tagErotic CouplingsValentine's Ink Blot Test

Valentine's Ink Blot Test

byPolyacrylate©

Our argument had devolved to the point where there was nothing to be said; certainly nothing constructive. I turned and stormed away from my wife, my face red and hot.

Most people say we're a great couple, but then, most people don't see us one-on-one. Especially when we're supposed to be doing something Big.

I had on my suit, and she had on that red dress. It didn't fit like it did when she was 25, but that wasn't the point, and wasn't a problem.

She also wore makeup, her mascara smudged and sloppy around her wet eyes.

"I wish you would just talk to me," I grumbled as I sat down on the sofa. She crossed her arms, and stared at me as though she was going to say something, but then stomped off to the bedroom. After a few minutes, I decided to build a fire in the fireplace, since our plans had clearly been cancelled. The order of making a fire has always been soothing to me since I was a child... you lay out your logs, build a chimney, wedge in your kindling, and apply a small spark.

Soon, flames licked at the underside of the logs in the fireplace. I watched blankly. She could be so mean sometimes, and so unrepentant about it. It always happened at times like this. Vacations, date nights, projects around the house... all had caused their share of bad nights.

Eventually, she came back in. She had changed into a t-shirt and sweat pants, but had not cleaned up the makeup.

We sat next to each other in silence for a few minutes. I didn't feel a need to apologize. I had seen this movie before.

"You always want to talk," she said, after a few minutes.

"I'd rather we plan, so you don't get upset with me for not reading your mind."

She sighed. "That takes all the spontaneity out of it."

I smiled through my irritation. "You know we suck at spontaneity."

"I want you to tell me something."

"What?"

"Anything. A story. One that's not about tonight, not about us, not about me, not about a childless couple in their thirties, fighting on Valentine's Day."

I looked at her, the mascara running down her cheeks, and began talking.

It was 2005, Charles, one of my housemates at college, was badgering me into coming to a party with him.

"I'm just saying, I'd rather hang out here, or at least go to the bar. A Valentine's Day party sounds awful. It will be full of freshmen, and they're all going to be acting emo because they are at a Lonely Hearts party alone," I said.

"You're no fun. Some of us can't afford to go drink at the bar. Besides, the point of a Lonely Heart's Party is to hook up." Charles responded.

'If you can't afford to go to a bar, you could get a job,' I wanted to say. 'You could stop buying weed.' But he was my friend. I didn't say anything.

"Look, man," Charles continued, "I'm getting cabin fever in here, and I need to get out and find something..."

I tuned him out, as he hassled me with a variety of reasons why I should go with him. The problem with being an introvert who has extrovert friends is that it can seem like they insist everybody is really an extrovert deep down, some people just need to be forced out of their shell.

Charles rattled off which of our friends would be there tonight. I didn't understand what our friends' social plans mattered for requiring me to come to the party, but I also knew that Charles wouldn't quit bothering me until I gave in.

I gave an exasperated sigh, and said, "Fine. I don't have to work tomorrow, and I can hang out for a bit. But if you start chasing some slut and I get bored, I'm leaving you there."

"Now you're talking!" Charles exclaimed, his face lighting up. It struck me, not for the first time, that he didn't look like your stereotypical Computer Science major, with his tattoos and military style haircut. Charles was a fountain of energy, and I had come to the conclusion that he did his homework and projects when the rest of us were sleeping in the middle of the night. He had told me once that he liked getting high simply because he had trouble relaxing.

So, I got myself ready to go to a house party at a stranger's place. Jeans, a polo shirt, and a jacket that looked good, but I wouldn't mind if something got spilled on it. Steel-toed boots were important, too - house parties got crowded, and I wanted my feet protected if somebody stepped on my toes. I also made it a point to wear a wallet chain. It looked stupid, but I had been pickpocketed at a party freshman year, and this was a decent solution.

I topped off my flask with some Grizzled Grizzly whiskey. It tasted horrible, but it was super cheap, and being a little buzzed would make me less self-conscious. Charles and some of our other friends gave me a hard time about how antisocial I was without alcohol, but it really didn't bother me.

I left my bedroom, and waited for Charles to be ready. I waited, and I waited. After about twenty minutes, he came out into our living room, wearing the same clothes he had on while badgering me to come out to the party. His t-shirt was tight and had short sleeves, to show off his muscles and tattoos. He had on jeans and sandals, too. Sandals. In February.

