I woke up surrounded by pillows with the light streaming through my window; it felt amazing to have slept through the night. The apartment was still quiet even though the clock said 9:30. I assumed Simon and Kacey were still deep in their food- and alcohol-induced comas. I stretched up and fell back onto my pillows. Another 15 minutes here in this morning bliss wouldn’t hurt anyone.
You’d think I had met my prince charming, was engaged and today he was taking me back to his castle to live out our forever, but in reality I don’t think fairytales exist and although The Prince & Me was a cute movie, it wasn’t reality. I was happy because the night before went really well and there was nothing to stress about, a feeling I rarely had. There was that embarrassing twirl thing at the beginning, but I didn’t spill soy sauce on my shirt and I didn’t trip once, so all in all it was a very successful night.
I rolled out of bed and headed for my dresser. Those two goofs out on my couch deserved a thank you for all their help last night. I padded over to my dresser and pulled out my Lululemon leggings. Every time I put them on I thought how stupid it was to spend $100 on a pair of leggings, but then I remembered that Lulu already had my money and I might as well get some use out of them. And god, were they comfortable. I threw on a sweatshirt, stepped into my running shoes and headed out to get coffee for my crew.
“Hey,” Brody waved from behind the counter at Roasted, “I haven’t seen you in a while. Thought you might have given up coffee! I was about to send a case of Advil to your house.”
“Don’t be ridiculous! You know I could never give up coffee,” I said, smiling back at my favorite barista, “but why would you send me a case of Advil?”
“For the caffeine withdrawal headaches,” he said, surprised I didn’t get his coffee humor.
That’s what I liked most about Brody, besides is shaggy golden hair that never fell out of place. He was the chillest person I knew. He was confident, didn’t freak out when a teacup cracked and made one hell of a latte.
“What can I get for you on this lovely Sunday? Your usual?” Brody said, already writing on what would soon be my cup. See, confident.
“That and two more, I have a few hangovers to cure in my living room this morning. First caffeine and doughnuts,” I said, holding up the bakery bag, “and then some painkillers and water. Maybe you should have sent that Advil over after all.” I laughed, adding, “I need something salted-caramel. I’ll let you be creative and a triple shot latte. Both with no-fat milk.”
“Triple shot? That crazy girl is at your house, isn’t she?” said Brody, cracking a smile. Last time I brought Kacey in here Brody had pleaded to take her out on a date. Kacey didn’t give him the time of day. “He wears flannel and smells like burnt coffee beans,” was her reply.
I paid and Brody went to work on the drinks. An artist showing off his craft. Thank god my Nespresso machine made my coffee for me.
When I finally made it back to the apartment, I could hear Scott Simon. Simon usually listened to NPR in the morning on his laptop and I guessed having company wasn’t stopping him.
“Can’t we turn this off,” Kacey grumbled. “I have a headache and these binoculars aren’t helping.”
I wandered into the living room. Kacey was kneeled on the floor next to Simon, staring at “Hot Neighbor,” as we had started referring to him.
“Coffee and doughnuts! Hurry and drink this, you two look like you need it,” I laughed as I handed out the coffee.
Kacey’s eye makeup was all over her face, making her look like a redheaded raccoon and she was wearing a pair of my pajama pants under a wrinkled red dress. Simon, on the otherhand, had stripped down to his tie-dye briefs and a college sweatshirt; his signature hair poof was flat and matted.
Kacey took a long sip of her coffee then turned to me. “Why the hell didn’t you wake us up last night to give us the deets!” she asked as she scooted away from the window. Simon stood up, making sure his butt was square in the glass and hoping to catch Hot Neighbor’s attention before agreeing with her.
“Well, I’ve been told never to wake a bear from hibernation. There were multiple empty pints of ice cream and a box of wine on the floor, so I hedged my bets, bought treats and waited until this morning,” I tossed the bakery bag on the table. “If you want story time, I am happy to oblige. Uh ... Why is the coffee table sticky?” I asked after sitting down on it and immediately jumping back up.
They laughed about some inside joke from last night, rolled their eyes at me and jumped on the couch. “Don’t fret, my little OCD-queen,” Simon said, pulling me down to the couch. “I’ll clean up later. Now spill.”
The evening before
“So, Kacey said you like Asian food and seafood. I was thinking ... maybe ... sushi?” Carter ran his fingers through his hair. He was nervous. It made me feel better.
