I was glad we had the foresight to bring our fakes. A shopping expedition to Palo Alto resulted in an impromptu trip to the bar. My friend had insisted; shopping always made her thirsty-in more ways than one.
We sat at the counter, under soft ambient lighting. The place was classy, with a well-decorated interior and plush seating. It wasn't trendy like the places I frequented in New York, but it had its own charm. The harsh minimalism, all glass and steel, can become grating after a while.
Besides, we didn't have a choice: this was the only bar that was full of college students our age.
"Can I have your order?" The bartender eyed my friend appreciatively as he spoke. She was gorgeous; pale skin and a voluptuous figure. Her outfit today suited the edgiest club-all black, a low-cut top paired with leggings and the highest stilettos I'd ever seen. I could understand why he wanted her.
"Gin and tonic," she said.
"And you?" He asked me, clearly wondering what our relationship was.
"A sangria," I said politely. I enjoyed going out with J, if only because I enjoyed the looks of jealousy that came my direction. Our friendship was platonic; we had too much in common-including interest in the same men.
"You always liked the fruity drinks, Harry," she said. "And you always order the same one."
I shrugged. "Why not? It's my favorite drink."
"Don't you want to change things up a little?" she asked, acknowledging the glass in front of her with a slight nod. The bartender waited, obviously hoping for a little more attention. When that wasn't forthcoming, he thrust my drink sullenly at me. I tried to suppress my grin.
"That'll be $30," he said.
"I got it covered," a voice said as I took out my wallet. A man in a white shirt, sleeves pushed up, and black slacks held out a credit card. He was attractive, in a suit and tie kind of way. It had been a while since work finished, but I could imagine him wearing a suit at work. It was rare seeing anyone wearing a suit in the Silicon Valley, let alone one who could wear it well.
"Thanks," said J. She flashed that crooked smile that she often used to encourage guys. "Pretty ballsy of you to buy a drink for a girl sitting with another guy, isn't it?"
"I bought him one too, didn't I?"
I grinned. "He did," I said. "And I really appreciate it."
"That makes it harder for us to figure out which one you're interested in," J said.
"Maybe both of us." I winked at him. To his credit, he laughed.
"Well, I've had my fair share of threesomes before, but I can honestly say I'm interested in the girl only tonight. Unless," he gestured at us, "I'm totally wrong and you two are a couple."
I laughed. "No. I'm gay. She's hot, but not nearly hot enough to tempt me."
"Great," he said as J punched me playfully. "Mind if I sit? I'm Jack, by the way."
We exchanged names and they began talking. They seemed to hit it off. I caught snippets of their conversation as I sipped my drink. Apparently he worked for a venture capital firm, which explained the suit. She, in turn, told him how we lived around here, but went to New York for college. He was just recently graduated, only twenty-three.
I spied the bartender in the corner, glowering. He was cute in a scruffy way, but he was just a spark outshone by the beam of dazzle that Jack was. I shared a commiserating look with him. I was alone, just like him.
"Hey," Jack paused in mid-conversation to tap me on the shoulder. "Would you want to meet my brother? He's supposed meet me here. He's really cute and I think he'll like you."
"Is this you setting us up," I asked dryly, "or is it because you want to palm him off to talk to a girl?"
"Hey," J said, tossing her hair. "Not just any girl. This girl."
"A little of both," Jack said. "Come on," he wheedled. "My brother's really cute."
Well, it beats third wheeling. "Sure," I said. "Can I see a picture of him?"
"Nope. Don't you trust me?"
"I met you half an hour ago."
Jack rolled his eyes. Besides him, J covered her mouth in amusement.
"Have a little faith, Harry," Jack said. "The bar is called Serendipity."
I glowered at him. "Fine," I groaned. "You owe me another drink."
"Hey. I don't set my baby bro up with just anyone, you know."
He had a good point. And meeting new people was always nice, no matter the circumstances.
"He's right there." Jack motioned for him to join us. "Sawyer, this is Harry. Harry, this is Sawyer."
