She swings her right leg over her left to cross them at the knee, knocking an empty beer bottle beneath my patio’s railing and off of its edge. Kate gasps, and we both lean forward in our chairs to watch it not fall neck over barrel toward the street’s pavement, but in a graceful, near-motionless swan dive. It smashes on the curb of the sidewalk, green glass spraying out in a perfect circumference.
“Oh, shit!” Kate says, but I am laughing, the neighborhood dogs barking. When I look at her, she has both of her ears covered with her palms, her lips parted. “I think some shards hit that car.”
“No,” I say, “no they didn’t.” But I don’t know.
She moves as though to get up from her chair, but I hold a hand out. I say, “It’s late. I’ll do it tomorrow.” But what I mean is that I will kick the tiny pieces to the sandy side of the curb and pick up only the larger ones from the street, the ones that could puncture the tires of a car or bicycle, and throw them in the dumpster. And this because I am a good tenant, not because I like my landlord in all of his greasy-haired creepiness, opening my apartment door early on Saturday mornings with his heavy keychain of master keys to fix my garbage disposer with his old paint-chipped broomstick, when I am not the one who has called him for repairs. But from the sound of the smash, there will not be very many to throw away.
Kate says, “Well, I need to get more beer anyway.”
She leaves me alone on the patio and I listen as she walks across my living room, bare feet on hardwood, the suction of the refrigerator’s door opening.
I say, “I have no beer.”
Kate says, “You have no beer.”
I get up to face the interior of my apartment, my nose pressing gently against the screen door. “If you look in the cabinet to the left of the sink, you’ll find some vodka,” I say.
“No, I can’t drink vodka after that beer,” Kate says, but I hear her anyway opening the cabinet’s door.
“Try it,” I say.
“No, please,” she says, and then a tired, lazy chuckle. But I hear movement on wood and then the door closing, another opening and then the sound of glasses clinking together. “I can’t do beer and vodka in anything close to a pretty way.”
Then Kate is walking back to my patio, the front of her dress a mess with creases from her stomach down. My bookcase catches her attention and she keeps her eyes on it, its pictures, its messy shelves of paperbacks lying in every possible direction. She holds the only two glasses I use for orange juice or for water at my bedside when I am sick. In her other hand, she holds the bottle of vodka. It is vanilla flavored. Kate says to me, holding it up to show me its label, her eyes again on me, standing behind my screen door. “I didn’t think you were the type.”
I say, “It was a gift.”
“Vanilla vodka is a gift?” she says, pushing the door open with a free pinky finger. “You must have been real, real bad to receive a gift so cruel. Now move.”
I step aside to let her out. With the bottle hand, she closes the screen behind her, and with the cups hand, she pushes her thumb against my chest, over my heart, her eyes on mine. She maneuvers me back into my chair and when I sit, she smiles.
Kate says, “I think you should meet Marianne. You should take her out.” She is back again with her legs out before me, crossed at the ankle.
I take the glass she offers me, hold it up while she unscrews the bottle’s cap and pours the vodka until I say, “Enough.”
I say, “You want me to date your niece?”
Kate presses her empty glass to her thigh, the bottle hanging loose from her other hand on the opposite side of her chair. She gives me a cool look, unamused. But there is a warmth, an intensity, in her eyes when she says, “No, not date,” that makes my heart beat in a way that catches my attention, that makes me think, I need to watch that.
“I was thinking more of a meeting up of sorts. I don’t think she has many friends like you.” Kate is pouring herself a glass now, then slumps to her right to place the bottle behind her chair, away from her feet. I watch the strap move from her shoulder to her upper arm, the fabric from the front of her dress moving away from her breasts, but I bring my attention to her feet, pointed and crossed in a messy x. “And I think she needs one.”
I am laughing, bringing the glass up toward my face until I smell the liquor and then lower it again to my lap. I say, “And what is Marianne going to think of this, you handpicking her new friends?”
Kate drinks then licks the sweetness from her lips.
I say, “Of all the things you could have said to me tonight, I would not have wanted to pull this one from your bag.”
“You don’t trust me?”
With the glass tucked between my thighs, I slide lower in my chair, bringing my hands to my face with my laugh sounding just as tired as hers did. I say, “It’s not trust, Kate. It’s not.”
“Then do you not want this?” When she speaks, her voice is drowsy, but stilted in the way that only drunk people can do.
I am being intentionally difficult, this beer helping my sudden switch from giddy to stubborn. I say, “Want what.”
But then she is moving, legs off the banister and planted firmly in front of her, hands pushing up on the arms of her chair. She says, “I should really get home, yeah?”
A shift in mood again and I am up and standing before her, blocking the path from her chair to the screen door. I still hold my vodka and this surprises me, but not as much as my other hand that I find on her waist, keeping her from moving any further toward my front door. The way she watches me makes me think that I am smiling unnecessarily large, so I clear my throat and say, “We’ve been drinking all night.”
She doesn’t speak. She only watches me, leaning into my hand so that there is more of her there now, skin and heat beneath that red fabric.
“You can’t. You can’t drive home.”
She pulls again at the strap that has found its way from her shoulder, then takes my hand from her side, squeezes and holds. The pressure, the tightness, makes me uncomfortable so that I am moving my arm away, but she holds firm, placing it back against her body, but higher this time. She says, “You really want me to?”
I say, “Yes. I really do.”
This is the night Kate and I start our waiting game.