A/n: This was written for my college Fiction Workshop, in which we were absolutely forbidden to write anything resembling speculative fiction; fantasy, scifi, whatever. So, I was stuck writing this. Please, if you choose to review, make it utterly brutal. Poignant Phrasing
"You're the reason my hair keeps falling in my face." Annette said nonchalantly, giving him a guileless grin. She took another sip of her venti mochawhatever.
Jacob looked up from his notebook and the doodle of a dinosaur he had been sketching with such concentration the moment before. He had just started working on the jagged triangles of its teeth, but he was obliged to drag his eyes upward to meet the husky-blue eyes of his girlfriend. That vivid, butterfly-wing blue ringed with black. Her eyes were one of his favorite things about her, the way they followed him loyally across the room, the way they raced across the page when she read like a dog romping through the snow.
The way they twinkled right now, curiously waiting for his response to her latest innocuous and, what she considered to be, profound statement. He had noticed that she often spoke like that; cocking her head just so and leaping at him during a comfortable silence with some pretty-sounding non sequitur. At first, he thought she was quoting a song or a poem at him, horrified that he had forgotten lyrics to their song or something and he braced himself to endure a berating like he always did from a significant other when he "forgot" something she considered important.
But it never was a lyric. He just assumed it was a line from a poem she was writing; that she bludgeoned him with fragments just to see how they sounded, or to see how he reacted.
It wouldn't have annoyed him so much if he could just understand why. "What- what do you mean?"
Her grin bloomed into a full-fledged smile and she tucked a stray piece of stressed, platinum blond hair behind her several-times pierced ear. He could remember it being a glossy chestnut brown when they first met at that concert of a band he had never heard of, before or since, but to be honest, he had barely heard the music that night anyway. He remembered the way it had fallen in soft waves around her heart-shaped face. Now it felt harsh in his hands, dry and brittle like desert grass. And it was indeed in her eyes, despite the headband and the myriad of little blue barrettes struggling futilely to keep it back. It flopped over her thick, black-rimmed glasses that perched on the edge of her almost aquiline nose.
She had also lost weight since that concert, just a few pounds here or there, but certainly enough to be noticeable. It made her look… sharper, in a way. She loved it; she could now fit into those fifty dollar skinny jeans that went so well with that white tank top, blue checked flannel jacket and that patchwork scarf she had wound around her neck like a medal of honor.
In these surprise moments of honesty, he had to admit he didn't like the changes as much as she professed to. He preferred her before, in those faded gimmicky T-shirts with the crazy slogans that seemed to shroud her. Back when she wore running shoes instead of Chucks, before she wore mascara and eyeliner around her eyes like bandages. When comfort was more important than perceptions. And not just because she had been a solid C-cup back then.
They had lapsed back into that almost-comfortable silence, and his eyes drifted back down to the page like a wayward snowflake, pausing only to peek back up at her through the black veil of his bangs. He hoped she would finish her thought, or at least give him some sort of clue as to where her mind was going.
Annette took another sip of her faux-Styrofoam cup, calm as you please, her eyes only flicking back up to his face when she felt his eyes upon her. "What?" Her voice wavered with barely suppressed laughter.
Was she doing this to drive him crazy? He wondered.
He hesitated, gathering his courage to reply. "I'm just trying to figure you out."
"It's impossible." She said, eyes twinkling in a way that made relief bloom inside, all cool and soothing like he swallowed a cough drop. At last, they were back on something resembling solid ground. "I'm much too complicated."
"You're something alright."
Her laughter was bright, like freshly fallen snow covering up the jagged, jutting rocks of his thoughts. He smiled back, holding her eyes for only a second before they fell on her watch. It was a slim, silver thing that dangled around her wrist, the very one he had gotten her for their sixth month anniversary after seeing her eye it in the display case and mourns her lack of a job. It never helped; she was still late to everything.
She had given him a slim leather journal and professional grade pens, enfolding them in his hands with a certain edged glee, telling him to "write about me." The journal was still pristine, sitting on the edge of his shelf. It was too pretty to mar with his chicken scratch.
