I'd been watching Clemson at the other side of the table. A nervous habit, I grabbed the straw in my highball glass and stirred the ice cubes—the vodka soda had long since disappeared. As had the two vodka sodas before that. In what seemed like a good decision at the time, I'd given up beer for the month of August to cut down on my carbs and calories before Mexico. Hence the vodka sodas, which have very few calories. And taste. And it turns out there was a special on vodka, so lucky me.
After whatever that didn't happen between us happened, Clemson had disappeared from the social outings for what seemed like a couple of months. He'd only returned in the last few weeks. I never asked about his whereabouts, but I heard other people say that he had been strangely absent as well, so I'm not so cocky as to think he was doing it to avoid me.
We've exchanged a few words since his return. It was never a deliberate conversation; we'd just be talking to the same group of people at the same time. The most surreal part about the whole situation is that I could hear him talk about me intimately without actually talking to me. For instance, last night the band began playing Van Morrison. As Clemson is talking to someone else, he points to me. "She loves Van Morrison. Her favorite song is 'Sweet Thing.'"
So now I'm stirring my empty vodka soda and turning around and looking at him every so often. It's weird, right? That he talks about me, but not to me. I want to know. I want to know what the hell I did for him to stop talking to me. I want closure on this.
This creepy stirring and staring behavior of mine isn't that atypical. I've done it ever since he returned. However previously I've always managed to talk myself off the ledge. I only want to talk to him because I'm tipsy and my inhibitions are lowered. He doesn't want to talk to you, Sarah. End of story.
But that was always when I was drinking beer. Vodka does weird things me to me.
I looked at him again. He was sitting by himself at the bar. It was late and most people had cleared out. If I ever were to approach him, this would be the time.
I set my highball down on the table and walked over to him. I planted myself directly in front of him so he would have to acknowledge me. "Can I talk to you?"
Clemson squirmed, clearly uncomfortable.
"Look, it's a conversation we only have to have once. Then it'll be over and we never have to talk about it again."
For some reason this made sense to him. He relaxed a bit and nodded.
"I want to know what happened. I want to know what I did to make you so angry with me. If it's something I can apologize for, I'd like to do so." And because I'm a girl and I have a vagina, my lip already began to tremble.
"Let's not talk about this here." Clemson stood up and pointed to the other side of the bar. As we crossed the room, he put his hand on my lower back and guided me into the restaurant portion of the establishment. I took a seat at a booth. The restaurant was shut off and closed; the only light we had streamed through the windows from the bar next door.
"I'm not good at holding grudges and I'm not good at ignoring people. I don't want us to be fighting. I want to know what happened," I repeated.
Only Clemson took this to mean that I wanted to address the entire story of us: the sleepovers, the cuddling, why it was heading one way and then so suddenly stopped.
"What were you feeling towards me?" he asked.
"At the end, I liked you. It just took me a long time to get there."
He winced. I didn't mean for that statement to hurt his feelings, but it obviously did.
"You liked me the first night you met me," he countered defiantly.
"Oh! Well, obviously! I flirted with you the first night, but I became very slow to pull the trigger. And when I was ready, you were over it."
"I was on the fence with you too," he admitted. "What killed it for me was the drunk dial. I was trying to sleep that night and you called. It was all I could do to not pick up the phone and cuss you out."
The timeline on this seemed weird to me, because I didn't do that until things between us were already broken. I let it go.
I covered my face with my hands in shame. "I'm sorry, Clemson. I'm so sorry. I'm sorry I screwed things up"
His face changed. "Actually, I lied. I was never interested in you," he said.
He was lying. He was right about that. However he was lying about never liking me. That's just not true. The first night I spent at his place, he was seated on a futon and I was sitting in his computer chair scrolling through his music collection on his laptop. I found Van Morrison. I clicked on "Sweet Thing" and turned the volume all the way up on the tinny speakers.
"This is my favorite song," I sighed. "It's my song to myself."
Clemson reached forward and grabbed my feet clad in gray leather boots and put them in his lap. It was springtime back then and I wore the calf-skimming slouchy boots over bare legs paired with a very short dress.
