When Alan saw Cherri for the first time, it was love at first sight. Well, actually, it was bit closer to lust at first sight, but Alan had always had a hard time differentiating between the two.
The meeting had taken place in the drugstore right off of the university campus. Alan was there buying his monthly bottle of shampoo. He was trying to choose between Pert Plus regular and Pert Plus dandruff control when a woman's voice beckoned to him from behind.
"Um, pardon me," the voice said to him, "You look like you could help me."
Alan turned around to see the body producing the voice, and BAM! he was struck by the aforementioned love/lust-at-first-sight. He was instantly entranced by the woman before him, by the gentle curves of her profile, the smooth waviness of her hair, and the way she handled the two boxes of condoms she held.
"Which do you think is better," she asked him, "the mint-flavored, or the banana?"
Alan was stunned. This was the most beautiful woman he had ever met, and she was actually talking to him, instead of ignoring him like most women did! He was so stunned that he didn't even notice when he said something in answer to her, and when she thanked him and turned to walk off. Finally, at the sight of her curvaceous body ambulating into the distance, he came back into himself. He sighed.
"She spoke to me," he purred, "She asked me which flavor of condom was better." Suddenly, the rapture drained from his face. "She asked me which flavor of condom was better? What the hell does that mean? Why would she think I'd know...?" Stark realization bloomed on Alan's face as he looked down at his clothes. He thought he had been wearing a white T-shirt and blue jeans. Instead, he was wearing a pink T-shirt and purple jeans. "Dammit!" he said, "That stupid red shirt bled into the rest of the wash again!" He had just met the love of his life, and she thought he was gay.
However, Alan was not one to give up easily, and so the woman from the drugstore haunted his mind. She would pop up in his dreams, in his fantasies, and even in his work. Whenever he closed his eyes, she would appear in the space between his brain and his eye-lids. Whenever he listened to the radio, he would always hear her voice behind the sweetest of the notes. Whenever he put pencil to paper, all that would come out were descriptions of the delicate shape of her elbows, or the tiny glint of light from the pupils of her eyes. Because Alan was an English major, this latter symptom of his obsession was especially unfortunate, resulting in his failing several key classes. However, it did serve as a good excuse for him to switch majors.
The real reason why he switched majors was, of course, her. The whole problem might have gone away, and Alan's grades would have stayed acceptable, except that the drugstore was not the last place he saw her. The next day, he saw her eating in the park, and the day after that he saw her walking between the communications building and the medical building. Soon it became evident that she was also attending classes at the university where Alan was enrolled. Faced with countless opportunities to walk up and talk to her, even one as timid as Alan eventually gave in. So it was that one day, a week and a half after the drugstore incident, Alan walked up to her as she sat on a bench outside the library (after carefully checking to make sure that his clothes were indeed the colors he thought they were).
"Hello," he said.
She looked up at him, and his knees buckled as he saw a slight wrinkle of confusion cross her forehead. "Hello," she said.
"Remember me?" he asked, as he felt his whole body become sticky with sweat.
"No," she answered.
"From the drugstore?", responded Alan, not yet ready to give up.
Finally, she seemed to recognize him, and a wide smile filled her pretty face. "Oh yeah," she said, "you're the guy with the purple jeans! Those were really cute."
"Oh yeah?" said Alan, trying to restrain the idiotic grin that struggled to stretch from one of his ears to the other.
"Yeah," she said. "And thanks for your comments, even though they didn't really help me decide."
Alan quickly steered them to another subject, not wanting to reveal that he couldn't remember just what advice he had given her. She responded well to his change in subject, and didn't even flinch when he sat down on the bench next to her so that he could talk to her easier. Soon, they were conversing like old friends.
Alan had never spoken so comfortably with a woman before. Well, actually, no woman had ever spoken so comfortably with Alan before, but the result felt the same to him. Finally, she glanced at her watch and said "Oops! I've got to go or I'll be late for my next class," and Alan was alone with the bliss of a lengthy conversation with a beautiful woman.
It was as he replayed the conversation in his mind that he remembered that she had told him what her major was, and what classes she was taking, and at what times. It was a completely natural extension of his infatuation that he should consider switching classes to spend more time with her, and it was only slightly less natural when the idea grew in his brain more and more each day. However, even Alan admitted to himself that he felt downright unnatural when he found himself actually in his counselor's office signing the papers to switch majors and transfer from one set of classes to another simply so he could be closer to her. Still, he consoled himself, it wasn't quite stalking yet, and, besides, he wouldn't be able to succeed as an English major as long as all he could write about was her elbows and her eyes. However, he thought, looking at the completed forms as he handed them to his counselor, an obsession with a beautiful woman definitely wouldn't interfere with his new major in Animal Research.
