She Looked Like Dessert
Julie was sitting up in bed with books and papers spread over her lap, but she was staring in the direction of the water-beaded window. Tab cans were lined up on the desk, a couple stuffed in the wastebasket. “You’re gonna tie your stomach in knots with all that caffeine,” Buddy said.
“I know.” Julie played with her hair. She had incredible hair, long and thick and wavy, in a rumpled braid down her back, half falling out. The rain was making her back ache, she said; her face was drawn, the eyes a little glassy, but her smile was soft and pretty and it beamed into Buddy’s solar plexis like a single ray of sunshine. He wanted to crawl into bed with her and take a nap. He almost asked, too, but Julie suddenly whisked the books and papers off her lap into a heap on the floor and rolled to her stomach.
“I don’t know what’s wrong with me,” she fretted. “I just don’t want to do anything.”
“It’s the rain,” Buddy replied, which was everyone’s litany these days. The rain, it’s the rain, excusing everything from headaches to the urge to commit murder.
He sat at the end of the bed, picked up Julie’s right foot and pressed his thumbs into the soft, fleshy part under her toes. There was a huge, raised callous here, right in the center of the ball of her foot, like the pad on the sole of a cat’s paw. Most dancers had this same callous – it came from years of training the weight to rest on the metatarsus, and not on the heel. Julie’s was so thick that she could stick a pin in her foot and not feel a thing; yet it was the spot that ached the most after a long day of dance. Buddy thought of the callous as the precise center of Julie, the button to her soul. He pressed it now, and she gasped, went limp, moaned, “God, I love you.” Which were typical responses of a dancer receiving a footrub.
His hands were compassionate and expert; he knew how to handle feet. He cupped the heel, rotating the ankle, then drew his fingers along the arch, sinking his thumb into the instep, stretching the foot into its gorgeous, curved line. Then he picked up the left foot and repeated the whole process. He loved these ugly beat-up feet, loved to watch them work, loved to hold them.
Heart and sole. I fell in love with you heart and sole.
“Want to go to dinner?” he asked softly.
But Julie was asleep now. Even after four cans of Tab. Out like a light.
Buddy held her feet in his lap and sighed, utterly crushed, coiled up and suffocating in the undeniable reality that she did not love him, she never would. He was done. He had no more hope left. This – her feet in his hands – was it. Dancing together was it. Fine then. In the studio he could be her lover. No one could take that from him. For those precious hours, and there were a lot of them, he’d have sanctioned, legitimate access to Julie’s body, and he could openly touch her, hold her, catch her, crush her against him and pretend she was his, while trying not to think about where she went or what she did outside class and rehearsal. Or whom she did it with. Or how she looked sleeping in that person’s arms in the dark of night.
“I love you,” he whispered firmly, unapologetically. “I’ll always love you.” He pulled the comforter over her shoulder and ran his hand along the length of her hair, before turning off the desk light and leaving, leaving all of it.
A yumminess hovered in the hallway. Buddy sniffed deeply as he shut Julie’s door behind him. Onions. Garlic. Olive oil. Jesus. Hypnotized by the luscious smell, he drifted towards the kitchen. Somebody was cooking, there was real food about, and what college student wouldn’t willingly give money or his right leg to get a taste of something that wasn’t packaged or processed or microwaveable?
It was the honorable Lucy Dare at the stove, ladies and gentlemen, stirring a small frying pan with an equally small wooden spoon.
“Hello, love,” she said.
“Hi.” Buddy stooped and kissed her cheek. “What are we having?”
Indeed the makings of a miniature Italian dinner for one were amassed. Ribbons and loops of pasta bubbled in a soup pot, and it was real sauce in red, velvety swirls under her spoon – an empty can of diced tomatoes filled with onion and garlic skins served as evidence. A buttery, crusty aroma hinted that bread just might be in the oven, too.
“Jesus,” he inhaled powerfully, wondering if it was possible to eat air. “You got a hot date?”
“No,” she smiled. “I just felt like cooking.” Her spoon dipped up a dollop of sauce and she blew on it to cool. “I had the Sunday blues, cooking cheers me up.” She blew again and then offered the spoon to Buddy. “Taste,” she said, “does it need anything?”
Her free hand hovered just beneath his chin, her green-grey eyes intent on his as he tasted, and unfortunately for the normally-perceptive but hungry Buddy Kaeger, the depth and flavor of the sauce made him oblivious to his instincts, which were tugging at his shirt tails and clamoring: Ground Control to Major Tom – Girl! Moment! Eye contact! Something happening here!
“Good?” she questioned, still holding the spoon at his lips.
“It’s perfect,” he said dreamily. She smiled with a knowing air, set down her spoon and wiped her hands efficiently on the towel tucked into her belt loop.
“Are you planning to eat all this yourself?” he asked, with as much casualness as he could muster up.
She shrugged and nodded ambiguously. “Either myself or I figured someone would come along and want some.”
“Do I count as a someone?”
Lucy looked up at him and smiled. “Buddy, my love, you count as a very big someone in my book. Would you like to have dinner with me?”
He shrugged out of his jacket. “I’d love to.”
Before any other someones could come along, they smuggled the works into her room, where they sat on the floor with candles burning and Vivaldi on the stereo. With glee she dug in her closet and produced a bottle of plonk which, flouting regulations, they drank out of Dixie cups. It was the perfect amount of food for two people, and they ate to the last strand of pasta and even picked out the crumbs of bread in the foil. When the wine bottle was empty, Lucy stuck a candle in the neck and lit it. She lay on her side on the rug while Buddy lounged in the beanbag chair. Pooled in the soft yellow light, they talked easily, watching the wax drip down and harden along the green glass.
Eventually Lucy said she had to study a while, but she’d heard the movie theatre downtown was showing Lady and the Tramp at eight-thirty, would Buddy be interested in going? “We could get some ice cream after. Or something.”
He stared at her, astonished, for now that his stomach was sated, the backlog of messages from his instinct were coming through. Lucy, he suddenly realized, was full of brilliant ideas. She was funny as hell. And smart. And she had the most adorable little hourglass figure. He realized he was eyeing the arc of her hip with a totally different kind of hunger now. He watched as she moved with a quick, graceful purpose around the room, throwing out cups, napkins and foil, tucking her blonde hair behind her ears as she bent to blow out the candles. Then she dug her hands in by her shoulders and gave a startlingly fluid, high-elbowed stretch that made her curves all the more prominent, breasts sitting up high in her T-shirt, the arch of her back strong, like a gymnast’s. She looked, at that moment, perfectly delicious. She looked like dessert. Buddy swallowed.
“So,” she said, smiling at him, her eyes crinkling at the corners. “Yes?”
She put out a hand, which he took, letting her haul him to his feet. She kissed him on the cheek and gave him the wax-covered wine bottle to keep. The rain had stopped, and as Buddy walked back to Crary-Steele Hall, he felt as though new skin had been grafted onto him. He held the bottle carefully, like a trophy. He felt uncommonly fine. All of a sudden the wet night had taken on wonderful, dramatic properties. The air was full of promise and possibilities. He stopped and looked back over his shoulder to the dorm he had just left, looked up to the second floor, not to Julie’s window this time, but two windows to the left.
Lucy, he thought. Candlelight, laughter, pretty green eyes, and those curves. Dinner and a movie. A date.
He shook his head and walked on, an incredulous smile splitting his wet face. “Lucy,” he said aloud. “I’ll be a son of a bitch…”