REAL ART

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Joe and Alice Part 2

Alice opened her door all the way. “O.K…”

“Look, I know it sounds crazy but I can’t stop thinking about you.”

“Art, I barely know you.”

“And I barely know you!” I cried excitedly. “But there’s something about you that—”

“You can’t put your finger on?”

“Exactly!”

But Alice wasn’t smiling, but she wasn’t frowning either. She just looked at me unimpressed. I mean, I admit, my confession and using the word “love” so freely and so quickly was quite abrupt, but I actually was secretly congratulating myself on actually having the balls to tell her how I felt upfront.

“Look Art, honestly, I’m flattered. But you’ve got to understand that being an attractive girl like me, guys think I’m just the catch for them. So before you start explaining why I am the love of your life and that you can’t dream of being with anyone else since you met me, let me clue you in: I hardly know you and I definitely do not go out with men who just so quickly and so eagerly confess how they are infatuated with me. Because that’s what this is: an infatuation. It will pass, but I would stop thinking that you and I have a future. As for Joe, honestly, mind your own fucking business. If you must know, I chose Joe because he had the balls to ask me out. You on the other hand think it’s perfectly natural to just tell a girl that you’re right for them when you hardly know them. For all you know, I could be a complete bitch. I could be one of those girls who uses her looks to get what she wants and manipulates every man she’s with to believe he’s actually doing a service for her.”

There was a pause so I had to jump in. “Are you?”

“No!” she practically shouted at me. “But that’s not the point. But for the record, even if you had asked me out the proper way I wouldn’t have agreed to go out with you because, no offence, you’re kind of wimpy. And your performance right now proves that. My advice? Stop living in a movie. In real life you cannot just confess your deep desires for someone so freely and expect them to feel the same. Even if you do have strong emotions for somebody, you must hide them until the girl (that is, if you actually date her in the end) feels the same way. Moving anymore quicker will scare them away. Just some advice for the future.”

Then Alice closed her door in my face.

I stared at the wooden panelling and was actually quite thankful that I hadn’t had an audience in the hall. But as I left Alice’s door I thought, Well, at least I said something.

I didn’t see Alice for a while after that, but Joe would show up late almost every night, bug-eyed, and a bit groggy.

This lasted a couple of months and I wouldn’t have really cared if I had a girl in my life, but I didn’t. And by November Joe found this to be depressing.

“Dude, we need to get you laid.”

Joe had no idea that I was still a virgin, but I had a feeling he had his suspicions.

I just nodded to him as I took another sip of my beer. We were all sitting in Kelly O’Bryan’s: Joe, Alice, and I.

It was our first outing together, but Alice seemed to be a bit embarrassed by my presence. And I wasn’t surprised. In September I had made a complete idiot of myself and I knew I was the last guy Alice would want to be hanging out with. But the problem with being Joe’s dorm mate was the fact that Joe actually believed me to be a friend of his and so of course friends of Joe would meet his girlfriend. And it seemed Alice had never told Joe about our interaction maybe because she already knew that I would soon become a familiar face in their little circle. And I obviously I wasn’t going to tell Alice, but the feelings I had confessed to her about I still had. Of course, I had not tried to seek these feelings in any other girl so technically it was my fault to still be crushing on Alice. But as long as I kept it under the radar, I knew I was O.K. But I also knew that girls could tell when guys were interested in them and probably knew when a guy would just not give up. But being Joe’s friend, I felt I had an advantage because if I was right, Alice would one day leave Joe and maybe come crying to me. Probably not, but a lonely schmuck like me could only hope.

But as we sat in our booth (I beside Joe and Alice across from us) Alice kept averting her eyes when I looked at her and though I knew why, it still hurt me inside.

“See any girl here?” Joe asked me, but I shook my head.

There was a girl in the booth across from us reading a book, but I wasn’t exactly inclined to talk to her. But then Joe noticed me looking at her.

“Go talk to her.”

“Why? She’s reading a book. She doesn’t want to talk to me.”

“Maybe she’s reading a book because she’s waiting for a guy to approach her.”

I doubted this, but Joe pushed me out of my chair and Alice looked relieved as I left. I ignored Alice’s behaviour and sat opposite to the girl in the booth. A strand of her blonde hair kept shifting towards her face, which she kept pushing back. Finally, she tucked the strand behind her ear and looked up at me. She was not shocked to see me sitting across from her.

