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Amber, part 2

07 Nov

“Are you sure the castle’s around here?” I could feel Amber’s eyes on me, but I didn’t turn to look. We drove on winding blacktop roads, unlit and recently surfaced.

“Of course I’m sure.” I coughed. I was pretty sure. At least she hadn’t started asking me whether I’d made it up.

She seemed recovered from the car accident, but she stayed quiet. I wondered whether that signified concussion while filling the silence with stories about nothing. I wondered how stories about nothing would affect someone who’d been concussed. We had met about thirty minutes earlier at a BP station in Blue Ash, a blandly upper-middle-class enclave north of Cincinnati. A private Catholic girls’ high school squatted in the background on the hill overlooking the lot where Amber waited.  As a point of interest, I had once been banned from the premises of that private Catholic girls’ high school for flipping off a janitor there. He’d informed me that I was an asshole. I’ve always responded poorly to criticism.

I chose to keep that particular coincidence to myself.

Much of the memory is hazy. We called a tow truck, that much seems clear. She’d been able to limp her car to the gas station, but crumpled metal dragged against her tire, ensuring a blowout if she tried to drive it anywhere. She sat on the hood of her car, all snarled bumper and smashed fender. While she phoned her mom, I moved things from the back seat of her car to the back seat of mine, thereby ruining the back seat for its more stereotypical date-night use. By the time I’d finished, she’d placed her phone back in her pocket, and we had a brief discussion about whether to continue our date or to drive her to where she was staying. We reached a decision to continue the date for reasons of what the hell.

“Well, the restaurant is probably closed by now,” she said. “What should we do instead?”

“Do you want to see the castle?”

“Sure.” What the hell.

Loveland, Ohio indeed has a castle. Until recently, I’d forgotten about it, but I desperately needed something to show Amber apart from my basement corner. Somewhat unimaginatively, most people call this place Loveland Castle. Somewhat pretentiously, its caretakers call it Château Laroche. I’m not fully clear on what is and is not a chateau, so I won’t contest the point. It stands, craggy and crenellated, on the shores of the Little Miami river, overlooking a scenic garden and a less scenic unlined parking lot, reachable by car only with a steep, switchbacked one-lane road. Every Halloween, the castle becomes a popular haunted house, and school buses make their terrifying way up and down this road, ferrying patrons between the castle and their cars. Beginning in the 1920s and using flagstones from the river bank, a man named Harry built it by hand as a replica of European fortifications, lovingly reproducing continental machicolations and murder-holes. He died before finishing it. Now, the people who live there call themselves knights and support the castle through tourism. A sign hangs on the gate to the path leading up to the front door. Mostly the sign gives the dates and hours the castle is open. Also it asks the local kids not to harass the people who live there.

While I was still in college, a red-haired girl from Toledo came to visit me for a few days. Sometimes, late at night in the Ohio suburbs, novel entertainment becomes a challenge. I thought then that maybe parking with her in the empty lot of an improbable castle might afford me the opportunity to talk her out of her overalls.

In this thought, I had proven correct.

Perhaps a similar tactic would prove effective with Amber. Not that she wore overalls, but she was cute and she had driven hours to see me. I hoped that the castle would be sufficiently unusual to change the evening’s momentum. Any existing mood had been wrecked along with her car.

Amber fidgeted in her seat and looked out her window into textured suburban darkness. The houses here were stacked fairly densely together, but a line of trees near the road screened them and gave the impression of uninhabited woods.

“Are we lost?”

 

 

 
 

hiatus

21 Sep

I’ve been gone for a few weeks. I’ll be gone for a few weeks more.

I’ve been working on writing things that, I hope, will make me some money. I’ll be back in November regardless of whether that happens. Here’s hoping you’re still around too.

 
 

Amber, part 1

05 Sep

“Do you want to order yet?”

