Page 5


I stand up and run my hands down my shirt, smoothing out the folds.

"Well? How do I look?" I ask.

"Like a woman,” she sighs.

It's seven-thirty sharp so I go to the living room, grab the jacket Will insisted I borrow the day before and head to the window. He's coming out of his house so I walk outside and stand in my driveway. He looks up and notices me as he's opening his car door.

"You ready?" he yells.

"Yes!"

"Well, come on then!"

I don't move. I just stand there and fold my arms across my chest.

"What are you doing?" He throws his hand up in defeat and laughs.

"You said you would pick me up at seven-thirty! I'm waiting for you to pick me up!"

He grins as he gets in the car. He backs straight out of his driveway and into mine so that the passenger door is closest to me. He hops out of the car and runs around to open it. Before I get in I give him the onceover. He’s wearing loose fitted jeans and a black long sleeved shirt that outlines his arms. It's the defined arms that prompt me to return his jacket to him.

“That reminds me,” I say as I hand him his jacket. “I bought this for you.”

He grabs the jacket and slides his arms inside. “Wow, it even smells like me,” he laughs.

He waits until I've buckled up before he shuts the door. As he's walking around to his side, I notice the car smells like...cheese. Not old, stale cheese; but fresh cheese, cheddar maybe. My stomach growls. I'm curious where we're going to eat.

When Will gets in, he reaches into the backseat and grabs a sack. "We don't have time to eat, so I made us grilled cheese." He hands me a sandwich and a bottle of soda.

"Wow. This is a first," I say as I stare at the items in my hands. "And where exactly are we going in such a hurry?” I twist open my lid. "It's obviously not a restaurant."

He unwraps his sandwich and takes a bite. "It's a surprise," he says with a mouthful of bread. He navigates the steering wheel with his free hand as he simultaneously drives and eats. "I know a lot more about you than you know about me, so tonight I want to show you what I'm all about."

"Well, I'm intrigued," I say. I really am intrigued.

We both finish our sandwiches and I put the trash back in the bag and place it in the backseat. I try to think of something to say to break the silence, so I ask him about his family.

"What are your parents like?"

He takes a deep breath and slowly exhales. "I'm not big on small talk, Lake. We can figure all that out later. Let's make this drive interesting," he says as he relaxes further into his seat.

Driving, no talking, keeping it interesting. I'm repeating what he said in my head and hope I’m misunderstanding his intent. He laughs when he sees the hesitation on my face and it dawns on him that I've taken what he said out of context.

"Lake, No!" he laughs. "I just meant let’s talk about something besides what we’re expected to talk about."

I breathe a sigh of relief. I thought I had found his flaw. "Good," I laugh.

"I know a game we can play. It's called 'would you rather.' Have you played it before?"

I shake my head. "No, but I know I would rather you go first."

"Okay." He clears his throat and pauses for a few seconds. "Okay, would you rather spend the rest of your life with no arms; or would you rather spend the rest of your life with arms you couldn't control?"

What the hell? I can honestly say this date has definitely not started the way any of my previous dates have gone. It's pleasantly unexpected though.

"Well…" I hesitate. "I guess I would rather spend the rest of my life with arms I couldn't control?"

"What? Seriously? But you wouldn't be controlling them!" he says, flapping his arms around in the car. "They could be flailing around and you'd be constantly punching yourself in the face! Or worse, you might grab a knife and stab yourself!"

"I didn't realize there were right and wrong answers," I say.

"You suck at this!" he teases. "Your turn."

"Okay, let me think."

"You have to have one ready!" he says.

"Jeez, Will! I barely heard of this game for the first time thirty seconds ago. Give me a second to think of one."

He reaches over and squeezes my hand. "I'm teasing."

He repositions his hand underneath mine and our fingers interlock. I like how easy the transition is, like we've been holding hands for years. So far, everything about this date has been easy. I like Will's sense of humor. I like that I find it so easy to laugh around him after having gone so many months without laughing. I like that we're holding hands. I really like that we're holding hands.

"Okay, I've got one," I say. "Would you rather pee on yourself once a day at random, unknown times? Or would you rather have to pee on someone else?"

"It depends on who I'd have to pee on. Can I pee on people I don’t like? Or is it random people?"

"Random people."

"Pee on myself," he says without hesitation. "My turn now. Would you rather be four feet tall, or seven feet tall?"

"Seven feet tall," I reply.

"Why?"

"You aren't allowed to ask why," I say. "Okay, let’s see. Would you rather drink an entire gallon of bacon grease for breakfast every day? Or would you rather have to eat five pounds of popcorn for supper every night?"

"Five pounds of popcorn."