That night, he dreamt of her again, an abstract dream like usual, as if he were staring down into a kaleidoscope of beautiful faces, angel-voices, library benches, and mint-flavored condom boxes held by delicate hands. He awoke with a song in his heart and set out for his first new class that morning: Animal Husbandry. Being a previous English major, he had naturally assumed that Animal Husbandry had something to do with dressing cows up in tuxedos and teaching them to moo "I do". Instead, the class was about taking care of animals, something Alan had never been good at and never enjoyed, as the result of a long string of unintentional goldfish fatalities in his early childhood.
However, the class was more than bearable, was downright enjoyable, because she was there. And she remembered him! "Alan!" she had said when she saw him come in, and had run up and hugged him. It was then that he realized he didn't know her name.
After Animal Husbandry was over, as they walked together to their next class, he surreptitiously got her to tell him her name. It was, as mentioned back in the first sentence, Cherri. This name made him even deeper in love. Cherri! And pronounced just like it was spelled, like the small, red fruit. "Oh, I love you, my little Maraschino Cherri," he said to her, and she laughed and held his hand in hers.
"Oh Alan," she said, "I'm so glad I met you. I can't talk to most guys. I always feel like they're just interested in one thing. But I'm very comfortable with you."
Gee, thought Alan, I guess that's why most women won't talk to me: they can sense that I'm only interested in one thing. But, he thought, if Cherri doesn't sense that I'm only interested in that one thing now, then maybe I'm not. Maybe, he thought, I'm actually in love!
"I'm glad I met you, too, Cherri," he said, as they walked into the classroom.
The class seemed to fly by on the gossamer wings of love, melting into the next class, which melted into the next until the day was over, and Alan was alone in his dorm room with an armful of books on animal care and anatomy. He fell asleep, to once more rejoin Cherri in his dreams, before his roommate could come in and make fun of his obsession again.
After that, the days all seemed to melt together into one puddle of bright red cherry flavor. As the days and weeks passed, Alan got closer and closer to Cherri. It seemed she was really a very lonely individual. As well as having no male friends, she had no female friends. "They're always jealous of how much attention I get from guys," she told him.
For a moment, this worried Alan. "Attention?" he said, "Like hitting on you and stuff? Do you ever return it?"
"Well, sometimes," she said, "But nothing lasting ever develops. I find most of the guys who hit on me really annoying. So I don't have many boyfriends." She went on to say that she didn't have a boyfriend now. Alan joked that he didn't have a boyfriend either, but before he could go on to say that he didn't have a girlfriend either, which was more important, she took his hand and said, quite seriously, "That's okay. Someone will come along."
It was then that Alan realized why he was being so successful with Cherri, why she was so comfortable around him, and why she didn't seem to notice the insatiable desire he had for her. It was because she still thought he was gay.
"Oh, uh, I have to go," he said, withdrawing his hand from her her grasp.
"Wha?" said Cherri, as Alan stumbled away from her and ran off. For several minutes Alan just ran, ran, ran through the university's wooded campus, his thoughts and emotions in a jumble. Finally, he slowed down to a walk, then a lonely plod, as the day darkened into dusk, and then night. For hours he walked amidst the shadows of the trees under the streetlights, mulling over his current situation. As he passed by a couple cuddling on a bench in the park, his thoughts returned to himself and Cherri, and he smiled as he thought of all the plans he had made for the two of them. Then he realized that the couple wasn't a man and a woman, but two men, and his heart sank as he remembered the dilemma he was in.
"That does it," he said as he moved on, "I'm going to tell her. Everything. About my feelings for her, about my lack of feelings for men, about everything. At the very least, if she rejects me I can go back to my English studies. God, I hate Animal Research. If I have to dissect one more monkey I am going to..." Alan suddenly realized that he was talking to himself very loudly. He stopped talking and headed for his dorm room, to think about how he was going to tell Cherri.
But he would never have the chance to think about what he would tell Cherri, because she intercepted him before he could reach his room. She was waiting for him, outside the dormitory. As soon as she saw him she stood up and ran to him "Oh Alan," she said, hugging him tightly, "Finally you're here. I was so worried about you! You just ran off like that, and I knew something must be wrong!"
It was now or never, Alan knew. Suppressing the nervous shakes he felt growing inside him, he opened his mouth to speak. "Look, Cherri-", he said.
"No, Alan," she said, interrupting him, "I understand. You must have run off because you're lonely. It was horribly insensitive of me to talk to you like that about how the guys go for me, when I know you have so much trouble getting anybody." Alan was, as happened so often around Cherri, stunned. She read his silence as acceptance of her statement, and went on. "Look, I can't help you with that," she said (and some part of him laughed at the irony of that statement), "But I know how I can cheer you up. Tomorrow, we can go shopping, as my treat, and maybe you can find some more of those purple jeans you like."
