So through the comfort of familiar company I slipped into my old demeanor like a favorite pair of jeans. It was the ease of it, the simplicity of not having to begin again when meeting somebody new, of knowing you were known if even for the slightest quirk or off-hand instance, like, say, when you got into the passenger seat of a strangers car at 5am because you thought it was ours, fell asleep, and the woman called the cops because she was terrified.
“I was really high,” Sam says in her hazy and red-eyed defense, and the kitchen laughed like it did every single time we told that story.
Once more I was Bree's accomplice, hype manning her exaggerations and terrible jokes. Yet again I was the victim to Sam candidly roasting my choice of jeans and a dutch for the cipher and a laugh. And then there was Priya, forever the dazzling friend of a friend I only saw occasionally, holding her henna tattoos and a slice of my heart like a plaything. Priya, all dark lashes and gentle eyes. She turned me into a poet of the lowest degree, stuck on stupid and hoping her stuck on me; star-struck by the stern slope of her nose, the deep mahogany of her chestnut cheeks and high eyebrows. Something about her made more sense than I could give credit for, revealed a subtle mark of character I’ve always felt akin to when seeing it in another, but could never quite explain, place, or properly define.
History repeats itself, and like every other of the five - ten times we’d met, we stood in opposite sides of acquainted social circles, worlds apart while I wondered at her allure and she smiled at someone else's jokes. Tonight’s was a pale haired and handsome man I didn’t know. Joe, I think his name was. Bree’s brother’s friend. Tall, with a bordering on bulimic jugular and cool, gunmetal eyes. His entire countenance seemed to be comprised of V's, from his chin to his lanky but defined chest and shoulders.
“Do you have any crackers?” He asked Bree as she came around with a plate of finger food. “I don’t eat dairy or meat.”
I found it funny how the jock stereotype turned so on its head for my generation. Instead of shoving kids into lockers, the modern villain was a vision of insincerity. Versatile veganism, I like to call it. There was no core to his comments on the wrongs of animal cruelty that comes from eating meat. He could not have cared less for animals as he did the cow that made the leather wristband dangling from his arm. The Reddit Feminist only in it for the brownie points; his heart and softness sounded rehearsed and borrowed from someone with more originality than him.
But it all beguiled as believable by the bright flash of the fact that he was beautiful.
It's important, I think, that you not note my notice as anything other than an observation. Envy is an empty emotion, and while I am capable of jealousy just as any other person, appearances have never been a source for me. My merits, though few, were more defined, more relying on faculty than the random gamble of genetics. And to be blunt, I knew I could win Priyas favor from him; not because I was better, but because, whatever we are made of, I thought that her and I were the same.
With this in my mind, I did not consider myself below or above him. In looks I was overmatched and outgunned by the radiance of his handsome – my eyes did not sparkle nor did my face astound or necessarily please the senses. But I could calculate by the relaxed way he leaned his body, yawned a word or phrase to her, that he was accustomed to being doted on with no effort of his own. A sort of social loafing, specific and unique to that class of men and women who become laxed by their good looks- dulled by the double edged sword of their own attractiveness. Their smile woos, mere presence captivates, and not needing much to say, they never end up saying much. Then any inch of interesting they might have possessed rust over the years from being unutilized: an atrophy of the personality.
A little after 1AM Bree gathered us in the living room: a drunk but honest show of gratitude for us being there, comments we all knew would conclude in a call for shots. We marched towards her in a circle, and as Bree doled out her heartfelt sentiments I noticed Priya pre-cautiously avoid standing anywhere near where the glasses were being dealt; noticed it long enough for her to notice me. Sam offered her a glass, Priya declined with a shake of her honey head
"Don't look at me like that," She whispered.
"Like what," I asked.
"You just gave me a look,"
"I didn't give you a look,"
"But you made a face."
"I'm always making faces. It's what a face does, it faces."
"You made a face like 'oh here we go she doesn't drink I bet she thinks meat is murder and sews her own clothes'."
"I didn't want to say anything, but your sari does look like it used to be a shower curtain."
"Shut up, listen, I don't drink because I'm on meds. I've got a VSD."
"A VSD? What's that,"
"It's like a hole in your heart."
"I’m so sorry." I said, feigning sympathy. "What was his name?"
Priya had a raspy laugh and voice that made me shiver, every word holding the sweet and cold coarseness of first things uttered from a pillow on a Winter morning. Steeply strange with a hint of familiarity, her tone was far too upfront but laced in kindness. Plus, accented: so she didn't talk, she purred. And as the rest of us drank to Bree and Evan’s good health, I cornered Priya with some vague and sarcastic comment about the earnest of not drinking righteously.
Between bouts of bickering small parts of what the locals call conversation, she had smitten me- not by the bust and blossom of her beauty (though beautiful she was and forever would be.) But through her fun and sharp mindset I was enticed and gained lens into those striking features I had suspected held more meaning than a charming blush and creamy contours. I recognized something distinctive in Priya that I considered part of myself; a casual disconcern for the over-common or conventional. I could sense that behind her loveliness, the source, was my equal. And like Narcissus I endeavored to lean over my reflection as close as possible, as close as would allow without drowning.
