Rainy Nights

I stumbled across a fresh ricotta recipe and the pictures were so tempting I ran out to Jenny Lou’s, bought milk and cream and lemons, and tried to make it right away. I was so excited for the idea of whole-milk ricotta (as opposed to traditional twice cooked, using whey form hard cheese making), which would be cheaper and tastier than buying a container of ricotta from JL (seriously, milk + cream + lemon < cheese). I cooked the milk and cream, stirred in some lemon juice, let it sit, then strained it. And nothing. An exercise in abject failure. The milk mixture curdled and then…un-curdled? Went right through the cheesecloth layers and strainer. Incredibly, incredibly disappointing. Maybe I over or undercooked the milk–I supposed I should invest in a thermometer one of these days.

This afternoon, the rain finally broke. After a gray and miserable morning, by late afternoon it was blue skies and warm, golden sun. Beautiful. I guess they got tired of shooting up silver nitrate. Another torrential downpour started last night while I was laying in bed. It absolutely sucks to get stuck in the rain when you're on a bike, cabs are even harder to get, it's dirty rain, and my flats are maybe 2 thunderstorms from disintegrating. But I love rain when I don't have somewhere to be, love the thunder and lightning, and wish there was a quiet wooded parking lot where I could sit in a car and watch rain stream down and the refraction of the headlights through the rain drops on the windows and feel secure and safe. Beijing is not really the kind of place where you can run around outside barefoot during a storm, which is one of my favorite spring and summer things to do.

It made me nostalgic, the rain. When it was all dark and stormy, I just wanted to curl up with a cup of tea and some cake, and either a good book or a notebook and pen and scribble my thoughts down.

I was fifteen. Very new to the concept of being pretty. The last traces of my awkward middle school years left me that year, and quite suddenly I was slender instead of stick-thin knees and elbows, bright smile instead of braces. I was learning how to tastefully apply makeup, and not just slap glitter on my eyelids. My athleticism lent me grace and poise. Somehow, I was learning how to flirt. My unfortunately boyish haircut finally grew out, people stopped confusing me for a boy.

It's late March, or maybe early April. Late evening, the sky black and heavy with clouds. My parents are gone for the evening, my older sister is absorbed in some project. I sit in the study chatting to people online, staring out the window making moody faces at my reflection. He is online, and I am wracking my brains to come up with clever or pithy things to say. It is more challenging and agonizing than I had realized. He is a friend of my sister's, a senior, a musician and an artist and therefore, intriguing. I had flashed him a few shy smiles now and then when we talked at school. Amazingly, he seemed interested in having conversations with me.

The rain is like a siren call. I can't stay inside any longer. I slip out the front door, barefoot, in a tank top. The day had been gloriously hot and sunny, and now, the air is filled with the clean steamy fragrance of rain hitting the sun-soaked pavement, and fresh mud. I dance. I skip and laugh. I jump in puddles and wiggle my toes in the mud and wet grass and stand underneath a street lamp, in the warm pool of orange glow, head tilting towards the sky, liquid light streaming over my eyes and face and mouth. My hair, a long black cascade melding with the water, clinging to my bare shoulders. Feet mud spattered, clothes absolutely soaked.

He lives around the corner from me, in a charming blue two family house. A spark of an idea has wriggled into my brain, getting brighter, bolder. I splash up and down the street, passing his house once, twice. Slowly building up courage. A hop skip and jump up the slate-and-white-gravel path to the front door, followed by a petrified scramble backwards away from the door. Stopping, breathing, turning back resolutely. I slowly walk back up to the door, reading and rereading the name above the bell just to be sure. Breathing in a confidence I certainly do not feel, holding my breath and pressing the bell. I can hear and feel every heartbeat like a hammer blow. Footsteps. Please, please don't let anyone else come to the door.

I paste an impish grin on my face and look up through fern-like eyelashes, water dripping from them, green eyes as big and puppy-ish as I can make them. "I'm bored. Come play with me in the rain?" I don't allow the thought that he might say no to cross my mind. I don't even let him get a jacket.

We walk for blocks around our neighborhood. Sit on the swings of our old elementary school. Talk about everything and nothing. Sometimes he just watches as I play around like a little kid. What must he think of me, this crazy, brazen, foolish child in front of him? I don't allow myself to think about that either. Sometimes we walk in silence, side by side, almost but never quite touching. The rain eventually abates to a drizzle. I'm soaked to the skin, my fingers death white, my skin puckering in the cold, and I'm trying hard to keep my voice from quavering. But he notices, and insists we go back home.

We sit in his kitchen. It's small and snug, and I'm wrapped up in a large, borrowed sweatshirt. I perch on the chair hugging my knees to my body and watch as he tinkers around with the stove and a kettle and eventually produces a tea kettle complete with cozy and two mugs of strong, sweet tea. I didn't even know people still used tea cozies outside of Britain, so I'm trying not to laugh as I wrap pale fingers around the warm cup. We sip our tea and listen to the rain, which has picked up again, and occasionally words drift out into the silence. Eventually, though, I have to return home. I get a hug before I slide out the door and run barefoot hair snaking out behind me, dodging the rain drops.

I float home again, where no one has noticed my absence, back into the study, back to the computer, wrap myself around another mug of tea, making more faces at my reflection in the window's darkness. Thinking over everything that we talked about and everything we didn't say and wondering why he didn't kiss me and slightly relieved that he didn't.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: