They began turning off the lights as we sat at the counter eating ice cream. He had gotten chocolate and had a way of eating that made me watch, the plastic spoon dabbing in quick and then flittering up to his mouth. This is someone who doesn’t take things for granted, I had thought. I had chosen cotton candy ice cream because my sister, who is wise about these things, had advised moments before he picked me up, “If you get ice cream, don’t get chocolate because you know you get it all over your face,” and my mother, who is wise to my ways, added, “At least use a napkin.” So I had gotten the flavor of my childhood but regretted it as I watched the chocolate stains gather in the corners of his mouth and knew that it wouldn’t have mattered. Maybe that was why I hadn’t at first noticed the darkness of the closing café – my mind on lips and etiquette – until the man with the face like a black-and-white comic strip had protruded into our space as polite as a robber with good manners: “Sorry, guys, but it’s closin’ time.”
We gathered our cups, slid out of our chairs, and our feet fumbled with the sudden closeness to one another. I had been somehow aware on the walk to the door that the man at the counter watched us with a memory surging a warmth to his chest, that we reminded him of two birds diving swiftly through the open air of a blue sky. It had pressed as heavy and suffocating as thick-threaded sheets on a summer night.
We took up residence at a table outside. There had been a concert in the street; we had arrived late and only heard two songs before everyone began folding their lawn chairs and shirtless men had scrambled about like pale ants to take down the stage. A few people, young men mostly in bright, florescent colors, lingered like curious boys at the sight of a wreckage.
I was nervous. It was not my first date, but this one counted more somehow. Answers mattered more than questions and words were something tossed around until the other one could latch onto it and ping it back. A tennis match of gesturing hands and nervous laughter. He had told me that he played guitar and drums and was learning the fiddle. I had told him of a city in Jordan nicknamed the City of Roses where giant temples and tombs were carved into the reddish, pink rock, my hands carving out the canyons in my speech. At one point he had leaned forward to say hauntingly, “We come from two different worlds.” I had looked into the gray, melted syrup in my cup and wished I was blessed with the talent of reading tea leaves and fortunes.
What a dangerous game we had played: tip-toeing to the edge of a cliff. There is nothing more vulnerable than revealing the budding stem of your soul.
He had us walk up to the very top of the parking garage “because you can see all of downtown,” and I knew he was planning on kissing me. A storm had rolled in, lightning crackling across the sky like blood jerking through my veins, and we had stood as still as the plastic couple on top of a wedding cake. There had been no kiss. Just the smell of the approaching rain.
He had driven me home, and the sky had wept and the wind had howled. The car was pushed about like a marble in a box. We had felt the water and laughter in our lungs as we made the – Ready? One, two, three … Go! GO! – sprint through the downpour to my door. Shyly, I had demanded he stay at my house until the storm passed. I put on a movie and we curled up like drenched cats in separate recliners. When I offered him a blanket, he refused with the words, “I’ll get it wet.” I had felt something warm in my chest then, something that felt like falling.
When the weather cleared, he had left with the smell of the watered earth. I had stood on the porch steps with bare feet, waving as he pulled out and away, chasing the yellow slide of his headlights on the wet pavement.
I thought, If we had kissed up on the parking garage, it would have tasted like chocolate.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.