It was my mother who told me.
“Jennifer, I mean, Thuy’s back from Yale for spring break, Jacob.”
Thuy’s our neighbor and an old classmate of mine from high school. We had been friends since we were children. One day when she was eleven, she had randomly decided her new American name would be Jennifer. I argued for something like Thea that would be at least close to Thuy, but she stuck with Jennifer and in time only her family and I were left using her original name. My mom sometimes accommodated me.
“When’s the last time you saw her?”
“Uhh… I guess last summer. The Nguyens all went on that skiing trip over Christmas, so she wasn’t here then.”
“That’s a long time for you two.”
“Yah. But we message each other some during the semester, so I know what’s up.”
Actually, Thuy and I messaged each other every week at least, but I didn’t need to go into that.
“Well, why don’t you go check in?”
“Yeah, ok.” I stuck another bunch of chips in the dip bowl and popped them in my mouth.
“You don’t want to see her?” my mom asked as I munched away.
“Well, you don’t seem in any rush.”
“You just mentioned it to me! Anyway, I’m not just going to go over there for no reason.”
“Just go welcome her back. It’s not that complicated.”
“Mom. Guys do not just go to people’s houses to welcome them back. I’d have to take a gift basket or something to complete the image. Maybe some doilies that I had knitted.”
My mother sighed and went to stick her head in the fridge looking for something. “Guys don’t ever get girlfriends either,” she muttered under her breath.
My ears turned pink. Had she said what I think she did?
She tossed an onion on the counter and then suddenly fixed me with an I-cant-believe-you-actually-are-acting-like-this look. “I just don’t get you two.”
“Who? Me and Thuy?”
She sighed exasperated. “For a kid as smart as you, you’re awfully clueless sometimes. Yes, of course!”
I didn’t really like where this conversation was headed. What had gotten into my mom? “What’s not to get?”
“For two people who fit together like you do… it’s just a waste is all. Are you scared? ‘Cause I understand that, Jacob.”
“Mom, we’ve talked about this before. There’s nothing like that between us. We’re friends. She dates. I date. We talk about our dates to each other.”
“Must be a one-sided conversation ’cause I haven’t seen you go out on a date in some time.”
“You haven’t gone out in weeks.”
“I do have this whole full-time job thing with school at the same time.”
“And besides I don’t tell you everything.”
“Oh.” She seemed pleased. “Really? Oh. Well, that’s good. Sometimes I think you don’t have any secrets. It’s not healthy for you to not have anything to hide from me.”
“Well, don’t worry. There’s plenty of stuff you don’t know about me.”
She didn’t say anything.
“Well, all right then.” I did have secrets, didn’t I? Maybe I did need to get out more. “I’m gonna go play some basketball in the driveway.”
“Seems like a good idea.”
I was grabbing a ball in the hallway on the way out when my mother called after me. “Bouncing a ball really loud to get someone’s attention is a lot more manly than knocking on a girl’s door!”
I slammed the door behind me. What had gotten into her? Besides, I was really in the mood to shoot some hoops. What? She thought I was going to run around in circles trying to make a lot of noise to get Thuy’s attention? I was 20, not 12. She must think I was a peacock or something. Maybe one of those lizards with the big fans on their neck. I imagined my lizard fans sticking out while I paraded in the driveway, scratching the dirt, then threw the ball up at the goal, rattling it good. What’d she know?
I caught the ball as it came down, ran to the corner, and sent it back up, swishing it in cleanly.
I had learned to shoot mostly because of Thuy. When we were eight, we learned that her parents would let her stay out shooting balls with me ’til it was good and dark. Thought it was good exercise for her instead of reading all the time. It wasn’t the first thing we had come up with to spend more time together. We also competed relentlessly in school, always trying to get a better score than the other. I still remembered the first time I heard a slam on my window and looked out to see Thuy pushing some A in Reading or Social Studies against the glass. As we moved into high school, we still competed, but it was entirely unspoken. I loved it when she got an award I was up for.
