Issue 12  •  Spring 2013

The Color of Pink Lemonade

Written by Jesse Sposato
Illustration by Alija Craycroft

Our water glasses were filled and refilled one after another; our salads arrived at the same time. Mine had dressing on the side, and Nathan wouldn’t touch his. I thought about picking out his kalamata olives and Gorgonzola cheese crumbles and adding them to my plate, but didn’t.

Nathan was a crummy eater, and in so many ways, he reminded me of a character from a television show I liked to watch late at night by myself with headphones on. I always forgot the name of it. Sometimes I took a glass of red wine with me while I watched and kept the bottle on my nightstand in case I needed a second. Other times it was cheese and crackers after a long night with no dinner.

I was at a wedding with Nathan Wheeler, my first love. We hadn’t come together, but we were both there without dates. I had heard Nathan was seeing a girl called Sara. I’d never met her and didn’t see any signs of her. I was coming to this party at the end of my relationship with Matt Drexel. We hadn’t broken up yet but I knew it was over when Nicoline, my good friend and also the bride, told me I was only allowed a date if I had someone special to bring; plates were expensive. I wasn’t sure that I did, so I didn’t bring anyone.

I wore a dress I found at a secondhand shop years earlier. At the time, I had nowhere to wear it and it seemed like forever before I would—I was in my early twenties and an artist, so most of my friends had barely even scratched the surface of long or meaningful relationships, let alone marriage. The dress was made of tulle and the color of pink lemonade; it looked like what I imagined Barbie’s favorite outfit might be if she could choose one, only grownup sized, of course, rather than doll sized.

For a while, Nathan and I danced around the idea of conversing. I spent some time greeting other people, having catch-up conversations with those I hadn’t seen in years, which was mostly everyone there. I had taken a red-eye flight and was just staying for a long weekend. I didn’t come home very often.

Amidst our silence, I had many conversations with Nathan in my head. Daydreams really. In one, I was in his backyard, only it looked wildly different than the way I remembered it. The skateboard ramp he and his best friend Lance had built one summer was still there, but there was also a slim, winding brook framed with tiny pebbles, the kind of place you might read about or see a photo of in a vacation brochure.

I was sitting in a yellow plastic lawn chair, but it was falling apart—it was uncomfortable. Nathan came outside and told me things were getting serious with Sara, but he still couldn’t stop thinking about me. He didn’t know what to do. Another daydream found me with memory loss, having never heard he might be with someone else, that he might be happy, and that maybe he had been for a while.

I had thought about calling him before coming here, but it’s hard to get in touch with people these days if you’re not already in touch with them. Cell phone numbers aren’t listed in phone books, and we don’t live in walking distance to one another’s houses anymore. And even if we did, I think past grade school it becomes an unwritten rule that you can’t just ring someone’s doorbell and call for them. Even though you might really want to.

At the wedding, I wanted to talk and listen and remember. Before I knew it, we were dancing, but there was no music, and our moves were slow and unsure of themselves.

And then we talked. With Nathan, there was no “How are things?” and “It’s been so long; how are you?” But we didn’t cut right to the chase either, the chase being, “Why are you here alone, and are you dating anyone?”

“I thought they were only serving vegetarian food,” Nathan grunted, sounding kind of annoyed. “I ate a cheeseburger before coming here so I wouldn’t starve the whole night.”

“All we’ve had is salad so far. What makes you think it’s not going to be all vegetarian?”

He pointed to a waiter walking around with what looked like scallops wrapped in bacon. I’d heard about this kind of delicacy before, but never tried it. When I was little, I developed an early love for all kinds of shellfish—shrimp, mussels, clams—until I went to an aquarium on a family vacation to Maine and swore off eating all animals at the sight of a lobster with its claws tied together in a crowded tank. I eventually started eating fish again but never bacon.

“Ohhh, right . . .”

Nathan started talking. He couldn’t believe Nicoline was getting married, it was making him feel old. And did I know he was the one who introduced her to Charles?

I could feel his breath nearby—I knew what it smelled like. Orange peels and a hint of old man. I think there was something about the particular tobacco he rolled, and also these orange-flavored hard candies he had always kept a stash of in his car. I guessed he still had a stash.

He was going to see a band he loved play in a few weeks. Remember when I said I didn’t like them? What did I know about music?

