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I Know What It's Like

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I hadn't planned on attending the Halloween party. I got enough of dressing up in my theater program. Spirit gum rashes, clogged pores from stage makeup, sweaty costumes that never got washed enough – that was what I thought of when I thought of dressing up.

In the end, I slapped on a beret and a black turtleneck, left on my jeans and Converse sneakers, and went to the party as a random French guy. I thought it worked. So did everyone else, and a few beers down, no one cared.

I was sitting on some cushions in the corner, holding forth on philosophy and the history of Elizabethan drama – as you do – when I saw her. She was flitting from group to group in the house, dancing to the music playing in the background in between. Her eyes were blackened with kohl like some kind of silent film star – Ziegfield's Gothic Follies. Her black bob matched that 20s look. She had on a black dress that shimmered when she moved, and, of course, matching black tights and black bat wings. No shoes, though, and I thought that was cute. I thought she was cute. No, not just cute. Stunning. She stopped and turned to face me, as if she knew I'd been watching her, and she beamed at me.

Until that point, I'd never known what that phrase truly meant. I mean, her face, literally, lit up. If she was a Goth, she'd probably be excommunicated for that show of pure joy.

Then, before I knew it, she was crouched down before me. She leaned in and kissed me. It was not a chaste kiss. Her tongue slid past my unsuspecting lips, and I tasted cloves and chocolate. She pulled away as I reached for her, and with an impish grin, she whispered in my ear.

"I know what it's like to be dead."

Then she stood, and she disappeared into the crowd.

"Hey, man," said my friend Dirk, "Compelling women to kiss you with your mere gaze. You must be French. "

I shook my head, wondering if I should go after her. "Maybe."

In the end, I decided to stay put. It was just a random party thing, and despite my ability to do just about anything on stage, I was ridiculously shy when it came to chasing girls. I chalked it up to a happy accident and went to the kitchen for another Fosters. I did look for her, but I didn't see her again that night.

I didn't forget her, though. I watched for her on campus, thinking she might be a student. I was hoping for that, actually. I thought of her as Theda, after Theda Bera, the dark-eyed femme fatale from the first days of Hollywood. Theda, the dark fairy, the petite Goth girl with the brilliant smile who knew what it was like to be dead.

It wasn't until finals week that I saw her again. I was deep in the stacks in one of the less frequented sections of the library. I heard a sniffling a few aisles down so I went to investigate. I care about people. I really do. I might be shy, but if someone's hurting, I'll at least offer my help.

She was sitting on the floor, her knees drawn up to her chin. Her hair had a purple sheen to it, and it twigged out in a much more free form style than at the party. I imagined she'd be wearing glossy black when I saw her again, but she was in old denim coveralls and a baggy forest green sweater. The coveralls were splattered with paint.

"Hey," I said. "You okay?"

She looked up, and I saw the surprise on her face. I couldn't tell if she recognized me, and I wasn't going to make her feel weird by mentioning the party. She wiped her eyes with the sleeve of her sweater. For a moment, she said nothing. But then she said, "No. I am seriously not okay."

I sat down beside her, my back against the shelf. "Can I help?" I wanted to. Not because I'd been thinking about her or because she kissed me one night at a party. She looked really upset.

"Just- I know what it is to be sad, you know? I mean, I know. But it takes me by surprise every time." She sniffled again, and then the floodgates opened. I put my arm around her shoulders. She tucked her head against my shoulder and cried like there was no tomorrow. This didn't bother me. I am a nice guy in an intense theater program; I was used to emotions boiling over and lending an ear and a shoulder. Hell, I'd borrowed others' a time or two, too.

Her sobs subsided after a few more minutes, but I didn't move. I couldn't leave now.

"Sorry I lost it," she finally said. "I usually don't break down like that."

"We all have our moments."

"I guess so. Still it's embarrassing to have them in front of you."

I must have looked like I'd been hit upside the head by the confusion stick, because she managed a smile. "I know who you are, Robert. I've only seen every play you've been in."

"Oh, yeah?" This was different. She was- a fan? Okay.

"What can I say," she deadpanned in a tone that strongly dismissed me of any fangirl fantasy. "I'm a fan of the theatre."

I smiled. "So you know me, but I have no idea who you are. …Oh, God, that sounded horrible, didn't it?"

"It's okay. I'm Clementine."

"No, seriously, what's your name?" I grinned. Theda wasn't so far off after all.

She whacked my arm, but not very hard. "I'm named for my grandmother, and I am very proud of that fact, thank you very much."

"It's a great name," I said. "Unique." My arm was still around her, and I didn't want to take it away. I wanted to know more about Clementine. I wanted to find out what had made her cry, what made her tick, why she'd kissed me that night, but all I could come up with was the classic, "So what's your major?"

"I'm a business major." Once she saw yet another look of bafflement on my face, she grinned and said, "I'm in the art program. Visual art, mostly, but I like multimedia and art history, too."

"My minor's in theater history," I offered, and then I realized that the floor was pretty damn uncomfortable. I also realized that finals be damned, I wanted to spend some significant time with this girl. I wanted to see her beam again, and if it wasn't tonight, then I could wait.

"You want to go get some coffee?"

She wiped her eyes once more. "Yeah. I'd like that."

We got up and made our way to the elevators. I couldn't help notice that we walked closely enough for our backpacks to softly bump together as they swayed.

"So do you really know what it's like to be dead?" I asked her as the elevator door closed.

She covered her face in mock embarrassment. At least, I hoped it was mock embarrassment. "I'd hoped you didn't remember."

"Hey, I'm an actor. If you need me to be an amnesiac, I'm there."

She chuckled and pulled her hands away. "If you want to remember, I'm game."

We walked in silence once we hit the main lobby, but as we stepped into the quad, she said, "If I didn't know what it was like to be dead that night, I damn sure did by the next morning."

We both laughed, and I was thrilled to see her expression slip one step closer to beaming.