Chapter 1: Speed Bumps
I can’t remember whose idea is was to spend every allowance, birthday, Christmas and babysitting dollar that my childhood best friend, Reena, and I had each ever saved on a post-high school graduation trip to Europe. Reena’s parents are from India and her family had journeyed overseas, so it could have been she who suggested we explore a different part of the world. Then again, my eyes had nearly popped out of my head at my high school French teacher’s mention that the drinking age in France is eighteen and that their nightclubs stay open until dawn, and so it’s equally likely that it was my idea to trade in our piggy banks for ten days of ultimate adult freedom abroad.
Either way, what matters is that in July of 1999, beneath a giant sparkling disco ball on the crowded dance floor of a huge European ‘discotheque’ in Florence, Italy, moving to the beat of the Vengaboys’, “We Like To Party,” too drunk and too taken with the cute local I’d scored as a dance partner to notice the stench of cigarette smoke and b.o. that filled the place, is where this whole saga began.
I’d already done a fair amount of partying, but nothing—not homecomings or proms or Albuquerque’s most out-of-control house parties—compared to this. This I could never tire of. The ceiling so high above us, the space so grand, the energy of the clubbers pulsating, I wanted every night out for the rest of my life to be this big, this sexy, this free! Raising my hands towards the disco ball suspended from the thirty-foot-high ceiling, I threw back my head, letting the multi-colored spots of light coming off the disco ball dance across my face as my Italian stallion of a dance partner grooved up against me from behind and ran his hands down my arms to my waist. We found our rhythm, and I smiled as I realized there were still hours to go before last call. Letting the thrill of Reena’s and my brief adventure across Italy, Spain and France fill my every cell, I danced like I’d never danced before.
We’d partied in Paris, we’d partied in Rome, we’d partied in Nice and Madrid and beautiful Barcelona. Dismissing our hangovers as we’d checked out one historical sight after another, our eyes had been opened to this other continent’s exquisite world of cobblestone avenues, artfully-constructed old buildings, adorable cafés with patio seating, efficient 24-hour public transportation, beautiful, fashionable people walking everywhere, and a general joie de vivre in the air; and now, on our tenth and final night of our lives’ biggest adventure, Reena and I exchanged glances across the dance floor, our mouths forming big, bursting-at-the-seams grins as we read each other’s minds. It was official: we had fallen in love with Europe.
Reena would go on to pre-med to ensure a future with ample income and vacation days for traveling, while I could only hope that my major-to-be, Screenwriting, would pave way for a future blingin’ enough to vacation overseas; but I made my mind up in that moment that I would definitely set up a meeting with my university’s study abroad office as soon as Freshman year began.
But this isn’t a story about meetings, of course, and it isn’t even about travel. In short, this is the story of how I arrived at my single piece of wisdom for the twenty-somethings of today: Carpe Decennium, kids. Seize the decade. The dog, the car, the white picket fence—that stuff can all wait. Those things are better savored after a period of monumental highs and lows, anyway. Like a pint of ice cream on the couch in front of the TV after a long, hard, productive day.
This is a story about all the kinds of things that can happen when you dare to uproot yourself and go. The wild adventures, the extraordinary pleasures, the unique sensations, and, yes, on the flip side, the heart-wrenching pains.
Chapter One: “Speed Bumps”
June 9th of the year 2000 was the most depressing day I’d ever endured, because it was my nineteenth birthday. It pissed me off and made me cry.
Eighteen had been the perfect age. I was off on my own at college in Los Angeles, and I had a fake I.D. that said I was twenty-one. There was really no need to get older. I enjoyed the peril of felonious drinking, and I also liked telling people I was a Freshman, because the word had a ‘fresh’ air about it, conveying that I was a college hatchling, a bright-eyed baby adult ready to be shown the world. But now I would be nineteen, and a Sophomore. Just another college kid who was not new, not young, and not fresh. Old age had come for me, and I was distraught.
In addition to being old and un-fresh, Sophomore year was going to be like a nine-month-long speed bump between the excitement of Freshman year and my much-anticipated Junior year abroad, when, it had been decided, I would study in Germany.
Luckily, my misery had company. My high school best friend, Violet, was about to turn nineteen, too, and she was feeling just as unenthused. Not only that, but she was also going to be spending her Junior year of college overseas, in Spain (!), and she was feeling equally eager to hurry life up and board her Europe-bound aircraft. And so, on the Sunday night that followed the awful birthday that had catapulted me into the start of my elderly years, Violet and I agreed that we should come up with something to look forward to, some kind of adventure to alleviate the agony of old age and break up the year-long yawn we were going to have to endure between our awful nineteenth birthdays and the start of our Junior years abroad. We’d just polished off two bowls of chocolate ice cream while watching the latest episode of Sex and the City from the couch of her family’s living room in Albuquerque, when Violet jumped up to grab a calculator, a notebook, and a pen. Multiplying our summer job hourly wages by the maximum number of hours we could humanly work, we concluded that if we put every single dollar of our earnings into savings, it really was feasible that we could travel overseas during our upcoming Christmas breaks!
