[Image: “The Wide Night,” Rebecca Rebouché]
She is the type of girl who goes to parties with open invitations, skirting the edges of the dance floor while the sea ebbs and flows out of her reach. This she does not mind; she is a dandelion, after all, not a rose. She takes a sip of her drink, always more soda than whiskey, and looks for a kindred spirit in the crowd. She is good at catching people’s attention but not holding it, and throughout the night she drifts with the tide until the tide does away with her. She wonders if it is the big questions that scare away potential partners, but she has never been adept at small talk. She drinks until the buzzing in her head becomes louder than her voice, then permits herself to be led to a corner of the room.
She is not the particularly religious sort but dares not risk God’s wrath, just in case. So she lets boys touch her, but always over her clothes, never below the waist, and at the end of the night, she returns home empty-handed, body aching in anticipation of dreams she does not allow herself to fulfill. Back home she slides her hand between her thighs, slick from yearning, and dips her fingers in and out with urgency, until she curls in on herself, spent, more alone than before.
Sometimes when she lies awake in bed she is gripped by a spell of sadness, so she pulls the covers up over her head, although there is no one else around. She does this not because she is afraid of being seen, but because she cannot bear to be with herself when the tears come. Most of the time she lies still, eyes wide open, until the sadness recedes into a corner, biding its time.
She has a group of friends: two girls from high school, the rest acquaintances. They seldom get together nowadays—their version of tough love, they explain. It’s good to get to know other people, branch out. She knows, however, that she waits too long for her turn to speak, spends too much time trying to figure out the punch line, and that makes them uncomfortable. She distances herself to make it easier for them and makes sure to attend all the big-name events, even though no one is keeping track. After each party, she wonders how she ever made friends, or if she ever had anybody who resembled one. She wonders if it is too late to learn.
Tonight she is at another party, searching around the room as usual. The alcohol has not yet kicked in when a girl sidles up to her. She is not a rose, but she holds her ground, proud, radiant, and the girl prays that she will stay. Her mouth goes dry, but the girl does not seem to mind. They stand side by side in silence, and when the girl turns around to smile at her, her head spins. Grinning, the girl extends her hand. She accepts it and finds that the girl matches her steps perfectly, even though she is always half a beat late.
Mustering her courage, she rests her head on the girl’s neck and catches a whiff of vanilla and sandalwood, with a hint of perspiration. She burrows into the scent, not wanting to let go. The girl pushes her away and for a moment she is unsure, afraid.
Not too fast, she replies. The girl touches her cheek, and for the first time, she understands what it means to have butterflies in your stomach. She holds her breath, not trusting her tongue, her hands, her heart.
Tomorrow. Lunch. What do you think? The girl looks down, suddenly years younger. She wants to pull her into her arms and never let go, but she settles for a nod instead. The girl beams, relief spreading across her face. Her smile is the most beautiful thing she has ever seen. They exchange numbers and hug before parting at the doorway.
She is the type of girl that people acknowledge, but never see. This she does not mind, for tomorrow she will be dining with honeysuckle, whose eyes will be on her, and only her.
Yuko C. Shimomoto is a Japanese-Malaysian writer and self-proclaimed noodle enthusiast. Her work often explores the intersections of gender, identity, culture, and belonging. She currently lives in Osaka.