The waitress weighted the yet with subtle emphasis. She stood next to my table with unctuous politeness, holding her notepad in front of her without real expectation. Her pen stayed in her apron. She smiled. She’d asked that question at least twice before, ten minutes between inquiries, each time slightly more insistently. The last time she’d come by, she’d helpfully suggested a margarita. I couldn’t bear the thought of drinking it alone. Two ravaged bowls of complimentary chips and salsa sat between me and an untouched place setting, complete with menu.

As you become more experienced in anything, you learn more survival strategies. By this point, I brought a book to first dates through reflex rather than deliberate choice. In the early days of dating, I selected the book carefully, so that when my date arrived I could place it with practiced, wholly natural nonchalance on the edge of the table, cover down but spine out, inviting my date to read the title and ask me about it. I would smile with charming, rehearsed embarrassment and say “Oh, this?” As a performance strategy, it worked well. I got to parlay the question into a discussion of what my date read, creating a conversational cul-de-sac that could be pleasantly circled for as long as we wanted.

All this is in vain if the date never arrives.

These days, I brought mass-market opiates with four-color covers, mostly because they numbed the shame and frustration better than densely footnoted literary cinderblocks. I’ve always been willing to sacrifice comfort for style, but only to a point. In terms of books, I’d reached that point months before. Today’s book was something called Dr. Bloodmoney, post-apocalyptic fantasy that prominently featured a pleasantly homicidal phocomelic handyman who had psychic powers. It suited me. Belligerently, I looked over the top of the book, past the waitress and out into the parking lot, which was empty except for my car and a steady drizzle. My phone lay silent on the table.

“I’m supposed to be meeting someone here,” I said. Obviously. She smiled politely. “Give me five more minutes, and if she hasn’t shown up by then, I’ll order something.”

The waitress walked back behind the bar and began to wipe it down. I tried to return to my book, but after a minute, I closed it. I couldn’t focus. Lateness per se was not unusual. Even being stood up was barely worth noticing. Still, Amber had come all the the way from eastern Kentucky to see me, and she had seemed more excited about me than was typical. According to her, she was staying for the weekend with a friend who lived on the east side, and she’d left almost an hour earlier. Even allowing for bad directions, she should have arrived already. I supposed the entire scenario could have been fabricated; it would not be the first (or even the second) time that a stranger had lied on the internet. Five minutes had passed. I turned my head to find the waitress, but thankfully she’d become engrossed in something on the TV over the bar. She hadn’t noticed me. I looked down at my silent phone.

It rang.

Startled, I answered it. Amber was calling. I braced myself for the inevitable cancellation and privately decided that as long as I was here, I might as well have a margarita after all.

“I don’t think I can make it,” she began.

“That’s all right,” I responded and stopped speaking, absolving myself of conversational responsibility. After all, I was where I said I’d be. She could give whatever excuse she’d decided on, and I could hang up the phone. It was just a matter of waiting for these things to happen. My participation was not really necessary.

“I crashed my car. I was coming off an exit and skidded into a guard rail. Um, do you think you could come get me? I’m not really sure where I am.”

I felt like an asshole. At least now I knew what we’d be doing for our date.

“Yeah, yeah, absolutely. Where are you?”

She gave me an intersection and the name of a gas station. I left ten dollars on the table and headed out into the rain.

 
 

A deep breath

23 Aug

Over the time that I’ve kept this blog, I’ve thought hard about dating, particularly in terms of its strategies and aftermath, and I’ve been able to distill my conclusions into a series of rules. Actually, I’ve thought about assembling them into a pamphlet and maybe handing them out to people who are even more romantically hapless than I am (on the rationale that sometimes you can learn more from serial failures than unqualified successes), but that’s a plan for later. In the meantime, ere is another rule about internet dating. Maybe it is too specific to my situation in order to be generally useful, but I’m including it anyway:

If you have a blog about internet dating, do not tell people you used to date that you have a blog about internet dating. This rule is especially true if you intend to blog about those people.

