"Today, I'm not me," she informs him.
"Oh?" he responds, waiting for the other shoe to drop. He's known her for going on five years in a friend of a friend kind of way. She knew just about everybody. The longest they'd spoken were things like 'Don't you think this song is shit? I think this song is shit', or 'Are you going to so-and-so's birthday? Have no clue what to buy to be honest'. So yes, he knew her. But he also didn't.
She is fussing with her hair, most of it is fake and done in a messy up-do with a pale pink ribbon serving as a headband. She looks different, but that's nothing new either. She always looks different.
"Today I'm Brigitte," she says firmly. She is touching up her lipstick, more pink. She never wears pink lipstick unless she's trying to look funny.
"And who is Brigitte?" he can't help asking.
She looks at her reflection, makes faces at it. Most of them are coquettish and adorable, her big brown eyes look even larger than usual.
"Brigitte is a nice girl. She is kind and innocent." She picks up a pin to secure a lock of hair. "Virtuous," she adds. After a moment she looks at him via the mirror. "But she is also playful, in a way."
"She sounds like someone I could like," he admits.
Brigitte is wearing a black dress with a pink and blue floral print and pink stockings with little bows. She isn't wearing much jewellery. She's also wearing only the barest touch of make-up, or so it seems. He's fairly sure the blush on her cheeks isn't natural. He can't be entirely sure, but after five years he thinks his guesses aren't so far off.
"You can find out, if you like. I'm sure she'd be pleased to meet you."
The odd thing is that he knows she's serious. It sounds like a game and had it come from anyone else he'd have treated it like a game. She is however quite serious. He smiles at her, no, at Brigitte, and offers his hand in greeting.
"Hello, Brigitte. My name is Connor."
She looks at his hand and her eyelashes flutter in a way that is entirely unlike her, but apparently very much like Brigitte. After several heartbeats, she takes his hand gently. A far cry from the laughing minx he'd come to know.
"A pleasure," she says and even the tone of her voice is different. He isn't sure what to make of it, but he is willing to play along. Whatever she is up to generally always turns out to be interesting.
What he learns on their six hour spin is that Brigitte likes ballads and sunlight, she loves snow but isn't the type to roll around in it and make snow angels. Instead, she plays with it on the palm of her hand, touching it gently until it melts away. He learns that she also smiles quite a lot but doesn't laugh loudly often. She drinks hot chocolate instead of coffee and has a preference for strawberries over cherries. She is not lewd, or loud, or boisterous. She is shy when he asks her about her favourite poet but argues passionately against modern art in favour of the classics. She is modest, something he's surprised to find but in retrospect should have seen coming.
Brigitte, is very unlike the girl he knew.
When they part he gives her a hug and tells her he looks forward to seeing her again. She smiles and nods, once. They go their separate ways. He returns home while she sets off to the bookshop.
It happens again. He's not sure how he keeps stumbling on her in these moods, but he does. This time her hair is black and swept up in two haphazard buns. There are several braids, purple and silver bows and other decorative barette slides. Her eyes are outlined in black with purplish shadow and she's wearing her black glasses. Her eyes are behind green contacts.
She smirks at him before speaking.
"Today, I'm Tina," she announces.
He grins back, her playfulness is infectious. "All right. Would Tina like a drink?"
"Yes, absolutely. Make it alcoholic and you've got a friend for life."
Tina is a bit more familiar but still not the same. The clothing is a bit darker and a bit more rough but that's been known to happen before. She jokes around like one of the boys and sticks her chest out like a weapon. It kind of is, he knows. She's used it before and he is yet to see it fail.
"I have the strongest urge to call you conman you know," she suddenly tells him.
"Oh?" He's intrigued, partly because he can't guess what she'll say and partly because he doesn't expect her to say anything logical. Either way, entertainment is guaranteed.
"Yeah. Besides the whole Con-man – conman thing, it fits you. The word, I mean."
She sips her drink, no, sipping implies something a lot more delicate than what she's doing, and watches for his reaction. He's loath to disappoint her but he feels he must.