“I love sushi! That’s great,” I responded. I made a mental note not to suggest a restaurant. Carter seemed to have a plan and I didn’t want to make him feel like I was being bossy — a trait Simon reminded me of often.
We got into the Uber and Carter made small talk to the driver. I was always nice, but I never had a full conversation with my Uber drivers. I never knew what to say or how to keep the conversation flowing. I was impressed how easy going Carter was, and it was cute when he would laugh at his own jokes.
We pulled up to Blowfish, my favorite sushi place in the whole city. They topped the spicy tuna roll with avocado and the miso soup had mushrooms in it! Add extra avo to anything and I’d be happy.
Carter had a reservation at the sushi bar, so there wasn’t any waiting. I realized that we hadn’t said a word to each other since we left the stoop in front of The Nook. I scrolled through my mental library of Taylor Swift songs, thinking she had to have written about first dates. No. Nothing. Shit.
The very petite hostess, who obviously thought Carter was gorgeous, giggled all the way to our table. When we sat down Carter said, “I don’t think I have actually ever heard someone giggle until just now and I have three sisters.”
“She was definitely on a roll. It seems that you have an admirer,” I laughed. “Maybe she’ll comp your sushi if you give her your number.”
Carter played like he was offended, but then looked me straight in the eye, “If you only knew how long it took to work up the courage to give you my number, much less ask you out on a date, you’d know I’d never be able to just slip her my number.” He laughed, a little embarrassed that he’d admitted to being so shy. “I think we really have Kacey to thank for tonight. If she hadn’t cornered me in the elevator and told me to grow a pair or vacate the building, it might have been a few more weeks before I worked up the courage. You’re a little intimidating, you know.”
Now it was my turn to be embarrassed.
Kacey had accosted men on my behalf before, but never one that I actually liked.
“Sorry about Kacey. I had no idea, I don’t want you to think I put her up to it ...” I started to stumble over my words. “Not that I didn’t want you to, I did ... I ... I’m ... I’m really happy about this.” I finished, looking into my lap.
Carter reached across the table and covered my hand. “I’m glad she yelled at me. It lit a fire under my ass. I’m happy about this, too. Plus, you’re not so intimidating when you’re nervous.” He laughed and his chuckling made me laugh, too.
We ordered our food. (I got my usual and he ordered teriyaki chicken. Minus points for ordering chicken at a sushi restaurant, but I’d let it slide for now.) We covered the basic first-date topics. He already knew all about my job from eating lunch with us in the building and his job just confused me, so I skillfully avoided all work talk. We stuck to family, our college days and how we ended up in the city. When we finally looked up, the restaurant had cleared out except for us and one other table. We had decided to skip dessert, paid the check and just kept on talking. A good sign, right?
I clicked on my phone. It was 11 and just seeing the time made me yawn. I was officially a grandma. Out on a date and tired before midnight. Carter stood and helped me into my jacket.
“This is normally the part where I ask you out for a post-dinner drink.”
“Normally? How often do you do this, sir?” I questioned with a laugh. “I mean you have a schedule and everything. Who’s the intimidating one now?” I looked at him and raised my eyebrows. “I’m not much of a drinker, but how about we grab some coffee. I know just the place.”
I realized I was hijacking the date, but I didn’t care. I was having fun and I wanted to keep the night going. I reached down and grabbed his hand, which was much larger than mine, and led the way out of the restaurant. We heard the hostess’ giggles all the way to the curb.
Roasted was a few blocks away, but it closed an hour ago, so we ended up at Starbucks.
After tea — which Carter ordered because he was afraid he wouldn’t sleep if he had coffee and I ordered because I didn’t want to have coffee breath if he kissed me goodnight — and splitting a chocolate chip cookie, Carter booked our Uber.
We were waiting under a streetlight watching the partygoers stumble to their next club. Carter draped his arm around my shoulder and my breath caught. It felt nice and that surprised me. I looked up at him and took a deep breath, raising up on my tiptoes to peck his cheek.
I was about to thank him for a great night, when a man dressed in a purple sequin dress and 7-inch clear plastic hills stumbled right into me. Carter caught me before the man ate pavement, showing off his matching purple lace thong. “Where’sth—the chivalry, missther knight. Letting a poor creature fall to the ground like that,” he slurred, obviously unaware that Carter was holding me up. We watched him scramble to his feet, like a baby giraffe trying to walk for the first time, and stumble off into the dark.
