I tried to put it all from my mind and be a happy, bubbly girl again, but the relationship between first:girl and I remained strained. I started to backtrack, to party without her. Maybe the kiss wasn’t as good as I remembered. Maybe she wasn’t everything I was imagining her to be. I tried to put some distance between us.
A new project popped up at work and I was placed on it. I glowed with satisfaction at being chosen, and it kept me busy and away from Gwen. I felt sick not seeing her for a day or two at a time, but firmly resolved it was for the best, and tried to keep my check-ins casual.
There was a younger guy working on the project with me, someone I’d not spent any time with before. Jared was sweet, funny – a nice kid. I warmed to him immediately and we began spending time together after work. A few weeks into the project, he walked me to my car and held the door open.
“Tabby,” he inquired softly, and I looked up, confused. He kissed me, sweetly, thoroughly, and I wasn’t sure what to do. It wasn’t horrible, but it wasn’t right. His lips were full and soft and if I closed my eyes I could imagine it was anyone.
Quickly I snapped myself out of it. That wasn’t right, either. I pulled away, prepared to let him down gently. “Wow,” he breathed, his voice full of wonder. His eyes were shining and I felt a tug. Maybe my kiss with Gwen hadn’t meant anything. Maybe I could still do this. I mean, I’d dated guys before.
I leaned in for another kiss, determined to give him the benefit of the doubt. He hovered over me, so tall and overpowering, and the difference felt awkward, but I ignored it. I closed my eyes and just tried to feel something, anything, and in the back of my mind, dimly lit, was a small, flickering candle of warmth. It would have to do.
“Jared,” I tried to push him away as he leaned in for another kiss and the skin of his neck was so soft under my fingers. I was entranced enough that I didn’t pull away. My fingers crept along the back of his neck and up his nape but he stop me.
“Uh- uh,” his tone was playful as he smirked at me, “You don’t ever touch a black person’s hair.” I laughed and was brought back to the fact that this was still the funny boy I enjoyed spending time with, who made me feel warm and comfortable. I eased my fingers back down to his neck but when he leaned in for a kiss, I turned my head so his lips touched my cheek. He laughed, “Right, right, you’re a lady, and we’re kissing at your car. You deserve a date.”
“No, no, it’s fine,” I backtracked hastily. “I just didn’t even know you felt like this until thirty seconds ago.”
“Girl, you’re blind,” the way he called me girl, like Gwen did, was comforting, even in his deep, rumbling voice. “Every single person knows I’ve been after you for weeks except you.”
I winced. Subtleties were never my forte. “Sorry,” I mumbled, and he just laughed again.
“I think it’s cute,” he declared, but I was still grimacing. I wanted to get in my car and go. I wanted to kiss Gwen. I wanted to lay on her carpeted floor and watch B list movies.
“Thanks,” I smiled politely instead. “I have to go,” my tone was sweetly apologetic, because with men that usually gets me what I want.
“Sure thing, baby girl,” he tucked my hair behind my ear and kissed me softly before he allowed me to duck into the car, feeling sick, trying to smile for him. I waved out the window and drove down the block and around the corner, stomach sinking with every turn of the wheels, and I pulled off just out of sight to turn off the car and try to breathe.
I sucked in air, confused, torn – hot tears welling up. I was determined not to cry. All I ever did was cry anymore. I scratched frantically at my lips, still tasting some essence of his salt and skin and I wanted it off. I pulled a water bottle from my purse and pulled at it, reveling in the cool, clear taste.
I wiped a tear from my cheek and capped my water bottle. I took a deep breath, flicked on my blinker and pulled back out onto the dark road.