19 January 2010

First date, Part 2

******You should read "First date, Part 1" if you want to really appreciate any of this. Trust me. It makes it even more awesome.******

Monday came quickly, of course, just like anything you wait for. Some terrible things come too quickly, and some awesome things come too slowly, but this just came at a normal sort of quickly that I almost couldn't stand. I was nervous, and gently cursing the spinning sensation eating my intestines, I got ready early and then had to just sit in my parents' living room staring at a book. Anyone who has ever tried to read something while filled with nervous anticipation knows that it is, above all things, completely impossible. I jumped up and looked in the mirror. Yes, my hair still looked the same as it had three minutes before. What a relief.

And then the bell. Oh, the bell. Finally.

I held my head up and opened the door with my purse in hand, ready to walk out. I yelled goodbye to my mom and Brad walked in front of me to the car. He even opened the door for me, and shut it quietly. Now, this is the part where things got completely out of my control. The door closed on my side, opened on his, and closed. Brad turned the key, making the car rumble, and drove away from my house. I was silent. I must have been waiting for him to say something interesting or surprising. Or just anything in general.

When we were about to turn out of my neighborhood onto one of the main roads, Brad turned to me and said, "So I don't know this area very well. You'll have to help me find a good spot." Huh?
"A good spot?"
"A park, I mean." Oh. Of course, I thought, because we're not going to coffee. We're going to a park. That was the deal, right? Oh dear.
"Oh, well. There's one on Ward. Turn right," I said. I figured that we might as well go to a park I liked, and there was a spot nearby that I ran by a lot, and it had some nice grass. If only I had known!

Brad parked across the street from the entrance. The park is actually a string of parks connected by a long paved white trail and a small creek. This entrance to the trail was only a two-minute walk from the nearest park, so I thought it would work fine. I got out of the car on my own, and it was a lovely self-sufficient sort of feeling. But Brad didn't follow me to the pedestrian signal right away; he was messing around in his back seat.

"Uh, Brad? This way?"
"Wait a sec, I have to get lunch," he said. His head reappeared above the roof of the car, and he put a picnic basket on top of the trunk. My stomach dropped.
"You can carry the blanket," he said. A quilt I recognized from his dorm room apparated in midair and landed halfway in my arms and halfway in my face. My stomach dove this time and landed awkwardly on its knees. I could feel the painful tingles all over. Brad pulled school-insignia-d cups out and stuffed them inside the basket, and then he pulled out a bottle of sparkling apple cider. I don't think that, at this point, there was any type of gymnastic that my stomach had performed without completely biffing it.

I decided it was going to be fun, and, leading Brad across the street, did my best to remember that I had been nervously excited and that I liked him. I really did, I supposed.

We spread the blanket on top of a grassy knoll, not even exaggerating. The grass was brilliantly green, and the sun cast perfect tree-shaped shadows on minuscule parts of the lawn. Children were playing and laughing in the distance, and an old couple walking by gave us goofy, adorable smiles and I think the old woman may have winked at me. It was comfortable to sit down, and I was glad that I was wearing shorts and not a skirt.

I couldn't help it -- I tossed my hair so it fell behind my shoulders, and I closed my eyes against the sun until the moment I realized that I might be creating a sort of fetching type of picture. I resolved to look as boring as possible, lest I make him like me more. Brad wasn't watching me, though, when I looked over at him; he was pulling a collection of plastic tubs out of the basket. He'd made sandwiches, cut up carrots, and he had chips. And-

"Alexis made the brownies," Brad said. "And I got the cups from Josh." Oh lord. The RAs had helped him? That meant... everyone but me knew what was happening. So not fair.

I grabbed a sandwich half and stuffed its corner into my mouth. We talked about normal things for a while, and then the questions started.

"What's your favorite restaurant?"
"What kind of man do you see yourself marrying?"
"Are you the woman you want to be?"
"Do you want kids?"
"Where do you want to live?"

Now, I understand that these questions are, for all intents and purposes, totally innocent. They have people's best interests at heart, I'm sure. But at 19, these questions have a sort of quality which is, dare I say it, quite akin to an interview? I realized that I had accidentally stepped into an engagement counseling session and decided to politely excuse myself at the earliest point possible. Unfortunately, the brownies were speaking to me.

"Just a little longer," they said. "Maybe he's nervous. He doesn't know what to talk about. Besides, you want to eat us. And you like cider. Look at those cute little cups..."
I tried my best to listen to the brownies (or was that my subconscious?), and it worked for a while. The knoll became pleasanter, and it felt like we were just hanging out again in the common room, talking about God and plays and idiot professors. Suddenly I had a flashback: I was sitting in my usual chair at the table in the common room, telling Brad about one of my profs. I don't remember the story, but I remember, realizing, in that moment, that Brad had been fiddling with his fingers like crazy, and looking deeply into my eyes whenever he possibly could. It was a depth I should have noticed and let concern me.

