Read Part I:

Read Part II:

Play:  We walked back to the flat and I gave him the grand tour – all 300 square feet.  I was not concerned with how it looked through his eyes, as it was nothing more than a hotel apartment for me.  The only personal possessions of mine out in the open were a stack of books on a windowsill, a bowl of jewelry, and my laptop on the dining table.  Had I been at home, I would have scrutinized the room, imagining what story my belongings were telling about me, but this was neutral territory.  I opened a bottle of Chianti and we climbed out the window to sit on a little stoop, our legs pressed together.  I put on my leather jacket and lent him my hoodie.  The courtyard was quiet, and a breeze ruffled our hair.  As throughout the evening, I would relax in his company and the flow of the conversation, and then my attention would jerk and I would think, I am on a date with Johnny Angel. 


It is a peculiar, but not unpleasant sensation, moments like this.  I idly wondered if in some time, six months, a year, five years, I would look back and think, that was our first date.  Or if in a few weeks I would not even remember this, as I returned home and moved out of his orbit and his presence in my mind would be usurped by something greater.  A thousand different histories could play out.  The only thing that separated this encounter from countless others is that feeling I had the first time I saw him.  We could fall in love, we could never see each other again, we could break up badly.  We could date for a short time and lose interest.  The sky was black and infinite.  So I smoked, and we told stories.


I reached through the window to put on my iTunes, the only music I had with me.  Though I had made the bed and washed the dishes and taken out the trash, my attention to detail had not extended to composing a date playlist, and I cringed every time an unsophisticated download from my freshman year of college popped up unexpectedly.  Without the select comfort of my normal surroundings, this was the only thing in the apartment speaking for my personality, my passions, my past. 


The Backstreet Boys had been hilarious at the time, but now I was worried I was being unduly judged as someone with shitty taste and an unseemly appreciation for terrible pop music.  “My best friend downloaded that song when we were 18,” I found myself saying.  As a joke.”  He would nod with understanding.  Two songs later, Juvenile would implore us to back our asses up.  “It was for parties – very funny at the time.”  I finally put on the Run Lola Run soundtrack and turned down the volume; dated but safe, and only a rhythmic hum in the background.  Vengaboys, Afroman, and Wang Chung were there, lurking, and if he finally kissed me, I was not going to risk the strains of Sir Mix-a-Lot floating into the night air and ruining the moment.


But he did not kiss me.  His thigh was warm and crushed against mine, but he had not reached out to touch me.  He shared something deeply personal about his family, and then confessed he did not know why he had told me.  I listened and asked questions, still quietly clutching the awareness that this was the start of something, perhaps even something important.  I loved his foggy voice and the careful way he selected his words, his ambitions and his stubbornness.  I loved how he was beginning to take shape for me, as a person with characteristics and mannerisms and beliefs, still distant but with the potential for the familiar. 


Finally, the wine was finished and it was nearing 2:00 am.  In accord, we climbed back inside, and he sat on the couch across the room.  Well, I thought.  It had been a lovely night.  I was wistful, but sweetly.  Maybe I didn’t look as good in my jeans as I thought, maybe I simply had not struck him as he had me.  The wine dulled the ache I felt, and there is serenity in the things you cannot control.  I turned my back to close the window.  He would leave, but I would see him again.


Before it was locked into place, I turned back, the window still slightly ajar.  He had moved up behind me silently and my senses had not registered his nearness before he was kissing me.  His mouth was urgent and hot and powerful and there was no more talking.  The window stayed open and the music continued, but I was only, fully for him.


Fast Forward:  The next morning, the sun was bleeding through the curtains and directly into my thudding skull.  My alarm was chirping 7:00 am and my mouth was dry.  As the grudging realizations of Thursday and work and doom shoved their way into my consciousness, I felt warm breath in my hair and the heaviness of an arm curved loosely around my waist.  I shut off the alarm and curled back into Johnny.  My body was a crushed fruit against him and his lips were soft.


Thirty minutes later, I was frantically soaping myself off in the shower and felt the bristles of my unshaved legs.  Perhaps he had not noticed?  Unlikely.  I would shave them that night, I decided, and my bikini line, and I would wear the miniskirt and the boots on Friday.  Fuck subtlety.  I was going home on Saturday, and I needed to see Johnny again before I left, and I needed to be stunning.  Most of all, I needed to go to bed early that night, if I survived the workday. 