Violet then scrambled to find a map of the world, and, spreading it out across her dining room table, we excitedly agreed as we huddled over it that we would both like to explore more of Europe. We also shared a love for winter and wanted to go someplace where we could bundle up and be awoken each morning to an Earth blanketed in snow, which made the countries of central and northern Europe more attractive options.
Violet had already been to Austria; I had already been to France; she knew she would visit me in Germany; I knew I would visit her in Spain; the U.K. and Ireland seemed like they might be more dreary than snowy; and the process of elimination went on like this, until our destination became clear: Scandinavia! Research was needed, of course, but Europe’s northernmost countries of Sweden and Norway were our target destinations, and we figured that we could leave the day after Christmas and return just in time for the start of our second semesters of Sophomore year.
Springing from the table, we clasped hands and jump-danced around in a half-circle, shouting joyously as our attitudes towards the next year of our lives made a one-eighty along with us.
Returning to school that August as ‘un-fresh’ Sophomore turned out to really not be so bad after all.
My roommate from Freshman year, Samantha, and I had kept in touch over the summer Harry Potter-style—minus the delivery owls of course—by writing each other actual letters, and I’m pretty sure we squealed when we saw each other. We were also ecstatic about our slightly-larger dorm room than the one we’d occupied Freshman year, and the fact that, this year, rather than one big, communal bathroom per floor, our Sophomore dorm building provided private bathrooms for every two conjoined rooms. What was more, my closest friend at college, Tiffany, was going to be living in the other room!
I was also happy for a change of pace, after laboring non-stop as a country club banquet server over the summer. I had actually had the time of my life serving alongside my same-age team members—we would add liquor to the coffee we sipped throughout our shifts, take turns napping in the linen closet on the job, hold after-hour drinking parties on the golf course under the stars and sneak into the country club’s pool for late-night skinny dipping—but by the end of the summer, I was exhausted from upwards of fifty hours a week of work, and it was a real relief to peace out on heavy trays, scorching hot plates, and sweat—lots of sweat—in favor of textbooks, lecture halls, and the nice, cool library.
It was only a few weeks, however, before the thrill of returning to campus life wore off, and I found myself spending more and more time obsessing over where Violet and I would stay, what we would do, and how we would get from place to place during our highly-anticipated Scandic adventure.
While Reena’s and my trip had been a package deal organized by her high school’s French Club, Violet and I were going to need to have every detail of our itinerary worked out on our own; and so by the start of November, I wasn’t living ‘in the moment’ so much as I was living on the internet and in my imagination, two months and nine time zones into the future, five thousand five hundred miles away. All I could think about was our trip.
But then, I met Jake.
“Birthday party at Sushi King tonight! Dust off your finest party frock!” I announced one mild, clear-skied early-November day as I burst through the door to my dorm room, immediately gathering that Tiffany was home. My room’s lights were off, but I could see through our shared bathroom that hers were on, and I could hear her SoCal punk rock—NOFX, I gathered—playing on the little CD player she kept on her desk.
“Not anything you wouldn’t like being puked on, though!” I hollered through the bathroom. Everybody I knew had either puked on themselves or been puked on at Sushi King. Some seriously raucous boozing took place there.
“Whose birthday is it?” she asked, turning down the volume on her music.
“A Lacrosse player, I dunno,” I walked into the bathroom to assess my hair and face situation in our big, wall-to-wall mirror. “I guess it’s his twenty-first birthday, and Megan and Kat were going but they canceled because Megan is sick, and Kat has to write a paper, so now there’re two spaces in the limo and they’re looking for a couple of girls to take their place and we need to look really cute because half the team is going and I’m told a lot of them are hot!”
I took a breather.
“Limo?!” she appeared in the mirror next to me to pull the elastic out of her long, flowing dark hair, her curious, almond-shaped light brown eyes alive with excitement.
“Yeah! Get ready ’cause it’s picking us up at nine. Vodka-cranberry?” I asked over my shoulder as I headed back into my room.
Tiffany is half-Japanese and half-Polish, and her Polish half loved vodka.