"I don't have the faintest idea what you mean. I'm one of the good guys."
She snorts and makes herself more comfortable on the barstool, even drags another one closer to put her feet up. Her glass is empty and he's already ordering a new round. She takes her new drink with a leer and winks at him. The corners of his mouth pull up involuntarily.
Her drink sloshes out of her glass and all over her hand. She licks it until there's certainly no trace of alcohol left and then sucks her fingers. He watches her intently, it's a show and he doesn't want to disappoint her by ignoring it.
"Your ex is a total bitch," she says just as the girl in question walks by with the guy she'd used to leave him. He doesn't delude himself she cares any for the man. He knows her too well for that.
"I think I've let go of the anger."
He is mildly surprised. He knows the girls are friends, present tense. There had been no sign of any trouble between them and he doubted there would be. Tina was likely as temporary as Brigitte.
"I wouldn't. I would make her suffer."
"Luckily for her, I'm not you."
She snorts again and hops off the barstool. Before he knows what's happening she's kissing him, and not just kissing him, she's wrapped herself around him like a vine and is touching all sorts of inappropriate places while she sucks on his lips, tongue and jaw. He doesn't push her off, fuck, he doesn't even consider it.
She laughs against his mouth and he can guess why, could have even had he not heard the indignant exclamation or the angry muttering. He still doesn't care, it's only been a little while but he's grateful for the contact. It might have only been a little while since he'd been kissed but it had been longer since it had actually been something intimate. It was a bad joke, that kissing Tina was more intimate than kissing his girlfriend of several years had been. He laughs as well, catching her lip between his teeth.
When she pulls away she looks victorious and he feels the same. It had felt good, and that covered more than just the kissing. She takes a long drink and sets her glass down, parks herself back on her barstool and looks him squarely in the eye.
"Conman. Everyone thinks you shit rainbows and piss lemonade but they can all kiss my fat pale ass. You're no more a good guy than I am."
He looks away and back again when he catches the eye of the aforementioned ex.
They often go to the same club. It's the best explanation he has, but this isn't a club, it's a small time local band. They're both friends with some of the band members, so it's perfectly logical. She's not often there to see them play but she is that day. He doesn't wait for her to say it this time.
She's sitting somewhere in the middle and he takes a seat next to her. Before she's even noticed him he turns to her and offers his hand in greeting.
"Hi, I'm Connor," he says over the music. A different band is opening for their friends and he can honestly say they are disastrous.
Her eyes are as blue as her hair, a short bob with angled bangs. She smiles cheerfully and grabs his hand. "Adelaide, but call me Addie. Hey, listen, can you hold my seat? I just bought a shirt and I want to put it on. Show my support and all that," she says with a wide smile.
"Of course. Can you bring back two beers?" he says, handing her a bill.
She snatches it and holds up a victory sign. "Back in a flash."
The band that was on first finished and they're still messing around with the equipment when she gets back with their drinks. He looks her over while she makes her way to their seats. She's wearing baggy jeans, a studded belt and black trainers, the shirt she bought is a camo boybeater with the band name and logo. There are bracelets up to her elbows and a single silver charm on a black chain around her neck. He would have expected glasses but she likely didn't want anything underplaying her blue contacts.
She even has tattoos now which he knows are fake because she didn't have them two days earlier and they cover her entire left arm. Her right arm is bare because she is right handed. He hadn't seen them because she'd been wearing a jacket, maybe because she was a bit reluctant to show off faux ink. He doesn't think she should be, she is an artist and should be proud of her work.
The shirt looks good on her and he bets she bought it because the white logo stretches over her chest rather than in support of the band. Addie or not, he knows her. She's still the same girl who once shoved a beer bottle up some guy's ass in the middle of a club on a dare. Still the girl who agreed loudly with the saying 'drink it or wear it'.
"Thanks," she says, handing him his beer and falling back in the chair. "For both the seat and the drink. Did I miss anything?"
"Does it look like you did?"
"Nope, but that means jack shit. Might still have missed something."
