Jordan Meehan February 6, 2013
“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, her words 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. Rarely did she ever verbalize 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. A dim light from the streetlights outside spilled into the room through the window, illuminating her face. To him, she was a beacon, glowing 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. He desperately sought assurance for his feelings and reflected on the time they had spent together.
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 who always threw the best parties. Sam hated house parties; they were always too crowded, overheated, and, without fail, had insufficient amounts of alcohol. He had always preferred going to bars or staying in with a few close friends; however, Will told him 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 antisocial, 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 a house party. 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 pull 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, momentary 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. Her hair 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 moonlight or the streetlights, but he didn’t care. Her lips were full and painted red with lipstick, which stained her cigarette, and her fingernails were painted black, with her ring finger nails painted electric blue. She was wearing 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. “Look at everyone down there,” she said, leaning on the railing and looking at the people on the sidewalk below, “makes you feel big, doesn’t it? Being so high up here?” “I don’t know,” Sam replied, moving next to her, “the world around us has always made me feel pretty small. Kinda lonely.” 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 from religion to philosophy, politics to sex, Sam’s travels to Lyla’s misadventures. You know, everything you’re taught to avoid talking about on a first date. 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, and he wondered if she felt the same way. “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. Oddly enough, none of it felt out of place or the slightest bit uncomfortable. 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 be the visitor at 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. Neither of them, they had found out about each other, had ever really had successful relationships in the past.. They both felt a bit jaded by the whole concept; it was one of the few things they had in common. Sam thought that this might explain the type of relationship they had developed. 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 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. For as long as he could remember, Sam had felt a sense 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 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, everyone he knew 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 had asked one time. “What do you mean?” “What do you mean what do I mean? It’s a pretty clear question, man. Is it casual? Are you just in it for the consistent sex? Do you love her? 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. Was it really casual with Lyla? He knew it was something, but the thought of addressing his emotions was nerve-racking.
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. Perhaps he had always hid from love for fear of its potential destructive side effects, and perhaps that was why he had always had
trouble understanding their relationship. He wasn’t entirely sure, but he was finally sure of how he felt. Sam 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 the day they met. 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 absolutely sure of that. He smiled at her and brushed the hair from her face. His uneasy feeling had subsided and, all in an instant, he had found the assurance of his emotions that he was looking for, he merely had to admit it to himself before he could finally admit it to Lyla. “I love you, too.”