the sunday swap meet is a battle ground.

When I come home from Earwax a few hours later, Nate is in the kitchen cooking some sort of concoction involving sausage.
“Did anyone call?”
He doesn’t even look at me as he says “no” with a tinge of uncertainty.

I ignore this. “Listen, I’m going to New York this weekend. So you’ll have to feed Stella and let her sleep in your room.” Stella is my little bow-legged black cat (with white feet).

He looks up from the onions he is chopping. “Why are you going to New York? Work or something?”

I pull a cigarette out of my bag and sit on the floor by the pantry door. “Well, it just seems like a good idea in light of recent developments. I need to get away for few days.”

He doesn’t say anything.

“I can see some friends from school and buy new shoes. It will cheer me up. And actually, Mark gave me the idea.”

He snorts. “Oh, old bitter Mark wants to ship you out of town? Who will answer the bell at three am when he’s drunk and lonely?”

“He’s moving in with his girlfriend in Lincoln Park, so I wouldn’t worry yourself.” I sigh. “Ryan and I broke up or whatever last night.” I am trying to sound blasé about it. I

He turns to look at me. “I figured as much. I heard you crying. And you know, that really upset me because I’ve never HEARD you cry before, other than that time Brad hit you at a party.”

I shrug my shoulders. I am a little embarrassed about last night’s crying jag. And I’m still mortified by the aforementioned Brad/party incident. Short stupid story even shorter: I called an awful girl “a dirty whore.” Brad didn’t appreciate it because he had been secretly sleeping with her. All part of six solid months of misery for us.

“Listen, Amanda…I know that you are going to think I’m being uptight or sexist or something else, but I can’t stand it when someone upsets you. If I ever see Ryan, I’m going to punch him in the face.”

I laugh. Nate’s favorite things are Jason Priestley, 90210, the Magnetic Fields, and cats. The idea of him hitting someone is ridiculous.

“Don’t laugh, little girl…because I’m bigger than that fuckface and I could take him down.”

And then my mood instantly deflates. I slump against the wall. “I’m sad about Ryan, okay? I know it’s stupid because it was a few weeks, but it felt different, you know?” Oh fuck, I really don’t want to start crying again. But I just can’t believe how DISAPPOINTED I feel.

Nate sits next to me and puts his arm around me. I realize then that he is wearing a big gingham apron, the kind dads wear to barbecue in the backyard. I start giggling and pointing at his chest. This is a guy who hangs his t-shirts so they don’t get wrinkly, okay?

“Yeah, yeah…look, I don’t want to get meat on my clothes, okay? Specifically, meat juice. Otherwise known as blood.”

This only makes me laugh harder.

“So listen, I wasn’t going to tell you this: but someone did call while you were gone. Ryan. Maybe he’s feeling remorseful or something.”

I jump up and clap my hands. I run into my room to grab my phone.

He feigns disgust. “Oh, god, Amanda…don’t call him right away! Play hard to get or something.”

I shut the bedroom door and stretch out on the rug.

Ryan answers after half a ring. I can only imagine that he was sitting on the floor next to his Mickey Mouse phone (a gift from his mom) waiting for me to call.

“Oh, man, Amanda…I’m so sorry about last night. I know that I can’t be in a relationship right now and stuff, but I really miss you.”

But of course he’s not calling because he wants to get back together or anything. It’s just a friendly call. Not exactly what I was hoping. But after two hours of talking about everything from clothes to the proper way to do laundry (he considers himself an authority on this subject) to Truman Capote to the history of Galaxie 500 (all me), I’m starting to feel good about just being his friend.

Eventually we hang up after making plans to hang out Friday night. For some reason I don’t mention that I’m going to NYC that weekend. Maybe I’m enjoying the possibility of just disappearing for a few days.

We end up talking on the phone for hours each night, until Friday. I rush home from work, so I have time to pack my suitcase, take a shower, and get ready to go out.

Ryan shows up early and he looks really excited. I’m hoping it’s because he couldn’t wait to see me, but really…it’s because someone gave him Ecstasy. I can’t stop laughing when he shows me the two little pills. “Are you trying to trick me into going to a rave?”