She had since gotten a job at a local library, where she spent more time in the stacks reading then actually putting books away, but as long as she got the job done no one thought to complain. "My shift starts in a half hour." Annette was saying, when the conversation caught his ear again. "So I have to blitz. I'll see you at Angelo's party tonight, right?"
Jacob nodded absently, his eyes fixed to the powder blue wall.
He hated those parties. Everything always seemed so posed, with the fruity mixed drinks and the affected conversation on literally every topic imaginable, all designed to show off how little they actually knew. And the music. Nine times out of ten, it was from some band he had never heard of before, and would never hear of again. It would probably be from some Swedish group. It was always Swedish.
He had once made the mistake of asking Annette about it, and another bleached blond with beetle black brows stopped her conversation and turned around to fix him with glare. "They're experimenting with A-tonal chords and 16/7 beat. It's not meant to be good."
Aloud, he merely voiced the nod. "Sure, yeah. I'll see you there."
She grabbed her bag and came around the table to kiss him on the corner of his mouth. Whether she had been aiming for his cheek or his lips, he couldn't have said, but it was so her to have landed right in the middle. "Then I'll see you tonight."
He watched her walk out of the chic café, through the chrome double doors, before he turned back to his doodle. His pen traced the spikes of the dinosaurs back as he mused. No, it was really more of a Godzilla now wasn't it?
He furrowed his brow, and let his mind wander. She had been kind of sterile with him lately; her kisses felt more like science experiments than honest expressions, gauging how he reacted with each new stimulus. He longed to flip roles on her and show her just how honest an expression could be, but he couldn't quite dare. What if she reacted adversely? She looked so fragile now, and everything was so tenuous between them.
He capped the pen, his fierce doodle drawn and slid away the crappy ten cent notebook he used for creative pursuits. He had a party to get ready for.
Jacob had gone home to change into something that stressed how little he cared about tonight, or how these people saw him; A pair of torn jeans hung off his legs, a wash-worn T-shirt, once black and now a grubby sort of gray with the logo picked and bitten off by years of wear. He didn't even remember what it was supposed to say or where he got it. It was perfect.
The party was held in Angelo's apartment; one of those lofts that were converted from old warehouses, those fashionable buildings that artists loved for their inexpensive rent and the wide-open spaces. The whole area had been renovated along with it; Cafes and overpriced restaurants had sprung up around the area like dandelions, followed by the more slow-growing stores like independent bookstores and second-hand clothing shops. Even an art gallery had taken up residence in one of the ancient buildings. The once derelict, almost shady area had been utterly transformed as if by pixie dust, becoming almost overnight into the place to be.
Jacob hated it.
But he wandered up to the fourth floor and knocked on Angelo's door anyway, wondering if anyone could possibly hear it with the cacophony inside.
The titular Angelo greeted him, pausing for a second in the doorway as if to let Jacob fully appreciate his appearance. Rolling his eyes behind the veil of his bangs, he obliged. The older man was a study in shadow, from the black beret perched on his dark hair to the black turtleneck clicking for life on his sparse, bronze frame. He even had a pair of tiny, square spectacles sitting on the edge of his pointed nose.
"Misplace your bongos somewhere?"
Angelo just sniggered, the sound high pitched and grating to Jacob's sensitive ears. "No, they're inside, right where I left them." He moved aside to let Jacob pass. "Come into my parlour." He pronounced the 'u' and everything.
Jacob just rolled his eyes as he slid past the older man. And no sooner had he set foot in the apartment then he felt a hand slide into his. He followed the hand with his eyes, up the delicate arm to see Annette, radiant in a sky-blue wrap dress. She offered a coquettish smile.
"You can call me Virgil." She said breathlessly, giving him quick kiss on the lips. He could smell the alcohol on her breath, the flavor of her favorite fruity cocktail dancing in the fumes.
He grabbed her by the arm and twirled her around, enjoying the way the fabric of the dress lifted with the movement. She started laughing the sound peeling away like blown bubbles and she fell awkwardly against him until he was the only thing keeping her upright. "Mm, I'd follow you anywhere." He murmured into the rough straw of her air.
