It was getting ridiculously easy, picking them out of a crowd. While walking down the street, or sitting at the beach -- even in line at Trader Joe's. She saw them often enough, these boys. And there was a definite pattern developing. Of course, there were anomalies, as there were bound to be in all studies. But the general rule was as follows: tall, unbelievably lean, closely cropped hair, an easy smile, and a face worth killing for. Well, even if not worth killing for, at least worth contemplating some serious aggravated assaults.
What the boys were actually like, how they spent their time, what they had studied in school, their dreams and ambitions -- these things didn't matter as much, and so she could sense no patterns. Most of them were at least casually athletic and artistically gifted in some way, intelligent and contemplative, but that was more of an indication of the places she spent her time and the social circles that she frequented, and less of an indicator of her taste.
Her taste, to be honest, had developed to favor characteristics that were increasingly specific and seemingly random, even to her: long lean fingers, a loud and confident laugh, a lack of nervousness in the presence of silence, and, most importantly, the energy, ambition and self-assure to do almost all of the courting, even in the face of what seemed to be unfailing indifference.
Her friends were beginning to get suspicious. They cast narrowed looks at her from across tables in crowded bars and spoke loudly in public bathrooms.
"No seriously," they would say, while fixing their lipstick with long fingers that were tipped with chipped black polish, "What's your secret? You don't even try."
She would only stare back at her own reflection and smile casually while running her tongue over her slightly crooked teeth. "I don't know, dude." A shrug of the shoulders and the subject was temporarily dropped.
Her real friends, the one that had known her for longer than the summer, weren't suspicious. They were smarter, knew her better, and they were worried. They saw her cloak of indifference, her mask of cynicism, her boredom. They saw these things easily, so trained were their eyes to her particular brand of sorrow.
The weights which she carried, tucked behind caustic remarks and a half smile, drew these boys almost as easily as she spotted them. But still, she would be lying if she said it didn't take effort. It was a balancing act, after all. Talk just enough to determine their general competence, their lack of a demeaning attitude toward women, find a few common key interests, and it was a done deal. But talk too much and stark differences in political or religious ideologies, or a love of Tim McGraw and reality TV might be revealed, and then it was almost certainly too late. She may have been veering towards a cliff of self-destruction, but a girl needed to have standards.
But the absolute worst situation was when, upon having a conversation, she found herself genuinely interested in the boy standing before her. When she felt herself involuntarily leaning towards him, when she laughed effortlessly and felt, somewhere inside of her, something stirring. These situations, although rare, left her shaken and confused.
She still remembered, so distinctly, the night of the first dance party of the summer that she had spent in the mountains. The poorly tattooed boy with the cuffed jeans and loud laugh, who she had had her eye on since arriving in town the prior weekend, had approached her early on, a beer in his hand, goofy grin on his face. At first, things had been going well. He had talked to her extensively about the inane details of his life and she had smiled politely while paying more attention to the conversation a group of friends were having behind them than to the words coming out of his mouth. Then, stopping only to relieve himself and to grab more to drink, he had transitioned without fear into a monologue about his desire to pursue a more serious relationship.
"I mean, I used to be a terrible boyfriend. And it's hard here, in such a small community," he said, leaning down and smiling stupidly at her. She herself couldn't help but smile in the face of such ignorant confidence. It was contagious. "I was so young when I got here. But I really want to be better now. I'm ready to commit to someone."
She had only laughed and nodded, wondering if women actually bought into such an obviously contrived speech, despite the boy's pretty face and lean body.
"Save your breath," she had wanted to tell him. "You don't have to sell me anything."
But then his smile had disappeared, and he had touched her, swaying slightly as he reached his hand out, on her forearm. "But can I say something?"
She had held her smile, a little pathetically, as she had nodded, all attention on him now. "I think I stopped feeling a long time ago. And I'm not sure I know how to now. I think that maybe," he paused, and she felt his grip tighten on her arm, "Maybe I've forgotten how."
Her smile had left her face, and they had stood, their eyes on each other, absolutely quiet. But then a bystander had nearly fallen into him and he had nearly fallen into her -- the moment had disappeared, and with it, his earnestness. Once again, he began to smile stupidly at her and attempted, in a drunken manner, to put his arm around her. But, despite how endearingly his eyes crinkled, half-closed, when he was drunk and smiling, she could not shake that moment. She could not forgot the sadness and recognition in his eyes as he had whispered to her.
So she had merely smiled and patted him on the shoulder. "Thanks for the talk," she had said, backing away and ignoring his confused look. "I feel like I know you much better now." And she had walked home, down the empty mountain road and to her room, where she had sat in the dark, and wondered about the boy for a long, long time.
The next day, he had come to sit with her, at a picnic table in the sun, while she had sat and tried to untangle a ball of yarn.
Casually, she had mentioned the party, looking at him from the corner of her eye as he rolled a cigarette in his long fingers. "Did you have a good time?"
He had thought for a moment and then laughed, "Yeah, I think so. I remember talking to you for a long time, but I don't remember details. Sorry."
And she had let out a breath she hadn't realized she had been holding, both relieved and disappointed at the same time. "No, it's cool. It was stupid, anyway."
He had looked at her while pulling a lighter out of his pocket, "Are you sure something didn't happen? Because I get the feeling you hate me."
She had only tried not to look at his eyes, crinkled and half-closed in the bright sun, as she said, "I don't hate you. I don't even know you."
And she smiled at him briefly before going back to her yarn, trying hard to forget, as they had both chosen to forget so many other things, the memory of that night.