He hears the hiss before he spots her. Part of him wants to leave to avoid a scene but most of him wants to create a scene instead. She's no less tall and gorgeous than he remembered. No less dramatic either, judging from the glares she was shooting him and Addie.
"That might have been better," he tells her, glancing at the tall blonde who is still glaring at them while whispering furiously to one of her friends.
She laughs, loudly and cheerfully like he'd told her something incredibly amusing.
"Fuck 'em. We're all here for the guys, right? They're starting, I think," she says, her eyes locked on the stage. She's right, it's 'the guys' and they were launching in to their first song. She jumps up and cheers along with the crowd, screaming lyrics and banging her head. He's standing with her, surprised at her enthusiasm. While not a wallflower, she wasn't usually so overtly supportive during live performances. Addie, then, was a lot more extrovert while not as crass as Tina.
She jumps and laughs and even hugs him a few times, all the while mouthing lyrics and waving at people she knows. She disappears a few times to talk to people and he does the same. They fetch drinks for each other and joke around, sometimes together, sometimes not. When it's all over she runs over to him.
"Hey, I've got a ride and there's room for one more. You live nearby, right? You can come if you want," she offers.
He grins, flicks a stray piece of blue hair away from her eyes. "Sure, sounds good."
"Great." She latches on to his arm and drags him over to a group of their friends who all look at him knowingly. He can also guess why.
They drive to their neighbourhood and get out of the car half way between their houses. She is supposed to go left, he right. They look at each other and the moment is a bit awkward.
"I had fun," she says.
"Yeah, it was a good show," he agrees. "They keep getting better. I think they're recording a demo."
She grins and rushes at him, grabbing him in a hug. She's pretty short so for fun he grabs her and lifts her up. She squeals, laughing for real now.
"Higher!" she demands and he obeys. He even spins her around before setting her down. They don't let go of each other immediately and he's not surprised when they end up kissing. It's different this time, playful and nice. She's not trying to suck his tongue out of his mouth nor is she digging in to his jeans again. It's different.
They break apart and she goes left. He goes right.
She's a redhead this time, short and messy, glued in to place with hairspray. A corset gives her unnatural curves which are far less grand than her own and a short black skirt shows off the stockings and garters with every twist of her hips. She's lost in the music, her eyes closed and her face turned skyward while she's moving with the beat like she's part of it. There's empty space around her, she doesn't even notice people have moved out of her way. She doesn't stop until the song is over and even then she only stops moving, doesn't open her eyes or get off the floor. When the next song comes on she smiles a little and begins to sway.
He watches her dance until the DJ switches to something she doesn't like, then she stalks to the sidelines like an angry animal. He thinks he knows her again.
She spots him and walks over. "Hey you."
He salutes her with his beer. "Do I have to introduce myself?" he asks, because he thinks he knows her.
She throws her head back and laughs. His beer is snatched and she takes a sip of it, makes a face and gives it back. "Not today. I'm resting today."
"It's not Sunday," he can't help saying.
She rolls her eyes at him and gives him a look which he knows very well. It's her usual 'are you really an idiot?' look. "You have more religion in your little toe than I have anywhere."
He lifts the cross of the rosary she's wearing. "Really."
She rolls her eyes again. She's very fond of doing that. "It was a gift from a lonely old man whose daughter tried to have him put away. Would you have said no? Besides, look how pretty it is."
He lets the cross go and it swings down, bouncing back up and then settling. "It's pretty enough, if you like that sort of thing."
"Right," she says, "I need a drink," and walks off.
They spend the night dancing and hanging out with friends for the most part. There's also a lot of drinking. At times they walk past each other in dark and empty areas. Those times he pushes her up against the wall and kisses her like he means it. Sometimes his hand sneaks under her skirt, or her leg wraps around him, pulling him closer. Other times she grabs him by the collar and pulls him down to her so she can nibble on his neck and place butterfly kisses along his jaw, on his cheeks, before finally letting him have her mouth.