We've met. I didn't mean to say it aloud but I must have done so in my shock. But it was true, and Sawyer knew it too.
"You have?" Jack said, puzzled. "Small world. How?"
Sawyer opened his mouth to speak, presumably to answer his brother. I grabbed J and hurriedly pulled her to a quiet corner.
"I hooked up with him at Splash this summer," I whispered, glancing over at the bar. In a parallel manner, Sawyer was doing the same.
"What? Is this good or bad? Have you told me about this before?"
"We talked for a while," I said, "and danced a bit at the club. And then we went on a walk. We ended up spending the night at some hotel in Midtown."
"Oh, really?" Her eyes widened in shock. "I never saw you as someone who did that."
I shrugged. "I'm not sure what happened that night either. But it was the night before my flight, so I don't know…. Anyways, that happened."
"And?" J prompted. "Is there more to the story?"
"Well, I kind of left him because I had an early flight…" That wasn't my finest hour. I had managed to sneak out of bed without waking him and changed hurriedly before calling a cab to JFK. I hadn't even left a note.
"Well …" J furrowed her brow. I could tell she was still processing the information. It was so unlike the Harry that she knew. It was so unlike the Harry that I knew. "At least you had fun. And you were safe."
"I guess so."
We headed back to the bar, where it looked like the two brothers had finished their conversation too.
"I didn't know your name was Harry," Saywer said.
"I never saw you as a Sawyer," I replied.
"It's not exactly a common name," he said. "It was my grandmother's maiden name."
"Oh" was all I could manage. I didn't know that. Well, I didn't know his name either, so there was that…. But then, our conversation didn't extend to such mundane matters; we talked about what life meant for us, what a single day amounted to. Really deep topics. But we never shared names or numbers.
I thought it was just was well, since I doubted I'd ever encounter him again. We both just assumed ….
Yet—yet I never did forget him. Maybe it wasn't quite as I remembered, maybe hindsight polished it into a pearl of a memory, but my heart was truly at rest that night.
"So how have you been?" Sawyer smiled at me, a brilliant, megawatt smile. That, I never forgot: it was what caught my attention in the first place. He leant back against the counter. Like his brother, he had a casual, slouchy grace. It was more pronounced in him than his brother; Sawyer's attraction was effortless, whereas Jack showed more effort in his immaculate image.
So we're acknowledging what happened, I thought, and skipping past the awkwardness. Well, I could play along.
"I'm good," I said. "I miss New York, but that's to be expected. You?"
"The summer's been good so far," he said. "Doing some typically Californian things like surfing and hiking. Me and Jack went camping at Yosemite last week."
"It's pretty around this time," I said. "All those redwood trees; I can't believe how old and big they are."
"Yeah, we had a good time," he said. "We always have a good time."
"You two seem close." I glanced over at him; he seemed entranced by J, engaged in earnest conversation.
"We are," Sawyer said, following my gaze. "And I think he and your friend are hitting it off."
"Yeah," I said. "Do you see him a lot? Your brother, I mean."
Sawyer shook his head. "No. We're too busy with our lives. He has work and I have school."
"Where do you go to school again? Sorry, but I feel like we need a whole new start. We barely know each other."
"I think we know enough," Sawyer said, with a hint of a smirk. I blushed.
"Yeah, well..." I suddenly felt that the conversation, which had been flowing so easily, stalled with the awkward weight of uncertainty. I wasn't sure how to broach our previous encounter.
Sawyer sensed my discomfort; he must have —it was written all over my face. He held out his hand.
"My name is Sawyer, I'm twenty two years old and I'm an incoming junior at Yale."
I took his hand. His grip was sure and his hand showed evidence of an active life.
"I'm Harry," I said. "I'm twenty and I go to NYU."
"What made you go so far?" Sawyer asked. Yes! We gotten over that speed bump. "It must've been a really big change."
"Yeah, it is," I agreed. "But..." I shrugged. "I don't know; I felt like it was time for a change. I needed to get away. If I stayed, I would have never been able to escape, like, this bubble that I was in."
