Negotiating over pie. He wants to meet me someplace safe, someplace public. Where I can run if I have to. Where I can scream and help will come. Is there such a place I wonder? And if there was, would I really want to go there? No, inside I wouldn't. But I'm the new me. I have a new respect for myself, a new appreciation for what I may become, if not exactly for who I am. Denny's, the one on Martin Luther King Way. The one in the bad part of town; that's where I'm going.
And why am I doing this I wonder for the umpteenth time. I have a boyfriend. I'm happy with him, aren't I? He doesn't hurt me. Not anymore, he's being good. Hurt is bad, pain is good. Like a mantra. Hurt is bad, pain is good. That's what I've gotten from five years of psychotherapy and I'm going to throw it all away. No big loss, is it? This one wants to hurt me, he told me so. But he's willing to negotiate over pie.
Maybe he won't like me. There's always that, although neither of us believes it. We've spent too much time talking and found too many things in common. The question of me liking him never came up, at least not to me. Not until now. How easy it is to slip into the old me. I stand in front of my mirror, naked and twisting and turning, and admiring how she still fits. I imagine I can see the old cuts; the old scars when they were fresh and new. The soft scabs that washed away in the bathtub, leaving soft pink and white baby flesh beneath. I miss that. I haven't cut myself in six months. The last time was November twelfth. It was the last time I made love to myself.
Riding the bus, always the bus. Riding with old people and punks, and ordinary people moving through their miserable pathetic little lives. They're beautiful, fascinating, and I stare at them one by one, never seeing them before and wondering if I'll ever see them again. They're uncomfortable and hating my bad manners. All except the punks. They stare back. One pushes out his tongue and laughs and I smile, spreading my fingers in a V across my lips and slipping my own pink wet tongue out in turn. A year ago I would have let him fuck me, sport fucking on the bus. Just to do it and hate myself later when I could bask in my self-loathing. But now I'm the new me. He gets up and sits down next to me with his friends teasing him, urging him on. The creak of his heavy leather jacket and the smell of the forty he's still holding in a paper bag fill my senses.
"Wanna party?" he asks, looking down my open coat.
"With you?" I turn around and look over his shoulder. "Or them?"
"Us baby. That's my cousins," he looks at me a minute and I don't talk, just look back at him.
"Come on, gonna be ripe. You love it," he's touching me now, his hand on my leg, squeezing me.
"I already gotta date, can't fall down. Sorry," I smile at him, knowing he's not happy. Not after the tongue thing.
"Aww, fuck that guy. He ain't here. He's makin' you ride the fuckin' bus? Fuck that guy," he takes a drink of his beer and offers it to me.
He's cute; never hit a girl in his life I bet. Harmless. He should get it tattooed on his chest. "You got a tattoo?" I ask, ignoring the beer.
"What?" he looks at me. "No. Why? You got one?"
"Yeah. I got 'Harmless' tattooed on my ass," I laugh though and it spoils the joke, but he doesn't get it anyway.
"Yeah? Slice bitch, why'd you do that?" he's laughing too. "Lemme see it!"
'No! I ain't gonna show you my ass." I look out the window wondering where we're at. "Hey, where we at?" I ask the driver loudly. He tells me 43rd, getting close.
"You lie. You ain't got no tat anyway!" the punk sneers.
I push the button and the bell rings and I stand up unsteadily, looking down at him. I slip my purse over my shoulder and lean against the chrome rail as the bus slows. I'm smiling, hooking my thumbs in the front of my hipsters, pulling them down to the tops of my panties. Hooking them too and pulling down so he can see my tattoo. 'Sin Bravely' inked above my clit. Then I turn, I'm gone feeling good, feeling free. I missed the city, missed my rides, and missed the people. I'm falling in love all over again.
The Denny's is about five blocks up and probably I could have ridden the bus another stop, but it was time to go. I need the walk anyway. Past closed up shops with Vietnamese lettering. Little restaurants and stores, and a 7-11 with three guys and a girl sitting on the curb.