Tiffany and I were big advocates of the pre-drink for a number of reasons. First, bouncing in and getting the party started makes a memorable first impression. Also, alcohol depresses the central nervous system, thereby lessening the feeling of pain and making it possible to wear torturously fashionable heels. Pre-drinking saves money, because fewer drinks are needed to achieve drunkenness once you’re out, and those boys on whom you made your unforgettable first impressions line up to buy them for you. Another reason is that once you’ve got your buzz on, you’re quicker to settle on what to wear, minimizing the time it takes to get ready. The underlying reason for this is that you don’t care about things like whether you ‘feel fat’ in this dress or that skirt, or whether these earrings look slightly better than those other earrings, or whether this pair of shoes matches just a little bit more than that pair—which paves way for the most important reason that pre-drinking is important:
Just as horses can sense fear, boys can sense insecurity. They respond better to girls who are not constantly touching our hair, adjusting our strapless bras, tugging at our skirts and stealing glances of ourselves in windows and mirrors. Pre-drinking increases not giving a crap, which looks a lot like confidence; and confidence is hot.
An hour later, as Tiffany and I pranced towards our campus’s passenger pick-up area where the limousine sat parked, it didn’t occur to me that the intense green eyes of the Lacrosse team’s particularly attractive captain might be on me. Yet another reason it’s nice to be slightly inebriated is that things that could cause you to feel insecure simply don’t occur to you. Then again, that can be a negative side effect, like that time I didn’t realize my boobs had peeked out of my cowgirl costume as I waved from the float of a parade down a street full of spectators in Germany--but I’m getting way ahead of myself.
Inside the limo, Tiffany and I made our flirtatiously fun first impressions on the Lacrosse boys, and we met some of their girlfriends and female friends. There was a space available next to the team captain, and I sat next to him. He smiled and waited for me to do the ice-breaking, but I just smiled back and held his gaze. It wasn’t easy to remain poker-faced as I took in his sexy face, his perfectly-structured medium-large upper body, and the striking combination of his short, dark hair with his electrifying green eyes, but, I am the Stare Contest champion amongst my three siblings. I will not blink, crack a smile or laugh. I will flare my nostrils, turn my right eye out (it’s a wanderer I can control), turn my left eye in (anyone can do this; see my article at WikiHow), and form my lips into a horizontal figure eight (which is a special skill I can’t explain, like being such a great kisser). In this round, I just looked tipsy, which apparently did the trick. The Lacrosse captain looked away and took a sip of his drink as he stifled a smile. I was winning.
“Hey, I don’t think we’ve met before. I’m Jake,” he said as he turned back to face me, and he held out one of his big, strong calloused hands.
“Nice to meet you, Jake. I’m Nicole.” I shook his hand firmly, but softly, but firmly, having to put real effort now into not betraying my excitement. I have nothing against soft hands, but there’s just something about dry, calloused guitar-playing and netstick-bashing hands that really got me going.
We made some small-talk, and he revealed that he was a Junior and a Poli Sci major from Sacramento. Blah blah. I assessed the actually important stuff without any help from him:
#1: He was hot.
And #2: He knew it.
To garner Jake’s adoration, I would have to be much more than cute and fun. I would need to be desired by other members of his pack. And so, I made sure to carry out the ol’ eye-catch-then-smile-and-look-away routine with a few of his teammates during the ride. This maneuver would give them reason to believe I might be interested in them, and result in each of them making their way over to talk to me at some point in the night. Subsequently, Jake would view me as the prize in a competition, I would pay him slightly more attention than the others, he would feel he was the most desired of all, and in the end, we would both win!
Sushi King—which at 11pm transformed from a restaurant into a veritable nightclub—was my Alma mater’s favorite venue because they didn’t check IDs, and our night unfolded just like every other…
At first there were boats of sushi set out along the table for everyone to dig into, and then came all the components for sake bombs: big bottles of strong Japanese beer, tall glasses into which to pour the beer, chopsticks to set atop the glasses, and shots of hot sake to set atop the chopsticks. We all came equipped with our fists, which were necessary for pounding on the table while shouting, “Sake sake sake BOMB!” causing the chopsticks to separate, the shot glasses to fall into the beer, and the race to the bottom of our glasses to commence. Again and again.
In time, the tables were cleared, the lights were dimmed, a DJ began spinning outdated tunes, and the wait staff began taking shots with the customers—who were not just allowed, but encouraged, to dance on top of the tables as disco balls that had seemingly popped out of the ceiling glitterized the whole shebang.
A few blurry hours passed as I mingled, drank, danced, and drank some more, until I noticed Jake hopping up onto the karaoke platform.
Was he going to sing? No, it wasn’t a karaoke night, I reasoned. Ooh! Was he going to strip?
As he took the microphone off its stand, he looked down and smiled endearingly at me like one might smile at a puppy that’s tipped over trying to scratch its ear, and then he turned the microphone on and tapped and blew into it to make sure it was working. I grinned up at him as I continued to dance, when I realized he was now pointing at me. Oh God, was he going to say something about me? Was he about to announce that love at first sight is a real thing?!