Finally he spoke. "No, Cherri, that's okay-"
She interrupted him again. "No, Alan, it's no problem. You'll probably be helping me more than I help you; I need someone there with me when I go shopping, to tell me if I look good in the clothes I try on. Those mirrors don't help at all. So, please, Alan, come with me. You can just sit there in the dressing room and tell me what you think, if you want. I just think we need the time to talk."
"That's not it, Cherri," Alan said, "The truth is-" Suddenly Alan froze as he realized what he had just been told. "Uh, in the dressing room?" he asked incredulously.
"Well, yeah," said Cherri, "if you don't mind. That way we can talk while I try on outfits, and I won't have to walk back and forth so much. Look, if you still want to be alone tomorrow then we'll call it off. But think about it for tonight, okay?" She leaned forward and kissed Alan on the cheek. "You'll feel better tomorrow, I promise," she said, and walked off into the night.
Alan reached up and felt the damp spot on his cheek where she had kissed him. Suddenly his resolution to straighten things out between them, or at least to "straighten" out her image of him, had become much more difficult. He dazedly walked into his dorm room and laid down on the bed with the intention of thinking about his situation. Instead, he fell asleep.
The next thing he knew, he was being awakened by his roommate. "Hey man," the roommate said, "your dream-girl's outside. She says its time for you to go shopping, before it gets crowded." Alan looked at the clock beside his bed. Sure enough, it was 10:30. He had slept straight through any opportunity he would have had to ponder the Cherri situation.
"Oh crap," he muttered, and slid out of bed. He pulled on the first pair of jeans in his cabinet and went out the door to see Cherri.
"Good morning," she said. "I'm sorry to wake you up so early, but we should get going now if we're going to beat the Saturday afternoon crowds."
Alan was torn. On the one hand were all his noble intentions of truth and love, and on the other hand was the certainty of seeing what Cherri looked like underneath the tiny red dress she was wearing. "Um, can I have a moment to think?" he said, his mind reeling with indecision.
Cherri looked at him with sympathy. "Look, Alan, no matter how you feel, I think you really need to come with me. I'll give you a few minutes to get ready, but I want to see you come back out of that room. There's no way I'm going to let you mope around here all day." Cherri looked down at his pants. "After all, it would be a shame not to let people see those cute jeans of yours."
Alan looked down at the jeans he had pulled on. They were purple. This didn't make things easier. He walked back into his room, and, ignoring his roommate's jibes, mechanically went through the motions of his morning routine as his mind cycled around the problem at hand. Go or don't go? Tell or don't tell? Set forth the truth or keep pretending? What to do? What to do?
When Alan stepped out the door and looked once more at Cherri's face, and the body that stretched down below it, he knew there was only one thing he was capable of saying. "Alright, let's go," he said. Alan had never been a strong man.
The memory of that day would last with Alan for the rest of his life. But, through it all, despite the thrill of watching a beautiful girl he was hopelessly in love with remove her clothes in front of him repeatedly, he kept feeling more and more unhappy. By the end of the day, his depression was distracting him from their conversation even more than her body. It was sunset by the time they walked out of the last store, and Alan could feel from Cherri's glances that she knew something was wrong. She kept quiet about it, however, until they were seated on the patio of a nearby restaurant and waiting for their dinners to be delivered.
"Alan," she said to him, "You're not feeling much better, are you?"
Alan, who had been gazing forlornly at the table, looked up at Cherri. The sky was aflame behind her with the last of the post-sunset light. Above her, the orange sky faded to purple, and the first few stars winked into sparkling life, reflecting gently off of the centers of her deep, beautiful eyes.
"No," Alan said, "I'm not."
"Look," Cherri said, "I'm starting to feel that maybe there's another reason why you're sad, Alan, besides the loneliness. Maybe you're just not looking into the right place to realize why you're actually unhappy."
"Oh really?" said Alan unenthusiastically.
"Yes," said Cherri. "Now, Alan, from the first moment I met you I could see that you were homosexual," (Alan groaned inwardly), "and that you were very flagrant about it. And I never really questioned it. Sure, I never saw you with any guys, but I figured that you probably just weren't very successful. I couldn't assume you were straight just because I had never seen you date a man. After all, that would be like you assuming that I'm a lesbian just because you've never seen me with a man. Well, you've seen me buying condoms, which a lesbian wouldn't need, I guess, but that's beside the point. Oh, gee, where was I?"