Johnny dressed in the living room and waited anxiously for me to throw on my clothes and slap on some makeup.  He needed to be home by 9:00, and I was behind schedule for the office.  We walked to the subway station together, the frenzied pace of the morning rush precluding much conversation.  I wished we had a lazy Sunday to waste, but it was not the time.  Already my mind was looping into the future.  We agreed to make plans for Friday night, kissed hastily and hard, then thundered down the stairs to our separate trains.


I bought a sandwich on my way to work and arrived fifteen minutes early, breathless.  Finally sitting in my chair with my computer powering up, the tension in my shoulders eased and I allowed myself to replay the previous evening.  The conversation, the night, the kiss, and waking up to him.  I savored secret, gentle bruises hidden under my clothes.  He was more than the rational parts of me had expected.


My daze continued throughout the morning.  I made calls, wrote emails, participated in the soul-killing minutiae of the daily office, but I was still asleep and dreaming.  My movements were perfunctory, efficient, and mindless.  Just before lunch, I unthinkingly passed the back of my right hand through the steam from the boiling kettle in the kitchenette.  The burn was immediate, two inches long and wide.  I regarded it with curiosity.  It would hurt later.


By late afternoon, the fog in my brain had cleared a bit, in no small part due to the pain in my hand.  Our first aid kit at work contained no ointment so I had done nothing to treat it.  I would have a dark scar for months to come.  I began to check my phone periodically, expecting a text from Johnny, something playful, but the screen was dark and silent.  Still, I was not troubled; it had been a matter of hours, really, and we were both occupied.  I decided to send him a short message; nothing intense, just to let him know I was thinking of him.  And it was better than waiting.


T to J:  Espero que usted tuviera un dia bueno?  Un poco estuve cansado, pero esto valio la pena ello, pienso.


Horndog called me for an update and I was not coy with the details, overflowing with my need to share my exhilaration.  Horndog was a satisfying audience, exclaiming and joking in the right conversational places.  I had scored some Grade-A Colombian, it was agreed.  My head ached from both my hangover and from smiling.


That evening, I showered wearily and methodically, the water stinging my burn.  I washed our wine glasses and made basic preparations for my departure on Saturday, leaving the lion’s share for later.  Collapsing into bed, I could not smell Johnny on the pillows, only the soap and lotion on my skin.  He had not called, but any anxiety was surpassed by fatigue and I descended into sleep.


I awoke before my alarm buzzed, drowning in bright sunlight and tangled in the cotton bedsheets.  I was fully and immediately alert:  It was Friday, and that meant I would see Johnny.  I unraveled myself from the covers and went through my morning routine singing, my heart already thudding with anticipation.  I kept my headphones on throughout my commute, grinning at people on the train, on the sidewalks, startling them with my unalloyed joy with the world.  The world, surprised at even eye contact, smiled back at me tentatively.  I did not so much walk as dance, with the sun on my skin and music in my ears.  The city wasn’t grim that day – it was beautiful.


Fast Forward:  By mid-afternoon, my spirits began to sink.  The solitary, hopeful trill of a text message cheeping on my phone had turned out to be a member of Horndog’s pack asking me to dinner.  The perpetrator was a 32-year-old cokehead with an unrepentant beer belly and a steady line of bullshit that was amusing in certain circumstances, but not when I was praying for a message from the Angel.  I would deal with it later.  By late day, my stomach was a sour, twisted knot.  He has not replied to my text, 24 hours earlier, and he had not called to make arrangements.  He had said that his brother wanted to see a show while he was in town, and that night, so I decided to risk another text. 


T to J:  You know, I think the theaters here have matinee showings that are probably cheaper than going at night.  Just food for thought.           


Would he know that expression, I wondered, food for thought?  Oh, God, was it not casual enough, was it tinged with desperation?  Why is there not an “unsend” feature?  But no, if Johnny wanted to see me tonight and was also determined to take his brother to a show, the earlier the better.  My flight wasn’t until afternoon the next day, but I wanted as much time with him as I could squeeze out of the situation.  I was not desperate, I was in the right, and simply trying to help things along.  I called Horndog for a frantic consultation.


“Don’t text him again,” Horndog said.  I wasn’t planning to.  That was my last shot, I explained.  If Johnny really did want to see me, though, and we had an agreement, albeit without detail, wouldn’t it be respectful for him to phone and let me know what his plans were with his brother?  It was my last night in Urbanopolis, and although I wanted to spend it with Johnny, I was unwilling to let his absence ruin it.  “Let’s go for a drink,” said Horndog, and without word from Johnny, I had no reason not to.


