Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Drama Major

            “Quieres hacer algo conmigo algun vez?”
            My heart was beating hard because hardly ever was I so bold. I felt like I might collapse.
            She had smiled at me though…many, many times and over the course of many, many months. And although it wasn’t a seductive smile, it was a smile that always seemed to convey  that she was into me but was almost embarrassed by the degree of this attraction. It was a shy smile but one that she never failed to cast my way just the same. It was a smile with red lipstick.
            Red lipstick. Dresses. Skirts and heels. Eye shadow and mascara. And the walk whereupon her ass would switch so far from side to side; it seemed to defy the very laws of gravity itself. Dark hair. Dark eyes. And a tiny, little frame but still with plenty of shape. Just who the fuck was this goddess who ate here everyday but still always seemed to be alone?
            Well…I guess I sort of knew who she was. Or at least who other people said she was. But I rarely paid attention to what other people said…especially around this place. And I guess that’s why I asked her…in Spanish. I thought the use of her native tongue might draw her attention in a positive way and work to my success. And it did! Although, she also appeared to be quite surprised that I’d finally grown the balls to talk to her and that I’d approached her here right by one of the soda fountains.
            “Ahh!” she smiled shyly just like every other time and, in one of the thickest and sexiest accents I’d ever heard, she replied, “I did not know that you could speak Spanish.”
            “I can. Although, believe it or not, I can read it better than I can speak it.”
            Then she chuckled, “You know…that is very rare.”
            “It is. It’s because I read in Spanish all the time but I don’t practice speaking it because... Well, because I have no one to practice with.”
            “Ahh,” and she nodded with understanding. But then…
            Suddenly, she looked around as if someone were looking for her. Someone by whom she did not want to be seen.
            “Umm…” she blurted, “Follow me. Only right over here.”
            And so, without asking any questions, I did walk directly behind her, through a threshold, and into an open dining area with high ceilings and plenty of tables and booths. Just about all of the hundreds of college students who ate lunch here daily had cleared out as it was now 2:30 in the afternoon and the full lunch service had ended half an hour ago. I believe that soup and sandwiches were still available but I didn’t know for sure…and neither did I care. Because, as of five minutes ago, I was off the clock and, since I’d just washed every mother fucking plate, cup, and bowl those hundreds of kids had used at this all-you-can-eat cafeteria…and all the cookware used to make the slop; I was in no mood to stick around any longer than I had to. But then I saw her standing there alone right by the soda fountain. The girl who always smiled at me no matter the distance. And I knew that the gods had sent me this one chance. This perfect, opportune moment. And, if I neglected to take it, they would become angry.
            Upon reaching a booth, she turned around to face me again but remained standing.
            “Everything alright?” I asked even though I knew it was; I had a pretty good idea of why she didn’t want to talk back there in the buffet area.
            It was now early spring…really early by Portland standards. But, back when the school year first began, I’d heard through the channels back in the kitchen that this girl had actually dated, for a only a brief period, another one of the guys who worked here...and from what I’d heard, the relationship not only didn’t work out but that the guy accused this flower of my admiration of stalking him and continuing to stalk him even after they’d broken up. I’d also heard that this girl had almost been kicked out of the dorm attached to this very cafeteria because of it and almost out of school altogether. That’s what I’d heard. But again…gossip was gossip. It’s not so much that didn’t believe it though…it’s that I didn’t care. Her ex-boyfriend (or whatever she considered him) still worked here therefore the point of view from which this gossip spread was his and his own. And obviously, it was biased and slanted in such a way that he came out of the breakup looking perfect and innocent because…because, that’s just the way it always happens. Everybody is always trying to save a little face…especially around the workplace.
            You would like to do something with me?” her accent was so thick, in fact, that I couldn’t pick up what her tone was supposed to communicate (if anything) through this last question. I couldn’t read into her speech and, who knows, maybe that would turn out to be a good thing in the future…if there was going to be a future between us. First thing’s first though. Just act smooth.
            However, acting smooth was easier said than done…nervous as I was. Plus…I was still in my work uniform; a blue polo with black cargo pants. And I was stinky and sweaty from having done a breakfast and lunch’s worth of dishes all day and might have even been covered in little bits of food.
            “Yeah. You know like…something outside of here maybe. Like maybe go to dinner or something. Or even just get something to drink.”
            “Ahh,” and although it did seem, for a second, like she was about to say something else; it turned out that nothing more from her was spoken due to the smirk on her face that turned into a chuckle that quickly turned into an all out laugh! It turned into such a laugh, in fact, that she felt the need to turn herself away from me for a moment and briefly cover her face with one hand. And, given my appearance and (likely) odor, I guess I really wasn't that surprised that she'd laugh at me...and that's why it took me a minute to fully realize that she wasn't (laughing at me, that is). Rather, I noticed then that she was blushing...even through her dark complexion! She was wickedly embarrassed! I'd embarrassed the poor girl! And now, behind the hand that she was still using to shield her face; she was dying of shyness.
            “Sorry,” I spoke softly, “I didn't mean to...put you on the spot.”
            “You know,” she turned back towards me and straightened out in such a flash it was alarming, “You...have a lot of nerve.”
            Oh. So maybe she had been laughing at me after all.
            “Oh. Well, look I'm...I'm really sorry. I mean...I didn't mean to bother you. I hope I didn't make you feel weird or anything. I'm just gonna...get outta here now then.”
            “Aye, cabrón. You misunderstand me.”
            “Oh. So you do maybe wanna go out with me sometime?”
            “Okay, well...”
            “Aye! Let me finish, you crazy cabrón. Umm...I only meant that...you have a lot of nerve.”
            “Right. I heard that part.”
            “Yes! But this, I like. I think it is very rare, no?”
            “Oh. I'd have a hard time believing that no one has ever been so bold with you. That is...I'd be surprised.”
            Yes! The ice had finally broken and now we were having some actual dialogue. And thankfully, for the next five minutes or so, this conversation became only more normal as it went along. I learned her name and I loved it. Isabel. And even during this this brief introduction, I learned that she'd grown up in Eastern Oregon and that her parents were migrant farm workers. And through our whole exchange, I just couldn't help but think about how much less crazy this girl was than they'd made her seem back in the kitchen. They said she was psycho and the guys claimed that she would stare at them with venom in her eyes. But her eyes were gorgeous and sparkly! They also said that, whenever anyone tried to talk to her or ask her a question, Isabel would just cackle to herself before curtly walking away. But here she was carrying on a conversation just fine. So go figure. They were the ones who were crazy. And they were the ones who'd believe just about anything they'd hear through the grapevine no matter how distorted the information or polluted its source.
            I was really enjoying our talk now and relishing in the fact that this beauty and I were getting to know each other a little and making each other laugh. And it probably would have gone on like this if someone behind me didn't, “Psst,” in an attempt to gain my attention...which he did. It was one of the managers. One I particularly didn't like.
            “Yeah,” I said craning my neck around to face him.
            “Mick. Um...can I speak to you for just a second?”
