Robert came to pick her up in a muddy white Civic with candy wrappers spilling out of the cup holders.
They went to a bar she’d never been to, an underground speakeasy type of place, with no sign announcing its presence. The bouncer hardly even looked at it; he just smirked and said, “Yeah, no,” and waved her to the side, as he gestured toward the next group of people in line. Finally, someone in line who’d been paying attention tapped him on the shoulder and pointed to her, marooned on the sidewalk. “I’m twenty.” And then, absurdly, she started to feel tears stinging her eyes, because somehow everything had been ruined and she couldn’t understand why this was all so hard. Please don’t feel bad.” She let herself be folded against him, and she was flooded with the same feeling she’d had outside the 7-Eleven—that she was a delicate, precious thing he was afraid he might break.
There was a line to get inside, and, as they waited, she grew fidgety trying to figure out how to tell him what she needed to tell him, but she couldn’t, so when the bouncer asked to see her I. Robert had gone ahead of her, not noticing what was playing out behind him. But, when Robert saw her face crumpling, a kind of magic happened. He kissed the top of her head, and she laughed and wiped her tears away.“I can’t believe I’m crying because I didn’t get into a bar,” she said.
But he was on the heavy side, his beard was a little too long, and his shoulders slumped forward slightly, as though he were protecting something. Or, if he did, he showed it only by stepping back, as though to make her lean toward him, try a little harder. Soon she noticed that when she texted him he usually texted her back right away, but if she took more than a few hours to respond his next message would always be short and wouldn’t include a question, so it was up to her to re-initiate the conversation, which she always did.
A few times, she got distracted for a day or so and wondered if the exchange would die out altogether, but then she’d think of something funny to tell him or she’d see a picture on the Internet that was relevant to their conversation, and they’d start up again.
Before five minutes had gone by, she became wildly uncomfortable, and, as they got on the highway, it occurred to her that he could take her someplace and rape and murder her; she hardly knew anything about him, after all.
Just as she thought this, he said, “Don’t worry, I’m not going to murder you,” and she wondered if the discomfort in the car was her fault, because she was acting jumpy and nervous, like the kind of girl who thought she was going to get murdered every time she went on a date.“It’s O.
The thought of this possible vulnerability touched her, and she felt kinder toward him than she had all night. “I thought you said you were older.”“I told you I was a sophomore! Standing outside the bar, having been rejected in front of everyone, was humiliating enough, and now Robert was looking at her as if she’d done something wrong.“But you did that—what do you call it?
When he asked her where she wanted to go for a drink, she named the place where she usually hung out, but he made a face and said that it was in the student ghetto and he’d take her somewhere better. That gap year,” he objected, as though this were an argument he could win.“I don’t know what to tell you,” she said helplessly.
K.—you can murder me if you want,” she said, and he laughed and patted her knee.
But he was still disconcertingly quiet, and all her bubbling attempts at making conversation bounced right off him.
She wondered if perhaps he’d been trying to impress her by suggesting the Holocaust movie, because he didn’t understand that a Holocaust movie was the wrong kind of “serious” movie with which to impress the type of person who worked at an artsy movie theatre, the type of person he probably assumed she was.