Unsurprisingly, the party was a rather depressing affair. John wasn’t sure why he continued to come to these things. They were always the same: loud music, lots of drinking, and too many drunk people shout to be heard over whatever song was playing. As he left, he swore to himself that this was the last one he would attend.
After starting his car to head home, he noticed a figure standing alone in the drive way. It looked familiar, so he rolled down the passenger window.
The figure turned towards him and he could just make out her face. It was Kathy. She was wearing a coat that went past her waist and was tied closed with a belt. Her arms were folded against the chill. The expression on her face was difficult to make out.
“Oh, hi, John.” Her voice sounded a little shaky.
“Are you okay?”
She hesitated for a moment before answering. “Yeah. Just waiting for someone. Looks like they’re not coming though. You leaving already?”
“Uh huh. Just not feeling it tonight.”
John wanted to say something to keep the conversation going, but he found himself tongue-tied. He had liked Kathy since he first met her last year, but while they had a number of friends in common, they never had really had a one-on-one conversation. She shifted her weight slightly, and he feared she would walk away, so he blurted out, “Do you want a ride home?”
Again, she didn’t immediately respond. Instead she looked back to the house and then down the road. He regretted asking since it seemed to have made her uncomfortable.
“I’m sorry. You said you were waiting . . .”
Before he could finish, she walked over to the car and opened the passenger door in order to climb in. “If you don’t mind, that would be great actually. Like I said, I don’t think he’s coming.”
Once she was fully in and the door was closed, John began driving away from the party. They rode in silence for a little while, with Kathy just staring out her window.
“Why are men such jerks?” she asked out of the blue. “Present company excepted.”
“Why do I think they’re jerks?”
“No. Why except me? You don’t know I’m not a jerk.”
“You’re nice enough to give me a ride home, so I’m giving you the benefit of the doubt.”
“Fair enough. So who did what?”
Kathy paused for a moment. “It doesn’t matter. Just a jerk.”
“Oh. Well some people are just determined to be jerks. We look for reasons, and maybe there are some, but it’s usually not worth the effort to figure them out. Better to let them be jerks and move on.”
“Hmm. I suppose you’re right.”
Another lull in the conversation. John wanted to say something but couldn’t. He didn’t want to sound stupid or creepy, and she seemed lost in her own thoughts. So he tried to relax and just enjoy the drive. At least, he tried until he realized something.
“Silly question. Where do you live?”
Kathy looked at him and began to laugh. It was a friendly sound.
“Oh my god! I totally forgot you’ve never been to my place. And you offered to drive me home without even knowing how far I lived. That’s so sweet. See? You’re not a jerk. Don’t worry, you’re headed the right way. I live just off Alexandria Street, on Jasmine Drive.”
“Got it. I’m familiar with the area.” She lived only about ten minutes from him. It also meant this shared time together was almost over. Kathy had gone back to looking out the window. “I know it’s not my place, but from my experience with you, you are a wonderful person. Whoever was a jerk to you doesn’t deserve you.”
The words just came crashing out. As declarations go, this one was pretty vague. And yet, he knew he’d regret it if he didn’t say anything, even if was just to try to be nice.
He could feel her looking at him as he focused all of his attention on the road. His face got hot from her gaze. Stealing a quick glance, she was smiling at him. A little sad, perhaps, but a genuine smile. Without saying anything, she shifted a little closer to him and rested her head on his shoulder.
Now his whole body felt warm. He wanted this moment to last forever, but he was already turning on to her street.
“Third house on the left. You can just pull into the driveway.”
Kathy hadn’t lifted her head to give instructions, so John tried to enjoy the last few moments. When he parked, he expected her to pull away. He didn’t, however, anticipate her kissing him on the lips.
* * *
The next week was another party. This time, John was looking forward to it. His work had kept him busy all week, so he hadn’t been able to see Kathy since driving her home. He hoped she would be here tonight.
It took him several minutes, but he finally found her talking with a guy in the kitchen.
Unable to contain a smile, he walked over to her. “Hi. It’s been awhile.”
Kathy gave him a look he couldn’t quite read. “Oh, John. Good to see you. Let me introduce you to my boyfriend, Chris. Chris, this is a friend of mine, John. I’m not sure if you two know each other.”
“I don’t think so. Nice to meet you, John.” Chris extended his hand.
“Likewise.” John shook his hand. Now he recognized the look on Kathy’s face. She was pleading with him not to say anything. And maybe there was a bit of an apology mixed in, but he might have imagined that.
He wanted to leave, so he gave the first excuse that occurred to him. “Well, I just wanted to say hi. I have a couple of other friends I’m supposed to meet up with.” He gave them both a half-smile and a brief wave before making his way back to the living room.
Once he was out of their sight, he headed for the front door. She had said she was waiting for someone. It had been one night; it didn’t mean anything more than that. There was no point in demanding an explanation or screwing up her relationship. Even knowing that, it still hurt. He got into his car and drove away. The memory of that night was all he had. It wasn’t all he wanted, but it was all he had.