I knew it was her ahead of me, even without seeing her face. She already looked different than I had expected, her gait was a wide-legged jaunt, like a lad’s, and her coat reached largely over and around her, eradicating any curves that may be hidden beneath it, but the tuft of brown curly hair from her photos showed over the top of her head to identify her. She was walking in the right direction, towards our rendezvous point, and I imagined turning into the place ten seconds behind her and feigning ignorance and laying on the charm. I was already running simulations on how to configure my face for the occasion.
Then she turned. My clopping block-heels had given me away, and she turned to see me, mouth agape. I had just noticed a sewing superstore across the street, closed now but still promising a world of bolts and notions and possible projects. I was enchanted by it, making a mental note to walk back this way and wander in, and I forgot myself for a moment. And so that is how she first saw me.
“Oh hey, it is you,” she said cheerily, in a tenor, even-toned voice that filled me with a strange sort of relief, the kind you don’t realize you’re waiting for on a first date until you feel it. “I just got off the bus there, and I saw your shadow behind me, thought it might be you.”
In response I muttered something about the sewing superstore discovery. I was charm itself.
But then the awkward moment of meeting was over. I was looking slightly upwards at her and her bright smile, her naturally straight row of teeth with slightly protruding canines, her low-hung eyelids behind clear glasses frames, her smooth, makeup-less face. She was wrapped up in an army green winter jacket that seemed to float around her frame, and I wondered what she saw when she looked at me. Was my hair still in place? Did I apply my lip colour too thickly? Couldn’t I have thought of a better first line?
I wish I could recall what we talked about. Everything and nothing. The sort of talk that puts things in motion, the sort of talk that brings two people together.
She picked out a place for us to sit in The Amnesia Lounge, and when they brought out our tobacco, we smoked like chimneys and felt out each other’s personalities. She was dressed in a plain maroon t-shirt and black skinny jeans with a lone chain necklace hung low down her chest, her athletic body bent to one side in the chair across from me, and together her plain clothes and posture were wholly disarming. She sat with her legs apart, elbows hung loosely over her knees, and I knew, even as I made my judgements on how different she looked from her photos, how much they failed to capture her air and style, that I liked her. She had a gentle beauty woven into the slopes of her face, and her hair was just thick enough to take on shape and frame her well, just thin enough to slip through my fingers with ease. It’s one of the first things I tend to notice: how nicely my hands will fit in their hair, one of the first telltale signs I’m interested. She was more boyish than any of the women I’d been with to before, though she had that nonchalant grunge, the air of idealism, the hint of cleverness in her eyes that I craved most in a woman. Her accent was mostly East Midlands, though I wouldn’t know this until much later; talking to her amused me immensely, and I felt my tongue playing tricks, bending into shape around her words with surprising ease as my empathetic nature began, even more speedily than normal, to imitate her.
“What’s ‘Jules’ short for, anything?” I asked, chuckling to myself. In our message stream we had both poked fun at the similarity of our names to one another. She wasn’t the first variant of ‘Juliette’ I had come across while swiping, but she was the first I met in the flesh. Now, looking at her, it was easy to forget; she and I looked nothing alike. But every time I went to put a name to the face, the fact was there, like a joke, like the only joke you can think to tell at parties, something that sits in the back of your mind with a self-satisfied smile on its face.
She shrugged. “No, not really. Not anything. At the time, my parents hadn’t heard of anyone else with the name, and they just liked it. Same with my sister Christie.”
The Amnesia Lounge’s whole face opened to the outdoors to release the clouds of smoke that billowed up from every table. Heating lamps hung their heads over every other bench, keeping the winter chill at bay. I watched her blow out a tidal wave of smoke when she exhaled and I willed my lungs to match her pace. We smoked endlessly, or so it felt, trading pulls from our plastic cones while the bong gurgled happily beneath us and our wary inhibitions slipped away like old skins. We grew comfortable. And I wish I could recall what we talked about. Everything and nothing. The sort of talk that puts things in motion, the sort of talk that brings two people together.
She slipped onto the couch next to me and annihilated any defences I may have had hastily thrown up.
“Is there room over there? I’m a bit chilly actually,” she said, jerking her chin at the spot on my small couch where my coat lay bunched up. I was warm beneath the heater that loomed lovingly over me, but I noticed her chair was getting no warmth where it was. I felt my body tense, the rigidity of restraint issuing silent warnings to my every extremity, but I pulled my coat across my lap and welcomed her over, and her warm hips sank into the shallow cushion on my left. The sides of our bodies aligned from hip to shoulder like lovers. I took this as The Move, and it was terrifying as fuck, because once she’d done it, I had to admit to myself how good it felt.
I would tell her later why I had grown rigid and awkward, about the reckless romantic in me that had to be reigned in by discipline, the one who liked to touch and feel too much and so was kept inside the shell of a woman who avoided contact like the plague. I’d say all this in a shockingly short amount of time. I’d fall for her in even less.
