Rain spattered my face, blowing beyond my oversized umbrella and into my eyes, where I feared my makeup would begin to run. It wasn’t a chilling rain storm, really, just blustery enough to annoy me as I shuffled my feet down the sidewalk. Just blustery enough to put my nicely straightened hair in jeopardy of being unfixable. The roads were dimly lit and I was next to invisible as cars whizzed by turning puddles into clouds behind them. But I knew that by the light of any house it would be much easier to scrutinize me. Under lamps and all other varieties of cheap synthetic lighting, it would be much easier for this Joey guy to decide if I was really the pretty little beauty queen that he had met in Geology that Thursday, which made my heart flutter in a nervous fashion. He would be playing with the questions: Was I really just an average looking creature behind a cleverly devised mask of makeup (a common find amongst the female population in the southern Charleston culture), or was I real? Had my smile really been so charming, or had he just imagined it in his desperation to find a homework partner? Yes…those things would be running through anyone’s head at that moment, and I was one girl who would rather not disappoint, so I held my head a little higher and kept on my way with a proud strut.
A few minutes into the walk I passed a generally unattractive couple at the corner of Calhoun and Meeting Street. I smiled innocently and they didn’t do much except turn to watch me go. I wondered what they must think of me, a slight brunette walking alone in the city at night with nothing but an umbrella and a pink purse for defense, and I felt a little smug. Where could I possibly be going that was so important that I had failed to take a friend with me, or take heed of the weather, or the treacherous dark? Anywhere. I was in control. And well…I suppose the place I was going wasn’t all that important…not worth risking an evening abduction, of course…but something about finishing that Geology assignment with that bold stranger seemed more dire every minute. There was no one to tell me otherwise, and nobody ever would again. A car came too near the curb and I came within inches of being splashed with the murky street water, but I barely noticed, reveling instead in the risk of it all and drinking in the perceived dangers that could be lurking behind any bush, in any alleyway. Eighteen years of early curfews and sheltered living could do that to you, I thought…make you long for the zest in life; make you so ignorant you lacked even the healthy kind of fear in a dim street all alone.
But I just couldn’t have turned back if I had wanted to by that point. No matter how far from the safety of my dorm my feet took me, I could not come up with a reason why turning around would be any better. Joey was a new experience; Joey could be anything and anyone. The sense of a new discovery was intoxicating.
“We just don’t see why it’s necessary to expose you to those kind of things...” My mind began to wander back to Erie, and so naturally I heard my dad’s voice, as clear as if he were walking with me. It was one of his constant advisories, coming out of my head and reaching my ears, low and patronizing—the one way I hated to hear it. “Those sort of things…well you’re above all that.” He finished.
Yes, maybe I was, but Joey was intriguing...older, dangerous? Maybe. I knew nothing beyond his name, but I had a good feeling about it that night, and so I was confident everything would turn out alright, and more than anything eager to see what was in store.
“I just don’t think you’d be happy with a guy who couldn’t understand your lifestyle…” Dad was patronizing me a whole lot that night, and a thought or two of my future flashed by—of brightly light rooms, beautifully furnished mansions, utter luxury: my world. That was all for me, I wasn’t too worried…but I was alone in every pretty delusion, and I longed to fill that anonymous space that I had left there for the man who was to steal my heart….If anyone dared to try, that was. Meeting Joey, as with so many others, had been left up to fate. I trusted that. I clung to that despite my current loneliness. The one thing that kept me going day to day was the belief that some universal force was willing me into a future of romantic bliss. I had to take every chance at happiness it offered me, no matter how unlikely, and that was one more good reason to take my chances against the night prowlers of Charleston and keep trying to find my way to America Street.
Besides, I concluded flatly, fate was unavoidable, after all, and it was pushing me and everyone else every step of the way regardless of the struggle. How else could Joey have read my mind and asked me, a complete stranger, to finish that worksheet with him when I so desperately needed a distraction? I had taken my seat that morning in class, in an open area, away from most girls, near a cluster of boys, and right in the center of the room. It was a plot devised to give me optimal chances to be noticed, but he had done all the rest. I sat up straight and made the seat next to me as inviting as possible without being obvious and only minutes later, a boy as tall as the ceiling sauntered in and claimed the invitation...and quickly captured all my attention.
I smiled. True, it had been difficult to take him all in with my peripheral vision, and tricky at best to look at him directly without seeming like an invader of personal space, but I had felt it right away: a mutual interest of sorts that emanated off of him. Brightly colored tattoos covered his left arm, he had a scruffy beard—not conventionally handsome by most standards, not a man who would charm my family by any stretch of the imagination— but in a cheesy way I found him rather beautiful. He took a quick sip of coffee and I was already aware that he embodied something that I could not resist. Confidence? Peculiarity? I couldn’t decide which, but it was enough to make me flash my award-winning teeth, and giggle seductively until he made the move.
And my fortunes would not have had it any other way. The teacher with glasses and a disproportionate head wrote out a group assignment on the board that left most of the class scrambling to claim partners before all the good ones were gone and the lecture began. For that reason, and the fact that my brain was yelling it at the top of its lungs, Joey asked, and I, caught off guard, could do little more than accept.
“Hey baby!” I was jolted from the day-dream just in time to see who called me. Three large men, heading in the opposite direction of me scanned my lean body greedily with their eyes. I grinned confidently, not allowing them to see how uncomfortable I was, and picked up my pace with a few quick glances behind me to make sure they wouldn’t follow. Now would probably be an appropriate time for those little acts of caution. The busy parts of the city were falling away now, and the streets in front grew more desolate by the foot. Still, I refused to talk myself out of the idea. If anything, I conceded, I was being quite responsible getting this outstanding project out of the way on a Saturday night. What should possibly stand in the way of homework? Right? If anything I was killing two birds with one stone…And if anything Joey might be worth it. He might be…Two weeks, a month from now? Who knew? Who could say otherwise?