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Same Party Twice | 2011 | Quite So New


Anybody can write an exciting story and make it interesting. The trick is to learn how to write a quiet story and make it interesting.  

-Ernest Hemingway


Amber Begins


Sarah's rule, ringing through my head as I sit on a stool in Cabaloosa and wait for Amber, is that as long as I do not kiss her or being a sentence with "first dates are...", then it won't be a date. (I responded, "First dates are lame and I refuse to have them.") I am not sure I want this meeting with Amber - who I only met a week ago at the peace drumming - to be a date. I do not really know her, except from what I gleaned from the internet or learned from our few conversations online. She is attractive, Pagan, geeky with an anime influence, single, and an artist who is oddly fond of acorns as an artistic form. Since the moment I met her, I have been trying to make excuses to not have more-than-friendly feelings toward her, which would have been the Anvil of Foreshadowing were my life really a sitcom. "Oh no, I couldn't possibly be interested in Amber! She's only 23! I hardly know a thing about her! You are imagining things, now look at all these pictures of her artworks so I have an excuse to keep talking about her."

If this isn't a date, then there is no issue. Amber will make a fine friend to pester into dancing on occasion. And if it is a date and not merely my harassing a pretty woman into being my partner for a night, I am fine with that as well. I will gladly accept my first date being with Amber, she seems uncommonly sweet.

I see her at the wrong door trying to get in and go out to meet her. She is dressed in a red and black striped shirt and a frilly black skirt, black stocking that have a run in the left thigh, and heels. Her dark hair flows to the small of her back and I am a little more attracted to her than I remember being last Tuesday. She is smaller than I envisioned her, only an inch over five feet, with a few artificial inches thanks to her heels. Pictures don't do her much justice and she prefers to be the one behind the lens.

As she has never swing danced before, I lead her out to the smoking porch and teach her the basic step. It is lovely to hold her hand, to have this excuse to press her against me, to feel the curve of her back through layers of cloth. She picks it up quickly, once I can distract her from paying attention to her feet by chatting her up.

We dance inside for a few songs before I usher her out again and try to teach her to deal with being spun. "Trust me, I am the man and therefore the leader. Anything I do is right, even if it isn't. As long as it looks good and feels good, it was right."

She nods her understanding to this and I find myself blushing as though I have given a particularly egregious Freudian slip. She is so nervous in my arms, so shy, and I find that her bashfulness arouses my notice in her even more.

I tell her how beautiful she looks, spinning and twirling and being caught by me when it all goes wrong (as it inevitably must). She flows as though she is made to the task. I had tried to dress well to the extent that I made a special trip to my parents' house, where my clean laundry was, to find a pair of pants that were tight enough to make my ass look good but would still allow me to dance. Even if this wasn't a date - and I still don't know that it is - it is an opportunity to be attractive to an appealing woman.

The more we dance, the more fascinated with her I feel, the more I want the excuse of the dance to keep her hand in mine. Even when we retire to the smoking porch and I buy her a drink (a vodka and cranberry, since I do not grasp what sort of drinks a bar actually has and she informs me she likes that one), I find excuses to hold her hand and she does not make any effort to remove it. While I enjoy dancing, I want to get to know her as more than a lovely body pressed against mine for three minutes at a time.

We occasionally venture back inside to swing dance, then the music gives up all pretense of being suitable for swing dancing. We just dance and I hold her to me. I am not head over heels for her, but I grow fonder of her the more I touch her hand or look into her shockingly blue eyes. She smells of vanilla and I wonder idly if she would taste the same.

I try to get her to voice an opinion as to what she would like to do - stay and talk, dance, go to a walk - but she won't. She shrugs and averts her gaze, like the geisha in a play. Finally, I tell her that there are stone houses and we should look at them. She accedes with a half shrug. I think she would follow me most anywhere.

The sky is clear and we admire the crispness of the stars overhead. Halfway down the street, I take her hand and she entwines her fingers with mine. We don't make comment, we just squeeze and continue on our stroll, talking.