The night started young, shy and skittish as our conversations. Yet leisure learned its way to allow a loudness we all considered appropriate. Feelings that felt buried forced through in roundabout confessions about the view outside a midnight train-ride home after spending it with your boyfriend. Thinking what it means when he turns from you, trying to find the definition of his silence. Struggling to decipher the emotions that take up residence and live inside of us when we’re along and the quiet is gone.
Hours passed in seamless instances. In one moment I was hopelessly waiting in line for hours at the bathroom. The next I danced until my body and Bree's collapsed, then suddenly resumed on her veranda or the front steps ministering cigarettes. Time is relative, and with the ones you love fiercely enough to call friends, there is no such thing as minutes. I was talking to Sammy, trying to admit her that I would be fine with a cab-ride home.
Suddenly I remembered Priya, she came to me suddenly like a dream or after-thought, and I missed her, needed her, and ardently. I looked and saw she was standing by Joe, saw them laughing to something I hadn’t heard but could bet my pride on wasn’t funny. I thought to interrupt them, I almost made the brave to swoop in with some comment on his leather wrist, but on the way a song hummed on that stopped me. Silento came, the gentle jingle any twenty-something urban millennial was familiar to. A drove of drunken Ohhhh’s followed, and I watched as Priya leaned closer to Joe and whispered something tenderly in his ear. He leaned against the wall, smiled passively, made a movement with his lips without ever separating them.
Inside myself, I laughed. His arrogance was astounding, more than his boring would allow or should permit. I almost took another step until I saw that Priya, almost on his command, took to tantalizing. Raised her hands in a provocative, moved to the swing of rhythm, casually disconcerted her surroundings to put her hips against him. And then she whipped. And then she nay nay’d.
Not one to woe or drown in my defeat, I retreated back to the kitchen and found Bree arguing over the phone with husband-to-be on where the fuck he’s been. Sam wiled on the kitchen sill, mumbling sweet fuck-him’s. And Nick, even sweet and innocent Nick, was tangled in an argument with Stephanie on a topic I couldn’t bring myself to be bothered with.
That was when I remembered what separated us; the highs were grand, but when it was bad, it was awful. I grabbed my jacket and made a break for something more diluted and sterile. That’s the blessing of a smoker- the social allowance of taking a second to gather yourself and get your shit together.
Outside was a wild chill of softness. Silento kept droning in the backdrop, so I took a walk halfway down the block for the loudness of my own company. A lamppost flickered some morose Morse Code I drunkenly comprehended as the fleeting nature of life, love, and friends. And between the blinking lights I understood and remembered the distance I’d made, realized why Joe was better than me in a crowded room. I accepted that passion and fancies are all but reliable- and when desire burns strongest is when ashes are sooner felt.
"If we would have met a few years ago, I don't think you'd have me on your top 5 in MySpace," She said.
I could feel her reaching, and though just an hour ago I harbored an unruly longing for her, my mind winced, and the feelings I'd begged and beseeched to cool now retreated to whatever dark abyss they came from. Priya meant nothing to me now, and I wondered- how can I possibly be so at the mercy of my own heart? What kind of wild, lawless thing is it that lives concealed beneath me? Pacing in the prison of its own undecided desires.
"That's cute," I said.
As I admired the tape tickering from a nanny for hire print out with bad font on the lamp post, the feint but pungent scent of vanilla crawled between my nostrils. Priya parked beside me, with a sour face and mode. I couldn’t bring myself to talk and stayed still, too strung up on the space I felt and made between us. Internally coughing up a lung on second hand love.
"I'm not cute,” I continued, since neither of us could find what else to say. “My brother’s the cute one. This is how cute he is: it wasn't until the day I walked next to him, we were going to the store or something, I forget, but until that day...I didn't know girls looked at you. Don't laugh, I'm being serious, I didn't. I remember we were standing in the supermarket waiting for cold cuts, and there was this really pretty girl to the side of him where he couldn't see her. She didn't think anyone was watching, but I could see her bright as day, and I saw when she did the thing people do when they like someone. 'Elevator eyes,' they call it, or something. She looked at him like she couldn't believe he was standing there, like my brother was something she'd waited all her life for."
"He's also kind of a dick. He says things like ‘Man-If-I-Was-A-Girl-I'd-Be-Rich-And-Own-This-City.’ Always implying he’d sell himself until he was rich. I mean like, with sex. That’s the kind of peach my brother is. Me? I'm better with people over the phone. Because there's no expectations, no pressure. The only thing that matters is what you say, and when you let somebody's imagination make up your face, you never lose those starter brownie points because they don't like your nose or facial hair."
"I didn't want to say anything, but your goatee does make you look like you tie girls to train tracks." She said.
"True," I said, barely stifling my lark. "But man...”
The lamp post flickered. Silento stopped. The feint sound of beer bottles bristled in the wind.
“What,” She asked.
“If I were cute I’d be rich and fucking own this city."
She had a raspy laugh.