Chapter 10: Happiness
After work, I turned down my co-workers' offers to go to do hookah. And in the lobby, he was waiting for me with a book and his ever-present Moleskine journal. He held out a hand.
"Shall we go?"
We held hands very briefly for half a block before I dropped it. I'd rather drop his hand first than be the one that was dropped. Of course, since I am a true food glutton, we dropped by Insomnia Cookies to order a fresh batch of large chocolate chip cookies and then went to CVS where he insisted on buying me a drink. Naked Juice! I've never tried that. Eh, oh well, so it's his money, he can choose how to spend it whatever way he chooses.
"So why are we watching this movie again?" I whispered as we sat down in the dark theater room, the previews still rolling on the screen. "Honestly- like 'Coco & Igor'? Aside from being an indie film that isn't shown in major theater outlets, isn't this an awfully girly film about fashion and music?"
"Shh I paid for your ticket. I'm watching this because my friend is interested in fashion and she said that this movie should be good."
I noted that he didn't refer to his soul mate by her proper label. Apparently, her label was now just "my friend".
The movie was not that great. Maybe I'm just not into Igor Stravinsky's music…or actually, I've never really been into fashion itself or indie films. Along with the general dreary atmosphere of the film and the distraction of the couple two rows in front of us who were making out/slobbering very heavily like two pigs in heat, it was somewhat hard to keep my eyes on the screen. And that's when I noticed that his hand, lying on his knee, was just about two inches from mine.
He shifted in his seat and now his hand was in mine. It was warm and soft, I noticed, as I curled my fingers around his hand.
We held hands all the way back to the summer dorms and we didn't let go even as we were in the elevator going up to his room.
As we were lying in bed that night, I put my arm around her. "Aren't you sometimes scared about playing half of your tuition?" I asked to her back. I thought of my own privileged existence- I was part of an upper middle class family in Britain that could almost comfortably afford paying full tuition at the university and I had never had a job before due to my visa status in the US. In comparison, she had held so many jobs over the years which I noted when looking at her hefty resume.
"No, it's not that bad. I mean, I guess it is kind of stressful when I think of such a large debt on my head, but the difference that I can't make up, I have on loan from my mom.
"Well, interest included, of course, she's my mom- she loves interest. Being really frugal and cheap all the time also really helps. Anyways, it only comes out to about ten thousand on my part, after all my scholarships."
"What about your dad? Why doesn't he help?"
There was silence on her end and I wondered if she had fallen asleep that quickly. Finally, she spoke again. "My dad died about a year ago."
"Oh. I'm sorry."
Her face was unreadable in the moonlight. "Don't be. He wasn't your dad."
There was a sharp intake of breath. "Sorry, I didn't mean to snap at you. It's just that…I rarely tell other people about my dad unless they ask."
"Oh." I patted her on the arm. So she was one of those kinds of people who were very private. I had been fooled- she always looked so cheerful with that wide grin of hers, but underneath that bouncy exterior, she seemed to be hiding so much more that she didn't want to show to the world. What else was she hiding from the rest of the world and how long would it take for me to get under that shell to know the real her, the one who hid her weaknesses under the cover of a loud bravado?
I hugged her as best as I could with one arm underneath her. "Well, I'm always here if you need help."
She nodded. "Thanks."
That night, I dreamed of my father for the first time in half a year.
It was right after the funeral and my sister, my mom, and I were watching TV upstairs. We were all so exhausted, our faces frozen and tired from too much crying in the past few days and during the funeral, our noses red through too much sniffling. And now, TV was the best thing for our weary minds. Through the grating voice of the broadcasters, I heard some noise downstairs.
"I'll go see who it is." I said to them, as they sat on the bed, their faces unconcerned and transfixed by the moving images on the screen.
As I felt my way down the dark staircase, I saw the light in the kitchen where someone was helping himself to water from the sink.
From behind, I recognized my dad.
It was his clothes, his haircut, the way he held the faucet handle and the cup carefully between his two hands- it had to be him. There was no mistaking him, I knew what he looked like from behind.
He hadn't died! The doctors had made a mistake! These painful past few months of illness had just been a trick- oh he was so fond of tricks and pranks, I knew him, he was always like that and now he was ready to surprise us all and we would all laugh again…and be like how we were before. He was so clever- Daddy was always so clever, making us appreciate more what we thought we had lost and then coming back to make us so happy again! We would be a real family again! A real family with two parents and no more of this endless grief…We would be so happy again…We would be happier than we were before…
"Daddy!" I cried out as I ran to hug him from behind. I had missed him so much.
He turned around from the sink.
It was my uncle.