Sawyer nodded. "I see what you mean," he said. "At school, I see people hanging out with people they knew from kindergarten."
"Don't get me wrong," I said. "That sounds really nice. But ... there's something to be said about forcing yourself out of your comfort zone."
"I think there is," Sawyer said. "I mean, you grow more as a person when you're faced with new challenges."
"Yeah..." I said. "But how are you enjoying Yale? I've never been."
He shrugged. "It's a good school. People are generally nice; they're extremely competitive, though."
I nodded. "I'm sure. I met some people from Harvard once. Crazy hardcore." I grinned at him. "Or am I not supposed to mention them?"
"You know," he said, with annoyed amusement, "I think Columbia students are generally much cooler." He laughed at my scowl. "Present company excluded, of course."
"I better be. And besides, we go to the cooler parties and have much more fun."
"I think so," said Sawyer. "That time I was in New York, our conference was in Columbia and it was ridiculously boring."
"Until you met me," I said. We were approaching that topic again, but this time I felt much more prepared.
"I had a good time too," I said. "Sorry about bailing, by the way. It's just that I had a flight and you were sleeping and I didn't want to wake you and I —"
"It's fine," Sawyer interrupted my increasingly frantic explanations. Apparently I wasn't as ready as I had thought. "Neither of us expected to see each other again."
Yeah ... We didn't. But I was glad we did. It made, for me, a meaningful encounter much more meaningful. I hadn't wanted my first time to be with a complete stranger, a random hookup. Call me old fashioned, call me sentimental, but I believed there was an inherent value to someone's first time. That was why I remembered Sawyer.
I didn't want to tell him that. He was nice, and I was attracted to him, but I didn't think that putting pressure on him would be right. It wasn't. This should be stress free. Maybe not as stress free as last time, but still fun. It wasn't as if I were looking for more than fun, anyways.
The first time, that had been fun. Blowing off steam at the end of the semester always was...
"I need another drink!" I yell to my friend Cas. The pounding bass makes conversation difficult and my throat itches from prolonged shouting.
I'm having fun, though. That's not in doubt. I danced with three guys already and my body is loose and ready, my shirt clinging to me with sweat.
"I want tequila," I shout at the bartender. The bartender saunters off to do that. I wait, leaning against the bar. He's taking a long time to fill up a glass, I think: it isn't that hard. But he's talking to some other patrons and generally taking his time. I understand; he's just trying to drum up more tips.
"You look impatient," a voice suddenly speaks in my ear. I start. I haven't expected anyone to get so close without me noticing.
He's good looking. That jawbone draws my eye at first glance. And he's tall, which I estimate to be around six feet. Well-built too.
"I'm thirsty," I say, tiptoeing to talk in his year. My vocal cords are shot; I can't scream anymore.
He nods at the bartender, who finally approaches with my drink. "Make that on me," he says.
I look at him. "Really? We've barely spoken for a minute and you're buying me drinks already?"
"Yeah." His tone is matter of fact. "You're cute. And we can talk some more when you finish your drink."
"Just talk?" Somehow I don't believe that. Nobody ever just wants "to talk" at a club. They're thirsty —for something other than drinks.
"Maybe a dance?" He leans in close to me, close enough that I can smell his aftershave, a strong, spicy scent. I consider him. Where's the harm? He's attractive and bold. He's very smooth, his confidence polishing the rough introductions. He might be a heartbreaker, but I don't lose my heart in just one dance.
"Sure," I say. "If you can keep up."
He smirks at me. "Is that a challenge?"
"Maybe. You'll just have to find out." I grin at him. He grins back—and that's when my heart catches fire. Silly, I know, that so small a smile can touch me so deeply, but it does. And as we reach the dance floor, I wonder at what it all means.
But that soon escapes my mind as we begin to dance. His body grinds up against mine, moving in perfect tempo. The proximity is thrilling and I return his energy. What he gives, I mirror, a doppelganger to him. It isn't explicit, but there is definitely sexual tension in a dance form.