He rubbed his hand up and down my bare legs. "I like your boots," he said.
"You do?" I smiled coyly.
In the background, Van Morrison crooned:
I'll be satisfied not to read in between the lines
And I will walk and talk in gardens all wet with rain
And I will never, ever, ever, ever grow so old again.
He tugged off my boots and kept trailing his hands up and down my legs. A computer programmer, they were tender and uncalloused.
The song ended and we left his office and got into his bed. He pulled me to his chest and I laid my head on his shoulder. He inhaled and said he could smell my hair forever. Then he plaintively commented that we hadn't kissed yet. That's when I froze.
And here he is in a bar five months later telling another guy about the song we listened to that night. He had liked me. I suspect I put him on the defensive when I said it took me longer than him to get there.
"Even if you had never liked me, we still had a connection. We were friends at one point. And then you stopped," I said pointedly.
He sighed. I could hear people laughing in the other room. Here, in the restaurant, it was so dark and silent. "We did have a connection. And we still are friends. I just put some distance between us when I realized things weren't going to happen."
"But you ignored me. You pretended I didn't exist," my lip began trembling again and my eyes welled up. "I don't like being treated as if I don't exist. I got knocked unconscious and you just stood there. You didn't care. You didn't care whether I was okay or not." I looked down at the table and choked on a sob. I put my hands to my face again and began crying.
Clemson instinctively grabbed me. He laid his cheek against the top of my hair and wrapped his arm across my shoulder and held me.
"I didn't think you remembered that," he said softly.
"Well I don't remember being hit, but I remember you not saying anything. Even Nameless asked me if I was okay," I cried.
"I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. That was terrible of me and I knew it at the time. I should have been there for you; you are absolutely right. I'm so sorry. I shouldn't have done that." He was genuine in his sorrow.
It was the first time I had been touched by another human in months. Crying in a dark, empty restaurant and being held by a boy who claimed to have never liked me.
"I'm on your side now, okay? I'm on your side," he repeated as he rocked me with his head pressed against mine. "I'm on your side. That won't happen again. I'm on your side. Things will be different from now on."
I opened my mouth and I let everything inside me empty. How I felt when Clemson ignored me. Nameless saying what he said to me. Statham pursuing me and sleeping with me and subsequently starting the rumors that it was Clemson I had slept with. "And I've just been sitting here and letting people treat me this way. I'm better than that. I deserve more than that."
Clemson was shocked. He didn't know any of this. "You mean to tell me it was Statham who started those rumors about us? Because he was covering his own ass?!" he growled.
I sniffed and nodded. "I have the e-mails to prove it."
"That lying, little weasel! I'm going to kill him! I'm going to have a talk with him the next time I see him. I'm going to corner him and call him out on it."
"Just promise me that [the ex-girlfriend] will never know. I don't want to hurt her."
"I won't tell her." He calmed down. "I'll keep this between you and me," he reluctantly said. I don't believe him.
"I can't control other people's actions," he said, referencing Nameless. "But people do like you. I am so glad you came up to me tonight to talk."
"It took a lot of courage," I sniffed. "I was afraid you were going to ignore me again."
"No," he said softly. "I'm glad you talked to me," he repeated.
"I want to be friends again," I said.
"We are." Clemson paused. The he told me some devastating news in his life. "You're the first person I've told."
It was like the last three months of silence never happened.
"Are you okay?" I didn't want to look like I was flirting with him or hitting on him—because I wasn't—but I covered his hand in mine. That's what you do when someone is hurting; you reach out and touch him.
"I am now. I haven't talked to my mom yet," he said. He pulled his hand away and used it to drain his pint glass.
The spell was broken. The conversation was over. We left the dark restaurant and headed into the brightly lit bar decorated in grass skirt curtains, multi-colored Christmas lights and leis spinning from the ceiling fans. The bar is decorated in a different theme every week and it was luau week.
I walked past the surfboard to pay my bill: three vodka sodas and my dignity.