“Are you all right?” Carter asked. I couldn’t tell if he meant to still be holding me or if he was just too confused to realize that he was doing it. I nodded.
“Thanks for catching me,” I said, “I was worried all night that I’d trip and make a fool of myself, but I guess someone decided to do it for me.”
Finally, our Uber showed up and Carter opened the door for me. That sequined man had no idea what he was talking about. Carter was definitely chivalrous. And right before I ducked into the car, he turned me around and kissed me. A soft, kind kiss. He didn’t rush, or get handsy, like the guys I dated in college. He just pressed his lips against mine, stood back and smiled. “You stole my chance earlier, so I wanted to get you back.”
As he walked around the back of the car, I felt the blush rise in my cheeks. I really wanted a second date.
Back to today
After recounting the previous night, Simon laughed and kicked my foot, “Sooo ... what’s going to happen now?!?”
But before I could answer, there was a knock at the door — a very distinct knock that I hadn’t heard in a very long time.
“Was that the Beatles?” asked Simon, peering toward the door, looking at Kacey then back to me.
“All You Need is Love,” I answered absentmindedly as I stood to go see if my suspicions were correct. But before I made it to the door, the deadbolt turned and in walked the zaniest woman I have ever met, the woman who let me live for cheap in her unused apartment. Wrapped up in a purple felt poncho, green jeans and a matching knit scarf was my Aunt Caroline.
She sat her bags in the entry way, tossed her handmade scarf over her shoulder and gave her signature greeting: “Did you miss me, dearest girl?”
Strands of red hair were stuck to my eyelashes.
The last thing I remember before passing out last night was educating Eva’s wild co-worker, Kacey, on Latrice Royale and downing a whole pint of Ben & Jerry’s Chunky Monkey.
The adventure had left both of us sprawled on the couch, and Kacey was using me as a pillow. Either the wine or the ice cream had got stuck in her hair and that’s why it was plastered against my face.
“It’s been nice, but I’m not one to cuddle the morning after,” I whispered, beginning the process of getting Kacey off me.
To not wake the beast, I slowly peeled off each piece of hair and took inventory of the apartment as more and more of my sight returned.
Kacey — who, by the way, was a complete trainwreck in the best way possible — broke so many of her diet rules last night, and it looked like her body was trying to reject most of the sugar she had shoveled in. A silent alarm on her iPhone, which was covered in crushed up M&Ms and stuck to my thigh, was lighting up the screen with the words “hot yoga sesh.” She’d be kicking herself later for missing a Sunday morning booty call with her hot-yoga guru, but she definitely needed a full day to recover from tossing the food pyramid out the window.
It was time to get up, though. Weekend Edition was about to start on the West Coast.
About five minutes later, NPR had filled the apartment and the two of us were fighting over the binoculars in order to creep on the bespectacled hunk across the street. (Okay, hunk was too strong of a word for this guy, but he was my hunk nonetheless.) Before we could get too consumed with spying, Eva waltzed through the front door like a savior with necessary medicine: coffee. Posterity would look back at this moment decades from now as the main reason to beatify the book editor from Texas.
“Mother of Jesus, James, Joseph, Judas and Simon,” I said, announcing her arrival and grasping for one of the cups.
“Nope, just best friend of Simon and Kacey,” Eva said, “Coffee and doughnuts! Hurry and drink this, you two look like you need it.”
At some point later
Caroline Burns spent almost every day of the past decade in flight. She married late in life to a man 20 years her senior and at 62, found herself alone in a big building her husband owned in the Castro District — the building Eva and I currently inhabit. So she traveled. A lot. Caroline used her passport so frequently that the Secretary of State tweeted her about shattering some kind of travel record.
I had actually never met the woman, but Eva always described her great-aunt, who was now approaching 73, as a kook. Not by her own doing, of course. Apparently she used to be a massive San Francisco socialite, hosting “social events of the season” that left the building unrecognizable after she decorated it for each themed ball. After her husband’s death, though, she closed herself off and became a rich drifter in the craggy landscapes of the world. When Eva moved here after college, she basically had to send a carrier pigeon to ask Aunt Caroline for permission to have a room in the building.
