Peach Schnapps, Part 2
[Continued from last week]
Everything in town was walking distance and within minutes we reached her off-campus apartment – a large room above someone’s garage. Kitty had decorated every inch of the place with tapestries and lamps and strange thrift store furniture. It was like stepping into a Moroccan blanket fort.
She closed the door behind me. “If I’m going to live in a place, I want to live there,” she said. “I can’t stand an empty house.”
She washed out two mismatched teacups and poured us each an ounce of Schnapps. We toasted, tasted, met eyes. Its saccharine texture stayed on the gums long after one swallowed. We downed the rest and poured another.
“Both my parents are surgeons,” she said, after we’d got into it. “My mom hates that I want to be a vet.”
“And your dad?”
“The only time I’ve ever seen him upset is when I scratched his Sam Cooke record.”
“Big music fan?”
“That’s an understatement.”
“I play, actually.”
“Would you write a song for me?”
She held her teacup aloft. “I warned you. No bullshit.”
“Another?” I asked.
“You know the answer,” she said, reclining on the chaise. “What about your parents?”
“My dad worked as a meter reader for a while, before his company got sold to a conglomerate. He’s working now for his friend’s auto body shop. He fixes furniture. He’s always had a few things going.”
“What about your mom?”
“She passed, actually.”
I returned her cup. “It was a long time ago.”
“Was she sick?” she asked, taking it.
I settled back onto the rug. “I’d rather not talk about it, if you don’t mind.”
An old clock announced the hour. Wind creaked the walls. She rose and put on a record — Hungarian Gypsy music, joyful yet full of mourning.
“Can I ask you another question,” she asked, “or have I exceeded my limit?”
“Why do you want to be a vet?”
“I like animals,” I said.
She stared at me, waiting.
“I had a dog growing up. Artie. He was a black lab with white spots on his snout. When it was time for him to go, I was pretty broken up. I begged my dad but Artie was suffering. I went along. I stayed in the room. I still remember the vet’s name. Dr. Hawthorne. She was so good with him, making him feel comfortable and safe. She talked us through what was going to happen and gave me time to say goodbye…” I took a sip. “So after that, I thought, if music doesn’t work out, being a vet is something I could see myself doing.”
“So, it’s a fallback.”
I didn’t answer.
“Faced with one profession or another, you would pick music.”
“I mean – ”
“I’m not questioning your commitment,” she said.
“It sort of sounds like it.”
“Are you enjoying the program? Today, aside.”
My stomach turned, remembering. “It’s a lot more science than I thought. I’m okay at math. Better than okay.”
She extended her cup for a refill.
“It goes down too easily.”
“Well, I’m afraid you have to get this one yourself.”
“Rude? I’m a feminist. I believe you can do anything I can.”
“You just want me to lean over you.”
“Feminism takes many forms.”
She stretched across me to grab the bottle, then withdrew in slow motion, shirt brushing against my face.
“Would it be weird for me to ask what scent you’re wearing?”
“It would,” she said.
“But seriously,” I said, “what am I smelling?”
“If you can guess, I’ll tell you.”
“Fancy, but no.”
“Do you know you have six different shades of blonde in your hair?”
“Hey,” she grinned. “We were talking about your major.”
“I’m a freshman.”
“It never hurts to have a goal in mind.”
“I do have a goal in mind,” I said, eying her from over my teacup’s rim.
“Don’t rush the dance,” she said. “If you’re good at math and medicine is a fallback, why don’t you change your concentration to business?”
“I am not going to be somebody who wears a tie every day.”
“If you’re going to do music, do music. A paycheck is a paycheck if it’s not your passion — doesn’t matter where it’s from. And business does to tend to lead to better paying jobs.”
The gypsy chorus yielded to a lone violin.
“Are you trying to get rid of me?”
“You’re joking, right?”
“Everything you’ve been saying…”
“First of all,” she said, sitting taller, “I don’t typically invite freshmen to my apartment, nor do I ever stay up this late on a weeknight.” She topped me off, spilling on the table. She tossed a cloth napkin over it and added, “My agenda is not to get rid of you. It’s to help.”
