The lime-green thong vanished into the crack of her ass. Swallowed entirely by her upside-down heart. The thong matched her eyes almost. Both implied a fun time. Her lips a devilish tilt. The kind of beautiful that makes a man’s dick ache.
“Clarissa.” Louie wiggled the mouse until the arrow on the screen zipped over the X.
With a click, she disappeared.
Louie had recently experienced some luck pulling women from AOL chatrooms. Blondes, redheads, black chicks, you name it. I, on the other hand, had been reticent in trying my hand in such endeavors. Wasn’t my style. My only foray into this world had come as a wingman to Louie, and it had gone fairly well. Got laid, anyway.
“Tell me about her. Clarissa.”
A wry grin spread across his angular face. “Well,” he began, “she’s on fire, as you can see.” Perhaps sensing my next question, he added, “Never fucked her. Wanted to, but her nutjob boyfriend found out she’d been chatting with me and sending nudes. Beat the brakes off her. We kinda drifted apart after that.”
To broker a connection between us without himself looking like a creep, Louie coached me through the process. The steps were straightforward enough:
Create an AOL profile.
Upload a photo.
Send her an instant message.
Predicting that she would ask me how I’d come across her screen name, Louie armed me with a plausible story, which basically boiled down to lying. Not my proudest moment, but in my defense, the cock wants what the cock wants.
That evening, I reached out. Her profile was devoid of pictures, which made sense; her boyfriend was a possessive manic. Despite this, she asked me for a recent photo. Once that was settled, and she approved, we began chatting. Chatting turned into texting. Texting turned into talking.
“You now know how I look. Mind sending me some pics?”
“That’s the thing,” she began. There’s always a thing. “I have a man. He found out I was talking to other dudes on the internet, and he flipped. Broke my webcam and made me delete all my pics.” After a measure, she added, “I’ll describe myself, though. I have green eyes…”
Honestly, I tuned her out while gazing at her picture on my computer screen.
My response was something like, “I’m not all that into looks.”
Two weeks. For two weeks, we spoke on the phone every day. There was something about her scratchy voice, the cadence in her delivery perhaps, that made even the most mundane subject matter seem like a punchline was hiding around the corner. We shared stories and laughs and phone-boned constantly. Jizz everywhere. I could’ve filled a milk jug with the stuff.
Even though she was involved in an abusive relationship, and despite her obviously being into me, she refused to take things with me to a physical stage until she broke up with her current guy. The way she rationalized it was, emotional cheating didn’t equate to infidelity. Another discussion for another day.
Anyway, Louie had suggested I offer to take her to Olive Garden. Said she used to carry on all the time about it being her favorite eatery. The idea seemed like a joke because, let’s be honest, Olive Garden is pretty much the McDonald’s of Italian food. But I digress.
Clarissa called me just as I was getting off work. She was excited and nervous and blathering on about how everything was different. It wasn’t until I got into my car and pulled out of the parking lot that her diatribe finally began to crystallize into something intelligible. Her boyfriend had shown up earlier at her parents’ house, demanding Clarissa pack her bags and move back in with him. When she dismissed the idea outright, Dipshit grabbed her by the arm, trying to muscle her. What he hadn’t banked on was Clarissa’s stepmom calling the cops.
By the time the law arrived, Dipshit was getting back into his car. They had him exit the vehicle, then proceeded to search him and his car. On him, they found an eight-ball. In his car, they found an unregistered gun. Turns out he also had open warrants.
With the story out of her system, she asked, “You know what this means, don’t you?”
“That I can finally take you to Olive Garden?”
“Oh my god, that’s my favorite restaurant.”
“You don’t say.”
Don’t you judge me, goddamn you.
The prospect of us getting together that night was summarily dismissed by Clarissa for two reasons: 1) it was the night before Christmas Eve, which, incidentally, was the day she and her family were leaving on vacation; and 2) she wanted to make sure her hair and nails were done. First impressions and such. Hard to argue against that logic, really.
