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A Cold Embrace | Casandra Hernández Ríos

Jason had been waiting for Allison at Caffé Bene for almost thirty minutes when he saw her walk-in. She had texted earlier to let him know that she was going to be late to their date and that she felt awful about it. He replied, “No problem,” because he really didn’t mind. He decided to arrive at the agreed time, 7:30 p.m., anyway and when he got there, he ordered a mango and peach smoothie, found the table for two at the back he liked, and began studying Allison’s Plenty-of-Fish profile. When the mango and peach smoothie arrived, he had been peering over his cell phone, zooming-in on a photo of Allison. He liked her smile because it was warm.

 

Allison was wearing a sleeveless blouse with a floral print and stonewashed jeans. He knew that she was only 5-feet, 3-inches tall from her profile, but she looked smaller in person and he wasn’t sure how he felt about that. Jason watched as Allison texted him, “I’m here. Are you?” as she stood near the entrance and then began surveying the room. He wrote back, “I thought you weren’t coming, so I left,” as a joke, but as soon as he hit the send button, their eyes met and Allison waved and began to walk over.

 

Jason waited for Allison to reach the table before standing up. He studied her as she approached him, noticing her Converse sneakers and a Fossil crossbody purse, as it bounced off her left hip; she was thinner than he expected and wasn’t sure how he felt about that either. He had only been texting her for a week, but when she reached him, she smiled and said “hi” in a voice that sounded like she had missed him. Jason rose from the chair, his 6-foot frame loomed over hers, but after awkwardly bending down to hug her, Jason felt right in her embrace; it was warm and he liked that.

 

“Wow, it’s really cold in here,” Allison said, as she wrapped her arms around herself. “Have you been waiting long?” She took the chair across from him and didn’t take her pursue off.

 

“No, just a few minutes. How was the drive?”

 

“It was okay,” she said. “Finding parking in Koreatown is impossible. Where did you park?”

 

“I didn’t; walked over from my place,” Jason said. He waited for a hint that she was impressed by that information, but no sign.

 

“Oh, is that why you wanted to meet here? You know what? I thought you wanted to meet at Coffee Bean and I thought that’s where I was driving to. There’s one right across the street, you know, but the directions said to make a right, not a left, and so I did, and then I saw this shop’s sign ‘Caffé Bene’ and figured this had to be the place.”

 

Jason smiled. He knew she was rambling because she was nervous. “I know how to spell,” he said, jokingly. She laughed, though maybe from nervousness. He made it a point to be careful with his spelling whenever he texted her; she liked reading and writing poetry.

 

“Oh, hey, you already ordered. What did you get?”

 

“A mango and peach smoothie. It’s really good, you should get one.” He grabbed it and took a sip. He could tell she was trying to hide her disappointment; this wasn’t going to be the date she had in envisioned, if what she had envisioned was one where the guy treats the girl to dinner, or a smoothie in this case. He had been on too many of those dates and they never led to what he wanted.

 

“Okay, what else is good here? Are you going to order anything else?”

 

“Nope, I’m good with my smoothie. The mango and passion fruit is good, too.”

 

“Okay, I’m going to order something then.” She stood up. “Would you like anything?”

 

“Nope.”

 

Allison left to order, and Jason took his cell phone out. He had PoF notifications. He opened one of them, didn’t read the message, but instead went directly to the woman’s profile, and looked at her photos. If he deemed her attractive, he’d read personal details, like job and hobbies to determine whether the woman would have enough time for adventures with him. If the woman was attractive and appeared to have time for weekend adventures, then Jason would reply to her message. If she wasn’t attractive, like in jules_montoya’s case, he’d delete the message from his inbox without reading her personal details. He repeated the process five times, while Allison was away. During the three months he had been living in Los Angeles, he had become proficient in reviewing profiles and developing connections online with women. He was lonely and he knew what he needed, but more importantly, he was cold and searched for a specific warmness.

 

Allison returned with a smoothie. “So, you moved here from Austin, Texas? How are you liking L.A.?”

 

“I like it, but there are two things I don’t like about L.A.: traffic and the women.”

 

Allison laughed. “Those two are ubiquitous. What’s wrong with L.A. women?”