Thuy was finishing off her second year of Yale now, while I was still at home, taking classes at the U. I had spent a semester at Cornell, but then my mother got sick, and I was needed at home. I spent about a month resenting it, until I discovered my mom crying over my old acceptance letter at the kitchen table. I got over it.
The ball came down through the net, so I ran threw it, down the baseline, and then did a quick pivot and shoot. In again.
We were a funny pair, Thuy and I. My family had been in Arkansas at least four generations that we knew of, while Thuy and family arrived in the house next to us when I was six, all the way from Vietnam, via a year in Minnesota. In fact, they lived on the last lot we had sold off from the family farm. It was suburbia now with one white wooden house and screen porch, mine, and a row of nice little brick ranches, hers.
I did a couple quick free throws as the ball came out. Both went in cleanly.
I wasn’t a great basketball player being a short six feet, but I had learned to shoot. Our team made it to the state semis with me as mostly an outside shooter. Coach kept me out there, because I had never figured out how to get past the six-foot-ten guys. But give me a couple inches of free space and the odds were it was going in.
I took the ball again, pretended to pass, then ducked to the outside line. The center tossed the ball out to me from the double team on him. The clock was ticking down. I heard the crowd counting. 5. 4. I launched it up. The ball hit the rim, went flying up in the air, and then fell in with a little swoosh.
“I always said you could make that shot 19 times out of 20.”
I turned to Thuy with a big grin. She stood not three feet from me in low jeans and a white top, with her trademark hair that cascaded to the middle of her back. The corner of her mouth was turned up in that little smile she had been showing me since she was six.
“Hey, you,” I replied. “20 out of 20 would have been better.”
Thuy sank cross-legged on the driveway. What could be more home than this? “I can’t believe you are still beating yourself up about missing a shot. It was freaking high school, and if you hadn’t made the rest of them, we’d never have even made the state tournament, much less lose by one in the semis.”
I tossed the ball in the net and let it bounce away. “You know,” I said sitting. “My goal in life was to peak at 18 and find eternal glory in the school trophy case. With that other guy, and the other one with the funny shorts. But since I missed, I’m gonna be forced to do something else with my life.”
“That’s gotta suck.”
“I was going for brain-dead DirecTV addict at 19, but now I’m 20 and gotta keep thinking and crap.”
“I hates thinkin’.”
“I hates rabbits,” I replied in my Yosemite Sam voice. I brushed my brown hair back out of my eyes and we looked at each other.
We both spoke at once.
“You go,” I said.
“I ain’t talkin’.”
“That’s your Yale education? ‘I ain’t talkin’?”
“Don’t get on me. I learned English from you, remember?”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah.” She’d been blaming me for every English mistake she ever made for years. When Thuy first arrived next door, she only spoke Vietnamese. Her dad spoke English some, but he wasn’t around much, so it was up to six-year-old me. Since she was now publishing essays in magazines and such, I guess I did an OK job.
“It’s ’cause of you, I have this accent that goes over so well in the Asian-American Advocacy Consortium at school.”
“Hell, don’t put that one on me. Your accent is stronger than mine is and you know it.”
“I know it, but you always turn so lovely pink when I tease you. I could charge admission and show off the Great Glowing Boy.” Thuy started laughing. “See! See! You’re a light bulb,” she declared and started singing the tune to Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.
“Good to see this hasn’t changed.”
“I’m always here to help, Jake.”
“Not enough,” I thought then realized I’d said it out loud.
Thuy got quiet suddenly. “That’s not fair.”
“I didn’t mean anything. It was just a thought that got out.”
Suddenly, Thuy was standing and staring past me. I followed her eyes to discover my mother walking towards us. She embraced Thuy and hugged her tight. “I’m glad to see you again, Jennifer.”
“Thanks, Mrs. B.”
“How was school?”
“It’s over for a week or two, so it’s good.”
“I’m glad to see you around. You’ve always been a part of our family, you know.”
“I’m not going anywhere,” she said with a look to me.
My mother turned to me. “And I’m glad to see the basketball still works.”
“Umm – yeah, it still goes in the basket. Funny, that.” I tried to give a look to Thuy but she seemed to be hiding her face behind her hair.
