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"A dance?" I asked. "What kind of dance?"
"IUK is throwing a Halloween party," Cindy said. "There's going to be dancing, a bonfire, a hayride, stuff like that."
"Are people dressing up?"
"Oh geez, yeah, I can't believe I forgot to mention that part," she said. "Yeah, everybody is supposed to come in costume."
"Sounds pretty cool," I said.
"Yeah, it really does," she said. "So...will you be my date?"
She said it. She used the D-word. I could tell this was serious. Not necessarily because of her vocabulary choice, but based on the way
she said it: with an equal combination of pointed emphasis and fear of rejection. I knew that two-hit combo well. This wasn't just one of those "I don't want to go by myself so I'm going to ask a friend to come along" things. This was a date
I didn't respond immediately, and she started to get nervous. "That's a 'no' isn't it?"
"No. I mean, no, it's not a 'no' exactly," I said. "I just...can I call you back?"
"Uh, yeah, sure, that's fine," she said, sounding confused and a little hurt.
"Great, call you right back. Bye." I hung up.
I hated to leave Cindy hanging like that, but I needed a minute to recover. Aimee had just dropped the L-bomb on me, and then Cindy immediately followed it up with a D-bomb. All things being equal, Aimee's admission by far trumped Cindy's request. But I had no idea what Aimee actually meant when she said she loved me. Was it a friendly love? A romantic love? A "I don't want to commit to you but I don't want to lose you to somebody else" love? I needed more information before I could proceed.
"I didn't expect to hear from you again tonight," Aimee said. "But I'm happy to hear your voice."
"Yeah, I know, I'm totally unpredictable," I said. I felt rushed. For some reason, I could hear a clock ticking on Cindy's date offer. Would she ask somebody else if I didn't get back to her pretty soon? Did I care? I mean, I wanted to date Aimee. Not just date, either, I wanted her to be my girlfriend. But if she wouldn't commit to me, then I had to start moving on...and a date with Cindy might be the baby steps I needed. It was time to get down to brass tacks.
"So look," I started, "I'm not trying to make a big deal out of this, but when you said you loved
me earlier tonight, what did you mean exactly?"
"Love means love, Matt," she said. I thought she sounded wary.
"Right, sure, okay," I said. "But seriously, what does that mean
"I don't know what you're asking," she said. Okay, she definitely sounded wary.
"It's like this," I said, undaunted by her wariness, "there are two different kinds of love. One kind of love is the same as liking somebody, only you like them a lot. The other kind makes you want to kiss and hug and have sex and get married and live happily ever after. So when you say you love me, I need to know which one it is."
"Why are you making a big deal out of this?" she asked, and I could tell she didn't want to answer.
"Because I need to know. Right now."
"You know, things were just getting better between us..." she began.
"Right now, Aimee. Tell me."
"I don't know, okay!" she blurted out. "I don't know."
"Well," I said, feeling like I'd just been punched in the face, "that kind of answers my question. Doesn't it?"
"I don't know," she said again, and her voice sounded very small.
A few minutes later, I was back on the phone with Cindy. "I'd love to go to that Halloween dance with you."
The dance was the following Saturday, so I called my mom and arranged for her to bring me home for the weekend. The only problem now was what to do about a costume. I hadn't celebrated Halloween since I was 11 or 12 years old, and my last few costumes had been me dressing up as me and asking for candy. I didn't even know where to get a costume. These days, Halloween stores pop up all over the place during October and even as early as September. In fact, Chicago has a few Halloween stores that are open all year. But back in the early 90s, the options were limited to a half dozen generic selections at the local grocery store or Target. And most of those didn't stock merchandise until a week or two in advance.
It's kind of funny, considering I've spent the last few years assembling movie-accurate reproductions of Ghostbusters, Indiana Jones and Captain Jack Sparrow costumes, but I was at a complete and total loss. Fortunately, my mom had a custom-made Dracula cape left over from her younger days. It had been a little too big for her, which meant it was only slightly too small for me. I combined that with a red silk shirt and a pair of black dress pants I already had, and my mom made me a cummerbund out of some material she picked up from JoAnne Fabrics. Just like that, I had a vampire costume made easy.
