.
Well, save for the lace currently branding its pattern into my crack.
The menu print also swims in my vision because of the dim light and my inability to focus on anything except for eurgh, eurgh, eurgh, eurgh. This is the feeling of having a sneeze stuck up your nose. Or never-ending tickles. Or spinach stuck in your teeth, and it won't come out no matter how many times you try to subtly tongue it out or rinse it away. Your only option is to pick, and that's really not an option.
"Get whatever you want," Robin insists.
I smile brightly at him. In the mirror behind him, I look a little bit like I don't understand English.
"Are you ready to order?" Perky springs up behind Robin like an overly involved jack-in-the-box.
"Yes, I think so," Robin says, and then looks at me. "Mimi?"
His hand covers mine, his fingers wrapping around my wrist. "Never mind, I think we need more—" He smiles at the waitress.
"Or should I order for you?" Questioningly.
I nod enthusiastically. I don't think I've retained a word of the menu, obscured as it is by the broken record of my predictable thoughts and my crossed eyes.
"Okay." He orders his own caviar (ew) and grilled mahi mahi, and then says, "and she'll have the bruschetta appetizer with the ribeye steak as the main course." He looks at me. I put my thumb and forefinger together and fan my other three fingers out and nod at him. I like bruschetta and who doesn't like steak, but if I could've spoken, I probably would have gotten the seasoned eggplant fries and the rabbit with chickpeas and pancetta. But since I can't, this is great.
Meanwhile, I try to wiggle my bum and shift the thong into a more comfortable position. It doesn't work. Tears spring to my eyes.
Robin tries to talk to me. Somehow he doesn't notice that I'm not really participating. Either I have really good body language, or he doesn't mind, and/or thinks that this is normal?
"You don't have to be nervous, Mimi," he says so very earnestly, once he does notice that I'm not speaking.
I groan with dismay, and also because I have an excuse to express The Butt's feelings. That's not why I'm not talking, but how can he know that?
This is awful. I can't even participate in a conversation. Why did I ever borrow sexy underwear from an eighty year old woman??
I WILL NOT LET THIS RUIN MY FIRST DATE. I am supposed to get kissed, because that is what happens, and I am wearing the perfect Audrey Hepburn dress for a soul-searing, foot-popping first kiss.
"Gon'. Go." I sneakily grab my cellphone out of my purse and prepare to hobble to the bathroom as fast as I can.
"Mimi?" Robin stands up and calls after me.
"Berb!" I gasp, a lame attempt at an equally lame 'BRB'.
Time to take charge of my own romantic destiny.
Or at least call in reinforcements.
"It's Jess. You know what to do." Beep.
I hang up the phone, and try Plan B. (Hahahaha.)
"Hey, this is Liv! I'm not here right now suckaaas, so leave me a note or whatever and I'll give you a ring-a-ling back." Beep.
Plan C? I hate Plan C, but I have no choice. I am momentarily free from this thong as I sit on the toilet seat, lace around my ankles, but I can't stay here forever.
"C'mon, Kevin, pick up. I neeeed you."
"You have reached the voicemail message box of: Kevin. Please record your message after the tone, or—"
My phone sits innocuously in my hand as I stare at my traitorous piece of crap, which has failed me yet again. I don't have time to wait for them to call me back. For that matter, why are all their voicemail things so coherent? Not like mine: …it going? Uhhh…oh crap, it's recording—um, this is Mimi! Leave a message? Yeah. Then there's a pause, and if you listen very carefully, a soft, Shit.
I haven't figured out how to change it yet, but on the flipside, all the voicemail messages I get start off with laughter. Which is cool, and always makes my day. There are some particularly lovely ones that I have saved in my phone, just because they're hysterical on bad days.
Except when my mom leaves one, because then hers always start off: Mimi, you need to change your voicemail. It's very inappropriate. What if somebody important calls? I always tell her not to put herself down and that she is in fact a very important person, but I don't think she always appreciates the humor.
Anyway, I am so doomed.
The moment that I sit staring desolately at the freakishly clean stall door is a very disheartening one. Until my phone buzzes once. Twice. Thrice. Continues.
"Jess? Liv? Kevin??" I wail into the phone, not bothering to check caller ID.
"Chicky, you left your dirty clothes at the Home," Seth starts off without preamble, "so if you want, I can drop them off at your house or something after I bring Duck back to the pond. You totally owe me cookies though. Or actually your sister's cookies because food poisoning—"
For a moment I feel bad about what I'm about to ask him to do. Then I remember that a psychotic golf cart nearly mowed me down this afternoon, and Seth did nothing to prevent it. "How did you know?" I whisper dramatically, totally spooked.