            “Yeah, sure.” And I excused myself momentarily. Then, after taking ten steps back towards the serving area, I tried to anticipate what this douche bag was about to tell me. I imagined it would be something like, “Mick. Since you're off the clock right now, you should probably just go home. We don't encourage workers picking up on the students here.” That sort of thing. And if only it could've been something along those lines. But it wasn't. And, once we were only a few feet from each other and he had backed out of Isabel's view completely, he said, “Mick. You know that she's crazy, right?” And he added a smirk here although I don't know what for. Then he even went to the extent of putting a finger to his own head and twirling it in order to drive his point home. But the whole act to me just seemed unnecessary, rude, and a blatant misuse of his own minute bit of power to butt in and somehow make himself be seen and heard. The warning was nothing more than an example of just how small people can be.
            “So I've heard,” was my response, “I'll keep it short.”
            “Cool, man. I'm just watchin' out for ya. Just be careful.”
            “I will. Thanks.”
            He turned around then and made his way back towards the kitchen.
            “Well? What did he have to say?” Isabel asked me curiously. She already knew though.
            “Oh, nothing,” I lied, “He was just trying to get me to work on the weekend and I was like, 'Fuck that.' But hey. Is it cool if I get your number then and just call you sometime. Anytime. I mean...anytime you'd like to go out. I work at night sometimes too but...I'm sure there's an afternoon or evening I'll have free in the near future.”
            “Um...I think instead, why don't you give me your number.”
            “Ok. I can do that. You have your phone on you. I can just read it off to you.”
            “Um. I think it would be better if you wrote it.”
            “Ok. I can do that too.” And luckily, I did have a pen in my pocket. So I just wrote down my digits on a napkin I'd pulled from one of the dispensers on the table. “Alright. Well...” I was about to close things up, “I hope to hear from ya. It was great talking to you. And, like I said, whenever you want. Just gimmie a ring or a text or something.”
            “I will.”
            “Okay. Well, um...alright, bye.”
            And I walked away; a bit awkwardly but smiling nonetheless.
            Tired as I was, and having to work a concert at the Performing Arts Center later that evening, I really did want to get out of there in order to try and squeeze in a midafternoon nap at my place. Before even making it the couple blocks to the light-rail though, I felt the quick, little buzz go off in my right hip pocket that indicated I'd received a text. It could have been from anyone but... But it was from her! She'd fucking texted me already! It read something to the affect of; she enjoyed our talk and that she was free this weekend. And all the way home and for the next couple of days until that weekend finally did roll around; I found myself floating on the wisps of a most blissful cloud. Even back there in that stinking, infernal dish pit.

            Over the phone, I'd given her specific directions. And they weren't that hard. For her, it would be a straight shot and I'd gone so far as to tell her that I'd meet her at the stop. Which I did.
            Just a few days after speaking to Isabel originally, we agreed to have dinner in my neighborhood. What can I say? I lived in Chinatown and I just really like Chinese food. Seriously, I never seemed to tire of it. And, since I knew a place with low lighting and great specials, it was here that I mentioned first...and she sounded into it.
            So, two blocks from my place, I stood on the sidewalk at the MAX stop and eagerly awaited whichever green or yellow line train she may have happened to hop on. And, just as the third one (since I'd been there) stopped and let its passengers off, I saw her. She was unmistakable. She was short but carried herself with an attitude that would let no one miss her. And her clothes. The girl was stylish. Another pair of stilettos (I don't think I'd ever seen her without them) and white stockings that led up and into a fancy, wool overcoat that concealed the rest. Also...she wore a wool beret over her hair and her eyelashes seemed to have an attraction all their own.
            She spotted me without much effort and I asked her one more time, for formality's sake, whether or not Chinese food sounded fine.
            “Yes, Mick. I like it.”
            And then we were off.
            “You don't have to walk slow for me,” she said after walking a couple of blocks, “I can run in heels, you know.”
            “Does that come in handy?”
            “Oh, yes. Sometimes, I suppose. Like when I have to catch the train. I can run in them in the rain even. It's very rare.”
            In another couple of blocks, we reached the restaurant almost directly across the street from my building. The Republic. I knew the food was decent and, almost as importantly, the atmosphere was dim and relaxing. It was perfect for a first date and, once we were seated across from one another and I had a chance to really study her lovely face, I realized that hers was a truly classical beauty and that I was one lucky son of a bitch.
            “So...” she perused the menu, “What is good here?”
            “Um. Well... Are you a vegetarian or anything?”
            “Aye, cabrón. Why do you ask me this?”
            “I don't know. I guess just because so many people in this town are vegetarians. And, of them, I say the whopping majority are women.”
            And here, for a few elongated seconds, she just smiled at me without restraint.
            “No, man,” she answered at last, “Do you like pork?”
            “I love the pig,” I replied, “It's a magical animal.”
            And to this, she returned a queer look. So maybe the joke didn't translate over to Spanish. Because, just as we'd done during our first conversation back at the cafeteria, Isabel and I would speak in both languages and they seemed to vary sporadically from sentence to sentence.
            “The pig is a sorcerer?”
            “Oh. I meant...” and here I used the other word that I knew.
            And now she laughed...loudly. She threw her head back and even tapped the table lightly with her fist. “Aye, you crazy cabrón. But how do you know this other word? It's very rare.”
            “It think it's because, kinda like I was telling you the other day, I read in Spanish all the time but I never get a chance to actually speak it with anybody...”
            “Aye. Then how do you ever expect to learn?”
            “I'm learning. Slowly. I mean...I feel like I can read it just fine. That is...I can read books and comprehend probably about 90% of them. But I look words up a lot. You know...weird adjectives and stuff.”
            “Aye, cabrón. But this is no way to learn. Language is a living thing, Mick. It is made to be spoken!”
            “Well. Yeah. I get that...”
            “Can I get you two something to drink?” the girl interrupted though not in a rude way.
            “Get anything you want, Isabel,” I told her as she looked up at me, “I mean...feel free to get like a drink-drink or a glass of wine or something if you feel like it.”
            “Aye, cabrón. No, thank you. But I think...I will have a Pepsi, please.”
            “One Pepsi. Got it. And for you?”
            “A Tsingtao, please.”
            “Sure. Can I just see your ID real fast?”
            “Yeah. No prob,” and I went reaching for my wallet. I was 31 years old but did look young for my age so...I was never too upset when somebody asked to see mine.
            “Not a big wine drinker?” I teased her after the waitress left.
            “No, man.”
            “Yeah, I go through phases with it. Like in the wintertime, I drink a lot of wine but, now that I'm trying to pretend that summer's just around the corner, I think I've switched back to beer for the rest of the year...or at least until fall. What do you normally drink though? Just curious.”
            “Well...” and here she turned her head as if embarrassed just as she'd done back in the cafeteria. She even shielded her eyes again.
            “What? You don't drink? 'Cause that's okay. In fact, I don't want you to think that I drink every night. Just about every night. But I don't want you to worry about it or anything. I mean, it doesn't have to become an issue. I mean, I don't have to drink around you at all if you prefer it.”
