The sun had already baked the ground by the time Seth returned to his neighborhood. He could see the heat waves distorting the distance in all directions he looked, giving the impression that the world was contained within a small bubble centered upon him. Since there was no river in this part of town, and the rains had been gone for several months, most of the vegetation had browned into tinder under the sun’s relentless glare.
Although Seth found solace in the cynicism he felt reflecting on the indifference of nature, to his own plight and that of the dying plants around him, Seth tried to avoid thinking in general. Any thoughts that arose were pessimistic and Seth was too exhausted to debate himself over the pros and cons of living. Instead, he allowed his body’s impulse for sleep to take over as he mindlessly shuffled back to the ramshackle single-story home that he rented from the local slumlord. The rent was exorbitant for a house whose white paint was chipping off, with missing shingles and which was riddled with rot and decay. Seth hadn’t done well in college physics, but he was becoming increasingly certain that the house would collapse on top of him soon.
At least it would save me the trouble, he thought to himself as he pulled the keys from his pocket and fumbled them into the door.
The door opened up to the living room with the kitchen and single bedroom behind it. The small house was only slightly cooler than outside, and the heat amplified the dry stench of the shag carpeting that hadn’t been cleaned in months. Somehow, the floor was decorated with even more trash and food crumbs than Seth had left before wandering off to inflict his own death. The TV was on and Damon sat on the worn green couch in front of it, lifting a bag of chips to deposit the last of its contents into his open mouth.
“Are you fucking serious?” Seth asked as he stood in the doorway.
“Eat shit, loser,” Damon replied. “I told you, I can’t leave you alone. I’m bound to your sorry ass until you finally decide to off yourself again. In the meantime, I’m going to pass the time with some quality brain-liquidizing entertainment.”
“How did you even get in here?” Seth demanded as he tossed his keys onto the coffee table in front of the TV.
“I can walk through walls,” Damon answered with a mysterious wave of his crumb-covered fingers.
“No, dumbass, you left your back door unlocked,” Damon snickered as he rubbed the crumbs on his fingers into his mouth and the remainder into the grimy couch. “Not that anyone would even want to steal anything here. The most expensive thing you have is your computer, and that isn’t even mid-rate.”
“Hard to afford anything nice without a job,” Seth said as he slammed the door behind him and went to the kitchen. He opened the fridge but forgot that he hadn’t been to the store in weeks. All that was left was a yogurt that had expired a few days ago. Seth smelled it just in case, but his empty stomach retched at the scent.
“Bet you wish you had some pizza, dontchya?” Damon asked.
“Choke on it,” Seth said as he tossed the yogurt into the trash. He then pulled out the last cereal bar he had in the cupboard and began munching on it. “You probably don’t even need to eat.”
“Meh, even if that were the case, I still would for the enjoyment of it.”
“I’m going to bed. Turn down the volume.”
“Whatever,” Damon replied. He reached around the couch, grumbling to himself until he fished the remote out from between the cushions and barely adjusted the volume.
Once Seth was in his room, he dropped onto his bed and curled up into a ball. As exhausted as he was, he couldn’t manage to let sleep take him. Every time he felt himself drifting off, recollections of what had happened and his anxieties would creep out of the shadows of his mind and pull him from blissful reprieve. He tried relaxing his muscles. He tried focusing on his breath. He tried pushing the thoughts from his head. But all his efforts only built up his stress and resentment towards living and after several hours he gave up on the effort and went to shower off the grime that chafed him all over. When he finished, he returned to the living room where Damon was still watching TV.
“What should I do?” Seth asked the daemon.
“Are you serious this time, or are you just going to go whine in a corner again?”
Seth sighed and leaned against the drywall, the plaster cool to the touch. “... I’m sorry. I seriously don’t believe you are what you say you are. But you say you can help me. Please. I’m... just so tired of trying to find answers… and tired of running away from the ones that I find.”
“Well, let’s start with that,” Damon replied, slapping the space on the couch next to him and turning off the TV. “What have you tried?”
