Turner told me I was adorable and had great boobs. This made me like him more. Too much more.
We went to brunch at Balthazar on a summer afternoon, and with mild food coma, we slugged our way out its doors, stalling outside the entranceway. We had to choose a direction. I stood looking at the small shop next door, a window of confections and crusty breads with white powdered tops. I was sated, but it didn’t stop me from looking. I suppose it’s the way we all feel sometimes, just not only about food.
In the reflection of the window, I saw him checking out my ass. I liked that he did. Behind both our behinds were the tourists, running their fingers along tables of knock-off sunglasses and plastic beaded jewelry. Something about the light that day felt more like winter. I expected gloves and ski caps. I heard one woman ask her companion what she thought and assumed she was holding up a necklace of buttons or wire-backed earrings made of stones she took to be semi-precious instead of wholly-horrendous. But when I turned around, I realized the voice was coming from another table.
The vendor beside the knock-off jokes was selling artistic prints, Polaroids, smeared and exposed onto watercolor paper. The woman who ran the booth, mid-thirty with brown hair mid-way down her back, had a foreign flat look to her. German, I thought. Hungarian, maybe. Pretty, certainly, especially in that boho, I like to drink tea and wear things braided and made of wool, kind of way. She was posing tourists in the street, directing three brothers to look at their mother, while the mother looked straight into the lens. The young woman took four shots with an old-school Polaroid camera that resembled a miniature accordion, then hurried to her station.
As she ripped the Polaroids apart, before they had time to develop, I pulled Turner to the table with me. "Let’s see," I said. We fingered through boxes of $5 prints: window sills, flowers, a blue bowl filled with pomegranates. "Aren’t these beautiful?" They really are he said. I’d never heard Turner say anything disagreeable, and despite this, I’d never describe him as kind or boring. We stood, just watching, as she ran a q-tip along the edges of a print, smearing it.
"I want one," I said, jerking his hand.
"I’m not photogenic," he said, resisting, giving me that half-laugh that begged to be begged.
"You’re beautiful," I said without looking at him. And he really was. Oh, come on, he said. "And, you’re easy," I said, luring him into the street, signaling to the photographer that we were ready.
Personality and sweet palatable neurosis aside, some men are cute. They don’t want to be, but they’ll take it. It’s the dimples or the eyelashes. The coy smile that creeps wider, and you feel they’re letting you in by letting it slip. Keeping mannerisms, intelligence, and humor out of this, others are just plain manly, and even if they’re ugly, they’re sexy. It’s the intensity of their gaze. You’re always the first to look away or blink. And they’ll continue to stare even after you’ve asked them not to. "I enjoy you," he says without ever saying so. Some are sexually attractive in the way they wear themselves, in a lean, their gait, or signaling for the check. Turner wasn’t any of these things.
But he was beautiful. Beautiful without being effeminate, cute, or cliche. I could stare at his face for hours, for so long it stopped looking like a face. I studied his nose, the dip beneath it, his freckles, and strong chin. I never wanted to stop touching his hair. And he liked how affectionate and clingy I could be. "Don’t stop," he’d say if I let my hand drop. I liked how much he liked me. Too much.
First she had us look at each other, and I worried it would be this awkward bridal pose. Something befitting a field with long grass and yellow flowers. As bad as those school portraits where I was instructed to rest my chin in the bowl of my hands. "This is weird, huh?" I said as we looked at each other. Everyone’s looking at you, he said, not me, so I don’t feel weird. But I didn’t believe him. It must’ve been a line he heard in a movie trailer. His eyes were like the lake your parents take you to when you’re young, at the house of some relative you didn’t know you had. He reminded me of a cabin with worn floorboards and Irish sweaters. He was safe, and I couldn’t do anything wrong.
"How many?" The photographer asked us.
"Two," I said at the same time as he said, one. "One?"
Well, yeah, you can have it, he said. And then, even though I was still smiling, I felt something inside me fall.
He doesn’t want to keep it in his apartment, I thought. In case it kills his game with another woman he brings home. He’ll have to remember to take it out of a drawer when he knows I’m coming over.
"Okay," the photographer said, "now you, you look here–no, there, at that sign, okay?"
Let it go, I thought. Don’t ruin the day. But it was too late. He could tell.
Okay, two, he shouted to her. But I knew he’d only said it to please me. He didn’t think of us like that, of two people who wanted a beginning they could point to someday. He didn’t think of anyone like that. I’m a guy, he would’ve said had I brought it up. And guys don’t think like that. You don’t want a guy who thinks like that,do you? That’s not the point, I thought in response to all my other thoughts.
We waited for our prints to dry. What’s wrong, he said. "I just wonder how they turned out," I said. But I already had my answer.