            “No, man. I have tried two kinds of tequila.”
            “Oh yeah?”
            “Yes, man.”
            “Well, I think that I tried wine a long time ago but I didn't like.”
            Oh, sweet Jesus.
            “Wait a second!” I whispered while leaning in much closer, “You're not like 19 or something, are you?”
            And again, she just grinned at me and cracked up to herself as if this were the funniest thing in the world, “Well...I'm going to be!”
            Oh, merciful God.
            In only an instant, my chest grew tight and the air became musty in here and too thick to breathe. We hadn't done anything yet, though, which meant that nothing illegal had happened.
            “You're 18?!” I whispered again but with such force that just these two words almost left me out of wind.
            “Yes, man. But... Well...” and here she smiled to herself again...such a radiant smile that, even in light of this recent discovery, I couldn't feel anything but lured, “How old did you think I  was?”
            “Jeez. I don't know. Just older.”
            “Well...I should tell you...”
            “In my culture, it is not that uncommon, man. Why? Now, do you think different of me?”
            “Honestly? A little. I mean, I still think you're beautiful and I really enjoy talking to you. I think it just makes me view myself a little differently. Like...I just feel like a cradle robber is all.”
            “A what?”
            “It's just an expression. I don't think it translates.”
            “Well...is this okay then? Do you still want to associate with me?”
            “You use some funny words sometimes.”
            “Aye, cabrón. You are the one who says 'the sorcerer pig'. So I ask you again. How do you know this word?”
            “Oh. I think it's because most of the books I read were published in Spain. So actually, I find myself learning a bunch of words that, really, would only come in handy to me over there. In Europe, I mean.”
            “Aye. You are crazy. Do you know this?”
            “What? That I'm crazy?”
            “Yes, cabrón.”
            “Yeah, totally. But listen. There is something, now that I think about it, that I've been wanting to ask you about. Relating to Spanish, that is.”
            “Okay. Well, I will try to help you.”
            “Nice. Thank you. Because I've been dying to know whether or not this is a real expression. You know...to like refer to somebody.”
            “Okay, man. What is it?”
            And, upon hearing this, she cracked up laughing again. She didn't bother to turn away this time, though, and I was thankful to be able to experience her radiant smile head-on. Isabel didn't even try to obstruct her face with her hands this time. Maybe she was finally getting used to...me? This? What was this anyway? And what the hell was I going to do about her age? It finally occurred to me that dating her and even getting physical with her actually was not illegal but still... Did that make it okay? Did that make it right?
            I wasn't going to make a decision yet.
            Dinner went smoothly and the conversation carried itself without any awkwardness. She smiled at me constantly and her dark eyes twinkled like deep, shining obsidian. However, after being inside for a while and out of the breezy springtime chill, Isabel took off her coat, set it by her side, and squinted at me playfully as if to signify that she was at ease and having a good time. And now, I finally got to have a look-see at the dress she'd chosen to wear this evening. It was a nice dress; formfitting and high cut. But it was white! The girl was wearing a white dress with white stockings! And although, surprisingly, the scheme of her ensemble didn't come off as odd or even bad so far as fashion went...it did come off as extremely virginal and only served to remind me of her age with every passing moment. I had only myself to blame, though, because it was a freshmen dorm that I worked in. A freshmen dorm that that cafeteria was attached to. And that's not to say that upperclassmen didn't eat there as well...or sometimes even teachers. It's just that freshmen were actually required to have a meal plan which meant that they typically ate there everyday and, since I pretty much saw her there everyday... I should have put two and two together. But no. Instead, I'd made quite the oversight. But who the hell would have figured that an 18 year old could ever possess so much sophistication? She dressed older. And perhaps that's all it was. She dressed up.
            It was dark by the time we stepped back out onto the sidewalk and I quickly realized that I now had absolutely no idea what to do with this chick. That is; if I should do anything even. If I should carry this date any further.
            “Do you have to get back to your studies or anything?” I asked timorously.
            “No, man. I can do it on Sunday, you know.”
            “Yeah. That's true. I guess that's what Sunday's are for.”
            And, at this, she cracked up again and silently giggled to herself as if my last statement had reminded her of some inside joke that she and only she was aware of the meaning behind.
            I was waiting for her to say something but, after it hit me that she just wasn't going to, I picked up again with, “So...did you wanna go somewhere else?”
            Was she crazy? What if there was something wrong with her? Like, if she was autistic or something.
            “Um, I would like. It is the weekend you know, cabrón.”
            But she just seemed so smart and when she did formulate words, they were actually pretty down-to-earth. Yet, she cracked up at the weirdest moments and would still look away in embarrassment from time to time...seemingly, without any reason.
            “Indeed, it is. But...did you have anywhere in mind?”
            Seriously. I had no idea what to do with this chick because the only activity I could even fathom at this point (especially at this point on a first date) was to go to a bar whereupon the two of us could get a little looser and really get to know each other. Yes. I definitely felt too sober.
            “Um...I don't know, man. Maybe...would you like to get some coffee with me?”
            “Coffee sounds fine,” I smiled. But really, it didn't. What were we going to do? Sit there   and sip on round after round of coffee? It's not that I didn't enjoy getting jacked up on caffeine. But to me, coffee was just more of a drug that I used for working or writing; two activities that required not just my brain but my hands as well. And just the thought of sitting somewhere across from this girl and getting all amped up... I'd probably wind up ranting like a madman and frightening her out of her wits. 
            But wasn't sitting in a diner and ordering coffee late into the night something I used to do? It was. I'd almost forgotten about that. But that was way back in high school. So I guess coffee only made sense tonight since this girl had actually still been  in high school less than a year ago.
            Subconsciously, I must have already been ruling her out as potential relationship material. I must have been ruling her out as even a fling because, without being quite aware of it, I was leading her back across Burnside...back towards the university and her dorm. We'd shake hands and I might even hug her. And, who knows? I might even kiss her cheek. But that was it...?
            Eventually, we found ourselves at a table in the Macaroni Grill near Pioneer Square. And at first, I did order a cappuccino. As did she. And together, we talked some more and sipped them slowly. But then I switched to overpriced wine. I just couldn't take it anymore.
            We killed over an hour this way and, since I knew that there wasn't going to be any sex involved tonight, I began looking for a way to bring this date to a close. The hints were subtle at first. Just as I'd done a bit earlier; I started out by asking her if she had to be up early for anything tomorrow, if she had that much homework this weekend, and even if her dorm had a curfew associated with it. You never know. But to no avail. The girl acted as if she were perfectly content to just sit at the Macaroni Grill all night.
            “Well,” I surrendered, “I was thinking about going back to my place. I really feel like drinking some wine. I drink a lot.”
            “That's okay, cabrón. I don't mind, you know.”
            “Well...so you wanna come over and...I don't know. Talk or something? I mean, hang out or whatever?”
            “Okaaay, man. It's not the first time I've ever been to a guy's house, you know.”