I have only about five or six people left to talk about. No doubt it has seemed as though there has been an unending stream of cyber-lady for me to wade through, occasionally stumbling and faceplanting, so that I can later come here and tell you about it. Actually, the sheer volume of romantic interaction has led a few people, strangers even*, to question the veracity of my accounts, as though it were not possible for me to have gone on so many dates in such a short period. Please bear in mind that the two factors involved here are the internet, which has an unlimited capacity for what I will obliquely call romance, and me, who has an unlimited capacity for failure. As unbelievable as it might seem, I haven’t even talked about all the dates I went on during this period. Some of them I don’t remember well enough to write about. Some of them just didn’t make very good stories. For every two people I’ve talked about here, there’s another who dropped off the radar. But of those five or six people, at least three and maybe four read this blog.

I am terrified.

Somehow I thought that it’d never get to this point. I just assumed that no one would read this, or that I’d get sick of it, or that it’d just peter out before I ended up backed against this particular wall.

It’s not that they are unaware of what I might potentially have to say. They were there, and so was I. It’s that disagreements over interpretation or differences in memory might lead to . . . um . . . well, I don’t know, really. Badness, let’s say. To use an analogy, it’s one thing to idly browse celebrity pictures in a tabloid while you’re waiting for the cashier to ring up your Funyuns, and it’s another entirely to deal with the paparazzi in a supermarket, only later to see your unflattering portrait (you, in sweatpants, holding a bag of Funyuns) appear in a cheap rag along with a similarly unflattering analysis of what that bag of snacks might be doing to your complexion.

What I’m saying is that they might get mad at me. Sometimes they get mad at me when they read what I have to say about other people, because they project themselves into the roles occupied by other people. Generally, I respond to that with an exasperated “I’m not talking about you.” Unfortunately for me, that no longer applies.

The people I have left to talk about, in roughly chronological order, are the girl from Columbus who almost wrecked her car, the girl from Kentucky who successfully wrecked her car, the girl from Tennessee who I scared away, the girl from Dayton who scared me away, the girl from Philadelphia who forgot to tell me she’d dumped me, and the girl from Cincinnati who I pushed away.

Well, here goes.

*I’m not on the twitter. A friend of mine—the most intimidating of the terrifying three or four readers, actually—mentioned a while ago that some tweetist cast aspersions on this blog. Apparently she’s a big deal in the Cincinnati twitter scene, which is a bit like being a big deal in the kiddie pool at Hilton Head, somewhere you can look out on the ocean and have some dim, toddler impression of the vastness of it. I asked my friend to “tell that twitterbitch to cram it in her tweet-hole.”

 
 

Jessie, end

07 Aug

After dinner and at Jessie’s insistence, we threw the boxed pizza into my car. I had offered to allow her to take the remainder since she’d never had Dewey’s before, but as I had paid for half the bill, it seemed important to her to declare her independence from even the saddest of patriarchal leftovers. I didn’t argue. Mushroom pizza is amazing.

Jessie’s conversation came in monosyllables, and I naturally assumed that our date had by this point burned down to wet ashes. We walked down Ludlow in the direction of her car. The evening begged to be allowed to die gracefully and with dignity. I guessed that perhaps a foot and a half of empty space had grown between us, a gulf that screamed “don’t touch me.” It also caused us to take up the whole of the sidewalk, obliging us to step even further apart to allow space for lampposts, mailboxes, and other people.

“So, what are your plans for the rest of the tonight?” The question startled me, although I had been silently considering that very topic. I thought she’d leave soon, and it hadn’t seemed probable that she would care.

“Well, there’s a coffee shop about a block that way,” I said, gesturing in the direction of the theater. “I like it, and they have drinks. Care to join me?” She did care.

The coffee shop was eclectically furnished with mismatched tables and wrought iron chairs. Toward the back, the staff had provided one of the tables with row chairs ripped from some luckless movie theater. All this provided atmosphere, but Jessie seemed eager to avoid it. We chose the table closest to the door, a high top with tall stools. I ordered a milkshake, chai-flavored. (Some of you may already be flinging accusations of douchebaggery in my direction, but in my defense, it might be the tastiest thing ever made by a person).

