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A Short Story by Jordan Meehan
“I love you,” she whispered. Her voice was soft and hushed, but her words carried a quiet intensity that filled the dark room. While simple and short, they were heavy and lingered in the air like smoke, begging to be noticed, to be answered, lest they become stagnant and embarrassing. Like a young debutante awaiting a suitor, her quiet admission waited for a response. It was the first time Lyla had told Sam that she loved him. Lyla had always found comfort in darkness. The purity of night was a welcome haven from the prejudice of daylight. In the dark she could admit to herself things that would otherwise seem perverse when exposed to the light: her secrets, desires, fantasies, and emotions could be revealed only when she herself could barely see them. Despite being a free spirit, she rarely ever verbalized these things to herself, let alone someone else. Her open admission of love to Sam both terrified and excited her; it was a secret she had kept hidden for a long time, even from herself, and now she waited for the response from him that she had dreamed of for weeks. Sam looked into Lyla’s eyes, seeing a look of longing and affection he had never before seen. The dim light from the streetlights outside spilled into the room through the window, illuminating her face. To him, she was a beacon, gleaming like a star that leads a weary traveler home. He brushed a few strands of hair that had fallen onto her face and smiled at her reassuringly, but her words had shaken him to the core, making him call into question everything he felt for her. Sam had never been in love, and the very idea sent chills through him and made him uneasy.
They had met about nine months ago at a house party in Brooklyn. It was a chilly, clear September night and Sam arrived at the party with a friend, Will, around eleven o’clock. He had no idea who was throwing the party, but Will had assured him that it was a friend of a friend. Sam hated house parties; they were always too crowded, overheated, and, without fail, had insufficient amounts of alcohol. He had always favored going to bars or staying in with a few close friends. Will told him, however, that he needed to be more social, meet more people, find a girlfriend, anything, really, to get him out of the house more. This is not to say that Sam was anti-social, just shy. Too shy. Sam and Will stepped into the party and, as he had predicted on the way over, it was extremely crowded. The two mingled for a few minutes and Will introduced Sam to a few friends and acquaintances. Someone handed them both two red cups of what Sam could only assume was jungle juice. He took a sip and was taken aback by the strength of the drink. “Tastes like college,” he thought. Sam looked next to him to see that Will had gone somewhere, probably to go chat up a friend he had spotted. If there was one thing Sam disliked more than house parties, it was being alone at house parties. He needed a cigarette. Pushing his way through the herds of people, Sam found a door to the small balcony and stepped outside. He reached inside the pocket of his flannel shirt and pulled out a cigarette. He placed it between his lips and searched his pockets for a lighter, but to no avail. “Shit,” he mumbled to himself. “Need a light?” A woman turned around and flicked her lighter until it offered up a flame. Sam had wanted a cigarette so badly he hadn’t even realized there was someone
else on the balcony. He leaned over and lit his cigarette and met the woman’s eyes for the first time. He stood like that for about half a minute, momentarily lost and caught off guard. She was beautiful. “Thanks,” he managed to croak out. He cracked a dopey smile and laughed a little nervously, as if acknowledging the fact that he had been staring. She smiled back and quickly ran a few fingers through her hair, which was long, wavy, and black. Sam couldn’t help but notice the way it caught the moonlight, giving it an almost silver tinge. Although he couldn’t be sure if it was the moonlight or the streetlights, but he didn’t care. Her lips were full and painted red with lipstick, which stained her American Spirit cigarette, and her fingernails were painted black, with her ring finger nails painted electric blue. She wore a faded black denim jacket over a tight black dress and heels. It was a simple look, but it was accentuated by her natural radiance. “So,” she said, leaning on the railing and looking at the people on the sidewalk below, “having fun in that sea of people inside?” “I don’t know,” Sam replied, moving next to her, “My friend ditched me the minute we walked through the door. Felt a bit lonely, and far too sober.” Sam had always had a thing for admitting secrets to strangers. It was much easier than opening up to his friends. Talking to someone he didn’t know felt like writing something down in a diary. It was therapeutic. “Well, you know what they say,” she looked at him, “if you’re lonely when you’re alone, you’re in bad company.” “You read Sartre?” He laughed.
“Are there people that don’t?” She added with a smile. “Yeah, bad people. They should be avoided at all costs.” He smiled back at her. “I’m Lyla,” she beamed back at him. “Sam.” They remained on the balcony for another hour or so, smoking cigarettes and talking about everything that came across their minds. Sam couldn’t remember the last time he had connected so easily with a stranger, or if he ever had before, but he liked it. He felt as though he could be completely open without being afraid of embarrassing himself. He breathed a sigh of relief. “You wanna get out of here?” She asked.
