“Do you like me and if you do, how long do I have to wait until I can fuck you?” he read, looking up from his phone with an amused look on his face.
“Wow. Who comes up with this shit...” I say. I pause to think. “Can we skip that one? Let’s save that one for last.”
“That’d be cheating—we’re going in order remember,” he said, taking a sip of whiskey. The glassy amber liquid caught the red light from the bar so beautifully. For some reason it brought me back to Egypt at night, by Toto's Restaurant and Bar, where in-between the street hung red lights and the pyramid of Giza was spotlighted in the back. “You’re the one that wanted to play,” he reminded me.
The veins in his hand seemed more pronounced, his eyes more sunken. I was very attracted to him but that didn’t mean I wanted to fuck him. At least not yet.
Surrounded by waves of folk and blues, all kinds of people amongst us excitedly talked about their worlds, although I couldn’t make out a single word of what they were saying.
“I think you’re cute but I want to be able to trust you first,” I say quietly, afraid of the next table overhearing our conversation. I adjust my scarf. “I want to be in a place where if I did, you’d still be there the next day and the day after that for at least five months.”
“Five months?! That’s barely anything at all! Jesus, is that how much faith you have in the male population?” The expression on his face was one I hadn’t seen in the whole eight hours we’d been talking. The cool, nonchalant part of him made way for something dorky, adorable, yet undeniable real to rise to the surface as his eyes widened in genuine incredulity. I admired his beautiful nose.
“I really don’t have much faith I guess,” I say, twirling my glass of Malbec on the scratched-up wood. “Also because I can’t guarantee I’m not going to try and push you away after five months.”
“A-ha. The truth comes out,” he says. He grabs a handful of pomegranate seeds and chucks them in his mouth. “The problem is you.”
“I will admit I am probably part of the problem, yes,” I say, nodding. I enjoy talking to him. “But come on, be honest. Guys on dating apps want to fuck—probably as many women as they can match with and as soon as possible. Which is not to say I myself don’t want to eventually have sex, I just don’t want to have to keep having sex with someone new every time I want to. Men on the other hand act like women are collectibles or something.”
“I’m seriously curious about the one experience you had twelve years ago that solidified this shitty outlook you have on men and our uncontrollable urge to constantly stick our penises into random holes.”
“Men are day traders, I’m holding.”
“Not all men. I for one prefer the long game,” he said. “You’re shopping for the perfect dick that will tick all your boxes and continue to for as long as you want. If men are dogs, you’re a narcissist.”
“Why does it always have to be about dick? The man comes with the dick, the dick doesn’t come with the man.”
“Okay, and which boxes am I ticking and not ticking?” he leans closer. He smells like a freshly showered man who spent twenty minutes sitting next to a fire pit: sexy.
His hazel eyes dart all across my face, meets my eyes for a moment, travels to my lips, then back again. Intensifying zings of electricity travels between us. Something fun, exciting, and probably worth exploring—but also very scary—brews.
I feel like jumping out of my skin and running away like always. And if I’m being realistic and honest with myself, this time probably won’t be any different.
“Do you want to just have sex and get it over with?” I ask him, gently swirling the remaining burgundy liquid in the lipstick-stained wine glass.
“Of course I want to have sex with you but not when you put it that way. What are we getting over?” He asked, surprised yet intrigued. His eyes showed both excitement and confusion; it was the last thing he expected to come out of my mouth.
“We have a connection, you told me you find me attractive, and I find you cute back,” I explain without taking my eyes off his. I could feel the couple next to us look over but I stopped caring. “Attraction is our body’s way of saying it thinks we should fuck so we might as well get it over with, being as the world could end tomorrow. Isn’t that why we’re here anyway? Eventually all relationships lead to sex and the relationship lasts for as long as the couple still wants to screw each other instead of someone else."
“Wow… I don’t know what to say,” he combs his long hair back with his hand and eventually settles them on the table, tapping his fingers on the wood. After what seemed like minutes, finally, he looked up. “The weirdest thing is—and I can’t believe that I’m about to say this—I want to get to know you more before we sleep together.”
Laughing, I asked, "Is it because I turned you off with how forward I am?”
“No, not all,” he shook his head. “Actually I wanted to get you into bed the moment I saw you. But because you kind of took what my lines would’ve been, I wonder if we switched places?”
“I was thinking the same thing. I told you,” I say, smiling at him. “It’s the masculine and feminine energy balance between two people. I proved it just right there.”
“Oh... so you weren’t being serious?”
“I was.” With my pinky up, I drank the rest of the wine in one gulp. “Why, do you change your answer?”
“Let me see,” he places his hand on his chest and takes a long breath. “I’m still not ready.”
“Fair enough, I don’t want to pressure you to do anything you’re not ready to do.”
“Thank you for understanding,” he chuckled, downing the rest of his whiskey. “Want to get out of here? Let’s go for a walk and get to know each other more.”
“So you can decide if you want to have sex with me?" I tease. "It’s dark and very cold so that’s probably not a good idea but occasional bad ideas are good so... let’s do it.”