As Nathan continued to talk, I thought about lots of things. There were moments, many of them, when I thought Nathan might have been the only person who saw myriad sides of me, and kept me around anyway, even though there were loads of times he probably shouldn’t have.

We went to a funeral together once. I bawled in his car. Everyone cries at funerals because they’re afraid of their own impending death but no one wants to admit that that’s part of the reason they’re so distraught. Afterwards, we went to lunch with the family of the deceased. I ate salmon; I had stopped being a vegetarian by then. It was his best friend’s mother who died. I had never met her, but I knew she had played an important role in Nathan’s life growing up. She was a stay-at-home mom, the kind that had freshly baked chocolate-chip-cookies waiting for her kids when they got home from school; the kind who always invited Nathan to stay for dinner, knowing his parents worked late and often missed meals or forgot about them.

“Oh my god!” I exclaimed, as it came to me, “You’re not going to believe what I found the other day when I was digging around for my old VHS player—the frosting video!”

“Really?”

Nathan gave me a terrible smirk, but also a smile. 

“Really! It’s, like, the only home video I’ve ever had.”

“I’m surprised you kept it. I figured you’d gotten rid of it by now like you did everything else . . .”

We were in the basement of our friend Aaron’s house planning a party for his then girlfriend, Lydia. Nathan and I had just gotten back from the store; we were in charge of refreshments. Which meant buying strawberry frosting, pre-mixed cake batter, and silver foil cupcake tins; plus standing on line at the Mini Mart until someone older and sympathetic-to-the-cause enough walked by and agreed to buy us alcohol.

With a confident strut and my most charming grin, I approached a tall man with a black leather motorcycle jacket on. He looked young himself, but it was obvious that he was at least twenty-one, maybe twenty-three at best. I slipped him a small wad of cash made up mostly of singles because that’s all I had, and he agreed to do it but told me not to worry about the money. “I got you,” he said with a look that implied a wink but didn’t actually go to the trouble of producing one.

Nathan looked up at me in that moment, and I tried to deflect his gaze but out of habit I caught it, and I could feel the deal being broken. Usually, we pretended we didn’t know each other when approaching people for booze because, naturally, it worked better if we used our sexes as tools to get what we needed (sorry, feminism). The twenty-three year-old at best took the money and gave me one of those, “You didn’t say you had a boyfriend” kind of looks that guys give you when they want something they thought they could have but then realize they can’t.

But he got us a couple of forties of Olde E and St. Ides, and we were thankful. It was about as much as we could carry, and we walked the short distance back to Aaron’s house. Mostly, we followed the instructions from the box, used chocolate milk instead of regular because that’s all there was, and painted the cupcakes with frosting when they were done.

“You’re going sooo slow,” Nathan scolded me.

My cupcakes were pretty—the frosting swirled around each small cake and stuck up in the middle to form miniature Mohawks.

“Come on, yours are messy and drippy,” I yelled. But it was too late. Nathan chased me down the basement stairs and we finished off the rest of the frosting on ourselves. We got it in our hair, on our arms; Nathan smeared some on my face and I retaliated in his ear—it was everywhere. Hardly skipping a beat, Aaron, an aspiring filmmaker at the time, chimed in with his vintage camcorder, following us down every one of the basement stairs.

I was left with sticky strawberry flavored hair, and a sweater drenched in creamy, pasty goo. We took our clothes off to wipe all the frosting away, and had sex for the first time in Aaron’s basement. This part was not recorded on tape.

“Right. Like you really think I would give that away?” I scoffed.  “Do you want to dance, or something?”

“No, not really. Not much of a dancer. Do you want to go outside and smoke a cigarette?”

“I don’t. I mean, I don’t smoke anymore, but sure, I’ll go outside.”

It had dropped into the forties that night. It was the end of March, when seasons were kind of in transition on the East Coast, not yet sure whether they would stick with the chill in the air, or switch over to a warm spring spell. I had only a thin sweater on, my singular dress-up sweater with beads and sequins forming intricate patterns around the collar; some of them were falling off and had been for years. After standing with Nathan for long enough, I let the cold set in and decided not to let it bother me.