"To call me—ugh, never mind." Pausing at this appropriate junction, I hope he hears the deep breath I am taking so that later, when he looks back on this moment, he will realize what a profoundly difficult experience this was for me. "Prepare yourself: I am about to ask you for something awful. Seth, I need you to sneak into the women's bathroom at Soleil and bring me my underwear."
There is a dreadful pause.
Then, "Oh, Jesus." And he hangs up, but not before I can hear his hysterical laughter.
I do hope this is his version of 'Yes, dear one, I will be right there in a hop, skip and a jump.'
Sure enough, two shakes of a lamb's tail later, he ambles through the bathroom door like he walks into fancy women's bathrooms all the time. His Totally Disgusting Converse line up in the slot between the tile floor and the stall door.
In the interval he has taken to come here, so-very-not-to-my-rescue, I have nearly chewed off an entire nail, which makes opening the stall door marginally more difficult than it was ten minutes ago.
"Open up, Chickadee," Seth coos. It is very incongruous with the malice that I'm sure lurks beneath his torn t-shirt.
"Throw it over." I mumble, "And thank you. I appreciate it. A lot."
"I don't suppose you've noticed, but why do all your interactions with my family tend to involve one party losing their knickers?"
"Of course, so far I've managed to escape that fate…" Seth says, not shutting up.
"Best be on the lookout, then, because it's coming."
"Grabby little beast, aren't you?"
"Argh! Just give me my underwear!"
"Heads," I get a brief warning before the plastic bag tumbles into my hands.
I nearly weep when I see my comfy Beauty-and-the-Beast cotton underwear. "Er, did I say thank you already?" I call, trying to mask the sound of my shuffling skirts as I pull Lumiere and Cogsworth over my knees.
"Mmhmm," Seth is clearly amused and bemused by the situation, and I can see his gray jean legs shuffling in the golden crack of light. "Rob knows you're in here?"
"Oh, yes. Although he's been waiting a while. Fuckit." I bustle around some more, swinging my legs around the toilet bowl, and force my way out of the stall. "So sorry, I can't tell you how much of a rock star you are, but I have to get back to him, and yes…"
"Do I have toilet paper on my bum?"
The reflection of me looking at him in the mirror is multiplied infinitely. Thousands of Mimis and littler Mimis tilt their heads at the kaleidoscope of Seth heads, the tops bronze in the bathroom lighting.
"You look like a cupcake and a black tulip and a steam punk Audrey," Seth grins so mockingly, so sincerely.
I beam at him, losing the coolness of steam punk, but probably gaining something a bit more genuinely me, and spontaneously extend, "How about you stop by my house later tonight and I'll tell you how everything goes?"
"You don't mean girl talk, do you?"
"I can tell you about why I needed you to bring my underwear."
"I could listen to that."
"Could you, now!" I place my hands on my waist, tiny above the wildly exuberant black organza below.
Seth's narrow face fills with his slow smile. "What I mean is, I'll put you on my playlist, Mimi Lillum."
For a second before I leave to reenter the dim, romantic restaurant, I look back to the many prismatic Seths in the wide mirror. Two long, bony fingers salute me and I take a moment to feel his imprint in my consciousness as he settles there, like Jess and Liv and Kevin and Lilly, to make a home. He is there to stay now. I clasp them all to me like little golden lockets.
The kiss! The first date kiss, the first dance kiss, the first, the first. We dream of firsts—first heady gulps of air in the world, first dreams, first deaths, first loves. There is something very important about firsts, even if you scoff at them for being only one in a long line of similar actions.
But the first introduces you to a whole new world, don't you see? It's the same feeling as when something untouched gains its first fingerprint, or the crack of a book spine when you open its leathery pages to read the first word for the first time.
It's very odd. I think about 'first love' and I wonder if it sneaks up on you or if you just know. Can I love? Or is it too soon? Can I approach romance with the belief that somewhere, it all ends up in true love; or are we not so limited to that in human relationships?
My bike bell rings out accidentally into the still night. A startled moth circles around the porch light, and then returns to the bulb, its fuzzy wings like a mirage.
"Thank you," I say hesitantly, searching Robin's face for some glimpse into the next five seconds. "This was more than I could have asked for, you know? It was fun."
He smiles unreservedly. "Close to perfect?"
"Perfect," I reply firmly.
He takes a step closer, slow enough that I am not too deer-like startled by his movement. No, I am startled more by the vehemence of the gasp in my head: Kiss me, kiss me, kissmeKISSME!
And though my breath is unforgivingly garlicky versus the mintyness of Robin's that I can smell from here, I imagine being able to say that Robin Roe was my first kiss, imagine his smooth cheek, imagine the moonlight.
For a second I think that I imagine, too, the feathery brush of his lips on mine, but when he steps away my face is on fire and my lips feel like they are shaped anew, like canyons carved out by rivers.