In the meantime, I explained the whole situation to Mat, mostly because I was obsessed by it and needed to get things off my chest. "Dese girls don't know each other, do dey?" He asked.
"Well, yeah. We all went to high school together," I said.
"But do dey talk?"
"And will dey ever talk?"
"I don't think so," I said.
"Perfect," he said. "Always keep at least two girls on de line. That way, you always have a backup."
I was tempted to laugh, but Mat was being completely serious. Then too, he wasn't just giving out advice...he was living
The week dragged by as slowly as possible. Around the middle of the week, Susan and I met for lunch at her dorm. She was going on and on about her new boyfriend Rick when I dropped the fact that I was going out on a date with Cindy.
"Who's that?" she asked.
"A friend from high school," I said.
"What happened to Aimee?" she asked.
"Dead. Tragic smelting accident."
," Susan said. She didn't sound nearly as amused by my joke as I thought she should be.
"I guess I just got tired of waiting around for her," I said. "I figured it was time to start dating other people."
"Huh," Susan said. "Well, good for you." She didn't sound nearly as happy for me as thought she should be.
On Thursday night, Aimee made one of her rare phone calls. "What are you doing this weekend?" she asked.
To that point, I had been pretty open with Aimee about what I did and didn't do with other girls, but I figured she'd freak if I told her I was going on a date with Cindy. So just I told her I was going home for the weekend.
"Great," she said. "I'm going home too!"
"Oh, uh, really?" I said.
"Yeah," she said. "I was hoping you'd say you were going home. I just had a feeling."
"Right. Well, just so you know, I'm hanging out with Greg and Gauvin on Saturday night."
"Oh," she said. "Well, we can hang out Friday night though, right?"
I hung up and struggled with this strange new reality: in a matter of days, I had effectively gone from no girls to one too many.
On Friday night, I drove my old '78 Plymouth Fury over to Aimee's house. That car was so incredibly loud -- the entire exhaust system had fallen out durinng my senior year in high school -- that I used to put it in neutral, kill the engine and let it coast the last block or so to her house, just so her parents wouldn't think my piece of shit car was a piece of shit car. When I left, I would put it in neutral and push it a block or two before starting it back up. Believe me, that wasn't easy. But I loved that car.
Anyway, Aimee and I went for a walk in nearby Highland Park, then spent the rest of the evening sitting on her front porch and talking about this and that. Neither of us brought up the subjects of love or dating, although it was on both of our minds.
On Saturday night, I got dressed up in my vampire costume and then asked my mom how it looked.
"It needs makeup," she said.
"Yeah, white face makeup," she said.
"I don't want to wear makeup."
"You have to, or you won't look very vampire-like," she said. "Don't worry, I'll help you."
"Mom, I really don't want to wear makeup."
"I'm not giving you a choice," she said.
So my mom painted my face bone white. "Now," she said, "a little red lipstick."
"It'll make it look like you just bit somebody," she answered.
"Or it'll make me look like a cross dresser."
She signed. "You won't look like a cross dresser. Trust me."
I trusted her...and ended up looking like a cross dresser in a vampire costume. To her credit, though, she did make some fake blood out of corn syrup and red food coloring. She used it to make a fake blood trail from the side of my mouth down my chin. That helped, although I still wasn't thrilled with my new look.
Cindy, however, loved it. "You look awesome!" she said. I figured either she was lying or somebody had just jammed their thumbs in her eyes, resulting in temporary blindness or at the very least blurred vision.
Sadly, this was before Halloween costumers had perfected the Slutty [Whatever] costume
. You know: Slutty Nurse, Slutty Librarian, Slutty Cat Girl, Slutty Information Development Specialist. So Cindy was dressed as a mime, which I have to admit was pretty terrifying. Her costume consisted of black pants, a black, long-sleeved t-shirt, white clown gloves, and face makeup. Ah, the glory of the homemade costume. Did I mention I find mimes terrifying?
