Dear Dairy

Dear Dairy Audio Available!
This story kinda grew as an extension out of the 2014 Valentines Day Comic, so if you can remember that winter, you'll have an idea of it's setting. Only took me a year to actually finish it, of course, but its appropriate that finally wrapping it up is what I spent my most recent snow days on. It's pretty personal, which maybe explains why it was such a process actually writing it, but hopefully that makes it all the more intimate and cute.

Dear Dairy

A Thom Swanson original sappy construction
(that’s not in any way a fictionalized vignette of my current state of mind that I’m using as a cheap-introspective alternative to therapy to work through some stuff…

That would be crazy…)

It’s easily one of the most attractive things I’ve ever seen.
When I think back to the things notable past crushes have done to really pluck at my heart strings—actually kissing a real, live frog; drinking spilt sangria from a questionable bar table through a straw: the “oh-shit-I-might-not-be-able-to-ignore-this” moments, as it were—this is already solidly among them.
I should probably clarify, this has been the most legitimate winter in a decade, the kind you vaguely remember having as a kid—that global warming has since convinced you were romanticized exaggerations of starry-eyed youth—with a proper storm seemingly once a week or more piling on to the news-ditheringly-climbing snowbanks, and metal-shattering cold tugging at your morning commutes.
Today’s no different; the cheerily-prevailing sun and dazzlingly-sharp blue sky framing the piercing winter air. I’d even go as far as to venture that it may in fact be the coldest Valentine’s Day of my life, even beating out my recollection of that one year in high school when we got a meter of wet deluge in one storm, and my older sister sledded down the otherwise impassable roads to her boyfriend’s house, and my dad had to leave to do a wedding wearing snow pants over his tux.

…And there she is in the middle of all this, silhouetted on the pier, eating an ice cream cone.
All around, people are scuttling past, heads down, retreated into their dark layers of insulation, belligerent and unyielding in their battle against the freezing gusts. Not her. She stands open and relaxed in her long blue coat, entirely undaunted by the weather, her only reaction to the oppressive wind playing at the tips of auburn hair curling from beneath a modest hat, the adorably rosy flush livening her cheeks and nose.

Did I mention it’s soft serve to boot? Not to downplay hard ice cream, mind: I’m not so uncultured as to presume “Mr. Softy” as the unequivocal ice cream authority—I’m honestly neither here nor there on the discussion—I just meant that if it had been a more traditional manifestation of the frozen dairy, one could conceive of some Mom-n-Pop shop keeping the sneeze guard frosty year round, or presume she’d taken the scoop to her super-market-stash before leaving the house. To find somewhere affording soft service this time of year however? Well, that demonstrates a dedication to ice cream I clearly can’t ignore.

Now, while we’re clearing the air, I should probably also state for the record; I don’t do this kind of thing. I’ll spare you the sad sob story of my poor bullied formative years, but all you really need to know was I was pretty socially messed up for most of my life. Enough so I didn’t really realize till tenth grade, didn’t start to do anything about it till well into eleventh, and never really had much success till the final week of twelfth. Then we got to go off to college and start all over again, thoroughly mincing any wherewithal I had managed to accumulate into the notorious maelstrom of awkwardness, “self-discovery,” and professional development we all know, love, and get to spend the rest of our lives paying off.
Suffice it to say, while that whole “never-been-kissed” twenty-something may look cute on a Hollywood-staged Drew Barrymore, it’s a lot more pathetic and troubling being an actual self-respecting 23 year-old heterosexual male who’s never had a girlfriend.
Not to be a major downer or anything.
I just want you to know where I’m coming from. I’d honestly say I’m remarkably well adjusted, all things considered, and even the fact that I can acknowledge this stuff here and now bears evidence to my recent efforts to work on my confidence. Its, just that, well, old habits die hard. Traditionally speaking, I’m a master of the long-distance crush: I’ll milk it for all it’s worth, ever playing out and reworking improbable exchanges and professions in my head. I’ll cherish the hopeful flutters  I get at even driving through the city she’s currently in (even if that city’s name is proceeded by a capital NY), or discover a distinct preference for her favored kind of Twizzler beginning to manifest in the wake of my own characteristic indecision, but ultimately, never actually act on any of it. Past experience has taught me it’s safer that way.
Again, I realize this attitude is counterproductive to my hidden inner romantic’s ultimate agenda, and again, it’s a work in progress. That being said, it’s still somewhat surprising to find my feet actually plotting a course towards her.


“I see you went for the rainbow sprinkles. I’m a hard-shell man myself,” I say, instantly cringing at how much of a douche nozzle I sound.
And now I’ve just gone and muttered at least the term “douche nozzle” audibly. Hopefully she didn’t hear that…

“I’m sorry,” I back pedal, any delusions of a suave guise quickly abandoning me, “I just wanted to say, it’s very endearing, your penchant for ice cream. I hope that’s not too terribly forward of me to say. And now I’ve just gone and said ‘endearing’… and ‘penchant’. Sorry, was that aloud?”
            How was she not running the other way screaming?

            But no, she keeps standing, staring at me now, appraising.
            But not judging, just… considering.

