As I doubted every plaid shirt I owned, Emma knocked on my open door. “Hey,” she said, standing in the hallway.
“Hi,” I said, holding two near identical flannel shirts.
“It sounds like your neighbor had to take off, so he won’t be at my brother’s place tonight.”
She wore her hair down at her shoulders. Suddenly, I realized I was supposed to say something. “Oh.”
“You probably don’t want to come tonight,” she said. She looked down the hallway.
“I’d still love to come. You know, hang out with you and your brother.” I nodded earnestly.
“Really?” she said.
Over a decade later, I understand that the normal thing to do here was to say, “You know, why don’t you just go alone and maybe I’ll go next time.” But I was nineteen. And she had the cutest dimples when she smiled. So what actually came out of my mouth was, “Yeah, it will be a great time. I’ll come down to your room around seven.”
She smiled. Her dimples appeared like the sun in the East. She nodded and walked away.
Before I could doubt my answer, Couture barged in my room. “Patterson,” he said, “let’s get some beers.”
“I’m going to Johnson tonight.” I added, “With Emma.”
He laughed. “You aren’t getting anywhere with her.”
“It’s not about that,” I said. “We both read Virginia Woolf. She read my essay.”
“Sure, Hemingway,” he said.
The drive to Johnson took forty-five minutes. After the first ten minutes, I realized I didn’t really know much about Emma, and I didn’t really know what to talk to her about. For months after this car ride, I ran fluent conversations in my head between her and me about wildly entertaining topics. But that day, wit and charm was ne’er to be found.
We were both relieved when we got to her brother’s apartment.
“Jeremy, this is Dave,” Emma said.
“You know Kevin’s not here?” he said. He gave me a look older brothers give you when you show up to their apartment with their sister.
I shook his hands and wished for the power of teleportation so I could go back to St. Mike’s and drink beer with Couture. Lots of beer. Enough to drown my heart once and for all.
Inside, Jeremy handed me a Natty Light. The three of us sat in his living room, and he and Emily talked about people I didn’t know. I finished my first beer quickly and went to the kitchen for another one.
In the kitchen, I had a Socratic dialogue with my heart.
Me: Why did you make me do this?
My Heart: She has that hair and those dimples.
Me: And a boyfriend.
My Heart: She reads Virginia Woolf. She’s your lighthouse.
Me: You need to get me out of this.
My Heart: That’s not my job. I get you into this.
“Who are you talking to?” Emily asked from behind me.
“No one. You want a beer?”
“Jeremy wants to know if you want to smoke.”
Not knowing what else to do, I said, “Yes.”
In the living room was Jeremy and his three foot bong. Every ounce of my body said not to hit that bong, but I was already in deep. Why not go deeper?
Lighter. Smoke. Coughing.
After an unknown amount of time, Emily and I ended up in the basement together playing darts.
“That was a pretty big hit you took,” she said, tossing darts at the dartboard.
“Yeah,” I said. I leaned against the wall for balance.
My heart: Kiss her!
“I’ll probably go to bed soon,” she said.
My heart: She totally wants you to kiss her!
“I handed in my essay this morning,” I said. “I think it’s pretty good.”
“It was pretty good,” she said.
My heart: Do it! She loves your insight on Modernism.
My fingers tingled. Blood rushed to my cheeks.
“I’ll leave some blankets out for you in the living room,” she said.
When she turned, I was only a foot from her. Listening to my stupid heart, I took a step forward and leaned in.
“Good night,” she said, and she ran up the stairs.
Me: I knew that was a bad idea.
My Heart: So why’d you do it?
Me: Are you kidding me?
I sat in the lone chair in the basement and drank my beer. When it was gone, I walked upstairs. Both Emily and her brother were in bed.
My Heart: Maybe you can crawl in bed with her.
Me: Maybe you can go to hell.
I lifted the blanket Emma put out for me. I smelled it; it smelled nothing like her.
I collapsed on the couch. In the morning, Emma woke me up. Hungover, I slept on the ride back to campus. We took separate stairwells up to our rooms.
My Heart: We’ll get ’em next time. We’ll make it to our lighthouse.
Me: I guess I don’t have a choice.
My Heart: That’s the spirit.