            Jesus, lead me not into temptation. Please, let her not want to fuck. I don't know for sure if I'd be able to resist. In fact, I seriously doubted it.
            Walking a block west, it had begun to rain so we waited the 15 minutes or so for the next MAX under the small, glass roofed shelter provided. And while we were waiting, another girl approached from some direction I hadn't noticed, stood next to us, and proceeded to shake out her big umbrella.
            “I really like your outfit,” she told Isabel just being friendly, “You've got great style.”
            But instead of just saying 'thank you'; Isabel's eyes went wide and she turned her head away staring first up at the glass and then switching to focus on the brick sidewalk beneath our feet.
            Looking at the girl who was just being nice, I mouthed the words, “I don't know,” and followed them with sort of a shrug. Of course, I wanted to say, “Oh, she's just shy,” or even, “She's just crazy.” But I certainly didn't know Isabel well enough to speak for her in such a way and so was just sort of left in this awkward position and, for some reason, feeling like I was the one who had somehow been rude.
            Back at my place, I already had two bottles of pretty good wine; red wine of a much better brand and variety than I normally drank myself. And this was, of course, due to my preconceived notion of how I wanted this date to go originally way back when I believed Isabel to be less statutory-y? And even though she actually was of legal age and looked much older than that; I was quickly beginning to see how the girl did act very young still. It was in the way she was a little self-conscious and immature. The way she behaved oddly and giggled at all the wrong moments. It was all starting to make sense.
            “You want some wine?” I asked her once we were back in my apartment on the ninth floor and I'd given her a chance to check out the nice view.
            “Yes, man. I would like some.”
            And it wasn't until I was in the act of pouring her the glass that it occurred to me. This was exactly where things got illegal! For, she may have been of fucking age but she wasn't of drinking age by a long shot; another two or three years. But did the term 'contributing to the delinquency of a minor' apply here? I didn't even know! But, in all honesty, I gave her the glassful anyway because I knew that this would effectively seal the non-deal. All I had to do was watch her take one sip of that wine and the very possibility of anything physical happening between us would be completely out of the question. For the fact of the matter was; I didn't really know this chick at all and, if we were to wind up banging and (for whatever reason) she regretted it in the morning, she could easily say that I got her drunk and took advantage of her...and nobody needs that shit.
            Turning some music on then, I asked Isabel if it would bother her if I smoked. She said it would not. Still trying to be as polite as possible though, I stepped into the bedroom and lit up by the cracked window. She implored me, however, to come back and sit down by her on the futon. So I compromised and pulled up a chair across from it. I didn't own a coffee table and so merely placed the ashtray down on the floor next to me.
            We talked into the night and, after the first few drinks worked their way into my bloodstream, I found it easier to open up about myself. Strangely, she kept asking me to tell her something personal and, even more strangely, nothing I could come up with seemed to satisfy her. We were having a good time though. So good, in fact, that I kind of lost track of the hour and  it occurred to me too late that she'd definitely missed the last train back to her dorm. It wasn't the end of the world though. The university wasn't that far of a walk. Nothing on the Westside ever took me more than 20 minutes. It's just that it was raining out...and cold...and windy. And if I was more of a novice in the dating scene (and I'm sure I was once way back when); I might have relished in walking Isabel back to the university. There was a time when I would have felt privileged to hold her umbrella for her the whole way. But I was older now and... I'd do it if she wanted me to though. There's no way my conscience would let me allow this girl to walk home by herself at this hour. Dressed the way she was; she was prime for the raping. And, in so many words, I told her this.
            “If you're tired, I can walk you. You'll have to forgive me but I sort of lost track of time.”
            And, to this, she looked at me as if I were crazy, “It's okay, man. Calm yourself,” she said in Spanish. “Relax.”
            “I'm calm. I'm relaxed. Plenty. It's just that... Well, I mean if you're comfortable staying here, you can have the bed.”
            “What bed, man?!” and she laughed. This particular laugh, though, did finally seem appropriately timed.
            “Alright. You're right. I don't have a bed. But...you know what I mean. You can have the futon. It unfolds even. I'll just sleep on the floor. It's fine. And don't worry. I won't try to put the moves on you or anything.”
            “Mick. Did I say I was worried?”
            “No. But...”
            My two bottles of wine were just about cashed and I was starting to feel sleepy. And it occurred to me then that I hadn't even poured her another glass. But...had I been so rude? It wasn't like me. No. That wasn't it. I hadn't poured her another glass because every time I checked her glass to see if she needed another one; I'd simply noticed that her glass was full. And maybe, in my increasingly intoxicated state, I'd just assumed that she'd gotten up and helped herself to more? Because she had risen from my futon to pee once or twice. But no, that wasn't it either. I rewound my memory as if it were a surveillance camera and I watched her. She hadn't helped herself to any more. Isabel had been sitting there the whole night with the same glass of wine that I'd poured for her hours ago. And she'd even picked it up and held it at times while we were talking. But she'd never taken a sip of it. Because that glass was still brimming at the rim just as full as I like to pour them. Which, at present, only meant one thing to me...
            She was completely sober still. And still, she sounded like she kind of wanted to mess around.
            But I couldn't. I just couldn't. And I've not laid girls before...out of some sort of respect, I guess. Usually, whenever this occurred though, they got really pissed off about it. I just hoped she wouldn't be equally as offended by my lack of...interest? Attention. I hoped she wouldn't take any offense by the lack of attention I was about to not show her.
            Just before I hit the lights, Isabel asked me if I had a shirt that she could sleep in. And, once I'd dug in my closet and come back with a sweatshirt that was even too big for me, she asked if I didn't have a button up dress shirt sort of thing...so I got one for her. And after returning from the bathroom, she stood before me with my own collared shirt draping down practically to her knees. She was a fantasy. A fantasy standing right there before my very eyes and, obviously, a certain part of me wanted nothing more than to take her and make wild, passionate love to her until we were both sweaty and exhausted.
            But I just couldn't.
            I set her up with plenty of pillows and blankets and, once it was dark, I rolled out a sleeping bag on the floor for myself. She didn't say anything more but there also wasn't any sort of weird energy in the air. I didn't feel that there was any tension or expectations still wanting. And I'm not sure why I did it but, just before lying down myself, I leaned over and pecked Isabel on the cheek.
            “Man,” she hadn't moved an inch. It was as if her body wasn't that surprised but...“What was that?!”
            “It was a kiss goodnight.”

            Months prior, back in the dish pit, I'd found a letter one morning just resting there on one of the racks. It was a Dear John letter of sorts, was handwritten, it took up the face on one page, it wasn't addressed to anyone specifically, and it was not signed. Who the fuck knew who it was intended for but, like so many of the random articles of interest that so often came around through the tray-er-ator, it had been set aside...probably sometime the night before during the dinner service which, thank God, I was never around for.
