“I could vomit all over your shoes right now.” Eugene said.
“Look, at your skin! It’s peeling off!” Dani exclaimed. She lifted Eugene’s shirt away from his stomach. His belly was lobster red. “So that’s what happens to white boys who don’t use sunscreen.”
Eugene groaned. Why had this happened on the third date? He’d totally spoiled the mood.
Dani rummaged through her utilitarian beach bag and pulled out some aloe vera. “My cousin is light skinned, so my mom and I carry it around for his silly ass. Take your shirt off.”
This was not how Eugene imagined Dani would tell him to take his shirt off. She pumped some of the green goop into her hand. Eugene looked at the brightly lit arcade station and the Dicky’s ice cream next to it.
“You sure we should do this now? We could get some ice cream first.” He pointed at the crowd of teens near the Dicky’s.
Dani gave the heaviest sigh and side eye. “I already have it on my hand.” She dropped her beach bag next to her.
Eugene seemed to taste dry, sandy rot in his mouth as she approached him with the aloe. He gulped, then reluctantly peeled his shirt off. Maybe if she only used small doses of the aloe on his skin, his allergies would not react to it. “Can you wipe some off on your shirt or something?” he suggested.
Dani twiddled her fingers in front of him, being careful not to drop a bit of green goo on the boardwalk. “C’mon, it’s not even that much!” she dabbed it all over his stomach along his chest then over his neck. This was the first time she touched most of his body. Yet, he shivered and cringed and gripped his forearm. She grabbed him, spun him around and massaged it into his shoulders and back. The massage felt more like a rough ice bath from hell. His shoulders hunched and he held his head low.
“Look at you being brave!” she hugged him from behind.
He squirmed from the sting, clenched his teeth and nodded.
“You okay, babe?” she tried to turn him by his torso, but he braced himself and didn’t move.
He grimaced. “Is it okay if you get me some water? I’m feeling pretty dehydrated.”
“All right… But when I get back, we’re sitting on the beach!” She walked toward the Dicky’s and slung her beach bag over her shoulder.
Eugene turned to see she was far enough away, then he used his shirt to scrape off as much of the residue as possible. He sweated profusely and felt like liquid shit. He was the one that suggested a beach trip would be great, then like an idiot forgot to pack Benedryl. The sun was sinking low in the sky, drawing more people to the beach. They came from the flashing arcade, local greasy pizzerias, and expensive mom & pop’s, making their sweet beeline to the boardwalk.
Parts of Eugene's body began to swell. He staggered to a wooden bench and sat down heavily. He threw his shirt at his feet and he crossed his arms against his stomach, staring down at the swollen skin. He kept repeating himself it was worth it. They’d find a pharmacy after the date. Maybe he could keep this up even after the pharmacy run. He summoned the image of Dani in that little bikini of hers and that lilac perfume. So close. The third date was so close. He held his knee close to his chest. Date, then mate. He’d known her for two years now, but not in all the ways that mattered. Just the pressure of asking her out was hard enough, but now he had to deal with his own stupidity. He released his knee and placed his hands in his pockets, fidgeting.
Dani held two ice creams in one hand and a large bottle of water in the other. “Let’s go out on the beach!” She walked passed him towards the walkway.
He followed after her, they sat on the sand, dug their toes in the sand.
Dani handed the water bottle and strawberry/chocolate swirl to him. She licked her ice cream on all the parts that overflowed, taking care not to forget a single spot.
Eugene screwed the top off the bottle while maneuvering the ice cream with his elbow.
“You sure you don’t need help?” she said.
He took a couple sips of water and shook his head. Then he gargled the water and spat it out away from Dani. He took a couple more sips, then decided to tackle the ice cream. He licked all of the drippiest parts first.
Then he tasted aloe.
Dani hadn’t washed her hands after applying the aloe. It seemed like he licked nothing but aloe off the cone. Eugene felt his tongue swell alarmingly. He felt hotter and itchier than before. He’d never actually eaten it before. He bit into his ice cream, hoping for a cool sweet release. He looked over at Dani staring at the dark ocean ahead. She held her knees to her chest while slowly licking her ice cream. She smiled. No, he decided, he couldn’t tell her now.
She turned to look back at the boardwalk. “I bet the sun looks just as red as you.” Then she looked over at Eugene, ice cream splattered on his face. She giggled, “Are you okay?”