Horndog and I went to a neighborhood pub near the office.  It was, as always, pulsating with self-satisfied suits who had knocked off of their stupidly lucrative financial district jobs to start pounding pints at 3:00 pm.  Each time one jostled me or tried to cut in front of me at the bar, I wanted to grab their balls through their Versace and twist.  I was as angry and glaring as I had always been, morning sunshine obliterated by gray and heavy clouds.  Horndog and I negotiated drink orders as we muscled our way to the bar. 


“I don’t want to get wasted,” I said.  “Just in case he calls.”  Definitely, agreed Horndog.  He was supposed to meet a pack member with the unfortunate but befitting moniker of Donkey at a club in two hours.  The Donkey always had girls with him, but they were typically as unfortunate as him.  Horndog didn’t want beer goggles so thick that his classically poor judgment was even further impaired.


“We can’t risk the Peroni then,” said Horndog, shifting his eyes away.  “No way,” I concurred, focusing on a glowing beer sign in a dusty corner.  Inveterate drinkers though we were, Horndog and I had discovered on multiple occasions that a single tall Peroni at this establishment would render us curiously, unexpectedly drunk.  It was something of an alcoholic Bermuda’s Triangle, this drink at this bar.


We finally were served.  I had a large glass of Merlot, and Horndog ordered a Peroni at the last minute, changing his order from a harmless Beck’s.  “You’re a fool,” I whispered.  “You know what you’re getting yourself into.”


“Just one won’t hurt,” he said, guiltily, and we wound our way outside to the smoking area, already congested with suits and egos.  We found a quiet patch and commenced drinking. 


“Oh, I saw Johnny last night,” Horndog remarked.  Anticipating the questions burbling up, he laid it out.  Horndog had stopped in the Elbow and Johnny had poured him a drink.  Johnny had smiled and asked Horndog: “Was someone a little tired today?”  Horndog, friend as he is, had played it cool and said, yes, Someone was tired, but it seemed to be worth it.  Johnny has smiled again and the exchange had been low-key and pleasant.


“So he seemed happy?  Normal?  There was no weirdness?”  Horndog confirmed on all counts.  A little bubble popped in my heart.  Maybe he liked me, just a little.  Maybe I was saved.  The night was young and it wasn’t as dark as I had thought.  In fact, with the breeze picking up, it could turn into a beautiful evening yet.  How was that Peroni, I inquired, as we finished our drinks.


“Gorgeous,” said Horndog, with a smirk.  “Alright, fuck it,” I said.  “Go get us two more.”  As Horndog battled his way back to the bar, I guarded our spot and watched the red-faced patrons with a mellower air.  And then my phone chirped.


J to T:  Hey, how you doing?  Hope you had a good day, going now to theater, we are going to see “Light My Fire” the musical, call you when it finishes.


Heat raced up my skin, making my hair stand on end.  Johnny wanted to see me.  And if they were going in to the show now, just after 6:00, they should be finished by 9:00.  Which gave me plenty of time to have a couple of goodbye drinks with Horndog, make my way home to transform, and then enjoy a leisurely few hours with Johnny Angel.  It was, in fact, perfect.


T to J:  “Light My Fire – The Musical” sounds like the coolest thing in human history, basically.  Hate to hijack you from your brother but would love to see you, if possible.  He can come too.


I hoped the brother would not come, but my warmth was all-encompassing.  When Horndog emerged, lagers in hand, I was beaming to the heavens again.  I showed him the message.  “A toast!” I cried.  “To life and its endless, bountiful possibility, and how it is sometimes not complete shit!”


We drank to that, and then we drank to it again over another round.  Horndog’s friend Ralph appeared just before 8:00, stalking down the street in his serious overcoat and suit to meet us, and I tackled him in the street with kisses.  He is always flustered by my brashness and I enjoyed seeing him turn pink with embarrassment.  Horndog and I were laughing and high-volume, and Ralph scurried inside for another round of drinks.   


“Oh, fuck,” I exclaimed, as we nursed the new pints.  Horndog was starting up an Axl Rose medley to the bemusement of the sidewalk suits.  “I have to get home – I have a hot date.”  Ralph and Horndog tried to talk me into going with them to the club to meet Donkey and his stable of mares, cajoling and poking me, Horndog serenading me on one knee as I drained my glass and started to stumble away.  The street was spinning up into the sky.


“No, no,” I brushed them off.  It was a date with the Angel, dear though they were.  I kissed their cheeks and hugged them to me, smelling sweat and cologne and beer and boy.  I wished them a good night and promised to call as I disentangled myself and staggered towards the train.


