I arrived at her building at close to the appointed time. I was early, so I took a few walks around the block. Three, I think. Our last conversation, now a week old, had gone a little something like this:
“Next Friday, we should go out.”
“Yeah, all right,” I said, trying to be cool.
“I get off work at seven.”
“So after that then. I'll pick you up.”
“You do that,” she said, leaning over, placing a wisp of light hair behind her ear. She kissed me somewhere along my jaw line. But it wasn't until Molly got up off the futon and exited her bedroom that I'd registered the pressure of her full lips on my face.
And that was good enough for me.
A week later, I stood in her outer vestibule, dressed in all black. Peacoat, sweater, skully. It was one week before Christmas break. The wind was intense and snow seemed certain. The small glass room with the buzzer and mailboxes may as well have been without walls. Shuffling cold, I looked up her name and buzzed. No answer. I punched it again. No. Maybe I had the wrong number. I checked the digital listing. The number was right. I punched it again. Nobody. Rubbing my hands together, I turned my back to the inner door. In a minute, I heard it open. An old lady and a little dog were on their way out for a walk. Before either of them could bark, I slipped passed and was greeted by the warmth of the lobby's hallway.
We met on what was known as the freshman bus. It was a charter, from Western to Eastern Pennsylvania, taking kids home for Thanksgiving. She was in the seat behind mine, studying Spanish. Stowing my bag overhead, I went from noticing to staring in about four seconds. She caught me.
“Hola,” Molly said, with laser blue eyes over glasses with dark brown frames.
“How are you?” I said, wondering if my voice had cracked.
“Bien, y tu?”
“Alright, I guess.”
“Como se llama?”
“I'm sitting down, now,” I said. And I did so, while butterflies in my gut did jumping jacks.
An hour later, nodding off, I had a plastic container pushed toward my face. Its contents smelled like cinnamon, but were visually unknown to me.
“You look hungry,” she said.
“Nah, I'm good.”
She sat back. I tried to sleep again, hoping she wouldn't hear my stomach growl.
At a rest stop around Harrisburg, I got a stale turkey sandwich. I was sitting at an orange table, unwrapping the sandwich, when she walked up. She wore work boots, jeans, a v-neck tee, and an oversized cardigan. All black.
“So, you're too good to eat my rugelach.”
“I beg your pardon.”
“You won't eat my homemade apple rugelach, but you'll eat a rest stop turkey sandwich.”
“You made that,” I said.
“It smelled pretty good.”
“Thank you. Can I sit?”
“If you want.”
She pulled out another container. This one held a green mush. It smelled like garlic. She ate it with Italian looking bread. I stayed quiet, chewing my own questionable food.
“I'm Molly,” she said.
We shook hands. I wiped mine on a napkin, both before and after.
“I'm not dirty,” she said.
“I'm sorry. Force of habit.”
“Do you like baseball?” she asked, looking at my cap.
“Nah, I just like the hat.”
“Do you always wear it low like that, to the side?”
I pulled on the brim. “Yeah, force of habit.”
“You like saying that?”
“Don't say it again,” she said. Then she laughed. It was throaty, but also the kind of laugh that made you laugh. I chuckled. She tore off another piece of bread. We were called to get back on the bus.
“Where you from, Demetrius?”
“Nowhere, really,” I said, not wanting to get into that. “Do you always talk this much to strangers?”
“Force of habit,” she said.
We hung out once over Thanksgiving, meeting downtown. We browsed at an old record store. We ate Indian food, which I pretended was not new to me. She told me about her siblings. About her crazy, loud mother. I listened. She hugged me by the subway entrance, after three times offering to drive me home. Hugging Molly was comfortable. So I told her that she shouldn't go out of her way.
Back at school, we met up sporadically. Between classes for lunch. On weeknights at her apartment. As it turned out, the apple rugelach was on point. The hummus, less so. Molly and I would talk, with me saying more on each visit. We would listen to music, stuff she liked and wanted to turn me on to. The Smiths, Mazzy Star, REM. I ended up liking a lot of it. She made me a mix, which interspersed some Prince, some Jackson 5. For days, it was all I heard.
Her place was at the end of a long hall. It was the last door on the right. Friday night, the building was quiet. The halls were usually dim, but tonight, hers was brighter.
Molly's door was halfway open.
Despite this, I knocked. “Hello?” I called out. Nothing. Into the apartment, things seemed all right. Nothing looked askew. I walked through. All the lights were on. An open wine bottle and two glasses were on the kitchen counter. Red. The stereo was on, but no music was playing. This was a nice place for college freshmen. For anybody. There was a new leather couch, waxed wood floors, and a full entertainment center. These five minutes were the most time I'd spent out of Molly's bedroom. She'd had issues with her roommate, who had been nothing but pleasant to me.
I walked out of the apartment to the laundry room. It was musty. Sweatpants and men's tube socks revolved in two dryers. Otherwise, the room was empty.
“What the fuck?” I said to the dryers.
I went back to the apartment. The door hadn't locked behind me. Back inside, I looked for clues that she stepped out but was coming right back. There weren't any. I took a glass from the cupboard and poured some wine. It was bitter. I sunk into the couch and placed the glass on the coffee table. I turned on a movie: Reality Bites. I finished the wine. Both put me to sleep. I awoke to Arsenio and the sound of metal dropping to the floor. Molly glanced up and down between me and her fallen keys.
“Hi,” I said, sitting up.
“What are you doing here?” she said.
“Waiting for you.”
She flopped on the couch next to me, smelling like lavender, smoke, and vodka. Molly nuzzled her head on my chest.
“I'm surprised Rebecca let you in.”
“She didn't. Your door was open.”
“Your door, it was wide open. I came in to wait for you. I didn't want to leave your place unlocked, but I fell asleep.”
“Where was Rebecca?”
“Damn if I know.”
“The door was open?”
“Yeah.” I put my arm around her. “I thought we were supposed to go out.”
She paused. “So, let's go out.”
Molly hopped to her feet and we went, this time locking the door.
It was between three and four in the morning. Molly was drunk and I wasn't far behind. Rebecca was sitting there when we walked in. She was holding my wine glass. She glared at Molly, asked to speak with her in another room. They went. I sat back on the couch, wondering what was being said. Wondering how close I was to getting laid. I craned my neck, but I couldn't hear them. Was she that pissed about a little wine? I assumed Molly would take the weight. I didn't imagine she would mention the open door, and still don't know if she did. What I do know is that they were in there a while. I heard a thump against the wall, and then Rebecca charged into the living room. Her usual pale face was now splotchy red.
“Get out. Right now.”
“I said, get the fuck out of here.”
“What's going on?” I said, looking to Molly. She was standing apart, glassy eyed, perplexed.
“What's going on,” Rebecca said, “is that you broke into our apartment. Now get out.”
“I didn't break into nowhere. You left the damn door open. Molly, will you tell her?”
“She already told me,” Rebecca said. “Now get the fuck out of here before I call the cops.”
I did some quick math. One white girl accusing me of burglary, plus another who didn't have my back, plus one mention of police, equaled it was time for me to quietly go. A friendship thus ended before it really had a chance to start. I buttoned my pea coat and took the skully out of my pocket. Sweating, I left without looking at either of them. I couldn't look at Molly. I was halfway home, walking fast up a steep Pittsburgh hill, before I remembered to put the skully on. It had started snowing.