Jessie ordered a water and nothing else. Silence yawned between us.

Trying not to audibly sigh, I shifted the conversation into reverse, moving back through topics we’d already covered that evening. We discussed publishing and peer review. We discussed departmental politics. We discussed whether or not she’d like to taste my milkshake. To my surprise, she did. Although this might seem like a potential opportunity for Lady-and-the-Trampish cuteness, there were physical obstacles to anything like that. The shop served the milkshake in two glasses, a small one for the main shake with the rest of it in the larger mixing cup. She dipped a spoon into the one I hadn’t touched and tasted, afterward placing her spoon, destined to remain untouched until she left, next to her on the table. Desperate for some relief, I excused myself to the restroom.

There is nowhere on earth where you can be yourself so much as in a bathroom. Enthroned in solitude, I squeezed absently at a recalcitrant zit and wondered whether she’d be gone if I sat there long enough. Somehow, she seemed too polite for that. I read over the excessive and colorful wall graffiti as I sat, wishing for a book and hoping to find some inspiration for something to talk about. I reached for toilet paper and jerked my hand back, sucking at my thumb. Someone had broken the toilet paper holder. No one had fixed it. A small streak of my blood colored the jagged plastic. Sucking on the cut made it worse, so I wrapped it in toilet paper, squeezing the cut with my fingers in hopes that the bleeding would stop.

Jessie looked at the bloody paper in my hand. “What happened?” Sheepishly, I told her. She took it as a cue. She stood, offering me her hand in a tyrannosaur pose, keeping her elbow close to her chest. With my unwounded hand, I shook it. “Well, thank you for meeting me for dinner. I had a nice time.” I doubted that very much, but I smiled and told her the same thing. She stood for a moment. “I think I’m heading out.”

I wasn’t sure what she wanted from me. I still had a bit of my milkshake left, and on my way from the bathroom, I’d noticed my friend Alex in the back of the cafe. “Okay,” I replied. “I think I’m going to stay here.” We looked at each other for a second longer, assessing the situation to see whether there was anything else to say. As it turned out, there wasn’t. Jessie left, and I let out a breath that I hadn’t realized I’d been holding. I waited for her to turn the corner past the display windows and out of sight, and then I walked to the back of the cafe to talk to Alex.

 
 

Jessie, part 2

31 Jul

For our date, Jessie had worn a black, long-sleeved top beneath a short yellow knit sweater. It was knitted from some type of soft yarn. I know it was soft, because she invited me to touch it. I realized that my gaze had settled on her chest, where it always, always settles. Trying to recover, I leaned forward and took the fabric of her short sleeve between my fingers and rubbed it.

She told me that she made it herself. “Um,” I said. “That’s nice.” As far as I know, it was nice. I mean, it was soft. I began to notice the design of the sweater. It was plain, unadorned yellow, and it seemed like it was slowly constricting, drawing itself up her arms and belly as it shrank. I couldn’t decide whether or not it was really happening or whether that was in fact something that sweaters did, but it kept drawing my attention. I should mention that I don’t know anything about sweaters.

Something about her face continued to weird me out.

It’s impolite to stare. I can’t help it. It’s a tic that dominates my entire dating life. It’s like Tourette’s for my eyeballs. On dates, I persistently, unconsciously and involuntarily look at people’s salient features. Often, as I’ve mentioned, that means boobs. Inconveniently, they don’t even have to be the boobs of the person I’m with. Occasionally, however, I will also focus on other things of physical significance, like a prosthetic hand or an unusual birthmark. Or, say, a superfluity of lips dominating an otherwise normal face.

Sometimes this behavior leads to interpersonal discomfort.

