Maybe I Can Explain

We meet at the door. I drop my change while fumbling for my ID and you kneel down to help me pick it all up. I say thank you. You offer to pay my cover, “to avoid further disaster.” You’re already reaching into your wallet, and I try to stop you, but you hand the bouncer five dollars for me anyway. I say thank you again and hurry inside where my friends swarm around me and pinch my arms.

“He’s cute.”

“He likes you.”

“I bet he’ll buy you a drink.”

I don’t want you to buy me a drink any more than I wanted you to pay my cover, but none of my friends believe this.

When you find me waiting at the bar, you do pay for my drink, again giving away your money before I can stop you. I end up with a vodka Redbull ordered by one of my friends (even though I don’t normally drink vodka or Redbull or anything really besides an occasional glass of sweet wine). We find a table and you introduce yourself as Colin and politely say hello to all of my friends.

You ask me to dance; I say no. “Come on.” You lean towards me. “I promise my dancing will make yours look good.” Your breath smells like spearmint and I wonder if you just popped a breath mint. The scent is strong in my nostrils and your breath is warm on my skin and it makes the tiny hairs on the back of my neck stand up. I tell you that dancing isn’t really my thing. It comes out sounding harsher than I had intended, makes you stop talking and look away. You take a sip of your drink and the silence starts to become awkward, so I try to engage you in more conversation.

You’re nice enough. You ask me about my art classes and seem genuinely interested in my answers. You manage to comment on some of the books I’ve read recently and gradually the awkward pauses in our conversation get shorter and shorter. You grew up in Hatfield and my high school ran against yours in cross country, so we talk a little about that. You have a cat here at school and you show me pictures of her on your phone. You are double majoring in History and Education.

“Score,” Laura whispers in my ear when you tell us you have a job lined up after graduation.

You offer to buy a round of shots, immediately winning my friends’ gratitude and acceptance. I take one. They taste like Hawaiian Punch.

Eventually, everyone else leaves us to dance. We watch them slowly pair off. I’m surprised that you stay and sit with me.

You smile and I smile back. You’re good looking. It’s not as if I’m blind to symmetry or unaware of the broadness of your shoulders underneath a fairly tight t-shirt. I notice your dark brown hair, the way it’s too long and hangs low on your forehead, drawing attention to your amber eyes. Your pupils dilate when you look at me. Your nose is straight and long and narrow and suits your bone structure. Your teeth are a little too white, and I imagine you wearing Crest Whitening Strips while you sit in your apartment with your cat.

While we watch the others dance, silence falls between us. I finish my drink just for something to do, and then wrap my arms around myself, not because I’m cold, but because I’m missing my favorite purple blanket at home, the one I would normally be wrapped up in now.   I excuse myself to go to the bathroom and Laura’s in the line when I join it.

“How’s it going?” She elbows my ribs.

“I think I’m gonna leave soon.” I shrug.

“What? Why? He totally likes you.”

“Yeah, but…”

She cuts me off. “Are you scared?”

I narrow my eyes at her.

“I mean, is it just nerves? Anxiety? Is that why you always bail like this?” She rests a hand on my arm and I know she’s sincerely worried.

“It’s not that.” I crane my neck around the people in front of us to see how far we are from the bathroom.

“I just…I’ve never liked anyone enough to leave here with them.” I look down at my shoes.

She kicks at my ankle gently. “It’s not like you have to be in love with them.” She takes her turn in the next stall.

I start to feel a little wobbly as I walk out of the bathroom and back to the table. Since I’ve been gone, two other girls have walked up to it and are talking with you. I walk over and you look up, but they both ignore me. Awkwardly, I stand to the side waiting for them to move while they giggle at you and each other over something I didn’t hear.

I’m grateful when you point me out to them and they step aside. They both mumble something like hello to me then stalk off. I’m about to sit back down when Laura runs up behind me and whispers in my ear “ask him to dance,” then darts off again. You’re looking up at me and I hesitate. I wonder if maybe Laura is right. Maybe I’m just nervous. I shouldn’t have to be in love with you to want you. So, I ask you to dance, and you jump at the opportunity, standing up and leading me onto the dance floor. We try to find a place where we won’t be bumping into people, and eventually settle on a corner spot.

