[part 1] [part 2] [part 3][part 4][part 5]
Tia said not to worry, but I don’t want to show up empty-handed, so I bring a bottle of pinot noir. I arrive at The Lair, and Tia takes the wine “Sam, right? Thanks!” and adds it to the table of liquor, though she doesn’t uncork it. She pours two glasses of something and hands one to me. Whiskey. I sip slowly, and a heartburnt cough crawls up my throat. The music is loud, something punky with lots of trumpet. There are maybe fifteen people sprawled around the room, gathered in little clumps. It seems very mellow, despite the noise.
Tia leads me to a couple of chairs and we sit down.
“What do you write?” Tia asks. I take my notebook to the Lair, though I rarely get any writing done there. Mostly I keep my pen in hand, as an excuse to stare impolitely. I imagine saying ‘oh, sorry, I was lost in thought,’ but no one seems interested in catching me.
“I, uh, guess stories. A history.”
“Oh yeah? I had you down as a poet,” Tia laughs. “Can’t be right all the time, I guess. The other writers are grouped in that corner.” Tia points at a cluster of two men and a woman. The woman waves her hands, talking very quickly. One of the men leans forward, nodding, the other has his arms crossed in front of him, and taps his left foot rapidly. “I should introduce you. There are some artists here, a couple of computer geeks. Jen, over there, she’s a lawyer. She’s the freak of this group.”
Jen has shoulder length blond hair, stylishly straight with sharp corners. She is wearing leather pants and a leather jacket, open over a net shirt. Her belly is bare, her bra shining through, red and silky. She doesn’t look like a lawyer. I start mentally redressing her, like a paper doll. Would her nipple rings show through a loose blouse?
“How did you know I was a writer?”
“Intuition. It’s a game I play – guess the regular. After I see someone a couple of times, I decide who they are, what they do, stuff like that. I’m usually not far off.” Tia eyes me as I sip from my glass to keep from having to say anything. She gets impatient, and bounces away to talk with other people. I sit drinking and watching Tia. She pulls a man into the middle of the room and they start jumping around—dancing I guess. A woman comes over and joins them, and Tia jumps onto her back.
“I’m Melvin,” a voice comes from my left.
“Sam!” I yell.
I can barely hear through the haze of voices and music. Melvin must think I’m a dork.
“Tia says you’re a writer,” he says.
“I am too.”
A woman with green lipstick pulls on Melvin’s arm.
“Nice chatting,” he says over his shoulder. At least Tia is introducing me as a writer. I can erase my real job for the night: washing floors and scrubbing toilets at the university library is hardly going to make me friends. It feels like high school all over again. I was invited to a few parties in grade nine. Nicole Richardson was my best friend. I would follow Nicole around to try and fit in. If she got a drink, I’d get a drink. If she went to dance, I’d dance nearby. And she didn’t laugh at my clumsy imitations of her moves. Nicole talked to me, she sat with me at lunchtime. I must have become too clingy; Nicole began avoiding me, so the invitations stopped. Now, here I am again: an adult desperately wanting to be one of the cool kids, but feeling completely awkward. I let Tia refill my glass again and again.
Later in the evening, Tia moves her chair over, closer to me. She’s swaying slightly, I haven’t been able to keep track of the number of drinks she’s had. I have a glass of water in hand, trying to fend off tomorrow’s hangover.
“Let me feel your hair,” Tia murmurs, already moving her hand towards me. Tia pushes her fingers into my scalp and begins kneading. “It’s so soft. I didn’t think it would be so soft.” I stiffen. I hate my hair. I hate its texture. I hate people touching it. Tia is running both hands through my curls now, catching her fingers in the tangles. I’m tense, my eyes prickle. I’m not going to cry.
“I should go.”
“Why? Don’t go yet.”
“No, I’ve got to get going.” I get up, pulling my head away from her hands. “Uh, work. You know.” I weave my way to the door and look back. Tia is standing, leaning slightly to one side, watching me. I notice how pale she is: her whole face is bleached by the track lights. She’d look ethereal, except her eyes are too normal, an everyday green. I hesitate a moment, but then turn and leave. Walking home I berate myself. She didn’t mean anything by it. I should have stayed. What kind of moron panics over something as stupid as hair? Idiot me, I had to leave. To lose a chance at a friend. Damn. What’ll you do when you see her again, Sam?
What? No. I just won’t go back there. I don’t have to deal with it.
I get home and brush my teeth twice. My breath is still sour when I climb into bed. I want to sleep, but I lie awake for hours debating whether to go back to the Lair. I think of school again; my greatest achievement had been performing in Macbeth in grade eleven. I was his Lady, “screw your courage to the sticking place,” was my favourite line because it’s something I’ve never been able to do. This time, I’ll try it Lady M’s way.