My eyes jerked from her chest (her sweater) to her lips and back. I fished ineffectively for something to talk about. I could only proceed with caution; slowly, I began to realize that she had the political sensitivity of a particularly earnest freshman. Although she taught literature, she and I liked none of the same books. Although she called herself a film critic, she and I watched none of the same movies. Feeling the flushed pink edges of conversational panic, backed into the only topic of mutual interest, I asked about her job. She told me a story about her mentor, who had recently embarrassed her by throwing a weepy tantrum during a department meeting. I asked her about department meetings, and we fell further into the fractal geometry of dull conversation. It felt like a job interview, except there was no job, and I was boring the shit out of both of us.

Finally, the waiter arrived with the check. “So,” I asked her. “Can I buy you dinner?”

Of course this is not a neutral question; it is fraught with subtext. Fraught. Unfortunately, there is no cultural universal as to what this subtext signifies. Generally, I consider the gesture to mean that I like the other person, regardless of any lumpy discourse we might have engaged in over our meal, and I’d like our association to continue at least one date further. Others, however, use it as a declaration of intent to colonize their dates’ genitals, planting the check between them like a flag. For these latter, volunteering to pay is making a risky investment in sex futures. This is how Jessie read the situation. Her eyes narrowed and her face drew in on itself, closing off the conversation. But she didn’t say, “No thank you.” Neither did she say, “I’d rather we split this time, thanks.”

She said “No,” following the compact, leaden word up with nothing, letting it sink between us and pulling the rest of the conversation along with it. A moment passed.

“Oh.” My face felt hot. “Well, um, how do you want to split it? All I have is plastic.”

 
 

Jessie, part 1

26 Jul

Regardless of the fidelity of internet pictures, you can still be surprised by the people who belong to them. It’s true that cameras do not lie. Often, however, they tell the same version of the truth told by mothers and lawyers. This is one of the great cruelties of the internet.

I waited for Jessie near the entryway to Dewey’s Pizza, sitting on a cushioned bench next to the wall with a beer wedged between my knees. I’d settled on Dewey’s as part of my ever-refining dating algorithm. It was expensive enough not to seem proletarian while still cheap enough not to seem desperate. Also as part of my method, I arrived ten minutes early so I could put in our names and avoid ten minutes of standing small talk with her. Her user name had referenced punctuality; if I played it right, she would be showing up more or less synchronously with the next available table. I considered this to be crucial; I wanted to have slices available to stifle any conversational gaps as early as possible.

Dewey’s is the sort of place that tries to elevate pizza by offering, say, five kinds of mushrooms on the same pie and then tacking on four dollars. It’s in the gaslight district, just down the street from Cincinnati’s only theater with pretensions to art-house status, and it’s one street away from that neighborhood’s main drag. For the suburban weekenders in the atrium, this passed for uptown fancy. My new, awful job had allowed me to afford this place. I could feel my soul beginning to corrode, but seemed like a fair trade. I tasted my beer, still impressed with the novelty of drinking something better than Hudy Delight. That felt like an accomplishment. With any luck, I thought, I’d move on to something better in a year or two. Back to grad school? Maybe I could ask Jessie about it.

I jammed myself into a corner, trying not to touch other people and looking expectantly at the door. Any of the women who came in could have been Jessie; it was hard to tell. Unlike most viable internet daters, her profile included no picture. Still, she had spelled and punctuated it correctly, so I thought I’d give her a shot. In our correspondence, she told me that she’d decided not to put her picture up on OkCupid in case one of her students came across the profile. I supposed it was reasonable, but it struck me as the sort of thing that people do when they’re afraid of the internet. Students notwithstanding, my photos remained the same as they’d always been, mostly upper body shots that suggested the true nature of my thickening middle without confronting the viewer with harsh, photographic reality. I thought they seemed suitable. In return, she sent me two pictures, playful images of herself having fun in the company of other cute woman (none cuter than herself, naturally). She wore fashionable glasses and a wide, toothy smile. On the strength of this evidence, we scheduled the date.