Seth pushed himself off the wall and then sat down wearily. His body felt like it had battery acid running through it and his mind felt hungover. Now that he was trying to focus on something other than falling asleep, he could barely keep his head up. “The first thing I tried… was therapy. Actual therapy. But it just felt like we were going around in circles. I would talk about how I felt, my past, and the therapist just nodded his head and kept stupid questions like, ‘and how does that make you feel?’ or just describe my emotions for me, like ‘you feel hurt by your parents’. I don’t need someone to tell me what I’m feeling. I’m living it, day in, day out.”
“Sounds frustrating,” Damon said. “Though I remember your parents being nice, even after the divorce.”
“For fuck’s sake-,” Seth groaned and pulled his hair. “They weren’t there! Even if they were in the same room as me, they were never with me. I had to constantly pretend to be nice because any time I let anything real out of me, they would just shrink away or deflect or give me the fucking silent treatment if I got mad and hurt them. So I just… never let anything out. And I just felt more and more dead inside... I remember one time I was at a friend’s house a year or so after my parents divorced. Even though I was sad, for that one day, everything was still bright and beautiful. And I remember thinking to myself: ‘this is the last time I’m going to be happy.’ And I… think that’s true. I think that was the last time I felt genuinely happy. I started shutting down after that. Friends stopped inviting me over, and I never invited them because it didn’t occur to me that they would want to spend time with me. And the more I walled myself off, the more that became true. I started getting bullied because I was the weird quiet kid who kept to himself. I did pretty well in school, but that made other kids bully me even more. I stopped caring about pretty much everything. I would just come home, do my homework, play video games, and go to sleep. I just stuck to routine to keep from feeling anything. Anytime I did feel something, I just wanted to run away from it.”
“Hm,” Damon mumbled thoughtfully. “Explains the repression issues.”
“You already fucking know this,” Seth sighed as he closed his eyes and sunk deeper into the couch.
“Like I said, you have to say it for it to mean anything. It’s like sucking poison out of a snake bite.” Then, Damon cleared his throat and put on a mock professional voice. “But tell me, how does this make you feel?”
Seth sighed and let himself sink into the pit in his chest he had been running away from. He was so tired of running. The mere thought of pushing away from his suffering made him nauseous now. “You know what I hate the most about this?”
“My dazzling wit?” Damon asked.
Seth snorted. “It’s the fact that… I did this to myself. Sure, I got bullied in school and my parents had their own baggage and couldn’t handle mine or didn’t want to… but I chose to be a recluse. I chose to shut down and push everyone away. I’m completely alone because I chose to be. And now, I don’t even have any friends.”
“And that’s why you latched onto April,” Damon said.
Gritting his teeth, Seth did his best to ignore the frustration of going over the same things he had gone over in his mind thousands of times trying to find a solution for. He considered giving Damon a final ‘fuck off’ before going back to bed, but for some reason, talking about it now felt different. “Yeah. I hate myself for being so obsessed with women. I know intellectually that none of them can make me be happy. But… I just want to be with someone. And I want someone to just want to be with me.”
“And also, sex is nice,” Damon added.
Seth opened his eyes. “It’s more than nice. Before April… broke up with me, sex with her felt… like the most meaningful thing I could do with another person. It wasn’t just pleasure. I felt…”
“Yeah…,” Seth said, breathing in sharply as he felt his heart break open a bit. “At least, I thought so.”
Damon sighed contentedly. “Yeah, I remember. Good times. Man, like seriously, back then, your subconscious was prime real estate.”
“Happy to be of service,” Seth smirked. He only realized he had started crying when he blinked and a tear ran down his cheek. He hastily wiped it away as quickly as he could, but then gave up halfway through as he knew it was pointless trying to hide something from Damon.
“Good,” Damon said as he kicked his feet onto the coffee table. “Now we’re getting somewhere. Unlike in college, where you actively avoided every opportunity to connect with people. And yes, there were girls who tried to flirt with you, don’t deny it.”
Seth’s insecurity demanded he dismiss Damon’s claim, but he knew it would be dishonest. “Yeah. Once again, I fucked myself over.”
“And then you tried to get all puritanical after college. At least, until you fell off the wagon and started binging porn. Some of which, by the way, was verging on disturbing, even to me,” Damon chuckled, but quickly seemed to realize his humor was no longer helping the situation and stopped smirking. “Sorry.”
