She has a sweet tooth, she tells me, and I know better than to mistake it for a secret.
She is perched on the stool beside me, legs crossed prettily. Black tights and short cream-colored boots. We are out—really out, not holed up in our dorm room like we’re used to, but out—at a pub.
I ask for a glass of wine, a red, I suggest, slightly over-anxious, knuckles white and gripping the wooden bar for support as I stand there, self-conscious and unpracticed. I am still wearing my coat.
Louisa has located a hook underneath the bar; how she knows it’s there I can only guess. She slings her purse casually upon it like she’s been here before. She drums her red nails against the bar as she surveys the scene, which is nearly empty but for a middle-aged man sitting alone at one end of the bar. He drinks amber liquid from a short glass. A local, we assume, but we called Woodlan residents “townies,” as if they were the intrusion upon us.
You just gotta show me somethin’, darlin’, I don’t care what it is, the bartender says, gesturing to my wallet.
I fiddle with my purse and hand him my college ID, which he inspects as if it might contain a birth year. I hope Louisa hasn’t seen the photo, which was taken after orientation and shows me flushed and sweaty; no makeup, hair pulled back, gender indiscernible.
The bartender hands it back. A shrug and a smirk, like the whole charade is for his own entertainment. What kinda red?
I glance, unsure, at Louisa. She sighs slowly and heavily like we’ve just had a week like we don’t have time to peruse lengthy wine lists, varied by color and body, and meaningless notes. Surprise us, she says, sounding both sophisticated and bored, not like she doesn’t know but like she doesn’t care. The bartender regards her with raised brows but turns nonetheless with a simple nod of the head.
And a cheesecake! Louisa calls after him, a slight tinge of pink crossing her cheeks, which enhances her pale face and dark features. She smiles at his momentary confusion. Two slices, she says.
I notice that the bartender never asks Louisa for identification, college or otherwise. When he returns, he pours liberally into our glasses, nearly sloshing wine over the top as he slides the gelatinous yellow slices of cake in front of each of us with his free hand.
Louisa takes an impressive forkful, closing her eyes. Her lips envelop the tines and she pulls back seductively, moaning into her plate as she does. The man at the end of the bar is momentarily distracted from his drink, tracing his fingers over his own lips as he watches her intently, eyes wide and wanting. I look away from him, embarrassed, but Louisa either doesn’t notice or doesn’t care. Her show isn’t for him.
She eats three more bites in quick succession, licking and smacking her lips as I stare, marveling and envious. Aren’t you going to try yours? she demands.
Fifteen pounds is an easy way to twenty, my mother tells me before I leave for college. Before you know it, she trails off, puffing out her cheeks. Two perfect Os. I want to pop them with my fingers; touch her pretty, powdered skin, but I know she wouldn’t like this so I nod instead.
I don’t like cheesecake, I tell Louisa.
She leans over me, dark hair tickling my wrist, and takes a bite of mine now, even though she still has half of her own slice left. She pauses, takes a deep breath and leans back as far as her stool will allow, circling her lips with her tongue, tasting the sweetness there.
Well I, she says, turning toward me, shrugging and unapologetic, have the worst sweet tooth.
I am immediately in love. With her; with her complete disregard, her unabashed want for cheesecake. I am in love with how she does not do what so many other girls our age do, inventing unsolicited wild and fanciful reasons for why she is or is not eating what she is or is not eating. She does not get caught up in the games we play as girls, which would follow us into adulthood, although I did not know that then. She would never take part in the excuses and the justifications. Well, I shouldn’t have this because. Oh, I can’t have that because. Should shouldn’t can can’t. If I do this then, therefore, I will or won’t eat this or that. It would grow and expand and extend to all facets of life, all aspects of our womanhood. Not just how much physical space we took up, but emotional. Theoretical. How loudly we spoke. How much we desired. How we carried ourselves, too confidently and not confidently enough. How we dressed. How we acted. What we asked for or didn’t ask for and why we were or weren’t asking for it. What we wanted and who we wanted and why we wanted.
Louisa puts down her fork.
My mother is scared I’m going to get fat, I say.
She laughs. A beautiful laugh; loud and jarring and unrestrained inside the dark, silent, candlelit bar. It bounces from the paneled walls and I think I can catch it. The man at the end of the bar looks up sharply at the noise and regards her with furrowed brows.
And then what? she says, calmly taking another bite of cheesecake, her own this time. She pushes my plate towards me. And then you get to be happy?
Laura Gianino works in publishing in New York City. Her writing has appeared online at The Rumpus and Bustle. You can find her on Twitter at @LMarieGi.