A Short Story
* Because this is a different story than you're used to seeing me post, I wanted to preface it first. Because of the current climate going on in our world at the moment, it's a story I wanted to tell. That I felt compelled to tell.
Because we're really good at telling each other to be good to one another, but we're not as great at telling each other how to be good to one another. And that's a fault on all of us.
Because, yes, not all men harass and, I'd like to think, most men actively don't want to harass. But too many women still feel harassed. And often by men who hadn't meant to do so. Who honestly didn't think they were. Who were never told that was what they were doing.
THIS is the problem.
We all need to look at what we're doing to each other and how it's being received. Because the script far too many of us are using--myself included--is causing too much damage. There has to be a better, more truthful way.
Because I just can't believe that this is an unsolvable problem. I just cannot believe that there is no way for both men and women to get what they want. And, though I know we're all a little tired of hearing and talking about this issue, the only practical way to fix it is through awareness and education. Through a little communication.
Because how will we ever get what we want, if we keep hurting the people--men and women alike--who we want it from?
Lyndsey Wayne sat back against the pleather booth's back, stretching, as she blinked her tired eyes. It was finals season and she was not ready. Sure, she'd studied and worked hard all semester, but there was just so much to cover and only so much time to do it. And, if she wanted to stay on the Dean’s List and keep her scholarships, she needed to do well.
She leaned back, letting the cushy seat cuddle and arch her back. Get it together; you’ve got this. In a week and a half, the semester would be done and she’d have some time to relax. Until then, she just had to work hard and get through finals. She shook her head, trying to wake up her mind again, before she took another sip of her mocha smoothie and turned back to her economics book.
“Hey,” she heard a voice say cheerfully.
Lyndsey looked up and blinked at the guy who’d just sat down across from her at the table. She stiffened. Haut Café was a popular college campus hangout and could attract all kinds of people, from Do you have a relationship with God folks to We’re raising money for our intramural softball team types. Lyndsey looked this guy up and down. He didn’t look like a jock. Didn’t really look like he wanted to share the word of God either—if that really had a look.
He looked…normal enough. With dark blond hair that was teetering that line between too long and just right for his face, like he’d put off getting a trim because of finals or a gap between pay periods. He had bright, hazel eyes that were maybe a touch too big, giving him a wide-eyed, youthful look. And his thin lips were spread in a friendly smile that showed just a hint of teeth. He looked like the sweet, soft-jawed star of a nerd-to-riches teen movie. “I was just sitting over there,” he told her as he pointed to a table by the window on the other side of the café, “and saw you and wondered if I could buy you a drink.”
She smiled back at him and reached for her still half-full mocha. “Thanks,” she said as she tilted her drink, “but I’ve got one.”
His smile widened as he lifted his shoulder in a flirtatious half-shrug. “A re-fill then.”
Lyndsey studied him again. He was trying. She could see that. There was a genuine eagerness in his eyes. A slight nervous tension in his smile. And Lyndsey had asked enough people out to know that, each time you do, it’s an act of courage to break out of your conditioned comfort zone.
But it was finals week. “I’m sorry,” she told him, letting her own smile curve sympathetically. She didn’t want to hurt or disappoint this guy. She didn’t. Really hated to do it. “But I’m kinda busy right now; I really need to study.”
“Oh, I know,” he said, just as sympathetically as he threw his arm over the booth’s half-wall as he rolled his eyes in commiseration. “I was doing the same thing before I came over,” he said as he kicked his very full backpack that rested against the booth, “and just really needed a study break.” He shrugged and gestured to her invitingly, giving her a complimentary nod. “But then I saw you and you looked like maybe you could use a break too,” he explained as his voice gained a hopeful tone, “so I thought maybe we could take one together.”
Lyndsey paused, feeling curiously put off, and shrugged. “Thank you.” She guessed. To be fair, it’d sounded like compliment; she wondered why it didn’t really feel like one. “But I really can’t right now.”
His gaze narrowed as his hazel eyes dimmed—darkened—a bit as he frowned. “Why not?”
She gestured to the books and the highlighters and the notes spread all over the table’s surface a little obviously. “Because I need to study.”
He gave her a jovially disbelieving grin. “And you can’t take one five-minute break?” he asked skeptically.
She shook her head as she leaned to rest her forearms on the open economics book in front of her. “No.”
