Slightly Untuned – Part 2
After a couple of seconds, Leon dared to look in her direction again. Susan: why did he think about that name? Did he really know that girl? He couldn’t recall.
He looked at her from afar. The floor just below the stage seemed to be her natural environment: she danced, jumped, threw her head and body back and forth, right and left careless of the bruises she was surely gaining with her performance.
There, among the other people, with the loud music feeling her to the core, the girl was evidently in her element.
A push from the side remembered him he was still in the middle of the chaos, and the song had not come to an end. Then he got caught again by the rhythm, the music, the moshing, and he forgot about the girl on the other side of the hall.
When the concert finished, Leon took some time to try to find his two friends, without success. Tim and Sean had disappeared somewhere, and the only thing it seemed he could do was waiting for them. Tim, in fact, was the one with the car. He hoped he wasn’t sleeping somewhere drunk, or worse, stoned.
After a couple of minutes wandering, he decided the best place to wait for them was the bar. They would have come back there, especially if they were still hunting for girls.
He ordered another Vodka Lemon, sat on a barstool and turned around to face the slowly emptying hall. The Big See was going to be open until late night, but after the concert had finished, most of the people had decided to leave.
Sitting on what seemed to be a speaker just below the stage, he noticed the girl he had seen before. Again, the name “Susan” blazed in his mind, and again he found no evidence of her in his memories.
The girl had her face buried in her palms. He couldn’t say if she was crying or sleeping. She wasn’t moving, though. Was it because of the alcohol’s help or was it just out of curiosity, Leon courageously covered the distance that separated them until he stood right before her. The low lights and the artificial smoke still hanging in the air still wouldn’t allow him to see her properly. He coughed, and when he got no response from the girl he tried to speak.
“Hey, are you OK?”
Again, the girl didn’t move. He poked her shoulder with a finger, asking again.
“Hey, Susan, are you OK?”
At the name, the girl lifted her head, tilted it just a little to the left and looked up to him. In her eyes, Leon could see she was trying to recognize him.
“I’m OK, thanks. Do we know each other?”
Leon realized he had called her ‘Susan’, without actually knowing if it was her real name.
“No, sorry, I thought I knew you, but I must have gotten the wrong person. By the way, I’m Leon, do you need any help?”
“Nooo, I don’t… wait,” her eyes illuminated when she heard his name, as she remembered who he was. “Leon? Leon Peeeensh?” She said with the voice of someone who had drunk a little too much.
This time it was his turn to be dumbfounded. She had definitely said “Pence”: how could that girl know his name, too? But it took just a couple of seconds for his memories to arise. It was her voice: he remembered it perfectly. Susan, the girl who used to live on the same floor as him, during his last college year. They had been at parties together with other college mates, and they had spoken each other a couple of times. How could she remember his surname? He wondered.
The girl in front of him, anyway, wasn’t the introvert, simple girl that used – like him – to be literally dragged to those parties. The once blonde, thin girl wasn’t that thin anymore, and her hair was in a strange shade of light blue. Her face was slightly rounder, but her eyes and lips were the same as before: happy, and yet in a way melancholic. Just, he had never seen her wearing makeup before, and right now she was almost unrecognizable because of it. It felt like knowing and not-knowing her at the same time.
She stood up and had to support herself on the arm that Leon promptly gave her, not to fall down again.
“I… looking fo’ a friend. What ‘boutyou?”
She wasn’t actually in the state she could explain herself properly, he had understood that already, so Leon proposed to move to somewhere where she could sit.
“And I bet you couldn’t find them. But they’ll not find you either if you sit in the shadows… let’s go sit by the bar, will you?”
She didn’t answer but didn’t oppose any resistance when he tried to pull her across the hall. They eventually arrived close to the bar, and she managed to sit on a barstool.
“A coke, please, with lemon and ice,” he asked the barman. He had read somewhere that coke was helpful in such situations, but he wasn’t actually sure about it. He had never been drunk in his entire life. Apart from that only time, years before, when he had ended up throwing up everything he had drunk -w and supposedly eaten in- the previous twelve hours. And at the time, there was no coke around to help him.
Susan sipped the cold coke slowly. She didn’t speak for some minutes, as her mind cleared, and didn’t even looked away from the glass she was holding with what seemed to Leon like an incredible effort.
“T-t-thanksh,” she said at some point. At least, Leon thought, she was aware of her situation.
“So, who are you waiting for?”
Strangely, since she was actually someone he already knew, he found easy to speak with her.
“My… my two friends,” she managed to say, with difficulty.
“I see. Well, I’m sure they’ll eventually find you if you stay here at the bar. And I can keep you company if you don’t mind. I’m actually stuck here too because my friends disappeared and… well, they are the one with the car keys.”
He laughed, thinking it was somehow funny, but the girl probably didn’t get it. An awkward silence fell between them until he changed the subject.
“Anyway, how could you even recall my surname? I also saw you as you were dancing before, and I recalled your name but… I couldn’t recognize you properly. And yet you even remember my surname, after so many years?”
“I… Hooow cou’d I foogget the man I looosht my virginity to?”
Leon had to make a huge effort not to burst in a loud laugh in front of her. She was absolutely not herself, and she didn’t know what she was speaking about. He would for sure remember if he had fucked that woman. Especially if she was a virgin at the time: he had never been with any virgin and he had often, secretly, hoped to try one.