            The letter would have been funnier to me, bored out of my mind as I always was back there, except for the fact that it didn't make much sense. The points were blurry. It talked about a young man just about to come to his own in the world and how she wasn't the one for him but it just seemed to lack any sentimentality and closeness. Plus, the spelling was bad.
            After working many months back there already, though, it had become sort of a ritual of mine to gain every coworkers' perspective on articles such as this as they came back to this dish pit throughout the day to...basically drop off more dishes. Because that's all they did. And at one point this morning; this mysterious letter had developed a huddle around it as if it contained a magnetism all its own.
            “Dude. I don't know but that bitch is crazy,” said one interested coworker who wasn't at all eager to get back to work in the dining area.
            And, “Maybe it's someone who doesn't speak English very well,” came from another of my kitchen colleagues; the one whom I considered to be the most stupid.
            At any rate; it was weird. And why had it been left there in the first place?

            “César Chávez and my father. These are the two men I respect most in the world.”
            Almost two weeks after our first 'date', on Isabel's 19th birthday, I took her out to dinner again. This time, to a Mexican restaurant up Burnside; one of my favorite places to eat in the whole town.
            “Oh yeah? What's your father like?”
            What can I say? I was bored and didn't really have any friends...certainly none this pretty anyway.
            “He works hard, man. But he is not exploited any longer and that is thanks to César Chávez.”
            When the food came, steamy and smelling delicious, Isabel looked delighted and gave me credit for knowing where to get such good Mexican. Briefly, she rapped in Spanish with a couple of the food servers in a slangy sort of style that was too fast for me to keep up with. And, upon learning that it was her birthday and specifically her 19th one (as if liquor laws didn't apply to young girls so long as they were Latina), they offered to bring her some shots of tequila or a margarita on the house to which she respectfully declined. They were completely charmed by her, though, and so was the host. That much, I could tell.
            Isabel was very opinionated and had a lot of political views; many of which, she explained to me over dinner. She was also very involved with the community and always waking up early on the weekends in order to attend meetings and marches and rallies for various causes. And this impressed me. But it was her energy and her will and her motive that impressed me most. Her drive. Of the actual causes she was rallying for though, I couldn't really give shit. For instance, Isabel explained to me how, just a few days ago, she'd marched downtown with a few hundred people behind a banner that read, 'Take Back The Night'. And it sounded impressive. And it was even on the news...briefly. The part I couldn't understand though, and maybe nobody else could either, was just what this group's actual intent was. Obviously, they were trying to raise awareness for something. And I guess I did understand that this 'something' had something to do with women being harassed on the streets after dark. But other than marching and making a lot of noise, I don't think anybody had any real idea of what they were actually trying to do about it.
            “What?!” she would ask shortly after having explained to me one of these 'causes'.
            It was as if she thought that I was silently judging her when, really, all I was trying to do was formulate a follow-up question or just come up with something to say in response. The girl was definitely nervous...or self-conscious...or something. Perhaps, though, it could all be attributed to her youth. She was still just a giggly girl and an awkward one at that.
            Back at my place, I resumed drinking but did remember to pour her a glass of wine just for show.
            “So what happened between you and Ed?” I asked sitting next to her on the futon this time because I felt that she now felt more comfortable around me and I felt more control over my own physical impulses. “How long did you two go out for?”
            “My God, man! What did you hear?!”
            “Nothing! I mean...nothing much. Just the usual. Trust me, anytime there's ever been a breakup between a guy and girl; the guy is always an asshole and the girl's always crazy.”
            “Is that what you heard?!”
            “No. I swear, Isabel. I was just asking because I was curious as to what you saw in him and what your relationship was like or whatever. And I guess I was just curious as to why you guys broke up. But just curious. I was just making small-talk, I swear.”
            “Well, Mick. Let me tell you. I almost got in a lot of trouble.”
            “Yes, man.”
            Turns out; the breakup really was as messy as everyone made it out to be but I still didn't quite understand it entirely. Ed was the nighttime dishwasher and always took over for me just about the time of afternoon that I was leaving. He was also a badass and a little weird but he was unarguably a hard worker and I really liked the guy. He'd also graduated last year and earned himself a physics degree in record time...while washing dishes almost 40 hours a week. I could only suppose (as could everyone else) that he was now just biding his time while trying to figure out just what type of field he'd like to enter. I'd also heard it was Ed's dream to start his own  energy company and noticed how, daily, he'd come in early, sit in the dining area, and splay out a table full of schematics. Plus...he wasn't bad looking either so I could easily see how a girl like Isabel could go for him. But why (and how) had it ended?
            “I was trying to bring him a present,” she said. And this, in itself, sounded innocent enough. And I'm sure that the intention truly was innocent. But this culture was so different from hers. For one; Isabel wasn't used to the city and, let's face it, out in the sticks, people are known for being so much more personable and always saying 'hi' to each other. They cared about each other to a finer degree simply because there were less people out there and less blurry faces in the crowd. But also...well, multiply 'out in the sticks' by a community of Latinos and what you wind up with is a girl who not only cares too much about people but a girl who treats others (even in the city) as if they were family. Isabel clearly wasn't used to how cold, nuclear families (or even worse; people like me whose families lived on the other side of the country)...she didn't understand how we worked! If she wanted to do something nice for someone; no obstacle was going to stop her. And if Isabel thought, even for a second, that somebody she was even acquainted with was in distress; she was genuinely concerned and would try her very best to sympathize with them.
            She told me what the gift was and it was something cheesy. It was also something that would have had a 'Just Because' tag attached to it...if there was a tag...which there wasn't. She was just trying to bring her boyfriend something nice. She also wanted to surprise him and perhaps...perhaps in other cultures, surprises are much more welcome. But Ed didn't welcome it and he didn't appreciate the fact that she'd snuck into his building, hid out in the community laundry room, and waited for him. And who knows. There may very well have been more to it than that. They may have been on a downhill slide and this 'gift' may have been the head that it all came to. Perhaps, with this gift, she meant to apologize for something that had happened previously. She never told me. And so far as the outcome of this whole debacle went; I really just felt bad for her. I also would have felt embarrassed for her except for the fact that she didn't. She maintained that she was in the right the entire time. Still did. And believed Ed to have overreacted.
            “Well,” I thought for a minute before trying to explain my own warped angle on white culture, “As I understand it, you never did have a key to his place.”
            “No, cabrón.”
            “He never gave you one.”
            “Aye. No.”  
            And of course I went on to try and explain how the giving of a key to one's place is just about the only act that would symbolize this sort of closeness and comfortability as acceptable behavior and even then how it didn't necessarily mean that the significant other was expected or even allowed to come over or just pop by unexpectedly...especially when the person whose residence was in question wasn't actually home.