“Good book,” I told her as my eyes glanced down at the cover. The Great Gatsby.

“It is,” she said. She had a dash of freckles on each cheek.

“I’m Art.” I stuck out my hand, but she just glanced at it.

“Hello Art, I’m Rachel.”

“Hello, Rachel.” I sensed an uncomfortable pause and so tried to break the silence. “Do you go to U.O.K.?”

“Yes,” she said as if it was that obvious.

“So do I. What are you studying?”

“I’m an English Major. You?”

“Oh, I’m just trying out General Arts for now.”

“And your name’s Art? That’s funny.” But she didn’t sound amused by it.

I gave her a fake smile. Rachel seemed to be mocking me and on top of the fact that she was an English nerd made me uninterested in her.

“Well, it was nice meeting you,” I told her rather abruptly and then walked back to my booth.

“You too,” she said to my departing back.

I turned around, but she had already picked up her book and had begun reading again. Nerd.

“So how’d it go?” Joe asked me as I sat down again. Alice had ordered another vodka cranberry and was stirring it as if she was trying to get it to change colour.

“Fine,” I told him.

“You get her number?”

“No. She’s a nerd.”

“So? She’s probably a virgin.”

I looked at Alice who was still busy stirring her drink. I wanted to ask her if this was how Joe talked to her let alone treated her. But I didn’t. She looked quite bored in the bar. When Joe had invited me to join them for drinks that night, I was surprised. And I had a feeling Alice had been too. I wondered if I would be seeing more of her now rather than just that girl who sat across the aisle from me in Psychology.

“What did you guys talk about?”

“Basically nothing. We barely talked.”

Joe leaned back in his chair. “You know what your problem is?” He pointed his right index finger at me. I shook my head as I took another sip of my Okanagan Springs. The beer was warm, but I didn’t mind. “You don’t know how to pick up women. Hey, I’d be your wingman but I’m not the best guy when it comes to helping others score women. I’m just good at it for myself.”

Selfish asshole.

I looked up at Alice. She was still stirring her drink.

“But you know who is? Alice.”

Alice? Was this really happening? Joe was actually offering up his girlfriend to be my wingman? Sorry, wingwoman.

Alice looked up for the first time and blushed. “Uh...well, I don’t know.” It was the first time she had spoken since we had gotten here.

“Alice, it’s O.K. if you don’t want to,” I tried to say. Alice glared at me, but Joe was to busy focusing on himself being the centre of attention.

“No, she’ll do it. Right, honey?” Joe nudged her. She had gotten back to her vodka cranberry. “Seriously babe, are you gonna drink that or just see how long it takes for the ice to melt?”

“I actually don’t want it,” she told Joe.

“You want something else?”

“No, Joe. I’m fine.”

“Alright.” But he didn’t sound convinced. “So what about it? Will you help Art find a girl?”

“I guess so.”

I really didn’t want her to. “Alice, you don’t—”

“Art, it’s O.K.,” Alice comforted through gritted teeth. But I knew she really didn’t want to.

“Alice, I know this is awkward for you.” I told her. We were inside Flashbacks, which was a club close to U.O.K. In the bar, she had worn just standard jeans and a long-sleeved shirt but now in a club she was wearing a tight sapphire mini dress that really made her bright blue eyes sparkle.

“You think?” was Alice’s reply. Everytime she moved, the glow of the dress bounced off the lights. They were like bright beautiful scales as if on a mermaid. A beautiful mermaid that was sitting across from me.

“Look, you should’ve just said ‘no.’ and been done with it.”

“Art, it’s not so easy.” But she wouldn’t explain further. “By the way, I know you still like me.” I blushed. “I really don’t think we should be hanging out as it’s not going to help your situation.” She made it sound like as if loving her was a disease. “But, since I am Joe’s girlfriend, and actually want to help you I thought of giving this a shot. Maybe seeing so many attractive girls in one space will have you latch onto someone else instead.” I almost spat back out the little bit of Okanagan Springs I had just drunk.

“I’m sorry?”

Alice just gave me an exasperated sigh quite similar to the one I had given my English professor on the first day of her class. She then drank the rest of her pint of Okanagan Springs and slammed it on the table. She was wearing red lipstick that smelt of strawberries and now her lips formation was pasted on the glass.

“Now, let’s get this over with.” She made it sound like as if were hiking up a mountain rather than just picking up a girl for me.

“I’m sorry,” I said again. “I wasn’t trying to piss you off.”