“We need assistance over here, please! We need busboys with wet rags, stat!” he shouted, his voice booming out over the music from every speaker around the large room.
He is absolutely yum, I thought as I gazed back up at him, until his words registered.
Wait, what? Wet rags? I wondered, until I noticed the song that was playing. I hadn’t heard it before and it was really good, I thought, and I closed my eyes to appreciate it as I swayed side to side, quickly forgetting all about Jake’s random announcement; but then, when I felt something… odd… going on behind me, I looked back over my right shoulder to find my butt being rubbed down by two very small Asian busboys in a wax-on wax-off motion to the beat of the music. I did not know what on Earth was going on.
Jake then appeared next to me, and as he gently took my elbow in his hand, he said, “It’s ok, we’ll get your dress dry-cleaned,” and he tucked a strand of my hair behind my ear.
“Well. We’re going to need to discuss this later,” I slurred up at him with an accusatory smirk. I’d enjoyed the hair-tuck gesture so much that I decided to put off being mad over his ordering this dirty dishrag rubdown and causing said need for a trip to the dry cleaners.
Jake then took my waist in his other hand and pulled me into him, and we danced until the staff turned the lights on and herded us out.
Back on campus, he walked me all the way to my dorm building and upstairs to my door.
“Aren’t I going to ask you if I can come inside?” I queried as I swayed and ineffectively jabbed at my door’s keyhole with the wrong key, and he took my keys as I beamed up at him, now hanging from the door knob.
Lifting me up and holding me steady as he opened the door, he said, “Yes, you can come inside,” with a laugh, and I hiccupped.
“Oh, excuse schmee!” I cupped a hand over my mouth giggling.
And that’s the last thing I remember.
The next morning, I woke up in my party clothes, hiding beneath my covers from the light and sounds of the morning.
I felt like I had been hit by a train.
And where was I sleeping? Not up in my loft-style dorm bed. I peeked out to find that Samantha must have made down our little Ikea couch bed for me when I proved too sloshed to get up my ladder. How sweet of her. A soccer player from San Diego in a long-term and long-distance relationship with her high school beau, Sam was no partier, and yet, she was almost never judgmental of my drunken escapades.
I say ‘almost’ because there was that one time when, just after deep-cleaning every square inch our bathroom on her knees in elbow-high rubber gloves, she was awoken in the middle of the night to a veritable chorus of ralphing. She got up to find Tiff puking in the sink, me puking in the toilet, and Tiff’s roommate puking in the shower. She had literally just cleaned the bathroom while we were all out, and we three received the grimmest of silent treatments for several days.
Moaning in agony now with a hangover from hell, I dragged myself off the couch bed and hobbled through the bathroom towards Tiffany’s room while wishing that I had puked the night before, to find that neither Tiff nor her roommate were home. Sam was gone too. Where was everybody? I wondered as I collapsed in Tiffany’s doorway, and I sat there crumpled in total misery for a few minutes before I remembered that she hadn’t been with me when Jake had walked me home.
My cell phone began to ring from within the wristlet I’d carried the night before--which was fortunately sitting on top of the bathroom counter--and I reached up for it to find that the call was coming from a local number I hadn’t saved into my phone. Strange. Cell phones were still primarily only used for urgent calls, and only my family members and closest friends had my number.
Curiously I answered, “Hello?”
“Nikki!” Tiffany’s tiny and immediately recognizable voice breathlessly exclaimed.
“Tiffy!” I perked up.
“I’m at jail,” she whined.
“What? You’re at jail or you’re in jail?”
“I’m at jail. I was in jail.”
“Huh?” I asked.
“They let me out a few minutes ago,” she answered, and a raucous laugh exploded out of my face. I quickly pressed the mute button.
“Ohmygod, are you ok?” I inquired after composing myself and in-muting the phone. “Where are you calling me from?”
“A payphone. My phone died after I called the police last night.”
“What?! What do you mean, after you called the police?”
“I got lost. I called a cab company, but I didn’t know where I was.”
“Why didn’t you come back in the limo with us?”
“No idea, but I walked like four blocks in the wrong direction. I couldn’t read the street signs because they were wiggling,” she plainly stated, which caused me to have to mute the phone again to conceal another roar of laughter.
The street signs were wiggling?! Oh wow, only Tiffany could make me laugh in the midst of a near-death hangover. The laughing really hurt my head, though.
“Hello?” she called into her end.
“I’m here. So, you called the cops on yourself, and they took you to jail?”
I snorted. “Well, crap… How are you? How do you feel?” My voice rose up to a squeal at the end as I did my very best not to give into another outburst.
“Really bad. I couldn’t even eat the French toast.”
“French toast?! They serve French toast in jail?”
“Yeah, and orange juice. It wasn’t fresh-squeezed, though.”