Sam woke up the next morning with a slight headache. The sun poured into his room through the window and revealed to him that Lyla had left. They had spent the rest of the night at his apartment drinking wine, sharing more stories, getting high, and having sex. He got up and saw that she had written her number on a napkin before she left and signed the note “xx, Lyla.” Her name had such a lyrical quality to it; he could repeat it to himself all day, if only it wouldn’t make him look like a schizophrenic. They began to see more of each other and have similar encounters. Lyla would come over, they would get a little drunk, watch a stupid movie, and she would spend the night. Or sometimes he would go to her place. It was always very casual, neither of them had ever felt the need for pretense or formality when they went out or spent time together. They often talked of old flings and relationships, laughing about how they
always ended awkwardly or fizzled out. They both felt a bit jaded by the whole concept of a relationship; it was one of the things they had in common. Sam noticed that there was a strange chemistry between the two of them, the kind that you might feel with someone who is exactly like you, except that Lyla was almost everything he wasn’t, which may be why he liked her so much. He was shy and careful and he always felt that he had difficulty fitting in. Lyla was outgoing, warm, and free spirited. She had a way of riding every wavelength and fitting in with any crowd. He had mentioned to her one time his feeling of displacement. No matter where he lived or travelled to, he never felt a sense of belonging and never felt that he could call any place home. Lyla was the opposite; as they spent more time together she would tell him of how she saw the beauty in everything, the charm and wonder in every place she went. According to her, just any place could be a home once you realize its beauty. He wasn’t quite sure what she meant by it, but it put him at ease, if only a little.
Sam sat next to Lyla on his couch as they flipped through movies and TV shows on Netflix, trying to decide what to watch. They had different tastes when it came to TV and movies, so it was often difficult to find a middle ground. “Wait, we should watch Parks and Rec,” Lyla blurted out. “What? No! You can’t just watch a random episode of Parks and Rec. That’s like opening a book to a random page and reading a random chapter for fun,” Sam said, laughing a little. Lyla suppressed a laugh and glared at him, trying her hardest to look serious, but to little avail. “This is an abusive relationship, Samuel.”
“That’s what I say every time you slap my ass for fun, but that never seems to stop you, now does it?” He laughed, looking back her. “I’m just trying to get you to admit that you like it so I can start calling you Patty Hearst.” She winked at him. Sam burst out laughing as he continued to scroll through Netflix. “Wanna just watch a movie instead? I might consider letting you choose which one.” “Ooo! We should watch Harold and Maude!” She exclaimed. “I don’t think I’m sober or drunk enough to get through that movie…” “Would you still love me if I was an 80 year old woman, Sam?” She looked at him and licked her lips jokingly. “Cougahhhh!” “I don’t know, I might get the sense that you’d only be dating me so I’d pay for your medication,” he laughed as he looked back at her. “But maybe if you were Mallory Archer.” “Wait, oh my god! We’re watching Archer. Gimmie the remote and pour me another drink.” “Yes ma’am,” he laughed as he reached for the bottle of whiskey. He refilled Lyla’s glass, which was smudged with a lipstick stain. It was the same shade of dark red she wore every time they went out. Sam told her once that he referred to it as “Lyla Rouge,” in a poor attempt to lampoon the movie Moulin Rogue! She had asked him if it sounded funnier in his head. “We should watch Darrested Avelopment later,” Sam half-slurred as he handed Lyla her glass. “I mean Arrested Development…” He laughed and looked at her. “And how many have you had to drink tonight, sir?”
“Who are you? Comrade Questions?” He replied, trying to suppress his laughter. Lyla leaned over and kissed him on the cheek. She took his hand and wrapped his arm around her as she slid closer into him. Sam smiled as he felt her embrace, resting his head against hers as he turned on the TV show.
Sam wasn’t sure why, but he always felt uncomfortable discussing his relationship with Lyla with his friends. He found it odd to call it a relationship at all, really. He wasn’t entirely sure how to qualify it; he was simply going with the flow of things. But of course, as Sam had always been so shy in the past, all of his friends made a big fuss over him having a girlfriend. He couldn’t really blame them, though, but it still made him uncomfortable. “So, how do you feel about her?” Will asked. “What do you mean?” “What do you mean what do I mean? Is it casual? Are you just in it for the consistent sex? Do you love her? Should I start writing a best man speech for a wedding? What’s going on?” Will seemed insistent on getting an answer. “I…it’s…casual?” Sam realized that he didn’t have an answer. Regardless of how much time they had spent together, he had never given much thought about how he felt about her. He was just enjoying that he actually got to feel a certain way about someone to begin with. “That’s really great, man. I’m not gonna lie…I was almost considering making you a profile on a dating site just for your own good.” Will said with a laugh and punched Sam playfully on the arm.
Sam laughed along with him and wondered if he had meant what he said about it being casual. He knew it was something, but he had never stopped to ask himself what that something was, and the thought of trying to classify it made him feel uneasy.
Sam lay next to Lyla, still looking into her eyes. Her admission of love for him was still ringing in his ears, it seemed so difficult to process. Lyla’s quiet words, whether they meant to or not, had laid everything bare. He realized now that home, the place he had always been searching for was not a location he was ever going to find. Home, at least for him, was a state of mind, a state of emotion, and he had found that in Lyla. There was no guiding light to be found, no northern star to look to, for it was found in the woman that now lay next to him, and he was finally sure of that. He smiled at her and caressed her cheek. His uneasy feeling had subsided and, all in an instant, he had found the assurance that he was looking for, he merely had to admit it to himself before he could admit it to Lyla. He breathed a sigh a relief, closed his eyes and kissed her.
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