“Jacob, I’m gone. I’ll see you on Monday,” Mom said quickly.
“Monday? Where are you going?”
“My getaway at the cabin. I’ll take the cell but if you call me with both legs attached, I’m gonna come after you.”
“I don’t remember this.”
“That’s ’cause you never listen to a word I say.”
“Isn’t it too late to drive that far?”
“It’s not past 3:00, Jake.” She kissed Thuy’s cheek. “Good to see you again, Jen.” As she got in the car, she called out, “Keep him out of trouble.”
“I wonder what she my mom thinks we are going to do?”
“Did you bring the crack pipe?”
“Left it at school.”
“That’s too bad.”
“You know you should get it fixed.”
“The crack pipe?”
“I’m embarrassed that I heard that.”
“It was a stretch, I’ll admit.”
“Oh, Jake, there’s this guy in my dorm that hangs out with the crew sometimes. Worst forced jokes ever. Ever.”
“Let’s go inside.”
“Yeah, OK.” She talked as I held the door for her. “You’ve no idea how bad it is. He’d try to make a joke after a documentary on Human Trafficking or something. No sense of appropriateness.”
“You should tell him so.”
“We do! I do! We’ve thrown things at him. He thinks he’s our court jester or something.”
“Maybe if you threw sharp objects, he’d get the point.”
“That’s overkill, don’t you think?” We both paused and grinned at each other.
“Oh my god, I’m embarrassed for you.”
Thuy fell on the sofa in the living room with me on my beanbag chair just as it had always been.
“It’s eight o’clock, Thuy.”
She glanced at the clock. “I’m gonna go tell my mother I won’t be back for dinner.”
“I’ll order a pizza.”
Thuy didn’t turn around as she left, she just yelled back, “No, we’re going out.”
Going out? When was the last time the two of us went out? I ducked into the shower while Thuy was out.
About five minutes later I was buttoning my khakis, when I heard, “Jake, get this–” and Thuy turned the corner into my bedroom. For no good reason, I felt a little embarrassed with no shoes or shirt and my brown hair still dripping water down my skin. “Oh. Sorry, I–” Thuy started. Was she a bit embarrassed herself?
“Naw, it’s OK.”
“I didn’t realize. I’ll just–”
“It’s OK, Thuy,” I insisted. “It’s not like we never went swimming before.”
“OK, uh…” she seemed confused. “Jake, hun, have you been working out?”
“No, seriously,” she paused for a second. “Jake, you turned into a hottie!”
“Go away.” I went into the bathroom to comb my hair.
She appeared in the doorway and looked at me again. “Why won’t you confess to working out?”
“Because I don’t.”
“Ok, ok.” I chose a dark gray long sleeve and pulled it over my head. “So that’s from the moving job? I’m going to tell my future boyfriends to become movers.”
I did know I was lifting things easier now than when I started. Did it actually show? I wanted to flex to see if there was any change but remembered Thuy was watching.
“So, what did your mom say?”
“Get this.” She handed me a note in Vietnamese. I had taught myself a little bit two or three years back for some unknown reason, but all I could make out was her name, Tuesday, aunt, and a little more.
“What’s the bit on the second line?”
“I had to think about that for a second, too. So basically, she’s gone to help my aunt who’s nursing my uncle. She’ll be in Nashville until Tuesday. I called her, but all she said was that everyone was fine, she shouldn’t talk on the highway, despite the fact that that is all she does, and to stay safe. And say hello. Oh, and she was somewhere around Jackson, Tennessee. That means she left 15 minutes after we said hello.”
“That’s a bit weird.”
“Yeah, and since my dad gets back in town on Thursday, it’s just me.”
“Guess we’ll rent some movies or something.”
“Guess so. Look, you are too well dressed for me now. I’m going to go change. Meet me in the driveway.”
I found some socks and shoes and headed out. The night was a little cool with not a cloud, letting the whole sky sparkle softly. Not even the moon dared challenge the stars tonight. I gazed upwards slowly naming the constellations and stars that I knew until I felt a poke in the ribs.
