I firmly believe that every morning should be filled with chocolate chip oatmeal, and music by the Dresden Dolls.
It’s gray and rainy, but my spirits are high. I am excited for tonight, when I will be meeting up with some friends from college. I miss them and the memories we share. I know that the small reunion tonight won’t magically revert life to the way it was in college, which was remarkably carefree and filled with social activity, but it doesn’t hurt to be nostalgic now and again. This theme came through in today’s prompt, and I’m sure some will be able to relate.
THE PROMPT: “St. Patrick’s Day Hangover”
You wake up the morning after St. Patrick’s Day and don’t remember much of the evening (thanks to too many green beers). You also notice some discomfort on your forearm. When you roll up your sleeve, you notice a tattoo of a map. Panic sets in as you realize that you now have a tattoo on your arm, but curiosity takes over as you wonder where the map leads.
Did you ever notice that after a night of some hard-drinking, you can never sleep in? At least, not the way you want to? I’m sure there’s some medical reasoning that explains why I always wake up at 6:45AM instead of 2:30PM, but I’m not as interested in the reasoning as in the cure. Waking up early after a night of drinking always ends badly. I either rush into the bathroom to upheave my insides into a certain porcelain bowl, or I just get up and leave because I cannot fall back to sleep due to an overwhelming sense of grossness that only a pot of coffee and shower can cure. I usually try avoid these situations because of my predilection to wake so early, but who says no to green beer on St. Patrick’s Day, especially when that someone is half Irish?
I was a textbook victim of peer pressure as friend after friend called to invite me to the Big Apple for March 17th. At first I politely declined and wished them safe and enjoyable travels, but they persisted. “It’s on a Saturday this year,” Brandi whined on the other end of the telephone. “That never happens! Dude, you won’t miss any work and won’t have to call out the next day!” She made some good points and she could tell I was relenting, so she added, “Everyone’s going. You’ll be the only one home, and then what will you do all day?” I paused for just a moment or two before I caved in. Brandi was happy, and immediately made my plans for me; I’d be at her house at 7:30PM on Friday night to sleepover and then bright and early the next morning – after some Bloody Marys – we’d be on our way to the city, via the train.
The Bloody Marys are the last thing I clearly remember.
Sunday morning, I sat up lightning fast, like I’d been shocked by a cattle prod. I was afraid I’d have to puke, but my stomach felt okay. I pushed a knotted mass of hair up and away from my eyes, and looked around. I was back in Brandi’s living room, sitting on the floor. My back and bottom were stiff and sore, and I was kind of pissed that I slept on the floor, as there were two vacant couches to my left and right. I slapped my forehead to release some anger at my stupidity, and realized I was sore in two new places; my forehead and my forearm. Grimacing, I twisted my arm before my eyes this way and that. I could move it fine, but there was a kind of pulsing ache that enveloped it. I let it fall lazily into my lap and gingerly, I began rolling my sleeve back. My grimace turned into sheer horror when I began to see colored lines drawn onto my skin. I stopped being so delicate and nearly tore my sleeve clean off in my insane need to confirm what I already knew; I had gotten a tattoo. I was the jackass, the idiot who gets drunk and forgets she hates needles and cannot get a tattoo because it would be unprofessional as an educator of young, impressionable minds. Cursing silently, I crane my neck to try and see what the picture is of. For a moment, I was worried it’d be Robert Pattinson’s face, or Backsteet Boys’ lyrics I found particularly meaningful. But my brows furrowed into confusion because it didn’t make sense. They were cardinal directions and lines and arrows, and damn it. It was a map.
Why the hell was there a map on my arm?
I whipped my head from left to right, scanning the room for Brandi. She was beside me on the floor, snoring loudly with her mouth open. I shook her, called her name. She responded with something unintelligible. I tried to wake her up again, and she called me dirty word and rolled over. It did not take a rocket scientist to realize that my best friend would be no help. Sighing, I decided I needed to get a move on. Some coffee and a shower would clear my head, and then I could set about finding a tattoo removal service and carry on as if nothing had ever happened. Slowly, very slowly, I clamored to my feet and stood straight. I held my arms out to the side and waited for the world to spin, but it didn’t. I surprisingly felt pretty good, all things considered. I grabbed my purse and overnight bag from beside the door to the mud room – which I’m sure were placed there by the wonderfully kind and thankfully sober woman known as Brandi’s mom – and headed out. I thought about leaving a note, or waking Brandi up to say goodbye, but a text message would suffice.
As I slipped out the front door, icy March wind assaulted me, lifting my already matted hair up above my head, twisting it in ways that would be painful to untangle later. I tried to smooth it down, my ankles wobbly in the high heels that now, on a Sunday morning on a deserted residential street, seemed wildly inappropriate and out-of-place. Wobbling but not falling, I made it to my dilapidated truck and it roared to life so loudly that I was embarrassed, peering out of all the windows to see if neighbors were rushing out onto their front lawns to see what plane had just crashed in the front lawn. But no one stirred, no blinds twitched, and my cheeks cooled and I backed out of the long, gravel driveway onto the biggest effing hill I had ever seen in my life. The hill was the only drawback to visiting Brandi, as I was constantly rushing to the front window to see if my truck had indeed begun rolling backwards and created havoc. Luckily, I had made another trip unscathed; the tattoo on my arm notwithstanding.
