One night Sanya invited Kristen and her boyfriend over. Sanya was my girlfriend at the time and we lived together off-campus in an old apartment building. Kristen lived in the dorms and was an English major. Barry was in law school.The place was mildly depressing, kind of dark. Sanya kept sitting down and standing up, looking out the window, eating chips and cashews, adjusting pillows and such.
Finally there was a knock. When they came in Kristen looked great as usual. She was taller than Barry but he was somewhat stylish also in a shiny leather jacket. The three of them sat on the couch and I sat opposite on a chair. I hadn’t meant to but I was lined up perfectly with Kristen. She was wearing jeans, not the tight kind but not baggy either. Sanya poured us some wine and put on some music. We talked, had more wine. Everyone seemed to relax. Barry had put his hand on Kristen’s knee, his fingers touching the inside of her thigh. I thought I must have noticed too long so I glanced all around the room and out the window. When I looked back at Kristen her expression hadn’t changed. I smiled at her and said Does anyone want a beer? We’re out of wine. Barry said he would like one so I went into the kitchen which was only a few steps away because the apartment was so small.
I was standing at the counter opening a couple bottles and Kristen walked in. She kept walking, right up to me, pressed her body against mine, put her lips to mine. We kissed for a second or two, very wet, very open, not a slow well-planned kiss but an urgent kiss. She glanced into my eyes just long enough to hold them then she picked up a bottle and walked out. Now I need to tell you that I have never been good at picking up messages from women. That may be a cliche but I honestly didn’t know what that kiss was. Sure we were friends so maybe it was just a friendly kiss. Or was it loving kiss, a sexy kiss, a goodbye kiss, a hello kiss? A joke of some sort? Did I imagine it? I grabbed my bottle and walked back in. We chatted for another hour. I found it hard to avoid noticing that Barry’s hand had moved up a few notches on Kristen’s thigh. Then Barry yawned and they said they had to get going.
I saw Kristen every now and then over the next few weeks. Sometimes Sanya and Kristen and I would have coffee or lunch or go to the library. We never mentioned the kiss. But I had been thinking about it. That was like me — wait weeks or months to formulate a response. So it was already nearly the end of the semester when I woke up one morning thinking about Kristen. OK, I thought, today is the day to do something. I had never actually called her before but that day I called her and asked if she’d like to get lunch downtown at a Chinese place called Bo Long. We rarely ate that far from campus. She sounded happy and said OK.
We took the train a few stops and then walked a few blocks to the restaurant. I can’t recall what we ate or much of the conversation just that the kiss was never mentioned. We watched each other as if waiting for it to come up but it didn’t. Lunch was pleasant enough, back on the train and to campus. We were walking up Murray Hill, it was late fall, damp, cloudy, good time for a nap or a jog, I thought. I was about to turn towards my place but she was talking about something. We slowed down and then stood on the sidewalk facing each other. Do you want me to walk you home? I said. No I have a class in an hour so I’ll stay around till then. she said. But she didn’t turn, she didn’t even look in the direction of campus. A few moments passed and I said OK, well thanks it was fun. I guess I will see you … and I touched her coat sleeve. She smiled and turned towards campus. I walked home, got under the blankets with a book and fell asleep on the second page.
We had exams a few weeks later then break. The next time I saw her was late January at the old Freeburger library. She was checking out a book. We chatted for a minute, How was your break? … Good … Yours? … Same. Then she said I’ll talk to you soon … and pranced off. Freeburger was more a large overcrowded bookstore than a library. Like a warren of tunnels lined by books, just a few tables and desks at the periphery, very cozy and nothing like the new library building with its soaring interior that felt like an airport terminal. I almost randomly picked a few books, an English author on sociology, a French author on art, the Congressional Record from some day in 1965. Usually I could spend a blissful afternoon there, reading by a window for hours, seeing maybe one other person in that whole time because few came to this library anymore. But I felt strange that day, lonelier than usual.
She called me the next day. For the first time. Would you like to go back downtown to Bo Long for lunch? she asked. Sure I said. We sat in a half dark part of the restaurant at a table with a candle in the middle. We drank hot tea that felt warm and talked about school. Sometimes we just gazed at each other. Coming back to campus the same thing happened — we didn’t want to separate. We got to about the same place as before but this time it was really cold, too cold to mill around in the Ohio winter. I wanted to walk one way or the other. So, how’s Barry these days? I said. He’s OK, how about Sanya?We hadn’t mentioned Barry or Sanya up till then. Sanya is doing well as always I said. OK then Evan dear I will see you later. You look cold. That was the first time she had ever called me dear.
It was about a week after that. Sanya had just come back from class, she walked into the kitchen where I was looking for something to make for supper. Hey guess what! Kristen and Barry are getting married! she said. Wow really? Thats’ great … I said then How long have they been together? It hasn’t been that long, has it? but I didn’t really listen to the answer. While we were eating supper Kristen called and Sanya chatted with her for a few minutes. When she came back she said They’re having a party to celebrate. This Friday, downtown at a place called Bo Long.
When we got to Bo Long that Friday I went straight to the bar and ordered a Scotch. What kind? said the bartender. Any kind I said. When I saw Kristen she was smiling and laughing with a group of friends. An hour into the party we were standing near each other and I turned towards her. She smiled but it wasn’t her real smile I could tell. We found a few trivial things to say but we were mainly just watching each other fluster. There was a lot of noise, I couldn’t hear what she was saying and I was starting to feel light-headed. Presently a friend came up to Kristen’s ear and she began to turn away haltingly. I mumbled Good Luck or Congratulations and turned aside to look for Sanya.
Half an hour later we walked out into a beautiful clear night. The cold air felt like a caress. Sanya and I looked up into the sky. I think Kristen has gained some weight. What do you think? she said. You’re right, definitely I said as we walked towards our car.