I saw the horror flashing across the faces of the women crowded above me as I slipped down, backwards into the crack between the moving bus and the platform.
I met him in a coffee shop. Not even an original one; it’s the chain everyone goes to on a lazy Saturday. I went that day to study in the college town over from mine, to finish the mountain of work due the following week. Already a sophomore, I had perfected the art of taking an hour to throw on frayed jeans, a crew-neck tee, and makeup. My hair was usually in a messy ponytail because of the perpetual rain. It was February.
I shuffle through the New England slush, and walk slowly up the awkward ramp into the smell of French roast. Trying to inconspicuously scan for a table, I spot one adjacent to a dark-haired sloucher. His backpack is draped over the chair next to him.
“Is this table taken?” I ask.
“No, not at all,” He says flashing me a set of perfect white teeth. I start taking out my stack of notebooks, and abandon them to order tea. When I come back with my 20 ounces of liquid sustenance I glance at his notebook, and force myself not to grimace at the span of equations on it.
“Do you mind if I ask what you’re working on?” he asks.
“Three papers, and a ton of reading,” I answer. We exchange pleasantries and I find out he goes to a neighboring college, but is taking all of his math courses at a nearby university. He tells me his name is Luke; I tell him I am taking half of my classes at his college. There are five in our area, and four are interchangeable academically.
We both become absorbed in our work, until he asks me to watch his stuff while he runs to his dorm to get his computer charger. While he's gone, I debate asking him for his number when he returns. But when he comes back, I just work for another hour until I leave, waving goodbye. I smile to myself thinking it is the perfect random meeting, and slightly regret not getting his number.
The following weekend there’s an infamous Mardi Gras party in one of the dorms at Luke’s college. I wear way too much glitter eyeshadow to go with my silver dress, purple leggings, and Mardi Gras beads. I am already working a buzz, my half-drank Cosmo is still on the dresser in my dorm room. I don’t wind up finishing it; I dash down the back stairs to my friend’s white Audi. At the party, my friends and I chug jungle juice and take pictures where half of us aren’t looking at the camera.
There’s weird electronic music playing mixed in with Top 40, so we alternate between standing around talking and actually dancing. We laugh. I am dodging a guy from a few months ago, when I run into Luke.
“Hey!” He exclaims to me all smiles again and hugs me.
“Hey,” I answer, leaning into his ear to be heard, because the music is too loud.
“Guess what?” He asks.
“I got into UCSB for grad school!”
“Oh my God, that’s awesome!” I shriek into his ear. We dance for a few minutes and I make him spin me, even though there’s barely enough room. I follow him into the lobby of the dorm where he waves to various people and then asks:
“Do you want to go outside? I want to talk to you more,” I grab my coat. We talk for a while. I tell him about my study abroad plans. He asks to kiss me, and the gears quickly shift from small talk to making out. He pulls my hair when he kisses me, and compliments my derriere. I’m hooked.
“Get a room!” Someone shouts.
“No one’s ever said that to me before,” I say to him, half giggling.
“Come to my room with me?” He asks. I, always careful, dash back to tell my friend who drove that I’m going to disappear for a while. She gives me her blessing.
“Let’s go,” I say. We hold hands as we walk back.
“What’s the matter? Did you hurt your leg or something?” he asks.
“No, I have Cerebral Palsy,” I answer.
“Oh,” he says. We keep talking. He tells me he’s going to visit UCSB in a few weeks, and that he’s looking forward to the warm weather. As we walk into his dorm, I admire the polished hardwood floors, and see other people playing ping pong in a back room. We climb the stairs.
“That’s my best friend Sean’s room,” he gestures to the room next door upon reaching the threshold of his room, and tells me to ignore the mess.
“Don’t worry, I’m messy too,” I tell him. He turns on a lamp the minute we get in, and tells me it’s for mood lighting. Papers litter his desk, and random clothing is strewn on the floor.
I sit down and shed my winter layers. In his drunkenness, he can’t figure out how to get my boots off. I unzip and discard them, and he kisses my purple legging covered crotch. I can’t feel anything.
“I haven’t done this in a while. So I’m not making any promises. I’ve been really busy with my thesis,” he says.
“Yeah,” I answer ruefully. “I haven’t had sex in--” I calculate it in my head. It’s six months, but that seems too long to say aloud, so I just settle for “a while.”
We strip and I admire his body, tight from tennis. He gets behind me and pushes. I cry out, half reaching for his hand to silence myself.
“We can just take this really slow, ok?” He half asks. We switch so he’s on top of me, and I take pleasure in running my hands up and down his biceps. I bury my half smile in his shoulder and find out he’s a moaner. I realize he was right about not being promising.
A while later, my friend calls to tell me that the three of them were back from the local diner, and were waiting for me across the street. He offers to walk me out and throws on a sweatshirt, basketball shorts, and flip-flops. I tug on my boots, and we stand in front of the door.
“You have a sequin,” I tell him, and touch his cheek with my finger to remove it, almost telling him to make a wish like it’s an eyelash. In the hallway, he takes my beads from me.
“Spoils,” he says. I try not to think of what he really means. We start down the stairs. We haven’t even reached the first landing when he imitates the way I walk down stairs, two feet at a time. My right leg lags behind me like an afterthought.
He laughs as he does it, an exaggerated, mocking laugh.
I don’t say anything. Luke is aware of what he is doing; the laughter is part of his performance, a grotesque mimicry.
"Did that really happen? Did he really just do that after I fucked him?" ricochets around in my head. I pick up my pace. We reach the end of the stairs. The door is 20 feet away, my white wooden savior. Luke walks me to the door, and it swings open. A gust of winter bursts in unannounced.
“I don’t like it when people make fun of me,” I tell him, my voice is flat. “I think it’s inappropriate and rude. Have a great night though,” the last thing I see before walking into the cold is his shocked face. I turn around and welcome the icy wind.