"Uh, you were just saying that you never questioned my homosexuality," Alan uttered dismally. Something caught his attention, though. Cherri had stammered in her speech. She had never been uncertain in saying anything before. He looked at her carefully. Sure enough, she appeared very nervous, as if she were trying to say something very difficult. His stomach twisted as he realized where she was headed with her speech, and why it would be so hard for her to say. She had realized that he wasn't gay, and she was about to confront him with it! Damn!, Alan cursed inwardly, I knew I should have told her last night, I knew I shouldn't have used her like I did today. This is the only time I've ever been this close to a woman, the only time I've ever been this good of friends with a woman, and the only time I've ever loved a woman for anything more than her body, and I've blown it!
Then his last thought struck him. Love? Love! He actually did love Cherri! It was true! For the past 40-odd hours he'd been so caught up in his anxiety over the whole gay issue that he hadn't realized that another emotion had snuck in behind his physical desires, to make things even more complicated. After all the days and weeks of knowing Cherri and sharing his heart with her and having her share her heart with him, he had actually stopped desiring her solely for her outward appearance and had started caring more about the person inside her. For once in his shallow, empty life, love had over-shadowed lust! That was why staring at her writhing, unclothed body all day hadn't cheered him up: because he was in love!
And, he realized with a gut-wrench, the object of his love was about to uncover his charade of homosexuality and slap him hard in the face. Damn! Then he realized that Cherri was speaking.
"Right. Well, Alan, I know you may not like to hear this, but, well, lately I have been questioning your homosexuality. I...well...I saw the way you were looking at me today, and, well Alan, I'm beginning to think that maybe you're not gay."
Oh Damn, thought Alan, here comes the slap!
"Oh," said Cherri, "I can see from that grimace on your face that I'm not the first one to try to tell you this, and I bet that your friends and your family probably tried to tell you the same thing at first, but I'm not doing this because I'm against homosexuality, I'm doing this because I think that maybe you never considered it before. Maybe, Alan, you're just not gay."
Alan stopped grimacing and looked at her, dumb-founded. He was too surprised by not being slapped to realize that, well, he had not been slapped.
Cherri went on. "Oh, don't look at me like that, Alan! Please, I don't want this to ruin our friendship!"
Alan shook the expression off his face. "Oh, uh, sorry. I just...wasn't expecting you to say that."
"Well, I am saying it, Alan. And not because I have anything against you being gay, but just as a friend," Cherri said. Then, she paused, and looked nervously at Alan. The sky behind him was still rosy from the reflection of the sunset on the opposite horizon. Above him, the full moon was rising slowly to illuminate the deep purple sky where the first few stars were just emerging from the darkness. "Actually," she said, with a nervous gulp, "That's not entirely true. I do have a selfish motive for telling you this.
"You see," she said, "I've never really gotten this close to a man before, and I've never known anyone as sweet and deep and caring as you. And, well, I guess that I've been trying to hide it from myself so it wouldn't hurt our friendship, but I've, well, I've got feelings for you. I...I think I...like you."
Before Alan could react, Cherri went on, speaking quickly now, and nervously. "Oh, now I've probably made you hate me and really uncomfortable around me and now you'll never want to see me again, but please, Alan, don't just run off. Because I know that right now you don't really care about women, but I think that maybe it's just because no woman has ever really cared about you before and maybe, maybe if you gave me a chance I could change your mind. Please, Alan, just give me a chance."
"I...I don't know what to say," Alan managed to stammer, as he looked at the anxious expression on Cherri's face, like a high-stakes gambler with everything on a single number as she watches the roulette wheel spin.
Cherri thought about this. "Well," she said, "maybe I can help you decide." She leaned over the table and, pulling Alan's head forward, kissed him square on the lips. There was more passion in that one kiss than Alan had ever felt in all of the half-hearted, reluctant goodnight kisses he had ever gotten out of a lifetime of ungrateful dates. After what seemed like an eternity, Cherri disconnected her lips and sank back down into her chair. She looked at him expectantly.
"Well," said Alan, "It'll be a stretch, but I suppose I could try."
Cherri beamed like the noon sun, and reached across the table to hold his hands in hers. Just then, the food came. It was excellent food, but neither Cherri nor Alan noticed. They were both too busy digesting their conversation to digest anything else. Finally, as they were waiting for dessert to come, Alan thought of one more thing that was nagging him.
"Cherri," he said, "You remember when we met in that drugstore, and you asked me for some advice on choosing those, uh, condoms? Well, do you remember what I told you?"
Cherri looked at him curiously, "Well, sure I do."
"Then, what did I say?"
Cherri smiled. "You told me that I was the most beautiful woman you had ever seen. I would have slapped you and walked off if it weren't for those jeans."
Wow, thought Alan, looking down at his purple jeans, I've got to remember not to separate my wash more often.
As the night waned on, Alan finally had dessert: sundae, with a Cherri on top.