The Orange Dress: Hide and Seek

 

This is going to be funny.

I think to myself as I’m climbing up the support column to my girlfriend’s apartment.  We’ve been inseparable these past few weeks, so much so that I’m beginning to forget what my own apartment looks like.  I climb my way over the railing.  I feel my phone vibrate in my pocket.  I pull it out still straddling the banister, the bright beacon of light cutting through the darkness:

“Just finishing up with some friends. Going home soon.”  From this tiny flickering screen a smile flutters up through my fingertips, into the pulsing cavity in my chest and escaping to my face.

“Okay.  Lava.”  I text her, my legs still wrapped around the iron-wrought railing.

“Lava you too.”

It’s this silly inside joke between us.  It goes like this: What did the boy volcano say to the girl volcano?  I lava you.  Haha stupid, right?  It was my way of telling her I loved her, without using a word that had become tacky and trite through overuse by every single other person.  It’s our word; something special just between us.  And if she was ever kidnapped by ninjas, I would know it wasn’t her on the receiving end because they would have no idea how to interpret a quick quip about lava.

I make my way up her flight of stairs,  Imagining ninjas jumping onto chairs and tables as the ground beneath them burst into hot molten flames.  Yeah, ninjas would definitely do okay with lava.  Her bedroom is dark.  With expert precision, I navigate my way over her laptop, past our wine glasses from last night, around the half-eaten bag of jalapeno chips and over her growing pile of dirty clothes.  I make a mental note to buy her one of those cool fold-able hampers the next time I’m out shopping.  Hamper.  That’s a funny word.  Why would someone want to “hamper” you, from doing laundry?  Hamper.  I say it again.  Hamper.   Ham puur.  Ham puurr.   It’s one of those words the more you say it, the weirder it sounds and feels in your mouth.

“You keep using that word, I do not think it means what you think it means”

I do my best Inigo Montoya impersonation.  Somehow it sounds more Mexican gangbanger than accomplished gentleman-swordfighter.  I need to work on that.  I lie on her bed in the darkness, reciting more of my favorite Princess Bride lines.  “Fezzik, you did something right” Her pillowcase smells like her; wet hair and that flowery shampoo.   I’m over here so often my hair smells like it too.  We have the same smell. I wonder if people at work have noticed.  I look at the clock on my phone.   She’ll be home in about thirty minutes.

I am going to scare the crap out of her so good.

This is going to be so funny.

– – – –

When I would play hide and seek as a kid, I was always found first.  I could have the best hiding place in my grandma’s house (in the bottom shelf of the linen closet after I tossed all the neatly folded sheets onto my grandparents bed of course)  But my siblings and cousins would still always find me.  I didn’t know it at the time but whenever they got close, I would start to giggle uncontrollably.  Like Ernie from Sesame Street with his raspy-salt-shaker giggle, I could never stifle my laughter.  The anticipation of getting caught was always too much.

I check my phone again. An hour has passed.

She’s got a lot of friends, and I know them all by name and vice.  The girls for the most part, are all those new age self-empowered-modern-day-feminists.  They all talk a big game about their dreams and aspirations and having a career before a relationship, but one by one they seemed to be getting picked off by wedding rings and pregnancies… not always in that order.  Her guy friends are a  bunch of white-knight-sycophants, showering her with platitudes to try to get into her pants, always hopeful to one day cross that platonic river with nothing more than a leaky boat and a lot of hope.    They all talk a lot.  And she’s too polite to cut them off and just leave.  I’m sure that’s what’s happened.

I imagine the look on her face when I spring up from under her sheets like some B-movie villain making his one last cheap-thrill scare before having  a slow and dramatic death.  Maybe I should ask her to pick up food?

I’m getting hungry.

This is still going to be funny.  
– – – –

I must’ve dozed off.  Two hours have passed.  All the bars have closed.

“Hey where are you?”  I text her.

No response.

I give her a call.

No answer.

I text her again, “Are you okay?”

I sit there in her bed, unsure of what to do.  Those cute lava dodging ninjas have evolved in my head into tattoo’ed girlfriend raping thugs.  I imagine her car obliterated to pieces in a ditch on the side of the road, and her blood splattered hand reaching for the dashboard where she kept her phone, to call me to save her.  I imagine the police pulling her out of her car and dragging her off to jail by the nape of her neck, where those same girlfriend raping thugs are waiting for her in a cell.

I can’t stay here.

– – – –

I spend the next hour driving between her apartment and the bar she was last at with her friends.  I check all the parking lots for her car.  I’m tempted to call the police, but I know she’s been drinking and if the police to get to her first she could end up in big trouble just because of my overactive imagination.  I’m back at her place, sitting in my car in her driveway, my fingers drumming anxiously on the steering wheel.  I’ve blown up her phone with calls and texts, my fingers frantic-fraught with worry.

The sun is breaking over the horizon, spilling its first rays across my car.  Neighbors begin rousing, brewing their coffee, eating for breakfast and then leaving for work.  They eye me suspiciously, this ruddy eyed stranger sitting alone in a car.  But I’m not a stranger.  We live here.  We practically live here together.

We were gonna live together.  But now I think she might be dead.

– – – –

The roads are filling up with morning traffic and the sun is well up into the morning sky when she calls.

“Are you okay??  How come you didn’t come home?”  I blurt out.  Had I taken two seconds to think and reword that question as simply ‘where are you?‘  I think my life would’ve turned out very differently.

“I… I crashed over at a friend’s house.”

“And you didn’t see me calling?”

“I fell asleep.  How do you know I didn’t come home?” I hear an anxious strain creeping into her voice.

“I was at your place.  I was going to scare you.  Where were you…?”

I’m tired.  She’s tired.  This conversation doesn’t make sense.  It feels like some impromptu sketch hastily thrown together by audience members against a swiftly sinking suspension of my disbelief.  I start my car and begin reversing my way out of her driveway. Her place feels alien, and unwelcoming.  I don’t want to be here when she gets here.  I don’t live here. I just want to go home… to my home.

– – – –

She shows up outside of my place, wearing yesterday’s clothes and yesterday’s makeup still smeared on her face.  The collar on her blouse is pulled uncharacteristically high around her neck.

“I told you I stayed over at my friend’s place.”  She sighs.

“Which friend?  A guy?”

“A girl friend.”

“Who?”

“I don’t think you’ve met her.”

“So you slept over at a girl’s house, that you’ve never mentioned once before?”

“Yes.”

“Are you lying to me?”  I lock eyes with her.

She looks away and laughs.  It’s an exasperated snicker, part sigh, part frustrated grin.  At this time I don’t know it, but this is an important sign.   Just like me as a giggling eight-year-old hiding in the linen closest for my siblings to find– moments from discovery.  My eyes catch something on her neck.  Purple-ish, slightly discolored…

“…No of course not.”  She rejoins my gaze.  “I lava you.”

I stand there, shifting uncomfortably in the silence.  I want to say more.  Her story has Swiss-cheese sized holes, and I am painfully lactose intolerant.  I don’t know it yet, but swallowing this bit of misinformation in this point in time leads to a painful bloody diarrhea torrent of a relationship that will last two and a half years, alienate me from most of my friends and family, result in five stitches in my hand, and ultimately lead to me be fired from a job I love.

“I Lava you too.”  I kiss her and we go inside my apartment.

This wasn’t that funny.  

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