We dance longer than expected. Cas left, somewhere in between that time, citing fatigue and a long day tomorrow. I don't mind; it's nice being alone with him. And when we break free finally, we both look as if we had been caught in the rain.
"That was fun," I pant.
"Yeah," he says, equally out of breath. "I think I kept up."
"Yeah," I pat down my hair. It had been mussed up by his hand; now it sticks up everywhere like a hodgepodge. "I think you did too."
"Well. Now that that's been proven … what do you want to do now?"
"Let's just chill for a bit," I say. "Walk around and talk."
And we do. Walk and talk. For a long time too; for hours, but it seems by the end of it we've known each other for ages. And as we chat, we find ourselves unable to keep our hands off each other. They keep straying, almost unconsciously, into each other, and our shoulders bump as we walk.
He is hot—I can feel the warmth radiating off him, and I want to touch him so badly, to explore the body under that thin layer of cotton, roaming down to tease the band of his underwear peeking over his jeans….
I blush. He must have been thinking along the same lines as he clasps my hand.
"Do you want to go somewhere for the night?" The words are spoken as a gentle question, as he looks at me in the eye.
I say yes, throwing away all inhibitions. I follow him, my footfalls suddenly lighter, as he leads me to a hotel. Events happen in a blur; one moment, I'm waiting patiently off to the side as he speaks to the concierge and the next, we're on top of each other, furiously kissing.
Hands explore parts that were previously untouched and mouths nibble at collarbones, at earlobes. Pleasure sparks wherever bodies touch. A storm of sensations overwhelm me, and I lose myself in it, knocked adrift by the heady feelings he's arousing in me.
He is wonderfully, aggressively potent. The solid feel of him, the hardness through the denim, the firm, supple muscles; putting my hands on them is enough aphrodisiac. His confidence translates into dominance and I become a passenger on a roller-coaster, strapped in and ready for wherever it takes me. His mouth plunders mine ruthlessly, like a pirate hunting for booty, and I am a treasure waiting to be taken.
A touch from Sawyer recalled all that for me. He was my first. Who could ever forget that?
And yet … I wasn't sure what to make of it. I only learned his name now, after an entire summer, and it wasn't even planned. I wasn't a sentimental person, or I didn't believe I was anyways, but I did want that first time, that first tepid step into a new world, to be special.
I wasn't sure how special it was if I had to sneak out in the morning.
The conflicted emotions I felt right now, it made speaking difficult. Drudging up old memories.
"It's really nice running into you again," Sawyer said, oblivious to my turmoil. "I did not expect to see you. What are the odds?"
Yeah … what were the odds? At least our encounter was friendly and not uncomfortable. "I don't think we ever expected to see each other again, to be honest," I said.
"Yeah." Sawyer nodded in agreement. "But it was fun, though. Even if you did ditch me with the hotel bill."
I grimaced, both at his words and at how I acted. "Sorry about that. I'll pay you back sometime."
Sawyer leant in close to me. He still smelled of the same spicy aftershave, still radiated the same heady mixture of heat and intensity. "Tonight's just as good as any. Wanna get out of here?"
I swallowed. My heart caught in my throat. My body wanted to answer yes, my heart didn't know what to say.
"It'll work out perfectly," he continued in a low voice. "And …" he put his hand on mine, "you know I can keep up."
I drew my hand away. "I want another drink," I said to the bartender. "Can I get a mojito?"
Sawyer looked at me quizzically as the bartender went off. "I'll pay for it," he said as he took out his wallet. "And you haven't said yes yet."
I waved the bartender over as he came with my drink. "Here," I brushed Sawyer's wallet away as I handed him my credit card. Then I turned to Sawyer.
"Maybe I'm busy tonight." My tone dropped a degree or two; it was icy and Sawyer's eyes widened.
"Oh … that's fine, then. Rain check maybe? We should exchange numbers."
I was about to scream in frustration. He didn't understand. He didn't understand that I felt like some cheap piece of meat that he could just order from a menu. That, although it was by mutual consensus we were just supposed to have a good time, I lost something invaluable, something that couldn't be replaced.