"Ready?" he asked.

"I guess. One for the road?" I asked, holding up the bottle of whiskey.

"Surrre..." he replied, drawing out the word. He was high, I was fairly certain, and I wondered why he never shared. I poured us both a shot from the bottle, we clinked glasses, and took them down the hatch.

"Egggahhh!" I shuddered, the burning sensation tingling all the way to my tearducts.

"Fuck this cheap stuff," Charles said, but I grinned. The foul taste was just part of it. My throat, sinuses, and belly all felt warmer, and that slight tingling made the prospect of facing the crowd at the party less daunting. "Let's roll," Charles declared, and off we went.

Our house was about two miles from the Firehouse, where the Valentine's party was being held. College houses like these, perpetually inhabited by students, had a way of getting a name attached to them. Supposedly, the Firehouse had burned down, not once, but twice, back in the Fifties. As the place passed from graduating seniors to lower classmen, the name had stuck.

Three other guys and one girl lived in the house with Charles and I. Some were at this party, some were out of town. Which is why it was just Charles and I, the Odd Couple, going out.

We walked in silence for a bit, before Charles broke it, "Man, I hope some chicks show up at this party. I hate it when we go to one of these, and it's just dudes."

I shrugged, and paused to pull out a cigarette. "Those things will kill you, ya know," he commented.

"I hadn't heard," I replied, dryly, as I lit it.

"Didn't Seinfeld have some bit about smoking really being about control of fire?"

"A true philospher of our times," I replied, with a deadpan tone. "It relaxes me."

"Seriously, though, what happened to that Kiley girl?" When Charles was high, he couldn't stay on a single subject. "She was cute. You should've been tapping that."

"It didn't work out. She had her sights on somebody else."

"That sucks. I've been chasing Hayley, but it was like after it got physical, there wasn't anything there. Like our chemistry had been dependent on not seeing each other naked."

I laughed. "You were interested in a girl for more than a night?"

We bantered on as we walked to the Firehouse. High or not, Charles was his usual self, an inexhaustible source of conversation.

You could hear the party from two blocks away. As we got closer, I drew my flask, and took a shot. "Put on a brave face," Charles said, punching me in the shoulder.

I smiled at Charles, knowing that he could have been serious or joking there. I said nothing, and within a few minutes, we were there.

Usually, I'd dread an event like this, and when I got back home, I'd realize I had a great time. I often wondered how cops didn't show up at parties like this more often. I suppose the small college town police force didn't have the time or manpower to hunt things like this down, just to stop one hundred nineteen year olds from drinking. They probably figured that so long as nobody was driving, it was mostly harmless.

The music was blaring, "Toxic," by Brittney Spears. This was back before she was a punchline, although her music always had been terrible. As much as I hated the song, I had to admit it was catchy.

As the night was cold, there were few people congregating outside. If this were April, the yard would be crammed full of twenty year olds, but it was February, and the only ones braving the cold were the dedicated smokers - like me, and the occasional couple looking for some air mid-party.

At the door, Charles and I paid our admission cost, five dollars, and were given plastic red cups. Typical for a party in middle America. Music blared from the basement, and small clusters of people, mostly girls, danced. The real party was downstairs, with the bar, and there wouldn't be room for dancing there. Couples made out on plastic-wrapped couches in the living room. 'Condoms for furniture,' I thought wryly.

'Happy FUCKING Valentines Day,' someone had spray painted on the wall. I noted, with some irritation, that they had forgotten to include an apostrophe in 'Valentines.'

We stepped past the couples, and found our way to the stairs. The basement was full of preppy guys, mostly wearing polo shirts with the collars popped, and girls, mostly wearing skirts that were either ripped up denim, or short-and-pleated. And there were so many of them. Too many of them. I'd say there were three hundred people, crammed into a little house.

Charles was openly checking out some of the girls who were in the basement with us. I wasn't. Sure, a glance this way or that, at cleavage, a pretty face, a short skirt, but I couldn't bring myself to out-and-out leer.

We got our cups filled at the bar - shitty swill beer, and sought out our friends. We found them standing in a small circle, practically shouting over the noise of the crowd and the music. Joe and Tom, Tyler and Erica and her sister, Mandy or Maggie or something like that - I didn't know her name, and mostly thought of her as 'that girl Tyler is crazy over.' There were some others there, too, some I knew and some I didn't.