As the time grew closer to seven, the foot traffic in Dewey’s became heavier. Each time the bell rang to announce someone’s entrance, I glanced at the door with a Pavlovian twitch. A few maybes walked to the service counter and transacted business, but no one looked like they were expecting me. My beer disappeared by nervous inches. At three minutes to seven, I let the next waiting couple have the table with my name on it. At seven exactly, Jessie walked in the door. Then came the moment of mutual assessment.

There are people whose smiles transform their faces. Jessie was one. Her face relaxed from greeting into neutrality, and as it did, it sagged beneath itself. I tried to adjust to this new, other face and decide whether or not it was disappointing. As polite human beings, we gave each other the polite smiles of mutual disappointment and made inconvenient small talk for ten more minutes while we waited for a new table.

 

 
 

Another Interlude

12 Jul

In January of 2009, I finally found a job as a teacher.

As much of a success as new employment seems, from one point of view, it was an abject failure. You see, my one and entire career goal during my tenure as a basement dweller had been to avoid teaching. Possibly you wonder why I did not want to return to that particular career, particularly considering that I was qualified. That is because you have never been a teacher.

I taught to support myself during graduate school. Here is a secret about teaching: It is fucking terrible. Not only do you see the effects of your own failures, but you see the cumulative damage inflicted by every failed teacher before you. Sometimes it comes in the form of an incompletely quadriplegic student, desperately in love with you and harboring dreams of being an English teacher, but who, through no fault of her own, has never before learned how to write a sentence. Sometimes it comes in the form of a campus cop who has decided to take your class in order to further his career, but who also thinks it’s okay if he packs heat on test day.

That was the school I liked.

This time, I was hired into a for-profit college. It’s the sort of place you see advertised on late-night TV, usually airing ads between the cash-for-gold commercials and the ones for natural male enhancement. There aren’t a whole lot of stories I tell about that time because telling them tires me out. The story Cory likes to retell about my job there is the one where my student menstruated onto a chair during my class. There isn’t much of a punchline to that one, except that the administrative assistant wanted me to clean it up. Instead, I taped a sign saying “don’t sit here” to the chair back and left it near the whiteboard.

However, unemployment is not sexy. The extent to which unemployment is not sexy is the extent to which I was willing to tolerate these things. After Holly, I ricocheted into smattering of unremarkable dates, including one with a VA psychologist named Lisa. Lisa worked with returning vets who showed symptoms of PTSD. I thought she’d be perfect for me. She wore her curly red hair very short, and her smile came easily. Unusually smitten, I pressed her for a second date, but she let me down easy, telling me that, as it turned out, she was only into older men. Given that she knew my age before we went out, I took that sentence to mean what it undoubtedly meant. That is, she was only into men who had their shit together.

I wanted to have my shit together.

As I worked, I developed the illusion that I was working toward something. It was similar to the illusion that I maintained about dating. While my immediate experiences weren’t necessarily ideal, they were necessary steps in an evolutionary progress. Unfortunately, that only proves true in a context where a given subject learns from his mistakes. I began to make plans to try to go back to graduate school, not least because I thought that girls thought that grad students were hot.

Around this time—serendipitously, I thought—a professor at a local college made a date with me. Although, as I’ve mentioned, dating and job-hunting have marked similarities, in fact they are not the same.

It’s worth remembering.

 
 

Technical Difficulties

09 Jul

As you might have noticed, for some reason my most recent post disappeared for a couple of days, as did a few of the most recent comments. I don’t know anything about it other than that I didn’t do it, but the post is back up. (I found it in Google’s cache because I am clever).  The next one should be up Monday. Sorry about that.

-Dan

 
 

Holly Epilogue

09 Jul

We conducted the rest of our relationship by telephone.