It is a perfect first kiss—it is gentle, sweet, careful, kind, giving, unselfish…everything that Robin is, everything that I like so much about him. It gives and does not presume to expect, and his hands carefully cradle my face like I will break in his hands. He is warm and coaxing.
"Oh," I exclaim, unable to stop myself. All I can do is look at my feet, at the trees above his shoulder, at the almond-shape of his nostrils. My first kiss!
When I can finally force myself to look at his face in my peripheral vision, he tilts his head and smiles like I am incredible. "You're so beautiful, and you don't even realize it," he says reverently.
I beam and get teary. The world comes rushing back in, and I realize that I want him to leave so that I can dance giddily around my room. I want to savor this feeling, my own, my chapped lips and the air, salty with mosquitoes and wilting fir trees.
"I'll call you tomorrow?" He questions.
"Yes!" I skip up the steps, and catch myself before I can twirl. Supporting my weight on the pillar, I sigh a dreamy sigh on the inside. "Good night, Robin."
"Good night, Mimi."
When his car pulls away, I finally give myself free reign to spazz out all over the porch, skipping back and forth, so tempted to sing like I am a 1950s musical star. I feel beautiful and willowy, almost insubstantial. My hand is so pale, really almost ghost-like, under this light.
I sit on the porch and wait for Seth to come.
When he doesn't, I jiggle my keys in the lock and walk up the creaky stairs to my bedroom. It's two in the morning. I see the tail of Lilly's sweatshirt whisk around the corner as I tiptoe into my room.
"Where've you been, monkey?" I murmur into the strange grayness.
There's a pause before she answers. The blueprint of Lilly's voice at thirteen is high-pitched but husky, and slightly nasal from her permanent cold. "Got donuts. Want one?"
Her door clicks shut. And maybe I should casually mention to my mom that her thirteen year old daughter prowls our suburban streets at unusual hours in the early morning. But I don't, because I want her to have adventures, and to see playgrounds wet and cold with dew, and to feel concrete warm up beneath her dirty toes.
Because that's what I do, shrugging off my dress and pulling on an XL t-shirt, shimmying down the tree outside my window for the first time since I conceived the idea five years ago. Padding deer-like across the wet lawn to a familiarly mediocre landscape transformed by sleep deprivation and dawn.
I toe the white line running through the middle of the empty street, and giggle to myself as I spread my arms and legs out in a parody of a star. Witching hour that it is, everything has a vaguely unreal quality to it. The information processed by my eyeballs are like overexposed Polaroid snapshots, and overcast with the same peculiar bluish hues.
I love the smell of morning approaching in the summer. It reminds me of ice and mountain flowers, and the first chirp of a bird is the most pleasantly cocky and defiantly hopeful thing in the world.
My lips tingle as I improvise an unbalanced pirouette in the road, falling onto the yellowed grass beside it. I can still smell the sun in its threads. Out of an unexplainable urge, I sit back on my elbows and look to my left. There is a figure that is a silhouette this far away, but when I raise my hand, he slowly raises his five fingers to the dark silk sky.
I look at Seth, too tired to pinpoint my feelings, until he lies next to me. His hair blends in with the grass; his chest rises up and sinks down. His body looks precision-carved and swims in meandering dawn-ish shadows. It's like dew collects in the hollows.
"You silly boy," I murmur, "I waited for you, but you didn't show."
He doesn't respond. I stretch out the side of my body not aligned to his, and make halfling grass-angels.
"This is usually where I walk," he says abruptly. "I don't usually see anyone."
"This is usually where I walk, but I'm not usually awake at this hour;" I reply, "but today is an exception."
I hear his clothes shift on the dry bush as he turns to me. "And your yesterday?" Unvoiced: with Rob?
I manage to smile, though I can feel my facial muscles beginning to slacken in that certain paralysis that forewarns the onset of sleep. "Like something I have written," I yawn.
"Ah. What do you write?" Seth is certainly chatty at exceptionally early hours. But the murmur is ever so nice.
"Lots of stuff." I nuzzle into my elbow, which is providing a rather lovely pillow. "Like…princes. And pirate ships. Things that go boom, potty-training, and love—oh, I write about love, mostly, all sorts, because there's a lot of it…" Apparently I too am chatty at exceptionally early hours when I have lost whatever primitive filter I usually (occasionally) possess. "You? Because I know you write music."
"I don't write too much," Seth answers slowly, "because I am better at the music. And because I heard somewhere that every musician has the love song, and I don't have that."
"Not with Rain?"
In the silence that follows, I contemplate the world through the jungle fringe of my eyelashes.
"No," Seth says, "no, it never happened to me with Rain."
My palm gets achy from hearing that he has never written a love song for his girlfriend, but that could also be the heaviness of my head.