“We can walk where people are still out and about or better yet, somewhere with a ton of cameras,” he said, reaching for his wallet in his back pocket. He pulled out a battered ten-dollar bill and placed it underneath his empty glass.
“I’ll meet you outside I’m just going to use the ladies' room,” I say, slowly getting up.
I watch him walk away and briefly wonder if he thinks I’m going to pocket the cash or sneak away from the other exit. These are of course decisions I could make which would alter the course of the night—an intriguing possibility that would definitely spice things up—but I decide against it for now.
As I make my way to where the restroom is, I notice that the dimly lit bar is suddenly very quiet. Feeling like an attraction at the circus, I quicken my steps.
The muffled sound of folk melodies outside and the lack of human voices bring up an unexpected yet immense desire to be sitting across from him again as we were five minutes ago. How strange that no one in the bar seems to be speaking to each other. Or is it because I’m a monster and everybody hates me?
God, please no one come in here, I think to myself as I button my pants. I notice a detail I hadn't yet seen before: a barn owl perched on a branch is engraved on the silver button of my leather skirt. I had purchased it only a couple of weeks ago at a thrift store in a small town by the railroad south of the river.
I smile, recalling what the fortune-teller told me. She said, “The spirit of the barn owl surrounds you. When you see one, know that you are in a good place. If you ask the Universe a question and you see a barn owl, the answer is yes.”
“How hilarious,” I say out loud to myself as I wash my hands. “On my skirt’s button too…”
While I’m not completely satisfied or overjoyed with the figure standing in front of me in the mirror, I think she’s alright. Her hair is a little bit frizzy and her forehead shone like a freshly waxed Camaro, but she’s not bad looking. An awkward mess with constant headaches, maybe, but in the looks department, she’s got something to work with.
Shaking my head and grinning to myself like a lunatic, I can’t believe the Universe. I asked for a sign if I should try having sex on the first date—with a guy I only just met—and it puts a fucking barn owl on my skirt’s button like my life is a joke.
“The Universe thinks I’m a prude I guess.” I take a final look at myself and determine there’s nothing else I could do and head out the door.
He’s outside just by the entrance, leaning against the white railing with his hands in his pockets. He nods to the young couple passing and they smile back. I poke him on his side. When he turns his head, he looks over me, and suddenly I feel like a shy little kid trying to get the attention of his babysitter. He tilts his head down, grins widely, and says, “I almost didn’t see you there.”
“Well you don’t have to rub it in.”
“I’m not ready for this night to end but it'll be too cold for you if we walk. Want to head to my place and watch a movie or documentary? You can tell me about that one horrible experience you had with one man that changed how you saw all men,” he asked.
I search his eyes for clues as to what kind of night he had in mind. Was he going to murder me, poison me, game me, force himself on me, or will he be the same guy that I’ve grown quite fond of for the last eight-something hours?
Say yes, the barn owl whispered. I pull my shirt down.
“Yeah, sure. Let’s do it."
“My car is just a short walk away, come,” he says, extending his hand towards me. It feels a little soon to be holding hands with some guy I literally just met today, but the damn owl won’t stop pestering me to say ‘Yes’ more. I grab his forearm, giving it a gentle squeeze, and slowly glide my hand down to his.
His hand feels warm compared to mine. Once again I feel like a fragile, vulnerable little girl with his big hands enveloping mine. I wonder how long the feeling of safety in his presence will last?
I feel a knot in my stomach because I know I’m succumbing to doing something I never wanted to do ever—become someone’s fleshlight for the night at the price of a glass of wine, a cup of pomegranate seeds, and garlic parmesan fries. My aunt raised me to be more. She taught me to have a brain and to use it, that I am more than just the pleasure my body can give a man.
I remember the first time we saw a barn owl in the yard together. It was just us two. Uncle was hanging out with his friends two doors down and we were baking cookies when we heard what I thought was a drunk middle-aged man’s motorcycle skidding to a stop in the driveway. She laughed when I said, “Jeez, uncle must be really drunk! He’s driving all crazy!”
“No silly girl, that’s a barn owl. Come, let’s see if we can find it,” she explained. She took my hand and led me out to the yard, holding the screen door open for me as I walked underneath her arm into the orchestra of crickets and cicadas.
Perched on a frond of my aunt’s tallest and only palm tree, its eyes glistened in the dark and its head moved in crazy impossible directions. After my eyes adjusted to the night, I could make out that a little mouse was caught in its tiny beak. I wondered if the little mouse was the same one I gave a piece of cheese to earlier in the day.
Little me imitated the owl by puckering my lips and tilting my head to the side as far as it could go, causing me to lose my balance. I must’ve spooked it with my flimsy rubber-soled flip flop hitting the ground in a smack because as I stepped to stop from falling, it flew away. It was so graceful in flight; I’ll never forget how watching it fly off turned little me into a feather falling in midair.