Mostly, anyway. It felt anachronistic, a throwback to the times in my late teens when it felt reasonable to “date” a sexually confused girl who lived in Baltimore. Every six weeks or so I’d arrange for an eight-hour drive from Athens, Ohio to Maryland, at the end of which she and I would kiss passionately and yet sexlessly while trying to figure out what it was that we had in common. I’d just discovered the internet that year. Her reread chat logs would lull me to sleep at night. After three months or so, she let me know that she “couldn’t do this anymore” and began to identify as lesbian. Afterward, my life continued largely unchanged.

Holly and I were never able to recapture the familiar symbiosis we had experienced on our first date. Maybe it was that her well of shareable medical details had run dry. Maybe it was that I had thoroughly creeped her out with all my condom-throwing and cuddle-asking. As people who had difficulty finding reasons to leave the house, we often ran into each other on the internet. Sooner rather than later, we’d talk ourselves down dark alleys to conversational dead ends. Instead of turning around and walking out toward some more viable topic, and despite my gentle nudging, Holly would stand motionless, staring at the wall.

Sometimes, we’d talk with voices.

The call timer of cell phones is one of life’s modern cruelties; it allows you to quantify your failure to communicate. During the first week, our talks lasted forty minutes or more. By mid-December, they had dwindled to perfunctory exchanges of ten or fifteen minutes, sometimes punctuated by requests to “hold on a minute.” Patiently, I held on. My phone leaked disembodied sounds generated by Holly’s bustle to make tea, tidy a coffee table, or perform some other solitary and postponable task.

Once or twice we went on a date. At the end of each, Holly treated me to the same fleeting, sterile kiss she left with me after our first date. And then I’d go home.

Wet met for breakfast the second day after Christmas. It had been two weeks since we’d been out together. Her given reason had been her need for family time. Meanwhile, our talks had atrophied. One thing we retained in common was punctuality; she and I arrived at Frisch’s Big Boy within seconds of each other.

As we took our places at the end of the buffet line, we went through our requisite renegotiation of space. Hollystood close to me, but not too close, carefully maintaining a four-inch buffer on all sides, holding her purse intimately close to her body. We smiled at one another. She made brief eye contact and looked away with what, six weeks earlier, I would have considered charming shyness. We sat at a booth on the quiet side of the restaurant.

Rather than pockets per se, my peacoat has pocket-like spaces. The pouches inside had torn out earlier that winter, leaving only pocketish openings leading directly into the coat’s lining and causing the coattails to regularly fill with inconvenient change. I reached into this void and pulled out a small square package wrapped in silver paper and tied with white lace.

Holly laughed with familiar embarrassment. “Oh, thank you,” she said. “I didn’t get you anything; I wasn’t sure whether we were getting each other gifts.”

“Oh, it’s no problem.” I gestured vaguely at the gift. “It’s something I made; it wasn’t much.” Holly tore the paper to discover that what I’d said was true.

Realistically, I couldn’t afford much. Inside the expensive-looking paper was a mix CD, meticulously assembled from carefully infringed music. I’d wrapped it with what I had because these were the precise materials my mom had available in her scraps box. Rather than allow our association to die a slow, whimpering death, I’d decided to advertise my intentions through music and see what happened. The first lyrics of the first song advised her, “your body goes to waste every minute you don’t give it to me.” Such was my opinion.

We left the restaurant as we’d arrived; at the same time and in separate cars. Her house was some twenty miles closer than mine, but she didn’t invite me over. Instead, she kissed me the same way she always had, and we went home.

We next spoke on New Year’s Eve, the same night of Amanda’s story. While I cradled the phone to my ear and listened incredulously to Amanda’s account of countdown dumping, Holly and I spoke online of our quiet nights in. I asked her what she planned for the evening. She intended to watch a movie.

“So hey,” I typed. “I’m not doing much either. Would you like to watch that movie together?” Some movie, any movie.

“No, I don’t think so,” she replied. She did not elaborate.

After that, there wasn’t much to say. I didn’t call her again. After a few weeks, her name stopped showing up online in my contacts.