Seth chuckled and genuine laughter almost escaped him, but it felt too painful. “I guess I figured if I couldn’t find love from other people, I would try to find it from God, or the divine, or whatever. Or, maybe if not from spirituality, I could find something there, in the community at least. Tried a church down the street. It felt good, for a while. Except the more I tried to fit in, the more I tried to connect with people, the more they wanted me to fit into a mold, to ‘redeem my forsaken soul’. I already felt broken then, and I didn’t need someone to give me ‘unconditional love’ as long as I pretended to be something I’m not or feel something I don’t. I also tried a meditation group at the college., but that ended up with the same result.”
“You know the idea of liberation or nirvana?” Once Damon nodded, Seth continued. “It’s this state of perfection where nothing can touch you and you aren’t attached to anything. But the more I tried to attain that, the more disconnected I felt from myself, and I just ended up feeling guilty and inadequate for not wanting to give things up, even if they weren’t really good for me.”
Seth hesitated but figured that if Damon was what he said he was, he already knew what Seth was going to say. “Drugs. Masturbation. Video games. Distractions. Every time I tried to let myself just… play or take it easy, I would just end up feeling like shit for not striving for perfection. But the more I felt like that, the more I just resented spirituality altogether. So I decided to give it up.”
“I see. And now…?”
Seth finally let go into the couch completely and let the darkness he had been fighting permeate him. “Now, we’re here, sitting on this couch, trying to figure out how I can go through life without wanting to kill myself.”
“That’s not what we are trying to do.”
“What?” Seth exclaimed. “That’s what you have been saying this entire time!”
“No,” Damon said slowly, wagging a finger in front of Seth’s face. “What I said was that you need to learn how to live again. That’s not the same as not wanting to die.”
“Living for something that is real and meaningful to you is how you live a fulfilling life. Trying to not kill yourself is just going to keep you running in circles.”
Seth raised his eyebrow skeptically. “...And that’s what we’re trying to figure out?”
“Mhm. So, what’s meaningful to you?”
Sinking deeper into the couch, Seth let go of the strands of hope talking with Damon had tangled around him. He had asked himself questions about meaning and purpose so many times that the words themselves felt hollow. “I don’t know. I feel so tired, I can’t even think straight.”
Damon bonked Seth on the head. Hard. Once Seth was done cursing, Damon tutted. “Meaning isn’t something you can dissect. It’s something visceral, magnetic, experiential. It’s completely unique to each person and if you over-analyze it, you just end up lost in what you think you should want rather than what you actually want.”
Seth growled as he rubbed the top of his head. That’s gonna become a bump. “... I don’t know. I don’t… feel drawn towards anything.”
“At least you recognize that. Knowing that you don’t know is the first step to actually knowing. You should know that. Remember good ol’ Socrates?”
“Sure...but how does that help?”
Damon then stood up and stretched. “Because then you are open to finding it out for yourself. No one can tell you what makes your life meaningful. You have to understand that for yourself.” Then, Damon walked over to the door and opened it, allowing a current of cool air to pour into the room which somehow vivified Seth. The sky was once again painted with purples, blues, and reds as the evening began to set in. “Come on, we’re going out.”
“Don’t know. We’ll see where the night takes us.”
Gravity and the prospect of sleep kept Seth glued to the couch. The idea of another night adventure made his stomach queasy, but eventually, he pushed himself up gingerly. “Fuck it,” he sighed. “Let’s go exploring.”
They had made their way down to the river by the time the sun had just finished disappearing under the horizon. As the half-dried-out river cooled the hot summer air, a breeze began to sweep the area, and Seth was reminded of that moment before he had decided to step on the parapet. The contrast of temperature and relief the wind brought to the scorched atmosphere soothed his weary soul.
“What’s this?” Damon asked, indicating at Seth generally. “You shifted.”
Seth huffed. “I’ve just always loved this time of day… night, whatever. Twilight. There’s a stillness to the world, even if there’s traffic and people around. For a while, everything just feels perfectly balanced. Heat balances with cold, light with day, the stresses of the day with the relaxation of sleep.”