He rolled his eyes again, the hazel depths definitely looking harder and less friendly now. “Is five minutes really going to make-or-break your test?” He smiled at her again but, this time, it felt more like a smirk. Like a joke he knew she didn’t get. “Studies show that taking regular study breaks can actually improve your score.”
“That’s interesting,” she said as she picked up her highlighter and held it to her book’s pages like a neon-colored hint, “but I still can’t.”
She sighed and put down the highlighter. “Does it matter?”
He leaned forward, his lips still curved in an expression that should have felt welcoming. That shouldn’t have felt so irritating. It shouldn’t have felt like his posture was invading her space. It shouldn’t have felt like his every word was pushing a boundary she wasn’t even aware was there until he kept crossing it. “I just want to know,” he said as he reached over to touch the corner of her book.
Lyndsey felt her temper rise and pursed her lips, letting a short breath huff through her nose. Don’t get mad. This isn’t enough to get mad over. Just end the conversation. Shut it down. Move on. “I’m just not interested.”
“Ouch,” he said, his eyebrows raising as he sat back. The look of shocked hurt on his face made her feel a little bad, even though she knew she had no reason to. “The least you could do is tell me why.”
She leaned back and crossed her arms over her chest. “Why?”
“What?” he asked, his voice shaking with laughter as he looked at her confused, waiting for the punchline.
“I told you that I’m not interested;” she repeated, her voice rising alongside her temper, “what difference does it make why I’m not? What difference does it make if I take the time I already told you I don’t have to explain it to you?”
“Jeez,” he hissed, hunching his shoulders, as he looked around embarrassed, “you know, all this time you’ve spent arguing with me, we could have just had a drink together already.” He shook his head, disappointed and disapproving. “Wouldn’t that have been nicer and easier than fighting over this? I don’t understand why you’re making one drink such a big deal?”
She scoffed. How was it that having a drink with him was supposed to be such a simple, easy thing for her, but not having a drink with her was such a big deal for him? How was it that, when he tried to argue a point, he was just making conversation but, when she did, he acted as if she were making a scene?
And, okay, so she was getting a little loud. But the guy wasn’t listening to her.
And, okay, yeah, she knew that more volume probably wasn’t going to make more of a difference. Not if he wasn't interested in what she had to say in the first place.
So she took a deep breath.
“Maybe,” she said as calmly as she could, “because I have a drink. Maybe because I have to study.” She ran her hand over her hair, ruffling the short, blond strands as she shrugged, struggling to keep an even tone, even as her words sped. “Maybe because I have three finals and two papers to do and a crapton of work that needs to be done before I can finish any of them. Maybe because I’ve got family issues that are taking up too much of my time at the moment to leave room for anything else. Maybe because I don’t have time to devote to a relationship. Maybe because I’m queer and I’ve found that happenstance meet-ups usually don’t work well for me. Maybe because I’m already in a relationship.”
She took a much needed breath. “Or maybe,” she told him, looking him in the eye, “because I came to this restaurant alone, I sat at a table alone, I ate my dinner alone, and am sitting here trying to study alone because, right now, I want to be alone.”
She gave a humorless laugh. “Does it really matter?” She jutted her jaw and shook her head. “And, if it does, pick the answer you like the best, go back to your table, and have a nice study break by yourself.”
For a moment, he just blinked blankly at her before his smile became a sneer. “God, fine, I get it. You’re not interested;” he said, throwing his hands up in the air helplessly, “there’s no reason to be a bitch about it.”
“You think that was me being a bitch?” she balked. He clearly had no idea what she was capable of. “You know what? The real reason I don’t want to have a drink with you now—right now, in this very moment—is that, on our first introduction, with the lowest relationship stakes possible, you couldn’t take no for an answer.”
Again, she saw his eyes dart around.
She slapped her hand on the table. He wasn’t going to look away; he was going to listen to her. This was important. “Before we’d even exchanged names, you somehow thought that you knew better than I do how my time should be spent, that you knew what would be easier and nicer for me.” Her hand flew out to point at the table—all the way across the café—that he’d been sitting at before he’d decided to crash-land into her world. “Just because I happened to be sitting in your line of view, you thought I owed you a yes simply because that’s what you wanted and your leaving here with what you wanted was more important to you than hearing—really listening—to what I clearly told you I wanted.”
“How is that any different than what you’re doing?” he asked, his own voice getting louder. “I just wanted to have a drink with you—because I thought you looked pretty and nice and like someone I’d want to get to know—but you just want me to get lost. Without even giving me a chance.” He sat back defensively. “How is that fair?”
