It was our second date and I wanted to leave. I wasn't into him. However, Bradley looked so enraptured by the idea of a Saturday night party that I felt too bad leaving him at the beach. He bought rum, pineapple juice and Sprite, plus some cups made out of coconuts to mix it all into. He looked so ecstatic, it was as if he'd been invited to his first junior high jellybean dance. I could practically see the mushroom cut on him fifteen years ago. His ears would have stuck out awkwardly and he would have had blue elastic bands on his braces. He wouldn't have danced with any girls, but played Magic the Gathering with his friends in the corner. At the very least, Pokemon would have been discussed. He definitely chose Squirtle as his first; I could tell.
“This might not be your kind of thing,” I told him. “I love my friends, but they're not for everyone.” I don't know why I felt so nervous trying to justify my life when I wasn't even attracted to him.
Bradley slipped his lukewarm hand into mine as if to reassure me. I hated the feeling of his smooth knobby fingers in between mine and desperately wanted to pull away. I didn't though. I just hoped he wouldn't try to kiss me.
The house – the one that I lived in and which I jokingly referred to as 'the commune' since we had no working television, computers, radio or anything more complex than a record player – was a two storied seafoam green relic with a jungle of trees out front. I took Bradley to the back door. A giant cartoon cat head was perched on top of the fence. Bradley touched it's nose. “Nice.”
“Hey, if you want to leave at any point, feel free. I mean, just so you know.”
Bradley squeezed my hand. I nearly retched. I led him into the garden to be introduced to everyone.
Several cats pranced around the area in high spirits. The commune owned about five dark and wild eyed felines. There was someone eating and juggling fire while a girl with a shaved head and purple glasses played the ukelele. The yard was crowded with plaid flannel and long hair and wafts of cigarette smoke and slow laughter. Some people were dressed up for the summer solstice. Anna, the party's host, was one of them.
She was in a white dress with a crown of white daisies on her head. There was a wine bottle in her hand with a dripping yellow candle fitted into the neck. I introduced her to Bradley and then fled to the kitchen to mix some drinks into the coconuts and explain my self-induced Bradley dilemma to Chelsea.
Chelsea was unsuprisingly unsympathetic.
A long yeowl followed by a banshee wail interrupted our discussion. A small group of us followed it outside and stood on the porch to watch several cars whiz by.
Anna was sprawled over a small black shifting mass in the middle of the street, the white dress wilted around her legs. She was moaning as if she was in physical pain. I thought it was she who had been hit at first. Bradley was beside her with his hand on her shoulder. We watched them pick up one of Anna's cats – Bear – and carry him to the side of the road. “Is he dead? Can you look at him? I can't look,” she was sobbing.
I could see both of them caressing their thumbs over the top of his crushed black head.
“He's gone,” John said. “He's already gone.”
They took him to the vet. The rest of us, Chelsea, Bradley and I, stayed behind.
The party in the garden raged on regardless. Some people spoke about Bear's death and the summer solstice as two mystical events intertwined. “Did you notice that the candle stopped burning the moment he died?”
Everything seemed wrong and heartless. The partiers were oblivious to anything further than a collective easygoing delerium. Both repulsed and compelled, I stayed.
Also, it's where I was living. It's not like there was much of a choice.
“I had a really good time,” Bradley assured me, reaching for my hand.