“Not to mention it’s beautiful,” Damon replied wistfully as he looked up at the sky. The city was small enough that the light pollution was minimal, and several stars had become visible through the orange haze that was spread across the night sky. “It’s easy to understand why humans worshipped things like the night sky and the stars.”
“I suppose. Sometimes stuff like religion and spirituality seems so stupid and ridiculous, without even bringing up the atrocities it inspired. But I guess it’s also a way to make sense of the world… to feel safe, like you belong amidst… all of this. I guess it could also be that sense of wonder you get when you just really look at something. You feel almost connected to it. Is that what spirituality is?”
“You could call it that,” Damon said as he stroked his stubbled chin. “You could also call it being alive. Really alive. When you see things as they really are, you don’t put them in a box or on a pedestal or look down on them. Being willing to experience life ‘as it is’ is as wondrous as it is terrifying.”
“Yeah, I guess,” Seth conceded. “Doesn’t really help me when I feel like shit, though. I usually just resent the fact that I’m alive.”
“At this point, you’re just doing that to yourself,” Damon said, gently patting Seth’s cheek. “Yes, April hurt you. Yes, you’ve been alone most of your life. But the past doesn’t have to limit what is, right now, unless you let it.”
“Easier said than done. But I suppose I’ve made a habit of treating myself like crap.”
“You said it,” Damon said as he began walking to the main drag. “Down for drinks?”
Beneath Damon’s nonchalance, Seth sensed ulterior motives. “You’re not going to hook me up with a girl.”
Damon turned back to him with a devilish smile. “I’m not. You are.”
Seth shook his head in disbelief. “Why would any girl want to be with me when you’re in the room? At best, I’ll just end up being the second choice. More likely a fifth choice.”
Damon walked up to him and put a hand on his shoulder. “If a woman is ranking everyone in the room who she wants to fuck based on physical appearance, you aren’t looking for the same thing she is. You want affection and love, even if it’s only for a single night. Sure, you want to have sex. Everyone does. It’s only natural. But just because you aren’t a perfect specimen doesn’t mean you aren’t worthy of the care and attention you desire.”
“Not a perfect specimen like you?” Seth jabbed.
“Hey, you made me this way,” Damon laughed. “Not that I’m complaining. I don’t have quite as high a standard for relationships as you do. I’m just happy to enjoy the night.”
“Of course you are,” Seth sighed and rolled his eyes. “Fine. Let’s go get trashed. Just don’t bring anyone back to my place. The walls are paper-thin, and you would probably bring the house down on our heads.”
“Don’t worry,” Damon assured him. “The only thing I’ll be breaking is her bed.”
“I seriously don’t feel comfortable just prowling around for sex,” Seth told Damon as they walked down a dusty avenue.
They walked by log and adobe buildings with strings of light woven between them lined the streets, the windows on either side reflecting one another with motes of light sparkling in the darkness. It was Friday night and there were plenty of people out, though most were heading toward a brightly lit plaza in front of Seth and Damon.
Damon was once again drawing stares, some of which he returned with a smile, but otherwise continued strolling. “Ok, it doesn’t have to be sex, but leave yourself open to the possibility. Let’s just try opening up to people and see what happens. It doesn’t have to end in romance. You could even have women who are friends.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Seth growled. “You don’t need to be a patronizing asshole.”
“Pretty sure ‘patronizing asshole’ is my middle n-,” Damon suddenly stopped talking and froze, staring at an adobe wall.
“What is it?” Seth asked, perturbed by the shocked look on Damon’s face.
Then, a wolf’s grin spread across Damon’s face. “Come on,” he said as he sped back into motion with purpose.
“What the h-,” Seth began, but Damon was already outpacing him and Seth had to jog to catch up.
They rounded the building to find themselves in the glow of a bright yellow neon sign hanging above the entrance of a bar called ‘the Sun Room’, which was located in the corner of the plaza. Clamoring patrons stood outside in an open patio surrounded by a wooden scaffold wall that could be covered with a retractable roof. There were men and women smoking outside the entrance. The venue was packed. Patrons laughed, yelled, and spoke loudly in order to be heard over the local jazz band that was playing outside.
It was exactly the type of place Seth hated to be.