We start to move a little to the beat of the music. Not sure where to look, I find myself looking at the wall behind you.

The bass shakes the floor, and I nod my head in time with it. I move my hips and my shoulders and any nerves I feel about looking dumb are alleviated by how ridiculous you look alongside me. You move your hands more than any dancing person should.

We start to sing along with the music and you act out the lyrics. I laugh and spin around.

While I’m spinning, you move. When I come to a stop, I feel you behind me. You put your hands on my hips. I freeze. You start moving my hips in time with yours and I look around. Everyone else is dancing like we are: butt to groin, back to front. Laura is a few feet away grinding with a tall blonde. I try to act like she is, move like she is, but my body is rigid. You don’t seem to notice though. It’s not that big a deal, I tell myself. It’s normal.

I can feel your breath on the back of my neck. Any tipsiness I had been feeling before is gone. The lights and music are all too much. Overstimulation. Your hands start moving up and down my thighs, so the rough denim scratches against my skin. I’m too aware of the sensation. You grab my hands and hold them. Yours are sweaty and slippery.

“Are you okay?” you speak into my ear. I’m not, but I nod because I want to be. I want to want this, this closeness, this intimacy.

I wonder if you notice me looking around the room. I feel like I have to focus on something that isn’t moving, but I can’t seem to find anything. Laura catches my eye and winks. I try to smile a little, but can feel how uncomfortable I must look. My skin feels tight, my jaw is clenched tight.

This is fine, I think again.

I feel your head move to one side of mine. Your cheek brushes against my hair.

“Hey.” Your breath tickles my ear.   Goosebumps raise on my arms as I turn to look at you. Before I can ask, “what,” you cover my lips with yours. They’re warm and big and engulf my thin lips completely.

I let my lips soften a little and try to kiss you back. As soon as you feel my lips move, you spin me around so we’re facing each other and push down harder. I try to concentrate just on the movement—on how it feels, on technique, on responding to your shifts with my own—but my mind keeps screaming at me that you’re a stranger and that this is all wrong.

I need to breathe, but when I pull back a little, your head follows mine.

It’s too hot inside.

You jam your tongue in my mouth and I jolt at the sensation.

I need to breathe.

I push you away and take a step back.

“Are you alright?” you ask.

“I need to go.” I turn and do a fast walk off the dance floor, past the bar, and out the front door. The couple at the front of the line to get in jump when I stumble past them. The chill in the outside air feels like aloe on a sunburn.

I wrap my arms around my chest and hug myself. I take a few deep breaths to try and slow down my breathing and heart rate. I press my cold hands to my ears which feel like they’re on fire.

After a few moments of pacing, Laura comes outside.

“What happened?” She grabs onto my arm to stop me from walking.

“I just wasn’t feeling it.” I take another deep breath.

“Was he a bad kisser?” She raises her eyebrows and nods her head as if I’ve already agreed with her. I’m half tempted to.


She pauses. “Was he mean?”

“No, he was fine. I just wasn’t into him.” I kick a parking meter.

I tell her to go back inside and that I’ll text her when I get home. Her insistence that she walk with me is short lived when the bouncer calls over and says he’s going to let someone else take her place if she doesn’t head back in soon.

“I just don’t get you,” she says as she walks back to the door.

I sit down against the cold brick side of the building and let my head fall back against it. “Neither do I,” I say.

After a few minutes, you walk out with a friend.

“What happened?” he asks you.

You shake your head. “I don’t know. One second everything seemed fine and she was kissing me back and the next she was running for the door.”

“Maybe you bit her lip.” Your friend says.

You sigh and put your hands in your pockets. “Maybe.”

I watch you start to walk away, with your head down and I think about running after you. I imagine yelling, “wait!” I think, maybe I can explain.

But I don’t know how to explain, and I don’t run after you. Instead, I stay outside listening to the music pounding through the walls. I watch couple after couple pass on the street along with groups of girls and guys stumbling over the sidewalk, shouting to each other, checking each other out, looking for someone to go home with.

When I’m too cold to stay any longer, I stand up and go home alone.



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