Chapter 15: She Might Feel Herself a Hussy

As is the nature of dreams, she wasn’t aware she was having one until she woke up from it. There had been three of them: Jim, Allen, and Tyler. The three of them had been at her restaurant, all seated at the same table, though none appeared too happy for it. Except when she spoke to them. When she took their orders each individually seemed to smile at her with a total lack of guile. Tyler, however, was the only one whose smile struck her as haunting. She remembered him saying these words, which she wrote on her ticket: “I’m very afraid of myself.” Then her eyes opened.

It took her a moment to recognize where she was: Jim’s bedroom, but there was no Jim in it. She thought she heard sounds and voices coming from other parts of the house.

She rolled over and looked at Jim’s alarm clock: 9:46. As good a time to wake up as any. Except for that moment with Tyler the memory of her dream rapidly disintegrated, flowed out of her mind, as difficult to capture as a fistful of water.

She was naked, had gone to sleep this way. She and Jim had made a night of it: not bad for a first try, and yet it wasn’t thoughts of Allen that made her feel guilty.

She got out of bed and got dressed in her discarded clothes scattered around the room. It wasn’t a bad room. There was an Uma Thurman Pulp Fiction poster on the wall, a small bookshelf, and a desk pushed up to the window.

She went out of the room into the kitchen, where she found Jim making breakfast, and one of his roommates eating a bowl of cereal in the dining room.

“Morning, sunshine,” Jim said.

“Morning. How long have you been up?”

“Just a few minutes. I’m making eggs and bacon. Sound good to you?”

“Sounds fine. I could also use some coffee.”

“Goes without saying. You know how to handle a grinder and French press, yeah?”

“Of course.”

“Look in the cupboard. Yeah, that one. You see it? Yeah, go ahead. I’m heating the water right now.”

Laura found the coffee beans, the grinder and French press where he’d directed her. She plugged in the grinder and put in the beans, then, as it occurred to her, she went up to Jim’s side and kissed him on the cheek.

“Hey, thanks,” he said.

She thought that kiss had been warranted, but she didn’t know what she wanted with the rest of the day. She wasn’t working until tomorrow. She had no errands to run. Maybe she should call Allen, or maybe it wasn’t worth it. If they were still an item in any sense of the word it wasn’t one much to speak of. Still, these things usually took a few turns of fate to resolve themselves once and for all.

“Water’s done,” Jim said.

Laura got the kettle from the stove, turned off the burner, and took it to the French press. She found the coffee mugs, and a few moments later there were two hot cups of it.

She took her mug into the dining room, pulled out a table and sat down. Jim’s roommate, a young white kid like them with brown hair, looked up at her.

“Morning,” he said, perhaps a bit sultrily.

“Morning,” Laura answered.

“I’m Keith.”

“My name’s Laura,” she said, and reached out so they shook hands.

“You and Jim?” he said.

“Me and Jim.”

“You’ve got good taste.”

“I think he would agree.”

Keith laughed a little. He’d been reading a newspaper, and his eyes returned to it.

Laura sipped her coffee and continued to wait.

“Almost done,” she heard from the kitchen.

Keith finished his bowl of cereal and stood up.

“Want the paper?” he asked.

“No thanks.”

“Nice to meet you.”

“Same to you.”

With that he left the dining room, just as Jim was coming in with two forks and two plates of food, one of each of which he placed in front of Laura, then he sat down across from her.

They started to eat. Laura thought the scrambled eggs more than serviceable, the bacon a little dry.

They ate in silence. Jim thought she didn’t notice but he caught himself appraising her. She’d always been difficult to read. It’s safe to say that, while he was glad it had happened, he was also a little surprised. It so far came off as too good to be true, and when that seemed the case it was usually for good reason. But she didn’t look unhappy. Then her eyes flicked up and connected with his. He coughed and returned his attention to his eggs, then a sip of coffee. Then he looked up again and saw her attention was still with him.

“You like?” he asked.

