A desperation sits deep in her, something she longs to rid herself of yet whose origin she cannot wholly explain. She lies in bed for hours reading, transported somewhere else, wearing another skin, a more desirable one, perhaps. Something he might recognize. She sees this man the way he doesn’t see himself, the way no one else does. When she looks at him she looks into the very atoms that make him who he is, the way no one else can see him. On a night like this she is usually masturbating to some internet pornography then talking to friends back home, telling them of her hopelessness with the opposite sex, how the “crush” has become more than a crush and how she thinks there is a chance they might have sex, that they might move to the next level. Richard is coming to see her, and she spends time cleaning her room, putting things away and tidying up so that he might be impressed with her, even though she had to convince him to stop by after doing some research, after convincing him it was no big deal if he couldn’t, even though she felt her heart forked with pain at the very thought of not seeing him until class on Monday. What power does he have over her? What power do they have over her and why is she never good enough? Amanda, her English roommate who is of the model variety, Amanda who is tall and thin and eighteen, ten years younger than her, Amanda who is beautiful and sexual and is the desire of all men, is in the dorm, even though she said she would be out, and this worries Cheryl, because she wants his attention on her. But there is no fighting this, and Amanda is a good friend, so she lets it slide. And now she is in her room wearing only her bra and panties, her hips full and stretch-marked, her breasts two different sizes and shapes, and she is sucking in her stomach, wondering what it would be like to not be herself tonight. To be anyone else but herself.
She finds a sweatshirt and she thinks of wearing it, no longer looking at herself in the mirror, avoiding eye contact with her reflection, the representative from the real world that stares back through the glass to remind her of what she is so keen on forgetting. Instead of the sweatshirt she puts on a loose-fitting teeshirt and a pair of jeans, no shoes, and she think she looks cute, but then notices her neck and think it looks fat and her brown hair frizzy, but she smiles anyway, and she takes a sip of her vodka tonic because it will take the edge off, she thinks. The buzzer rings and she feels a knot in her stomach, because she knows it is him, and as she leaves her room and heads to the hallway she sees Amanda in a skirt, a very short skirt, beat her to the door and open it. She sees Richard standing there wearing a teeshirt and a jacket and he looks fantastic, he looks good, his face has scruff on it which she finds attractive, and she can see Amanda greet him and touch her neck in the way she does when she gets flustered.
“Uh, hi. Is Cheryl here?” he says and she rushes down the hall and finds herself out of breath but tries so hard to not show it.
“Hey, I’m here,” she says and Amanda turns and faces her and mouths something sexual and bites her knuckles. “Come in.”
“Sorry I’m late. I ended up writing more than I thought I would,” he says and she swoons a little, his pastimes so charming, so perfect.
“No, it’s fine. Glad you could come over.”
“Yeah,” he says and she sees him watching Amanda walk away to her room, opening the door and letting music echo into the hall, the beat loud and obnoxious. The door shuts and she is alone with him now, she is alone and she is so nervous. “I can’t stay very long, sorry.”
“Well, like I said, I have some plans tonight I have to get back for so…I dunno, figured I should finally come over, see your place, right?” he smiles and she smiles.
“Right, about time,” she says but isn’t sure why. “Well, I’ll give you the tour.”
She leads him down the hall and into the kitchen, the first part of her plan, and he remarks how similar it is to the kitchen in his flat, only bigger, and she makes a joke she can’t even recall a moment after the words escape her lips because it’s that awkward and that lame. But he’s such a sweetheart he laughs, more than likely a fake laugh, and she feels better. She shuffles her legs in place and there is silence, so she says, “Do you want a drink?”
“Beer, I guess. Sure.”
She goes to the fridge and grabs a bottle of beer but doesn’t look at the label, she’s too nervous to even read the words let alone decipher their meaning, and she hands it to him and he seems happy. When he opens it the noise is loud and startling and she smiles but she isn’t sure why. “Want to see my room?”
“Sure,” he says so she leads him from the kitchen to her room. She lets him go in first and as she’s about to enter she sees Amanda poke her head out and make a handjob gesture which makes her snort and blush at the same time. Inside her room he’s looking around, amazed. There are pictures of her and some of her friends from back home on the wall which he sees and comments on, places he recognizes from the photographs, mostly places in and around Los Angeles where he used to live. Then, noticing she has her own bathroom, he says, “Holy shit.”
“Pretty nice, huh?”
“Yeah, not bad. We have three we share, and it’s fine for the most part, but this is way better.”