Erica hugged Charles and I, and immediately started talking. She was the only girl who lived in our house, which was made all the weirder that she wasn't much of a tomboy at all, but rather a very girly type. Her and Charles had grown up together, and were two peas in a pod. The first time I met her, I had assumed that her and Charles used to date. When I asked him about he seemed aghast. 'That would be like fucking my sister!' he had exclaimed.

We talked for a while, the nothings that you can talk about when you're in your early twenties. One beer became two, and somewhere along the line, I decided to excuse myself to go outside and smoke. There were too many people around.

I practically fought my way up the stairs, and worked my way out onto the back deck. The basement had a door direct to the outside, and it would have been too crowded around that area for me.

And so I sat out in the cold night, drew a cigarette out of the soft pack, and lit it, after setting my beer on the railing. I enjoyed the cigarette, and the moments of blissful solitude it brought. It wasn't something they advertised for smokers, but smoking certainly had that benefit.

And while I was reflecting on how much I loved the way that my breath frosted in the cold, my solitude was interrupted. A young woman came out of the house, crying, and not making an attempt to hide it. I looked up sharply, but I don't think she noticed me. She was blonde, and curvy - not fat, though, with full round hips and breasts, wearing a short khaki skirt with a deep red sweater.

And she was sobbing.

It went on for a few minutes, and finally I couldn't take it. I lit another cigarette, and walked over next to her. "Um. Hello. Do you want to, um, talk about it?"

She gave me a double take, which made me want to laugh. I also got a look at her face. She had on tons of makeup, which was running because of the crying, the dark mascara bleeding from her deep brown eyes. She also had a generous helping of cleavage on display.

She sniffled, and shook her head, making an effort to stop crying. And, for the most part, failing.

After a few minutes, I felt more awkward than I did before, so I pulled my flask, took a gulp, and, bristling at the taste, offered it to the girl. She eyed it skeptically. Finally, she asked "What's in it?" Her voice was raspy from the crying.

"Grizzled Grizzly. Cheap whiskey," I replied.

She took the flask, closed her eyes, tipped her head back and took a drink. Her eyes fluttered open, and then, with a panicked expression, and she turned to the side and spat the whiskey out. A thought ran through my head that it would get all over the heads of people under the deck.

"Oh, Jesus, that was awful," she said.

"It helped you stop crying," I replied with a smile.

She gave me a funny look, and went back to staring into the night. I shrugged, and began to do the same.

A few moments went by, and she opened up her purse and began rummaging through it. Her purse wasn't that big, and I couldn't imagine what she was looking for, but after a few minutes, she gave a frustrated sigh, got out her tiny cell phone and checked it, and went back to being quiet. As I got out another cigarette and considered leaving, she began crying again, this time more quietly.

"Do you... do you want to, you know, have some privacy?" I asked.

She shook her head. 'This really isn't any worse,' I reflected, 'than being trapped in the party in the basement.'

Her phone chirped at her. She gave it a look, and went back to being upset.

I took a sip from my flask, and then offered the girl a smoke. She took it, and let me light it for her.

"What's your name?" she asked through sniffles.

I told her my name, and then asked her. She mumbled something that sounded like 'Hannah' or'Anna.' I couldn't tell which.

"You don't have to talk about it, but are you OK?" I asked her.

She shrugged. "I guess so. Things sometimes just don't make sense. I guess sometimes you just have to let go."

Clearly, that was all she was going to say. The silence lingered for a moment, and then she asked "What's your deal?"

"Huh?"

"How come you're not with the party?"

"I don't like parties."

"Then why did you come?"

"I got dragged here by my housemate. I... I don't really like being around people."

"Oh," she replied. "So you'd rather sit outside by yourself?"

"Well, that was the plan, but then this crying girl showed up, and, well, you know the rest."

The girl - Hannah, I decided - laughed, and then made a choking sound in her throat.

A moment later, the door to the porch crashed open, and a familiar voice called out, "Hey! We were wondering where you got off to!"

I stood up and turned around to see Charles and Erica. "What's up?" I asked.

"We're gonna split, man. Somebody's having a little late night game-and-trip session. Do you want to come?"

