Flash Fiction: post-grad warriors

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Sometimes post-grad warriors need each other. Sometimes the platitudes from family members about this process taking time become too much and they need a fellow struggler to understand that they are lost and still find them attractive. They have been yanked away (“grown out of”) communal dorm lounges and long debates at the campus coffee house, and it is so easy and hard to suffer in silence. So sometimes they are lost and they need someone to be lost with.

Owen winds up in New York for a few days. He has no idea where he is going next other than a vague road trip and having some interviews lined up, but that’s par for the course. Everything is last minute now, and everyone winds up here. This is convenient for her: New York is a revolving door of people she always wanted to get to know better in college but never had the time. She understands now that she always had the time to but just didn’t because she didn’t know how, and now she really doesn’t have the time but it is somehow easier.

Chloe doesn’t need to ask why he reaches out to her when they were never exactly friends back then, more like friends of friends and the collective guardians of small talk in shared classes. She has a picture of him taken at a Halloween party saved somewhere on her computer and remembers exchanging hellos at the dining hall. But they all are pins on a map across the States, scattered far apart, and sometimes at work you get bored and you start a conversation on Facebook chat and suddenly have this new friend. And you find yourself texting, and occasionally calling him when drunk, and then a couple months later he is in New York and yeah, dinner sounds great.

He looks tired. Maybe he always did, Chloe doesn’t remember, but working on a campaign has zapped him of the party animal verve he had at school. But it comes back at the restaurant, him pushing his sleeves up his arms before resting his elbows on the table, leaning forward to look at her through focused brown eyes. Talking to people and making them feel heard is what he does (did? will continue to do? it’s too soon to tell) for a living but she relaxes and enjoys it, delighted when she makes him laugh. And his smile, this Midwestern boy smile full of teeth and dimples and low, clever comments, it’s gorgeous. She never saw him smile in college and she feels like she has accomplished something. There is something genuine and exposed about him that she finds herself drawn to, how ready he is to admit that the future is a gaping blank, that it is fucking hard and scary and hollow. And he does it with a self-deprecating smile, not wanting pity but merely to share, to trade notes on adulthood and its required isolation. He takes her hand where it rests on the table and the contact flares across her skin like electricity and she wonders how long it has been since she was touched. Friendly light punches from other writers at the school paper, cuddles with her roommate while watching reality TV, dancing pressed close to strangers at the frats, she took it all for granted.

Post-grad warriors flirt over dinner with open hearts but give each other permission not to matter if it’s inconvenient. There is always another resume to update, another Skype interview to schedule. But these things are never neat. He noticed her in college more than she noticed him, or at least he put more thought into it. She always found Owen gorgeous but it didn’t make sense; he was a wrestler and sat on the wrong side of the dining hall. After another round of drinks he admits he used to read her column each week, how much he admired her voice, how nervous he was to finally message her and say hi, and she thinks what the fuck was Owen Kravatz doing reading her column and how the fuck could she ever make him nervous? A better question: How did she never notice him noticing her? She’s usually so good at these things. She collects moments of eye contact and does not want to get ahead of herself but suggests they go for a walk, it’s such a nice night. It’s actually freezing outside because the seasons are already changing but he pretends not to notice.

They walk around Union Square, both a little drunk off of interaction (and Brooklyn IPAs). She weaves her arm through his and he keeps guiding her away from subway grates and cobblestones patches in the sidewalk because he doesn’t want her heels to get caught. There is a bench and they sit and she finds herself scared for the first time in what feels like months, not unpleasantly scared like the mounting hum of anxiety about who she is and where she is going but a warm, slippery fear in her gut. She likes it. She rests a hand on his chest and then leans in to kiss him. His mouth is so fucking warm and his chest is hard. She likes him. She likes his strength. He is going to be fine. Post-grad warriors make out in public parks because neither of them actually lives in this city.

And post-grad is giddy that someone likes her, giddy that someone is seeing her. Giddy that he kisses her the way she likes to be kissed, soft and full of intention. “What do you want me to do, Chloe?” He keeps repeating the same question, and someone is asking her what she wants and it actually matters. And for once she actually knows what she wants, the answer is simple, the answer has no consequences or qualifications, she just wants him to touch her. And not stop. Don’t stop. His hand sneaks up her skirt and she stops thinking about the days of the week and the train schedule. She needs this to be enough.

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Ella Dawson is a rowdy millennial who cares too much about The Bachelor. Her passions include sexual health and education, feminist erotica and social media.

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