“Well that’s just unacceptable,” I sarcastically stated. That Tiffany hardly means to be funny is what makes her my favorite comedian. “So, do you need me to come get you? What jail are you at?”
“Santa Monica, but no, Josh is on his way.”
Josh was Tiffany’s surfer boyfriend from Huntington Beach. This incident would warrant a squabble for many couples, but Josh was a bit of a wild drunk himself.
“Ok, well thanks for the call, see you tonight?”
“I might stay at Josh’s. What are you doing?”
“Lying on the bathroom floor, staring at the wall.”
“Well good luck with that!” she laughed.
About half a catatonic hour after we hung, I managed to pull myself off the ground and hobble back to my room for water, painkillers and a sausage and biscuit; and as I waited for my breakfast to microwave while contemplating what I could do to make this hellish day pass as quickly as possible, my dorm’s phone rang.
“Nicole’s House of Pain,” I answered, and my voice cracked in anguish.
“Good morning, Beautiful,” a deep and familiar voice greeted me.
It was Jake!
“Good morning!” I tried to sound as perky as possible.
“How ya feelin’?” He laughed.
“Well, let’s just say if you were here right now you wouldn’t be calling me ‘Beautiful.’ I think a different term of endearment might come to mind,” I speculated as I pulled the phone back into the bathroom with me to quickly glance at myself in the mirror. Oh, yikes.
He laughed. “Like?”
“Medusa… or Cyclops.”
“Yeah, I’ve got a splitting headache. I can’t open my right eye.”
“The wandering one?”
“Oh, you noticed?”
“Yeah, I think it was checking another dude out while we were dancing.”
“Oh I hate it when it does that. Maybe I should wear one of those big plastic head funnels for dogs.”
He laughed again. “So, uhh, what are you up to today?”
“I don’t know. I haven’t even figured out what day it is.”
More laughter. “It’s Sunday. How would you like to go flying with me this afternoon?”
The microwave dinged.
“Did you say ‘flying?’”
“Yeah. I’ve got my Private Pilot License, and the weather’s great, so I reserved a plane at four o’clock.”
“That sounds amazing! But is it one of those little planes that sometimes falls out of the sky?”
I had absolutely no fear of flying, but I had to say something that would lessen my state of excitement. I was really thinking, Wow, yes, ohmygod, wow. But I had to be cool.
“It’s a Cessna Skyhawk, and we won’t fall out of the sky. You can trust me.”
“Ok, Maverick, I trust you.”
“Great. Pick you up at three?”
I was elated. I plopped back down on the couch bed with my breakfast and a big smile across my face in spite of my hangover, and I thought back through the few five-second memory clips I was able to recover here and there from the night before.
I remembered the whole party doing our fourth—or maybe fifth—round of sake bombs…
…and then dancing with Tiffany on top of a table littered with empty glasses and sake carafes…
…and then sitting on Jake’s lap in a chair seemingly in the middle of the dance floor, laughing and flirting with each other as people danced all around us…
…and then listening to some random girl in the line for the bathroom confess to me how she kinda sorta wanted to make out with her dorm roommate…
…and telling her that she should definitely go for it, that this was a great idea …
…and then hearing Jake calling over the PA system for my ass to be given a wipe-down.
What the hell was that all about?! Why had Jake ordered the staff to bus my rear end? Also, had he and I kissed? I didn’t think so. And, if we had discussed anything of importance like whether his mom’s father still had a full head of hair, we’d have to go over it again. It was a terribly blurry night.
Jake picked me up at three on the dot in in his big, shiny red, pumped-up Jeep Wrangler, and dressed like your everyday jock in khaki shorts, a white tee shirt and sneakers. The tee hugged his biceps just enough to show them off, and he clearly had an ass to speak of. At the hangar, I snapped a few photos of it while he was bent over checking things out.
I learned in conversation that he was in the ROTC and would go straight into the Air Force after college; that his mother’s side of the family was Italian and very proud of it; and that he was extremely and inexplicably scared of snakes. I also learned that the reason my behind had gotten a rub-down at Sushi King was that it had been puked on. On his way back from the bathroom to resume dancing with me, he had witnessed some guy heave forward and upchuck directly onto my ass. That’s when he had hopped up on the karaoke platform to call for help, while smiling adoringly down at me as I danced in my own little world, totally and blissfully unaware.
He didn’t need to be reminded that I was born in West Texas and raised in New Mexico; that I have three younger siblings; or that I was going to spend my Junior year studying abroad. He asked if this plan was set in stone, and I answered proudly and excitedly that it was—that I’d formulated my entire Freshman and Sophomore year curriculums around what courses would be available in Germany so that I could spend two semesters there without falling behind.