My eyes traveled down to find Thuy standing next to me also looking at the stars above. She wore a simple black dress with thin straps and a plunging neckline and back. The dress fell at an angle across her legs from mid-calf on one side to just above the knee on the other. A thin gold plate necklace lay around her slender neck and something small sparkled in her ears, reflecting the light of the streetlamps and the stars.
My best friend was beautiful.
Since I was six feet and she was five-foot-two, my eyes kept falling down her chest where I could see white cups supporting her breasts. When I realized where I was staring, I tried to look up at the stars and not at her.
“Did you watch the Leonids this year?” she asked me.
When we were in the seventh grade, Thuy had done a report on meteors and the Leonids meteor shower. We had snuck out of our windows at one in the morning that night to lie on the grass watching the stars fall.
“Not this year,” I told her. I wanted to say something. About how she looked. About how beautiful she was.
“It was a good display.”
“Too bad I missed it.”
“Veejay and I drove out to this hillside to watch it, but too many lights in the area really.” I don’t know why but I felt a lump in my throat.
“How’s he doing?”
“Fine, I think. We broke up about a month ago.”
“I’m sorry, Thuy. I know you liked him. He always sounded decent when you messaged about him. Not a slimeball anyway.”
“Yeah, he’s a good guy, but it wasn’t there. Neither of us was devastated when it ended.”
“Hey now that you are back on the market, you will find someone else that gets your blood pumping.”
“Gets my panties wet, you mean.”
I laughed. “If that’s your thing.”
“Of course, it’s my thing. I can get horny too even if I haven’t consummated.”
“I want to hear more about this horny thing you’ve got going.”
“Uh-huh. I ‘m sure you do.”
“Tell me, tell me.”
She threw a devilish smile at me and said, “Well, let’s go eat and I will tell you all about the Yummies that get me going.”
Thuy drove and did tell me of all her prospects. There was the tall Brazilian soccer player with long muscles who was all over her, and she wouldn’t mind if he had been all over her, if he had ever bothered to care if she was dating someone else or not.
“Don’t you worry that if he doesn’t care whether or not you’re dating now that he won’t care when he’s dating you?”
“Jake, it’s not a long-term relationship with him that I’m after.”
She also told me about the thin, silent guy in black in Eighteenth Century lit class who kept stealing glances. I even got to hear about BOAC, “Best Ass on Campus”. Turned out he was gay, so she and her friends let him keep the title, but they had to identify a BOAC II.
“Aren’t the letters wrong? Shouldn’t it be BAOC?”
Thuy giggled. “I just know he’s BOAC. Maybe BAOC’s too hard to say.”
As we hit town, it was already getting late and most restaurants were closed. We ended up eating some greasy hamburgers and nachos at some bar stools, totally over-dressed for the occasion.
“So what about you?”
“Yeah, who do you want to do?”
“Like a celebrity?”
“No, I mean who are you dating. Work with me here.”
“I don’t have much time for girls right now.”
“You’ve got time to look.”
“I don’t wanna talk about this right now.”
“Jake, I’ve told you about every guy I can think of. We talked once about a yeast infection. Your parents. We talk about everything.”
“I didn’t know you had broken up with Veejay for over a month.”
Thuy was silent for a second. “Yeah, I didn’t know I was hiding it, but I guess I was.”
“Umm, so,” I began. “There’s Tracy at work. I think if I wanted a sex fling, she’d be my girl.”
“What do you like about her?”
“Not much actually. But she’s nice and I get the idea she’d be very willing.”
“Tracy puts out.”
“I don’t know, but she’s always doing these blatant things to get my attention. She actually stared at me once sucking her finger.”
“Are you sure she exists and isn’t some porn fantasy?”
“If she were my fantasy, we’d be doing it.”
“Why aren’t you?”
I shrugged. “I don’t know. I feel like… I’m waiting for someone else.”
Thuy nodded. “So one girl agrees with me that you’re hot, but you’re not interested. Any actual dates?”
“Not too much.”
“Not a single one in however many months.”
“Alright, Jane, you nosy slut.”
Thuy’s smile broadened. “Who you calling nosy?”
“Yeah, yeah. So there was this woman in Physics.”