“Because you have the right to ask me for something, like my time and attention,” she told him, though it boggled her mind that she had to, “that doesn’t obligate me to give it to you.” She shook her head. “Look, you asked me for some of my time. I told you no; I don’t have the time to spare. But you took that time anyway. When you knew I didn’t want to give it to you. You’ve done this now—this early in the game, when only my time is on the line—what exactly do you think you've done so far to deserve a chance? To show me that you're the kind of guy I would want to—or even should—give a chance to? If you would ignore me when I tell you no now, how can you expect me to believe you're not the type of guy who would ignore me if I said no—to a date or a relationship or to sex—later?”
She glared at him as he craned his neck away from her, his face paling with disbelief and umbrage.
Now, call me a bitch.
“Look,” he said as he crossed his own arms and leaned back in the booth, “I just wanted to do something nice. Buy you a drink. God forbid a man do something nice for a woman! He must have ulterior motives? He must be secretly out to rape you?” He shook his head disgustedly, his longish, blond strands flicking against his frowning face. “You know, not all men are like that. We’re not all rapists and monsters trying to prey on women. Some of us are actually nice guys who respect women.” He crossed his legs under the table, closing himself in, making himself small, as he studied her with a wounded eye. “Remember this moment the next time you complain that there are no nice guys out there. Maybe if you were nicer to us when we try to do something nice for you, there’d be more of us out there.”
She shook her head, marveling at his nerve. Because her time was something he’d paid for with his kindness? That, because he’d paid her a compliment, she now owed him something in return? “The fact that you think not listening to me or giving a damn about what I think or say or want is nice or respectful,” she said, emphasizing her point with a definitive and dismissive wave of her hand, “that’s why I’d really like you to leave now.”
Like a rubber band, his body snapped straight as he stamped his feet against the floor and slammed his hands on the booth’s cushion, making Lyndsey jump. He leaned forward, crouched accusingly, as he glared at her. “You know what? Thank you for being the girl that teaches me that it’s better to be a jerk than a nice guy to women.” He cocked his head, almost victoriously. Though what he’d won, Lyndsey couldn’t even guess. “Thanks for teaching me that all girls want is someone to be a dick to them.”
“Believe me,” she told him, closing her book before snatching up the rest of her stuff off the table’s surface, “you didn’t need me to teach you that. You’ve been doing a textbook example of that ridiculous assumption this whole time.” Because she could tell, by the way he acted, by the things he said, that he already held that belief and veiled it in the pretense of social niceties. He wasn't nice to her because he was a nice guy; he was aping at niceness—going through the motions of what nice guys do—to get what he wanted.
This wasn't about getting to know her; this was about getting her. If he cared about being nice, he would have recognized that she was busy and tried again later. Maybe got her number or her email so they could get together later.
But this was never about her.
It was about him.
What he wanted.
When he wanted it.
How he wanted it.
Even at the expense of the person he wanted it from.
Haphazardly, Lyndsey shoved everything into her bag, not even bothering to zip the awkwardly stuffed pack before throwing it over her shoulder and standing up. “So, excuse me. Because, if you’re not going to leave me alone, I’ll leave.”
She made her way to the counter with her head held high and her eyes focused on the cash register. She just wanted to pay for her meal and go back to her room. Hopefully, her neighbors would be quiet and she could get some work done there. With every step, the burger and mocha churned in her stomach with a rage she didn’t even understand.
Why was she so mad right now?
The guy hadn’t even been that bad.
Entitled? Oh yeah.
Pouty? God, yes.
But she’d dealt with worse guys. Guys who yelled graphic obscenities at her on the street, making her—no matter what she wore—feel naked and vulnerable. Guys who groped first and dealt with the blowback after. Guys who followed too close or too long while she walked alone on the street. Or even guys who’ve grabbed at her, trying to pull her into hallways, alleyways, or cars. Even some of the things her own father—a man who was supposed to love her but could too often be too conservative and old-fashion to find a way to be on her side—said at times felt worse than that guy.
She’d been dealing with this since she was twelve. She’d experienced real, honest fear—for her life—before.
Psh, he was nothing.
Not even worth her time.
One more guy in a long line of guys just like him. Ones that had come before and the ones—she was sure—would inevitably come after. She should have just ignored him. Or made him go away with some kind of lie. Placated him with a fake number or some story about how she was waiting for her boyfriend. Made him someone else’s problem—the next girl’s problem—so she didn’t have to deal with him.