“Let’s go find someplace quieter,” Seth said as he began walking past the entrance.
Damon grabbed him by the collar and pulled him into a playful headlock. “Nope. I already see several lovely ladies casting us inviting glances. Plus, this music isn’t half bad.”
“They’re sending you inviting glances,” Seth replied as he tried unsuccessfully to extract himself from Damon’s grip. Once he finally managed to do so, they were already inside the bar. Now that Seth was inside, the rhythm, melody, and cadence of the music had begun to coalesce in his mind and body, and although he felt awkward and alien, he began to feel welcome. “Yeah, the music’s good,” he called out as he looked around the room. “But wh-”
Seth suddenly noticed that Damon had sauntered to the bar and was engaging three women in conversation. They weren’t the most beautiful women in the place, and Seth could see the disappointment on some of the other women’s faces, but Damon didn’t seem to mind. He seamlessly introduced himself, indicated toward Seth, and waved him over. Gritting his teeth, Seth complied.
“He’s my younger brother,” Seth overheard Damon saying as he walked over. “He’s really shy, but he’s got a good heart. I just lost my job back east and he’s been kind enough to post me up until I get back on my feet.”
“Aw, you poor thing,” a girl with long red hair said. She was dressed in a dark brown mini dress that accentuated her curvy figure and complimented her creamy skin and full lips. From the other two girls’ deferential body posture, she was clearly the most extroverted of the three. “What was your job?”
“Consulting, actually. Mainly trying to help people and businesses get back on their feet. Rather ironic, now that I think about it.”
All three of the girls laughed, and as Seth approached, he saw the other two girls inspect him closer. The one closer to him had dark hair and striking blue eyes, but they were filled with disappointment as she apprehended Seth’s appearance. Seth almost turned around to leave until he saw curiosity in the last girl’s eyes. She was shorter than the other girls, dressed in an azure sundress, and had short blonde hair and dark brown eyes that were deep, warm, and lively. Seth only realized he had been staring too long once she blushed, but from her playful smile, she didn’t seem to mind.
Is she feeling alright? Seth wondered to himself. Probably has had too much to drink. Yet, despite his certainty that this girl was either in need of glasses or was perhaps severely dehydrated, or was messing with him, or was being polite, whatever the reason, even if it didn’t amount to anything, it felt good to simply be looked at by a woman without being dismissed.
Damon noticed the exchange without missing a beat. “Would you ladies care for drinks? I’d hate to impose if you are already set for the evening.”
“Actually,” the blonde-haired girl said, “We do have finals coming up, so we should probably-”
“Continue to enjoy ourselves while we can,” the redhead finished. “My name is Alanna,” she added with an extended hand.
“Damon,” he replied, holding her hand a split second longer than necessary. “And you two beauties?”
“Sara,” the dark-haired one said. She seemed rather annoyed that Alanna was receiving most of Damon’s attention and that Damon’s brother wasn’t what she had hoped for, but she smiled sincerely.
“Tristana,” the blonde-haired one said. “It’s a pleasure to meet both of you.”
Damon whistled loudly enough to catch the bartender’s attention without being a nuisance and handed him two hundred dollar bills. “Whatever the ladies would care for, please. My brother as well.”
All of the women ordered hard drinks and Seth ordered a stout. He didn’t drink much, but he figured he could at least enjoy the company of the lovely women.
“Let’s step outside,” Damon suggested. “It’s a beautiful night and this band is getting its groove.”
“Let’s,” Alanna agreed. “I can’t wait to see how you move.”
Damon bowed. “Eager as I am to appreciate your prowess, I can only dance with women I know more than skin deep.”
Alanna blushed and whispered something in Damon’s ear as she rose from her seat. Whatever it was, it caused Damon to lose his composure for a moment, which Seth appreciated immensely.
“Well, then,” Damon said with a small cough. “Shall we, ladies?”
Alanna, Sara, and Tristana grouped together ahead of Seth and Damon as the five of them walked through the crowded bar. As they navigated the crowd, a thought occurred to Seth.
“Wait,” he said to Damon. “Where did you get money from?”
“I swiped it on the way to your house.”