            So Ed freaked out, they broke up, and then the rumors started around the workplace. It also must have been around this time that she began trying to pass him notes through the tray-er-ator and into the dish pit; the first of which were probably still looking for more reasons as to exactly why he'd become so unaffectionate. Isabel, I could only imagine, needed  more of an explanation. And the last of these notes (and there could have been a few or there could have been a dozen) was probably the one I'd found that day. But at least it was finite and conveyed a message of acceptance. Of closure. Still...passing unwanted notes to a guy at his place of work after already having been accused of stalking him; well, that wasn't helping her reputation any. After that, the managers became involved and, according to Isabel, they'd tried to get her kicked out of the dorm but obviously hadn't succeeded. And that was that. Around there, she'd forever be known as the crazy stalker chick. But was she deserving of such a title? This was the question that I really needed to ask myself as she sat on the futon next to me now with those glowing, brown eyes and that sultry smile that suddenly seemed all too willing to lodge a knife in my back...if it came to it.
            So Isabel and I developed exactly this type of friendship. Every couple of weeks, she'd come over and we'd talk and she'd watch me get drunk and she'd stay the night. She'd always ask for one of my shirts to sleep in and I actually became comfortable enough around her (and her around me) to sleep in the same bed together...still without touching or so much as spooning. And I enjoyed the company. It kept me from feeling isolated or like I'd shut myself off from most of the world...which I had. And she liked (I'm assuming) to escape from the dorm for a night where the rumors still ran rampant; the crazy, Latina chick. The stalker. The psycho. They'd leave hurtful notes under her door even (some with captions that read; no beans allowed) and caricatures portraying her as a witch. So our relationship was a perfectly symbiotic one and it went on for several months.
            At the end of May, my birthday rolled around and it just happened to be on the weekend; either Friday or Saturday. I can't remember. I do remember, though, that I had the day off which was sort of a rarity since I'm not one of those people who feels the need to request their birthday off of work. I am one of those people, though, who usually feels like shit on their birthday (or at the very least; grumpy) and wants nothing more for said birthday than to just be left alone. Left alone to do some heavy drinking. Or, as was the case, I planned to drink myself into a stupor the night before and then use the birthday itself to sleep off the hangover.
            It was on this day however... Or, as was the case; the night before... It was on this night before my actual birthday that Isabel wanted to come over. And it had been a couple of weeks since we'd last hung out. It was about time for her to. And she was well aware that it was my birthday.
            Via texting, I begged her to forgive me and tried to succinctly postpone our next little hang out session until the following weekend...but she wasn't taking 'no' for an answer. So, after many more texts on the subject, I was finally forced to get a bit short with her. I practically had to tell her that, should she just show up unexpectedly and uninvited, I still would have to refuse to see her and even had to go so far as to say that I would refuse her entrance. And eventually, she acquiesced. She was sad, I could tell but...whatever. The matter was settled, my phone stopped blowing up, and I was finally left to my writing and my peace.
            According to plan; I drank heavily and passed out late into a dark, dreamless sleep. And although my apartment was full of light again when the knock did occur; it felt as if absolutely zero time had lapsed since I'd hit the futon hours ago. It was her. I already knew it was before I angrily arose and peered through the peephole. Yep. And there she stood looking perversely coquettish in a baby doll dress.
            “Isabel,” I swung the door open, “I asked you not to come by and then I told you not to.”
            I felt nauseous as hell and couldn't even focus my eyes let alone begin to think clearly.
            “Mick. But you must understand that, in my culture, it is not like this. I cannot let you be alone on your birthday.”
            “My birthday just really isn't that big of a deal to me, Isabel. But I'll tell you what is. Sleep. And that's all I want, okay? I drank a lot last night. And I thank you for coming over and everything. Now, please. You have to go. I feel sick and I need to sleep. Okay? Thank you. We can get together next weekend or something. Alright? Now, goodbye.”
            And I closed to door and instantly felt like slime for doing so but...but it's just not part of our culture to stop by unannounced! And I knew that she still didn't perfectly grasp this. But it was rude.
            Lying back down, I tried to justify my actions to myself in the two minutes it might take for me to fall back asleep again when...knock, knock, knock. Oh, Jesus Christ.
            “Yes, Isabel?”
            “Mick. It is just that last time I left a headband over here and it does not belong to me. I have to return it.”
            I knew exactly which headband she was talking about too. It was cheap and plastic and I knew that she was just looking for another excuse to knock again in the hopes that I'd somehow changed my mind about seeing her in the past minute or two.
            And I realize that this may sound sort of cold...and it was. But, without saying a word, I stomped back over to my nightstand, grabbed the headband, and handed it to her upon my return. She only held it an instant, though, before it fell from her shaky hands and onto the carpeted hallway. And by the time it even stopped bouncing around down there, Isabel was halfway to the elevator. She never looked back and I left the headband where it lay.

            Months passed. The entire summer, in fact. And although we texted every once in a while; it was obvious that Isabel had been deeply hurt by my behavior that day and she never did pay me another visit. That is, until the next school year resumed.
            On an afternoon in August, I received a phone call from her and was actually glad to see her name when it popped up on my screen. The two of us talked for almost an hour and I believed this was due to a question that I'd been wanting to ask her; a question that I'd been formulating in the many months since my birthday. The answer to which; I already sort of knew intuitively.      
            “Are you a virgin, Isabel?”
            “Man, why do you ask me this?!”
            “Well, are you?”
            “Aye, cabrón. What difference does it make anyway?”
            “It doesn't really. But I just really want to know. I mean...it would explain a lot. And I don't mean that in a bad way but... I don't know. It would just make sense, ya know? Like all the puzzle pieces would just sort of fall into place.”
            “If it does not make any difference, Mick, then I don't see why I should have to answer you.”
            So, she was.
            “So, you are. And that's great. In fact...I'm really glad that you are.”
            “Because! Because, I always used to kind of worry about having to restrain myself. That is, I used to be afraid that I'd...want to have sex with you. And you are sexy. I mean, don't get me wrong. But it's like... Well, if I'd just known that, I would have never even been tempted.”
            “But why?”
            “Because there's no way I'd ever take your virginity!”
            “Because that's just not something I could do, Isabel. I mean, I've always cared for you but you need to find yourself a nice guy to do that. Someone you'll have been in a relationship with or something. I don't know. I'm starting to sound like a concerned parent here...even to myself. And that scares me.”
            So we made up. Over the phone, we'd made up and she even agreed to come over sometime once she gotten herself settled into a new dorm; a new dorm where she'd be free from further harassment, thank God.
            And a few weeks later, Isabel did knock on my door again; this time, however, everything had been perfectly planned and legitimized. She didn't even want to go to dinner.
            “Please,” I prodded her over the phone, “At the very least, let me treat us both to some food from the taco stand across from my place. Alright?”           
            “Okaaay, man.”
            And so it went. I met Isabel down on the sidewalk and we each got a couple of tacos and brought them back up. And it occurred to me then just how ironic it was that, every other time we'd walked into my building together after dark, I always assumed that the security guard down in the lobby probably thought that I was bringing up a hooker; provocatively dressed as Isabel always was. And I mean; always. But, if so, the joke was all on him because rather; I was bringing up a virgin just as I always had. And she would leave here a virgin; just as she always did.