The hill ended anti-climactically, with a pizzeria on the left and the largest lake in New Jersey dead ahead. One had to either turn left or right, and right would bring me back to the highway which would lead me home. I was in the middle of turning the wheel when I looked up at the street sign. Why I did this, I don’t know; I had made the trip a million and one times and never before had I cared to note the name of the streets. Hell, if pressed to recite Brandi’s address at gunpoint, I would fail. So I read the signs, discovered I was at the intersection of Iowa Avenue and Brady Road, and was prepared to continue on, to make the right and do nothing with the newly learned information. But the same something that made me look at the street sign made me look at my tattooed forearm, and there was the intersection, etched into my flesh very clearly.
There was also an arrow pointing to the left.
I had never been left down Brady Road – that brought you further into the quaint but very rural town, and I had never had any occasion to check things out, or any real desire to do so either. Now, though, things were decidedly different. Last night, I had clearly sat through some pain to obtain the skin map I was now reading. That undoubtedly meant that it was important, and that the map lead somewhere worth visiting. I bit my lower lip in thought for just a few moments, before turning to the left and following Brady Avenue farther from home and deeper into the unknown.
I rolled along slowly, constantly checking my arm and the street signs. Brady Road eventually turned into Prospect Point Road, which ended in a choice of either going left or right. I knew I had another choice, which was to turn around and head home and finally put an end to the insanity. What did it matter where the map led? I had been drunk – that was it. I checked the map on my arm, and it indicated that I turn right. I decided to continue the map because right was right – had it said left, I would have shook my head, laughed at my silliness, and turned around. But right was a good direction; its name had nothing but positive connotations. Turning right led me to Route 181 and I followed this barren, meandering country road until it met up with Route 15, a road that was more familiar to me as it could bring me home. If I were to call it a day and stop the treasure hunt, it would have to be if and when the map told me to turn off Route 15. I wasn’t sure if I wanted it all to end. I wasn’t sure what I would find at the end, or what I would regret if I just gave up and went home. But the uncertainty of it all, the not knowing, was the most excited I’d been in months. Being a teacher – well, just a substitute until the economy finally picked back up – was routine. While no class was ever the same, the schedule was, as were the faces and the expectations. Getting up early meant going to bed early, and my social life had tanked. The outing with Brandi for St. Patrick’s Day had been my first social activity in God knows how long. And even then, everything inside of me had told me to cancel – to be responsible with my time and money and just stay home. Everything inside of me told me to play it safe. It wasn’t a matter of self-preservation as much as it was cowardice. The largest part of me wanted to be comfortable and complacent.
There was a tiny part of me, though , that didn’t want that at all. It was that part that had me following a tattoo on my arm on a Sunday morning, miles from home. I wondered at the origin of this brazen voice, as it certainly couldn’t truly belong to me. This reverie ended when I came to a stop light, and had to slow down. I checked my arm, and was surprised to find that I was to turn in at the diner on the right, just a few feet ahead. My stomach grumbled in agreement and I thought what the hell? If nothing else, I could get some breakfast. The parking lot was empty, so I found a spot close to the entrance with ease. Once the engine was silenced, nervousness and nausea assaulted me in alternating waves. What if there was a masked gunman waiting inside, and I was his getaway driver? What if everyone inside was dead, because some virus had infiltrated the diner and though I had the antidote, I had been too late? Or worse, what if there was nothing at all inside? Disappointment scared me more than anything else, and I decided to take a moment to prioritize and get a grip. I flipped down the visor and did my best to make myself look presentable in the mirror. I pulled my hair up and back, aside for a few loose strands that hung casually about my face. I wiped dark eyeliner from beneath my eyes with my thumb, and did the same with the excess lipstick around my mouth.
I didn’t think I looked too bad, and smiled with a strange kind of confidence that felt out-of-place. Then again, nothing I did that morning was making any sense so hey – why not feel pretty? I climbed out of the truck, and the door slammed shut loudly behind me. No one else seemed to be moving about, and I pulled my coat tight around me, warding off the cold and the sinking suspicion that I was doomed to life of mediocrity and that even when I did something crazy, like get a tattoo, it was still mundane.
The bell above the door rang as I entered and I released a breath I had only been
vaguely aware of holding. There were a few people inside, none of whom were dead. Two old men in flannel coats at the counter turned to observe me, then turned back around, as if I was more of an irritating disturbance than I was interesting. A harried looking older woman came out from behind the hostess stand and asked me how many. My face fell. I was always just one and it was taking its toll. Even drunk in the Big Apple, I had been lonely. So many bodies packed crowded bar after crowded bar, and not one male had been intrigued to ask my name, or offer to buy me a drink. The confidence so recently enjoyed fled, and I opened my mouth to tell her I was still just one, when a masculine voice said, “There you are.”