That night, while last-minute Christmas shopping, I picked up a bottle of perfume for her. Some French shit or other. Even had the clerk wrap the box for me. Red ribbon and all. Buying a gift for a woman I’d never met, much less dated, it was a foreign concept to me. It occurred to me that I was seriously crushing on Clarissa and that, for the first time, I was genuinely nervous about meeting someone.
The goal was to drop in on her while she was getting ready to leave for vacation. Just to drop off her Christmas gift. Then I would leave. It was so much more of a romantic gesture in my mind than it seems, now, as I write this. I called her and told her I was “in the neighborhood,” and that I wanted to drop off her Christmas present.
“Are you crazy? I can’t let you see me like this,” she blurted. “I look like an orphan. No makeup, haven’t showered. I’m doing laundry.” She called me crazy. Then added, “I look like crap.”
Me: “I told you, I’m not caught up in looks.”
Somewhere in hell, there’s a desk with my name on the placard.
Clarissa finally caved and reluctantly agreed to meet me, asking only that I give her about forty minutes; by then her cousin would arrive to watch her little brother. She was nervous, and I found this terribly endearing. Truth is, I was probably just as nervous, if not more so. My car might as well have been on autopilot. Images appeared in my mind like flashcards: light green eyes; the knowing of a raised eyebrow; wry grin; brown curls; gym body. I was finally meeting the bronzed goddess.
I parked outside her house. Killed the ignition. Glanced at her wrapped gift on the passenger seat as I got out of my car. Leaned against the hood all casual-like, then called her.
Be right out, she said. You can’t miss me, I promised.
The woman who exited the house wasn’t Clarissa. Not even close. Her cousin was nearly as wide as she was tall. Think Babar with pasty skin and a ponytail.
She approached me like, “Hey.”
I was all, “Is she still putting her face on?”
She was lost. “Who?”
A familiar giggle. “Silly. I’m Clarissa.”
Picture your favorite album, on vinyl, playing on a vintage record player.
Imagine how rich and beautiful and full the sounds are.
Now picture some douche-nozzle dragging the needle.
Multiply that feeling by ten.
Befuddled and bamboozled, I was unsure of where to look or where to go from here. She must’ve sensed my unease, which, when paired with her trepidation, only added a thick layer of yuck to this inescapably awkward introduction. Staring down at my fidgety hands, I mumbled, “I, uh, have to go.”
I quickly hopped into my car and pulled away, leaving her standing by the curb.
I’d been catfished before being catfished was a thing.
If only this story ended there.
By the time I arrived at Louie’s place I had spun through the spectrum of feels. Confusion gave way to disappointment, which gave way to embarrassment, which then gave way to indignation. Walking through his front door, I grabbed him by his collar and slammed him against the wall, my face inches from his.
His eyes went wide. Swatted my hands away. “What crawled up your ass?”
I accused him of trolling me.
He pulled out his phone, called me, then called Clarissa on three-way. When she answered, he lambasted her with a barrage of insults. I listened in while she responded.
“You morons think I didn’t know the two of you are boys? I ain’t dumb. Same neighborhood, same job. I saw this coming a mile away, which is why I sent my fat cousin outside to meet you.”
Having come to terms with the way things had played out, I resolved to have nothing to do with women on the Internet. The entire experience had left me feeling so spun that, frankly, I began questioning people in general. I couldn’t, for the life of me, understand why someone would feel the need to lie about something as basic as their appearance. As for Clarissa, I’d changed her name on my contacts so that, whenever she called—and she called often—my phone would read Do Not Answer.
By the time New Year’s Eve rolled around, I still wasn’t feeling like my regular self. Friends had invited me out, and I initially agreed, only to flake out last minute. Instead, I was alone at my place, writing and drinking whiskey.
My phone vibrated.
Do Not Answer.
Suddenly in the mood to tell her off, I answered.
She said, “Don’t hang up. Let me explain”
After a pause, I said, “You’ve got one minute.”
“One minute?” The question sounded as if she’d just tasted a turd. “You’ve got some balls, man. Where do you even get off being mad? I never lied to you, never misled you. The only reason you thought I looked different was that you’d been conning me the entire time, you and your asshole friend. And the only reason I sent him fake pics was because I never had any intentions of meeting him. He’s a weasel. You were different, though, or so I thought.”
