“Aloha, what are you up to?”
“Are you enjoying the experience so far?”
“I can’t complain.”
“She’s happy to hear that.”
“Good. Anyway, I was wondering if you’d like to go out again.”
“For more burgers and beer?!”
“I was thinking something a little nicer…”
“What’s nicer than burgers and beer?”
“Sushi and sake. There’s this awesome spot in Santa Monica that’s great for a date and I was thinking that-“
“Date? As in me going on a date…with you?”
“I’m not asking on someone else’s behalf. Is there a problem with you going on a date with me?”
“I don’t think so.”
“You don’t think so as in you don’t wanna go or you don’t think so as in it’s not a problem to go?”
“The last one.”
“It’s not a problem to go?”
“Yes it is a problem to go?”
“No, it’s not a problem.”
“Yes…I mean yes to the no, it’s not a problem.”
“There’s just one thing.”
“You mean that last thing wasn’t enough?”
“That thing we just…never mind. What’d you wanna tell me?”
“Uh…I forgot now. I’m confused.”
“You’re not alone.”
“Oh wait! I remember what it is!”
“I’ve never been on a date before.”
“Did I just hear you correctly?”
“If you heard the words ‘Mairena has never been on a date before then yes, you heard me correctly, your ears weren’t lying.”
“You’re a quarter of a century old, how could you have never been on a date before?”
“I dunno, no one has ever taken me on one or asked me on one. Is that weird?”
“Super weird. What kind of people have you gone out with?”
“Apparently the kind that don’t believe in going on dates.”
“But you’ve been in at least one relationship during your life, right?”
“Then how…you know what, we can talk about it later. Why don’t I pick you up at 7 on Saturday.”
“A.m. or p.m.?”
“Unless you want sushi for breakfast I’d say 7 p.m.”
“Okay it’s a date! Wow…I’ve never said that before. Can I say it again?”
“Knock yourself out.”
“It’s a date! It’s a date! It’s a date! Weeeee, this is fun! Ok, I’ll see you tomorrow at school, by-eee.”
Even though I’d broken my promise to Kaleb by texting Justine earlier in the evening I felt I could atone for it by following his advice on asking Myday out on a bonafide date afterwards. I figured one misdeed followed by one good deed amounted to total equilibrium on the morality scales.
And while I was 90% Myday and 10% Justine I couldn’t help but feel there was this fog of ambiguity that surrounded Myday when it came to how she thought and felt. It was clear that she spoke a love language so foreign to me that I could neither understand nor decipher it.
Justine on the other hand, was the polar opposite (and according to Kaleb, just plain bi-polar). Because within the timespan of our brief texting she had asked me out tonight (which I declined) and then followed it up by asking me out tomorrow night (which I accepted).
If Myday was this haze of confusing vagueness then Justine was a bright, blaring light of certainty. The only problem was this light could be attached to a freight train barreling towards me at top speed.
So on one side of the barbed wire fence was a woman who had the propensity for being cold, calculative and malicious and on the other side was a woman who had the propensity for being aloof, unclear and puzzling. My job, as I saw it, was to stay balanced atop this razor-sharp fence without slipping and slicing my nutsack open.
But never been on a date before?
What planet did Myday come from and how many light-years was it away from the one the rest of us inhabited?
“You talked to Justine last night didn’t you?” Kaleb asks with a conviction as icy as his blue eyes.
“What makes you say that?” I respond, pretending to peruse the Starbucks menu while we wait in line so I can avoid the accusatory look on his face.
“Because while you were working on your client she kept looking at you like a dog in heat from the row over.”
“Really?!” I say, facing him.
“Dude. You promised.” he groans while shaking his head of shaggy hair.
“I know! But if there’s one thing I can promise it’s that I’m horrible at keeping promises.”
“You know, I’ve given you every warning I can that she’s a 10-ton twat, you’re just gonna have to find out on your own when she squashes you like an ant. When are you gonna hang out with her?”
“I guess the sooner you jump into that quicksand the sooner it’ll all be over. I take it this means no more Myday?”
“We’re going out on Saturday.”
“Jesus Karen Carpenter Christ! It’s dodgy enough to shit where you sleep but shitting AND pissing where you sleep? That’s just E.coli waiting to happen. Did you hear NOTHING I said about dating more than one woman in the same ecosystem?”
“I did! I just thought that-”
“NO! NO, NO! That’s your problem, you’re not thinking when it comes to your dating life!”