He doesn’t get the sarcasm. “No, no…I mean, I thought we could just hang out in Wicker Park or whatever.”
I’m imagine myself trying to solicit backrubs from drunk scenesters at the Rainbo. Or twirling light sticks while some bearded Mudhoney-esque band plays at the Empty Bottle. “Maybe we should go somewhere new,” I suggest tentatively.

Somehow we decide we’re going to go to a club just off of Damen. I’ve passed it a million times, but it has never interested me. I’m grabbing my bag to leave, when Ryan grabs my arm. I’m hoping that maybe he’s going to try to kiss me, but instead he says, “Listen, you have to promise that you won’t bring cigarettes. I don’t want you to smoke.”

I roll my eyes. Clearly this is ridiculous. I dramatically remove the crumpled back of Camel Lights from my purse and place them in the silverware drawer. “Happy?”

“I just don’t think that you should smoke.”

I try to give him a sincere smile as we walk out the door. But I’m sort of annoyed with myself. Why am I essentially allowing him to tell me what to do? If he’s going to try to control me, he should at least fuck me.

We stop at the Bucktown Pub to wash down the Ecstasy with gin and tonics. By the time we get to the club, it’s already starting to hit me. Everything looks purple and dark red and lovely. Horrible drum and bass is playing, but I’m kind of enjoying it. In fact, I’m probably going to have to dance. Hours pass like minutes. I’m talking to a bunch of young boys with back packs and we’re making up hilarious new dance moves. I love these guys. I’m imagining that we’re probably going to be best friends forever.

I realize that I haven’t seen Ryan for a while. I walk around the club, but it’s just a maze of bars and people and sofas. I might be walking in circles. After what seems like an epic search, I find him in the corner, alone. He’s not having a very good time. It’s my responsibility to make this better for him. “Oh my god! I’ve been looking far and wide for you! I missed you!” I swear my voice–despite it’s intended exuberance–sounds like a breathy drawl.

And then he drags me into this long conversation about god knows what. It starts with talk about figuring out his life and then it moves to how special he thinks I am (of course I really enjoy this part) and then he’s talking about Janet. God knows I want to participate in this, impress him with my grand insight. But suddenly all I can think about is smoking. Every where I look, someone is enjoying a cigarette. I’m wondering if I could somehow convince a stranger to give me one and then actually smoke it, all without Ryan noticing. This seems unlikely.

I grab his hand and interrupt his stream of thought. “Listen…I think we should go back to my house and listen to records. It will be more fun, and then we can continue this conversation.”

He agrees. I drag him outside at hyper speed, counting down the blocks remaining until I can enjoy a cigarette in my kitchen. He’s still talking, but I can barely understand what he is saying. Something about the moon. I look up to the sky. I realize that I can see all of the ghosts floating over North Avenue. The full moon is revealing them to all of us. Or maybe just to those of us who have the wisdom to see them.

At home, I promptly take off my shoes and light a cigarette. And then I crawl under the blankets on my bed, because I’m suddenly cold.
“Amanda, you can’t do that!”

Oh yeah, I guess I should take off my pants, too. I do this and get back into bed.

“No, no…you shouldn’t smoke in bed.”

I laugh. And I’m still laughing minutes later, when he’s done rummaging through my records. He takes off his shoes and crawls into bed next to me.
I put out my cigarette and then turn to face him. We wrap our arms around each other. It feels like the best moment of my life. We whisper secrets to one another, and then go silent.

Hours later, the sky is starting to lighten. We’re still in the same position. My arms probably fell asleep hours ago. And my face hurts from too much smiling.

I squint to see the clock on the bedside table. 6:15. Fuck! My flight leaves at 9. And I still have to shower and dress and get to the El and take the blue train out to the airport.

I jump out of bed.
Ryan rubs his eyes in confusion. “What’s going on?”

“I’m flying to New York in a few hours. I forgot! Can you drive me to the El?”

Of course, of course. But he’s also annoyed that I didn’t mention this before.
“We can talk about this when I get back…if you’re silly enough to be upset about it still.”

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