I was reeling from the fucking Peroni.  “Bad idea, Tailfeather, bad idea,” I muttered to myself.  I bought a pint of milk and a club sandwich at the train station near my apartment.  Once home, I devoured the food like a savage, sitting on the couch.  It was not yet 9:00.  It had only been three drinks, maybe four, and how could I call myself a proper boozer if I was this drunk on only that?  I had to sober up before I saw Johnny.


A nap, I decided.  A disco nap, and I would have time to shower, refresh, and change into the sexy outfit while the bread soaked up the beer in my belly.  It was the only solution. 


Fast Forward:  I came to on the bed, still in my work clothes, my mouth twisted with an acidic taste.  The night was dark through my curtains.  I eased myself towards my purse, abandoned next to the bed and pulled out my phone with a groan.  It was 10:45, and there was no message from Johnny.  What the fuck?  It was late, soon too late to go out, even if I could get ready in 40 minutes.  Blearily, I texted him.  I needed to know what was going on.  I still had to play this casual; I could not sound pissed off that I hadn’t heard from him yet, and I had to make it sound like I hadn’t been waiting for him.  Like I had a self-fulfilling evening without him and remembered, almost an afterthought, that we were supposed to meet up.


T to J:  How was the musical?  Did it live up to its promise?  I fell asleep!


I lay in bed and waited for his answer.  Despite my efforts, I still didn’t feel sober.  The beer and the sandwich churned in my stomach and my hand throbbed.  I thought I could still make it to the shower and make myself presentable, but at this hour, it was looking more likely that he would have to come straight over to the apartment.  I would be wary of going out for more drinks; being ill in the bathroom would negate the sexy schoolgirl skirt unless I was going for a particular 11th grade Homecoming Dance vibe, which I was not.  I scrunched my eyes up against the ceiling light until his reply came, 45 minutes later.


            J to T:  I was on the train so just got your text.  I am home now.


Home?  He was home?  His own flat was far away, nearly an hour by train.  I felt too sick to try to figure this out by text message, so I called him.


“Hi,” I said.  I had to swallow a lump of something gluey in my throat.  “I thought we were going to meet up?”  He thought so too, he said.  The show had been great and they went for drinks after.  He was just about to text me to see what my plans were for the night when he got my last text.  He thought I was in bed, so he went home with his brother.  I was outraged.  Not at him, exactly, as he sounded nearly as disappointed as me.  My drunk was starting to boil off with anger.  “Can you still come over?”  I asked.  “I know it’s late, but I was really hoping to see you.”  He said he would look into the travel options and come back to me.


I think, not once throughout our brief history, had he phoned me.  I understood – it cost money, which is why I was also loathe to phone him except from the office phone.  But this text message communication was not serving us well, it was becoming apparent.


J to T:  Cannot take a train now and by bus it takes ages, taxi too expensive, I thought you were sleeping.


I could sense the frustration in his message, but I was awake now, and his annoyance was nothing compared to mine.  This was not what was supposed to happen.  It was slipping through my fingers.  He texted again a minute later.


J to T:  I wanna go, but also got reasons to stay, I don’t know really!  If I don’t call you in 15 min to tell you that I’m on my way, I’ll call you tommo!  X


I knew what that was.  That was a denial.  We had one hurried conversation between these texts, and he had phoned a cab company to find it was over $100 for a trip from his to mine.  I composed two different texts and finally sent him one I instantly regretted.


T to J:  U know, if we called instead of texted, these kinds of things wouldn’t happen.  And don’t freak out about the taxi cost.  It’s a bitch, but not a disaster.  Don’t you know where I work?  I must be loaded.


It was so stupid.  I could only imagine how he was reading it.  It was meant to be light-hearted but I knew it was coming across all wrong.  I clutched the phone in dread, and the shutdown came as harshly and surely as I expected.


J to T:  I’ve just decided to stay at home, my brother thinks is not good idea to leave home this late, it’s just his perception and he hasn’t lived in Urbanopolis so he doesn’t know that is safe.  Anyway, don’t feel comfortable if you pay for my taxi and cannot expend more money.  Good night!


I felt sick with the knowledge that I had screwed it up.  It was now past midnight and all hope was extinguished.  He was not coming and to carry on the charade would be worse than futile.  He was blaming the brother; if he was hurting to see me as I was him, there would not be excuses.  I was alone in the depressing hotel apartment, with a flight the next day I had yet to pack for.  I could have afforded his taxi, barely, and it would have been worth it to see him again.  But I had nothing except my cute outfit mocking me from the foot of the bed and a plane ticket taking me back “home,” where I didn’t want to be either.  I would risk one last text to try and mitigate the damage.