If this were a scene in a movie, this would be the part where “In The Still Of The Night” would start playing, or maybe even a song by Frank Sinatra. By Nathan’s third or fourth cigarette, I had joined him, and it took me back to a place I could barely remember. It was nice, and I knew it was temporary. In a few days, my plane would land cities and states away and I wouldn’t smoke anymore, and I wouldn’t have Nathan on my mind or any of our memories. But for now.

We went on a road trip together the year after we graduated from high school. The drive, according to the route we mapped out, was eight to ten hours long. We made it in eight—there wasn’t very much traffic. I wore a nightgown as a dress. No one seemed to notice, and Nathan said it was his favorite. It was dark purple with a lacey hem.

We spent a few days going to art museums, swimming at the hotel pool, walking in to town to dine at places nicer than ones we would usually go to at home. It was the only time I could get Nathan away from fast food drive-throughs and microwaveable dinners. We had grilled squid and iced coffee from a Thai restaurant and lemon parsley dumplings from a small French café. We had this perfect trip and this perfect time—always—and a few months later, we broke up and I went away to college. And Nathan didn’t.

The first time I came home, I drove my parents’ car to Nathan’s to pick him up. I didn’t need a car at school—I was living in a city with pretty good public transportation, so my driving skills could have used a little work. Nathan drove instead. It made me nervous not to be behind the wheel and in charge of my own car, and he sensed this and quickly got irritated with me. We were trying to be friends, and it had worked OK while I was away—we would talk on the phone every week, and in between we wrote letters, real ones; sometimes we included funny newspaper clippings or fliers for shows we had gone to, or art openings. But in person, it was all wrong. With me there, in front of him, to remind him that I had left and in turn left him behind, he got angry.

At the wedding, I wanted to talk and listen and remember. Before I knew it, we were dancing, but there was no music, and our moves were slow and unsure of themselves. A famous playwright once said, “If you can’t get rid of the skeleton in your closet, you’d best teach it to dance.” I wondered if that’s what we were trying to do. Were our skeletons too big to get rid of, or were we simply not trying hard enough? Or were we?

“I think I miss you,” Nathan said softly and unsteadily. “I didn’t even . . .”

“Didn’t even what?”

“I didn’t even know.”

“I’m sure you don’t really miss me. Don’t you date someone now?”

“I do date someone,” he said, laughing at the awkward way it came out when I asked. “Sara. She’s great,” he said, looking pensive and sincere. “But, I don’t know, what we had was . . . different.”

“What we had was really special; and I think about it, and I think about you. But it was such a long time ago . . .”

At a pawnshop in our hometown, we found matching rings. Well, I found them while Nathan was off checking out an old banjo that had a few missing strings but was still in pretty good shape. Only Nathan didn’t play the banjo, he played guitar. “Look what I found! Rings for us. One for me,” I said, as I slipped it on my pointer finger, “and one for you,” I exclaimed, squeezing it onto his finger as I did so.

“They could be our promise rings,” I boasted, annoyingly excited that I stumbled upon these rings and that they fit. Nathan shrugged and told me that nothing lasts forever. Still, he kept his ring on when we left the store, and that day we walked home along the river, hand in hand, our rings making small clinking noises against one another.

We stayed there far longer than I had anticipated, playing remember when and who is where now; talking about politics and projects we were working on; and places we had seen or wanted to go to. Until it was time to leave.

It started to feel quiet outside. I hadn’t noticed the noise before—background chatter, people outside for cigarette breaks, breaths of fresh air, private phone calls. All at once, bodies started to filter inside. It was time for dessert. Nicoline and Charles stood awkwardly by a bright white cake in the middle of the dance floor. Maybe they didn’t stand awkwardly—maybe that was my own projection. But they did wear big rehearsed smiles along with postured body movements, not sharp but delicate. It was a day to celebrate their lives together, but as I had watched them float in and out of the hopeful and eager crowd all evening, it seemed they were never standing still. Instead, they were working hard trying to please everyone else around them, but I guess that’s how these things went. I liked them together, and I admired them for having the courage to start a life together; it made me aware of just how far away from that I felt.

Everyone was ushered straight to their seats as we walked in, and each table had several bottles of celebratory champagne awaiting them. Nathan reached over and poured some into my glass, and then his. The cake was made of tinier cakes, so the individual servings were already predetermined and no one could argue about their slice being too large or not large enough, something ladies often loved to do at weddings. I ate my entire piece of cake in two bites and noticed Nathan hadn’t touched his.

