It happens at the mall. I am bored, exhausted by a long, hard day of boredom, which so far has involved trips to every store I know how to drive to without GPS. At the mall I am accosted, as usual, by many men in booths who want to sell something. As usual, my inability to say no inevitably leads me to a poorly cushioned stool in a dimly lit hallway. The man—Kelly, for now—wishes to sell me a hair straightener. I own two hair straighteners already, one exactly like the one in his hand, except that it was accompanied, the night before my junior prom, by a much better sales spiel. Besides, I like my hair curly.
Two days after the last time we speak, I will dye it all pink.
Kelly tells me many times how pretty I am. He tells me many more times how much prettier I am with straight hair. Having failed, at the end of a long and awkward hour, to take any of my money, he settles for taking my phone number instead.
It is, halfway through my twenty-second year of life, the third time I have been asked out. The first two times were by the same boy, agreed to due to the aforementioned inability to say no. Both were immediately followed by a full year with no communication at all, despite the fact that we saw each other on a weekly basis. I am not sure they count.
The third time I give him my number, take a selfie with the straightened hair, and proceed to the next stop on my road trip of boredom. I get lost.
Kelly calls me the next morning, with vague directions to an overpriced organic restaurant on the opposite side of the Cities. I get lost three times, but still manage to sit on the hood of my car in the parking lot, staring down at the faded pavement, for half an hour, before I am summoned to collect him from his house, presumably due to car problems.
Following three more rounds of lostness, we return to the overpriced organic restaurant together, ordering two different breakfast dishes, both of which we share.
I do not know how much food Kelly wants to eat, as well as being put off by the extreme organic-ness, and pick at it slowly. He talks of his desires to kayak, his sister who is a writer, and the prettiness of my still-straightened hair. He tells me that his real name is Alon, and makes insightful comments on the contrast between my confidence in my ideas and lack of confidence in my voice. I am confused when he tries to take my hand beneath the table, and fidget until he explains, smiling, charmed and patronizing. When he suggests a movie, I agree, composing a list in my head of everything in theaters, and contemplating which would be bearable with a guy I barely know. The one with the superheroes, maybe, though I’ve already seen it.
He directs me back to his house, and inability to say no prevailing, I sit quietly on the floor while he fetches sheets from the dryer and remakes the bed. We use my Netflix account to begin a rather stupid movie, and I react with a clinical indifference when he begins to kiss me. The sheets are black, still slightly damp, and the movie still runs in the background. He tastes like Middle Eastern food, even though he just finished a plate of organic whole wheat five grain gluten free sugar free pancakes. With syrup.
I allow the dampness of his mouth, slightly unpleasant, on my mouth and various other areas, noting that its placement on my neck produces a tingling sensation. When I do not react properly, he coaches me, slowly and gently, through the monumental task of opening my mouth when his tongue approaches, then pushing my own against it. This leads to more dampness, and the tingling is gone.
Having confirmed for the third time that I am not cold, he finally coaxes me into removing my jean jacket. I am concerned for a moment about the pocket knife I can no longer reach, stolen from my little brother, dropped in my deepest pocket at the insistence of my roommate. But I will not need it. When I become visibly uncomfortable he stops. We spend a confused few minutes actually watching the movie, until my parents call wondering where I am. I take the opportunity to escape. He does not call again.
Six weeks later I will see him at the mall again, his ponytail gone, smiling seductively at a girl who looks troublingly young, clutching a new hair straightener to her chest, blushing and giggling. He asks if I want to buy a hair straightener. Shaking my head, I walk around the corner. I wait until I’m out of sight to sit down on a bench, laughing hysterically.