By Chris Gramuglia
You meet her outside the Brooklyn Museum. Lily is your second, first date that week and you figure things can’t possibly get much worse. The museum was your idea since she seemed artsy on that online dating app. The first picture on her profile, you remember, was just a sketch she did of her own face.
She’s waiting for you on the steps behind a fountain out front. It’s hot, even for August, and little kids toy with the idea of jumping into the water. Their parents watch and might as well be holding signs that read: Definitely Don’t Jump Into The Fountain Or We’re Going Straight Home. You’re late and there’s a look on Lily’s face that says she was a little worried about being stood up. But there you are, and there she is.
You can tell she’s nervous as you pay for both tickets. It makes her blush when you slide your credit card across the counter. She’s giggling, only making eye contact for a few seconds at a time. Even though Lily isn’t all the way your type, you unleash your best game. You tell your funniest jokes and actually listen to the things she says while you walk past the artwork neither of you understands. On the first floor of the museum there is a big ballroom with a chandelier and white arches all around. You ask to dance with her like it’s the 18th century and you’re in a Jane Austen novel. There’s no music, but she takes your hand and you twirl her around until some people walk in and catch you.
“We should go to Iceland,” Lily says. It’s drizzling and you’re both laying in the grass on the Pratt campus after the museum.
“When? Tomorrow? Sure, I’ll just call out of work on Monday,” you say sarcastically, but really you would totally go to the land of fire and ice with this girl, like, ASAP.
“No stupid. In a few months, maybe. Once I know I can stand being around you for more than a day.” You tell her to shut up and kiss her and when she withdraws she says that this is not a normal first date. With a smile, you agree.
Lily shows you all the places where she spent time when she was a student at Pratt: her workshop, her classrooms, the dorm she lived in freshman year. Then she takes you into a brick building with a chapel in it. It’s dark and the stained-glass windows make parts of the ground look like the inside of a kaleidoscope. It’s so quiet you can hear her breathing. Her green eyes lock onto you from behind a still lit candle by the piano and you have this moment of eighth-grade panic in your head where you’re like, is this really about to happen? And then it does.
Your fingers go inside of her while you collapse together into one of the pews. Her shyness is gone. She’s trembling with her back arched as she tries to suppress the sounds escaping from her as she has her moment. Your Millennium Falcon belt-buckle hits the ground along with your jeans.
“Nerd,” she says, before catching her breath and finishing you off with her mouth.
You sneak out like a couple of bank robbers, laughing about how the chapel is non-denominational. You both decide that you have either offended none of the major religions, or all of them.
Lily is a Connecticut girl from a small town called South Windsor where kids eat Slim Jims and drink Red Bull like it isn’t actually killing them one 7-11 visit at a time. People still know how to do things like shoot a bow and arrow and change tires the right way where she’s from, and most of them don’t ever plan on leaving, she tells you. Lily moved to New York to go to Pratt for fashion design and hated all four years of it because of the pretentiousness of the other kids who went there. She’s a decent artist and goes to Comic-Con every year in costume. You keep asking her if she’s making all this up because you never thought you would meet a girl who could rival your own geekiness, but she’s got a tattoo that proves it. On her forearm is a siren from The Odyssey with long eyelashes, sitting on a rock. Behind the creature are tall, black waves swallowing up a wooden ship. You decide that if tattoos could make sounds, the siren would be singing, luring you in with its music whenever you got close to Lily.
She shows you some drawings of hers one night at her apartment after a fifteen hour work day. She’s a production assistant on an HBO show. She makes ten bucks an hour and they own her. Each drawing is of a different underwater character she came up with. “One day, I’ll bring these to life,” she says.
You and Lily spend the next weekend at the house you grew up in. Mom and Dad are there, trying their hardest not to embarrass you. They’re thrilled that you actually like a girl enough to bring her home and promise to be on their best behavior. Lily gets along well—a little too well—with your mother, and in a cute way you suspect that they’ll both conspire against you one day and demand that you cut your hair.
“He only cooks for the ones he likes,” your mom says after you finish filling a few bowls with pasta. Your face goes the color of the red sauce you made (your own recipe), but Lily’s giggling makes you think that it was something she is glad to have heard. In your peripheral vision, you could swear you see your dad rolling his eyes.
Your parents go to bed and its just the two of you still awake. She kisses you on the couch in your parents living room and you fuck for the first time with Game of Thrones on pause in the background. The sex is good—really good—especially for a couple of people who barely got any in high school. Even though nothing could compare to the thrill of the sins you committed in the chapel, sex with Lily is something you feel all over you. She’s on top, writhing back and forth with her back arched and her eyes closed while she gasps and makes huffing sounds. Her nails leave marks in your chest and your hands are on her ass. You remember what it feels like to have sex with someone you actually like.