"However, I have written songs about my cold blended dairy drink that brings the males to the grassy area outside my home, and they declare that it is far superior to yours, absolutely superior to yours, it is an art upon which I could instruct you, though I would have to demand compensation."
I cackle hysterically and smack him in the stomach from sheer hysteria, ignoring his pained 'oof.' "Thanks for the lullaby; I'm going to bed now." I wobble my way up, and start the short walk home.
Across the neverending road that runs through the neighborhood, scaly like a friendly snake with a topcoat of moisture just beginning to sparkle, I look back at Seth. His bent knee is the only visible part of him; the rest vanishes into the deep grass.
"I would like to see you. Play, sometime, I mean…if you're ever playing. Somewhere. Your music." I declare, biting my nails.
He is still.
"Yeah, I'm just trying to figure out what to say." He replies thoughtfully.
"Why would you say that? I don't want to know that answering something I said requires, like, a plan of attack. I'm sorry, though. Was it too blunt? I can say it differently. Subtly. Hey, Seth, so do you ever play in dingy clubs or independent coffee houses or—"
The grass ripples with his ensuing soft laughter. Seth lifts himself up on his elbow, hair in disarray, golden stalks sticking out from golden strands. "It's not that. It's just…it was wondrously cool of you to ask."
It's so strange carrying on a conversation from a distance like this. "Wondrously cool?" I smilingly bite on my fist. "I like the way you put that."
He lifts himself higher, and scrutinizes me. Or maybe he just has to squint to see me properly from this far away. I wonder if he is nearsighted, and if he has glasses, and if they are sleek and silver or hipster-y oversized relics from the 80's or thick black emo frames or what. "You want to hear me play."
"And see it, and taste it, and smell it."
"Not sure you want to smell it, Chicky. People tell me it's pretty fuckin' foul."
"Just trying to be verbally clever!"
"Still, you just made a promise to yourself, so if you want to be in a small room with loads of stinking, putrid, sweaty scene kids dancing their skinny bums off…"
"Boo, you're being evasive," I whine.
"I don't mean to be."
"Yes, you do."
"Maybe." He sighs. "I don't know. I would like for you to see us sometime. But we're just not very good, despite our garage band ambitions, and I don't know when we're playing next, and gigs are always cancelled last minute, and—"
"It's back to the trust thing, isn't it?" I ask quietly. It makes me sadder than it did before.
I can't see his expression from this distance, but I can tell that his deep eyes are looking right into mine. "Yes. I wish I could, but you make it hard for me, somehow."
"Sometimes I wish you weren't so honest, Seth."
"I'm only brutal with you. Dunno why. Should I try to stop?" He suggests doubtfully.
"Well, I can be okay with that. So riddle me this: does the sunrise make me look fat?" I pirouette, successfully this time, and grin at him. He throws a clump of dirt back at me, murmuring about what a puffed-up poppy (another one of his bizarre verbal creations) I am. In this way, I know that conversations like this will always be a progression, rather than a retreat, for us. There's something beautifully solid about that.
When I was still able to breathe physical life into my imaginary friends—enough so that they could almost appear like translucent figures in front of me—the first boy, Prince Boy, asked me, "Will you be with me forever? Will you live in my castle in the throne beside me for the rest of happily ever after?"
Of course I said yes. That I would be happy to wear the gowns, and ride the pony color-coordinated to match his, and chastely press my blood-red lips to his before waking from, or embarking upon, a long sleep. I would be blissfully happy to live this life. To be with him. To be his princess.
Oh, what did I know of love then.
Oh, what do I know of it now.
I want to be the strong 21st century woman—we've fought so hard for that—but I want to be the princess too. Do I? Sometimes I think that I don't actually want that, not the sidesaddle ride into the sunset, that I have bigger dragons to slay than overgrown lizards, and for some reason, I feel like a traitor.
Doesn't every girl want, in some way, to be rescued?
(But maybe I just want the kisses. Or the adventures. Or the courage.)
(Maybe I just want the courage, for myself, my own.)
(Love wouldn't be a bad two-for-one deal, either.)
(And maybe they have nothing to do with being saved.)
A/N: Fastest update for me since, like 2005! To copy Seth, I have no idea why everybody seems to be losing his or her panties in this story. Um. Also, I totally want Disney princess underwear, let me know where I can find it if you know.
Hope you enjoyed this chapter; wowowow, I just realized how long it is! Shocking.
And please review. Your feedback means a lot to me—and also your personal reactions, and dreams, and thoughts, and…well, what do you think about love, or youth, or fear, or any of the many things that Mimi has silly inner monologues about?
Sometimes I miss being sweet sixteen, going to dream; especially when I think about turning 20 next year. It sounds so old. Like I should be far more mature and further along in writing than I am. Anyway.
YO, review, gangstas!