Lemon or Lime6 August 2019
She’s already drunk. You show up to the party at midnight. She’s on the orange couch, wrapped up with one of Jack’s friends you’ve never met, making him laugh, her hand, his thigh, she’s glowing. Is this the party you’d been invited to? A tentative door knock, followed by Jack embracing you in a too-tight hug, confirms you have stumbled into the correct house. He yells your name upon entrance, and Luca spins away from her handsome stranger, bounds towards you. She can smell the sobriety on you. That needs to change. You oblige and take the shot, but when she pours the second one, you warn her you have to drive in the morning. Not a good excuse. Luca chants: She gets it down in eight! Seven! The chorus joins; Six! Five! Four! And you drink the vodka and she takes your hand, your blood pumping, your throat burning. In a good way.
You once knew Luca only as the bartender with intentionally odd socks. When she’d come to work, one ankle showed off a pattern of eggs, sunny side up, the other illustrated with bacon rashers. You were the dishwasher back then. Your stainless-steel sink was hidden away in the back room, along with piles of glass-polishing cloths and your persistent boredom. The concrete grey room was lit only by a fluorescent bulb and the glow of the dishwashing machine buttons. You came home after every shift caked in the remnants of uneaten bar snacks and splashed with the smell of industrial-strength detergent. Luca would bring a special delivery of dirty glasses now and then, interrupting your boredom with another story of a crazy customer that you could swear she made up. Then she’d go back outside.
Luca’s leading you outside now, because Jack’s house has a pool, apparently. A myriad of skinner dippers make you avert your eyes—the debauchery continues out here. You’re relieved when Luca keeps her underwear on, because that means you do too. For tonight only, your balconette bra transforms into the epitome of modesty. She dives right in where another of Jack’s handsome friends swims, Henry, you think his name is, from the way you hear her place it at the end of every flirty sentence. You walk down the steps, and it’s cold, but not cold enough to leave yet. What is a guy like you doing at a party like this, Henry? Pass that beer. I like your bathers, Henry. She sounds practiced. It’s probably not her first time chatting up a skinny dipper. He has a smug sip of his beer. She swims away a little and then closer. His beer goes back to the ledge of the pool. Your stomach hurts.
Months ago, when the manager told you the dishwashing days were over, your stomach flipped over and over. Luca was your teacher that weekend. She taught you to pour cider from the tap, to do that little twist of the bottle so wine doesn’t spill down the edge of the glass, to ask the customer would you like lemon or lime with that G&T? That weekend turns hazy in your memory, as if written by a romance novelist. You remember her hand clasped around your hand clasped around a cocktail shaker. She was laughing mercilessly as your first attempt at foaming the head of the beer became a bubble bath. You fed her coffee beans intended as martini garnishes, when the manager wasn’t looking of course, and she let you. You first bartending weekend was how your interactions with Luca moved beyond the concrete back room, into a space where she’d get drinks with you after work, and text to make sure you got home safe. You’d go to sleep at night then wake up to find she’d tagged you in another Facebook meme. At work the next day, she’d greet you with a quick kiss on the cheek.
She’s dangerously close to kissing Henry, you’re sure of it, when a drunken voice from somewhere inside the house declares loudly: Maccas is here! He and the others clamber out hastily, grabbing for the already dampened towels that hang around the pool railing. But you know it’s colder out than in. Luca must have the same idea, because she doesn’t trail after Henry. She swims over and swings an arm around you and pulls you in towards her, so casually it’s as if she hasn’t noticed you’re both semi-naked and soaking wet. Girls will be girls. Especially when they’ve been on the vodka raspberries all night.
Jack makes his grand return holding the red waxed cardboard box of French fries high above his head. He sits on the ledge to dangle his feet in the water, and passes the greasy vessel forward. My saviour, Luca says through a mouthful of lukewarm potato, grinning. You can’t even resent Jack for interrupting your time with her. Anyone would want to bring French fry ecstasy to that girl, given the chance. She glows with it.
It was your birthday drinks last time her arm was around you. It’s only been three weeks since then, you were in Fitzroy at yet another rooftop bar, basking in the suburban sunset. Your gift came in a plastic shopping bag. Couldn’t find any wrapping paper, Luca told you. The wooden table was littered with disposable paper coasters, and as you emptied your gift onto it, she laughed so hard, entirely impressed with herself. She had a dimple when she smiled all big like that—just one, on the left side. Fuck you, you said while laughing, failing to pretend to be mad. Coffee beans were split out all over the table. Time for another espresso martini! Luca said, squeezing your hand and heading inside to the drinks counter, buying the next round.
That night of your birthday she was too drunk to even take the train home. She stayed at yours, rolling over and over in the night, the caffeination unrelenting. You were awake first, so you made eggs. Sourdough toast, a little on the underdone side. Extra butter, and a fair sprinkle of salt. Luca was drawn into the kitchen by the smell of bacon, wearing one of your oversized t-shirts and still rubbing sleep out of her eyes. Sunny-side up, you told her. Marry me, she said, with that bleary-eyed only-just-woke-up dimply smile. She wasn’t awake enough to be alert—she couldn’t have intended to be that beautiful that early. But she was still somehow glowing.
Luca steps out of the pool now and you watch while she’s shivering, squealing, covered in tiny goosebumps and shaking droplets of water off. You stay, stunned. A few minutes later she slides back in, tells you what she found inside—they’re all asleep, even Henry. It’s 4am now and you and she are the only inhabitants of this pool and vodka is always a convenient excuse. There are cracked tiles and drowned McDonalds chips below, and the stars above are fading as the sun threatens to creep up. You’re both exhausted. But her chlorinated kisses keep you awake.
You’ll wake up late on Jack’s living room floor, next to her. You won’t have slept much at all—it’s harder when you’re pretending you can’t hear her breathing. Maybe you’ll have shared her sleeping bag, maybe you won’t have. You’ll be to her left, so when she rolls onto her back, you’ll be able to see that little stretched part of her skin where the dimple is. She’ll wake up after you, and you’ll pretend you weren’t looking for that long. She’ll have to go straight away, she’s supposed to have lunch with her parents and she’s going to be late. Then, that night, she’ll be out again, this time with Henry, or maybe the guy on the couch from the start whose name you never got. She’ll take him to a bar, one with a rooftop. She’ll text you in maybe a week, wanting to get coffee, and you’ll go, pretending to remember nothing. Meanwhile, you’re at work in the night time, pouring ciders, shaking cocktails, and feeling the lemon or lime juice underneath your hangnails. Where it stings.