The instant we walk into the next room, which is all photographs—black-and-white rocks casting shadows in a desert, dirty-faced Depression kids and haggard mothers; borrrrring—Van seizes my arm. “Oh. My. God.”
She doesn’t have to say anything else; she doesn’t even have to point. The high, silly voice springs from my mouth to her ear without conscious intervention. “Ohh, the Met? Awesome! Let me put on my club shoes!”
Van growls through gritted teeth: “Oh—God—my—fucking—feet—hurt—but—I’m—trying—to—hide—it!”
“He doesn’t even give a shit, man. Great boyfriend.”
“I don’t even think he’s her boyfriend.”
I squint, tilt my head. “Yeah, he is kind of out of her league . . .”
“I bet he’s, like, the hot guy from her photography class, or something—”
I get it. “And she invited him here like, let’s look at the art! For, for inspiration! For class!”
“Or maybe he even invited her. Only he meant it. Either way, he doesn’t even know he’s on a date.”
“Most obvious. Stealth date. Ever.”
“To everyone but him.”
As soon as the girl manages to sink casually onto the uncomfortable black block of bench facing a zoomed-in view of an old-fashioned telephone headset that makes it look like craters on the Death Star or something, the guy . . . who’s been stepping back and forth, framing and reframing it with his hands . . . is distracted by a grid of indistinguishable photos of the same barn, and rushes across the room. The girl uncrosses her legs, pushes herself back upright . . . like a wounded soldier staggering determinedly back into battle . . . and totters after him.
Staying just far enough behind them, Van and I take turns imitating her: mincing, wincing, stiff-legged, hunch-shouldered. The Hot Guy From Photography Class seems to be taking his time in here, so when we can’t stand it any longer, I grab her and yank her into the next room. Staggering, crashing against each other in convulsions of suppressed hilarity, we collapse on another bench and explode.
The dry, teacherly grate automatically forces us to bite our lips and look up. Van keeps her arm around me, though; we’re not in school anymore.
Our interrupter looks like she sounds: an older woman with short, stiff gray hair, a huge ass accentuated by her buttoned-up cardigan and polyester slacks, and thick bifocals that dull her glare.
“It’s a couple of bitches who don’t have any friendships that aren’t based on mutual assurances of superiority and cutting down anyone they don’t think is as ‘cool’ as they are. I bet they’re both single, too, because no man in his right mind would put up with either of them.”
She turns her ass to us like an insult and huffs away without waiting for a reply.
We look at each other—priss our lips together as long as we can—and burst into scornful glee and squeals of weirded-outness before she’s quite out of earshot.
Moving on, we count Mom Prepping Baby Who Can’t Even Hold His Or Her Own Head Up Yet For The Ivy League #5, and Aging Couple Held Together By Sheer Inertia #3. We work ourselves into another bout of clinging hysteria over I Could Paint This, Why Aren’t I Rich And Famous Guy and Guy From Grindr Who Isn’t Going To Call Him Back After He Sucks His Dick. In a room full of abstract sculpture, we re-encounter College-Application-Padding White Savior Big Sister and Underprivileged Little Sister, with her head full of clinking beads, who has clearly never been exposed to Art before—she was pointing and laughing at dicks and boobs all through the Greek and Renaissance rooms, and now wants to climb on all the steel cube-piles and spiral-painted boulders and giant plush burgers and fries. The Black female guard who struts up, cuts right through Big Sister’s tentative, pleading “That’s just for looking at, it’s very valuable, please don’t . . .” schtick, and bawls her out until she cries provides the perfect end to our outing—I mean, how can you improve on that?
We’re both starving, though, so we take the elevator all the way up to the roof garden café—it’s expensive as hell, I’d be happy to just grab a falafel or a hot dog on the sidewalk outside, but the view of the city is spectacular, and Van says she’s buying.
I’m just digging into my twelve-dollar salad, and Van’s re-knotting her scarf-headband-thing against the breeze, spitting still-faintly-lilac-streaked spikes of hair out of her mouth, when a deep, mellow voice says: “Hey.”
