Holly, Part 4

28 Jun

Typically, you can’t actually hear awkwardness echoing out from a locked room, but the bathroom door did absolutely nothing to impede the wet, flatulent sounds originating on the other side of it.

I stood, indecisive, wilting with impotent fury at the arbitrary unfairness of it. I hadn’t even known that the condom was there. Thinking back to the last time I’d had sex and had my laptop at the same time was an exercise in sifting through the memories of years. Probably it had been expired for months, but there was no way to communicate that fact to Holly without seeming idiotic. Explaining it would have been like trying to explain why your pants suddenly have fallen to your knees at dinner. If any doubt existed as to whether it had been an accident, the situation was unsalvageable anyway, and it seemed beyond possibility that she hadn’t seen the condom fall on the floor. She’d looked at it, and she’d looked at me. It was in my bag, and it was condom-shaped. I’m not sure what other conclusions she could have come to. Generously, I suppose, she might have willed herself to believe that I was carrying a circular, ribbed breath mint.

I considered. If I packed my laptop into my bag and left quickly, I could get in my car, disengage the emergency break, and slam my foot with decisive and ineluctable firmness onto the gas pedal before she emerged from the bathroom. On the other hand, as attractive an option as that seemed, it also seemed needlessly and deliberately cruel. And in spite of having embarrassed myself, I still liked her. After a moment, I continued to empty the laptop bag, bending to the floor in an effort to find an outlet. I stopped to pick up the pillow and put it back where it had been on the couch between us.

The bathroom had fallen into a contemplative silence, unbroken even by the sounds of running water. It was the silence of a person waiting for her body to tell her with certainty whether it was all right to leave the bathroom. I sympathized. Eventually the sounds of washing emerged, followed soon after by Holly. She faced me, shoulders squared, with the same smile she always had. Even though I’d never seen her at work, I thought of it as her “bookstore face.” It’s the sort of thing that store associates show to retail customers. She sat next to me on the couch, curled up in the corner on the other side of the barrier pillow. The show started.

Maybe she liked it? I don’t remember. I think that she said that she did, but that’s generally the thing that you say to someone who shows you something. Our social contract demands it. We talked, sometimes laughing, while the show was on. She would be reminded of something by a joke in the show and then tell me, and I’d do the same thing, and the conversation moved beyond the immediately and inappropriately personal into the realm of the superficially intimate. This is what makes me comfortable.

What I do remember is that she’d pulled her legs up beside her on the couch, but her hand lay at her side, limp and without tension. It was too far away for me to casually pick up and hold. She smiled at me again, looking into my eyes. I began to wonder whether she had seen the condom. After all, her need to use the bathroom had been obviously sincere. And she didn’t seem uncomfortable. I waited for the conversation to lag.

So, um.” I coughed. “Would you like to cuddle with me?”

A move had to be made. A direct, verbal approach seemed safer than lunging across two feet of pillow and couch for a kiss.

Back again behind her bookstore face, she smiled painfully. “No,” she said.

I waited for more, but that was it. “Oh,” I responded, and coughed again.  Clumsily, I drew her attention back to the show, saying something inane and indistinct but amounting to “Look at this fucking thing on the screen, isn’t it funny, just please fucking forget what I just asked you.” We finished the show. I asked, dully and without hope, whether she’d like to watch another. We watched another.

We chatted while I packed up my bag, the condom and the question throbbing like toothaches in my peripheral memory. I stopped at the door and turned around, nearly bumping into her. She’d followed close behind me. Startled, I stepped back, and she leaned forward to kiss me exactly once, briefly, chastely, on the lips. “Thanks for having me over. I had a great time.” The words came automatically.

I couldn’t think of anything else to say, so I walked back to my car. I’ve always prided myself on my sense of timing, and it seemed like the time.


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  1. *L*

    June 30, 2011 at 6:24 pm

    This. Was. Epic.