I walk slowly; it's dark, old houses, old trees. A busy street, cars rumble past with no mufflers and everything is real. I find myself wishing it were raining. A night like this, a walk like this? It needs rain to make it right. But the moon is out, bright and full, blocking the stars with its brilliance. The ugly neon and artificial lights of my destination loom ahead of me. I haven't thought about it, walking automatically, thinking about other things. My heart is suddenly beating a little harder. I'm nervous; this isn't some harmless kid on a bus, is it?
There's a guy sitting on the ugly vinyl waiting couch. He looks like his picture and he looks at me, smiling hopefully. He knows my description, but I didn't send him a pic. He's standing; we're close anyway, just coming through the doors brought us together.
"Hi, yeah, it's me," a self-conscious smile, a little roll of the eyes. The usual, just little ol' me playing innocent for the waitress standing there behind the cash register. Not for him, I tell myself.
He takes my hand in his and we shake briefly. No sparks, no electricity running through me. Just a touch like any other. I'm vaguely disappointed and wonder what he feels.
"Nice to meet you finally," he smiles and looks at me, the quick kind, top to bottom and back. "Really nice."
At least he's not standing there with flowers and I accept it like the compliment it is, with a little shrug and a smile, and we follow the waitress wordlessly to a booth next to a big picture window covered up with signs. Sitting opposite each other, he slips off his jacket.
"I need to powder my nose, I'll be right back," I catch the waitress as she turns around. "Where is it?" I ask. She tells me and I give him a look and go.
Part of me likes this little tease, knowing he's wondering if I'm bailing already. But all I want to do is check myself. I wonder what I look like suddenly and the prospect frightens me a little. But it's not too bad. I free my hair and brush it, letting it fall loose. Some new lipstick and I'm okay. I look for the new me in the mirror, but she's gone. The old me is grinning back, licking her red lips and urging me on.
I sit back down and watch his shoulders, they move and his whole posture changes. He's glad to see me. It hadn't occurred to me that he might have been gone. I wonder why.
"Well, you're still here!" I smile. "Thought I'd give you a chance to get away." We both laugh, knowing that isn't the truth at all.
Negotiating over pie. I have a too rich chocolate cream thing with Oreos and a cup of coffee. He has Dutch apple, with vanilla ice cream on the side. It's warm and I watch his ice cream melt, a spreading white puddle around the golden filling spilling out. Neither of us is in a hurry to eat. I pick at mine slowly, little bits at a time. I mix my cream and sugar into my coffee, watching it swirl into a wonderful milky caramel color.
"I'd love to Top you," he says it, just like that.
Out of the blue. No talk about the weather, no meaningless chitchat about school or pets. We both know what we like; we've talked about it enough. Played it out in our minds half a dozen times together. So why am I surprised?
"I can make it nice for you Lisa, all you have to do is trust me."
Trust. He's ruining it now, slipping up. Too early to bring up the T word. I'm trying to remember my boyfriend's face, but all I can remember are his hands. I stir my coffee absently, humming softly to myself.
"Where at?" It's a bad question, not the one I meant to ask, but it's out there now hanging in the air and pregnant with possibility.
"My place. West Seattle. Not too far," he's watching me intensely; I can feel it even though I'm not looking at him. This is too fast, too fast.
"I didn't really plan on anything but this, you know?" I look up and he's nodding.
"Sure, sure. I understand. I'm just saying, you know ... If you wanted," His voice is soft, sincere and gentle. I like it, I feel myself responding to it. But I remind myself he's just saying what he's supposed to, utterly predictable.
I sit there, wondering what to say. All the little things, the words we say and listen to so we can form an opinion, a judgment, have already been said in other places, remote places. He's forty-two, divorced with a son nearly a year older than I am. He had a girlfriend for five years, a little subbie all his own, but she's gone now. I'd asked him before about why she left, but who can judge the truth? He'd asked me why I'm looking, why I'm interested if things are so good with my boyfriend? I told him the truth: I don't know.
You think that nothing is wrong until you're crying
Crying on me
And you think that life is along until you're dying
Dying on me
You think that everybody's the same
I don't think that anybody's like you
The song playing on the radio in the kitchen floats through the mostly empty diner. It spurs me to speak, as if my voice might drown out words that remind me of things I want to forget. Questions I don't have answers to.
"Do you want to go?"
He looks at me, his face changing as he considers my words. "Only if you do."
.... There is more of this story ...