It’s the summer of 2002. I’m twenty and full of bones that won’t commit to anything except having a good time. Through a series of bad relationships and a father who doesn’t call from three states away, I decided that relationships suck and I’m better off letting go and being alone.
Earlier today, a friend invited me to his party to celebrate Justin’s breakup.
Justin, my friend’s roommate, plays bass and spikes his hair. I’ve noticed him before. His band, Stunnd, played at a pub once. I was there by chance with friends. I remember watching in awe as he played bass. He was rhythmical and intense.
I’m always going to shows and interviewing bands because I write for The Glass Eye, a music zine in Toledo. I’ve seen plenty of musicians, but none played bass quite like Justin.
Earlier I agreed to go to the party, but now I’m stewing about what to wear. The friends I called to go with me are all busy, so I consider staying home.
But I don’t. I settle on a mustard yellow shirt from the thrift store with the words Jack’s Attack Team on the front. The shirt is comfortable; it’s my favorite worn-in tee. My Paul Frank belt secures my bell-bottoms in place and shell toes complete the casual look I’m going for. I don’t want people to think I care too much.
When I arrive, I don’t mind that a red party light in the corner emits the only glow throughout the living room. Smoke swirls toward the ceiling, and house music rattles the framed Pulp Fiction poster on the wall. Twenty people crowd the couches and floor. I walk in and hug a few acquaintances.
Someone says, “There’s beer in the fridge, Danielle. Help yourself.”
I drink more beer than usual to fill the space where I should be talking. After I’ve emptied two cans, I move closer to Justin. I notice his ripped jeans and Billabong shirt. His pokey hair reminds me of Brandon from Beverly Hills 90210. I want to touch it and to ask him how he gets to stand so high, but I don’t. Instead, I lose myself in conversation with less-intimidating strangers.
Justin walks by and brushes my shoulder with his. “Sorry,” he says.
“No problem.” I raise my hand to dismiss it.
“You’re Danielle, right?” he asks.
I feel fire radiating from my cheeks because I realize he doesn’t know me. I hope the red light hides my nerves. “I am.”
He nods and smiles. “I’m glad you could make it.”
“Who’s Jack?” He points to my shirt.
“Huh? Oh, I don’t know. Salvation Army find.” I wonder if he’ll look down at me for shopping at thrift stores.
Justin nods and motions to my empty hand. “Need a beer?”
“Sure,” I say.
On the way to the kitchen, Justin asks me what I do.
“I work at a used music store.”
“Cool.” He hands me a Coors and tells me about the band. I pretend I don’t already know.
I say, “I also write for The Glass Eye. I should do a review on your band.”
“You should.” He seems intrigued. He seems nice.
Justin cracks a joke and I laugh so hard my gut hurts. I joke back. He says, “You’re funny. I like that.”
I want to kiss him, but instead I look in his eyes and we both stop talking for a while. It’s not an uncomfortable silence – more of a moment of realization. There aren’t fireworks like in the movies. This is better. Everyone else in room fades into the distance and the music muffles. The smoky space brightens around us, illuminating his angular features.
Somehow I know he’s what I’ve been missing.
He looks away, smiles and says, “You know what? We match because we both have freckles.” He is the friend I needed and partner I wanted but didn’t know existed, and I know I’ll never let go again.
Photo courtesy of Pexels.