Over her shoulder, he peered around at the peacocks milling aimlessly about the room, every one of them dressed to the sevens and up in fabrics and patterns so bright it was almost garish.
Annette gave a little cry and lurched onto her feet again, waiting until she was steady before grabbing a hold of his hand and pulling his reluctant frame across the room. She pin wheeled a few times, but managed to stay standing somehow. Finally, she stopped in front of a small, enclosed circle of people mingling by the window and forcibly entered the conversation. She introduced him around and they mumbled something that sounded like a greeting, but went right back to whatever it was they were talking about. Jacob really had no patience to find out.
So he let his attention wander about the room, bouncing off the bright costumes as he searched for something, anything that would alleviate the boredom that had already sunk in.
His eyes traveled across the spacious loft, finally falling on the blocky, uncomfortable looking settee in the midst of a living room set-up, and the equally uncomfortable looking girl draped across it. Her face was plastered with unabashed boredom, glazed eyes and a slight frown, and it was clear from the way she checked her watch every few minutes that she was gathering up the courage to leave.
He leaned over to his girlfriend, who was enraptured by the conversation, watching it as if were a men's tennis match. "Annette, darling, I'm going to go get something to drink. You want anything?"
She smiled up at him, her husky eyes remarkably focused for the amount she must have already consumed. But then, she had been practicing a lot lately. "Hm. A glass of my usual wouldn't go amiss."
"Will do." He pecked her on the cheek and he swept away from her into the crowd. He couldn't quite remember which one was her usual, but there were so many fruity drinks to be had, she had to like one of them. He felt her eyes on his back, knowing they were trained on him until he slipped from view. He went behind one of the only partitions in the place, finding himself in the kitchen, and grabbed two glasses of something that looked vaguely alcoholic, waiting just long enough for Annette's attention to find its way back to the conversation at hand.
Glasses in hand, he whirled out of the kitchen, dodging party-goers and slipping under outstretched arms. It was like some kind of weird obstacle course.
He had to flip over one of the couches in order to get over to the living room set-up, but somehow managed not to spill too much of the drinks on anything. The girl's eyes flicked up at him from her watch when he appeared. She was positioned quite awkwardly on the settee, her leg draped over the low back of the matt-black cushions, her head positioned on a blocky arm, made comfortable by a pearly white pillow. Her head was down, so that her chin made an impression on her ample chest. Her other leg slumped on the floor, Nike-sheathed foot lying on its side as its partner danced in the air.
"Hello. Anyone sitting here?" Jacob asked. He was surprised to find his smile genuine.
She lifted her head and withdrew her legs from their spider-like sprawl. "Just me, but I suppose you can take that edge if you want. Though, I wouldn't recommend it." She scooted over, leaving him enough room to sit down.
"Why do you think everyone's standing? This furniture is made for looking, not sitting." The last bit sounded like she was mimicking someone, but Jacob couldn't have said who. "Long story short, it's not very comfortable. Which strikes me as weird; why have a couch that's not for sitting? I got mine at a garage sale and it's the ugliest thing, all green and orange, but I've fallen asleep on it more often than not."
"I just assumed they didn't sit down even on account of the twigs lodged up their backsides." Jacob replied sarcastically, rolling his eyes.
The girl snorted.
"You want some… cocktail? I seemed to have grabbed two glasses."
"You didn't put anything in it, did you?" She arched her brow at him.
"Please, if I had, would I tell you?" She laughed and he found himself smiling again. "But if it makes you feel better, I'll let you choose your glass."
"Alright then." Her look was wary, but she grabbed the one on her left, making a point to watch him take a drink before hazarding a sip of her own.
"So what brings you here, aside from the great music and rousing conversation?" Jacob asked. He set his glass down on the IKEA end table that clung to the side of the couch closest to him.
She glanced at him, her flat look saying it all. She took another sip, as if fortifying herself to speak. "I was dragged here by a friend and subsequently abandoned. You?"