I like the game we’re playing. I like that he didn’t worry about impressing me with dinner. I like that I have no idea where we're headed. I even like that he didn’t compliment what I was wearing, which seems to be the standard opening line for dates. So far, I like everything about tonight. As far as I’m concerned, we could drive around for another two hours just playing ‘would you rather’-and it would be the most fun I’ve ever had on a date.

But, we don’t. We eventually reach our destination and I immediately tense up when I see the sign on the building.

Club N9NE

"Uh, Will? I don't dance." I'm hoping he'll be empathetic.

"Uh, neither do I."

We exit the vehicle and meet at the front of the car. I'm not sure who reached out first, but once again our fingers find each other in the dark and he holds my hand as he guides me toward the entrance. As we get closer to the entrance, I notice a sign posted on the door.

Closed for Slam

Thursdays

8:00-Whenever

Admission: Free

Fee to slam: $3

Will opens the door without reading the sign. I start to inform him the club is closed but he seems like he knows what he's doing. The silence is interrupted by the energy of the crowd as I follow him through the entryway and into the room. There is an empty stage to the right of us, with tables and chairs set up all over the dance floor. The place is packed. I see a table toward the front that looks like a group of younger kids, around age fourteen or so. Will turns to the left and heads to an empty booth in the back of the room.

"It's quieter back here," he says.

"How old do you have to be to get into clubs here?" I ask, still observing the group of out of place children.

"Well, tonight it's not a club," he says as we scoot into the booth.

It's a half circle booth facing the stage so I scoot all the way to the middle to get the best view. He moves in right beside me.

"It's slam night," he says. "Every Thursday they shut the club down and people come here to compete in the slam."

"And what's a slam?" I ask.

“It's poetry," he says as he smiles at me. "It's what I'm all about."

Is he for real? A hot guy who makes me laugh and loves poetry? Someone pinch me. Or not; I'd rather not wake up.

"Poetry, huh?" I say. "Do people write their own or do they get it from other authors?"

He leans back in the seat and looks up at the stage. I can see the passion in his eyes when he talks about it. "People get up there and pour their hearts out just using their words and the movement of their bodies," he says. "It's amazing. You aren't going to hear any Dickinson or Frost here."

"Is it like a competition?" I ask.

"It's complicated," he says. "It differs between every club. Normally during a slam, the judges are picked at random from the audience and they assign points to each performance. The one with the most points at the end of the night wins. That's how they do it here, anyway.”

"So do you slam?" I ask.

"Sometimes. Sometimes I judge, sometimes I just watch."

"Are you performing tonight?"

"Nah. Just an observer tonight. I don't really have anything ready."

I'm disappointed. It would be amazing to see him perform on stage. I still have no idea what slam poetry is, but I'm really curious to see him do anything that requires a performance.

"Bummer," I say.

"You want something to drink?" he says.

"Sure. I'll take some chocolate milk."

"Chocolate milk? Really?"

"With ice."

"Okay," he says as he slides out of the booth. "One chocolate milk on the rocks coming right up."

While he's gone, the emcee comes to the stage and attempts to pump up the crowd. No one is in the back of the room where we're seated, so I feel a little silly when I yell 'yeah!' with the rest of the crowd. I sink further into my seat and decide just to be a spectator for the remainder of the night.

The emcee announces it’s time to pick the judges and the entire crowd roars, almost everyone wanting to be chosen. They pick five people at random and move them to the judging table. As Will walks back to the booth with our drinks, the emcee announces it's time for the 'sac,' and chooses someone at random.

"What's the sac?" I ask as he hands me my drink.

"Sacrifice…It's what they use to prepare the judges," he says as he slides back into the booth. Somehow, he slides even closer this time.

"Someone performs something that isn't part of the competition so the judges can calibrate their scoring."

"So they can call on anyone? What if they would have called on me?" I ask, suddenly nervous.

“Well, I guess you should have had something ready,” he says as he smiles at me.

He takes a sip from his drink then leans back against the booth, finding my hand in the dark. Our fingers don't interlock this time, though. Instead, he places my hand on his leg and his fingertips start to trace the outline of my wrist. He gently traces each of my fingers, following the lines and curves of my entire hand. His fingertips feel like electric pulses penetrating my skin.

"Lake," he says quietly as he continues to trace up my wrist and back to my fingertips with a fluid motion. "I don’t know what it is about you…but I like you."

His fingers slide between mine as he takes my hand in his and turns his attention back to the stage. I inhale and reach for my chocolate milk with my free hand, downing the entire glass. The ice feels good against my lips. It cools me off.

They call on a young woman who looks to be around twenty-five. She announces that she is performing a piece she wrote titled 'Blue Sweater.’ The lights are lowered as a spotlight is positioned on her. She raises the microphone and steps forward, staring down at the floor. A hush sweeps over the audience and the only sound in the entire room is the sound of her breath, amplified through the speakers.

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