Early in the evening, Cheryl raises the question, “Where’s Ryan?”
“I’m taking the night off from him.”
She laughs with disbelief. “Yeah, right…Isn’t Saturday on of your ‘scheduled days.’”
I shrug my shoulders. “Whatever. No one said I always have to hang out with him on his terms. I’m still free.” I silently hope that she believes this sentiment, because I’m not convinced.
But a few hours and an unmeasurable amount of liquor later, I’m stumbling out to the pay phone across Division. During my last trip to the ladies’ room, a frightening thought occurred to me: What if–in my absence–Ryan had another girl over at his place? Yeah, we’re “together” again. But I’ve learned in the past few months that “together” means nothing more than a guarantee of regular sexual contact and occasional help with difficult household chores.
He doesn’t have cable and his record collection is small; there is only one reason to hang out in his cold studio apartment. My head is spinning with jealousy as I beg Cheryl for quarters.
The December night is cold. I’m in such a rush to call him, I leave my coat on a barstool. In the five to ten seconds required to don outerwear, Ryan could fall in love with someone else. I would spend the rest of my life wandering through anecdotes that start with “And then there was that one time…”
The worst events transpire in a millisecond.
The wind blows right through my clothes. For a moment, I I can’t remember his number. I start fumbling through my bag for my address book, just as the digits start scrolling in front of my eyes. 7-7-3-9-3-9…
He answers on the first ring. “Where have you been?”
I lean against a brick wall because my legs suddenly seem to tired to support the weight of my body.
“I’m at Gold Star with Cheryl. But now I’m going to come over ot your house.”
I swear I can hear him hesitate. “You sound drunk. I’m not sure if you should bike over here.”
“Oh, it’s too late for that. I’m already on my way. See you soon.”
Hanging up the phone proves to be more difficult than I imagined. Several attempts are required to return the receiver to its home.
I tear across the street to retrieve my coat and bag. I toss a twenty at Cheryl. “I have to run…I’ll see you in the morning.”
I sail through every red light, secretly hoping that I will be hit by a car. Then I won’t be able to face whatever is awaiting me at Ryan’s place.
That girl that was with him on Damen a few weeks ago. The one with the future clothes. At this exact moment, she’s probably rummaging under the futon for her misplaced undergarments. “Hurry up, she’s on her way.”
She seemed to disappear after Thanksgiving. He never mentioned her and I didn’t ask. But every time I’m about to fall asleep, she climbs in bed, settling in between us. She spends the night with us, strolling along side me through my dreams. I don’t even know her name. Probably Emily. That’s a standard moniker for a boyfriend-stealer.
He’s waiting outside when I pull up. I feign an innocent smile. Oh, I’m just visiting my boyfriend because I love him so much! No ulterior motives. No distrust.
When I raise my hand to wave, I lose my balance and fall to the ground, my bike on top of me. A pedal is bruising my thigh and I can tell that my dress is no longer covering my underwear, but I am too dizzy to stand up. Maybe I can just rest here on the sidewalk for a few hours.
Ryan lifts me to my feet. “Girl, you’re wasted. What are you doing here? I could have come over to your place.”
I smooth down my skirt, trying to regain a sense of dignity. “I’m fine. What were you doing?”
He’s talking about watching a movie and drawing, but all I hear is a new submission for Penthouse Letters.
I throw myself down on the futon, surreptitiously–I hope–sniffing for a vaguely oceanic odor. Nothing.
He’s lecturing me about wearing a helmet. And then he switches gears, switching to my excessive alcohol consumption. “Did you even eat dinner tonight?”
“No, I met Brad for early drinks in Wrigleyville.” I close my eyes, because the room is definitely spinning.
I can almost hear the corners of his mouth heading south. “Why did you do that? What, are you two getting back together again?”
I know he’s joking, but this just pushes my already over stimulated buttons.
“Yeah, well, why were you hanging out with Emily?”
He’s puzzled. “Who’s Emily?” And then he laughs.
The blood is rushing to my face. “You know who I mean…that girl you were seeing when we broke up.”
I stand up, ready to stomp or shake my fist or hurl a non-fragile object across the room. “I know all about her, Ryan. And don’t pretend that I didn’t see you two together.”
I take a few steps forward, hoping that I look terrifying. “You think I’m so stupid, that you can just push things under the rug? That I’ll never have the balls to ask you?”
My voice is cracking. “Did you meet her before or after you broke up with me again? Don’t worry, I’ve figured out that I’m disposable.”
And then the ringing in my ears starts. My mouth is suddenly filled with saliva.
I run past him, out the door, and onto the scrap of lawn in front of his building. I bend over and start retching. Gin and whiskey and tonic and sour mix. A few bits of fruity garnish. Free bar popcorn.
I can’t vomit without crying.
Ryan is standing next to me, patting my shoulder and murmuring soothing syllables.
I decide that regurgitated bar mixers smell sweet and fresh. Someone ought to create a perfume based on this.
I wipe off my mouth.
Then Ryan laughs. “Why did you run out here? The bathroom was closer?”
I stand up straight. “I prefer to throw up outdoors. I like the fresh air.” Just then, I decide this might be true.
He grabs my hand “Come in, I’ll get you some juice and Advil.”
I refuse to budge. “What’s her name?”
The frown returns. “Sarah.”