Thursday, February 14, 2013

Peach Iced Tea

It snowed on Valentine’s Day. A good old-fashioned Western New York blizzard. Across my little college town, couples rearranged plans. Dinner reservations in the surrounding area, cancelled. High heels, traded for knee-high snow boots.

My roommate made the trudge to the other side of campus to spend the night with his girlfriend. And I--I stayed put in my dorm room.

I told Elizabeth to wear something nice.

“I don’t want you driving us anywhere when it’s snowing like this,” she said.

“Don’t worry about it.”

“And you have to warn me if we’re going to walk through a blizzard.”

“Just put on a dress and come to my room at 7.”

I don’t remember what more I told her to convince her to come dressed like that, or what she could have thought we would do.

When news of the storm hit, I went to the local Wal-Mart and bought my first glassware. I went to the grocery store and bought sparkling cider, a purple paper table cloth, and yellow roses. I set my desktop computer with its CRT monitor and the dusty floor and pulled my desk out to the center of the room, the table for our makeshift restaurant.

I made a call to the Chinese place on Main Street and tipped the frozen delivery boy a couple bucks extra for making it through the snow.

I keyed up a playlist in Windows Media Player, made up of slow jams by acts like Ben Harper and Dispatch and David Gray and Peter Gabriel and whoever else I thought fitting at the time.

I waited.

Elizabeth came downstairs in her black dress and heels, pearl necklace, hair straightened. I had these mental pictures of her. With her hair back, wearing glasses and a hooded sweatshirt as we sat side by side in the library computer lab working on papers. Behind the counter at her barista job, in flannel and blue jeans.

I greeted her in my thrift store blazer, button up shirt and tie, a pair of khakis, feeling more than a little inadequate. The way I always sort of did with her.

I opened the door wide, immediately certain that the dinner I’d set up would seem juvenile, comical, cheap. But she clasped my hands. She smiled her biggest smile. She kissed me and told me it was perfect.

We ate wonton soup. I don’t remember the rest of it so well--probably chicken and broccoli, and General Tso’s. Maybe we had egg rolls. Maybe fried rice, maybe white.

We toasted, our cider in wine glasses. We kissed, our lips sticky, greasy.

We moved to my bed. The bed where the springs squealed with the slightest motion, and my sheets were a little too small to stay on quite right. Our nice clothes grew wrinkled.

It’s funny, the things you remember about a night. Elizabeth had different smells. The cucumber lotion she moisturized with from day to day. Her citrus shampoo. The bleach smell on her hands after she wiped down counters at work. The vanilla smell from the candles that she lit after she dismantled the smoke detector in her room.

I don’t remember what she smelled like that night, or what we talked about at any specific moment. I know we kissed underneath the absurd black and white poster I hung on my wall that year, depicting a pair of female models holding one another in their underwear--I know that, but I don’t recall if she rolled her eyes about it on this particular occasion.

I just remember that afterward we put on our nice clothes again. We left the room to throw away the remains of the Chinese dinner before they stunk up the place and to get drinks from the vending machine.

The dorms were always overheated, dried out in the winter.

I can only assume that we didn’t look right. Fancy clothes, no longer pressed or tucked in correctly. Hair a little askew, the glow and stink of just-dried sweat. We ran into friends watching some bad romantic comedy I don’t recall in the lounge and chatted for a few minutes.

I stood in front of the glass of the vending machine moments later, eyeing my options. Elizabeth asked for a Diet Pepsi. I usually drank Mountain Dew or water, with the occasional juice thrown in to retain some semblance of a vitamin-rich diet.

That night, on a whim, I picked peach iced tea. Thirsty. Hot. I downed half the bottle in the first gulp. It tasted like perfection. Like godliness. Dare I say, like love.

All these years later, for everything I’ve forgotten it’s the drink I remember most clearly--cold, smooth and sweet. To this day, peach iced tea takes me back north to a cold, dark evening when the wind whistled, and restless college kids filled the dorm, snowed in when they craved the outdoor nighttime air. I remember peach iced tea and the squeeze of a warm little hand in mine as we scurried back to my room to while away the rest of the night in our private restaurant, in our secret world.

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