 

“They like the single-life, like to have their options open.”

 

“I could say the same about men, but I couldn’t say to what extent it applies to you.”

 

“I’m a good ol’ Texas boy, which is why I keep saying I would be a good boyfriend, but you keep saying no.”

 

Allison laughed. “You don’t even know my last name. Besides, asking someone to be your girlfriend over text messaging can’t be taken seriously, especially if you haven’t gone on a date with that person.”

 

“We’re on a date now. What’s your last name?”

 

Again, Allison laughed, but this time, she took her purse off, folded it on her lap, and crossed her arms. “That’s not exactly how it works, mister.” She pushed her long brown hair back and then pulled it over her left shoulder. She leaned back on her chair, crossed her leg, and blushed when she smiled. Jason liked that.

 

“Well, how does it work, then?” he teased.

 

“We ask questions, get to know each other.”

 

“All right. I’m just a little intimidated by your guns, there.”

 

“Ha! I’ve only been working out for a couple of months; it’s been a slow, but steady process.” She uncrossed her arms and placed her hands on her lap, over the purse.

 

“Well, I’m a simple guy, I’m only truly concerned about two things.”

 

“And what are they?” Allison said. She picked up her smoothie and drank it through a yellow straw.

 

“How do you feel about piggy-back-rides?” Jason said. Allison looked surprised; she stopped drinking the smoothie and set it on the table. Past experiences had proven this a good question, but he was serious. He really did enjoy piggy-back-rides.

 

“I’d rather given them, than received them,” she said.

 

“Good answer because I love them. Next question, how do you feel about cuddling?”

 

“In the literal sense?” Allison asked.

 

“Yes, what other sense is there?”

 

“Just want to make sure before I answer. Love cuddling. Unless the term stands for something else.”

 

“Nope, literal cuddling,” Jason said. He normally didn’t ask this question so straight-forwardly, but time was passing, and he needed to know if she was the right one.

 

“Then, yes, cuddling is great,” Allison said.

 

“One last question: do you want to go for a walk? It’s a nice night.”

 

“Sure,” she Allison said.

 

She looped her purse over her head, then left shoulder, and let it fall on her side, all in one clean movement, before standing. She followed Jason out. The two worked their way out of the crowded café toward the front door, avoiding table corners, legs, and sandaled feet. Outside, Jason asked Allison if she wanted to hold hands, while they walked. She said “sure” without hesitation, which startled him. “No, never mind. I’m shy. I wasn’t expecting such a quick reply,” he said. In reality, what startled him was the ease by which she was ready to give her warmth away. He wanted to speed things along, but not that fast. She’d figure him out if they walked up-and-down Koreatown hand-in-hand. Instead, the two wondered the streets side-by-side, dodging hurried cyclists and couples for almost an hour. Jason teased Allison about her height and nick-named her “Cabbage Patch” because she was small, cute, and one-of-a-kind, “like a Cabbage Patch kid,” he said. That wasn’t his invention, it was a line someone had used on his sister back in Austin and he recalled it because Allison looked so small by his side. He still wasn’t sure about her, but he was intrigued and needed to find out more.

 

***

 

Allison met Jason at his place on their second date. He invited her over for pizza and a board game. She loved both and he knew it. Jason placed the pizza in the oven to keep it warm for her and started Monopoly on his Xbox before she arrived.

 

He met her in the lobby of his apartment complex and took her to the lounge for a quick game of pool. He wasn’t very good and neither was she, but he didn’t want to take her up to his apartment right away. Instead, they played one game, which ended when Jason fouled by pocketing the 8-ball. The loss really didn’t bother him because he was buying himself some time. Allison followed him upstairs, as they took the elevator.

 

“Wow, it’s so cold in here,” Allison said when Jason closed the door behind them.

 

“Sorry, I keep the AC on at this temperature all day. I’m always hot.”

 

“It’s okay, no problem. I’ll just keep my sweater on,” Allison said.

 

“There’s a blanket on the bean-bag next to the couch. Feel free to grab it and make yourself comfortable on there, while I get the pizza.”

 

Jason handed her a plate and offered Allison the pizza box. She grabbed two slices of the vegetarian he had ordered for her. She had tucked herself into the beanbag, as Jason had hoped she would and when he joined her, she freed one end of the blanket from under her legs, for him. He wasn’t sure how he felt about that, but he cuddled next to her.

