In line at the ATM by my college apartment, en route to an evening of carousing with my fellow cast members. My friends are eager to begin drinking. It is February, and therefore a crisply cold night in Champaign. It is also a Thursday night and we are celebrating the end of a long week of rehearsals once again by going to the White Horse–or, as it is more affectionately known, the White Ho, or Ho, for short. I grab my money, turn, and bump into the person behind me.
I automatically deliver an apology and head on my way–my friends are impatiently waiting–but the person calls out. “Hey, I know you.”
I stop. In the darkness, I can see he is cute, so being the shallow coed I am I opt to give him some of my time. Friends be damned. “Really? Have we met?”
“You don’t remember me,” he slurs.
I look closer, and upon a second inspection I see that he is one of the strain of farmboy-cute men that populate the campus. Baggy jeans and jacket, sneakers, closely-cropped hair. But there is a piece missing from this puzzle, a piece that would complete a familiar picture. I start to shake my head.
He laughs grimly, without breaking so much as a smile. “Guess you don’t remember. Ouch.”
A baseball cap. He usually wore a baseball cap. “No, wait, I do! We had class together last year!” I exclaim, pleased that I figured it out. “Comp Lit.” Out of the corner of my eye, I can see my friends silhouetted in the lamplight, pacing restlessly.
He nods, still unsmiling. “Ahhh, now you remember.” His voice is slightly nasal and dry in tone.
“Really, you remember me?” I cock my head to the side, amused. I try to think of what kind of fascination I could have possibly held for someone so apparently clean-cut and wholesome.
“Let’s GO,” I hear my friends call from the corner, a testy edge in their voices.
I bid an apologetic farewell to–“What’s your name?” I ask, already turning to leave.
“_______,” he says.
“Well, bye _______! See you around.”
“Bye Anna.” I turn, nonplussed. The merest steely glint of mischief in his eyes. “See, I remembered your name, too.”
As my friends and I turn the corner, one of them asks, “Who was that?”
“Someone from one of my classes,” I say. “He remembered my name.”
“Um, that’s creepy,” one of them says.
“Yeah, I guess it is,” I say, my mind already somewhere else.
Celebrating K____’s birthday at Murphy’s toward the end of my junior year. In a few days all the seniors will graduate, and with them will go my friend and roommate S____, sitting across the beer-soaked table from me, and A___, and J__–and just as notably, M____, who has just shown up. He is slight and boyishly-framed for a 22-year-old, but full of James Dean swagger. He has a Chicago accent, a name that would have been more suitable for an Irish mobster, and a seemingly endless wardrobe of carelessly worn white t-shirts. He has cat-eyes of an indeterminate marine color and actor-perfect features. No one could smoke a cigarette quite like him; I could have watched him kill his lungs all day long.
With M____ by my side, I have the glow of a middle-aged man wearing a trophy wife on his arm. He is far too pretty for me and I’m not so sure why he finds me so intriguing. But he keeps calling, and I keep answering, and it doesn’t really occur to me to not answer. Conversation does not come easily to the two of us, and he mixes my drinks a little too strong. He has interwoven himself comfortably among my thickly knit circle of friends, however, and amid the shrieks and squeals of rowdy sodden laughter from our tables, I lock eyes with a familiar face to the side of the room. I wave a weak hello to the eyes underneath the perennial baseball cap.
At the moment, M______ put the finishing moves his beer rather quickly. “You need to catch up,” he smirks, as he excuses himself to the bathroom.
He has barely been gone a minute before a body slides it way into the recently vacated space on the varnished wooden bench. “Hey,” he says in a tone not expecting any kind of response.
“Hi there,” I respond a bit incredulously. Out of the corner of my eye, I see my friends continue in their revelry, not paying the slightest bit of attention.
“So, who’s the guy,” he says intensely, jerking his head in the direction of the bathrooms.
“Yeah, who is he? Boyfriend?”
“No,” I respond, nonplussed. “Just a friend.” A lie/not-lie. I eye the bathroom nervously. What would happen in M____ came back and saw ______ in his seat? Moreover, did it matter? Why did I care?
“Uh huh,” he says, seeing right through me. “Well, I’ll tell you what, Anna,” he says, locking my eyes with his. He has all the desperation of someone who believes they will never see a person again. “I just wanted to let you know that I think you’re beautiful.”
“Uh….okay.” My eyes dart anxiously around the table. “Thanks.”
“And that guy? That guy, he’s–he’s no good.”
I am a bit miffed. “Um, okay.”
An awkward pause. “Well, that’s all I wanted to say,” he finishes gruffly, and stands up to leave. “Have a good night.”
“Night.” I watch him leave–baggy jeans and jacket, sneakers, baseball cap, closely-cropped hair, stony face.
He leaves, and with perfect timing, M____ comes sauntering through the bathroom doors and sidles right back in. He refills my beer which wasn’t in need of a refill. He fixes his cat eyes on me. “Hey.”
“Let’s try to get out of here soon.”
I want to say that I’d rather stay with my friends, that I won’t have too much time with them before they leave me for the real world. But he lights up a cigarette and takes a long, slow, luxurious drag, as if he had all the time in the world.
“All right,” I say.