What I didn’t tell her but told Lorin from the first was exactly how defenceless I was when I met her. That sort of defencelessness has been a worry of mine since I was wise enough to really know myself. When I met Ozzy and again when I met Lorin, I was careful; I was a woman who had loved much and loved often and was wary of how much of myself I might give in the name of love. I was trying to preserve myself from one-sided affection, from the heartbreak of spoiling someone who didn’t have it in them to do the same back. Falling in love with both men had been an exercise in breaking down my barriers, which happened, I think, at a rate that allowed me time to consciously remove each piece that stood between me and them. Flora, the girlfriend before Jules, received the same treatment from me. But at the time Jules lured me in that hookah lounge, I was well without my “walls” as I called them. Flora was gone, and I was in the midst of dissertation hell, hustling to shell out a final major project I had started too late and for which the stakes were too high. Lorin, the love of my summer, was a new father and was nearly completely taken over by his new family and persistent money woes, and so effectively gone from my life. I was worn out and emotionally raw. And then she came along. She slipped onto the couch next to me and annihilated any defences I may have had hastily thrown up.
Who can say what it was, the way she smiled at me or the way I made her laugh, the name we shared or the ease with which we smoked together or the fact that our accents intrigued one another, that our tongues were drawn to each other like magnets. After three hours the lounge was closing and we needed to call it a night, ready or not. The sign on the counter that we hadn’t seen read “Cash Only,” and we begged the staff for the chance to fetch cash from the nearest cash point, smiling our trustworthy smiles, flashing our apologetic eyes. Perhaps we should have run for it then, when they let us go and fetch the funds. A light rain had started to fall and Jules dug an umbrella from her bag, and so we walked to the cash point arm in arm.
Something tweaked in the back of my chest, some old twinge that worried too much.
She was seeing another woman, she would tell me on our second date. In fact, at the time of our first meeting, she had just come from her house, was carrying in her backpack her clothes from the night before. That was alright; I had a husband at home after all. Though something tweaked in the back of my chest when she told me, some old twinge that worried too much. What did she look like? Was she more interesting? What things was she better at? Was I enough?
The rain was falling harder as we walked back, and I was shivering a little without the heat lamp to warm me, but she was near enough to me that I could smell the light, milky scent of her. I must have said something amusing, because I had her doubled over with laughter by the time we turned back into the lounge with the cash we owed. My heart sank down a notch as we made our way out again. The lovely adventure was at its end.
“Can I kiss you?” she asked as we parted ways. The feeling inside of me was round and warm and jittery. “Next time,” I promised shyly, too aware of the smoke on my breath, the sweat on my palms. She said, “Yeah, please,” in a voice so sweet and desirous that my smile split my face in two.
I arrived back home with a grin that could light cities.
“She’s very pretty,” I found myself telling Ozzy when I arrived back home, shaking rain from my hair with a grin that could light cities. “Like, naturally pretty. And there’s something about her face when she laughs, like all of her features participate; her face looks like the face of happiness.” He smiled with genuine gladness. “So you think you’ll see her again?”
After Christmas and once we were sleeping three to the bed at my place, she and I counted back to how long we’d known each other, and our best guess was about seven weeks. For someone who likes honesty, I am surprised from time to time by the amount of things I tell myself not to say, most of them kept secret in an effort to protect the other person from myself. By Christmas Day, however, there was really only one thing I was protecting Jules from; I had already been protecting her from it for weeks. I fucking loved that woman with reckless abandon. Fortunately for me, I was wrong that first night: it wasn’t an ending. It was a new beginning.
No Glossary this time…
Just happy memories. As I sit here listening to the sound of Jules’ steady breathing, it’s lovely to recall how beautiful it was just to be around her from the very first. We traded favourite music artists and crackpot theories, silly jokes and date ideas. We also spoke volumes every day, sending each other walls of text messages with a “Read More” button at their foot. For the first couple weeks we had dates every couple days, one of which was our little American-style Thanksgiving gathering, where she met Ozzy for the first time. But soon I began to amuse myself with how many days we had managed to see each other without breaking the streak. We got up to 28 days in a month before I stopped counting…
It’s almost enough to say I felt then—and feel now—fortunate just to know her, but the real miracle is that I was available to meet her in the first place. Still a newlywed, I was at a delightful time in my life, and yet I was in the midst of a myriad of emotions, brought on by the pressures of my degree and worries for my future, love for my city and anxiety over my visa, closeness with my friends and the immanence of their departure back to the states. And with Flora gone, a part of me ached to fill a void I could not describe. Ozzy knew I needed it, and he would listen to me tell him about the women I was chatting with. Not for the first time, our openness was a relief for me, a blessing that brought more light and wealth to my life.