I lead her to the stone church on Huguenot Street and we sit on the steps. It becomes increasingly palpable that we are going to kiss. The more obvious it becomes, the more she giggles and almost hide in her hands. This kiss will almost be an act of mercy in that, if I do not give it to her soon, she might implode from the anticipation. When we see a shooting star grace the sky, I make a wish and take this for an omen. She kisses me back with openness and warmth. She smells more wonderful in the night and she tastes delicious, better than I could have imagined. I kiss her shoulder and neck, place a constellation of pecks on her face. Whenever a person drives by, she interrupts the kissing, as though our osculation might attract their notice.

I mention that there is an old cemetery somewhere up the street and she asks to see it, but we never manage to find it in the night. We just accept the excuse to walk.

I ask her questions about herself, about former relationships, about first and worst kisses. She volleys every question back to me and I do my best to give her insight. We hold hands the whole time. I threaten to just carry her, because she is so small and light and her heels are intended for the dance floor and not the street.

On the way back to town, I take her to the community garden and tell her outright that I am doing it only to prolong our walk together.

"I figured," she says, with a smirk.

Gardens are understandably less exciting in the dimness of night, especially given that the garden is lit only by tiny, faint lights. All the same, I show her the dragon made out of abandon tires and she pets it with the gentle touch of a blind person.

As I guide her back to the streetlights, she asks, "So how old are you?"

"How old would be too old?" I ask back, evasively. Having so recently lost a relationship with a woman a year Amber's junior, a relationship with a woman who was never less than a bit too young, I had been worrying about this inevitable moment.

She paused and squeezes my arm. "My mom's age, but you aren't that. You are older than me, I know."

I hesitate, trying to memorize what it was like to kiss this elf, how sweet and certain she felt in my arms before I talked myself out of more affection with the truth. "I'm thirty."

"Not too old," she says, kissing me again, and I am a little surprised to find myself relieved.

I see the club ahead and know that our night will be over if I take her back there. I lead her to an unregarded ledge outside of a closed bank. It is secluded enough from the view of the drunks who populate the nighttime streets of New Paltz. We kiss and I try to justify every surge of electrical emotion she makes me feel, try to suss out her character beneath the timidity.

I acknowledge this is unquestionably a date, that I have gone out of my way to make certain it is one. I crave another and another after that. I want to know her. Yes, my relationship with Melanie ended less than two months ago and I can't promise I am ready to think in terms of commitment with another woman yet. On the other hand, much of my reservation comes from people trying to tell me what to feel and do because it is what they have felt and done after breakups. What I feel is fond of Amber. What I want to do is continue to touch and kiss her, but in the most mutually compassionate way I can manage. I cherish what it is to be single and it will take a very special woman to make me relinquish that again. "What are we?" I ask, knowing we need to be on the same page, that I can never lead this woman on.

"What do you want us to be?" she asks, looking at me with her ice blue eyes.

"Friends that kiss?" I hazard, though this is only from cowardice. I don't want her to be my girlfriend tonight, but I want her to be much more than a friend.

She kisses me. "That's fine."

I kiss her back more insistently, holding her face in my hands and tracing the softness of her cheek with my thumb. "When can I see you next?"

"When do you want to?"

Now, I think. Come home with me. Let this night continue as long as it can because I do not know what dawn brings. "Tomorrow. Come over and we'll watch movies."

She nods and I have a second date.

Soon in Xenology: Amber.

last watched: Doctor Who
reading: Anansi Boys
listening: Tom Lehrer

Same Party Twice | 2011 | Quite So New

Thomm Quackenbush is an author and teacher in the Hudson Valley. Double Dragon publishes four novels in his Night's Dream series (We Shadows, Danse Macabre, and Artificial Gods, and Flies to Wanton Boys). He has sold jewelry in Victorian England, confused children as a mad scientist, filed away more books than anyone has ever read, and tried to inspire the learning disabled and gifted. He is capable of crossing one eye, raising one eyebrow, and once accidentally groped a ghost. When not writing, he can be found biking, hiking the Adirondacks, grazing on snacks at art openings, and keeping a straight face when listening to people tell him they are in touch with 164 species of interstellar beings. He likes when you comment.

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