Recap: Lyle has decided to take his cousin’s advice and write about his ex-girlfriend, Annabelle — not only as a way to cope with their breakup, but also to get him writing again, as he had given up on his dream of writing years ago. In the last chapter, he discussed the first time he met Annabelle, which was at a party thrown by mutual friends Tom and Irene. The first thing he noticed about her, he writes, was her eyes, which were “focused, sharp, penetrating, and dazzlingly green.”
“What are you career plans for when you graduate?” I asked Annabelle.
“I’m still debating,” she said. “It’s hard to know for sure, you know? Right now, I’m working as a bank teller, but I’d someday to become a branch manager. But then again, I don’t know. I don’t want to get locked into anything — you know? I kind of want to keep my options open.”
“I hope you don’t apply that approach to your dating life.”
Annabelle looked at me for a moment, her head tilted, then laughed.
“You’re feisty,” she said. “I barely know you.”
I smiled. “What I mean to say is … well, can we get coffee sometime? I enjoy talking to you.”
“I’m enjoying talking to you, too,” Annabelle said. “And we can keep talking right here, right now. The party’s not ending anytime soon.”
“You sure?” I asked. “I didn’t want to take you away from anything.”
“What, in there?” She scoffed. “I don’t know anyone except for Tom and Irene. And I only know them through my old roommate, and she’s not even here.”
“So I lucked out: I got you all to myself.”
Annabelle smiled. “That could be good or bad. I’m not the most interesting conversationalist.”
“You’ve been interesting so far,” I said. “I’ll let you know when you get dull.”
“Absolutely. In fact, I won’t even say anything: I’ll just nod off to sleep. You’ll get the hint.”
“I’m sure I will,” Annabelle said, nodding. She smiled. “My appreciation knows no bounds.”
I set my beer on the railing. “Seriously, though, can I tell you something? I hope you won’t get offended.”
“I hope I won’t, either. I left the mace in my car.”
“You’ve got the most gorgeous eyes. Seriously. I know I’m probably staring at you, and I don’t mean to, but your eyes are the most beautiful I’ve ever seen. I think I’m lost in them.”
Annabelle looked at me, her mouth partly open. “Well … that’s random.” She grinned. “But thank you.”
She didn’t say anything more. And at that moment I wanted so badly to tuck her hair behind her ear, to lean forward and kiss her, with the neon casinos in the distance and the stars glowing above and the light flooding from the house onto the porch. I wanted to, but I didn’t. I don’t know why. It seemed inappropriate, for one thing: we’d just met, after all — but on the other hand, it seemed like the perfect idea for the same reason.
I rocked on my heels, then stepped back. Annabelle looked at me and smiled.
I swallowed. “I hope that wasn’t a weird thing to say.”
She shook her head. “Not at all. I appreciate it. I really do.”
I think I was saying all the right things, and for that I thank the beer. Like I said earlier, I’m no smooth-talker — I’m a stutterer. Had my friend Brent seen me, I think he would have been proud.
But I shouldn’t trivialize that night: there was more to my eloquence than the beer. Annabelle and I “clicked.” I’d never known that clicking was possible; I thought it happened only in the movies. But some unconscious part of ourselves seemed to recognize we were truly compatible — compatible on a deeper, psychological level — and it was helping to bring us together by removing the emotional barriers: the ones that make connecting so hard.
That night at Irene’s sticks out for two reasons: One, of course, because that’s when I met Annabelle; and two, because I ended up drinking too much and throwing up on Irene’s carpet.
I’m a hearty drinker, but I rarely get so toasted that I lose my lunch. Actually, it wasn’t my lunch I lost: it was my dinner, which had consisted of carne asada tacos with rice and beans.
“Man!” said Tom, Irene’s boyfriend, as he stood over the mess, examining it. “You can see the individual grains of rice. You must have swallowed them whole.”
“Tom!” Irene said.
He frowned. “What? I think it’s cool. Remember when I threw up SpaghettiOs, and they were still round and whole? I never understood that. I mean, I thought I’d chewed them before I swallowed.”
“You’re not helping,” Irene said. “Get some rags and a towel. And help Lyle.”
I was crouching against the wall, holding my head, too dizzy to look at anything. I’d known I was going to puke and had been trying to run out back. I hadn’t even gotten close.
Thankfully, Annabelle was long gone by then, so she didn’t see me puke, though I told her about it later. I was sticking around only because I didn’t want to go home: meeting Annabelle had energized me and had put me in the mood to get down and party. I also was waiting for my cousin, Shep, to come pick me up. Clearly, I was in no condition to drive, and he reluctantly had agreed to tote my sorry butt home.
Tom touched my shoulder. “Dude, Lyle. You OK?”
“Yeah,” I said, rubbing my head. “Sorry about the floor, man. I was trying to get outside.”
“Don’t worry about that.” He hunkered beside me. “Can I get you anything?”
I looked up. “Sure — my dignity would be nice. I’m not sure where I left it.”
Tom grinned. “Sorry, man: can’t help you there. It’s long gone.”
“I thought so.”
“How much did you even drink?”
“A lot,” I said. “I’m going be hurting tomorrow.”
“What’s the deal? I’ve never seen you so smashed.”
I shrugged. “I don’t know. I was feeling really, really good. I wanted the feeling to last, is all. It kept fading, so I kept drinking. You know what I mean?”
“Oh, yeah,” Tom said, chuckling. “Yeah, I get you: You were trying to maintain your buzz.”
“I learned that lesson a long time ago,” Tom said. “Nothing beats the intensity of the first drink. You can try to perpetuate the sensation — and it works, for a while — but eventually, you burn out. It’s impossible to sustain the feeling forever.”
“Apparently,” I said, groaning. Another wave of nausea overtook me. I bowed my head, moaning.
“That’s why you got to take it slow,” Tom said, standing up. “Savor each drink slowly so you don’t overindulge.”
“Sage advice. I think I’m going to hurl again.”
“Tom!” Irene said.
“All right. C’mon.” Tom helped me to my feet and led me outside.
I live for the moments, not for the milestones. That night at Irene’s, though, was a milestone, and one I’ll always cherish. Nothing’s ever beat the excitement, the intensity, of meeting Annabelle for the first time.
And when I’m in the right frame of mind, I can relive that night again and again. I can perpetuate the sensation — I can sustain the feeling forever.