My aunt loved barn owls. She had three decorative vases with lids shaped like the heads of various-sized barn owls. Protruding ceramic wings were tucked against the bodies of the vases that were almost as big as I was at five, its feathers outlined in a milk-chocolate brown color. I remember dropping my Polly Pocket toys and pieces inside and almost knocking all three of them over when I tried to retrieve them with my little arms. Wherever those three barn owls are now, I would not be surprised if a minuscule purple silicone purse made for a two-inch plastic doll remained inside.
It’s funny because she always wanted me to wait until marriage. Sex was for the person you married, she told me. It would happen on the night of your ‘honeymoon’ and it would be a special thing that you would have on a beautiful bed with roses and candles all around. Outside, the sounds of the sea hitting the shore would be your music as you made love with your favorite forever person for the first time. Yet here she is, putting a barn owl on my skirt’s button. It feels like permission to sleep with yet another potential mistake too quickly.
“My car is a little bit of a mess,” he said. “I swear it isn’t always like this.”
He had his backseat folded, making a flat surface in the back that’s perfect for camping or laying large boxes containing unassembled Ikea furniture on. A couple of articles of clothing were strewn across the makeshift bed, as well as a pair of running shoes on the floor. On the passenger’s side compartment next to me was an empty coffee cup. I wondered if it belonged to a girl.
“It’s not so bad,” I smile at him. “Did you sleep back there?”
“No, I’m not homeless, I promise.”
I chuckled. “It’s not that you're unhoused, I just sleep in my car like that sometimes on road trips.”
His apartment complex was on the newer side. Each unit had a large balcony, a black paned glass door, and a separate entrance. He opened the door for me and then turned on the entryway light. A heavy navy-blue wool coat hung on the wall hanger. I hung my purse next to it, covering it with my jacket.
“Do you want me to take my shoes off?”
“If you don’t mind,” he said, locking the door behind him. He kicked off his shoes and hung his coat on the hook next to mine. “Come to the living room, do you want anything to drink? What about a snack?”
“If you have hot tea—I’d love that.”
“Yeah that’s fine. Thanks,” I say. I smile at him and plop down on the soft, leather couch. Like sitting on a giant teddy bear stuffed with cotton candy, you wouldn’t mind laying on it for the rest of your life.
Above the live edge coffee table, hanging from the ceiling, was a gorgeous block of cherry wood with black string global lights wrapped around it that emanated a soft golden light. On his mid-century tv stand, surrounding the seventy-two-inch flat-screen TV which was now magically turned on to the Fire Stick home page, were rather large geode clusters of various-colored crystals including a majestic six-inch celestite piece that resembled an underwater castle. I stared at it in awe.
“I love how you seem to have more money and better crystals than me,” I joke. In truth, I was definitely a little jealous of how many crystals he had. And such big pieces!
“The crystals protect me from the propaganda and brain-washing that can sometimes emanate from that screen,” he says, handing me a clay-colored mug that looked like it was shaped by an amateur. The steam coming off of it warned us both not to spill. “Careful, I don’t want to be calling an ambulance for my pretty first date’s second-degree burns.”
“Aw, you think I’m pretty?” I chuckle, raising my eyebrow.
“I do,” he said, nodding. He sits on the other side of the couch and places a steaming white mug with some sports team's blue insignia on it on the coffee table. Motioning to the empty space in between us and then on his lap, he says, “Want to put your feet up here?”
“You’re making me feel like we’ve been doing this for years.”
“And… that’s a good or bad thing?” he asks, tossing me a knitted blanket.
The barn owl nudges me and I, somewhat reluctantly, pick my feet up off the beautiful white and black geometrical rug and gently lay them on the couch. My legs are just short enough for my feet to be right up against his thigh. He untucks the blanket from under my feet and covers his lap with it, giving my calf a playful squeeze. On the white blanket, a lovely scene of a cabin in the woods complete with a lake in the background is stitched in all black thread.
“Alexa,” he calls out. “Turn on the fire.”
The once obscure fireplace on the corner to my right sprang to life, filling the entire room with a warm orange hue. As he searched for something to watch, I couldn’t help but admire his profile.
The barn owl urged me to tell him what I was thinking so I said, “You look really handsome from over here.”
The corners of his mouth slowly lifted up into a smile, revealing his happy lines. “I think that’s the first compliment you ever gave me this whole entire day.”
“Would it kill you to say thank you?”
He turned to look at me with an amused look on his face. “Was that hard for you?” he teased.
“Yes,” I said. “Yes, it was.”
“Well then, thank you.”
“Now I feel like you’re too far. What do you think?”
“It is starting to feel a little lonely and cold over here, which is why I turned the fire on.”
“You didn’t turn on the fire, Alexa did.”
“Oh. Right,” he chuckled, settling on the show Alone. It opens with a Hitchcock-esque chord and a dreary foreboding image of a frozen lake with a snow-capped mountain of evergreens in the back. The words ‘Whosoever is delighted in solitude is either a wild beast or a god' fade in—a quote from Aristotle.
Holding the blanket against my body, I slowly scooch closer until my cheek is resting on his shoulder. He drops the tiny remote and places his hand on my thigh, right over the window of the wooden cabin, and keeps it there.