The dance turned out to be almost entirely dance-free. As in, nobody wanted to actually get down and boogey. Instead, we contented ourselves with wolfing down candy and snacks (well, I did anyway) and mingling with the other partygoers around the bonfire. Cindy introduced me to several of her classmates, and the introductions were telling. She wasn't introducing me as some random friend. She was introducing me in that super-excited we-might-be-dating-soon voice that people get when they're on the verge of a new relationship. I found I was kind of okay with that.
Since this was Indiana, the night ended with a hayride. In case you grew up within 100 miles of civilization and therefore have never been on or heard of a hayride, it's when several people clamber up into a wagon full of hay and just ride around in it. I know. Quaint, right?
During the ride, Cindy leaned against me and put her head on my shoulder in what I would eventually learn is the universal sign of the smitten girl. Again, I was okay with that.
I drove Cindy home with the intention of just dropping her off. After all, it was late (a little after 1 a.m.) and I didn't want to disturb her parents. However, she insisted I come inside for a few minutes. It turned out her parents were still up, because her mother greeted us at the door. I will always remember that her mom had this knowing look on her face, because, of course, she knew something I didn't: that I was about to get The Pitch.
We sat down on the couch in Cindy's living room. She took my hand but looked down at the ground. "Matt," she began, "I know you've got a lot going on. I know there may be other people you want to date. I know we have a history where I didn't always appreciate you the way that I should have. But I have very deep feelings for you. I can't deny them anymore and I don't want to. I want to be with you, Matt. I want us to be together." She then looked at me with her dark brown eyes. They were glistening.
Despite the drama of the moment, I almost laughed because of the bizarre tableau stretching out before me. A white-faced mime was making romantic overtures to a white-faced vampire on the couch at her parent's house. And the mime looked so very solemn. If I could go back in time, I'd totally ask why so serious
"Cindy, that's very
flattering," I said, trying to be delicate. "But I'm going to have to think about this."
"I understand," she said. "And I'll wait as long as it takes."
She then moved in to kiss me, but I pulled away. Not because I didn't want to kiss her at that moment, but because I was afraid doing so would seal the deal so to speak. I felt like kissing her would more or less mean to her that we were dating seriously. That's just how she was (or so I thought). I wasn't quite ready to go there just yet. Instead we just hugged, said our goodnights, and I went home in a daze.
Aimee called the next morning and asked if I'd come by her place before I returned to school. I agreed, mostly because I thought (or hoped) that she'd say or do something to help resolve this mess. Of course, that didn't happen. All that happened is that we ate breakfast while chatting about meaningless whatevers as I became increasingly tense.
When it came time for me to leave, Aimee walked me to my car. I tried to give her a hug but she pulled back. "You're not going to hug me? Seriously?!" I was really offended.
"I don't feel comfortable doing that," she said.
"Jesus Christ! You've got
to be kidding me. That's it. I'm done. I'm done waiting for you to make up your mind. I love you, but this has gotten too ridiculous to put up with. Have a nice trip back to school." I was so angry I not only started my too-loud car in front of her house, I gunned the engine as I drove away.
My mom took me back to school. When I returned to the room, Mat wasn't there. Thankfully, none of my things had been disturbed. I tried to study, but I couldn't. I thought about calling somebody, but I didn't want to talk to anyone. Instead, I went down to the dorm grill, bought a couple hamburgers and spent the evening watching old Celtics games. Mat got home around 2 a.m. He wasn't alone. I wrapped my pillow around my head and did my best to sleep through it.
I walked through the next day in a fog. That evening, I was studying (as usual) while Mat was spending one of his rare evenings chilling in the room by himself. The phone rang, and it was Cindy. She just wanted to check in and see how I was doing...and ask whether I'd thought any more about what we'd talked about. I told her I had but still hadn't made a decision.
It occurred to me after I'd hung up that I needed to tell Cindy yes or no very soon. Otherwise, I would be stringing her around the same way Aimee had been stringing me around. I didn't want to do that to anybody else. It hurt too much. I resolved to sleep on it and make my final decision the next day. At that moment, I was starting to seriously consider doing it. However, I never got the chance to sleep on my decision, because a little while later the phone rang. It was Aimee.
"I want us to be together," she said.Part 17
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