“Pickpocketed by bumping into some asshole who parked his Corvette in two spaces. I considered it a parking ticket.”
Seth began to protest, but Damon raised his hand to silence him. “Look, you can berate me for being immoral, or we can put this money to better use than that jerk ever could and entertain these ladies. Tristana seems to like you.”
“Sure, probably beca-”
“Stop making excuses to stop living your life,” Damon interrupted, placing his hand in front of Seth to stop him in his tracks. “She may like you a little. She may like you a lot. If the only thing you think can happen is rejection, you don’t leave yourself open to the possibility of anything else. Take a chance. If you get hurt, no big deal. I’ll be here for you, whatever happens.”
“Won’t you be too busy with Alanna?”
“Sadly, you take priority,” Damon sighed, but with a wink to let Seth know he was kidding.
Once they reached the outside patio, the sweet coolness of the night caressed Seth’s worried mind and lightly sunburnt skin..
Oh well, Seth thought as he followed behind Damon. Might as well enjoy myself.
They found a circular table near the perimeter fence which looked out onto the river as it snaked by the back of the compound. The trickling whispers of the water entranced Seth for a few moments before he noticed Tristana was looking at him.
“What are you thinking about?” she asked him.
“Sorry, I get kinda distracted sometimes. I was just sort of… listening to the water.”
Tristana laughed. “Don’t worry. I think people would be a lot saner if they listened to nature more often. To me, there’s nothing more soothing than wind whispering through trees. It always makes me feel so at ease.”
“Yeah. I guess it’s easy to take the small pleasures in life for granted,” Seth said. He took a sip of his drink, looked over at Damon, and nearly choked as he saw him seated between Sara and Alanna, engaging both in provocative conversation. Although Seth sensed a tension between the two women, it seemed more playful than competitive.
I guess he just has that effect on women.
Tristana noticed his gaze and sighed. “Jealous much?”
Seth blushed with embarrassment but decided to be truthful. “A little. He always gets his way without even trying. To be honest, it’s downright humiliating to be… related to someone that good looking when I look like this,” he said gesturing to himself.
“I don’t know,” Tristana said slyly. “You’re not half bad. Mostly it’s that sad look in your eyes that keeps you from being attractive.”
Seth chuckled. “What, I’m not allowed to be sad?”
Tristana bounced her eyebrows disdainfully. “No, but self-pity isn’t exactly what most women are looking for. And are you saying that I’m not worth your time?”
“Not at all,” Seth said hurriedly. “I just doubt you would be spending time with me if Damon had approached you.”
Tristana sighed in frustration. “Maybe you’re right. But he didn’t. We are talking. Or we were talking,” she finished and got up to leave.
Out of instinct, Seth reached out and grabbed her hand. “I’m sorry. I…,” Seth retracted his hand as Tristana looked at him with an ‘oh, really?’ expression. “Sorry… I- I literally have only had one girlfriend in my entire life, and it was years ago. I’m just… really scared. I’ve never just… talked to a woman out of the blue.”
Tristana hesitated a moment before gently sitting back down, the hardness of her brown eyes softening. “Guess what. Everyone feels that same anxiety when they try talking to someone they’re interested in. It’s scary to be vulnerable with someone you don’t know. But you won’t get anywhere if you just wall yourself off and push them away. Speaking from personal experience here.”
Seth nodded solemnly. “So… uh…”
“Maybe we could start off with what you do?” Tristana suggested.
Seth’s heart sank. “I… I’m…. I was just fired.”
Tristana smirked. “Really? How can you afford to let Damon stay with you?”
It took a moment for Seth to register that Tristana hadn’t laughed in his face and walked off to find someone worthy of her time. “Well… I saved up most of the money I made. I have kind of a lot really. I never really get out, so I only spend it on groceries and stuff.”
“When was the last time you had a date?”
“... It’s been a while.”
“... Seven years.”
This time, Tristana choked a little on the drink she had been sipping. “Wow, you weren’t kidding. Why?”
“I told you,” Seth chuckled. “I’m fucking terrified. Women are so beautiful and I’m-”
“Nope, you don’t get to play that card,” Tristana interjected.