“Oooh, a physics babe. All the cutest ones do it quantum-style.”
I paused and gave Thuy my look. She quietly formed a little halo over her head with her fingers and waited.
“So, I’d noticed her the first day. Why? Ummm.. just a killer body, essentially, yeah. She’s black with these amazing braids–”
“Tell me about the killer body.”
“You’re in a mood tonight.”
Thuy said nothing.
“Fine. She’s got a great ummm how do I say…”
“Yeah, pretty much. And why are you looking at me like that? These long legs and big smile. I started having dreams about her. Yes, those kinds of dreams!”
“I didn’t say anything. Don’t yell at me.”
“You looked it. You’re eating this up.”
“I just love how nervous this makes you. I’m not going to get offended, Jake. I’ve always known you were a breast man. Why are you afraid to talk about the fact that you look at girls sexually?”
“I don’t just look at them sexually!”
“See. You can’t admit it.”
“Did you ever do anything about it?”
“Yes, I did actually, Ms. I-Cant-Wait-To-Be-Done-By-Soccer-Hottie.”
“Hey, I’ve never done anything. I’m all talk. You’re the one who… did you?”
“I asked her out.”
“Oh, ummm, only once? Did she say yes, and did you get anywhere?”
“More than once, yes, and yes.”
“Yummy! I want details.”
“Maybe those are private.”
“Not from me.”
“Maybe they are, even to you.”
“Oh, I’m sorry, Jake. I… So– you and she? Have you?”
“Inside her? No, well, not with that.”
“What did you do with her?” Thuy didn’t seem to be teasing me now.
“So, we went out eight times to be exact. Dates 3 and 4 included kissing and serious tongue action. Serious petting on Date 5. Date 6, the, uhhh, shirts come off.”
“Date 7 was hands. Wandering.”
Thuy whispered leaning in towards me. “How much?”
“Two fingers inside her. Why are you making me say this? And her hands too, on me.”
After a moment, Thuy said, “Date 8?”
I smiled again for the first time in a bit. “Date 8 was different. She told me how wonderful I am, kissed my cheek repeatedly, said she wished things could be different… and told me we had to stop because she had a boyfriend.”
“Oh, my poor Jake.”
“It wasn’t that horrible.”
“What did you say?”
“One word. ‘Boyfriend?'”
Thuy burst out laughing.
“I didn’t know! Honest!”
“I believe you,” Thuy giggled. “My poor, poor Jake.”
“Finally get a girl you like and you’re a homewrecker.”
“We weren’t in love, but I was surprised. She’s the smartest person in class.”
“I doubt that.”
Thuy just rolled her eyes. “That’s as far as you’ve ever gone, right?”
“Yeah. You already know the rest.”
“How about you?”
“Yeah, you. You made me confess everything, so it’s your turn.”
“I tell you most everything already,” Thuy responded.
“Yeah, exactly, most everything. What’s the rest?”
“You’re as bad as me.”
I was copying her, it was true. So I just waited, as she had done to me.
“Ok. Jake, you really do know most everything, but Veejay and I played together some. I’m still a virgin, so you don’t have to worry– um, ask– about that.”
“But what have you done?”
“Well, he really was a very good kisser. Very good. And he liked to umm suckle or lick my breasts.”
As soon as she said this, I felt my heart pumping faster.
“Did you? Do you like it?”
“It was nice.”
I didn’t really want to know this. “Anything else?”
“Yes, Jake.” She looked at me for a second. “He wanted me… a couple times, I, I never talk about this stuff, so I don’t know how to say. I took him in my mouth.”
I tried not to show anything.
“How was it?”
“Mixed. Very mixed feelings. He was a good guy, Jake. A really good guy. You have to believe me.”
“But… I… it didn’t. I felt like there should be something more happening than was.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, if you, if you are being that intimate with someone, shouldn’t I be feeling more than ‘he’s nice’?”
“Probably. I kind of felt the same with Kalia, that was her name. Well, I bet it was different, but she was hot and I liked her, but I knew after each date that I really just wanted to find out what this stuff was like. That was why I was going out, so that I could experience this stuff myself.”