In a city where rent often approaches $2,000 a month just to squat on someone’s tattered futon, Eva was able to stay in the building as long as she acted as Aunt Caroline’s fill-in property manager. Between 40-plus hours a week at the publishing house and an attempt at a social life, this wasn’t always so easy.
Aunt Caroline was still at the apartment, moving into Eva’s room and booting her out to the living room with me. Hiding out at the bookstore with Beau, I got a text from Eva about an hour ago saying that Caroline had sent her out for expensive bedding.
“We’re drugging her later and dropping her off at a speed dating event for the elderly,” Eva joked via text, adding: “And she only wants 1,000-count sheets. Or higher!”
Aunt Caroline may have brought her crazy to our nook, but first (please read this in Julie Chen’s voice), I had a Sterek meet-up to attend, and as the pseudo-president of the club, I had to be there. Her drama would be waiting for me when I got back. (She’d probably go through my things, find my checkbook and charge me for the past week.)
After some truly embarrassing begging — and agreeing to charge everyone a cover fee — Elaine allowed the group to meet at Cover to Cover. Beau would be a tad freaked out when everyone showed up in costume. At our last meeting at Roasted, everyone had agreed to show up next time dressed as either Stiles or Derek from season two, episode four. A paralyzed Hunky Hale clung to tracksuit-wearing Stiles for a solid hour while they barely stayed afloat in a pool.
The scene was a religious moment for any true Sterek shipper.
Once all 23 shippers arrived, we argued about Jeff Davis’ long-term plans for the couple, organized a make-shift gallery of fan art and read the entirety of a piece of fanfiction that had been voted on during the previous meeting.
Viv, one of the first people who joined the unauthorized fan club, was halfway through a rather popular story that reimagined Derek as a rich loner and Stiles as his private chef before Simon realized she had been reading for an hour. Nearing the end, Viv was reaching the part where Stiles is on the phone with Lydia about his pseudo-date with Derek.
Viv cleared her throat, obviously getting to her favorite part:
Honestly, it was my favorite part of the fic, too. I remember reading it on an overnight bus from London to Paris in November 2012 and being at complete bliss with life. (That’s sad, isn’t it? Welcome to a shipper's life.)
I sat in the back of the group and marveled at the fact that a) there were more people like me out there and b) a group like this could exist.
Viv eventually finished the fanfic, which left everyone in a puddle of emotions. Fanfic like this was considered fluff fic — basically a story to enjoy the characters in a way that the TV show never explored. In a fluff fic, Derek and Stiles got to be happy in their alternate universe while the TV show ruined their relationship.
After half an hour of arguing about who would get to perform next week’s selected reading, Beau walked over to the beanbags we were all sharing and told us our time was up. The room we had booked needed to be prepped for the weekly meeting of Vegan Moms for Kiev.
We all joined in a group prayer for Tyler Hoechlin to return to the show and parted ways.
As the shippers filed out the front door, I figured it was a good idea to suck up to Elaine with a thank-you note. But in the middle of writing it, the once pearl-white landline next to the register rang. Beau, who was helping a "seal pup" (definition: a chunky gay with a shaved or waxed chest) who was adamant about finding a rare book he had seen in the store yesterday, signaled for me to pick it up.
“Cover to Cover, you’ve reached an off-duty bookseller.”
It was Aunt Caroline.
“Simon, look out the window.” She and Eva were waving wildly from the nook, Eva looking less than amused about her great-aunt’s antics. “We’ve been spying on you with these handy binoculars.”
“Lovely,” I said, blushing that they had witnessed at least some of the Sterek meet-up. “Uh, why?”
“Eva said something about the possibility of seeing some guys in leather jackets,” Aunt Caroline started. “I think she was just trying to distract me. There have been no leather jackets.”
“Wait until after-dark, Aunt Caroline. You’ll see guys in leather jackets and not much of anything else,” I chuckled, oddly comfortable talking to an old lady about the shenanigans that happened here when the sun goes down. “The Castro probably hasn’t changed much since you left.”
“Ah, yes. The gays and their love for barely-there clothing. I've seen strippers with more clothes on.”
I glanced back up at the nook and saw Eva waving a flag that she had quickly scrawled “HELP” on.
Aunt Caroline continued, swatting at the flag, “I have a little project for you two sleuths.”
“Does it involve strobe lights and hot men?”
“Not on your young gay life,” she said followed by a deep laugh. “You two are going to find my long-lost best friend, Sandra.”