And when I woke up, I was crying- the tears damp on his pillow. I hadn't realized but I had been crying even during the dream. I tried to surreptitiously wipe my tears away but my arm movement woke him up next to me. I turned around to face the window, my back to him.
"What's wrong?" He asked, his voice full of concern.
"Nothing." I said gruffly, my voice breaking from just waking up.
He leaned over me. "You're sniffling. Why are you crying?"
I refused to look at him. "No reason. Just a bad dream."
He turned me around and hugged me to his chest. "Don't do that. What was your dream about? Do you want to talk about it?"
And as I felt him stroking my hair, I broke down and cried into his chest. "We don't even have a television upstairs…and my father was a germophobe- we never ever drank water from the sink. How could I even think it was him? It could've never been him!"
If he was confused by my sentences, which he probably was- he didn't say anything. And I was grateful for that and for his arms around me, feeling warm, strong, and comforting.
I cheered up after a breakfast of leftover insomnia cookies and after crying into his handkerchief. Or actually, I didn't cry into his handkerchief- I laughed when he handed it to me.
"Handkerchiefs are so British! I used to date this Indian guy and he used to carry a handkerchief around too- it must be remnant of when Britain ruled India. But handkerchiefs are so useless and unsanitary!"
"Huh." He said, looking half confused and relieved that I had stopped crying and had launched into one of my rants about useless, negligible things.
"Yeah, you heard me! Handkerchiefs can be so unsanitary! Cause like, if you have a cold, then you'll be sneezing into this handkerchief all day and when you feel a sneeze coming on again, you'll have to stick your nose into your old, dried up mucus!"
His face twitched half in annoyance and half in amusement. "Fine, if you don't want it, I'll just take it away and you can sniffle into your sleeve! …Oh wait, you're wearing my shirt." He made a face. "Well anyways, I wash my handkerchiefs and I rarely use them in the first place so don't go and call me unsanitary!"
I sniffled one last time and grinned. "Okay."
After lunch, I went to Chinatown with my co-workers as Trey went to go do some questionable activities with his friends. (It was probably pot.)
As Shawn looked for his perfect American World Cup soccer jersey, I hugged Kathy.
"So how have you been?"
She smiled excitedly and held up a magazine, "My Sixteen magazine arrived today! And look what was in it! A love quiz- 'Are you in love or is it just a crush?'"
I couldn't help laughing- sometimes, Kathy was really just a girly girl who liked "shopping, tanning, pink, and cute boys". Those were her words, not mine, by the way.
She flipped open the magazine. "Okay, Louise, so are you ready to find out if you're madly in love with your current crush?"
I laughed. "What? Who said I had a crush right now?"
She looked at me pointedly. "Oh please, don't try to fool me, Louise, you've started turning down our invitations to do other stuff- that's like prime evidence that you're spending time with a man instead!"
I held up my hands defensively. "Okay, okay, so you've got me. So I do have someone that I'm fond of right now." I thought of Trey and the way that he ate his chips with chopsticks and how he always held doors open for me and paid for my meals and how he folded each of his shirts so meticulously and how we had held hands last night... "But I assure you, I know that I'm not in love with him. Here, why don't you ask Donovan instead?" I said, staring pointedly at him eavesdropping on our conversation.
And to my surprise, he said, "Ok."
I arched my eyebrow while Kathy voiced my surprise for me. "Aww! Donovan likes someone! Who is it? Tell us! We promise we won't tell anyone, ever!"
"Nope, I'm not going to tell you." I noticed that Donovan was having problems looking Kathy in the eye.
"Come on! Do we know her?"
Donovan folded his arms stubbornly. "I really won't tell you. Yes, you do know her- but if you keep asking questions, I won't do your quiz."
Kathy resignedly looked back at her magazine. "Okay, fine. I'll just make up a list of girl that you could possibly like and quiz you on them later!" She flipped a couple of pages. "Okay, so does your heart flutter every time you see her?"
Donovan was having problems restraining his smile. "Heart fluttering? Like a butterfly?"
Kathy nodded, her face very serious. Donovan sighed and composed his face. "Ok, so yes, my heart does beat faster every time that I see her."
"Ok, next question! Do you always want to spend time with her, sometimes not even doing anything or even talking?"
"Not even sex?" He asked mischievously.
"No! Of course not sex!"
I saw him look up from the pavement and stare at Kathy who was absorbed in her magazine. "Yes."
"Do you feel happy when she is happy? Do you want to help her succeed in her ambitions?"
I didn't hear Donovan's reply as I watched him awkwardly avoid looking Kathy in the eye again. I suddenly felt an inexplicably urge to grab him around the neck and give him a noogie.