Eugene choked out, “Yeah,” even as the scary words anaphylactic shock echoed across his brain. No. He could do this. He coughed and rubbed his Adam’s apple. He sat up stiffly. He drew air deep into his lungs, trying to get a full breath.
Dani’s eyebrows furrowed and she turned her body toward Eugene. It seemed like she was moving in slow motion, leaving blurry after-images of herself. When she glared at him he felt the heat from her eyes...no... wait, that was still his burning flesh...
He looked around and saw it was only them and an old couple by the shore. Everyone else must’ve still been on the boardwalk. He coughed. “The shore looks pretty dank, don’tcha think?”
She rolled her eyes and scrunched her nose. “That’s not how you use that word. And what’re you hiding?” Every way he turned his head, she followed: she shifted her weight from thigh to thigh, tilted her head up, down, all around.
He stared at her curls, her nose, her lips, but away from the eyes as much as possible.
“Nothing,” he grumbled. His own voice seemed to come from far away. Certainly not from his own dry, swollen throat.
“You know you can tell me anything, right?” Dani furrowed her brow and reached a hand out to him. “How long have we known each other? It's got to be over two years now.”
Eugene's eyes rolled back and he collapsed. Fainted. Darkness.
A fuzzy feeling and weird pinch-grip on his right arm. Numbness. Fogginess. Heavy, steady breathing.
Eugene blinked a couple of times and scanned the blurry room. He blinked a couple of more times, his vision clearing. A white board with scribbles on it, something to do with his condition and the name of his nurse. He looked to his right to see Dani, curled in a seat next to him.
He looked at his arm and the tube that ran to the familiar cortisone. He sighed and grumbled a bit about hating hospitals. He coughed and cleared his throat, which was in a much better condition than earlier. His body felt like the husk of an exoskeleton. That weird exposed bone feeling all over his body. Shivering, this felt weirder than that time he had his first roach. Probably from the IV sticking out of him.
He couldn’t believe he choked. Not just from the Aloe either. Hadn’t he learned to just get it over with already?
His heart sank. There was no way out of this hospital or to escape the soon-to-be-awkward situation with Dani. She still had her utilitarian beach bag next to her chair, but she covered herself with a shawl. Maybe if he pretended to sleep long enough, she’d go away. He couldn’t do that, not for long enough anyway.
Dani’s leg escaped from her side and it jolted her awake. Tired eyes, she wiped away the sleep that lingered. She blinked a couple of times.
Eugene couldn’t help but stare at the way she patted her face awake, he smiled.
Dani looked over at Eugene and her eyes widened and crossed her arms across her stomach. “I’m so sorry. I knew you were acting strange--”
“Please, don’t apologize…” he shook his head and closed his eyes. A flush that had nothing to do with sun or allergic reaction burned on his cheeks and forehead.
“Eugene, just let me say--”
“You’ve said too much already, give it a rest.” He turned and glared at her. “I was being an idiot, end of story.”
She sat up stiff straight and crossed her arms again. “No. That is not the end of the story. You worried me. Not many things worry me.” Dani grabbed her bag and dumped the belongings on the ground.
Eugene gripped at the harshly knitted blanket over his stomach. “I don’t want you worried.”
“Just listen, okay?” She rummaged through her belongings.
“I like to be prepared for anything, Eugene, but I was not prepared for today.” Dani presented some of the items. Eugene leaned over to see: pads, aloe vera, lipstick, a small first aid kit, towel, breath mint, magnum condom, lubrication, sunscreen, wallet, deodorant stick, wide tooth comb, book entitled Sex for Dummies, hand-held mirror, miscellaneous receipts, Marvel comic book, and a mini-bag.
Eugene blushed at the book and condoms. He smiled at the receipts and comic book. He gripped the knitted blanket even more, he furrowed his brow, his throat began to tighten again, almost as badly as at the beach. He swallowed, hoping to alleviate the pain, to only feel dryness.
He turned his head toward her, saw her tears and choked. Again. Not from an allergy, not from the dryness. But he definitely choked. ‘I love you’ was not meant to be said today.
She grabbed his hand and brushed her thumb over his meaty fingers.
“All you need to know right now,” he said, “Is I’m allergic to aloe and I hate strawberries.” He managed a smirk.
“I already knew you hated strawberries!” Dani playfully pushed his arm. “I saw you glaring at the little girl eating straight strawberries at the fair!”
They laughed. Maybe he’d try again on the fourth date.
May Clare is a graduate from Longwood University. Her previously published Creative Nonfiction piece was “Going to Church hungover” in aaduna magazine.