When Sasha came into class on Wednesday he looked rotten. His eyes were red, his pupils huge and he reeked of alcohol and cigarettes. I was sort of happy about that because it gave me an excuse to avoid him. He noticed right away, because while Ms. Schwartz went to get some more paper for the flip chart he got up from his chair and ordered Matt to switch places with him. Matt obeyed. „Emma, why aren’t you talking to me?“ „Sasha, we are in the middle of class, I am not talking to anyone, can’t you see that?“ „No, you are avoiding me, why? Is it because of the blonde girl? I don’t like her, you have to know that, I only like you.“ „No, Sasha, that’s fine, you can do whatever you want.“ „But it’s really important to me that you know that nothing happened with her.“ „Ok, that’s fine, really.“ I turned my attention to my notes. He grabbed my arm. „Please Emma, can we go and have dinner, I could really use a friend.“ I looked at him. His eyes were dark and plea full, he looked like the loneliest person on the planet. „Ok, but only as friends.“ „Thank you, Emma.“ His sad eyes were replaced by a wide smile and his pupils lit up like the night sky at full moon. „I will take you out tonight.“ „Uhm, tonight isn’t so good, can we do it Friday? After class maybe?“ „Emma, please, can’t you go tonight? It’s really important to me that we go out tonight.“ Why did he have to make everything so complicated? „Ok fine, i ll move some things around. Do you want to meet here around 7?“ „I will pick you up from your home, where is it?“ I really wasn’t sure if I should give him my home address, something inside of me began to stir. I didn’t know what it was, it felt like excitement. Now that i know better I can say for sure that it must have been fear.
I scribbled my address on a piece of paper and told him to be on time. He promised he would.
When I got home I had to somehow let Joey know that we wouldn’t be able to talk until later that night. He was going to call me on his lunch break, which was around 7 my time. I sent him a quick text. „Hey babe, we are going to go on a little field trip with our German teacher tonight, so I will probably only be able to call you later tonight, I hope that’s ok? Love you loads.“ I was hoping he would reply before I left for dinner, so I’d know if he was pissed or not. Luckily my phone started vibrating only a couple of minutes later. „How cool baby, hope you are going to see a lot of cool German stuff. Like Bratwurst. LOL. Looking forward to talking to you later. Love you too.“ He wasn’t pissed, which was awesome but made me feel even worse about lying to him in the first place.
I decided I wasn’t going to change from the clothes that I had worn in class so that Sasha would get the message, that this wasn’t anything but a friendly dinner . At exactly 7 my door bell rang. He had changed, he was wearing some sort of designer jeans, a shirt and a fitted leather jacket. He still smelled like Vodka and his signature cologne and also cigarettes. He took my hand and led me to the familiar car that I had seen in front of the language school so many times before. „Thank you for accepting my invitation tonight, Emma.“ Gone were the red eyes and the hurt expression, he was his usual self, cocky and full of himself and apparently he had forgotten that this wasn’t a date. I got into the car and immediately asked him „So are you feeling better tonight? You looked very sad this afternoon.“ „Yes, I am fine Emma. Thank you. Let’s not talk about problems right now, let’s enjoy each others company, yes?“ He was really getting on my nerves. „Look Sasha, I only came with you tonight, because you asked me to be your friend and to help you with something, so tell me what your problem is, other wise I will go back home.“ „Relax Emma, I will tell you. I just wish to speak with you about yourself a little bit, to get to know you better. I will tell you when we are at the restaurant, ok? I need some time to get my words together, yes?“ „Ok, fine then. What do you want to talk about?“ „Well Emma, why don’t you tell me something about you?“ „Like what? I am from a tiny little city, my mom is German, my dad American. I have a cousin here in Munich, I am currently doing my MBA. That sort of thing?“ „No,“ he laughed. „Maybe something a little more personal?“ „Personal?“ „Yes, like do you believe that 70% of the people have met the person they will marry by the age of 16?“ „How is that personal? But yes, it sounds like something that might be true. Why, what do you think?“ „I think it’s bullshit. I think that that is for lazy people who do not believe in finding the person that is meant for them. They would rather just take whoever is available.“ Somehow I felt like this comment was directed at me, even though he couldn’t know that I had known Joey practically all my life and we had been together for ages. I hadn’t told that to him or to any of the others at my class. „Well I think that i fit fits, it fits, then you don’t need to go looking out for more.“ That sounded pretty dull but wasn’t it the truth? Why should you go and try to find your soulmate when yo were sure that your had found him already? „Well I think that that is just fear talking. What are you afraid of Emma?“ How did the conversation with him alway become so intense? „I don’t know. What everyone is afraid of I guess. Failure? Sickness, that something bad happens to the people I love?“ I asked more than I told him. „What about me?“ „What do you mean by that?“ „Are you afraid of me?“ This was getting too weird. „No, Sasha, I am not afraid of you and I am not sure how this has anything to do with you wanting to know something about me.“ „It does Emma, it does. I want to know who you are, I think you are the most fascinating person I have met in a long time. And I don’t want you to be afraid of me.“ It felt like every time I was around him I was more uncomfortable than the last time. „Thanks, I guess.“ I said hesitantly. He drove the car around a corner and pulled up in front of a restaurant. „Acquarello“ it said in bright turquoise letters. I hadn’t heard of the place before but it looked nice and not too fancy from the outside. Sasha got out of the car and opened the door for me, not that I had intended it, I was just too slow to find the seat belt buckle. „Pretty lady, here we go.“ „Thank you.“ He helped me out of the car and put his hand on the small of my back as he lead me to the entrance. He was greeted by a friendly looking men with salt and pepper hair and a small grey mustache. „Hello my friend, I am glad to see you again.