That was when I realized that was why I’d always been slightly nervous around Tyler. He was what people always accused me of being- there but not present. Easy going, but distant. Smiling, but intense. Maybe it was the alcohol, my ears still buzzing, my insides hot but my skin cold and clammy, but for the first time I didn’t feel uncomfortable around him.
“So are you really a virgin?” he asked, sounding genuinely curious. “Or were you just saying that?”
No longer comfortable. It went away faster than you could say Awkward Moment.
Why he thought I would want to talk about that made no sense to me at all. I was drunk, but I wasn’t insane. If I hadn’t even told my roommates until that night, why the hell would I sit in Tyler’s car and spill my guts? I wasn’t the confessional type. I never had been.
So I just looked at him.
“I’m going to take that as a yes.”
I wanted to tell him to mind his own goddamn business. To stop pressing a girl he didn’t know for intimate details about her sexual experience. That it was rude. But I remembered that he had in fact saved the very virginity he was questioning, so I didn’t want to be a bitch. I just shrugged. Really, what difference did it make? I was already a collegiate abnormality. Likes to study! Hates to Talk! Won’t go tanning! See this freak show exhibit in her natural dorm habitat…
But I actually surprised myself by opening my mouth and saying, “Yes, I am.”
My admission silenced him for a second, but then he drummed his thumbs on the steering wheel as he put the car in PARK in front of my dorm, which was a seventies built tower of glass and steel, the lamp post flooding into his car, showing even more clearly how dirty and ancient it was, a slot for a cassette player crammed full of what looked like parking tickets.
“Do you have a purity ring or whatever?”
Now that I was in, and the beer had loosened my lips, I said the first thing that came into my head. “I prefer to call it my hymen.”
Tyler let out a laugh. “No, I mean one of those rings you wear on your finger…” He looked at me, understanding dawning. “Oh, wait, you’re being sarcastic, aren’t you?”
Which made him laugh harder. “Rory, you are an interesting chick.”
Interesting wasn’t exactly a riveting compliment, but he hadn’t called me a freak, which was how I felt sometimes. Like I had been assembled in a different way altogether than everyone around me, and while I liked the end result, everyone else was confused as to how to interpret my very existence. They watched me, suspicious, as if I were a Transformer and they were waiting for metal arms to spring out from my chest cavity.
I didn’t think that I’d ever seen him laugh before, or maybe I had just never noticed, my attention focused on Grant, who I had thought was more likely to fall in with my plan of exploring human mating and relationships. But then again, Jessica and Kylie tended to dominate all conversation in a group setting, so maybe their own perfectly affected laughter had drowned out Tyler’s.
But for some stupid reason, I liked to think that he was laughing just for me.
I shoved open the door, half falling out, clinging to the handle and the remnants of my dignity, like he could hear my stupid thoughts. “Thanks,” I said over my shoulder, barely glancing back as I exited the car, clutching my bag.
There was no response and when I struggled to slam the heavy door, which seemed to weigh a million pounds and required more coordination than my icy fingers had, I realized that he was just staring at me. There was a cigarette in his mouth, and he was lifting the car lighter up to it, his hand guiding it to his destination without thought. As he sucked on it to catch the paper and tobacco on fire, his eyes never left mine.
The smile was gone. There was nothing but a cool scrutiny.
Then I walked as fast as I could to my dorm, digging in my bag for my swipe card.
Once inside, I paused at the front desk to check in and I glanced out the front doors.
His car was still there, and I could see the shadow of his outline, the tiny red glow of his cigarette.