She was nice enough, this woman with the red hair. Hair so red that when she later put on the green Saint Patrick’s Day hat, she conjured images of a fey princess in my mind; hair red as fire, and a face of beautiful fierceness.
She was nice because she asked me to come sit at the table with the rest of the group, and asked why I didn’t join in the conversation, why I was so quiet and didn’t talk much. I always think people are nice when they notice that I don’t talk much, it means that they at least know that I am there and that maybe they even want to hear me say something. I usually tell myself that their desire to hear me speak is worth more to me than their appreciation for what I might say, so I stay silent. Not this time though, not with her.
I told her that she didn’t want me to start talking, because once I do, I do not shut up and more often than not, people wish for the days that I was still the silent one in the corner of the room, watching without being a part of things.
Alcohol always helps though, a few drinks and I talk. Rarely do I drink so much that I get quiet again though, thankfully someone generally tells me to shut-up before I can drink that much. Sometimes I listen to them when they say I need to stop talking, sometimes.
So, a few drinks into the night and after the bulk of the party has moved over to the college kids spinning fire on the concrete slab in the corner of the yard, I see the woman with red hair in the hot tub, and watch her massage a muscular black man. She sees me see her, and invites me again to get into the warm water with her. I remind her that I have nothing on under my pants, and the novelty of a naked man walking around has already been done this evening.
She gets a sad look on her face, and I consider doing it despite my own reasons not to. She is nearly naked in the water and alone, two very good reasons to be in the water instead of standing next to it. It is then that I remember I have a pair of shorts in my gym bag in my Jeep, parked down the street. So I go get them.
In the bathroom, I put the shorts on and look at myself in the mirror. I switched to vodka mixed with a Vitamin Water at some point in the night, and realize that I do not recognize who I am looking at in the mirror, not that it matters at this point. The person in the mirror isn’t sure who is looking at him either.
I wad my pants into a ball, to keep everything in the pockets safe and I drain the contents of the coffee cup, with my wadded up pants in my hand I go to refill my drink and join the fey princess in the bubbling water in the backyard.
She smiles when she sees that I am wearing shorts, and asks if I am actually going to join her. I answer by getting in the water, splashing her as I do. That causes the people gathered around the hot tub to back away for moment, before returning, like half starved cats around a can of tuna left on a street corner. I realize that she is the can of tuna, all night people have been drawn to her, trying to get her attention.
I ask her if she ever gets tired of the adoration of the people around her, the constant attention and their need for acknowledgement. She smiles again (she smiles a lot, I credit the alcohol, not the company) and slides closer to me. I notice the people around us paying attention to her response. She simply says yes, that it is tiring and leaves her exhausted at times. It is all that she knows though, life has always been that way for her. So, she accepts it and has learned to live with it. It is then that she asks about me, if I ever get tired of being the silent one.
I tell her no, I prefer being the observer that no one really notices or knows. I have a knack for being easily forgotten, it is a skill that is usually underestimated. She says she doesn’t believe I am that easy to forget. To demonstrate that I am, I name three people near us, people that I was introduced to less than two hours before, and ask if they know my name or who I came with. No one knows my name or how I came to be at the party, the hostess herself tries to remember my name and after the second failed attempt I turn my attention back to the red haired beauty in the water next to me.
She laughs and says that it must be sad to feel the way that I do. She asks what my story is, why I am the way that I am. I tell her there isn’t enough time left in the night for me to tell my story and she scoffs. She tells me an abbreviated version of her story, to encourage me to tell mine but I tell her again that there isn’t time. I tell her the story isn’t that interesting, I tell her she has to wait for the novel, I tell her I need a cigarette.
My hands are too wet to light a cigarette and my lighter is in my wadded up pants and my wadded up pants are far away from the hot tub. She asks for a cigarette too. I call over Gerome, the muscular black man she was massaging earlier, and ask if he has a lighter. He does, and I ask him if he would light two cigarettes for me. I feel bad, some ingrained racial guilt I suppose, having this black man light cigarettes for two white people in a hot tub. I swallow that guilt though and take the cigarettes from his outstretched hand as I thank him.
We smoke together in the water, the jets have turned off and Gerome works to get them going again. People come over to talk to her and she slides across the seat to get closer, but keeps her legs wrapped in mine. She talks as I smoke in silence and I go back to watching the people do things that people do at a party; a bunch of kids around the fire, getting high and talking about different events that they have spun fire at, a woman hula-hooping in a dark corner, light reflecting off of the metallic strip twisted around the hula-hoop. I watch, mesmerized as she spins the hoop faster and faster around her lithe body, the light flashing faster and faster with every rotation, her face going in and out of the light, an expression of ecstasy on her face.
Someone near the hot tub asks if we are naked, and the red haired warrior says no we were not but that we should fix that. She looks to me and I tell her to go first. She has her panties on and nothing else, she tells me I am more dressed than she is so I should go first. I concede and reach below the water to slide my shorts down my body. She smiles again, and taking her legs from between mine, slides her panties off and tosses them onto the edge of the tub.
We talk of love and mermaids, fools and prions. We share stories of tattoos and pass a drink between us. The night wears on and she says I am interesting. I assure her I am not, but she insists. She says we should be friends, she likes interesting people. I tell her that I am not interesting, nor intriguing and cannot live up to expectations of being either. She smiles again and says she has to go to the restroom. I watch her rise out of the water, pale flesh in the dark night and I want to reach out to touch her, but stay sitting where I am.
She steps onto the patio and turns toward me, she smiles as she wraps the towel around herself and heads into the house. I stay in the water and wonder what the people around me are doing.
Some time later she returns, she called a cab to go home. I realize I should head home too and get out of the hot tub. I stand there for a moment, naked in front of her, and wonder what I am doing.
I get dressed while she gets dressed. The party is over for both of us and it is time to say goodbye.
She kisses me, lips soft and moist. She kisses me softly, like she doesn’t want to leave an impression of what a kiss from her is like, but that she wants it to seem like a half remembered dream when you first wake up in the morning. I wonder though, if she is thinking that my desire to kiss her is worth more than any appreciation I might have after kissing her.