“It’s O.K.,” she said more calmly. “Joe’s been sort of getting on my nerves. He’s like too lovable, you know? But you wouldn’t know that, you’re a virgin.” I blinked. “Oh, don’t deny it. I know it’s true.” The way she said it sounded accusatory.

I just stared at her wordless. It was the day after we had been to Kelly O’s. A Sunday. Alice and I were sitting at a small round table close to the bar. We were here to pick up a girl for me. I was surprised that Joe had allowed me to spend time with Alice by myself since he had been basically preventing us from meeting. Well, that’s what it felt like. Everything seemed to be sprung on me too quickly. First the bar date with Alice and Joe and now, just Alice. And the fact that Alice had agreed to go along with this charade after my confession still puzzled me.

“So are you trying to find a girl for me out of pity or seriously so I find someone to replace you with?” I said finally thinking of words.

“Art,” Alice said strongly looking into my diluted blue eyes. “Forget me. On another subject, have you even had a girlfriend? I’m not trying to accuse you, I’m just curious.” I shook my head. “O.K.,” was all she said.

“And I’m not going to find one in here.”

“Oh, I doubt you’re going to find someone here. You know, someone you’re going to stay with or who could be labelled a ‘girlfriend’, but you can at least find someone you can have a fling with.”

I looked into her bright blue eyes. They dazzled me. And they shone even brighter from the lights overhead. They were like sapphires, as if she had been born with jewels for eyes rather than just normal wet ones all other humans had. “Alice, I don’t want a fling. And right now, I don’t even know if I want a girlfriend.”

“Art, you’ve never even had sex. You don’t know what you want.”

I sighed as I finished my beer. “So now you’re the expert on my life?”

“No.”

“You know you’re only doing this because Joe asked you to. But I understand why you’re avoiding me. But maybe you should forget me too.”

Surprisingly, Alice did not have a retort for this. She just stared at her empty glass.“I...um...”

“Alice, what’s wrong with you?”

“Nothing,” she said a bit too quickly. “It’s just...” She stared at her empty glass. “I don’t think I should keep dating Joe.”

“Then don’t.” Date me.

“Art, it’s not so easy to just dump him.”

“What are you talking about? Of course it’s easy!

“Art, listen to me.” Suddenly her voice was quite low. “Joe smothers me with love, but he’s also a bit abusive.”

My eyes widened. “Has he hit you?”

Alice shook her head. “No. Nothing like that. More his words. We’ve had a lot of fights, that’s all.”

“Is he with other girls?”

“I don’t know…but sometimes I wonder.”

God, you shouldn’t be with him.

“Everything I told you though stays with us, O.K.?”

“Of course.”

“I don’t know. Maybe it’s just a phase. All relationships go through bumps.”

“Alice,” I placed my hand on top of hers and looked directly into her eyes and surprisingly, she didn’t flinch, “if he hits you or does any harm to you, let me know.”

Alice just nodded. “Do you want another drink?”

I shook my head. “No, I’m fine.”

“O.K. I’m going to get another one.”

I didn’t find a girl that night at Flashbacks and after about an hour of watching all the girls grind the guys, I wanted to leave and soon we were heading for the exit.

In the cold, we buttoned up our jackets and I suddenly noticed we were wearing matching black p-jackets. But I didn’t remark on this as I began heading towards the campus until Alice grabbed my left arm, her dark blue highheels clicking on the pavement as she approached me. “Let’s go some place less noisy,” she told me, but she sounded a bit drunk.

It might have been because I was a bit tipsy or just wanted to spend more time with Alice but I agreed and we seated ourselves at Sturgeon Hall Restaurant, which was close by.

We ordered two Okanagan Orchard Premium Peach Ciders, which Alice convinced me was the best peach cider in British Columbia.

“So how are you liking Kelowna?” she asked me once our peach ciders came.

“It’s fine,” I said as I took a sip. It was good.

“Not as big as Toronto, though?”

“No.” I looked at her a bit curious.

“Joe told me.”

I nodded. Of course.

“What’s it like growing up in a big city?”

“Oh, you know, cars, traffic, lights, congestion, a city.”

“Some say it’s like New York.”

“Yeah, kind of, but I only think Yonge and Dundas feels like New York.”

“Why is that?”

“Because it looks like Time Square.”

“Ah.” She took another sip of her cider.

“What about you? How was growing up in Peachland?” I was wondering if she was impressed that I had remembered that.