She had emptied the glass already, and as the barman passed by, she stopped him and asked for a Cuba Libre. Leon was quick to correct her order.
“I think another coke would be just fine, please,” he said referring to the barman, then continued to speak to Susan. “Only coke for you, from now on, OK?”
“Oh, yeshh… I’m shhhhure it ish a fuuuuuulfilling night, if I get ooooonly cock, right?”
Leon didn’t laugh at her joke. He had never liked girls with the habit of getting drunk, and he wasn’t liking this girl’s behaviour either. He was actually feeling a little embarrassed being there, kind of forced to stay at her side. He looked around, hoping nobody was seeing them. The hall, anyway, was almost empty and the few people remaining were either drunk too, or technicians working to dismantle the stage.
He decided not to say a thing anymore and quietly waited for his friends to arrive, occasionally checking his smartphone for either trying to contact them – or feigning to.
It took them around an hour to arrive. Leon was still there, looking after Susan without actually speaking to her. Even if in the meantime she had clearly gotten better: she could already sit on the barstool without risking to fall down, indeed.
To his utter surprise, anyway, his friends didn’t arrive alone. They were walking side by side with a girl each, holding their hands as if they were already intimate, and smiling so much they either had drunk a lot or had managed to actually do something with those girls. Or maybe both, Leon thought.
When they arrived at the bar, anyway, there was another surprise waiting for him. The two girls were actually the two friends Susan had been waiting for all the time.
“Hi Susan,” one of the girls said, referring to her, “Happy to see you’re having fun too! Sorry we had you waiting…”
“Actually-” Tim started – but was soon interrupted by the girl next to him, that continued speaking.
“Think you could bring him home? We are going to still… ehm… hang out with them for some time. So maybe you could give him a lift?” The second girl intervened.
It was clear to Leon, that his friends had hit the jackpot that night and had no intention of letting the chance escape under their nose. They had for sure spoke already about how to get rid of Leon and, probably after having seen him and Susan at the bar from afar, they had decided to take advantage of the situation.
Leon was speechless, and Sean seemed to notice his uncertainty because he dragged him away, before whispering in his ears.
“Hey man, you ain’t gonna ruin our night, right? You’ll manage it, and who knows you may get lucky and get laid too. She’s a pretty girl!” He said, nudging Leon with his elbow while nodding to Susan, still sitting on the barstool.
She was discussing with one of her friends too but, after a while, they stopped talking and separated. Susan seemed disappointed, while the friend speaking with her seemed to be exasperated. The other girl was already slowly walking away as if she had decided long before what was going to happen.
The two couples indeed left the hall like that. Hand-in-hand, laughing and flirting. Leon could imagine how their night was going to end and, in some way, envied them. He hadn’t gone there to flirt, but for a change that would have been good to try.
And yet he was there, stuck with a girl he could have probably liked, but not in her current state.
Leon didn’t live too far from the club. Walking a couple of kilometres in the city was not going to be an issue, and it wouldn’t even be the first time he’d do it. On the other hand, he didn’t feel like leaving the girl alone. It was late night already, the hall was going to close soon, and Susan – even if not completely drunk anymore – was not fit to drive him home, or to drive herself home either.
He sighed, as he understood what he had to do.
“Hey,” he said, touching her gently on her shoulder to catch her attention, “Susan, what do you think if I drive you home? You understand you can’t drive, right?”
She looked at me. In that moment, the main lights of the hall turned on, and Leon looked at her hair, light blonde as they had always used to be. He smiled: he must have been drunk too – he thought – not to notice the blue was due to the hall lights.
She seemed to forget what was going to say – as if her priorities had suddenly changed.
“Am I still in such a state, that I make you laugh?”
“Wha… No, of course, no, please, I wasn’t laughing at you. Hey… it’s not a problem, let’s go out and get some fresh air, then we’ll see…”
He realized he had no way out of it, with a girl in such state, so decided to change the topic. They didn’t speak much, anyway, as they got their jackets at the wardrobe and went out in the chilly night.
“Where’s your car?”
Maybe, Leon though, the best tactic was to act as if the fact he was going to drive her home, had already been decided. She didn’t complain, though, and she grabbed his arm as they walked through the parking lot until they reached her car.
He opened the passenger door of the small, red Mazda 2, and waited for Susan to sit on her seat, then entered on the driver’s side.
“So, what’s the address?”
Leon knew that Susan wasn’t completely drunk anymore already. He had seen his friends in such a state more times he could count, he knew how it worked. And yet she wasn’t speaking much. But she promptly answered his question, and after a couple of seconds, they were already driving in the empty, dark street of the town.
“I’m feeling cold,” it was the first thing she said.
“Are you feeling well? It’s not that cold tonight,” Leon said, actually worrying a little, and doing so he instinctively grabbed her hand to feel it. She was, indeed, very cold, but as soon as he realized what he was doing he hurried to retract his hand and continued to drive, keeping silent.
It was only a couple of minutes afterwards that, as he lay his hand on the gear stick again, he felt her hand over his, and after he had finished shifting the gear she simply brought it to rest on her leg, covered by her own.
“You are warm… it feels good.”
Leon wondered if she was referring to the feeling of his warm hand under her cold one, or over her naked leg.