“First you don’t eat your salad, and now you’re going to skip dessert too? Do we need to talk?”

“No, nothing to worry about [laughing]. I don’t have a big sweet tooth these days, and Sara’s a big fan of dessert, so I figured I’d save it to give to her when she comes home tomorrow.”

“Comes home from . . . the psych ward she’s been locked up in . . . or the prison cell?”

“Ha! You wish,” Nathan said, blushing slightly. “She went to visit her mom; she recently got remarried. Which means new everything—house, town, stepchildren; even a new dog. A teacup Chihuahua, you know, the kind that starts to pee almost instantly after drinking water because it’s so tiny. Anyway, Sara’s been having sort of a weird time adjusting. She’s happy for her mom, but it’s hard to get used to, I guess.”

“[smiling] I’ve never heard of a teacup Chihuahua—it sounds kind of cute.”

“Yeah, I don’t know. Maybe. I haven’t actually met it yet.”

We drank more champagne and through the speakers, the DJ announced a couple’s dance, a slow song.

“They’re playing our song,” Nathan said, furrowing his eyebrows at me. As he did so, I tried to recall having a “song,” but nothing came to mind. “Sixteen Candles” by the Crests was playing. This was not our song, but Nathan did offer his hand, and it was clear he’d had enough champagne to temporarily abandon his fear of dancing. I accepted. I did it for old time’s sake; because I was in the mood to dance; and because I wanted to be seen dancing with Nathan, just this one more time, by someone or something else other than my shadow in the empty parking lot, or my reflection in a lingering puddle of rain water mixed with oil just before it turns into a rainbow.

We twirled around and showed off our moves a bit, but mostly we just danced close together, but not too close, and we tried not to look each other in the eyes. For a moment, I found my head resting on Nathan’s shoulder, mostly because I was starting to get sleepy and anticipating the end of the night. I had plans to stay at my parents’ place. We shared a meal together earlier that morning and they gave me a spare key to the side door of the house.

“I think I’ll have to call a cab soon. I didn’t get much sleep on the plane, and I’m afraid all this champagne is going straight to my head . . .”

“A cab? You’ll have to call a tractor to take you home. There are no cabs here. Did you forget everything about your old life?”

“Right,” I said, too tired to have given it much real thought. “You want to give me a ride home? We’ll have to wait till some of the champagne wears off, maybe get a hunk of that homemade sourdough bread they served to help sober you up.”

A while went by before we were both ready to leave. I encouraged Nathan to drink a lot of water, while I worked on nursing several Shirley Temples to keep him company. As the guests started to dwindle, Aaron and his girl Becca invited us to join them at their table. We stayed there far longer than I had anticipated, playing remember when and who is where now; talking about politics and projects we were working on; and places we had seen or wanted to go to. Until it was time to leave.

“Your personal cab awaits.”

Nathan opened the door for me first and by the time he went around to the other side, I had just figured out his lock and released it. We rode in silence for the first few minutes, now with nothing or no one there to chaperone us or censor our behavior.

I held Sara’s cake in my lap so it wouldn’t get squashed, and I rearranged some things—including the orange-flavored hard candies—in Nathan’s truck so it could neatly sit in the cup holder when I left.

“I can’t believe you suggested taking a cab home. How did you get here anyway?”

“Well, I was going to take the train—it’s only a few stops away and not that long of a walk—but my mom insisted on dropping me off. She was having dinner with friends and it was on the way to the restaurant.”

“Yeah, that makes sense. [pausing] This wouldn’t have worked, right?”

“I don’t think so, no.”

“I mean, you want to live in a place where you take the train to work, take cabs home from parties, eat fancy salads with unpronounceable cheese in them . . .”

“Nathan! [laughing] You’re just a picky eater. We were in the town you live in tonight eating Gorgonzola cheese—it’s not that unusual. And besides, you have a girlfriend that you’re thoughtful enough to bring a piece of cake home to. That kind of says a lot.”

“You know, I actually think the two of you would really get along.”

“That doesn’t surprise me; you’ve got good taste [smiling]!”

Maybe we answered the questions we had taken with us to the party that night, that we had been saving up all the while since we last knew each other. This was not the first time I would feel Nathan miss me, and find myself missing him back. But maybe it was the first time we were also able to let go.


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