Thuy nodded. “It was actually my idea, not his. I wanted to see, too.”
“Anything more to report?”
Thuy smiled and shook her heard.
“That was a weird conversation.”
Thuy nodded. “You have no idea what colors you were turning as I talked.”
“I can’t help it. I don’t know why.”
“Don’t worry, Jake. I was feeling the same thing. I just don’t show it in my skin like you do. I wanted to hurl this mug at someone on Date 7.”
“Why did you ask?”
“I guess, I wanted to know, kinda, but I also like that I have no secrets from you. It’s important.”
“Kalia was a nice woman, despite the fact that she was dating two people at once. And I am sure Veejay was too.”
“He wasn’t a woman. I just told you how I know for certain.”
I smiled. “So you don’t have to give me the normal lecture about lowering my standards.”
“Well, most of your girlfriends of old deserved it.”
“Here we go….”
“A whole year with Crystal. I still can’t believe it. She was sooo… Her freaking name was Crystal! You deserved so much more than her. That you wasted your time with… agh!”
“You’ve never given this up.”
“Well, you keep repeating the process. She was never good enough for you!”
“You shouldn’t judge her like that!”
“I’m not judging! I just know you. You were never really happy; you just liked having a girlfriend. You always settle! That’s your biggest flaw. You deserved so much more!”
“Like who? Who else was I supposed to be dating that was better?”
“See? You can’t honestly say she was the girl for you. You couldn’t then and you can’t now. She was just a nice girl.”
“She was my Vee-jay, I guess.”
Thuy glared at me, then said, “Yes.” Then, “At least I broke up with him. She had to dump you because you are so damn loyal. I think you were happy to escape.”
“I haven’t seen Crystal in four years. We are talking about us as juniors. Who cares anymore?”
“I just don’t think things have changed. I think you will settle again if you don’t watch yourself.”
“What’s wrong with spending time with someone because she’s nice?”
“Nothing! But you are the kind of guy who will marry that nice person and then the person you’ve always wanted will be gone. Out of reach forever. And it’ll be your fault.”
“Who is this person?! You seem to have someone in mind.”
“I don’t know, Jake. But you have to find her somehow, some day. And you won’t ever, if you give up on her too easily.”
“Show this person to me or get off my back! I don’t tell you whether or not your boyfriends are good enough for you!”
“Why not?! Don’t you care?! Maybe I will spend my life with one of them, screwing everything up, and you will just let it happen! Why don’t you say something?!”
“Because I can’t see you with anyone, OK? Because I hate–” I paused, controlling myself. What I had just said didn’t make a lick of sense. “I want you to be happy. I have faith that you will figure it out. You always do. I’m not the right person to help on this. You…. Thuy, I don’t know what we are fighting about.”
Thuy froze and said simply, “I don’t know either. I don’t know why we are fighting.”
“Let’s stop then.”
“Yeah. I don’t know why I got angry. I like you too much. I just think it would kill me for you to not get everything you ever wanted.”
“I don’t always know what I want, to tell the truth. I wish I did. I… Sometimes, I think I know what I want, but then the thought flies away. There’s an image trying to form of someone or something. Something obvious. It’s just beyond my grasp.”
Thuy actually gasped. “That’s why I broke up with Veejay. The more I was with him, the more I kept feeling that I should be waiting for something else. That it was coming soon, and I just had to show more patience.”
“What are we waiting for?”
She only shook her head. “I don’t know, but… but…” She looked at me and I felt my heart pounding. The thought that I had tried to tell her about was coming into my head again, but she said, “Shouldn’t we go home?”
We each threw half the money on the table as we had agreed to years before and headed out. She tossed me her keys, saying, “I’m tired.” I closed the door behind her and soon the stars were flying past the window as we got out of the city, heading down 530.
I was beginning to wonder if Thuy had fallen asleep when she asked, “Jake, why didn’t we ever date? Not once. We never even tried to see if it would work.”
A million thoughts were swirling in my head from this evening, and all I could say was, “I don’t know.”