After, you bring her a glass of water, realizing as you catch another glimpse of her body in the dark, that you’re ready for round two.
“If we’re still seeing each other by Halloween what should we dress as?” An uneven question, it catches you off guard but you answer it anyway.
“Thor and Lady Sif?” you suggest, playing with one of the braids Lily just put in your hair. You’re both sitting in a booth at a Middle Eastern restaurant in Williamsburg eating a plate of fried cauliflower and baba ganoush.
“I think I want to make my own mermaid costume,” she says. You notice the babaganoush looks a little clumpy, like it isn’t so fresh, while also realizing there’s no room for you in Lily’s costume idea. You decide the rest of the meal might also be tainted and put down your greasy, half-eaten stalk of cauliflower.
“Mermaid. Cool. Go for it.”
The waiter shows up with a freshly lit hookah and you and Lily take turns smoking it while she goes on about her costume.
Halloween comes and Lily decides to go home to see her family. You still dress as the mighty Thor since it was your idea all along, but think that maybe you should have just been a Jedi. You already had the lightsaber; it would have been easy, your friends insist while you all walk into a midtown bar. A girl dressed as the goddess Aphrodite glances at you twice from across the room. You talk to her, but only because it gives you a fanboy hard-on to imagine the Norse god Thor having a conversation with the Greek goddess of love. You aren’t surprised when she tells you she’s a makeup artist. Even you, a grown man who once got crucified for painting his nails black in college, still knows a well-done smokey eye when you see one. She stores her number in your phone without you asking for it: APHRODITE.
“You better text me, Adam,” she insists.
You wonder if Lily is having fun at home.
The next month Lily does exactly what she warned you about. “I get really into my projects,” you remember her saying once while you drove together to a movie. “I totally disconnect and lose track of time when I’m working on something.”
She vanishes for two weeks in November, right before going back to Connecticut for Thanksgiving. Some of her Pratt friends asked her to build them a costume for a short film, and just like she said it would, the work consumed her. You don’t hear from her for days at a time, but Aphrodite (real name, Rachel) is texting you so much it becomes a legitimate shock that your data-drained phone hasn’t gone up in flames. You give in and suggest coffee on Thursday. You lie to yourself and say it’s just to humor her, a one-time thing. Coffee is notoriously platonic and unsexy anyway. Everyone knows that.
Aphrodite orders something wordy and suburban at Starbucks: a skinny, iced, white-chocolate, two-pump mocha with a splash of almond milk. You put a Splenda in your black coffee.
You sit down opposite each other in two arm chairs and she’s hanging on your every word, biting on her green straw. She’s pretty in a prepared way and you think she could probably pull off a natural look, but the two of you have almost nothing in common. Somehow she manages to fill any gaps in the conversation and you realize you aren’t having such a bad time.
She mentions that her apartment is a few blocks away and that you should totally come meet this black cat of hers named Ninja. You feel that same jittery feeling you had when you were sixteen and Sophie Warwick pulled you into her parents bedroom the weekend they went to Montauk. You leave with Aphrodite, knowing that your lifetime status as a dog-person doesn’t actually matter because the invitation is not about the stupid cat.
Lily hasn’t texted you in four days.
It’s December and you’re standing outside of Terminal C at LaGuardia. In your hand is a plane ticket to Iceland. You and Lily finally decided to go. It’s cold as hell outside and you try not to imagine what the temperature will be when you land. The flight is in an hour and Lily hasn’t shown up yet. She had to meet you since she got asked to work overtime for the show and couldn’t turn down the extra money. A few minutes go by and you can see people checking their bags under the glowing Icelandair sign. A cab pulls up and a family gets out, all of them blonde and fair-skinned, probably heading home.
You stand there for a few more seconds, searching the screen of your phone for a response to the text you sent her earlier that day. Finally, you check your bag and walk to the gate. If you wait any longer, you’ll never get through security in time for the flight. It feels odd, walking through the metal detector alone, but there is something calming about it. When you arrive at the gate Lily still isn’t there, and a woman is already calling for certain rows to board the plane. When she calls your row, you wonder if Iceland will be like the pictures you looked at online. You wonder if it will be so beautiful that you won’t ever come back.
Chris is a fiction student at the graduate writing program at The New School. He is a proud nerd, and is currently putting the finishing touches on a fantasy novel that he hopes to have published. When he’s not writing, he’s exploring the world by drone. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.