She has the most luscious ass and he can't keep his hands off it, be it squeezing or swatting it in passing. She makes faces at him when he swats her but he can see the smile she's trying to hide. She tried to do it back once and hurt her hand because he keeps his wallet in his back pocket. He makes it up to her by kissing each of her fingers and licking from her wrist to the tip of her middle finger in one long swipe.
She gasps at that, her eyes glued to his tongue.
"It's a mile long," she says reverently.
He can't help but being pleased. It's nice to be appreciated.
He knows what's next, he can guess. He's sure she knows it as well no matter how well she's pretending there's absolutely nothing going on. When the calls for the last round come, they both go to fetch their coats and bags, both walk outside to wait for their friends so they can all hang around for a little while before saying goodbye. It doesn't take long for them to show up and they all chat and joke around as per usual before the group starts breaking apart as people leave to find their beds. They leave too, heading in the same direction, catching the same bus and getting out at the same stop.
They're standing in the same spot, where she is supposed to go left and he is supposed to go right. She looks at him. He was looking at her for a while now.
"So," she says.
"You want to talk?"
She shrugs. "Not really."
They both go left.
He chases her up the stairs, his hands grabbing for legs or whatever else he is lucky enough to grab and she giggles and shushes him. He puts a finger on his mouth and shushes her back solemnly. It's a race, she has her keys and is trying to open the door while his hands do evil, evil things. They're not even that loud for how clumsy they are until they crash though the door of her bedroom and she kicks it shut.
They wrestle with her outfit, she curses it and he laughs at her for suffering to be beautiful while she doesn't need to. She disagrees, tells him to shut up and mind his own business and could he possibly have picked a more complicated belt? He helps her out with it or tries to because she shoves him back, hard, and he falls on the bed.
They do things he's only seen in porn. She calls him evil, he says it's her fault, she makes him like that. He's more wild than he's ever been, she lets him do anything, demands he do anything even and won't stand for any bashful nonsense. There are signs, but he tells himself he's imagining it. There's a certain way she'll move, as if she's hiding parts of her body, or look away from him or squirm in a certain way. He still tells himself he's imagining it.
They're both covered in scratches. She meows at him and he purrs at her, which drives her insane. The curtains don't quite manage to block out the light but they don't notice, they're too absorbed in each other. When they do finally stop to take a breath, she's half on top of him and his arm his around her, his hand rests on the swell of her stomach.
"So who was it?" she asks, her voice heavy with exhaustion.
"Who was what?" His brain can't make out the question although he already has a sneaking suspicion what it's about.
"The girl you want."
He is instantly awake.
"All of them. Tina, Brigitte, Adelaide. They're all you."
She props herself up with her arm so she can look him in the eye. He can feel her pulling away, her leg is already off him. "You should have picked one," she tells him seriously.
He doesn't ask her why, doesn't get the chance to. She's getting up and crossing the room, leaving. He can hear the shower turning on and he knows she expects him to be gone when she gets back. So he wasn't imagining it. He had been so sure he was. He was sure he knew her. Knew his crass, loud, smart, beautiful girl. She'd never been shy. But sometimes she was a bit too much the opposite of shy. He should have known.
But he knew her. He knew he knew her. Only, he didn't.
The next time he sees her she is neither Brigitte not Tina nor Adelaide. She's not quite blonde, more orange at the ends and white at the roots. The hair is short and not styled, her make-up is basic and her glasses are pink. She's looking down at something in her hand. She's wearing a black short-sleeved shirt and baggy jeans. When he gets closer he can see that in one hand she's holding a beer, in the other her mobile phone.
He doesn't wait for her to say it.
"Hi, I'm Simon," he says, startling her in to looking up at him. He takes the cigarette out of his mouth and stubs it out on the wall. His mouth tastes filthy, but Simon smokes. He's also not shy, nor is he particularly charming. He's just a boy. "Could I maybe buy you a drink? Or two, or ten? However many it takes for you to give me the number of that," he says, pointing at her phone.
"How about a name first, conman?" she says, clearly surprised. She regains some sort of equilibrium thought because she cocks her head to the side and smiles. "I'm Tabitha."
"Yes," he agrees, "you are."