“Yes, you do. I mean– that’s not what I mean. It’s just that all our lives people have wondered this. People have wanted to fix us up a hundred times. My friends ask about you. People at school who’ve never met you ask me about you. My mother asks me. Hell, your mom has asked me.” I didn’t say anything and she continued, “I know you think I look OK. If not, you fake it well. I haven’t been checked out like you did in the driveway tonight in a long time. Your eyes made my Bs feel like DDs.”
“I looked away!”
“I know. I don’t know what I wanted to kiss you more for, looking or looking away.”
After a pause, still curled in the seat next to me but with her eyes open, Thuy said, “So?”
“I think that… I didn’t want to risk it.” There was silence. “Having you as a friend is too important to risk.”
She took my hand and held it, then closed her eyes again, but spoke again after a pause. “I took you for granted, I think. It never occurred to me that you wouldn’t be there, that….”
“I will always be there, Thuy.”
She squeezed the hand she was holding. “I’m going to be asleep soon.”
“I’ll carry you to your bed.”
“Your bed. I still am afraid of being alone in the house.”
“Are you sure?”
I saw a slight smile form on her face. “Jake, you aren’t going to take advantage of me. The idea’s silly.”
We didn’t speak the rest of the drive home and she was soon asleep. After we got home, I did as she had bid and carried her to my bedroom. After turning on a small light for her, I headed for the door, but she mumbled something like, “trust you” and patted the bed next to her.
But I knew it wasn’t a real option. Not now. Not the way I was feeling. I stood at the doorway watching her slight movements under the sheets, her chest rise and fall gently. I would never be able to say how she looked that night, but I have never forgotten a detail.
I curled up on the couch in the living room, the couch that she had laid upon for so long this afternoon, feeling her scent, touch, and voice. After some time, I fell asleep.
I awoke the next morning to some rattling in the kitchen. I opened my eyes to find a disheveled Thuy still in her black dress with hair shooting all over the place getting a glass of water. She stumbled half-asleep to the kitchen table where she plopped down stony-eyed.
Wrapping my sheet around me, since I was in boxers only, I shuffled over to get some coffee going. “Oh, good,” was all she said, and I joined her in a chair in my own sleep haze. We sat there listening to the coffee pot. “You look hysterical,” she said in a completely flat voice. “I think squirrels played in your hair all night and one side of your face is covered in pillow lines. You’re a squirrel wrestling zebra.”
“I think some of your hair is in Missouri.”
“I’ll be untangling it for a week. My dress has more wrinkles than a pug dog’s face.” I poured two cups of coffee for us and tossed her some creamer. “I think my throat is dry from yesterday. We talked for eight hours straight by my reckoning.”
“Coffee cures scratchy throats, I’m sure.”
She giggled and continued nursing her cup.
“Thuy, do you remember last night much or too asleep?”
“I remember that we got angry at each other for the first time since… the last time we talked about Crystal.”
I laughed. “Yeah. How about after that?”
“I can’t tell you what I’ve forgotten.”
“What’s the last thing you remember?”
“Jake, just ask me.”
“‘K,” I wasn’t sure I really wanted to bring it up, but it was the only thing on my mind, so it was talk about this or don’t talk. “You asked why we never dated.”
“I remember that. You told me it was because you thought I was a hideous bitch and you’d rather kiss a snake. Then I slapped you so hard you turned off the road into an oncoming car. We are now in heaven.”
“So you remember.”
She hesitated. “I remember we came up with reasons for the past, but we never got around to the present.”
“You mean, why don’t we try dating now?”
“Yeah,” Thuy’s voice was so quiet I could barely hear her. “We didn’t talk about that.”
“No, we didn’t.” It was too early, too early for this.
She nodded and turned back to her coffee. I knew I should say something, but now I truly was scared. I’d spent years telling everyone I knew that Thuy and I were just friends. I had believed it. Had we been wrong all this time?
I loved her messed up hair and messed up dress.
“Do you work today?” she interrupted.
“In an hour. 12 hour shift, so I won’t get back ’til past nine.”
“Hurry back, Jake,” she said almost plaintively. She didn’t need to worry about that. “I’m going to go shower,” she finished.
“You are welcome to shower here.”