Why hadn’t she just done the easy thing? Why did she even care? Why did it still get to her? Every time.
Because it did get to her. Every time.
No matter how often it happened. No matter how much worse it could have been. It all felt like different degrees of the same tediously unfair point. Different actions—some devastating and some relatively harmless, with most somewhere in between—that stemmed from the same line of thought.
That, for no real reason at all, these guys had some kind of say over her. What she should think. What she should do. And having someone feel like they ought to have more control over her life than she did always—always—left her feeling like shit. Left her feeling…well, out of control. Out of sorts. Wrong. Like she had something to prove. Like she was being asked to prove that she had the right to control her own damned life. To someone who would never think someone had the right to ask the same of them.
She dumped her bag on the counter and began to dig through it to find her wallet that had been lost in the hurry and flurry of righteous anger and multi-colored pens. What a mess.
“Excuse me,” she heard a voice say softly beside her.
She clenched her jaw and looked up, really not in the mood to deal with anyone else. She just wanted to pay and go home.
She felt bad when another guy—a slim, visibly shy brown-haired boy this time—stepped back, almost bumping into the counter. “Sorry,” he said, holding his hands out, “I don’t mean to disturb you.” He shrugged as he ran his hand through his hair. “It’s just that I caught the tail end of that and I wanted to step in,” he insisted, before lifting an unsure shoulder again, “but you seemed to have everything under control.”
Under control? Was that what he saw? She almost laughed.
He tilted his head and bit his lip a bit nervously. “And, all I want to say is that,” he took a breath before saying in a rush, “I think you're amazing.”
This time, she did laugh. What? She smiled and looked at him funny. “Uh, thank you?”
He winced as he looked down at his feet. He shook his head and crossed lanky limbs behind his back, before he explained, “What I mean is, I’m writing this paper for my film class about the role of male sexuality in a feminist world. About whether the two can co-exist peaceably—and, hopefully, mutually beneficially—in the same world and what that would look like.” He peeked up at her with brown, wondering eyes. “And I was wondering if I could setup some time with you.” He took another half-step backward and quickly added, “It doesn’t have to be right now; I could even wait until after your finals are done, but I’d just like to ask you some questions.”
She narrowed her gaze at this new guy. Like she’d said, he was slim. Almost skinny. With a waist and hips that might be smaller than her own. But he had shoulders that jutted out in angles that he seemed to still be growing into. She watched him fidget with his hands, his fingers long and almost gracefully made. And he was pale, so white the embarrassed flush creeping up his neck looked harsh against his skin. He looked like someone who was probably stronger than he appeared. Who was in the fledgling state of strength and growth.
Idly, she wondered what kind of man he would one day grow into.
He shrugged again, shuffling his sneakered feet at her judging silence. “I’d just really like to hear your thoughts on the topic.”
Instinctively, a part of her wondered if this was just some lame excuse to hit on her. If he was just a better, sneakier pick-up artist than the other guy. A smoother operator.
But what if he wasn’t.
What if he was what he appeared to be. Just a guy who wanted to ask her some questions. To know what she thought. Who seemed actually respectful and understanding and was willing to work with her to get what he wanted, while still letting her have what she needed.
You know, not all men are like that. Some of us are actually nice guys who respect women.
She tilted her head and hesitated. “We could do it after I’m done with my finals?” she clarified, her tone reservedly suspicious.
“Absolutely,” he nodded, before blushing again. He gave a small smile that definitely felt like a come-on. But felt like a compliment too. “I think getting your opinion on my paper will be worth asking for an extension.”
She smiled and looked down, feeling her own face flush.
“I’m Porter, by the way,” he told her, reaching out his hand to her. “Porter Green.”
She nodded and shook his hand, feeling the warm clasp of his grip
meet hers. “Lyndsey,” she greeted, the warmth of their hold spreading through her. She took a breath when they both let go of each other’s hands. “You know, Porter, I really won’t have much time until after finals are done,” she told him. She reached her hand into her bag again, pulling out her lost wallet. “But, if you don’t mind walking with me to my dorm,” she said with an inviting shrug, “maybe we could at least get started now.”
Please check out my story, "Safeword," in this new anthology from SinCyr Publishing, where women reclaim and recognise their power in myriad ways, and it's not always pretty.
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