Her Face Is Red
By Brian Dolan
Thomas possessed that familiar quality: he looked like “Where’s Waldo” but shorter and without the stripes. I never had to look too hard to find Thomas, though.
“I’d rather sleep on the beach. Wouldn’t you, Thomas?”
“Yes, but I’m starving now that you’ve woken me.” He was a whiner. I found it difficult to sleep in the same room with Thomas. His skin was superlatively dry; he scratched himself continuously as he slept.
As we walked to the beach I paused to absorb the beauty of a lone deciduous tree, which had grappled its roots into the edge of a sand dune’s cliff. Its tenacity impressed me since it had no rivals or competitors but still managed to survive in the harsh Portuguese weather.
Val spotted me at the beach and waved a quick “I’m over here” wave. She reminded me of a photograph I had seen of my mother when she was young.
“You getting an early start too?” She smelled like coconut and spoke with an American accent.
“More like a late one. I’m here to nap. We’re all becoming nocturnal now, aren’t we? But how is the sun today?”
“Too many tan lines. Do you mind if I take my top off?” This Dutch beauty asked my permission with unblinking eye contact.
“Of course not,” I replied, without giving it a second thought until a second later when there was little else to think about. “I’m getting a drink. Would you like one?”
“No, thank you. It’s too early for me.”
I found Thomas at a table by the bar with Phil and a stout pitcher of sangria.
“This sangria is terrible—my host family in Spain made it much better. I think I like it sweeter.” Phil had spoken of his Spanish host family often while in Portugal. He was right about the sangria, though. The brandy was too spicy, which made the fruit less palatable.
“How is the sangria, sirs?” the waiter asked as he glanced around the bar looking for someone.
“It’s great. The perfect drink for this weather, wouldn’t you say?” Phil answered. He blushed once the waiter had walked away. I noticed his fleeting discomfort before he buried it under another smile. Thomas scowled.
“Why did you say that, Phil? Did it suddenly get better seconds after you were saying how terrible it was? Hmm? That’s some trick this sangria pulled.” Thomas tended to harp on the inconsequential. It was his most endearing quality.
“I wasn’t about to tell him it was awful,” Phil countered as he shifted in his seat. “Let’s go for a walk, Brian.”
Phil and I left Thomas with half a pitcher of sangria. We walked past tall, dark sand dunes and rows of naked sun bathers; exotic shells and crabs stabbed our feet as we made our way toward an impressive rock formation, which I decided we should climb. From the topmost crag Phil mentioned that Marisa had been on his mind.
“She’s all I think about. I wish we weren’t such good friends; it’d be so much easier if we weren’t. It’s like you and Lucy. Wouldn’t that be weird if you guys were together?”
“Phil, if she’s all you think about, then tell her that. You are your thoughts. The Phil I am talking to right now is content except for the lack of Marisa in his life. By not expressing this Phil to the world, you are killing him. This is it, man. Two weeks and we all split up. Sangria and rocks are all good and fine, Phil, but take advantage of the moment. She’s yours if you want her. I guarantee you.”
Phil frustrated me. He realized what he wanted. He knew he could achieve it, but for once he did nothing.
I leapt to the sand below and he followed. The walk back to the chairs was quiet as we mulled the Marisa situation over. When we arrived Thomas solicited another walk from me. I could not deny Thomas what I had just granted Phil, despite my growing need for sleep.
Thomas was a technical type. He had precision. His stones skipped an exponentially greater number of times than mine did.
“Lucy has been acting strange around me since the dance,” Thomas stated while digging for another flat stone.
“How do you mean?” This was a curious statement though I could understand how Luce had given him this impression. Thomas was always around me, and Luce had been acting strangely around me.
“I think she likes me,” he said seconds after he skipped a piece of flint seventeen times.
“How do you feel about that? Are you into her too?” I did not think Thomas truly thought Luce felt that way. She had held his hand at the dance, a rare thrill for Thomas.
“It’s weird. I don’t know. Don’t say anything to her.”
* * *
The full moon illuminated the sand as deep shadows followed us to our chosen spot. I spread out our soft, cotton blanket as we plopped to the ground—not from a lack of energy but for the feeling of that cotton on our bare arms and legs.
“It’s sad to think I am going to forget this. These little moments or the way your eyebrows are shaped will be lost to me some day.” Luce touched my face without smiling as she said this.
“Well, ‘mad-cow’ will soon turn us all into ‘moosh-brains.’” The smile returned. Diseased meat had been plaguing Europe for some time, and most of us had eaten a good amount of it without realizing the danger of “bovine spongiform encephalopathy.”
“That’s not what I meant.” She laughed like a little kid—quickly and lightly. Because of her father’s assignments at US embassies, Luce spent her childhood frolicking in the forests of Africa and befriending the homeless of Tokyo. At the age of nineteen, she had attained more life experience than most do in a lifetime. She lacked one part of the human experience, though: Lucy had never coughed. If she had coughed, I am certain Luce would have attained enlightenment.
“Thomas thinks you like him.”
Her face reddened despite the pale moonlight. Before she spoke she turned to face me and the black ocean at my back.
“I’m going to tell Kelly tomorrow at the villa. I think you should tell Thomas.”
* * *
Later that night Thomas’s baking soda toothpaste felt dry and gritty in my mouth as I brushed it against my teeth. He brushed without stopping for a good ten minutes. I tried to keep the chalky substance in motion for an equal amount of time, but I failed.
“Are you sleeping in our room tonight, Brian?” He looked at me with eyes wide; he did not understand what he did to deserve my extended hiatus from our cozy twin bedroom.
“No, I’m staying out in the living room with Luce.”
“What? Again?” His eyes were tense with sharp, acute angles and parabolic eyebrows.
“Thomas, Luce and I are together now…”
“Wha…” The angles stretched and snapped as the parabolas sharpened and flattened. His face smoothed into curves and amorphous shapes as tears trespassed his parched skin. Those were shapes I had never seen on Thomas’s face. “I can’t talk right now….”
As he shut the door to his room, a heavy tear fell from my right eye and spattered on the hardwood floor. I lay down next to Luce and put my arms around her. I had no more tears for Thomas, but I worried about him. Why had he reacted so dramatically?
* * *
Three days later all thirty-seven of us were on a bus headed for the airport—to catch a plane headed for Belgium—to attend a graduation ceremony in our honor. Thomas had never brought up the incident in the bathroom.
“And then… after all that complaining he told the waiter it was the best sangria he had ever had!” exclaimed Thomas as he leaned into the aisle and told the story. Marisa laughed as she noted Phil’s embarrassment. He blushed bright red and kept his arms folded across his chest. I smiled as Thomas continued to fictionalize the story with swooping gesticulations and weird voices. He had his back to me. I smiled when I heard Lucy’s laugh from the front of the bus pierce through the droning conversations of my fellow classmates. Thomas inched closer to Marisa as the story grew taller. I pulled my visor down across my eyes and smiled as I fell asleep.