“Not unless you have an assortment of clean panties in my size lying about.”
“My last girlfriend left a lot of stuff here. I’ll go take a look.”
She stared at me blankly for a second. “Last girlfriend?”
“Well, she wasn’t really a girlfriend as much as a stripper I hired at NuFeline. She mostly only wore thongs though. Leather ones. Crotchless.”
Thuy shook her head. “God, you actually had me for a second. I am asleep. See you tonight. And what is the point of a crotchless thong? Isn’t that a belt?”
It was the longest shift of my life.
I rang Thuy’s doorbell in my jeans, boots, and Jimmy’s Coast-to-Coast moving shirt. A transformed Thuy in a pair of blue shorts and white t-shirt opened the door. She wore a radiant smile as well, making all the wait worth it. “Good timing. Pizza’s on the way. Pepperoni and sausage still the thing?”
“Yeah, I’m just a guy. I don’t change,” I said, passing into her house.
“Good, ’cause half of it is that. You know, they need to invent the boyfriend/girlfriend pizza with two slices for me and the rest for you. I had to cancel the anchovies on my side ’cause I knew you’d eat half of mine anyway.”
“It’s not my fault that I’ve got ten inches on you.”
She stopped and gave me that little smile. “Ten inches, huh? You don’t have to make up stuff like that. I’m sure it’s plenty big.”
“No, I meant–” I looked at her impudent smile. Two could play this game. I leaned over and knocked on the door. “Pizza delivery!”
“Ooh, come in, pizza boy. I’ve been waiting for something hot for a long time now.”
“Pizza man, ma’am. Pizza man.”
“I see. You certainly look like a man to me. May I squeeze your bulg… ing bicep?”
“Certainly, ma’am. You can put your hand on my bulge any time you like.”
Thuy almost snorted and then reached up to squeeze my arm. I did my biggest muscle man pose for her. “Very nice, very nice.”
“So, ma’am, I heard you ordered the large sausage.”
“Oh yes, I did. Actually I asked for the extra large. I always like them as big as I can get them.”
“We’ve heard that about you. I had to pay a guy a hundred bucks to make this run. Where would you like me to put the sausage, ma’am?”
“Well, pizza man, I always put them in my mouth. What else would I do?”
I stared at Thuy who batted her eyes at me. “OK, you win. I can’t think anymore.”
“Are my ten inches about to become twelve?”
“Fourteen, ma’am. We aren’t Tri-Cities Pizza; we’re Tripod Pizza.”
Thuy giggled and shoved me towards the hall. “Go shower, stud. You stink horribly.”
I headed out the door. “Don’t do the pizza guy while I’m gone.”
“How can I stop myself if he looks like you?” she yelled back as I crossed the lawn. I kept walking. Wait, had she said what I think she had? Suddenly, I heard her voice again. “That came out wrong!” I turned to reply but saw the pizza delivery car turning into her place.
I showered quickly and pulled on some gray boxers, black jeans, and a light blue button-down shirt. Thuy opened the door with pizza dangling from her mouth. I found the box open on the coffee table in her living room where the lights were off and an old sci-fi flick played on the TV.
“What are you watching?” I asked grabbing a slice.
“It seems to be a Black Lagoon rip-off. It’s like Creature from the Black Lagoon, but worse.”
“Black Lagoon is horrible.”
“Yes, and this is even worse. It’s amazing.”
“Is that the Professor from Gilligan’s Island?”
“I think it’s his brother. He’s the Professor without all the science.”
The pizza was gone about the time the second blonde was taken out by a guy in a blue frog suit who flew a sardine can shaped spaceship. About the time Reporter Boyfriend shoved Evil Spaceman Kermie off a cliff, Thuy curled up on the sofa with me, pulling a blanket around us. I don’t remember anything of the movie after that.
Thuy leaned into me, placing her head on my chest. I gently wrapped my arms around her and smelled the scent from her hair. I couldn’t remember being this close to her since she broke her foot on that hike and I held her by the road until a ranger truck came. This was different.
“This isn’t the way we normally watch movies,” I said quietly.
“I know,” she whispered back.