(NOTE: Based on today’s The Daily Post writing prompt)
When she moved into the room the air left it, as if a balloon had not just been punctured but decimated. My lungs failed and my chest tightened. To be in her presence was suddenly the only goal I had in life.
She moved through the crowded room and to my amazement no one else seemed as captivated, as awe-struck as I was. People were letting her pass and smiling politely, but no one was caught in her gravitational pull like I was, at least not that I could tell. I considered looking around the room to test my belief but couldn’t force my eyes from her.
I’d come to the party unwillingly, to put it mildly. Jeff had been invited and wanted me to come since, as he put it, I was spending far too much time on my book and not enough going out and living the life that would help me write the next one. My disagreement on this point, that there would be plenty of life to live after this one was finished, fell on deaf ears. It’s not that I didn’t like socializing, it’s just that the kind of awkward, forced small talk these sort of parties necessitated was draining on me. I agreed only to placate him since he seemed insistent and agreed to promise he wouldn’t make a similar demand until after I’d finished the book.
Now I couldn’t imagine not being here. In my head full of liberal guilt and complementary self-images I wasn’t the kind of person to objectify women. Sure, there’d been occasional porn enjoyment in my past, but nothing habitual. I worked hard to overcome the worst stereotypes of my gender, particularly its attitude toward women and treated them with the dignity and respect they deserve.
But she was, objectively, beautiful. Her long brown hair was down and curled. She didn’t wear too much makeup and didn’t need it. Her eyes moved around quickly, seeming to take in every detail of what was in front of her and quickly seeing through you to what was hidden.
It wasn’t long before she found a friend and gave her a long hug, almost as if it had been too long since they’d seen each other. Quickly she was handed a drink by her friend and lead out to the small bit of floor space allocated to dancing.
Oh how she danced. As I watched her my conscious mind kicked in and alerted me I’d been staring for a good amount of time and so diverted my eyes to studiously analyzing the cup of watered-down keg beer I was holding. I thought again how I had assumed this crap would end with college and that young adult life in the city would be filled with interesting microbrews provided by gregarious hosts unconcerned with the cost. Instead, we were usually offered some variation on the swill popular at secret dorm parties because $5 from everyone would buy enough to drink for a week.
My eyes flicked back up to watch her from time to time, trying to be casual about it, as if I were taking in the room as a whole. I had to talk to her but needed an opening of some sort to do so. None, however, presented itself.
So I remained there, hovering on the outskirts of the party, sitting on the back of a chair near the sliding glass doors that exited out to the patio no one was on. I drained what was left of what passed for beer and went to get another. Jeff nodded at me occasionally from whatever part of the room he was holding court in at the time. A natural in these environments, you’d always find Jeff at the head of a group of people raptly paying attention to his treatise of choice. Meanwhile I wanted nothing more than to talk to this woman who’d collapsed my senses. Failing that I’d slink home.
I finally screwed up enough self-esteem to approach her. I still didn’t know what I’d say, but if I didn’t act now I never would. She had stopped dancing and was talking to another woman so I thought I’d seize the moment or watch it slip past.
When I was within a couple feet of her she surprised me by turning and facing me directly.
“You weren’t really going to spend the whole party over there by the window, were you?”
The thought of the look that must have appeared on my face in that moment has haunted me ever since. It can’t have been pretty.
“Pretty much, yeah. This isn’t really my thing.”
“Hmmm. So what is?”
“Given a choice, I’d be home editing a novel I’ve written.”
“Ah, a solitary man of letters.” She was mocking me, but as pretentious as it may be to admit, it was also the truth.
“Something like that. My friend convinced me to come with him.” I stopped but quickly added, “I’m glad I did.”
“Why, because we’re having this little moment of banter?” She smiled as if to point out how silly that sounded.
“Because I don’t know who you are or what your story is. For all I know you’re engaged and blowing off a little steam before getting married next Saturday. Or you’re visiting from Belgium and have tickets for a flight tomorrow morning. Or you’re a startup tech company founder who’s out for an anonymous night of partying like an Egyptian princess walking clandestinely through the village market to see how her people live. Whatever your deal is, you took my breath away when you first walked in the room and I’ve been struggling to regain it since then, but you’re not making it easy. This is easily the most intimidating experience of my life, but I’ve let enough opportunities pass me by and I wasn’t going to let you get swept away by someone before I had a chance to talk to you.”
It was at this moment I became painfully aware I not only still didn’t know her name but that the friend she’d been talking to was still standing there, looking at me as if I were a bear foraging for honey in an abandoned Radio Shack.
“Those are some interesting backstories you’ve concocted, Mr. Writer. Which one do you think is closest to the truth?”
“My money’s on the tech company founder, but that’s largely because I’ve put a lot of thought into it and might use it for my next book.”
“Dave. And I’ll tell you right now I don’t dance.”
“Oddly insistent for a guy who’s worked up a good head of flirt.”
“Well, let’s not get off on the wrong foot now and set expectations we can’t maintain in either the short- or long-term.”
Those eyes finally powered up and I could feel them moving inside me.
“Dave, you’re the guy who acts like he doesn’t want to do all the usual relationship bullshit and just wants someone he can talk about his book with or why season five of a show isn’t as good as season three but actually season six is your secret favorite for reasons you’ll now enumerate. But you’ve still got a fair amount of bullshit in you, despite the pretense.”
I shrugged. “Writer. Without bullshit, we don’t eat.”
“You know I’m neither going home with you tonight nor taking you to my place, right? There will be no drunken bathroom hookups…”
“Who could get drunk on this not-beer anyway?”
“…and no booty calls at 3 AM when I realize I’m a little horny and am thinking about you.”
“So you’re going to be thinking about me at 3 AM?” This earned me a smack on the arm from the friend. Behind Brynn’s head, I saw Jeff moving, giving me a cartoonish thumbs-up. I never wanted him gone from a situation so badly as I did in that moment.
Seeing him, though, took me out of the moment. I suddenly realized I’d been flying for the last five minutes without a net. Situations like this depend on not being aware of the danger you’re in and I suddenly couldn’t believe the audacity of my actions, which were so far out of character for me as to be borderline unbelievable to anyone they might be described to later.
“Ooo, lost the moment didn’t you.” My sudden situational awareness must have come through on my face or body language. “The good news is you did well. Even better, I’m not engaged, nor am I leaving for…”
“…Belgium tomorrow morning. I can neither confirm or deny your third scenario and can’t provide any more details. Cathy,” her friend’s name must have been Cathy, “let’s take Dave and his friends to the diner on the corner and get to know each other.”
The two women walked away to say goodbye to some people. I sprinted across the room and grabbed Jeff’s arm.
“Fuck off with we’re leaving.”
“No, we’re leaving with them.” I pointed to Brynne and Cathy.
“Not like that, asshole. We’re going to the diner down the street to talk.”
“This is you hating me, right?”
“Yep. Now move.”
With that I walked out of the party I didn’t want to go to and hated being at with a woman I had no business talking to and didn’t deserve the attention of. How the rest of the night would go would be up to me, but I’d taken a chance. At the very least that meant I wouldn’t go home filled with regret and that, for the moment, was enough of a win.