The Deep End: Part Five
The pink shirt or the green one? I held the hangers out at arms length, frowned, and threw them on the growing pile of discarded clothes on my bed. I turned back to my nearly empty closet. I only had a couple hours before Mark and I were going to meet at Java June’s, the local coffee shop in town. My stomach twisted in knots as I thought about sitting across from Mark, out eyes meeting over the comforting steam of our mugs. He’d take my hand, brush my palm with his thumb. He’d tell me how captivated he was by my beauty, how much he’d wanted to talk to me when we were at school together. I would be confident, flirtatious and funny. Before the date was over, he’d kiss me and ask me when he could see me again. It would be a magical night.
I was so ready for it.
I mean, not literally ready, since I couldn’t even decide on what to wear, but in my heart, I was ready ready.
I flopped down onto my bed and stared at the ceiling. What could I wear that would really wow him? I had to decide on the outfit before I even looked at hair and makeup ideas, and let’s not forget shoes. I’d need some that I could walk in, but also made my legs look killer.
I sat up. Maybe I should walk to Megan’s house. She’d know what I should wear. She might even have some shoes I could borrow. I had enough time. I pulled on my sneakers and shouted a quick goodbye to Ma.
When I knocked on Megan’s door, there was no answer. I knocked again and was only greeted with the yipping of their Bichon Frise, Doodle. The tiny ball of fur wiggled his rear end when he saw me through the window.
I knelt and fluttered my fingers at him. “Hey, boy,” I said. “Is your momma home?”
Doodle answered by licking the window.
I stood and pulled out my phone. Hey, I’m at your place. Need outfit advice. Where are you?
A minute later my phone chimed. Sorry, went to Miami for the day with Mom. What are you thinking? Send pics.
My phone chimed again. Another message from Megan. Text Allison.
I sent a message to Allison headed back home. I received a reply just before I reached the house. Hey, Jake and are going to catch a movie. We can swing by before we go.
I jumped at my phone. Date?!!
My phone chimed. Nope. Just the only other Star Trek fan I know. Be there in 15.
“I like the blue dress,” Allison said. She stood in the doorway to my bedroom, leaning on the door jamb. Jake sat in the office chair at my desk.
“Yeah, that one’s nice,” he said. “With the jean jacket? And what about these shoes?” He walked to my closet and picked up a pair of low-heeled black wedges.
Allison nodded. “Yeah, I love those shoes.”
I took the shoes from Jake and set them next to my blue dress. “How do you know how to assemble outfits so well?”
“I have a sister, remember?” Jake said.
I nodded. “Right, how’s Amy?” I asked. It had been a while since I’d seen Jake’s sister. She was a few years younger than we were, probably about a senior in high school now. She had always been very sweet and kind to me.
“She’s good,” Jake said. “She’s waiting to hear back from the colleges she applied to.”
I nodded. “Well, tell her I say good luck.”
Jake gave me a smile and my stomach fluttered. That was strange. Probably nerves from my upcoming date.
Allison’s phone buzzed. “Oh, hey. It’s my cousin. She’s getting married at this summer and wanted to talk over locations. I’ll be right back.” Allison answered and wandered down the hallway.
I glanced at the clock. “I better start getting ready.” Jake moved to leave the room. “It’s okay, stay where you are. I’ll change in the closet. I have a mirror in there and everything.”
I wriggled out of my jeans and t-shirt and pulled on the dress. I wrestled with the zipper, but it got caught halfway up my back. I pulled my dress over my head to start over, but the dress was so snug that it would come up over my shoulders. After another minute of wrestling I gave up.
“Jake? Are you out there?” I called.
“Yeah,” I heard him say. “What’s up.”
“The zipper’s stuck… can you help me?”
There was a pause, and then, “Sure.”
Jake pulled the closet door open. I expected him to make fun of me, but his expression was strangely serious as his dark blue eyes met mine. The way he looked at me… I don’t know how to describe it. I dropped my gaze and turned so that he could see the problem.
“I think the zipper snagged on the fabric,” I said.
Jake took the edges of my dress, careful to make sure that his fingers didn’t touch my bare skin. He worked the zipper free and pulled the zipper the rest of the way.
I turned back around. We stood so close together that I could feel the heat radiating from his skin. I swallowed and felt that odd flutter in my stomach again and I had the strange urge to touch his arm, to run my fingers through his hair. Jake stepped back to let me out and the spell was broken. I walked out and grabbed my shoes and jean jacket.
I suddenly felt self-conscious and clutched my jacket to my chest just to give my hands something to do. Had I really almost touched his hair? What was wrong with me?
“Thanks for the help,” I said. My voice sounded weird. I cleared my throat.
Jake didn’t look at me, but stared fixedly at the old poster of a chipmunk on my wall. “No problem.”
“Well, I’m glad we got that settled. My cousin is crazy. Good luck to her fiance,” Allison said, coming back around the corner. “Oh, wow, Lily! You look amazing!”
“Thanks,” I said. “I should finish getting ready.”
“Yeah, we need to leave if we’re going to make the movie,” Allison said.
Jake moved toward the door. “Have fun on your date, Rabbit.”