“Oh I’m the one that’s not thinking?”
“Don’t you think that’s the Negro calling the ghetto black right now?”
“The Negro calling the–what in the five-star fuck are you talking about?”
“There’s a rumor going around that you might be involved with a student by the name of Kaylie which, if true, would be a HUGE non-thinking crime on your part wouldn’t you say?”
“Who’d you hear that from?” He asks with a petrified look as we reach the counter.
“Hi fellas, what can I get for you today?” our barista Shorty asks full of bright-eyed cheer.
“For starters you can get this son of a bitch to say who ‘they’ are!” Kaleb yells.
“I’m sorry, Kaleb but employees aren’t allowed to interfere with the relationships of our customers.”
“You’ll have to excuse him today, Shorty, he’s on his period and a little sensitive.”
“No problem, we have feminine products in the bathroom for your convenience.”
“Shorty, I come in here every day, you know I’m a man, why would I need a tampon?”
“Because they’re also good at soaking up tears and right now you look like you’re about to cry.” Shorty says straight-faced. “So would you like your usual venti upside down caramel macchiato with three extra shots of espresso, extra whipped cream and half and half instead of milk to make you feel better?”
“He will because if you can’t tell already, health is his #1 concern. Add a black coffee to that and I’ll pay for both.”
“That’s nice of you, Stuke. Should I put it under your name or just ‘Son of a Bitch’?”
“Dealer’s choice.” I tell him as Kaleb and I grab a seat.
“Don’t think that just because you bought me a coffee-“
“An 8 dollar coffee.”
“That you’re off the hook, little worm. I want you to tell me who you heard this ‘rumor’ from.”
Now I had heard this rumor from three different people in the last two days who, as far as I knew, weren’t in the business of baking bullshit which lent credibility to their story. The real litmus test, however, was gauging Kaleb’s reaction to this news which based on his current state of agitation pointed towards the allegations being true.
But knowing Kaleb and how much he was apt to act like, well…Kaleb, I knew I had to handle this thing with care in order to keep his anxiety at bay. Because if that anxiety got out of hand (which it would) it would lead him to doing something irrational which would lead him to losing his job at Paul Mitchell which would lead him to blaming me for everything.
So I did the best thing I could do to diffuse the situation.
“Relax, I was just making it up, no one is talking about you guys.”
I lied to his face.
“I don’t believe you, young grasshopper. Give me names.”
“Ok, what’s with all the bug references today? I’ve been an ant, a worm and now I’m a fucking grasshopper. Have you been getting high and watching Microcosmos again?”
“You know the insect world fascinates me, but what we’re talking about right now is-“
“I swear on my mother’s grave no one is talking about you.”
“Is your mom dead?”
“I haven’t heard from her in a while so…maybe?”
“Maybe doesn’t count.”
“Fine. But I promise I was just fucking with you, you’re safe.”
“You just said you were horrible at promises.”
“That’s only when it involves my own welfare.”
“So you’re being honest? No one’s talking? Because I could get fired for a rumor like that.”
“No one has said anything. Just chill out before you give yourself an aneurism.”
“It’s bad enough I’ve got a heart murmur…”
“Which is why you drink a gallon of coffee and smoke a pack of cigarettes every day.”
“That shit keeps me calm.”
“But you have to admit…”
“Son of a Bitch your order is ready!”
“There IS something going on between you and Kaylie isn’t there?”
“Alright, Poindexter, why do you think there’s something going on?” he asks as we grab our coffees and head outside.
“Well, aside from you looking like you were pissing razors when I said people were talking about you two, I noticed you guys have been talking a lot at school.”
“SO? You and I talk a lot at school and that doesn’t mean anything. Besides, I talk to a lot of girls at school because as a teacher that’s my job and most of the students, as you know, are female.”
“And most of those females have a shit look on their face within seconds of talking to you because you’re as charming as a broken septic tank. But not Kaylie. She’s always laughing, smiling and babbling around you non-stop which is super strange because I’ve never seen her talk to anyone at school. So much so that I thought she was a mute for the longest time.”
Kaleb remains mute himself as he laps at his drink and gives me a blank stare while we walk back to school with all the other students on break.
“Are you gonna tell me or not?” I beg, hoping that he comes clean before we reach our destination.
“If I tell you and you repeat it to anyone, there’s gonna be hell to pay. Not just for me but for what I’ll do to you.”
