Away from the curious and leering gazes of my friends, that awkward feeling begins to evaporate. It’s not totally different from interacting at the Co-Op. Although, without the wall of professionalism to scale, there is the feeling that something has changed. The formalities of customer and clerk begin to blur, and then fade altogether. A casual pretty face at place has been replaced by someone who might just start hanging around in some other form or fashion.
There are the moments of flirtation, but also moments of getting to know one another a little more than our brief interactions. It’s light. It’s fun. I’m enjoying myself, and I like to think she is too, but I know better than to ask. At least not yet. Asking would ruin it.
It seems almost too soon when Kisshandra, Rio, and Jazz-Cat Hobbs reappear with the shots. I check my watch and it’s eleven-thirty. Close enough to midnight, I suppose. Besides, with the addition of Carmen to the evening, it seems the rules have changed.
“Toast time!” Kisshandra announces, handing out the drinks. “And, Joshua, I’m going to put you on the spot.”
“Oh, Christ! Why?”
“To watch you squirm, hillbilly,” Rio teases with a wink.
“To one of my best friends,” Kisshandra begins. I try not look as uncomfortable as I feel. “To your dreams of Borneo. I pray you one day make it.”
“To Borneo!” Hobbs and Rio both say.
“To Borneo,” I repeat, taking a sip with a smile on my face. It’s not a night out without a toast to Borneo.
“Borneo?” Carmen asks.
“I’m going to move to Borneo,” I say. “My goal is to be there by the time I’m thirty-five.”
“How long does that leave you?” She seems genuinely curious.
And I chuckle. It’s been three or four years since it all happened. I no longer remember where or the exact date, but it was that magazine. It was one of those glossy rags that advertised travel to all parts of the globe. Nowhere was too far-flung. It was there I happened upon the article about Borneo.
I read of tree houses, high up in the rain forest canopy. Structures, which could only be accessed by zip-lines. I was entranced. After all, what boy didn’t want to live in a tree fort at one time or another? I decided I would do it as a grown man, even setting the deadline of being in Borneo by the time I was thirty-five. When I first told the others, I remember Rio saying my fate was sealed. Kisshandra just got a sad and faraway look in her eyes.
“Girls never lose boys like you to other girls,” she said when I asked her about it. For three or four years, I’ve never been exactly sure what she meant.
“So, what do you know about Borneo?” Carmen asks after I recount the magazine.
“What’s there to know? There’s jungle and orangutans. I’ll figure out the rest when I get there,” I reply and she has an almost horrified expression on her face, to which I smile. “That’s what got me here.”
“It’s true,” Rio interjects. “He’s lived here for seven years and the three of us have known him almost since the day he got here, and he’s just always kind of flown by the seat of his pants.”
“Making it up as he goes along,” Hobbs adds, toasting me with his empty shot glass. “That’s our Stormy boy.”
“The spontaneous type…” Carmen muses, moving a little closer to me, when I cast my glance toward Kisshandra, she looks almost impassive, except for that sad and faraway look she gets when Borneo comes up. “Interesting.”
“Well, kids, can we continue this inside?” There’s a sudden urgency in Hobbs' voice. “Zayne’s about to go back on, and Jules told me she and Rollins have a table we can sit at if we get our asses back in.”
“Say no more, Jazz-Cat,” I say, tossing the burned out remains of my hand-rolled away.
So, we continued our evening inside with a blues soundtrack of Morgan Zayne and Tia Williams. It is simply divine. Jules and Tomas Rollins had secured us a big table near the stage, which is why Hobbs was so insistent on us getting back inside. Those kind of tables can be a rare commodity on Thursday Night Blues at Juke. Especially when Morgan Zayne is playing and even moreso when Tia Williams joins him for a second set. There’s a round of drinks waiting for us upon arrival, Kisshandra’s treat. This means the next round will most likely be mine.
I catch up with Jules and Rollins, neither of which I’ve seen in a few weeks. The girls dance. Aside from talking to me, Carmen engages in conversations with the others, which I find to be a good thing. Every so often, I look toward Kisshandra. She seems serene as always, but I occasionally notice that sad and faraway look in her eyes, and at one point, it looks like she might cry. This worries me.
As much as I want to talk to her about it, it’s a little hard. There are other conversations we all catch ourselves having. The righteous blues being performed before our very eyes is not something that can be easily ignored. There’s dancing and getting a fresh round of drinks and shots. Priorities or distractions, depending on how it’s looked at.
I finally do catch up with Kisshandra outside of the bathrooms. She beams at me and gives me a warm hug. I catch a slight grinding motion within her hips in time to the music, which is more than a little arousing. I pull her closer for a moment before meeting her gaze.
“I like Carmen,” she says. “I hope she starts coming around more.”
“I’m glad,” I say. “There’s been a way you’ve been acting that got me to wondering.”
“Don’t be silly, Joshua!” Kisshandra laughs. “Carmen’s not the first girl I’ve seen you go home with, and she won’t be the last. Besides, we have our way of being. John once made that mistake with me.” I raise an eyebrow to her as a piece of the puzzle of her history with Hobbs slides into place. “That’s another reason he loves you; because you can deal with me the way I am and not bat an eye. He couldn’t.”
“Wow,” I say. “I never knew.”
“You’ve always been too much of a southern gentleman to ask.”
“I guess I was worried because when we were toasting out on the patio, and I was telling Carmen about Borneo, you got a weird look,” I say. “You’ve looked like you wanted to break down a couple of times.”
Kisshandra’s expression becomes deathly serious. Suddenly, she’s pressing her lips to mine. There’s a small part of me that wonders if Carmen sees this what she’ll think. That part is drowned out in the moment. I’m too intoxicated with the sensation of our kiss, the urgency of it, the strength of Kisshandra’s embrace. The last time we kissed so savagely, we were thrown out of a Latino discotheque for getting a little too frisky in a stairwell.
Then she’s pulling away. Almost pushing herself from my arms. I want to hold tighter, but I know better. This is Kisshandra. As Rio once observed, she doesn’t really belong to anyone. Apparently, Hobbs made that mistake once.
“Joshua, I love you. I really do,” Kisshandra says, her eyes are wet. “You’re one of my best friends. Don’t ever worry about another girl when it comes to me. If you decided you wanted to get married or something, I’d miss you…I’d miss us like that, but I love you too much to even dream of stopping you. You’re not the type to be stopped.”
“Okay?” I’m a little confused. “Then what’s wrong?”
“When you told Carmen about Borneo, it just reminded me of something,” Kisshandra replies. “The fact you set your mind to something and you end up doing it. I have never worried about losing you to a girl, because boys like you don’t get taken away by girls.” She stops a moment to wipe away a single tear rolling down her cheek, I want to do something to comfort her, but her body language keeps me at arm’s length. “I know I’m going to lose you someday, and it breaks my heart. It’s not a girl I’m going to lose you to, I’m going to lose you to Borneo.”