To to J:  Bummer!  Sorry if I offended by offering to pay for the cab, but it’s appropriate because you would be the one put out by the travel.  Estoy en cama (see?  I paid attention!) y cansado.  Hope to hear from you tmmw then.  Dulces suenos!


In a text a week previously, I had said “soy en cama,” as part of a good night.  Apparently, this roughly translates to “I am in bed always,” like a natural state of being, whereas “estoy en cama” means “I am in my bed right now.”  He was amused by my error and thought it was cute – he brought it up on our Wednesday date.  I did not imagine that he though I was cute any longer.  “Soy en cama” was probably a more apt statement anyway, as I intended to go to bed for the rest of my life.


I had to get up periodically throughout the night to wash towels and bedsheets, as part of my lease agreement.  I was to leave the apartment in the same condition I found it or better, so as to incur no cost on my company.  When I arose officially, at 9:00 am, every bone in my body weighed 100 pounds in a hateful combination of misery, tiredness, and Peroni-after-effect.  I showered, changed the bed linens, and started to fold my clothes into my suitcase.  My time in Urbanopolis was done.  Two weeks previously, it would have been sweet relief.  Now it felt too soon, and too much like failure.  But perhaps there was a chance to end the stay on a kinder note.  Johnny had said he would call me today, so maybe we could meet for lunch and I could apologize for the misunderstandings of the night before.  It was worth trying, especially to see his face again.  There was nothing more to lose.


T to J:  Sorry about last night, was tired and a bit grumpy.  Normally will not text so much but weird circumstances.  Just packing now, will go for an early lunch and head out about noon.  Call me if you want to.  X


Minutes later.


            J to T:  No problem.  Hope you have a good flight!  Will call you.


Well, fuck.  That read like a brush-off.  But given our miscommunications of Friday night, when we both wanted to see each other but he thought I was blowing him off and vice versa, maybe I should be clearer.  But still casual.  This whole thing had gone tits-up.


T to J:  Assume you don’t want to have lunch then?  No problem if so, will look fwd to talking to you later.  God, I hate airports with a passion.  X


And then, the definitive proof that it had all gone wrong and if I lived in Urbanopolis and could run into him unplanned, I could probably save it because I am good at this shit face-to-face, I swear I am; I can work out bad communication and diffuse tension with a smile and a joke, and I know when to play it cool because I have been around for over 25 years and I know how to game-play when I have to, but I will never have the chance to fix this properly because it is over, so over.


J to T:  I guess I always misunderstand your texts, if it was an invitation to have lunch, didn’t get it.  Anyway I woke up early to study and don’t want to stop now and have to work in the afternoon, talk to you later.


And that was it.  There was nowhere else to go.  I spent the rest of the morning packing, and I wouldn’t have had time for lunch anyway.  I would have made it happen, though, if he showed up.  I would have paid for a new plane ticket the next day.  He was in my head and in my body in a way that I would have paid all my savings to keep.  I managed one text message to Horndog before I left.  He wanted to know about my grand last night of passion.


T to H:  Aaand…  It all went drastically, dreadfully wrong.  I used to be good at dating, didn’t I?  I can’t remember.


Play:  I can’t, really.  My mother reminds me that there used to be half a dozen boys at a time chasing me.  I think that was a long time ago.  Under the scrutiny of retrospect, I can see all the little mistakes I made.  But at the time, I was possessed by nothing but a certainty, a fiery willfulness that I needed to see him again and I was not gentle or coy in my desire.  And the anger I felt that our meeting would be ruined by such a silly cock-up, a simple failure of communication was more than I could bear.  I still thought that the sheer force of my need to see him would correct the situation, that I could impose my will and all would be fixed.  Nothing is more dangerous in a relationship, no matter how casual, than to be the one with the emotion and the need, because then you are always the one with something to lose, and you will.  Lose.


What ended up happening is nothing, really.  I called him three weeks later, because he still hadn’t called me.  He was going out to dinner with his housemate and asked me to call back later.  I did, but he didn’t answer.  He sent me a text at midnight.


J to T:  Hi, Tailfeather, how you doing?  I was eating when you called me, went to a really nice Indian restaurant.  Hope you’re well, call me anytime this week.  Johnny.


I texted him once and left a message once.  He never called me back.  All I wanted was to say, I enjoyed our date.  I had a nice time.  I had nothing to ask of him, then, I just wanted him to know that it was good, for those couple of nights.  What I was crushing inside of me every day was the now suspended belief that there could have been a relationship, but I would not tell him that.  I have my pride.