Maybe it’s because he’s new to town but already on the rise, already with a convertible and plans for a salon of his own. That kind of fast fame is intoxicating.
Maybe it’s because he’s pretty. Soft-faced. Feminine. Maybe it’s for that reason that his mother gave him a girl’s name and not just any girl’s name but that of a virgin saint. He is no virgin saint but his name implies trustworthiness.
So I take the ride when he offers it. Partly because I’m flattered. Even though I’m in a purple polo shirt and khakis — my uniform for the late shift at the front desk of a hotel — he’s noticed me. I think maybe it’s just because we have a mutual friend and he’s enacting some surrogate, brotherly protection. But I’m willing to entertain the flattery, that such a pretty man sees the me beyond the purple polo shirt. The me beyond the long hours and grad school homework. The me who reads Walt Whitman while watching “Star Trek.” The me who is bumbling through my twenties, through relationships, through writing poetry worthy of a masters degree.
Mostly it’s close to midnight and even though I only live a mile from the hotel, the walk home looms long. I say yes to the ride. He finishes his drink at the bar — I don’t know how many he’s had, but it’s only a mile, so what can go wrong? — and we walk to the garage together.
The convertible. Then the night air on my face. Fall — too cool out for the top down, but it’s thrilling. A heightened sense of being alive.
He misses the turn for my street and keeps driving. I’m not worried. Mostly curious. He says we’re going to his house for a drink and I think, sure. Because he’s lovely. Because he has a girl’s name. Because his mother saw his softness. Because I am lucky.
His house is a cabin — the musty old kind built in the 1920s that tourists and New York transplants find charming. Mostly the cabins are small and dark and the winter wind blows through the cracks in the chinking. But winter is still weeks off. Maybe a month or more. There’s red wine — maybe it’s whiskey — and a sloping sofa.
He looks out of place here. He’s from a warmer climate with thatched roofs and palm trees. He says he doesn’t own the cabin, it belongs to his girlfriend.
Girlfriend is a silly word. She’s older, owns a boutique, wears expensive dresses and severe shoes. But she’s away, he says. It’s fine. Come sit here. Leans back, arm along the back of the sofa, body open like “yes,” and “of course,” and “I’ll be patient but don’t keep me waiting.” The calm threat, the storm cloud gliding across his face.
I want to believe some bigger, rosier, romantic fiction. That I am seen and loved. That I am not in the clench of danger, that my wrong turns, bad choices, neediness have not led me here.
I want to say I don’t go to the sofa. That I perch on a nearby chair. Ladder-back, maybe. Leather ottoman. I don’t know. I’m ugly in my polo shirt, in my cropped hair, glasses that make me look owlish. I say I’m tired and I just want to get home.
He shrugs. Petulant. His pretty mouth curls unprettily. He says he doesn’t want to go back out. I can just stay there. He doesn’t say he’ll wait me out, that I can’t win the game.
Maybe he tries to kiss me. Maybe he pulls me to him. Maybe I hold very still, hoping he’ll tire of the game. Because it’s a game, right? This inexplicable wrong turn, this trickling of sand through an hourglass, this bad dream.
It’s 1998. I don’t have a cell phone. It’s miles back to downtown along a dark road with no sidewalk. Maybe I could get to the grocery store we passed on the drive and call my mother to pick me up. I could just walk and hope and not have to ever tell anyone what happened. Everything is maybe.
It would be good to have a deity in a time of need. A name to call out. A virgin saint. A vision on a cold night. A beacon, a sign, a map, a set of instructions.
A mantra, a rosary, a candle to light.
A battle axe, a broadsword, the power to shoot laser beams from my eyes or metal claws from the backs of my hands. Something.
He finally says whatever, let’s go. Stomps out to the convertible, noticeably swaying. I’ve run through the short mental list of my choices and whatever. He revs the engine, drives fast, angling hard around corners, trying to scare me. I hold the tears until I’m home.
Maybe I say sorry though I’m not sure why. Whatever.
Nothing happens except for the fear of what could have happened. Whatever. Nothing happens except for the chipping away of a sense of safety. Whatever, whatever, whatever.
What I don’t say is his name. When he gets his own salon, when he shows up at parties, when he’s walking through the world, when he’s around other women, when he keeps on being there, when he keeps on rising.