"Dragged here by my girlfriend and more or less cut adrift." He replied. "I'm Jacob, by the way."
"Willow." She inclined her head. "But you can call me Will."
"Pleasure to meet you."
"Yeah, something like that." She finished off the rest of her fruity liquid and placed the glass on the blocky coffee table that lounged in front of her knees. She leaned down to place her head on her hands. "So I assume you've been to one of these swanky things before. What do you end up doing to pass the time?"
"What do I do?"
"That is what I asked. I mean, you're the only other person who seems to be all adrift."
Jacob shrugged. "Generally? I just sort of drift, practicing the art of being awkward until my girlfriend gets tired and wants to go home."
Will snorted. "Well, I'm already the queen of awkwardness." She sighed and flopped backwards so that head rested on the back of the couch.
"Honestly, I don't even know why I agreed to come here. I could have had a much more productive evening at home."
"You mean your friend hasn't introduced you to all the personalities in the room?"
She smirked. "Nope. Got swept up by one of those personalities and promptly forgot I was there. I think the only reason she invited me was to bum a ride. Ah, well. I probably would have made a huge social faux-pas and just embarrass her. I never went to finishing school, you know."
Jacob's smile went crooked. "That's alright. I like my people half-done anyway. Hey, do you want another glass?"
Will glanced down at the empty container balancing on the edge of the coffee table. She shrugged. "Yeah, sure. It's a party, right?"
Jacob was off of the stiff couch in a flash, returning with another pair of shining, wide mouthed glasses bubbling over with alcohol, though his first wasn't empty. "So what do you do when you aren't hiding in plain sight?" He asked when he returned, offering her one. Willow took the glass from him gratefully.
"Do?" Her eyebrow did that quirky thing again. "What does anyone do?"
"I'm not sure what you mean."
She took a sip. "You know, I'm not exactly sure either." She set the empty glass on the coffee table next to its mate and looked at him. She was silent for quite awhile, long enough to make his heart beat speed up a little and his mouth go dry.
Faster than he would have thought possible, she moved across the stiff couch and pressed side against him and pushed her tongue into his surprised mouth.
For a startled second, he just sat there, letting her do… well, whatever it was, it went beyond kissing. Then, without much force, he pushed her away.
"Wait a second, will yo-" Her finger touched his lower lip, as if that would get him to shut up. "We've only just met."
"And we're both bored and abandoned. That's reason enough for me." She kissed him before he could formulate a verbal response, and now that she had his full attention, he responded in a different way.
And strangely enough, he found himself thinking about this girl who was almost on top of him, this girl who he had just met, this girl who didn't need innocuous and enigmatic statements in order to lend her speech some potency. This girl who was kissing him with more interest than Annette had in quite some time…
A squeak of something that sounded like devastation drew his attention from where his hands were moving, and over Willow's shoulder, he could see Annette, her cheeks flushed in contrast to the bright ice blue of her dress, and her eyes that were now sparkling with something dangerously close to tears. Her hands were fiddling with the chain of the watch he had bought her, lingering on each link, counting them like a rosary.
She didn't say a word or make any accusations. Instead, she simply turned on one of those impossibly sharp heels and heading the direction of the door, pushing past the wandering peacocks. Not a head turned to follow her out.
Jacob pushed Willow off of him almost before he knew what he was doing, sheer horror spurring his muscles into action. In Willow's obviously kindred spirit, he had forgotten the loyalty of her husky-eyes. They had probably sought him out every few minutes, despite the conversation that held her so enraptured, not bothering to be worried until she looked over to see…
He nearly knocked over the glasses still balancing on the coffee table in his haste to get off that couch and through the forest of people who only seemed to be interested in getting in his way and stopping him from reaching her, from explaining himself. Telling her it wasn't what she saw; Willow had jumped him after all, right?
A glance back showed Willow tracking his progression with her own dark eyes, arms folded over her chest. There was something in the smirk that pulled at her pressure-darkened lips that he couldn't identify. Smug, yes, and something else.
He heard her voice ring out over the din of the party as he reached the door. "Call me when you realize you were wrong about everything."