“ He welcomed him with a huge smile and seemed genuinely happy to see Sasha. Sasha shook his hand and introduced me as his girlfriend in German. I was about to protest but I didn’t have time because we were immediately led to our table. Sasha ordered a glass of champagne for each of us and a bottle of red wine, which I knew nothing about. He also ordered a Gin and Tonic for himself. I began regretting that I hadn’t changed before dinner because the more people came in, the more I felt underdressed and pale. Most women in here were stunning. Not one of them was wearing flats and all of them had their hair and make up done and were dressed like they came straight out of a fashion magazine. Most of the men were in suits, most of them had the same salt and pepper colored hair, as I later found out, the owner of the restaurant and they all seemed to know everything about the food and what kind of wines would go with them. I couldn’t say I wasn’t impressed, but on the other hand I already knew that Sasha was loaded beyond my imagination. The champagne arrived and he toasted to „health“ in Russian and to „the most beautiful lady in the room“. My cheeks turned red and I quickly took a sip from my glass. This really did taste a lot better than the sparkling wine that I knew. I had to keep myself from drinking more and set the glass on the table. „So Sasha, now tell me why you were so upset today.“ „But I already told you this. I want you to like me. I didn’t want you to think that anything happened with me and the blonde girl.“ „But Sasha, you are free to do whatever you want, you have nothing to give account for to me.“ „ But I want to.“ „Look, you seem like a nice guy and you are very sweet to me, but I am not really interested in you that way. I have a boyfriend and I love him.“ „In Russia we have a saying that goes something like: If you're afraid of wolves, don't go to the woods. So tell me, little Red Riding Hood, what are you doing in the woods, with a wolf like me?“
He looked at me as if he expected a reaction but I couldn’t give him one. I was confused and hurt, he was right. What was I doing here? I agreed to go out with someone, that was clearly interested in me even though I did it out of the urge to help him and I lied to my boyfriend about it. I knew what I was getting into and I shouldn’t pretend that I was the good guy in this. I took another sip of champagne and excused myself to go to the bathroom, without giving Sasha an answer. When I got to the door I turned around to see him downing his Gin Tonic and ordering a new one. I splashed my face with water and held my wrists under the cold stream. I had to calm down, get the conversation back to a normal topic, like the language course or his work or something like that and away from me and potentially me with him. What was it about him that made me feel like he could read my mind and that he knew what I was thinking and feeling, even before I was feeling it. And why did every compliment, that would have sounded creepy coming from someone else, fill my mouth with the taste of thick and sweet nectar, making it hard to breathe? It was time for me to get the upper hand again. After all I found him irritating and annoying, at least that is what I had told everyone.
When I got back to the table Sasha was on the phone with someone speaking Russian. He sounded bored and didn’t really say much. When he hung up he explained „My mother, she wanted to speak with you but I told her no.“ „Why would your mother want to speak with me?“ „Because she wanted to know what kind of girl would want to go out with her horrible son.“ He smiled a sad little smile. „She didn’t mean that, did she?“ His eyes dropped to the floor and his voice became dark „Ah yes she did mean that. It is hard being my mother. I am not a very good son. It is difficult, having to love me.“ I didn’t know what to say. „Thank you Emma, for listening. I don’t know anyone that i can talk to like I can with you. You make me feel safe.“ „Of course“ I looked at him softly and took his hand in mine. „I am sure it’s all not as bad as it feels right now. From what I see you are a nice guy, a little weird sometimes, but mostly nice. So what do you think, shall we eat? I am starving?“ „Yes please.“, he grinned. It was difficult not to feel sorry for him after everything he told me at dinner. It kind of made sense that he was a little different than most of the guys I knew that had been bought up by their loving parents that had always been there for their children. He had come to Germany not to be a burden on his mother anymore who had a lot of problems with his sister and he wanted to help her by getting out of the way. His father was almost never home because he worked all the time and travelled the world making loads of money for his wife to spend when she wasn’t feeling sad or depressed. He had difficulties making friends in Germany because even though he spoke German better than I did he always felt like they had something against him because of his roots. And then there was his ex girlfriend who wanted to marry him but when he dug deeper she just wanted to get out of Russia and have a better life in Germany. That’s what he said at least and it felt like he was hurting a lot talking about these things. I couldn’t help but want to make him feel better, to just tell him that everything would be ok and he would find the right girl for him, so I decided then and there that the best thing I could do for him was to be his real friend.
I wasn’t sure that I should be getting into a car with him after dinner since he had had at least 3 Gin Tonics and half a bottle of wine, but it was almost midnight and I didn’t really know where I was and how to get home from there. Besides he didn’t act too drunk. He dropped me off in front of my house after we had done most of the car ride in silence, with him occasionally looking over to me and taking my hand to thank me again for being there for him. He walked around the car to walk me to my door while I protested, that I could do this myself. „Thank you Emma, you will be my savior, yes?“ He said and took my hand, planted a soft kiss on it and walked backwards to his car with his eyes on me. I fumbled with my keys and unlocked the front door to my building. When I looked through the window of my apartment I could see him, still downstairs looking up at me as if I was who he had been waiting for all his life.
I checked my watch, it was past midnight by now. I wasn’t sure how I was going to explain to Joey, that we took a field trip that went on until now. What harm could one more lie do, so I put on my PJ, rubbed my face with a towel until it was red and puffy and messed up my hair. I was just gonna tell him that I had wanted to take a little nap after we got back from the field trip but had fallen asleep until now. I told myself that I would tell him about Sasha eventually but now was just not the time. My hand was shaking as I double clicked his name on my computer.