She was right, and I begrudgingly admitted as much. Then things fell quiet between us. The only sounds were those of my pen tapping against the legal pad. Tap, tap, tap.
Clarissa asked, “Do you have anything you’d like to say?”
“The girl I met, was that really you or your cousin?”
“Does it really matter that much at this point?”
She asked what I was doing.
Nothing of value, I admitted.
She asked if I was interested in, perhaps, picking her up and the two of us bar-hopping. I glanced at the clock. Minutes before midnight. Glanced down at the legal pad, at the chicken scratch I’d created.
“Okay, but I need to know—was that girl you or your cousin?”
I could hear the smile in her voice. “Guess you’ll just have to wait and see.”
During the drive over, it dawned on me that this was it, I’d somehow passed Clarissa’s character test. Now that we’d hashed out our differences, imagined or otherwise, and I’d agreed to still be her friend, I was going to finally meet the real her.
It was after midnight when I pulled up in front of her house. Music was pumping from a neighbor’s window; a New Year’s party in full swing. Any second now, Clarissa would be exiting her house, all svelte and tanned and ready to get shit-housed. We would likely wind up in a hotel room, too drunk to drive. We would have hot monkey sex, and by morning, would be laughing at the previous few weeks.
The front door opened.
And out waddled Baby Elephant.
Like a slashed tire my hopes deflated. Wheels on the pavement. An immediate need of four cinderblocks. Despite the sinking feeling deep in my core, I sat up straight. Going into this, I knew this was the likeliest scenario. Whatever—grab a few drinks, have some laughs, then drop her off.
She climbed in, causing an instant shift in the car as the shocks begged for mercy. Leaned in for a hug. Her hair smelled of lavender and BBQ.
“So,” I said, “there’s this dive bar I was thinking we could hit. Not really a tourist trap, you know?”
“Feel like getting high first?”
We headed into an industrial part of the city, old warehouses that, come this time of night, were all but abandoned. You’d never know that, just a few miles away, the city was bursting at the seams. I drove into an alleyway, then parked by a loading dock. Within moments, we were sitting in a hotbox, thick plumes of skunky smoke burning my eyes. Had to crack the window. Over the White Stripes playing on low volume, we communicated through coughs and laughter.
“Can you, uh,”—coughed into her fist. “Can you do me a favor?” When I agreed, she continued, “Would you let me give you head?”
“That’s probably not such a good idea.”
“Just head,” she promised. “No sex. A little fun between friends. That’s all.”
I’ve seen people at hotdog-eating contests attack wieners with less fervor.
Between involuntary eye-rolls I noticed her undoing her belt, then shimmying her jeans from her wide hips. This was heading into unchartered waters. Choppy, murky, unchartered waters. She looked up at me with a saliva string leading from her bottom lip to me. Swiping a hand across her mouth, she said simply, “Come on.”
The next several minutes passed by in one giant awkward blur, a memory of I’ve spent years unsuccessfully wiping clean from my mental hard drive.
Once finished, I forced myself to look away as she got herself together. She was so far removed from the girl in the photo. And, still, I’d just had sex with her. Wasn’t sure whether I pitied myself more than I hated myself, or if it was the other way around.
She said, “Before we head to the bar, would you mind stopping at a store?”
With a press of a button, I turned on the defroster. While watching the foggy windshield clear up some, I said, “I could use something to drink.”
As I drove, Clarissa began talking about her vacation. About catching her parents naked in the hot tub. Little brother puked on her sneakers. No matter the hijinks, she recounted it all with a laugh. It reminded me why I’d so thoroughly enjoyed our marathon phone conversations.
The only thing open this late in this neighborhood was a gas station. We pulled in, and I parked near the snack shop. Peeled off a fiver, handed it to her and asked that she grab an iced tea. As she got out, it occurred to me that we were going to have fun hitting up the bars. So, she wasn’t the girl from the pic, right? Not the end of the world.
Just then, I caught sight of her, all wide body, waddling into the store.
Put the car in Drive, and filled the empty gas station parking lot with the sounds of screeching tires.