Flying was glorious. We soared over the ocean-side cliffs of Palos Verdes, past the sparkling waters around Catalina Island, and around the hills east of Irvine, which were lush for the moment thanks to recent rainfall. This was an entirely different experience from flying in a commercial airplane, as we moved through the air like a bird, soaring up, sailing down, tilting to glide to the right or to the left, and blowing through puffs of clouds that were floating along here and there, just for fun.
When I wasn’t busy taking pictures, he let me hold the yoke steady. I tried to scare him by suddenly pulling back on it so we’d go higher, but he encouraged my maneuver and I wound up scaring myself!
What really scared me, though, was how much I liked him.
In high school, I had jumped from one very short-lived relationship to another. I ‘went out’ with a freckled, all-American type football player; a hot-bodied half-Black basketball star; a stylish guitarist in a Green Day/Weezer-like band; a metal-loving skater kid who had sexy long hair; and a clean-cut, straight-A student body member who resembled Ken (as in, Barbie’s boyfriend)… to list a few.
Freshman year of college had then been a blur of drunken makeout sessions which had led to an uncanny number of, let’s say, ‘oral bestowments,’ on account of a bizarre phenomenon that has unfortunately not since reoccurred. I must have been emanating some wildly delicious pheromone, because just about every time I was out, I was made the same offer, time and time again: cunnilingus with absolutely no expectation of reciprocation. An offer I obviously could not refuse. In time I began to wonder what in the world was going on, and I dared to give my bikini zone an electric blue dye job to see how that might affect the spell that seemed to have been put on it. The opportunities continued to present themselves, though, and in fact, my Smurfy pelt seemed to drive my benefactors to please me with even more diligence! Not only that, but I was never once asked to return the favor with a blowjob or anything! This was perfect, as I was neither excited by blowjob-giving, nor in any hurry to do The Deed.
By the time I met Jake at Sushi King, I’d had my fill of random tongue jobs, believe it or not, and I was hungering for something meaningful. I wanted Jake for real, and it was scary, because it had been more years since I’d come across anybody this sexy and this cool, and who seemed to feel the same way about me!
I had earned my first date with Jake by tricking his ego into wanting to ‘win’ me, and now, my challenge would be to keep him intrigued. So to do that, I decided I would play Hard To Get—the oldest game in the book—and so, when he inquired about the next time I’d be available after our flying session, I told him I wasn’t sure, that I had a lot going on. I thanked him, kissed him on the cheek, and hopped out of his Jeep, leaving it at that.
Over the next week, he called every few days and even waited for me after some of my classes. I teased him, calling him a stalker, while in truth I’d been putting painstakingly careful attention into what I wore and how my hair and makeup looked, remaining constantly mindful of the way I walked and talked, in hopes that he might appear around every corner.
Finally, I agreed to meet Jake and his friends at an Irish pub in Marina del Rey. Tiffany had a family obligation, and none of our other friends had fake IDs, so I showed up solo and casually explained why I had no girlfriends in tow—which gave me an air of independence as well as a point for reliability.
Jake kissed me for the first time that night, out on the patio where we had found some privacy, and it lasted several passionate minutes until a couple of his buddies spied us and interrupted the moment with whoops and hollers. He held my hand tightly for the rest of the night, buying my drinks and stealing several more kisses, and at one point I caught him gazing at me with delighted astonishment and earnest desire in his emerald eyes.
If he wasn’t hooked before, he was now, and I gave myself the green light to be available to see him on a weekly basis—but not more! Not for a while anyway. He was so sexy and wow that I would need to keep him pining for me by maintaining that I was too busy to get together too often.
In the weeks leading up to Finals, Jake and I hung out every weekend, and in no time, school let out for our month-long Christmas break. He drove me to the airport, and I wished that someone I knew was there heading into the same terminal just to witness me being dropped off by this gorgeous athlete in his big, sexy Jeep. I just felt so cool by his side.
After heaving out my luggage, he wrapped his sculpted arms around me and rested his chin on my head. “So… have a merry Christmas… and an awesome trip…”
“Thanks.” I hugged him back, my cheek pressed up against his hard chest, when I became suddenly aware that if we were going to communicate over the break, now was the moment that we’d either share our cell phone numbers, or, more commonly still, our families’ home phone numbers.
Jake didn’t share his or ask for mine, though, and while I suppose I could have initiated the exchange, society has deemed it the man’s job to make such first moves—and I am generally unlikely to do any less-than-desirable task that’s been spelled out in somebody else’s job description.
So, after a couple of prolonged pecks, I walked off to my gate, trying my best to put one foot in front of the other in a way that looked natural; but I felt so uneasy about our parting of ways that I was sure I was walking funny.
Had that seriously just happened? Were we really going to go an entire month without any communication? What was going on here?! Was it indifference? Was it rejection? Whatever it was, it felt like a bucket of cold water to the face.
