Chapter 2 - Jordan


Jordan drummed her long fingernails against the muted linen tabletop. It was mid-day, and the restaurant’s high, white ceilings captured the noon sun and held it like a brilliant cloud above her head. She had never been to this place before, but the relaxed, Sunday afternoon hum made her think she’d like to come back again, should everything go according to plan. There were so few places she could go in the city now without seeing someone she’d rather not see, even if they never saw her.

            She was here for a lunch date. Her mark was of a predictable sort, his type of girl fairly easy to discern from his profile. Straight blonde hair. Tan skin. Thin waist. Long fingernails. She hadn’t even had to create a new account – just recycle one she’d used a few months back and change the name. A lot of guys were into this one. It had only taken a few messages for him to start asking for nudes, and from there she knew she had him. They set the date for the next day. Guys were so predictable.

            Shapesh1ft3r79 had once asked her how she stayed anchored through all of this, how she held on to the truth of her core self. She didn’t know what they meant. There was no ‘core self’. But they’d persisted. Who are you at home? I am no one, she’d replied. When no one’s around, I don’t have to be. They hadn’t liked that answer. But who are you right now?

            The chime above the door rang once and her mark entered her line of sight. He looked smaller than he had in his pictures – neck a bit thinner, shoulders more sloped. Shorter. But such was the nature of online dating. You never really knew what you were getting. She allowed him to look stupidly around the restaurant for nearly a minute before donning her best bubbling smile and waving him over with a manicured hand. When he finally saw her, he set his jaw and squared his shoulders, swaggering over to her with as much masculinity as he could muster.

            “Damn baby,” he said as soon as he was in earshot. “You look even hotter in person.”

            She had been waiting for him to arrive before ordering food, hoping that this one might try to play the gentleman and pay for her. But he didn’t seem much interested in food. When the waiter came over with menus, he waved him away and said they wouldn’t be staying. All the while, his eyes scanned her body, trying to consume her.

            “Well baby, how ‘bout it?” he said, his eyes still crawling on her. “You up for a little afternoon delight? My place is right around the corner.”

            “Thought you’d never ask.”

            Right around the corner ended up being a twenty-minute walk in the mid-day heat, and by the time they arrived the sweat had started to gather in the small of her back. She’d tried her best to make small talk, but this one didn’t seem very capable of conversation. The house was old, two stories of painted white brick. There was no front yard, just three small stairs rising up directly off the sidewalk. Inside was no better—stained beige carpets, dim lighting, furniture sparse as islands in a deep sea. As soon as they were through the door he’d put his arm around the small of her back, pressing the sweat that had collected there into the fabric of her shirt, and put his mouth on hers. It was a smooth move—she was impressed. With his arm still around her, he guided her to the couch in the living room, and within seconds he was laying on top of her, his hand running up the back of her denim-covered thigh. She ran her long fingernails through his thick, dark hair. Once, a guy had started undressing her before they had even made it through the door. She’d kept swatting his hands away, but he wouldn’t take no for an answer. This wasn’t so bad as that.

            After a few minutes, she put a hand on his chest and pushed him away.

            “Just a minute,” she said. “I’m gonna freshen up for you. Bathroom?”

            Down the hall to the left was a dimly lit closet of cracked yellow tile with a toilet too stained for her to look at. The mirror above the sink had a long crack running diagonally across it. When she leaned forward, the crack cut right across the reflection of her nose, fragmented her left eye, distorted her high cheekbone. She rocked her body in and out, watching her face ripple in the fracture. The first thing she changed was the fingernails. She had always hated long fingernails, the dirt that gets stuck under them. Next was the hair. Close cropped, a bit darker, but not too much. Short enough that she could have been hiding it under a wig. The skin tone had to stay in order to be believably the same person, but the jaw line could be squared a bit more, the nose broadened, eyes shrunk down just a bit. The chest flattened, of course. It had to be enough that there was no question, that the realization hit him as hard as it had the others.

            When Jordan stepped out of the bathroom, he cleared his throat, just to make sure his voice was deep enough. He started down the hall toward the living room.

            “Actually baby,” he called down the hall, “there’s something I gotta tell you. Before we—”

            He stopped short as he emerged into the living room to find the idiot lying fully nude across the couch, a pillow placed strategically to cover just enough, reclined as if he were posing for a painting. For once, Jordan nearly broke composure. He had to give this guy credit—he had moves. Probably used them on a lot of girls too, which made the moment all the more sweet. The idiot’s mouth dropped open, but no sound came out. Jordan gave him a second to react—the unprompted reactions were the most pure—but he didn’t move.

            “I just figured you should know,” he said. “Before we, you know, headed upstairs.”

            As if on cue, the pillow rocked forward and tumbled onto the floor, leaving the idiot fully exposed, his masculinity laid bare. These were the moments Jordan lived for. He could see the wheels start turning in the idiot’s head, the smoke nearly coming out his ears. But they had kissed, he was thinking. They had kissed, but he thought—but if she’s not—if he’s—then what does that—and then Jordan saw it break behind his eyes, the decades of social pressure suddenly a weight too much to bear, and the façade fractured and fell away and for a moment he was a child, lying self-consciously on a couch, naked as the day he was born, soft and pink and new, and Jordan knew he had about ten seconds to get out of there before that polished manly armor came rushing back and things got really bad.

            “I’ll take that as a get the hell out of my house,” he said, and before the idiot could move, Jordan was stepping into the bright, hot sun, closing the door behind him. It was a Sunday, and the sidewalks were dappled with people walking dogs or out for afternoon strolls. He only just made it down the stairs and onto the street when he heard the door behind him wrench open.

            “Hey!” the idiot shouted, and Jordan turned with the rest of the street to see him standing there, pillow clutched to his front to cover himself, scanning the faces of the gathered crowd for the one that had tricked him. But Jordan was already someone else, staring back at him, daring him to see. After a few seconds, the street moved on, and Jordan turned and walked away, blending into the crowd, another face he would never see again.