“I know what I’m doing.”
“Maybe so, but I’ve seen the majority of my classmates change majors and it’s not for lack of trying. Everybody loves animals, and we all want to make a difference in families’ lives. But ask any one of your professors and they’ll tell you, the requirements for getting into veterinary school can be just as stressful as pre-doctoral programs. My roommate last year had a nervous breakdown. That’s why I left the dorms.”
“You’re sticking with it,” I said. “What makes you so different than me?”
“How did you lose your virginity?”
I choked on my drink.
“There’s a point,” she said. “I promise.” I hesitated. She asked, “Will more Schnapps help?”
I slid the teacup over, she filled it to the brim. “You’re trying to get me drunk.”
“Lies.” She sat back. “Well?”
“I was 16. It was with my best friend’s ex. In her mother’s minivan.”
“Your best friend’s ex, huh?”
“He knew about it. He practically insisted.” I sucked at the edge of my cup, careful not to spill. “Do I get to know yours?”
“That is what I was getting to.” She joined me on the rug. “I was a virgin until senior year of high school. Every hour of every day was planned out. I was volunteering at the local vet’s office, I ran eight different clubs at school, participated in a dozen more. I graduated valedictorian.”
“None of this surprises me.”
“I don’t hide things well. So, accomplishments notwithstanding, my dating life was non-existent. Until I was assigned to tutor a certain boy. Christopher Buonanotte. Now, Christopher was an all-state athlete in not one, not two, but three different sports. He had radiant olive skin, a broad chest, broad shoulders. His conversation left something to be desired, but what can you do? Now, he comes over one day after practice, both my parents are at the hospital, and we head upstairs to my room. And, as he walks past me, I smell his sweat. And it is not bad B.O. It is very very good B.O. Like hot sand and marijuana. He sits on my bed and unzips his bag and I tell him, ‘Stop. I know you have a girlfriend. I have no interest in being your girlfriend. What I am interested in, is us taking off our clothes and putting the next hour toward something useful.’
“He balked at first, if you can believe it. Some men shy away from sex when it’s readily offered. Luckily, he got over that rather quickly and we went to bed – also, rather quickly. He was out the door long before our tutoring session was to have ended.” She took a long drink. The needle sighed onto the last groove of the record. “And, so, I did the only thing that made sense – I studied. I got a certain book from a certain girl on the debate team and spent the next week cramming on technique. His next tutoring session went remarkably better, and I’ve never had any complaints since.”
I contemplated the mileage to the bed, the number of tripping hazards on the floor, the worrisome level of drunk.
“Fill me up?” she asked.
I tilted the bottle over her cup, the final drops spilled out.
In the history of literature, nothing’s come close to articulating the look in her eyes. My best attempt would be to call it criminal.
“What time is it?” I asked.
“Should I go?”
“Is that the question you want to ask?”
I swallowed the last of my drink.
She got to her feet. “You’ve had a long day.”
It was a short walk to the door.
We hesitated, then hugged. A lasting hug. Two long breaths in unison.
Then she said, “I’ll see you in class,” and shut the door.
I listened to her footsteps padding away. A full minute passed before I retreated downstairs.
Outside, it was cold. A glimmer of sun not yet risen. My legs refused to budge. The birds began singing. I climbed back to the second flight, and before I could knock she was there wearing a tee-shirt that reached down to her knees. I cleared my throat, she stopped me.
“Maybe not so much talking,” she said, pulling me toward her.
From that first instant, our kiss was sacred. A marriage of toothpaste and peaches, blossoming.
This piece appears as part of a serialized fiction experiment by Nathaniel Kressen for At Large magazine. New installments are published weekly, each based around a different liquor.
Nathaniel Kressen is the author of two novels — Dahlia Cassandra (named Best of 2016 Fiction by Entropy & Luna Luna Magazine) and Concrete Fever (Bestseller, Strand Book Store) — as well as the co-founder of Second Skin Books and the leader of the Greenpoint Writers Group.