"Your hair is different."
"Yeah," I say. Because it is.
"You have a lot of hair."
"Yeah," I say again. Because I do. I have a lot of hair.
"When I saw you the other day in the lab, I was so excited, you have no idea," he says. And his face looks exactly like he probably wanted it to look. Not that it was a fake response, but it wasn't the most sincere, either. I see right through that nonsense every time.
"So, 2x+3/2x-3. That's where we're at." I change the subject. He's bouncing around my kitchen figuring the problem both in his mind and out loud, too. I'm trying to follow, but I'm getting lost. After only about twenty five seconds, he pipes up.
"The answer is positive three over two," he says. I catch up on paper. I know he's right because my answer looks wrong. "Technically speaking, it's negative one," I give him a look because we were never technically speaking, "but we'll just stick with the first answer we got. Sound good, champ?" He has always called me that. I can never decide whether it's because he's seven years older than me or if it's because he's genuinely a sixteen year old stuck in an adult male's body. Regardless, I get irritated and erase the paper, making crease marks as I go.
"Why are you so good at everything?" I whine. He throws his head back and laughs. "I'm serious," I say, "I get so annoyed that you know everything about everything," I shut my book and tell him I'm taking him home now.
We are in the car.
"Dancing," he says.
"I am a terrible dancer."
"Am I supposed to understand the point of that statement?"
"You say I'm good at everything and you know I'm not good at that." I remember and nod my head.
"Ah, yes," I say, "Remember that thing we went to on Valentine's Day last year? With the jazz band?" he nods his head and looks embarrassed. "It was like pulling teeth getting you to dance with me. And all you had to do was put your arms around my waist and sway back and forth."
"I remember," he laughs. I didn't do a very good job of that, did I?" I think back on that night. It was the last night I saw him. The next day, I said something to the effect of this is too hard and I want you out of my life. And since then, out of it, he has stayed.
"No, you weren't really moving at all," we both laugh as I pull onto the street.
Earlier, he helps me study for my math test, and then, he makes a comment that I'm not confident in myself. Later, he says he's more confident now than he's ever been and I wonder if the two statements are related. I wonder if they're the reason we're able to be in the same room, sitting beside one another again.
"Your timing was bad," he tells me when we're at the stop sign before his apartment.
"Me? My timing." I'm not sure where this is going. We've been talking about relationships and how they're not really going accordingly for either of us at the moment.
"Yes, your timing. Last Christmas. It was a really weird time for me. Had you come just a little bit late--"
"No, stop," I cut him off. "It was never the timing."
"You don't think so?" he asks and I feel like I've got loaded words in my mouth. Like anything I say could be detrimental to any future the old me might've wanted.
"I don't," I say almost in a whisper. "To be honest, I don't think we ever would have worked."
"Oh," he breathes like I've just punched him in the gut.
"I don't say that to mean there was never anything there, but say it comfort you. Like you didn't make a bad decision when you didn't want me," I say. And I'm consoling him. Why am I consoling him? Somebody remind me.
"Well, if we would have stuck with it, no doubt, you would have gotten tired of me." He looks down at the floorboard, "but that's probably the only thing."
"I don't think that's necessarily true, I just..."
"What? Why don't you think it would have worked?" I continue to remind myself that he broke things. Whatever things there were, if any at all, he broke them.
"Because it took me exactly two weeks to stop thinking about you, and I don't think that' how it's supposed to work when it is something worthwhile." The words feel like acid coming up my dry throat, but it burns so good that I want to say it again. So, I do. "It took me exactly two weeks."
"That's the way it usually happens," he smiles out of habit, but I know he hurts. The spaces beside the corners of his mouth wrinkle because he's aging and I remember how good he makes it look to age. And his hair peaks down just over his forehead. He wears it messy now. It's that Jude Law thing he does. It makes me want to heal him every time, make his sad go away.
"I don't know what that means," I tell him.
"I can't do anything long lasting to you girls. You all look at me and tell me how attracted you are to me. And then, you kiss me. And after things have gone awry, you sulk for two weeks and I never hear from you again." It felt like a chess game to me, one he desperately wanted to win at, but he kept being assigned the pawn. I can't feel for him because that sort of thing never happens to me. I have my own issues, sure. Like getting into deep discussions with the men I've tried to date about what went wrong. But I never feel unwanted. In fact, I feel respected. Like I'm of more value after the fact. Which is more than other girls can say.
"You have got to stop doing this to yourself," I say, "When you're roped into a situation you don't want to be in, say no." I teach him the word and we're making "O" shapes with our mouths and he's laughing again because I'm making him.
"I can't say no," he tells me. So, I pull into his complex and put the car in park.
"Yes, you can," I claim, "and if you would've said no to me, I would've been grateful."
"Ouch! That hurts!" but he's smiling. Real smile, the one without all those sad aging wrinkles and I know he knows what I mean.
"It just would've saved us some trouble... you know..."
"Oh, you mean, like when we were watching that old Humphrey Bogart film? On that terrible leather couch in your basement," he slows, "last January, when we did the thing..." it gets quiet and I don't know what to say.
"Yeah. When I kissed you and you kissed me back," but then I find the words, "for three and a half hours. And as I recall, you bit me and my lip was swollen the next day." We laugh again because that night was messy and a little bit saucier than I will ever relay to my mother.
"Yes," he nods and I am happy.
"Feels like a long time ago, doesn't it?" I wonder out loud.
"I should like to never forget that time," he tells me and I sink into myself because I haven't thought about it in a long while.
"Well, anyway," I refresh, "Let's practice saying no." I pull my hair back and pin it on top of my head. "A girl who has been dragging you through the mud tells you she wants to kiss you. What do you say?"
"Yes. I say yes."
"Oh, my gosh. You're literally going to be a miserable person the rest of your life."
"Sorry, sorry. Try again." I roll my eyes.
"So, I'm going to kiss you now," I say, leaning in, and it feels like an old habit that died too soon. We are silent. "And... then, you say..." I prompt him.
"I wouldn't say no," he says. I am a piece of stone as I bounce back into a stiff driving position. I pretend not to hear what he said.
"Come on, what would you say?" I nudge, distant, across the arm rest.
"You heard me," he answers back and I am still.
"You're not serious."
"I couldn't say no to you."
And then, he opens the car door and I am unable to speak. Because I feel that right inside me. He steps out of the car, but before walking to his front door, he turns back.
"But you know," he shifts his hair from his face and there's that endearing, genuine, bluish smile that makes me happy to be sad, "we'll always have Casa Blanca."