            Upon crossing my threshold, Isabel instantly put on the 'shy girl' act and pretended that she'd never ever imagined herself back here. She pretended to be embarrassed for a while while I poured her a glass of wine. But she came around. After eating her tacos, that is, and having a drink.
            A drink?!
            “Jesus, Cha-Bella...”
            “Mick. Please, don't call me that. Only my father can.”
            “I know but I just...I've just never actually seen you take a drink is all.”
            “Mick. I am not a little girl, you know.”
            “I know, I know. It's just... You know what? Don't worry about it. It just came as a surprise. But I'm fine with it. Just...pace yourself, alright?”
            “Alright, cabrón. Aye.”
            “Alright. So whatchoo been up to? I mean...how's school going and all that? You've been back in town a couple weeks now, right?”
            “Yes, Mick.”
            “Yeah?” I smiled, “Any new boys on the horizon?”
            “Well. If you must know. I did go out with a man last weekend.”
            “A man, huh?”
            “Well, how old was he?”
            “I don't know. I mean to say, I'm not sure. He was your age, I guess.”
            “Well. That's okay. But was he nice?”
            “Yes. Very.”
            “Well, cool. What did you guys do?”
            “Well, Mick. If you must know. I went to try on lingerie for him.”
            And here, my heart didn't sink exactly. But it wasn't quite elated either.
            “Oh yeah?” I downplayed it, “So was that fun for you?”
            “Yes, Mick. I enjoyed it.”
            “So how did you two meet?”
            “Oh...I just met him near the university.”
            “You met him on the street?!”
            “Yes. If you want to say it like that.”
            It was true though. Isabel had run into some random guy on the street. It had been sometime around midnight. And just this, in itself, didn't strike me as all that odd since she wasn't of age and couldn't get into the bars yet. And I knew she was lonely in this city where it could be hard to make friends...especially for such an obscure (or as she would say; rare) girl as herself. Not that I'd call this guy she'd met 'a friend'. Because, apparently, they'd gone straight to Fantasy Lingerie (which was open super late on the weekends), she'd modeled some stuff for him, and then they'd parted without even having exchanged phone numbers.
            “But you didn't fuck him, did you?!”
            “No, man. Of course not. What do you think I am?”
            “But did you mess around. I mean, did you make out or anything?”
            “A little.”
            And, to this, I really didn't know what to say.
            “Well, Isabel,” I couldn't help but feel the parent again, “All I can really tell you here is that you've got to be careful, ya know. I mean...you don't know who the fuck this guy really was. I mean, he could be some serial killer for all you know! Shit, man. Now, you've got me all worried about you.”
            “It's fine, Mick. Is it alright if I have another glass of wine?”
            “Sure. Why not.”
            The two of us talked some more after that. We talked well into the night just like we always did. We talked more about sex than we ever had, though, and that worried me a bit. And no, I wasn't even thinking about taking her virginity. I felt that that would only be an abuse of power on my part. The girl trusted me and I knew that I could be very charming sometimes. But, at the same time, I also didn't want her to ever lose her innocence to some loser that she just met on the street...and it almost sounded like that's where this was all headed. So I accepted the fact that girls had needs too...even girl as young as Isabel. Shit. She'd probably had physical wants for quite a while now. So who's to say that I couldn't be the guy? I couldn't tonight. That much was for sure. But maybe there was other stuff that we could do. Stuff that would at least curb these desires of hers. Stuff that could tide her over until... I mean, maybe I could become involved with her. There certainly wasn't anyone else in the picture right now. And I did like her. I liked hanging out with her. So maybe she could just be my girlfriend for a while and we could keep having these little hang out sessions...though maybe a little more frequently.
            By the end of the night, I'd turned out the lights and had lit a candle. Both of us were seated on the carpet with our backs resting against the seat of my futon and we were still talking. Isabel, thankfully, was still just nursing that second glass of wine. Whereas I, on the other hand, was perfectly drunk and had turned the music up a bit as drunk people so often do. There were a couple new Prince albums I really liked and it was during one of the slower, sexier songs, of course, that I leaned over and finally tested her lips.
            Now, I couldn't very well just lean over and kiss her like I meant it. That much was blatantly obvious to me and I was just thankful to still have enough sense left to realize it. But through her lips, I wanted to learn if she still thought about me in that way. And if not, I was confident enough that she, like last time, would simply take the kiss and then ask me with a perfectly straight face and straight voice, “Man, what the hell was that?” But she didn't ask me. Isabel actually kissed me back. And it wasn't hot and heavy and there were nothing but our lips involved but...it was interesting, that's for sure. So suddenly (especially after not having seen her in months and months), we'd landed ourselves right in the middle of uncharted territory. If uncharted territory even has a middle, that is.
            Without saying much, we both moved up and onto the futon itself. And we continued to kiss like this for what must have been the better part of an hour. And every so often, when we needed to breathe, I used the time to tell her in Spanish just how much I liked her nose and her cheeks and her eyes and her chin and basically whatever word came to the top of my head.
            At one point, she unbuttoned and removed the collared shirt of mine that she'd been wearing and even took off her bra. I hadn't been expecting so much but surely wasn't going to complain about it either. Anything below the belt was off-limits (that is, oral or otherwise) and she made this known without having to say so. But we did begin to rub up against each other and, shortly thereafter, dry humping turned into not-so-dry humping (still through our underwear) and that part was all on her. She was embarrassed of her body in this way. I knew that much without having to ask either. But she didn't stop. And it was nice. We enjoyed ourselves and I enjoyed this innocent fun-time knowing full well that it wasn't going to lead to sex. Strangely, I enjoyed that part about it above anything.
            “What's it like, Mick?” she whispered.
            “It's kind of like this,” I spoke softly, “Only better.”
            “Ohh,” she gasped and I loved her then for just how hard she was restraining herself.
            And although it may have been the alcohol that had tempted me to lean over and kiss her in the first place; let's just say that it was also the alcohol that kept me from taking things any further. That and my tiny, little sliver of a conscience that still existed. Because in my mind, I was too drunk anyway. Too drunk to show the girl a good time at least. Too drunk to make it anything more than just a bad memory for her for years or a lifetime to come.
            “You're a sweet girl,” I told her once the session had finally come to an end and once we were in a spooning position where we'd remain for the remainder of the night, “Do you have class in the morning?”
            “Yes, Mick. But I already set my alarm.”
            “Good. I don't want you to miss any school. I'd feel bad about it then. Goodnight.”

            Isabel's alarm did go off in the morning and she did get up...momentarily. But the next thing I knew, she was right back in bed with me and I guess we both went back to sleep.
            “Mick. Do you have any coffee?”
            “Umm. Actually, yeah,” I rolled over. She was in the kitchen with my dress shirt back on; her bare legs tantalizing from beneath. “Yeah. Lemmie make it for you though. I'm out of filters so I've just been using the French press.”
            So I got up. And after passing by the digital clock on the oven, I realized it was close to noon.
            “Jesus, Isabel. I thought you had class.”
            “I did, man. I missed it. But it is alright,” she said in that accent, “I can make it up later. It's no big deal, you know.”