Forcing a smile, I said: "I guess… I'm pretty busy though. Summer's not a good time for this."
He looked at me, surprised. "Why? It's summer. You're supposed to have a good time."
I couldn't do this anymore. I stood abruptly. "I need some air."
J and Jack glanced up from their conversation in surprise.
"Is everything alright?" Jack asked.
"Are you okay, Harry?" J asked.
"Great," I said. My face was still clenched in a pleasant smile. "It's just getting kind of stuffy in here." I walked out before she could say anything further. Sawyer looked worried, I saw, as I rounded the corner, and Jack went over to initiate a whispered conversation with Sawyer.
From outside, I could see that they were in an involved conversation, with Sawyer growing increasingly worried and Jack increasingly infuriated. Part of me wished I could hear their exchange. I didn't want to be the cause of a rift. And frankly, I was surprised: I hadn't expected Jack to intervene.
It was not entirely shocking to me that Sawyer got up and found me at the end of their conversation. Without even needing to ask, he knew that I had been watching.
"What happened?" he asked me. "It's something I said, isn't it? Or did."
"Yeah," I said. Sawyer grimaced. "But it's also me," I added hurriedly. "I can be oversensitive, too."
"I know I was a little blunt," Sawyer said. "Jack always told me that I needed to be more considerate."
"Is that what you were talking about?"
"Yeah. But I thought it was agreed. I mean … last time …. I don't know. You hadn't seemed opposed to the idea back inside."
"It's just hard," I said. I didn't know what to tell him. I didn't want to lay the burden of being my first on him. But I couldn't not tell him; this conversation had progressed far enough that to leave out that detail would render everything worthless. I breathed in—deep, like how the yoga instructors had always told us—and out.
"I was a virgin when I met you."
Strangely, the words came out calm and clear, ringing with the simplicity and clarity of truth. Sawyer dropped his jaw—slightly, it wasn't a cartoonish caricature of shock—his mouth forming a little "o."
"I didn't know … I should've been more sensitive about it."
I shrugged helplessly. "I didn't tell you. And it's silly, I know. I should've just kept it to myself."
"No!" He spoke with such vehement force. "You shouldn't. Everyone deserves to have their first time be special and treasure their memories of it."
I shrugged again. "It's just a social construct meant to demonize sex. I don't know why I got so hung up on it." To be honest, I didn't quite believe that … but that was what I told myself. It helped suppressed my feelings of emptiness and loss. But it wasn't exactly working—I could feel pinpricks of tears welling up and I looked away, hurriedly.
Sawyer grasped my hand. "Hey. Hey," his voice was gentle. "Look at me."
I blinked fast and hard. "Yeah?"
"I'm sorry about" he gestured widely, "everything. Let's just get to know each other first. Slowly."
I really liked him. I really did. He was kind and gentle, and confident and I didn't think I had the willpower to block my mind from wandering back to him. I shuddered. The night was chilly now, and I left my jacket on my seat inside.
"You should go back inside," Sawyer said, embracing me, enveloping me in his warmth. No longer was I adrift in confusion. I buried his face in Sawyer's chest. He was of the perfect height for that; I heard somewhere that the most compatible partner was one whose chin you could tuck your head under. Sawyer fitted that description. He rocked me gently, like I was a baby in a cradle. Maybe I was—acting like one anyways.
"Sorry for the tantrum," I said. My voice came out a little muffled. "I'm kind of a mess."
"Hey," hushed Sawyer, "you're still young."
"I'm only a year younger," I pointed out indignantly. I lifted my head. "And I'm mature for my age, people say."
Sawyer chuckled. I could see two sides of him now: the confident, untouchable player, smoothing the way with his charm; and the gentle, comforting friend whose arms I felt safe in.
The seas calmed, I was in the harbor.
"Do you want to go back in and get a few more drinks?" I asked. "I haven't given you my number yet either."
Pleasant surprise sparkled in his eyes. "Yeah," Sawyer said. "I believe I owe you a drink."