The idea of babysitting a bunch of people eating mushrooms and playing video games held no appeal for me.

"Nah. I'm ok here for a bit."

"Are you sure? I feel bad I dragged you out here, and then I'm bailing on you..."

I couldn't say that I was doing my awkward best to comfort some crying chick, so I just shrugged. "It's not so bad out here..." I replied.

Charles nodded, and I said goodbye to Erica, and then it was just Hannah and me on the deck again, with music thumping from the basement.

"Was that your roommate who made you come out?" she asked. After I told her yes, she asked, "How come you didn't go with him? And you two seem so different. How did you become friends?"

I looked at her, and even with the mascara smeared down her face, I knew why I didn't leave the party. But I only answered her second question. "Freshman year. I wanted to get out and get involved. I didn't have many friends and wasn't very social. So, I began doing community service - highway cleanup, homeless support, things like that. And Charles, he had been busted with drinking underage, and was made to do community service as punishment. What I did for fun is what he got sentenced to. And we got paired together by the organizer, and just became friends."

"So, are you guys friends, or, like, best friends?"

I caught what she was implying, and started laughing. "No. Just friends. I don't have a problem with that, but it's not for me."

She laughed again. "Just wanted to make sure."

We sat in silence for a few minutes. "Did you come out with anybody tonight?" I asked her. She turned away again, and I saw that I may have hit a nerve. "Hey, sorry about that," I said quickly.

"It's okay," she replied. We talked for a few minutes, with her trying not to cry. I couldn't quite figure out what the deal was. Why would she stay at the party if she was this upset?

I decided to try one more thing. "Is there anything I can do to help?"

She paused, and clearly hadn't been considering this sort of thing. Finally, she said, "Would you maybe just walk me home?"

It was my turn to give a double take. I had meant if she wanted a drink or for me to find someone inside, or if she wanted to borrow my jacket, and told her as much.

"Well," she said with a sniffle, "I was thinking it was time to go, and I would feel safer being walked home by somebody, but if you want to stay here by yourself..."

She leaned forward a bit, which seemed to emphasize, or at least give me a better view, of her cleavage. And despite her crying, and those mascara tears spread around her eyes and cheeks, I felt weak. "Sure. I'll take you home."

She smiled at me. "Good. Let's go. Anyone else inside you need to say good-bye to?"

"No."

So, we got up from the deck, and I prepared to walk to her home, wherever that was. "Happy fucking Valentine's Day," I said to her on our way out of the house, motioning to the spray painted wall.

"No kidding," she replied, not really noticing where I pointed.

We walked a little ways in silence. Shortly after leaving the house, she asked for another cigarette. I gave her one, had one for myself, and took a shot from my flask again. She took one, too, and swallowed this time. "I don't understand how you can drink that shit," she giggled.

I shrugged. "It's an acquired taste. And it puts hair on your chest."

"Yeah, I guess I could use some of that," she replied sarcastically, gesturing at her cleavage.

We walked in silence for a bit, and somewhere along the way, she put her hand in mine. My heart started racing. I had sort of expected this to happen, but wasn't ready.

"Where do you live?" I managed to ask.

"Hilton," she replied.

Hilton Hall was a dorm for those over 21, and those who were seniors by credit. The intent had been to create a dorm for the high achievers, those focused on school more so than socializing or partying. The effect was, by all accounts, less than desired.

We crossed through campus, and got to her building. If she just made a move to go inside, I'd offer her one more smoke to get a few more minutes with her.

But when we got to the door of Hilton Hall, she didn't stop to ask if I wanted to come inside, or tell me good night, or to give me the ambiguous, 'Well, here's my building.' She kept walking, holding my hand. And she fished her keys from her purse wordlessly, opened the door, and led me in.

Up to the third floor we went, room 314. There were posters on the doors with the residents' names, but none on her door. I was going to have to stick with calling her Hannah.

"My roommate is out," she whispered to me.

"Good," I replied with a smile.

She opened the door, and we went inside her room. Even though I knew what was going to happen, I was nervous. Her room had a grey tile floor, and cinder block walls, which had posters and pictures up everywhere. A dim light illuminated pink curtains on the window, two desks, two beds, one with a pink blanket, the other black. A TV hung on the wall, and there were doors to closets and what looked like a bathroom.

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