I was there to see Chris Pureka, a hot young folk-singing dyke, with the sexy, lanky, androgynous quality of Cate Blanchett playing Bob Dylan.
In the cabaret, upstairs above the bar, the place was wall-to-wall girls, all turned out to see Chris.
It was a sea of 20-something lesbians, dressed to match in short-sleeved snap-front cowboy shirts and ironic t-shirts that sported retro icons, obscure cartoon images, and sardonic sayings.
One girl squeezed by me wearing a t-shirt that said “Damn the hall monitors!” She was towing a girl by the hand, who sported a shirt with the Juicyfruit gum logo.
The artfully cropped and mussed hair in the room sported enough pomade to fuel a biodiesel vehicle all the way to the Michigan Women’s Music Festival
The lights were dimming as I started to edge my way up to the bar, where I waited in line for an expensive drink in a plastic cup.
She was at the end of the bar, leaning against it, looking around the room with a bemused expression on her face. Her curly hair was red and the red lights over the bar caught the highlights and intensified the color. It stood in stark contrast to the pure white of her t-shirt. She rested her beer on her hip. There was a pencil-thin line of belly visible between the hem of her t-shirt and the top of her well-worn, completely untrendy 501s.
“Yeah?” the bartender asked.
“I’ll have two of what she’s having,” I said, before I could give it a second thought. Heck, I don’t even like beer.
But I paid for the beers and then stood looking stupidly at them, one in each hand.
Finally, I screwed up my nerve and walked over to her and placed one on the bar in front of her.
“Hey,” I said. “I really like your t-shirt.”
“Really?” she said. “I was feeling a little under-dressed.” Her eyes cut across the crowd around us.
I stepped back for a moment as a tall girl in a red baseball cap and a Peppermint Patty t-shirt muscled her way between us to grab a napkin off the bar.
“No. Really. It looks fantastic on you. It’s an incredibly bright white.”
She sized me up the way girls always do when I try to sound sincere and authentic. I don’t know how to flirt and sound casual. Even though I make every effort to be cool, I know I sound like Doogie Howser on his first date.
While she paused to survey me, I took the opportunity to jump right in.
“So, are you liking the music?” I asked.
She nodded slowly. “This first song is okay.”
“Are you a real redhead?”
She rolled her eyes, and then burst out laughing.
“You’re not very good at this, are you?”
I shook my head.
We stood side by side, watching the stage, and I finished my beer.
“Two more, please” I said to the bartender.
I placed her new bottle on the bar next to the other. She was still holding the first.
“Trying to get me drunk?” she asked.
“Will you let me smell your hair if I get you drunk?” I cringed when I realized how awkward, and maybe even kinky, that sounded.
“You know we’re drinking Kaliber.”
“It’s good,” I said, taking a healthy swig. “But I should stop at two.”
“So I’m a complete dork.” I said. “And now you’re killing my buzz.”
I was still getting light-headed. After all, she hadn’t told me to get lost yet.
We watched the stage a little longer.
“Don’t I know you from somewhere?” I asked her.
“Trying a whole new tact?”
She pulled out a lip balm and ran it over her well-moisturized lips. They looked soft and full. Clearly the balm was just icing on the cake. I thought about licking her lips. Then I noticed the tube had the Google logo on it. I reached for her hand and looked closer. One of the “O”s in Google was the scientific symbol for “female”.
“Ah hah!” I said. “Swag.”
“Swag?” she asked.
“That’s how I know you. Grace Hopper in Orlando. The Women in Computing Conference. You were in the Friday morning breakout session on artificial intelligence. You were sitting in the row in front of me about three seats to my right. You asked the speaker to clarify her criteria for agent resource dependencies.”
She looked at me with unabashed admiration. “You’re really creepy.”
“Thanks,” I said, feeling my face warm. “Now can I smell your hair?”
She leaned in a little. Her hair smelled warm, like vanilla, and butter, and something a little spicy.
“Oh my god,” I breathed in, “You smell like snickerdoodles.”
She backed away from me and looked me up and down.
“I’ve got a hotel room paid for out of my grant money” she said. “And my laptop. I’m finalizing the code on an AI open source project. Want to see it run?”
I put my beer down on the bar.
“You had to ask?”
And that’s how it all started.
There are so many details about that night I don’t remember: What we talked about in my car on the way to the hotel, the elevator ride to her room, the room number, or even the name of the hotel.
I do remember her name, Austin, her hometown, Dallas (go figure), and that she’s in her second year of a post-doc project at MIT.
I also remember that we never opened her laptop and that she has a thing for hot showers and ice cubes. I remember my gasp of delight when I discovered she wasn’t wearing a bra under that white t-shirt, and that her nipples raised the front up in little peaks when I kissed her, leaning on the inside of her hotel room’s door, my hands sliding over the smooth expanse of her back. And I certainly remember discovering that the warm-cookie smell wasn’t just in her hair; it emanated from every inch of her skin.
At some point, during the small hours of the morning, as the sweat cooled on us, I put on her t-shirt for warmth. And I was half-way home the next morning, on the Bay Bridge, tingly and sleep-deprived, when I realized I was still wearing it, and it smelled like her.
In the rush of the morning – me to teach a class and her to catch a plane – I never got her phone number.
But a few days later there was an email message on my university account:
“You swiped my t-shirt.”
I felt a chill of pleasure slide down my spine, dropping into my lower parts.
I clicked the return button.
“I’ve been sleeping in it. It smells like you.”
I closed my eyes and could feel her explosion of hair brushing across my chest, the heat of her on my thigh, and the way her quick breathing easily gave way to panting and moaning. I got up and turned down the thermostat in my office.
Forty-three minutes later her response came:
“You really ARE creepy. Will I see you in Denver?”
Denver. The IEEE AI conference. It was two weeks away.
I sent my reply.
“It isn’t on my schedule, but I’ll be there, if you’re there. Even if I have to fly in the middle of the night.”
I knew she was sitting at the computer when her response came immediately:
“Bring the shirt.”