The cloud of russet-gold curls—
The faux-vintage T-shirt, shrunkenly hugging his breakably slight vegan body—
The eyes, up close, the same dark indigo as his skinny jeans—
“I, uh, don’t want to bug you, or anything,” says Hot Guy From Photography Class, sheepishly scratching the back of his neck—like he genuinely has no idea he’s too hot to ever bug anybody. “But I just, like . . . saw you around in there, and I was wondering, if I could maybe get your number?”
He holds out his phone.
I’m totally expecting her to take it, and throw it right over the edge of the roof, like she said she did that time that old dude hit on her the same way—handing her his phone, expecting her to type it in—in the subway. Supposedly a bunch of people grabbed him by the coat and stopped him from jumping down on the tracks to get it.
But she just looks away from him, twirls a chunk of hair around her finger. “I don’t know. I . . . kind of don’t like to give it out . . .”
“Oh, I totally understand. Maybe—”
“Can you give me yours?”
And she’s actually digging in her bag for her own phone.
Handing it to him.
Taking it back. Frowning slightly. “Nick?”
“Yup. I’m a junior at NYU. Majoring in business, for my folks, but I’m also doing an independent study in photography and film.”
“Cool.” She doesn’t tell him a thing about herself—not even her name.
He scratches his neck again. “Well—maybe we’ll talk sometime. Nice meeting you.” And saunters back to his own table.
I watch My Feet Hurt But I’m Trying To Hide It Girl pulling out her phone, gaping, standing up—like, I Just Realized You’re Not Interested In Fucking Me, So I’m Going To Pretend I Got A Text That My Grandma’s Dying And I Have To Go Right Now! But I don’t say anything
“God,” says Van, “what made him decide to just do that? I mean, we’re practically identical twins here. If anything, I think you’re hotter than me.”
I shrug, stab a radish. “He probably only did it to get her off his back.” The number he gave her might not even be his.
“Probably,” Van agrees. But I can tell she doesn’t, really. There’s that little glow of smugness around her mouth, like when she’s just used it to make me come about ten times in a row. “Hey, looks like it worked!”
I scrape the radish off my fork. “You’re not actually going to call him, are you?”
“Probably not. I don’t know.”
“We never really talked about guys.” She takes a big bite of her fifteen-dollar sandwich, chews, swallows. “Hey—if it was you, you know I’d tell you to go for it.”
“Okay.” I’m trying not to choke. “Go for it. In fact, I’ll let you go sit with him.” I can’t really afford to leave behind my free lunch, but I do anyway.
She yells at me once—“Bell!”—but that’s it.
Downstairs, outside, I see Hot Guy’s non-date walking maybe a hundred feet ahead of me, her five-inch fuchsia platform heels dangling from one hand, preferring to brave the gum and spit and broken glass and dog shit and rat shit and bum shit in her bare feet. Which are still—judging from her pace—pretty sore. Her hair is long, fine, blondish-brown, wind-tangled from the roof; her legs, even without the heels, are long and balletish; and even though I can’t see her face now, I remember it. Hot Guy had really no reason to pick Van over her—especially not knowing a thing else about Van.
She’s not slutty, desperate, pathetic, laughable—just someone who mistakenly thought something good might happen for her. Just like me.
I catch up to her easily, strike up a random conversation about the art, then confess that I just broke up with someone and need to talk—to a stranger, to someone who won’t judge me. I tell her I love her shoes. We go back to her place, order pizza, open the bottle of wine that her roommate, who’s out, has had just sitting on the counter for like months. She’s never kissed a girl before, but, seduced by the taste of red wine and pizza sauce on my tongue, she quickly chucks her inhibitions. Before we even know it, we’re squeezed together in her squeaky twin bed, and—
Then, like next week, when we’re sitting together in Starbuck’s, Van walks in, and—
My scarf-headband-thing’s fluttering at the corner of my eye. I whip it off and stuff it in the waistband of my leggings until I find a trash can. Then I blow straight past her in my Nikes.
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