The room was dark and humid. I was dark and humid. I felt like part of the air as I leaned back against the wall and I silently observed, meditated on what was going on around me. The bright white rims of red plastic cups stuck out like glowing rings from the dim background of swaying bodies in the low light. My hands slid into my pockets, then out again. I shifted my weight.
“Jackie, are you having fun?” A voice came from beside me, materializing out of nowhere. Tony’s voice.
“Yeah,” I shrugged.
“Be honest,” he looked at me more intently.
“Yeah,” I said again, bobbing my head for emphasis.
“If you want to leave, just tell me,” he said earnestly, taking a sip from his Solo cup mystery drink.
“No, I’m good, I promise,” I reassured him, tucking my hair behind my ears. “You should pick when we go, I really don’t know what I’m doing.”
The conversation stopped short there, which was probably for the best. The song changed then: transitioned from some run-of-the-mill Auto Tune to Electric Feel. Though it definitely wasn’t a masterpiece, it was a weathered old man in the pop song world that was bound to retire soon, I never got sick of it. The music lifted me and I felt myself begin swaying, swinging my hips, arms, legs…
All along the western front, Tony still faced me, swaying also, his lips moving to the song. I stared back, and actually sang. People line up to receive. She’s got the power in her hands, to shock you like you won’t believe.
Whenever I felt myself getting too loose, I’d straighten up, keeping myself in-check. With my other friends, I would have been able to dance however I wanted. Don’t get me wrong, my gut feeling about Tony was good, and I’m generally a good judge of character, but he was the only person in the room I knew, and by “know” I mean “he lives in my dorm,” which isn’t really a lot to go off of. Why did I go with him and his friends in the first place? I was sick of feeling alone, trapped up in my room. Teenage angst pushed me out the door, down the stairs, and into a pack of friendly intoxicated men I barely knew.
The song ended all too soon. “Hey, do you want to go?” he asked.
I shrugged. “If you do.”
Reading my actual thoughts all too well, he started for the door and I followed. “Hey, you’re from my calc class!,” an exuberant girl in zebra print leggings exclaimed, smiling widely at me as I squeezed between her and a guy with an LMFAO-quality fro. I really hoped people’s drunk reactions to me reflected their sober thoughts- if so, then hot damn was I loved. A handful of people had said things like this to me.
The stairwell was bright white compared to the dorm we’d just left. I blinked and waited expectantly on the top step. Tony caught up to me from behind, swaying a bit. His hand bumped mine. Honestly, I hadn’t been thinking about hand-holding on the way here. I had been sizing him up out of the corner of my eye to be sure I could kick his ass in the event that he may try to grab mine, especially once we’d lost the rest of our group.
Don’t fall over,” I said, watching Tony sway dangerously far forward. Oddly, though, he maintained extreme composure for someone who had consumed the quantities of vodka that he had. Walking to the party, his friends were giddily making plans to play pong in a lecture hall (“We could play pong in Science Center C!”) and cracking jokes about my last name, Tony stayed surprisingly composed. For what it’s worth, he was a pleasant drunk.
Though our walk home, there was no hand-holding or ass-grabbing. Just the way I like it. He did ask about my last name, though.
“Valentine? Bet you got some shit in middle school for that one, I’m sorry,” he commented as we stood at a stoplight. “Not a great name for a feminist.”
“Beg to differ,” I offered, pulling my hair back. “Yeah, sure, there’s Valentine’s Day, but Saint Valentine was an martyr. He was someone who was willing defend what he believed in, even if he had to suffer.”
I watched Tony chew the cud on that one. He nodded and a small smile lingered on his face. I think he liked it. Meanwhile, I was digesting being called a feminist. I definitely knew I was one, technically speaking, and that, yeah, it’s definitely a compliment, but it still always caught me off-guard. Feminist. I suppose I just don’t live my life going through my daily activities thinking, hey, I’m running or lifting or raising my hand in class… wait, I’m female.
A pack of girls in a rainbow of tight miniskirts had to pass us before I realized the walk signal had turned on. I nodded to Tony, and we crossed back to campus.
Standing in front of the sink, I splashed my face with cold water. Anyone else goes out and doesn’t think at all. I go out and overthink everything. Hmm. There’s why I never go out. After drying my face, I looked at the girl in the mirror. Her face was red from the water and rough towel. Her cheeks were round and her face was sober and strong-jawed, but soft, with bright eyes. Though she didn’t always know what she was doing, she could wing it and take care of herself decently well. It was then I realized I liked her a lot.