            I can see her eyes now too. I know it’s terribly cliché to wax poetic about a girl’s eyes, but these are real pieces of work. Sort of a stormy gray you never actually see in real life—not quite blue, but more sort of what I’d call slate: I think I may totally get what they mean with that whole “melt in her eyes” bit now…
            Shit. And now I’m the one to break eye contact.
            Not to mention that silence. How long has that been there?
            Is she actually entertaining this? Surely there’s no possible way she could actually be waiting for me to say something?
            Usually this is the point where I run away, gurgle some gracious admission of defeat and bow out.
There are those eyes though…

            And I already feel like I’ve been talking rather a lot…
            I open my mouth stupidly, and suddenly I’m struck by an overwhelming sense that not only is she expecting me to say something, but this entire ill-fated conversation hangs in the balance over my next utterance.
            “Sorry… Again. I feel like I’ve been talking rather a lot: Can I start over? I’m James.”
            An unbearable eternity of a second, those critical eyes (was that a steely flash?) still burning into me.
            “Allie. And I wouldn’t worry yourself too much over the vocabulary. Seeing as it sets you above your garden variety ‘douche nozzle’ I’d say it’s even largely forgivable in the given context.”
            Is it possible for a wince to be audible? I think this one was regardless…

            “Yeah, sorry,” fourth apology in as many sentences, “I don’t really do this.”
            “Do what?” she counters innocently.
            Definitely an eye-flash at play here. Hardly seems fair really; that’s got to be twenty times as potent as a wink.
            “Oh, you know.”
            And there’s that smile too, the slightest mischievous upturn at the corner of the deadpan façade, just barely discernable in a balance of subtlety hinting in floodgates at the conniving intent behind.
            “Are you really going to make me say it?”
            The flash and the smirk this time, unignorably saying “Yes, I know exactly what you mean, and I am going to make you say it, actually” far more effectively than words ever could.
            “Talk to cute girls with ice cream cones…” I peter out.
            Sounds pretty small and pathetic when you actually put it into words…
            “Now that wasn’t so hard, was it?” she smiles, a full grin this time.
            “No, not hard at all, actually: More sort of squishy—Jittery, really. Very jittery…”
            Lost her with that one. There’s the tiniest bemused knitting of the eyebrows, again as subtle as it is expressive. If I wasn’t so busy panicking, I’d probably be thrown through a loop by how adorable it is.
            “Sorry, I do that a lot. I like to play at being witty, but it usually backfires, now that I think about it… Basically if I ever say something nonsensical and convoluted that goes way over your head, you’re generally pretty safe just ignoring it completely.”
            The flash is back, this one directed in at herself, like she’s sharing a private joke, if that makes any sense at all.
            “Well lucky for you, I’m tall for my demographic.”
            Not sure if it’s time itself, or just my heart, but there was definitely a beat dropped somewhere there as cupid’s arrow pangs home.
            Emboldened by this response, I hazard a reach for the confident persona, a fresh surge of adrenalin coursing through my better judgment.
            “So, you couldn’t get your boyfriend to come out for ice cream with you,” I ask brazenly.
Too brazenly.
Actually, any amount of brazen is too much for a first impression. Hopefully it was subtle enough I can play it off…

“Mmm, brazen,” she comments, letting me stew in her sarcastic criticism for a second before sliding back to serious, with a significant sincerity, “No, he couldn’t make it.”
Oof. This must be what black holes feel like.
“He hasn’t gotten the whole temporal discrepancy sorted out,” she continues, the same grin from before broadening  through the perfectly paced pause before the punchline, “What with him being in the future and all.”
My stomach is still plummeting as my stretched optimism does yet another backflip, and my mouth seems to be suddenly made of tacky plaster.
“Ah, I see,” I stutter, recovering, “Well, if that’s the case, I’m going to go out on a limb here. You see, and you may have already picked up on this, a bright woman like yourself, but I’m something of an ice cream aficionado myself.  And I guess, well, I was just wondering if I might convince you to share the secret as to where one might procure such a fine delicacy as you have, on such a beautiful day as this.”
Another of those interminably weighty pauses as she evaluates this latest pretense, finally cracking another sneaky smile.

“Well it would hardly be a secret to be kept from a true ‘aficionado.’ It is a bit tricky to verbalize, though. I’ll tell you what, it just so happens I have a bit of spare time now; if you were interested I suppose I could show you the way. Seems to be the only logical option, really, if you were serious…”
“That actually works out great,” I manage to chirp, parroting her bubbly composure, “I’m actually free myself, overlooking, obviously, the various immutable obligations that brought me out here in the first place. And I rather fancy you’ll be shortly due for topping off, courtesy of a random acquaintance,” the punctuating gesture toward her cone actually brings a laugh there, magnificently melodious as it rings through the delicate air“ and who are we to defy logic after all.”

 I reckon time must have just caught up with itself, or something. At any rate there was definitely some sort of turning point there as we collectively pivot and embark into the bright, pristine world blanketed before us.
The hyper-focus of the initial contact has at least worn off, melting into the blissful stew of endorphins glowing through my head. I’m vaguely aware of the comfortable flow of conversation, buzzing happily at the edge of my periphery. I laugh like my dad at some half-registered joke: I don’t do that very often…

I’ve never been very good at cardinal directions, and it may be a dozen hours early to actually be heading off into the sunset, but my inner romantic seems fond of the notion that we are bearing west.
I don’t really notice the other stark pedestrians anymore either, so it’s a bit hard to objectively judge, but personally, the day now doesn’t seem to be very cold at all. 


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