As soon as they left-- as soon as he left, I sank to the edge of my bed, my knees like jelly. I suddenly felt disappointed that I wasn’t going with them. What was wrong with me?
“So, Lily, where are you from?” Mark took a slurp of his coffee.
I blinked. “What do you mean?”
Mark smiled and I melted a little inside. Now that we were here, I was having a good time. Mark had gallantly held the door for me, and paid for my coffee, even when I pointed out that I could get my own.
“Isn’t that what people ask when they’re getting to know each other?” Mark brushed his hair from his forehead. His beautiful golden hair. Now his hair I would definitely like to run my fingers through.
“We know each other,” I said with a small giggle. “Stop joking around.”
Mark looked at me, nonplussed.
My smile faded slightly. Okay. It was okay. Maybe he didn’t remember me. That was fine. I don’t remember everyone from high school. I just needed to jog his memory a bit.
“I’m from here, born and raised,” I said. “We went to school together.”
Mark narrowed his eyes like he was trying to remember and my heart sank just a bit.
“We had Mr. Krankowski for English,” I said. “And Mrs. Lensworth for math. Remember?”
Mark’s eyes widened. “Shit, we had classes together? I’m sorry Lily, I don’t remember you.”
I suppressed a sigh. Just because he didn’t remember me doesn’t mean that we still couldn’t have a good time. It didn’t mean that he couldn’t still come to love me as much as I loved him.
“Well, besides lifeguarding, what do you like to do?” I asked. I took a sip of my tea and nearly spit it back out. Yowch! That was hot tea. My eyes watered as I forced myself to swallow it. Paging ER doctor, patient came in with 3rd degree burns because she didn’t want to look stupid in front of her date. I suppressed a snort.
Mark looked at me and I realized that he’d been talking. “I’m sorry,” I said quickly. “I got a little distracted by my tea.”
“It’s okay,” he said. Sigh, he’s so understanding! “I was just saying that I may be a lifeguard by day, but my real passion is taxidermy.”
“You mean… stuffing dead animals?” I asked.
“Yeah,” he said excitedly. “I mean, there’s so much that goes into it and when you’re done, if you do it right, they look like they’re still alive.” He straightened his back with pride. “I’ve even sold one or two to museums.”
I realized that my mouth was slightly open, and shut it so hard that my teeth clicked together. As hobbies go, this was a weird one. But not too terrible, right? I mean, he didn’t say that his favorite thing to do was go around killing puppies… he only messed with them after they died.
“So…” I couldn’t think of anything to follow what he’d said. I snuck a peek at my watch. We’d only been here for thirty minutes. Turn the date around Garcia!
“So, what music do you listen to?” I asked. “One of my favorite bands is coming to Fort Myers later in the year, and I thought about taking a road trip up to see them. Maybe you’d like to go?”
“I don’t really listen to a lot of music,” he said.
The conversation fell as flat as a deflated balloon. I looked around at the other customers and saw a woman staring at us.
“Don’t look now,” I said, “But there’s a woman staring at us from across the room.”
“Yeah, it’s been happening to me all day,” Mark said. “I think some people have read that article.”
I looked at Mark. I’d kind of forgotten that it came out today. I wondered how Lucinda had represented us.
Mark smiled. “Don’t worry, she did a good job,” he said, as if he’d read my mind. “I bet that woman across the way is trying to figure out if we match the people in our photo.” He turned and called to the woman. “Yep, it’s us. Mark and Lily. You saw us in the newspaper. I saved her life.”
The woman started and looked back down at her computer, her cheeks pink.
I wanted to go home. I took another sip of my tea (carefully this time) and found that it was finally at a drinkable temperature. I drained the mug and set it down on the table.
“Well, Mark,” I said as I stood, “Thank you for saving my life. I need to be going. Have a great night, okay?”
“You’re leaving already,” Mark asked, a puzzled frown wrinkled his forehead. “I was hoping maybe I could show you a few of my taxidermy projects. You’re the first girl who hasn’t freaked out about it.”
I felt a tiny seed of sympathy for him, but then I thought of a taxidermied Doodle and said, “No, I don’t think so, Mark. But thanks anyway. Take care.”
I walked home quickly, thankful that I had worn easy walking shoes. Disappointment sat heavy in my stomach as I reached my home. I climbed the stairs, ignoring my parents’ questions. I flopped onto my bed and let the tears roll from the corners of my eyes onto the bedspread. He hadn’t even remembered that we were in class together. He played with dead animals. He wasn’t the person that I had thought for so many years that he was. I buried my face into the pile of clothes that still sat on my bed. I sobbed as reality ripped my fantasy from me and shredded it. Mark LaWren, the golden boy. Mark LaWren, the love I’d been waiting for. Mark LaWren. Mark…
My phone buzzed somewhere in the mountain of clothes. It was a text from Jake. Hey, there’s something I need to tell you. Can we meet tomorrow? Anywhere you’d like.
Before I could respond my phone buzzed again. Also, you looked beautiful tonight. I hope your date was everything you wanted it to be.
I typed quickly. My tears blurred the words on the screen. We’ll talk tomorrow. Lunch at Darby’s?
Buzz, buzz. Perfect. Goodnight, Rabbit.