In keeping with my promise that I won’t be like other women, that I won’t try to tie him down, that I won’t ask anything of him other than what we share in my little room late at night–I let Alan go.

I move beyond our brief relationship, leaving the restaurant and accepting a job working from nine at night until five in the morning as a cocktail waitress at a nearby sports bar.

There are lovers after Alan, but sex is different with the men I meet at the bar. The affairs are brief, secret and devoid of emotion.  Just interesting diversions to pursue in an otherwise banal cycle of work and sleep.

The men I am interested in, guitarists from various bands that play the weekends, are either married or otherwise engaged and I settle for Dennys pancakes and the occasional clandestine kiss after closing time.

A few months later Alan shows up at the bar with a group of friends. It’s Halloween night and I’ve done my hair teased up with hairspray and drawn eyeliner pencil stitch marks around my neck like the bride of Frankenstein. I’ve got the full get-up: white makeup, bright red lipstick and kohl rimmed eyes.

My heart drops to my stomach when I see him, but I play it casual. His friends leave and he stays alone, waiting outside by his car while I finish my closing duties. He’s taken up smoking cigarettes and we share one standing in the parking lot.

It’s been a long time since we’ve been together and life has been a real hustle just making ends meet while looking for yet another job. I have lost some of my emotional softness, but in the corner of my mind and my heart there is still a glimmer of what we shared.

We pick up where we left off, except now we apply the L word generously throughout our lovemaking. I wonder why we can’t seem to break out of this tiny world and have a “real” relationship, but it seems when we are apart he simply forgets about me. I count the days that pass in silence. I let it go to three…to four, then I give in and I call him. The cycle repeats.

I’ve discovered Tori Amos and I believe she is singing my life. I have dyed my hair the same fiery auburn shade and I find it compliments his. In the mirror at the end of my bed, we watch ourselves together–all ivory limbs and curves and gorgeous copper hair.

Afterward, lying on my stomach with him on top we gaze lovingly at each other in the mirror, his hair falling down over mine. We are so beautiful together.

“I don’t want to hurt you,” he sighs, rolling over.

“You can’t hurt me. I won’t let you,” I assure him.

“My parents just got divorced. I can’t see myself ever getting married.”

“Hey, I’m not interested in getting married again. I want you to feel free,” I say this and I really want to mean it.

I land a job at a fancy country club. A far cry from the shorts and sneakers I wore at the sports bar, now I wear a tuxedo shirt and bow tie to work.  I’m making better money and I buy him a silver chain  and a limited edition framed Jimi Hendrix print for Christmas. He buys me a pair of gold heart-shaped earrings with a little diamond chip in the center of each. One night we go out for dinner on a real date. I pay, because his rent is due.

I see it as real progress that he invites me to his apartment now and then and even to the Pearl Jam concert in Miami with one of his friends. The drive down and back is all but silent and I feel awkward, but I shake it off. I buy us Taco Bell on the way home.

We are in different places in our lives. He is young and he is free. I am young and I am tethered to the demands of work and family life. Living hand to mouth. I want so much to be young and cool, but I am embarrassingly aware that I am doing a poor job of faking it.

To be continued…