I wasn’t accustomed to being treated with anything short of adoration by the menfolk. In high school, I had been pretty spoiled with attention as one of just twelve cheerleaders in my class of about six hundred. Spotlighted on the sidelines during football and basketball games as well as during Friday morning ‘assemblies’ in our large gym, our squad won not just state but also regional competitions, because our stunts were killer and our dance routines were like something out of a music video. We also wore adorably flattering, short-skirted, starch white and navy blue uniforms to school once or twice a week; and so, you could say our milkshakes brought all the boys to the yard.
Then, with Freshman year of college being the Year of the Countless Oral Offerings, I definitely got the feeling that I could have anything I wanted where boys were concerned.
Jake’s sudden lack of wanting, then, was a new sensation I did not at all enjoy being on the receiving end of. I managed to hold my chin up high, though, and, forcing my attention to the wonderful sounds of airport announcements, suitcase wheels plodding along the ground, heels clicking, and the murmur of the hundreds of travelers in the vast departures hall all around me, I focused on the fact that in just two short weeks, Violet and I would be walking through the airport corridors of northern Europe!
December 26th–the date of Violet’s and my big departure—arrived in the blink of an eye.
Seated on a giant trans-Atlantic airship that would carry us from Newark, New Jersey, to Gothenberg, Sweden, and which was modernized to include tiny TV screens on the backs of each headrest, Violet and I were all smiles as we tucked our backpacks up under the seats in front of us and fastened our seatbelts.
“How glad are you right now that we worked so hard all summer?!” I turned to Violet, thinking back to the hundreds of giant, heavy banquet-sized trays of stacked plates I’d carried out to tables; the countless chairs I’d un-stacked and arranged only to later re-stack and put away; the many dozens of tables I’d dragged out and propped up (to later collapse and drag away); all the loud, crazy wedding receptions that had carried on late into the nights; and the many sunrise golf tournament breakfasts for which I then had to force myself out of bed at 4:30am. It had been one long, hard, money-making summer.
“That, and being a serious fucking penny pincher day in and day out,” she added.
“Seriously,” I agreed. “I could probably count on one hand the number of times I filled my gas tank, the number of restaurants I saw the inside of, or the number of things I bought that I didn’t absolutely need over the last seven months.”
“No shit,” she rolled her eyes, “But I would do it all over again!” she clapped joyously.
“Well, good,” I said to her, “because we’re going to have to. Like, trifold. Junior year is gonna cost us a lot more than this twelve-day trip.”
Even though our tuitions while studying abroad would be the same as back home in the States, we would not be allowed to hold jobs in Spain and Germany and would therefore have to take with us all the money we’d need for any ‘extra-curricular’ activities. This meant that many more months of hard work and frugal living lie ahead, and Violet’s hands froze mid-clap as she grimaced.
A flight attendant walked backwards down the aisle passing out pairs of complimentary headsets as our little TV screens lit up, and I bounced up and down in my seat like an excited child. I plugged my set into my armrest, and our flight leader’s and captain’s announcements—which were spoken in both English and in melodic and adorable Swedish—came through the ear buds, before our screens played a video tutorial about the emergency exits and things.
A variety of music channels and television stations became available as we took off, and while Violet got straight onto figuring out how to operate her TV console, I settled on an in-flight radio station that was playing a wistful Sarah McLachlan song. I reclined back in my chair, and as we soared to our cruising altitude over the Atlantic, my thoughts turned immediately to Jake. It was a romantic song that made me almost think fondly of him and the sweet moments we’d shared; but I quickly mentally karate chopped the budding memories as I remembered that Jake may be past tense—a possibility that sent a sharp, shooting pain through my heart. Looking down at my armrest, I almost pressed the ‘TV’ button to instead watch something engrossing, but then, I thought that now was actually a pretty good time to analyze Jake’s every word and action since the day we met. There is something about being on a long trans-continental flight that lends to some pretty stellar daydreaming. Anyway, there were still nine hours in the sky remaining for TV.
I had the window seat on this flight, and as I gazed out over the sparkling waters beyond the northeast coast, I remembered something small, something I’d swept under the rug in my mental library, that had taken place back in the hangar on our very first date. It was when I’d confirmed my plans to study abroad. Jake was a great listener and a very polite person all together, but he had turned away from me wordlessly and gone on inspecting the Skyhawk, checking this and that off a list secured to a clipboard as if I hadn’t answered his question. I was so gleeful in my response about going to Germany that this hadn’t immediately bothered me, but now I considered that his blatant ignoring of what I’d said seemed to mean something. Had he felt disappointed to learn that I’d be gone in a year’s time? Or was his mind was simply preoccupied with going through the safety checklist?
