The Date This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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We missed the beginning of the movie. It didn’t matter, the floors were just as sticky, the lobby just as red, stale Twizzlers still cost two dollars a box. Ticket stub clutched in one sweaty palm, my fingers wrapped loosely in yours, we picked our way through spilled soda and congealed popcorn stuck to the floor, scrambled over other people’s knees into a corner, dim light from a niche in the wall spilling on your profile.

It was a bad movie, high-budget Hollywood glitter, full of bad actresses with ten-inch waists and bad actors with 20-inch biceps. We laughed when the heroine died, but no one else thought it was funny.

The movie ended and we floated out, flowing with the faceless crowd to the glowing red exit signs. Alone in this herd, me like I’m dancing in a sunbeam, I can’t remember what we talked about then, words like masks to cover the silent connection between us. Outside the night is fresh, crisp warmth like you only get in wintertime: sharp black sky, bright stars like broken strands of Christmas lights lying on a crumpled black velvet party dress. The night air kisses my hands, my cheeks, my hair. I dance ahead across the pavement like a broken piece of night. Standing by the car you catch me in a close hug, slow like syrup, a frozen moment, no sound, no breath. You laugh and let me go, I bounce away like soap bubbles, everything light and nonsense again. Conversation resumes like it hadn’t stopped. What were we talking about? I start the car.

We fall to riding in comfortable silence, the road stretching out ahead like a black silk ribbon. The wheel under my fingers feels strong and solid. The driver’s seat curves to my thin body. The night silence has a strong calm. I feel my heartbeat mimicking the flash and fade pattern of street lamps; no headlights blur my windshield, alone on the road. Each turn on my wrist; each breath that moves my thin chest. You are speaking again, in a low voice that only deepens our silence. Am I hungry? Chinese food? Take a right at the lights; there’s a good restaurant up here.

Cheesy red paper lanterns dangle overhead, Friday night karaoke in the bar where all the drinks come with pink umbrellas. The waiter comes to seat us, a pimply-faced kid who looks more Swedish than Chinese. We sit in non-smoking, an unfamiliar treat, I think about smoking, about all my food tasting like ashes, about kissing someone who smokes … Your voice interrupts before my thoughts go any further. I flash a grateful smile and lean over your shoulder to examine the menu. All the crazy Chinese names, five kinds of chop suey. What is chop suey? We decide to order spare ribs, and some sort of gooey vegetable dish. The waiter brings us stale dinner rolls and dirty water, but we don’t care enough to send them back. Instead we do magic tricks with the salt shaker until our food comes, and the spare ribs make us laugh – they’re hot pink like a slurpee but we eat them anyway and the juice runs down my chin. I have to ask for more napkins; the waiter gives me an evil glare, so you say we should stiff him on the tip, but when the bill comes we leave him three dollars just the same. Crack open my fortune cookie, by crazy chance we both pull the same fortune from the broken crust of cookie – “You will soon find romance with an old friend.” We joke about it, but suddenly the air is heavy again, thick and way too sweet like pure maple syrup, until I blush a little, and you dissolve the unsaid stickiness with little bits of thrown fortune cookie that stick in my hair.

Outside with the odd semi-sweet taste of fortune cookies hovering on my breath, the bright embrace of night, wild gold and white electric lights glaring like a thousand shards of broken glass, like a flashlight shone against broken beer bottles in the far corner of a parking lot, a million tiny flames in that always dark corner as the night watchman makes his rounds with a halogen lantern. The lights look like that, and we stand a minute by the car, leaning back against the aerodynamic curve, looking breathless up into the sky. The night so fresh and vital, our night does not seem over. We cruise around a bit, weaving through the electric storefront maze. The juicy white lights of a laudromat suck us in – signs in the wide pane windows, 75 cents a load, open 24 hours. I pull in and turn the key; we race to reach the soda machine, slamming together as we both jam our quarters in, splitting a root beer. I sit up on a washer, kicking my heels against the mustard lacquer side, cool metal shivers on the backs of my thighs. I take a long sip of root beer, feel the tingly, jumpy bubbles run into my belly, carrying off that faint lingering fortune-cookie flavor. We are alone, and every sound seems loud, everything surreal under the harsh fluorescent bulbs. Cool clink of metal, the can set down on the washer next to mine, your cool hands on my knees. You catch my eyes and I’m breathing maple syrup again, looking at you in this frozen silence, trapped in this dream place that isn’t really anywhere except you and me and a mustard-colored washing machine. This time the silence doesn’t break, doesn’t fall to the floor and shatter into a million little silent pieces for some surreal fluorescent janitor to sweep up later. No somehow I don’t drop it, even when you kiss me, when I feel your soft mouth on mine in the maple syrup silence, and realize your tongue hot on my lips, that I must have leaned forward to kiss you, and that I’m kissing you back, and that I’m slipping … We both laugh as I tumble off the washer into your arms, knocking us both off balance, into a crazy spin around the laundromat. I cling to your neck and we kiss again.

Later on I drop you off, promise to call. Driving home alone with this strong black night, I smell your skin on my hair, taste you in my mouth, and smile, the kind of deep, secret smile that no one ever understands, that way you see people smiling when they are remembering something soft and good and secret.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.






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