"Do you find yourself unable to stop thinking about her?"
It was so adorable. Who would've known?
Later,as Kathy helped Shaun decide between the two jerseys he was looking at, I poked Donovan in the arm. "You like Kathy!" I grinned.
"Shh! Not that loud! Don't shout it to the world!"
I beamed. "I'm so good at guessing! So how long has it been?"
He smiled ruefully. "Since about a couple weeks ago."
"That's good! You guys would be so cute as a couple!" No wonder he had stopped acting so weirdly around me, thank god. We had moved on well.
He poked me in the shoulder this time. "And who's the guy that you like, huh? You can tell me."
I stuck my tongue out at him. I thought I had successfully diverted attention from my person to Donovan's crush, but apparently, he wasn't to be shaken. "I'm not telling."
He poked me again. "Come on Louise! Tell me. And you know that even if you don't tell me, I'll be able to guess correctly who it is."
I folded my arms. "Oh yeah? Try me! I bet you can't!"
"Is it Trey?"
I struggled to keep my face form reacting in surprise. It didn't work.
Donovan laughed. "You don't need to say anything, it's all over your face."
How did he know?
"It was so obvious- he's been buying you food, right? I know you, you're such a food glutton that you'd hang around him long enough to like him."
I made a face and punched him in the arm. "That's not how it goes!"
He patted me comfortingly. "It's ok- I know you, you don't have to lie about the circumstances."
I scrunched up my nose. Okay, so maybe that had been how it started. Well, it wasn't my fault that I was a starving college student!
When I looked back at Donovan, his face was serious. "However, I'm worried for you. I know Trey- he's a bad boy and he might break your heart."
I burst out laughing. "You really think my heart can be broken? I don't even believe in love! I'm just kind of fond of him."
He didn't smile back. "You really never know. He slept with quite a few girls last year. It's really his British accent that gets girls, I think. I'm worried for you."
I grinned. "You don't need to worry about me. I'm the heartbreaker in my situations.
And at that moment, my phone rang. I checked the screen- it was Trey.
"Louise? Louise, come get me please. I took too many of the pills and I can't move."
I basically ran the entire way from Chinatown to the gym where he was sprawled out across a couch. I plopped down next to him and felt his forehead. "Trey! How could you? What did you do?"
He grinned. "Well, my friends and I went and did some pot and then we got really high and then we took muscle relaxers, except I took too many."
I sighed in exasperation and threw my hands up in the air. "You took too many muscle relaxers? You made me run all the way here from Chinatown? Because you took too many muscle relaxers?" I grabbed him by the neck and gave him a hard noogie. "AARGH, I'M SO FRUSTRATED WITH YOU."
He flailed in my arms. "Stop! Stop! My head hurts!"
As he extricated himself, I sighed. "Ok, we're taking you home and we're going to make you study for the rest of the day. Enough debauchery for you today."
"After a short nap!"
I sighed. "Fine."
He almost looked like he was pouting. "Why do you keep on sighing like you're disappointed in me?"
I glared at him. "I am disappointed in you!"
As I hoisted him up and put his arm around my shoulders, he hugged me and nuzzled my neck. "I'm sorry, Louise, I won't do it again…"
My next scolding died in my throat as I looked at him, half stumbling along like a child. Aw, he was so cute. Hey…wait, he just called me Louise! "How'd you find out my name?"
He grinned. "It's on your university ID card- how do you think I signed you into the summer dorms each time?"
Ohh, he was so sneaky. I grabbed him again and ruffled his hair, hard.
"No! Don't! My head hurts!"
As I tucked him into his bed, he held out his hand. "Louise! Come nap with me!"
I sighed in exasperation but I laid down next to him anyways. He immediately put his arms around me and snuggled with his head against my neck. "I'm glad that I don't have to pretend that I don't know your name anymore."
I scrunched up my nose at him. "Yeah, you were being awfully sneaky there. I thought I had hid it so well too!"
"What, did you not want me to know? I can forget it if you'd like!"
I chucked and ruffled his hair. "I doubt you'd really be able to repress that memory."
"No, I can! Watch me! I can do it! Oh, what's your name again? Who are you?"
I laughed. "No no, I don't mind if you know it. I was just hiding it from you in the beginning because I thought you were creepy."
"And I'm not creepy anymore?"
"No, you're not, unfortunately."
He chose to ignore my comment as he grinned into my neck. "Good, cause I didn't want to forget your name in the first place."
I smiled. "Okay."
There was a slight silence.
"Also…thanks for coming to get me today. It really meant a lot to me. Thanks for being a really good friend."
And then he fell asleep. I was kind of glad he did because I really didn't know what to say to that.