She had found me in the library waiting not-so-obviously. I had seen her come in. I had seen her pants, which were the green of Venus’s coffin. Yet I pretended to become aware of her only when she walked closer. What can I say? I’m near-sighted in one eye. I try to make my half-truths align with my defects. I’m decent. But she doesn’t know this.
She put her backpack down on the table. Four-person table. She chose the seat diagonally across from me. Backpack directly between us. Strategic.
“What are you working on?” she asked.
I told her what I was working on. I told her a lot, if you want to know the truth. I’m like that. I can fill up a whole conversation with neat little facts about myself and not really tell you anything.
“I feel like I’m the perfect height. . .” I said.
“Oh,” she said.
“I mean, for a guy I guess I’m short, but I like it because I can run and hide and crouch behind things.”
“. . .”
I asked if she wanted to get coffee with me. A girl who had served me hot americanos at a coffee place downtown was sitting at the next table. For some reason I felt bad. I was talking loudly because she had set the volume of the conversation. No qualms about letting the others hear us. But we were in a library. I was troubled.
She did not want to get coffee herself but would go with me. She was a Mormon. Mormons could not have caffeine.
“So can you do drugs?” I asked.
She laughed. We walked to a cafeteria in which I found no coffee.
“Where’s the coffee?”
“How should I know?” she said. Good point.
I got my coffee from the other cafeteria and told her there was a coffee place in the city on Lafayette that sold coffee that tasted like cigarettes. “Irrelevant,” I excused myself.
I could not go back into the library because of the coffee. “But your things are in the library,” I said almost sotto voce, looking at her very seriously.
“But my things are in the library,” she said and went into the library.
I walked to a trash can and drank almost all of my coffee and walked back to the library. She was walking down the hallway from the library and I could see her and her green pants and orange backpack getting smaller as she walked in the same direction as I did. I shouted her name.
She turned. “Back so soon?”
The expression struck me as rather hackneyed and strange. It was not her expression, but she had used it with aplomb. Made it work. Whole cultural histories were issuing from her mouth. Obviously she was powerless against this.
“Do you want to go this way?” I pointed.
She did. We went down a stairwell.
“What do you know about me that I don’t know you know about me?” I asked.
Apparently she knew a lot. I ran a couple miles a day. I was a loner. What more was there to say? Her friends had sent her pictures of my car. “I know it’s black or dark blue,” she said.
“Dark blue,” I said quietly, feeling intruded on. “I don’t know anything about you.”
Her last name was of Swedish origin, and she hated the color brown. Her mother was a redhead. She took photographs. Portraits. Somehow I felt I could have inferred all of this.
I started talking about myself. I told her I was a bad person. I was unequivocal about this. I almost wanted to say, “Don’t get mixed up with me.”
“What does that even mean?” she asked.
I started talking about something else instead. We went to our different classes after that.
I backed up quickly in the parking lot and the principal held out a prohibitive hand. I moved my car toward him. He held out the same hand. He wanted me to slow down. I smiled and drove. I am a poor driver.
At night I called another girl. I told her I was fucking up too much and didn’t feel like myself. I knew she was tired of me. I would’ve been too if I had to listen to this. I said I understood the pantomimed nature of my phrasing. I could’ve been anybody right then. A stricken lover. A rebel whose veil is rent. I couldn’t go on talking to her.
She wanted to help. “Are you sure you really want to stop talking?”
I hung up and let her figure it out. Then I walked back inside my window from the roof. When I talk on the phone, I do it outside on the first-floor roof. The window leads directly out to it. My feet track in the detritus of roof and leave it all over the windowsill and bed.
I sat and checked my phone for the fourth time in thirty minutes. She did not care. I rubbed my face. I checked the fat on my stomach. None. Good. I listened to the French television program in the next room. The wood floor outside my room showed the extenuated traces of its blue light in the dark of the hallway between the rooms. A shunted theatre outside my door.
I went back out onto the roof and looked inside my warm room. I was shirtless and it was October.
If you want it, here it is. Here’s every girl I’ve ever been with. I never look at her until she’s already made up her mind about me. I don’t know her until she totters in front of me and insinuates herself into my day. Then we get to know each other. She is leggy and long and maybe taller than I am. She wears curvilinear eye makeup. Cat eyes. We communicate fiercely for the first couple months. I am always the one who forgets to respond. She feels like a transient attraction but in reality her insecurity works for the both of us. She doesn’t know that I will stop being interesting. And then, like the incitement of revolution, it happens. We explode quietly and internally. She realizes I was helpless in the most abject way. How I needed her. But any version of her. Interchangeable legs and makeup. That’s the cruelty. At some point she realizes that I am retreating to a white and expiating coda. I do not come back.
And when you tell them you’re a bad person they never know what you mean.
LUCAS DYLAN-FRANCES lives in New Jersey. He writes and runs. He is young but has ambitions. He hopes to live fast while he still looks good and go out in a three-piece white suit like Charlie Parker.