I also thought about the fact that he hadn’t once tried to go further than kissing me. We had spent the night together the last four times that we’d been out together, but, nothing. I was pretty sure he wasn’t gay, because I could literally feel his enthusiasm when we were making out; but that he hadn’t so much as grazed a boob was weird! It’s not that I was in any hurry to go further—in fact, I was not—but having grown accustomed to horny men, Jake’s ‘respectfulness’ puzzled me. He sure did love to cuddle, though. After making out for a while he always passed out holding me tightly with his face buried in my neck and his legs intertwined in mine, and I absolutely loved that.
Hmm, I pondered. He had gone to an all-boys’ Catholic high school, so maybe he was, like, a ‘good Catholic school boy.’ Is that even a real thing, though? I wondered. I didn’t know. We had the Mexican-American kind of Catholicism in New Mexico, but not the white collar, Orange County, plaid uniform kind. I didn’t know anything about that kind.
Could he have had things going on with multiple girls? This possibility had never occurred to me, because it just really seemed as if I was the only girl he was seeing. Even though we had only spent one evening a week together, he sure did try to talk me into hanging out more often, and he called me all the time just to chat. He would also walk me to class whenever he was on campus and could, and he and his friends would urge me to join them for lunch any time we crossed paths in the cafeteria. His Lacrosse buddies would holler out to greet me from across campus and run over to pick me up and spin me around as if I were a cherished member of their little family, and they would ask me questions about Jake as if we were a couple, such as what time his next class was letting out. To an outsider, it would appear that we were a couple. But, a couple that only rolled around and kissed? A couple that wasn’t going to speak once over Christmas break?
What if he had a high school sweetheart back home, or a long-time crush he’d recently reestablished contact with?
Oh yuck, these possibilities made me feel sick!
Then my mind re-played and incident that seemed to validate my place as the only girl in his life.
Jake and his housemates had hosted a fabulous Christmas party the Saturday before finals week. Their amazing beach house had filled up with, well for one, a giant Christmas tree that they had somehow stolen off campus, and also a great crowd of teammates, significant others and friends. Guys were required to wear suits, gals to wear cocktail dresses, and their place was all done up in garland and lights. It had two balconies in addition to an accessible rooftop, and as there were so many fun people to talk to, Jake and I had naturally drifted apart to drink and hang out in different rooms and outdoor spaces.
When it came time for a friend of mine to leave, I walked her down the street to her car, and as I made my way back to the party after waving her off, I found Jake wandering around in the middle of the dark street with a troubled expression.
Heyyy sexy! I waved to catch his attention and greeted him with a smile.
Hey, I thought you’d left! He exclaimed, and he put both hands on my shoulders.
Left? No, I was just walking Katie out! I reassured him. Why? Did you need the left side of your bed for somebody, because I can go, I joked motioning towards my truck.
No, he seriously stated, The left side of my bed is for you. Only you.
Haha, okay good, I laughed, because I’ve had wayyy too much to drink. I shouldn’t drive.
Nicole, he solemnly started, and he let one hand drop from my shoulder to his side. I don’t think, and his voice trailed off as he looked away.
I tilted my head in concern. Something was really wrong.
I don’t, he started again, and he looked up at the dark sky blinking back… tears?! I don’t think you like me as much as I like you, he finally finished, and he removed his other hand from my shoulder to dab the corners of his eyes with the back of his finger.
Was this big, strong, party-boy jock starting to cry?!
What? I’d asked in disbelief. What would give you that idea?
I just… you don’t… I don’t know… you just…
He was getting really choked up.
No, no, that’s not true! You’re imagining things! I shoved his shoulder playfully, laughing to lighten the mood. C’mon, let’s go back inside!
You go ahead, I’ll catch up. I’ll be right behind you.
Are you sure? I double-checked, and he nodded. Okay, I smiled. See ya inside.
And that was it. Neither of us ever brought that conversation up again. He was extra cuddly the next morning, and I wrote what had happened off as a drunken, irrationally emotional moment that he’d probably forgotten. It bothered me, though, because in my personal history of drunken, irrationally emotional moments, actual feelings had always existed at the root of the outburst.
Oh well, I sighed. I could play, He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not, the entire plane ride to Sweden, but only time would tell.
I wondered what he was doing now, and whether his thoughts had strayed in my direction over the past couple of weeks. Had he thought of me on Christmas? Had he remembered that today was the day I was leaving the country? Did he regret not getting my home phone number, or had he purposefully neglected to ask for it because he intended to use the holiday break to go our separate ways?
I really, really hoped he would want to pick things up where we left off in the new year, because in the short time we’d known each other, we’d had a really good time. We’d shared laughs that had us both buckled over, kisses that made me swoon, and an electricity when we touched that you don’t feel with just anybody.Well. Only time would tell.