“Regardless, a stalker is a stalker.”
We were finally at the front of the line, but Ryan seemed more focused on me than on the fact that it was time to order. I looked away from him only long enough to order my dinner. “Can I get a grilled cheese, please?” I asked the cook.
“And you?” the cook asked Ryan.
“Patty melt, extra cheese,” Ryan said, leaning forward and accidentally grazing my forearm with his sleeve. I felt just the smallest jolt of electricity.
“And the second thing?” I said.
“Hm?” Ryan said, looking back at me, already losing his train of thought.
“You said I revealed two things.”
“Oh!” Ryan smiled and moved his tray closer to mine on the counter. “You said you noticed me in the quad.”
“But I didn’t see you then.”
“OK,” I said, not clear what he meant.
“So technically speaking, you noticed me first.”
I smiled at him. “Touché,” I said. The cook handed me my grilled cheese. He handed Ryan his patty melt. We took our trays and headed to the soda machine.
“So,” Ryan said, “since you’re the pursuer here, I guess I’ll just have to wait for you to ask me out.”
“What?” I asked, halfway between shocked and mortified.
“Look,” he said, “I can be very patient. I know you have to work up the courage, you have to find a way to talk to me, you have to make it seem casual.”
“Uh-huh,” I said. I reached for a glass and thrust it under the ice machine. The ice machine roared and then produced three measly ice cubes. Ryan stood beside me and thwacked the side of it. An avalanche of ice fell into my glass. I thanked him.
“No problem. So how about this?” Ryan suggested. “How about I wait until tomorrow night, six P.M.? We’ll meet in the lobby of Hendrick Hall. I’ll take you out for a burger and maybe some ice cream. We’ll talk. And you can ask me out then.”
I smiled at him.
“It’s only fair,” he said. “You noticed me first.” He was very charming. And he knew it.
“OK. One question, though. In line over there,” I said as I I pointed to the swiper. “What did you talk to him about?” I was asking because I was pretty sure I knew the answer, and I wanted to make him say it.
“The guy swiping the cards?” Ryan asked, smiling, knowing he’d been caught.
“Yeah, I’m just curious what you two had to talk about.”
Ryan looked me right in the eye. “I said, ‘Act like we are having a conversation. I need to buy time until that girl in the gray shirt gets up here.’”
That jolt of electricity that felt small only a few moments earlier now seared through me. It lit me up. I could feel it in the tips of my fingers and the furthest ends of my toes.
“Hendrick Hall, tomorrow. Six P.M.,” I said, confirming that I would be there. But by that point, I think we both knew I was dying to be there. I wanted then and there to be here and now.
“Don’t be late,” he said, smiling and already walking away.
I put my drink on my tray and walked casually through the dining hall. I sat down at a table by myself, not yet ready to meet my friends. The smile on my face was too wide, too strong, too bright.
• • •
I was in the lobby of Hendrick Hall by 5:55 P.M.
I waited around for a couple of minutes, trying to pretend that I wasn’t eagerly awaiting the arrival of someone.
This was a date. A real date. This wasn’t like the guys who asked you to come with them and their friends to some party they heard about on Friday night. This wasn’t like when the guy you liked in high school, the guy you’d known since eighth grade, finally kissed you.
This was a date.
What was I going to say to him? I barely knew him! What if I had bad breath or said something stupid? What if my mascara smudged and I spent the whole night not realizing I looked like a raccoon?
Panicking, I tried to catch a glimpse of my reflection in a window, but as soon as I did, Ryan came through the front doors into the lobby.
“Wow,” he said when he saw me. In that instant, I was no longer worried that I might be somehow imperfect. I didn’t worry about my knobby hands or my thin lips. Instead, I thought about the shine of my dark brown hair and the grayish tint to my blue eyes. I thought about my long legs as I saw Ryan’s eyes drift toward them. I was happy that I’d decided to show them off with a short black jersey dress and a zip-up sweatshirt. “You look great,” he continued. “You must really like me.”
I laughed at him as he smiled at me. He was wearing jeans and a T-shirt, with a UCLA fleece over it.
“And you must be trying really hard to not show how much you like me,” I said.
He smiled at me then, and it was a different smile from earlier. He wasn’t smiling at me trying to charm me. He was charmed by me.
It felt good. It felt really good.
• • •
Over burgers, we asked each other where we were from and what we wanted to do with the rest of our lives. We talked about our classes. We figured out that we’d both had the same teacher for Public Speaking the year before.
“Professor Hunt!” Ryan said, his voice sounding almost nostalgic about the old man.
“Don’t tell me you liked Professor Hunt!” I said. No one liked Professor Hunt. That man was about as interesting as a cardboard box.
“What is not to like about that guy? He’s nice. He’s complimentary! That was one of the only classes I got an A in that semester.”
Ironically, Public Speaking was the only class I got a B in that semester. But that seemed like an obnoxious thing to say.
“That was my worst class,” I said. “Public speaking is not my forte. I’m better with research, papers, multiple-choice tests. I’m not great with oral stuff.”
I looked at him after I said it, and I could feel my cheeks burning red. It was such an awkward sentence to say on a date with someone you barely knew. I was terrified he was going to make a joke about it. But he didn’t. He pretended not to notice.
“You seem like the kind of girl who gets straight As,” he said. I was so relieved. He had somehow managed to take this sort of embarrassing moment I’d had and turned it around for me.
I blushed again. This time for a different reason. “Well, I do OK,” I said. “But I’m impressed you got an A in Public Speaking. It’s actually not an easy A, that class.”
Ryan shrugged. “I think I’m just one of those people who can do the public speaking thing. Like, large crowds don’t scare me. I could speak to a room full of people and not feel the slightest bit out of place. It’s the one-on-one stuff that makes me nervous.”
I could feel myself c**k my head to one side, a physical indication of my curiosity. “You don’t seem the type to be nervous talking in any situation,” I said. “Regardless of how many people are there.”
He smiled at me as he finished his burger. “Don’t be fooled by this air of nonchalance,” he said. “I know I’m devilishly handsome and probably the most charming guy you’ve met in your life, but there’s a reason it took me so long before I could find a way to talk to you.”
This guy, this guy who seemed so cool, he liked me. I made him nervous.
I’m not sure there is a feeling quite like finding out that you make the person who makes you nervous, nervous.
It makes you bold. It makes you confident. It makes you feel as if you could do anything in the world.
I leaned over the table and kissed him. I kissed him in the middle of a burger place, the arm of my sweatshirt accidentally falling into the container of ketchup. It wasn’t perfectly timed, by any means. I didn’t hit his mouth straight on. It was sort of to the side a bit. And it was clear I had taken him by surprise, because he froze for a moment before he relaxed into it. He tasted like salt.
When I pulled away from him, it really hit me. What I had just done. I’d never kissed someone before. I had always been kissed. I’d always kissed back.
He looked at me, confused. “I thought I was supposed to do that,” he said.