 

“Oh, you feel cold,” Allison said. “Is the A.C. set at some insane sub-zero temperature?

 

“We’ll just have to keep each other warm,” Jason said and winked at her, hoping she’d forget all about the temperature of his place. She blushed and took a small bite of pizza. “Let’s play!” she said and pointed at the T.V. screen with the hand she was holding the pizza. The Monopoly game introduction had been playing on a loop since she had arrived.

 

They played live as a team against three online opponents for almost two hours until the game froze. They waited 20 minutes for the game to resume and talked about the trades they wanted make with Shoe before Shoe traded properties with Battleship, who owned most of the properties and had aggressively been trading and bankrupting opponents.

 

Once they realized that the game was lost, Jason turned off the Xbox, tuned the T.V. to a movie on HBO, and asked if Allison wanted to cuddle when he crawled back under the blanket. He tried to ask the question as casually as possible, which was difficult since it was something he had been trying to ask all night.

 

“Ahh, sure,” she said.

 

“Turn right, on your side. You’ll be the little spoon and then after you can be the big spoon.”

 

Allison smiled and laughed, a genuine laugh, not the nervous kind, which Jason had often heard before. The time had finally arrived when he’d get her warmth. She had offered it so freely on the first date, but now he knew for certain that she wanted to give it to him.

 

Allison turned on her side, tucked her hair under her neck, and allowed Jason to wrap himself around her.

 

“You’re cold,” she said.

 

“I got up to turn the game off.”

 

“Why don’t you turn off the A.C.?”

 

“We’ll get warm in a minute. Can you see the movie okay? Are you comfortable?”

 

“Yes, and yes,” she said.

 

“Okay, good,” Jason said. He closed his eyes. He smelled the top of her head, it smelled like sweet from her shampoo, but what soothed him was the heat radiating toward him and seeping into the nook of his neck. He was resting his chin on the top of her head, her back pressed against his chest, both his arms wrapped around her, his thighs against the back of hers. He didn’t need to think hard about what to do, his body had always known how to take the warm.

 

He had alienated his mother when he was only a child because nothing could satiate his need for being in his mother’s arms. He couldn’t understand it when he was five years old, but in middle school when he discovered that the thirst that was placated when he held his first girlfriend’s hand. He walked Stephanie to-and-from school and held her any chance he could. She accepted his coldness but stopped holding his bare hands in the winter. Eventually, she stopped letting him walk her home or touch her. He sought other girls, but Stephanie must have said something to them all because they avoided him. In high school and college, he had more opportunities, but girls quickly realized that there was something wrong with him. Eventually, he learned to take things slow and befriend women, lie if he had to, to get near them. Sometimes their body heat left Jason feeling empty and he learned that not any body would work for his need. Through trial-and-error he learned more about his coldness and what he needed and who could satisfy it. His job as a traveling nurse made it difficult to have a long-term relationship, so he resorted to online dating.

 

“I’m cold and getting tired,” Allison said.

 

“It’s okay, just take a nap. I’ll keep your warmth.”

 

“Okay, thank you.”

 

Jason closed his eyes and focused on warming himself. He noticed her breathing had slowed and Allison’s head had grown heavy on his arm. She was asleep and he was beginning to warm with her, and he liked that feeling. After a few moments, he felt himself dozing off. He didn’t want to sleep because he’d miss the experience, a rare one since moving to Los Angeles.

 

He knew Allison was different because he felt her essence in his body now. Still, he didn’t know what the morning would bring. He decided to quiet his mind and focus on her warmness as it was absorbed into him. Allison stirred in her sleep, tried to free her arms from Jason’s, but he held her tight, and after a minute she let him stay wrapped around her. They slept all night this way, their two bodies half-sunk in the red beanbag, the glow of the television the only light.  

 

Casandra Hernández Ríos is an indigenous writer from Ciudad de México, raised in Los Angeles, California. Her stories have appeared in Litro Magazine, The Acentos Review, the Santa Ana River Review, Verdad magazine, among other journals. She now lives and writes from Denver, Colorado.

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