“It was fine. Kind of like here: lots of parties and not much to do. Did you go to a lot of parties when you were younger?”

I shook my head. “I wasn’t that guy.”

“I see. Did you go out at all?

“Yeah. I wasn’t a hermit.

“I wasn’t saying you were, I was just asking.”

“I don’t know, Alice. I had a small group of friends and we weren’t the biggest party type. But then everyone left the city and it seemed I had lost them.”

“So you moved to the other side of the country to gain that back?”

“Not exactly. I just thought I needed to get away—”

“But not to a closer province because your parents could easily find you.”

“No. I just thought it would be cool to explore B.C.”

“So you really don’t have a reason.”

I looked down at the table. My glass was half-full. “No, I guess I don’t. Honestly, this was the only university that accepted me.”

Alice started laughing. It seemed she was becoming her normal self again. “Seriously?” she said between laughs.

I glared at her. “Well, what, were you some Miss Pretty A. Student?”

“Hey, Art, calm down. Honestly, I think you’re smart. I just find it a bit ridiculous you had no other options.”

“Well, there weren’t,” I said a bit more forcefully than I had intended.

“Well, if you had applied to universities in Toronto—”

Alice was beginning to sound like my mom. My nagging mom.

“Art, you’re going to get so lonely and if something were to happen to you, you’d be so far away.” “I don’t regret my decision.”

“O.K., let’s drop it. So, what kind of girl do you want?”

I was in mid-sip when she said it and I looked at her through my glass before putting it down.

“Alice, I already told you—”

“I know, I know, but hypothetically.”

“I don’t know,” I said a bit exasperated. “A girl with brown hair, blue eyes, and a nice smile.”

“So me?”

Shit. I hadn’t even realized I had just described Alice so I tried to slyly cover it up. “I don’t know if you have a nice smile.”

“Uh huh.”

“Well...”

“Art, I have to tell you: you have balls. But I’m also amazed that even when before you said you weren’t sure if you wanted a girlfriend that you still think of me as a candidate. So what? Were you planning on hanging out with me and then planning to decide after you hung out with me if you then wanted to decide to make me your girlfriend if you felt up to it?”

“Uh…well, no. I was just—”

“Trying to get off the subject of me.”

“Yes. So here’s a stab in the dark, do you like me?”

Alice’s mouth fell wide open. “How stupid are you?!”

“Hey, before you thought I was smart.”

“I was just being polite.”

“Uh huh. Just answer the question.”

“Uh...Art, I have a boyfriend.

“That’s not an answer. Either ‘yes’ or ‘no’.”

It was true, I was a bit drunk but with Alice switching moods the entire night, I wanted to get all the facts straight.

“Art, don’t do this.”

But I wasn’t about to stop.

“Would you at least consider me?”

“Art!”

“I mean you boyfriend is abusing you.” I said “abusing” quite quietly.

“Art, shut up about that. I told you to keep that between us.” She said “shut up” also in a hushed voice.

“No one’s here.” I scanned the room. We actually were the only ones in the restaurant. The bartender was behind the counter, but she couldn’t have heard us.

I was looking at Alice’s bright blue eyes again. They say that you can tell the want for someone in someone’s eyes so I tried to see it in Alice’s.

Should I do it? Do I dare? But I knew the only way to find out was to try, so I leaned in. My lips barely brushed hers before Alice slapped me as if on reflex. Her right hand knocked my left cheek and my whole body onto the carpeted floor. My half glass of peach cider spilled over and the cold liquid flowed onto her mini dress as she had knocked the table when she hit me.

“What the fuck?!” she cried as my face hit the prickly carpet. The bartender was already running over.

“Miss, are you alright?” She nearly trampled me as she ran over to Alice’s aid.

“I’m fine,” Alice told her, but I could see that she was tearing up.

“O.K.,” she said. “Are you sure this man is not bothering you?”

“No, no, he’s fine.” I felt a wave of relief. At least I wasn’t about to be kicked out of the restaurant.

“O.K.” And just like that she went back to tending the bar, but I knew she was going to be watching us closely.

“Art,” Alice whispered to the ground with gritted teeth. “I have a boyfriend.

“I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, I don’t know what I was thinking,” I spluttered. The kiss had not been worth it because I had barely been able to feel her lips.

“It’s O.K.” She sighed and helped me up. “Let’s get out of here.”

She threw a twenty-dollar bill onto the table and we left the restaurant.

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