I blinked and was back in the park, and I felt a little ridiculous because it had taken me so long to finally acknowledge that Brad had liked me for a long time -- I had stored that memory away in March or so. The cider was poured, the brownies were sent to their death, and then we flicked the grass remains off of the blanket. I stepped down the knoll toward the sidewalk and the way to the car, but Brad stayed where he was.

"Is there anything down that way?"
"Just the creek and some bridges that creak when you walk on them," I said, immediately regretting it.
"Let's go check it out," he said. "How many kids do you think you want?"
"Are any of them going to be midgets?" Yes, I did say this. I'm sorry. But there are moments when you can handle what is happening to you, and there are moments when you just can't take it any more. My life happens to be full of the latter, so I usually decide to just say whatever will get a reaction. It didn't work.
"Really, Genevieve. How many?"
"I like the idea of three or four. A full house is one of my dreams," he said.
"That's expensive," I said. We'd reached the bridge and I was just ecstatic to discover that it was completely devoid of all things pesky and buggy. There was no reason to turn back, so we settled in, me leaning on the bridge, him sitting down. A cyclist rode past, making the boards of the bridge rattle charmingly. A chorus of birds sang, and my imaginary shotgun created puffs of feathers all over the trees.

"Why are you so sarcastic?" Brad asked suddenly. When I looked down at him he was looking into the trees by the creek bed. It had never bothered him before; I'd even thought it was part of why we got along so well.
"Why? Why not?"
"You're going to hurt someone someday," he said. He smiled, though, so he couldn't have been talking about himself. Then: "You're going to make some wonderful friendship and completely ruin it because you have to always be sarcastic and rude."
"You think I'm rude?"
"Not today, but sometimes."
"Did I make you cry?" I asked. It occurred to me mostly because it had happened before, but I asked uncertainly because it had only happened to a girl, and just once. I think. So I asked it, hoping that he would give me some sort of amusing answer, like he usually did.
"No...Should I have?"
"Of course not."

"Do you think God is happy that you're sarcastic?"
"What?" I wished we could have gone back to the other questions, at least the interview hadn't also included Chinese water torture. "Yes. I think he made me this way for a reason. I'm sorry you don't like it. I'll just be sugar from now on, no spice. Just for you."

Brad calmed down a little and we talked about the weather and having pets, and then we walked back to the car. Driving back felt completely fine, or maybe I was just happy because I was going to be home soon, and away from the experience. Brad walked me to my door, and with perfect timing, my mother opened it just as we reached the step.

"Oh! Hi," she said. "I'm getting something from the car." She unlocked the Accord, pulled out a magazine, and came back. And then she talked to him for half an hour in our entryway. It was adorable parent/RA stuff, and as I stood only partially involved in the conversation, I suddenly realized that I was not going to be able to get rid of him.

I almost even thought that he was going to drop down on one knee right there, ignoring the fact that most guys wait for the girl to be in love with him to do so. I wondered what an ulcer felt like, and if I had one, or could get one somewhere. My mother invited him into the kitchen, and so we moved there and talked a little more until my mom had to leave, and then it was just him, me, and two glasses of water. I opened my mouth a couple of times to say what I had been rehearsing in my head since we'd gotten back in the car, but each time I went to say it, Brad asked me something or filled the silence with a comment about my house. At about 4:00, there was a longer silence than usual. I opened my mouth for the third time, suddenly glad that the silence had opened up at the exact moment I had enough courage to say anything.

"Oh, it's 4 o'clock!" Brad looked at his watch and declared that he needed to head home. He drained his glass and put it in the sink before walking to the door. I followed him, squeezing my lips together and whipping my head quickly from side to side and up and down, trying to invisibly beat some sense into my cowardly self. I just couldn't do it. I couldn't. And it was all going to end badly, I knew it was, and there was nothing I could do about it.

Brad opened the door himself and stepped down onto the mini patio and then turned around to smile at me. "So...I'll see you?" I made the mistake of beginning my response with a smile. He started to turn around, without so much as another word, and my smile dropped.

"Brad," I said. He turned around with such happy expectation that I felt too guilty to be worthy of anything happy, ever. I had my hand on the door, and I squeezed it, imagining that my knuckles were white with the effort. "I... don't know if this is going to work."

Brad's face fell. I mean, almost literally. His smile turned into pathetic hot wax, melting downwards until I thought it was irretrievable, and his eyes lost their shine.

"I mean, you're awesome and all, but... I... I'm not ready for a relationship like this." I closed my eyes a little bit longer than usual and mentally kicked myself. It was not going well.

"OK," he said. And then he walked away. He was in his car before I could to climb out of my hole, so by the time I saw the light of day again, I was left standing with my imaginary shovel in one hand and the door in the other. So I hit myself in the head with the one and shut the other, softly.

It took me years to be able to run by that park without feeling mysteriously guilty.

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