            Big deal. She'd learned the term from me. It's one I tended to overuse and overplay the meaning of.
            “Yeah,” I replied while throwing a plastic pitcher full of water in the microwave, “But I really didn't want you to. I mean, I want you to get good grades and...and I can't even believe I'm saying this...but I want you to get a degree and stuff.”
            “Why? I already know, Mick, that you don't like schools.”
            “Yeah, but...” I shook my head...mostly at myself, “I don't like schools for me. But for you, it's a good thing. I just think you have a lot to offer the world. That's all. More than most people. And I mean that. You truly want to help people. People who can't help themselves. People who are oppressed.”
            “Yes, Mick. And I do. But I am torn between two worlds right now.”
            Instantly, I realized that this last statement wasn't actually as dramatic as she'd intended it to be. And I guess that's one of many problems with switching from language to language...or even just speaking languages that weren't one's birthright.
            “Does this have anything to do with switching your major?” I asked.
            “Only a little.”
            “Does it have anything to do with that essay I tried to help you write last semester? The ethnography?”
            “No, man. Nothing.”
            “Because you know...I really took a lot of time on that thing and then... Well, you didn't even use any of the suggestions I made or even any of the notes on just the English language itself. I was a little disappointed.”
            And, in truth, I knew all along that Isabel had made a pretense of this ethnography project. I knew that she thought she needed to use some sort of excuse just to talk to me or come over then. Which wasn't the case. But that didn't mean that I hadn't been eager to help her with it either.
            “I know, Mick. But you have to understand. I have to learn to do things on my own.”
            “Then why did you ask me for help with it?!”
            Our coffee was finished now and we were both standing at the kitchen counter and sipping from our cups.
            “Mick! There is only one thing I really want to know.”
            “How do you feel about me now?”
            “How do I feel about you?” This was a loaded question obviously. But I wasn't quite sure what it was loaded with. “Well, you know, Isabel. I like you. I've always liked you. I think you're a sweet girl and I'm glad that we're friends. Is that what you were asking? I mean...does that satisfy...?”
            “No, Mick. I mean...now, how do you feel about me?”
            “Well. I hope we can hang out more often. If that's what you're getting at.”
            “Aye! My God! Mick!”
            “Yeah?! I'm still here. I want to see you more often. I just...I just think that there might be some sort of communication breakdown going on right now. And it might have something to do with the language barrier. I'm not sure though.”
            “Oh my God, Mick!” And she slammed her coffee cup down. And she ran out the door. So fast. Ran...out the door.
            Hmm. Well, I was going to have to give this one some thought. Not right away though. But I was awake. So I might as well check my email and shit. I also didn't want to pay it any mind right away because... Yep. There it was. Just about the instant I sat down at my computer, Isabel came bursting through the door again and ran straight into the bathroom...where she did God knows what...with the door closed...for like 15 minutes.
            She was upset...obviously. And therefore, I wasn't going to be. We needed to create some sort of balance here. But, just before these 15 minutes were up, I began to get concerned. So I got up and went in there. The door wasn't locked.
            “Isabel. Come on. What did I do? You wanna just tell me?”
            But she ran out right away. She ran right back into the living room, in fact, and stood there in front of the futon. So I followed.
            “Mick! Is this how you feel?!”
            “Feel like what? I like you, Isabel. Please, just chill out for a second, okay? We can talk. I like you. And I think that maybe we can try to find something here. I mean, relationship-wise. I'm just concerned that you didn't go to school today. That's all.”
            “Aye! Oh my God, man!”
            And then she fainted. And I'm not quite sure whether the faint was for real...but I did have no doubt that if I hadn't caught there in midair; the girl would've hit the ground. Hard. Her eyes closed and her arms went limp. Her legs gave out from under her. And she fucking put on a show at least...of fainting! So I caught her! I caught her there like Clark fucking Gable in some black and white movie; the plot of which, though, never would have existed back then. It was also a plot that I was suddenly confused by...with an ending that I couldn't even begin to predict.
            Having nothing better to do with her lifeless body, and since my back just wasn't what it used to be, I laid Isabel down onto the futon mattress. She sprang back up, though, almost immediately.
            “I...” she pointed her finger right at me, “Can no longer...associate...with you!”
            Then she ran out again. And this time, I was reasonably sure that she'd leave the building. Not that I had anything solid to base this assumption upon. But I don't know. Call it a hunch.

            Of course, later on, I did try texting her million times. Because really! I needed to figure out just what this girl's problem was. And that was the insane thing! That was the thing most insane. Because, we'd had a great night. We'd finally gotten physical and I was just beginning to develop feelings for her and thoughts and ideas and fantasies and future fantasies and thoughts and ideas even. And now this. I was too old to rack my brain about it, though, and way too old to let it hurt me.
            “Don't mess with me!” she texted back one time and it was so easy for me to hear her accent then and, in my mind's eye, imagine her pointing her finger...sternly.
            So maybe the girl really was just crazy. I'd never know though. Because, for better or worse, I never did get to the bottom of the matter. A few days later, I stopped trying to text her altogether and she never attempted to reach me either. And I only ever saw her once more...about 4 months later.
            I'd just gotten off of work one night and popped into Rite Aid to buy some beer. And I was still standing in line when, in my peripheral, I saw her walk in. I thought she might have seen me too but it quickly became clear that this wasn't the case. So after my purchase had been made, I walked over to and down the aisle where I'd seen her disappear. And there she was; dressed to the nines as ever and perusing one of the cosmetic makeup displays. Mascara or something. And what stuck me first was that it was a Saturday night. Saturday night and here she was at Rite Aid looking at makeup. So the poor girl still didn't have any friends.
            Standing just a few feet away, I watched her for a minute and knew that she was completely oblivious to my presence. And I couldn't help but wonder just then if she was hoping, somewhere in the back of her mind, that some random buy would pick her up and take her lingerie shopping again. Or, to be more specific, lingerie modeling; since I clearly remember her telling me that they hadn't even bought anything.
            “Hey. Cha-Bella,” I finally approached her and tapped her on the shoulder. My voice was soft and friendly and, when she quickly turned around, my face was waiting with a smile. A sincere smile; for I was truly glad to see her again and, from time to time, I did still worry about  her.
            When our eyes met and she realized it was me; Isabel's face went pale in a split second as if her very soul had been sucked out. Pure terror. That's the only way I can describe her countenance then. Pure...fucking...terror. I honestly thought the girl's heart was going to stop and that her body would drop again like a sack of potatoes. I thought that I was going to be left to catch her right there in the middle of Rite Aid giving other customers an interesting story to tell when they got home. She didn't drop though. Instead, and very slowly, Isabel took a few steps backward before turning her back to me. And she just kept going; always looking over her shoulder, though, until reaching the end of the aisle and turning the corner.
            And that's it. That's the last I ever saw of her. That crazy, Latin, little schoolgirl. And to this day, I have no idea what really pissed her off so much.
            Kids, man.