“It is nice, being able to shower all by myself, taking as long as I want. I love it,” she says. “I just stand in there for…hours, it seems like.” She is trying to put the image of herself naked in his head, and even though he seems uninterested all she wants is to feel him inside her, to feel his hands on her body and for her to feel beautiful at this moment. He sits on the bed and chugs the beer and she sits next to him, casually placing her body in a way that suggests friendship yet clearly indicates there is more to come, if desired. He looks straight ahead and she realizes he purposely isn’t making eye contact with her, but isn’t sure if it’s because he’s nervous or because he knows her game and he’s trying to avoid playing. “So, you like my room?”
“Yeah, it’s nice. I need to get a new lamp,” he says, bored, drinking his beer.
“Oh. By the way, I think we might be having a party later tonight, a…get together, or something.”
“What are you doing?”
“Just have some plans with some people.”
“Where are you guys going?”
“Not sure yet. It’s…my flatmate’s turn to pick and…well, we’ve been saying we were going to go out and do something for a while, me and him, but it just hasn’t worked out and…you know, I just want to spend some time with him.”
“To go pick up chicks,” she says and laughs nervously. “I’m joking.”
“Oh. Yeah,” he says and drinks faster and she can’t help but think that every time she opens her mouth the situation becomes a bit more awkward.
“When do you have to go?”
“Uh, really soon,” he says looking at his phone for the time. “Actually…I should jet now.”
“Yeah, I didn’t realize the time. I told you I was running late but…maybe I could stop by later with Toby or something?”
“Later?” she says forgetting the lie she just gave about the party.
“Oh, well, it’s not for sure, but, I mean, you could come back, both of you, to hang out or something, if you want,” she says pandering, backpedaling. Begging. She wishes she had another drink.
“Yeah, text me or something, let me know what’s going on. Sorry this was a short visit, but I’m glad I got to see your place. Your room is…cute.”
“Yeah, very butch in a girly sort of way. I like it,” he says smiling, teasing, she thinks, maybe.
“Anyway,” he says then finishes the beer, standing up, and she looks at him, at his body. She studies him and wonders what he looks like naked, what he’d look like on top of her with the lights off, if he’d do the things to her she wants him to. She wonders if she should just ask him to fuck her, and something clicks in her and she remember she wanted to ask him something about his girlfriend back home. She overheard him on the phone earlier this week, and it seemed like they might be fighting.
“Oh, I was going to ask you…”
“Your girlfriend…Jen, right?”
“Uh…we’re sorta…taking a break.”
“Oh, I’m sorry. Are you alright?”
“Yeah,” he says not looking at her, looking everywhere except at her. “It’s just…complicated. Anyway, we’ll see what happens. We talked earlier and everything seemed okay so…who knows, you know?”
“Well, I’m here for you,” she says meaning every single word. “Seriously, if you need to…talk or…if you need a beer. Anything.”
“Appreciate it. How’s your outline going, by the way?”
“Slow, but good. There was a book just published that examines Shakespeare from this whole new angle, who he was and, well, it puts a different spin on his sexuality and whatnot, and…well, I have to go find it, and then I’ll be set, I think.”
“Nice. I’m done, just finished yesterday,” he says bragging and she doesn’t care. She’ll take it all, the dark and light sides.
“I’m impressed. Very impressed,” she says standing and he looks to her and clears his throat and walks to the door.
“Text me later, maybe we can meet up. We’ll see, need to talk to Toby but…just text, okay?”
“Okay, yeah,” she says waiting for a hug, for a last minute sweeping off her feet but it never comes and then he’s gone. She watches him walk down the hall and move quickly out the front door and by her calculations he was here for ten minutes or less. She sighs loudly and Amanda comes out, hearing the noise of the front door.
“What was all that, then? You fuck him that quick?”
“No, he had to….he’s coming back, in a bit,” she says crossing her arms.
“How come? What happened?”
“He had to run home and get something, I think there was something he had to talk to his mom about and…he said he was going to come back and drink with me all night.”
“Brill,” she says, half her hair curled, her lips full and red. “Can’t wait to hear about it tomorrow. Tell me everything, yeah?”
“Fantastic,” Amanda says and disappears and Cheryl’s in the hall now, alone, and before she admits to herself the truth, before the fantasy she just created comes crashing down upon her she escapes into her room and locks the door and turns the lights out and climbs in her bed and wraps herself up in her blankets that smells like home and there is a small light that comes from the space between the bottom of the door and the floor and while she thinks about him going down on her, wondering if he will actually come back to her, wondering if there is a chance, her mind going empty, everything in her head, all the reason she has at her disposal shuttering out from her skull in waves, wondering what his lips taste like and how he fucks, wondering if he’ll meet someone tonight, a sick feeling rises in her and she slowly fades away.