He slipped the note into his pocket and left the library. He turned to look where he was sitting to make sure he left nothing behind. The guy across the table looked up and smiled. Toothy and winsome. The note had his cell phone number on it. He felt giddy. Outside he sat on a bench, pulled out the number and began a text but couldn’t think of anything witty. In situations like these, you have to be witty, right? He was tempted to Google, “What to do when someone gives you their number?” He stopped himself, looking over his shoulder. What if someone saw? What if he saw? He’d seen this guy a few times before. Entertained lascivious fantasies.
“Look out for the bees!” His mom called. Sometimes there were bees in the tire swing behind their house. He ran and checked inside. No bees. His mom, pregnant, slowly walked over. He jumped atop the tire, the tree limb bounced; the tire was hot against his bare thighs. He knew if he waited long enough, the pain would go away. His mom pushed him. “Higher!” He went higher and higher. He felt a thrill as he passed the tree. What if he hit it? “Higher!” His mom was busy texting. The swinging slowed, then stopped.
He got up and walked to his dorm. He thought of the perfect text: “Hey cutie,” or “You left this at the library,” or “Want to get dinner sometime?” It was simple, clean. His style. He’d send it when he got back to his dorm. There he was safe. Lying on his bed, he typed, “Would you like to get dinner sometime?” What if he said no? His thumb hovered over the blue arrow. Send. Then he Googled, “What to do when someone gives you your number?” He clicked the first link, it was some teen magazine. At the top of the article was a warning. Do Not Text or Call Numbers You’ve Received From Strangers. That’s the point, right? Anyway, he continued:
Don’t text too soon. Oops.
Ask them out. Check.
Compliment Them Shit. Too late?
Ask for their name, Don’t give yours first. He already knew his name.
Check the number twice. To do!
Between each step was a candid photo of a teen girl dressed in a pink tank-top smiling at her phone, her teeth white like innocence. If only her parents knew. He pulled the number out again. Checked the number twice. His handwriting, bubbly like his girlfriends’ in high school. Yes, he’d said. Yes! Holy shit. Wait, what if he’s a serial killer? If he remembered anything from high school health class is that you should always meet somewhere in public first.
He pushed his sister on the swing. She giggled and squealed. Like him, she asked to go higher. He pushed harder and harder. He lost control and she started going sideways. She hit the tree hard with her knee. She yelped. He grabbed the tire and dug his heels into the grass. She fell off the tire wailing. He hugged her, tried to comfort her. His mother ran to her. “What happened!?” “She hit the tree.” He knew that wasn’t right. She didn’t hit the tree. They went to the emergency room.
Hey, wanna come over to my room tonight? He’d texted back. That was not a public place. He freaked. Fuck, I’m so dead tonight. He probably wants to cuddle or Netflix and Chill, or whatever. He Googled, “How to shave your ass” Then turned off his phone. Screamed into his pillow. Yes, he texted. He was tempted to turn off notifications. Head in the sand. It buzzed. “Ok, come whenever! Rush 292” He smelled his armpits, picked his nose, put on more deodorant, picked his ears, and checked his fly on the way out. He knocked. There he was, in PJ’s smiling. They hugged. He was warm, like a good warm. Cozy warm. Hot-chocolate-on-a-snowy-day warm. He wore a white tattered band t-shirt, Grateful Dead or something. It was faded and worn. When he grabbed a blanket for the two of them, he could see holes under the arms. It was casual, college dishabille. The skin taut and glittery. His hair, uncut for some time, wisped like cirrus clouds on his neck.
He walked out towards the tree and remembered the swing; he could imagine it there. It was a rare blue day and the sky surged through the naked limbs. As he approached, the tire looked more and more real. Then, it disappeared. He looked up and saw the frayed ends where the rope had been cut. He remembered how his father went out that night and cut the tire swing down, and threw it loudly in the trash in the garage. They didn’t talk. That was that.
They listened to Norah Jones and petted each other’s feet. He licked those baby hairs. They undressed.
Louis is a sophomore at Pomona studying mathematics.