Both the hostess and myself turned to the voice. A handsome young man was standing beside a booth. He had dark hair that was in danger of being too long, and dark eyes that shone in a peculiar, unexpected way. A small, coy smile played upon his thin lips, and his hands were shoved deep in the front pocket of his jeans. His flannel shirt hung off his thin but strong body. I smiled in spite of myself, and turned to look behind me, just in case the real object of his attention was somewhere else. When I turned back around, he was laughing and waving me over. I looked to the hostess for some help or clarification, and she offered none, but returned to her station, as if this was the most normal thing in the world. On ankles that were once again wobbly, I walked over to the booth and sat across from the young man. He sat, only after I was seated, and said, “I thought you weren’t going to show, and then I would have been heartbroken.”
I raised an eyebrow, and leaned forward to whisper, “I’m sorry, but I don’t know who you are.”
He shook his head slowly from side to side, the smile fading ever so slightly, and he leaned back in the seat. “I’m Sam. We met last night, remember? We were both at McSorely’s.”
I covered my face with my hands. “I am so sorry, but I don’t remember anything from last night.”
“Then why are you here?”
I lowered my hands and looked at Sam. He wasn’t smiling anymore. The humor had left his expression entirely, and I was afraid he was insulted. Did he think I was lying? I laid the forearm with the tattoo on the table and lifted my sleeve. “I woke up, saw the tattoo and thought it might be important. I followed what my arm said, and it brought me here.”
Gently, he took my arm into his hands to better study it. The physical contact sent shivers along my body, and I wondered if he felt the tremors. If he had felt them, did he chalk it up to the cold, or did he suspect something else? He laid my arm back down on the table, and met my eyes. “I drew this on your arm last night. I was not with you when you decided to get it tattooed there, though.” It was obvious to me he was trying to hold back laughter, and my face grew hot. I didn’t want him to laugh at me. I was done being embarrassed, so over it. I snatched my arm back and rolled down the sleeve.
“Why did you draw on me?”
“So you would know where to meet for breakfast.” He paused a moment before asking, “Do you really not remember?”
“Why would I lie to make myself look like a jackass?”
Absent-mindedly, Sam rubbed his lips with his palm. He was deciding something and whatever he decided, it made him lean forward to talk in a serious tone. “Last night, or really early this morning, I saw you sitting at the bar. I thought you were beautiful, so I sat down next to you, and started some lame conversation about snakes in Ireland.” He paused again, watching my face closely for expression. He must not have been deterred or alarmed by what he saw because he continued, saying, “It worked, and we had the best conversation I have ever had in my entire life. I don’t know how long we would have sat there. You told me about your book, and how you wanted to move to Maine. You told me about how you were terrified of being boring, and that you wanted to stay young and reckless forever. I was going to ask you something else, but your friend came over and said you had to go.” Sam suddenly dropped his eyes. “I couldn’t let you leave without making plans to see you again, so I invited you to breakfast, because we had also discussed how we both can’t sleep in after drinking.” He leaned back in the booth, and still didn’t raise his eyes to mine. I thought he was finished, but he cleared his throat. “Your friend told me you couldn’t, because you didn’t live in the city and that the two of you were going back to her house, which you told me was in Jefferson. I just so happen to live in Jefferson, so I suggested the diner and you said yes.” Here, he raised his eyes to mine and said, “You said yes without hesitation.”
I was blushing. The heat ran from my neck all the way through the top of my head. I dropped my gaze and tried to breathe smoothly. Idly, I picked at the paper placemat and again, I waited for him to continue. Sam wasn’t saying anything though, and the silence was building and becoming uncomfortable, so I decided to break it. I said, “So you drew the map on my arm so I would know how to get here?”
I laughed. “Then I must have gotten it tattooed because I was afraid it would wash it off, and then I wouldn’t-“
“You wouldn’t remember,” Sam finished. He ran a hand through his hair and started to slide from the booth. “Look, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to – I just wanted – ugh, forget it.” He went leave, and I panicked. I didn’t know him from a hole in the wall. He could have been a serial rapist and murderer, but I didn’t want him to leave. I reached out across the table and grabbed his arm to stop him.
“Please don’t leave. I’m sorry I ended up being such a drunk, sloppy mess, but look – I got it etched on my skin with a needle because I wanted to make sure I made it here.” Sam looked at me. I didn’t know if he was waiting for something else, but I said, “Let’s have another great conversation, okay? Hell, it could be exactly the same if you wanted. You have a second chance to wow me.” I smiled lamely, knowing I sounded desperate and dumb. I slowly slid my hand from his arm, more than ready for his departure.
Instead, Sam surprised me. He slid back down the booth to seat himself across from me. He smiled genuinely and asked, “So what time did you get up this morning?”