“Putting women on a pedestal,” Tristana said, waving her hand with grandiosity. “Not all women are the beautiful models you see in magazines, and we are usually a lot less pretty without makeup, except the lucky bitches who look stunning either way, like Sara and Alana.”
Seth looked over and saw Damon had draped his arms over the back of Sara and Alana’s chairs. Whereas Alana was being playful, even toying with Damon’s long black hair, Sara remained more reserved, though she was obviously trying to withhold a smile at a joke Damon had just made.
“I know what you mean,” Seth said as he leaned back in his seat. “Some people have all the luck. Alana and Sara relatives of yours?”
“N-no,” Tristana stuttered. “They are… really close friends. They’ve known me for a long time.”
“Did they drag you out here like Damon did me?”
“You could say that,” Tristana said, her voice muffled as she quickly took another drink. “They just, uh, want me to get out of my shell a bit. Loosen up. Have fun.”
“Damn straight!” Alanna suddenly butted in from across the table. “She can’t keep her nose out of a book! Seriously, you need to look up once in a while or you will miss the world! Ya know, the thing books are actually about?”
“However,” Sara said, her posture and diction immaculate, “books can provide invaluable access to information and perspective she wouldn’t otherwise be privy to.”
“None of which matters if she doesn’t come down from her ivory tower to ‘bless the mortals below’,” Alanna laughed as she took another drink.
“I’ll have plenty to teach after I get my degree,” Tristana said, folding her arms and leaning back in her seat. “If anything, you could argue that it’s my ethical and professional duty to stay focused during my education, as I will soon be shaping young minds.”
“You’re getting a teaching degree?” Seth asked.
“Mhm,” Tristana said with a smile. “Already in my last year. Just finished my practicum and am about to sweep my finals.”
“We’re very proud of her,” Sara said, beaming as she sipped from her drink.
“Eh,” Alanna said, “I would be, if she actually wanted to be a teacher.”
“No one is going to pay me to read books,” Tristana said, her smile disappearing.
“Not with that attitude,” Alanna said as she shot back the rest of her drink. “I think I want another. Mind if I…?”
“The tab should hold the night,” Damon said with a smile, but as Alanna left he raised his eyebrows at Sara and Tristana.
“It’s a debate we keep having,” Sara explained. “Tristana began with a degree in english literature, but fa- Tristana’s father convinced her it was impractical.”
“There’s a lot more demand for teachers than there are literature professors,” Tristana said as she leaned forward to grab her drink. “I like teaching. I’ll just have to tweak my focus a bit.”
“Yeah,” Seth said, biting back the jokes that came to mind about useless degrees. Like I’m one to talk. Philosophy, for fuck’s sake. “Still, that’s impressive.”
“What, that I dodged a bullet and am not going to completely screw up my future,” Tristana said with a smile and finished her drink.
“Well… that you know what you want. And you’re going for it.”
Tristana’s smile deepened as she set down her drink and leaned in closer to Seth. “That’s how it works. By the way, when you let yourself go, you’re actually pretty cute. C’mon, let’s dance.”
“Saywhatnow?” Seth asked, startled.
Tristana took his hand and led him up from his seat and Seth didn’t have the strength, willpower, or desire to say no. He looked at Damon helplessly who gave an approving smile and turned back to his conversation with Sara.
Seth and Tristana walked to the middle of the dance floor. The band was playing a moderate tempo latin groove. Tristana pushed herself away slightly from Seth and began moving sensually, wiggling her hips and waist in rhythm with the music and let her limbs glide freely about her. She then gazed beckoningly at Seth and he knew that his choice was a simple one. He approached her like a skittish deer, unsure of how to dance appropriately with a woman he just met, so he began to mirror her steps falteringly.
Taking Seth’s hand, Tristana raised it up and spun beneath it, and didn’t let go, letting her movements guide and loosen his own. Seth felt like he had to consciously force himself not to hyperventilate, and focused on her deep brown eyes. The more he watched them, the easier it was to understand how and why she moved and he saw the fire that made every gesture elegant and graceful.
She raised his hand again as the music came to a climax and spun into him, pulling his arm around her waist. “See?” she whispered breathlessly inches from his face. “That wasn’t so difficult, now was it?”