“I do. Is that cheddar cheese in the eggs?”

“It is. And seasoned salt.”

“You’re a solid breakfast chef.”

“The most important meal.”

“Listen, Jim…” she began.

Yup, here it comes, he thought to himself.

“I have a boyfriend.”

“I know, you told me.”

Laura nodded and dropped her eyes. “I don’t know how serious it is. If it’s still anything at all it’s on its last legs. But I thought you should know I’m not really sure where I’m at romantically these days.”

“You had fun, right?”

“I had a lot of fun. I always like seeing the crew we’re part of.”

“And me especially, right?”

“And you especially.”

“I don’t care if you have a boyfriend. If you want to spend the day with me I have nothing to do. If not I hope we see each other again, with or without the others.”

Jim looked a little peeved. A moment later he asked: “Is he bigger than me?”

Laura smiled slightly, as if sympathetically: “Actually he is.”

“Well I took a couple boxing lessons at the UC Berkeley gym. I’d hold my own if it came down to it.”

“You’d do all that for me?”

“All that and more.”

She had another bite of eggs.

“I mean it, Laura,” said Jim. “I’m not afraid of him or of competition in general. I know I’m not much of a catch these days but things will turn around at some point, I’m sure of it.”

Laura didn’t answer. She was still looking at her half-full plate. Then he heard:

“What did you think of Tyler last night?”

Jim winced slightly: “What about him?”

“I don’t know, he always looks so tortured.”

“That’s just what his face looks like. How long Iraq will stay with him is how long he’ll be unhappy. That’s my guess anyways.”

Laura put one of her hands on the table. She was afraid she’d gone too far. Now Jim looked unhappy too.

Soon both of them had finished eating. Laura wondered what she wanted to do.

“Maybe you want to take a walk or something?” she asked as Jim got up and gathered the dishes and took them into the kitchen.

“No, wait,” she said, stopping him. “I’ll do the dishes.”

Jim put his hands up. “By all means.”

He went into the living room and sat on the couch.

“A walk? Sure,” he called back over his shoulder.

Why had she brought up Tyler? There really might be something there. That was the only explanation. For some reason this seemed more problematic than her boyfriend. At least she was being up front about her divided attention. He hated liars more than anything. Even as pre-teens, and it remained the case today, he found Laura inscrutable. A genuinely mysterious girl. You never could tell what she wanted or didn’t; not unless she told you, and even then. Well, at the very least they’d had a fun night together. He’d be there for her if she wanted. Who was to say how things might turn out? Getting laid had really hit the spot. Once he was alone he thought he would easily feel relaxed.

A few minutes later Laura came back into the living room. She was wearing a gray t-shirt and blue jeans. The sun was shining through the windows and illuminated the upper half of her in a halo effect.

Jim cocked his head to the side and smiled.

“You’re really beautiful, you know?” he said.

She giggled and took a couple steps toward him. “Have you always wanted to tell me that?”

Jim nodded. “I think so.”

She stood in the middle of the living room in front of the TV.

“Is there a bookstore or something around here?” she asked.

“No, not really.”

“Well let’s just go around a couple blocks. I want to get some sun.”

“As you wish,” he said, standing up.

She stepped towards him and took his arm. When he tried to make eye contact with her she looked at the floor. It was a bit disconcerting.

They left the house and walked a couple blocks down Shattuck Avenue, then they crossed the street and walked back the way they’d come. When Laura left his house she did so with another kiss on his lips.

“Should I call you?” he asked.

“I think so. Maybe I’ll call you. This isn’t the last we’ve heard from each other, I believe is safe to say.”

“Bye Laura. If you see Tyler tell him hi for me.”

She looked away from him and then she closed the door behind her.

Jim sat on his couch. As he’d expected, he felt extremely comfortable in his skin, like he’d just accomplished something a bit extraordinary. The rest of the day was his to spend how he wanted. He’d always kind of had a thing for her. What would happen next though was anybody’s guess.

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