He takes a deep breath in anticipation of spilling his guts and then…
“Ok…so for the past two weeks we’ve-“
“Stukeeeeeee.” a voice beckons from behind us at the most inopportune time, prompting us to turn around and see Justine and her friend Leslie striding towards us.
“Mother of all fuckers.” I mumble to Kaleb.
“And with that I bid you ado.” he says with a whipped cream smile bigger than the great state of Texas, fleeing the scene at a speed I had no idea his ramshackle of a body could create.
“What’s up, Justine?” I ask while trying to hide my annoyance.
“Do you think after we do dinner tonight we could go back to your place for a couple of drinks?” she asks while twirling her hair and making Leslie’s eyes roll.
“I don’t see why not.”
“I was hoping you’d say that.” she says as her phone rings. “One sec.” she tells me with a wink and then steps away to answer the call.
“So you two are going out tonight?” Leslie asks with a face full of suspicion.
“And then back to your place where you’ll contribute to a minor?”
“Uh-huh. How old are you?”
“Why? Are you writing a book?”
“You’re not interesting enough to write about.” she chortles.
“So what is it, 29? 30? 105?”
“Just turned 38.”
“Wow, that’s like super old…and gross.”
“Doesn’t seem to bother your friend.”
“That’s because she’s always in search of a father figure since hers left.”
“Well I’d say she’s found that in you.”
“Aren’t you funny.”
“Depends on your sense of humor. Is there any reason you’re being so awesome today?”
“Yeah. I think it’s shady that a 38yr old man wants to go out with a 19yr old girl.”
“Why is that?”
“Because all you’re interested in is fucking her.”
“Is that so?”
“Well I don’t think you’re hanging out with her because of her conversational abilities or award winning personality.”
“And here I thought you two were friends.”
“Doesn’t seem like it.”
“Why would you say that?”
“Because I think you’d say nicer things about her if you were friends.”
“What in the fuck is that supposed to mean?”
“Well, so far you’ve said she has daddy issues, can’t hold an intelligent conversation and is so lame that the only thing she has of value is what’s in-between her legs.”
“I never said any of that!”
“No, but you implied it with everything you did say.”
“Sorry about that.” Justine chimes as she comes back over while Leslie mad dogs me. “What part of town are you in, Stuke?”
“Where’s the restaurant?”
“Ok. I’m in Woodland Hills so why don’t we meet at the restaurant?”
“Works for me. I’ll text you the name and address of the place in a minute.”
“Purrrrfect…by the way, what kind of food is it?”
“Oh my god I love Italian!”
“Right? Who doesn’t?”
“So. Fucking. Cliché’!” Leslie roars before storming off.”
“Except for your friend I guess.”
“I’m sorry she’s just a little-“
“It’s ok, Kaleb is on his period too. They must be synched up.”
“You’re so bad!” she laughs. “I’ll see you in specialty class…and then later on tonight.” she says as she squeezes my arm and then runs to catch up with Leslie.
As she sprints away the enormity of what I’ve put into play smacks me upside the head leaving me with one question burning inside of it like a funeral pyre.
What the fuck have I gotten myself into?
Yesterday when I was arguing with Kaleb about dating more than one woman in the same ecosystem it seemed like a good idea because none of it was real. So of course I was looking at it through the lens of it being something fun and easy.
But now that it was real carrying with it real-world consequences I no longer felt I was looking through the lens of fun and easy but instead looking into the barrel of a gun and playing Russian roulette with two bullets as opposed to one.
But as sobering as this realization was it in no way persuaded me to put the gun down. Because even though I knew this act of carelessness was sure to bring about catastrophic results I was still dead-set on doing it. Nothing was going to stop me from spinning the gun’s chamber and pulling the trigger regardless of who might get hurt.
I didn’t know why I felt the urge to stomp on the gas instead of the brake and put people’s hearts at risk. All I did know was there was a huge hole in my own heart from when Gums had left and instead of doing the work to fill it myself I chose to have others try to fill it for me which only served to dig the hole deeper.
I told myself I should feel bad for what I was doing but most of my feelings (including remorse, respect and regret) had been hacked away and cauterized by Gums, leaving me only with the feeling of wanting to be wanted by as many people who would want me despite whatever costs may come with that.
I wanted to feel whole again and that would become the sole driving force behind all my actions romantically, even if that drive was on a collision-course with a brick wall.