“Not again,” I grumbled, rolling over under my comforter.
Simon was already up and had started his morning routine of brewing coffee and stalking the man within view from our nook. From the clattering that had woken me, I assumed he had gotten a little too overzealous and once again dropped his recently acquired binoculars on his toes.
I could feel the frustration building up in me as I tried to snuggle back in. The kind of frustration that only comes with having houseguests and having to adjust your schedule. I closed my eyes to try to fall back asleep, knowing that I never would. But it was Friday and I was not ready for work, which according to my phone was in two miserable hours.
Sleep hadn’t come easy and the rain pattering on the window wasn’t helping my already down mood. I’m a worrier. There’s no doubt about it. I worry and I stress and then I worry because I’m stressed. And my current state of grumpiness (some might refer to as bitchiness) was nothing but a result of not sleeping, because I was too worried to fall asleep. I felt bad for silently taking my frustrations out on Simon. I loved having him here and genuinely wanted him to stay. Coming home to a friend in the evening was much better than coming back to the dark apartment. He had even gotten me to stop eating dinner standing in the kitchen, and instead, we picnicked on the carpet and watched reruns of our favorite sitcoms.
“I can’t take this out on Simon. He will bite my head off if I do and he doesn’t deserve it,” I thought. “Carter on the other hand. He deserves it.” I nodded, satisfied with my decision to take all my sleep-deprived, pent up worrying out on a man who I wouldn’t see for another 38 hours. But it was his fault and I wasn’t being irrational!
I had been so freaked out about the upcoming date that I couldn’t fall asleep. I couldn’t even bring myself to talk to Simon about it after coffee. I didn’t want to face the fact that I hadn’t been on a date in years and that I was completely and totally unprepared. I was socially inept (at least that was my excuse) and the number of terrible scenarios I had created in my head last night, instead of sleeping, had made the whole situation so much worse.
I rolled my feet out from under the warm blankets and searched for my moccasins. The floor was always so cold. I couldn’t sleep unless I was under a mountain of fluffy blankets, but in order to do that I also had to crank the A/C. Poor Simon in the living room was probably freezing again.
I swept my hair into my signature messy morning bun, pulled on an oversized sweatshirt and wandered out into the living room. I prepared myself for a full report on what our hunky neighbor was eating for breakfast.
But Simon had different plans. The clattering was not him dropping binoculars, although they were positioned next to the window ready for use. It was him making pancakes.
“Good morning. I made breakfast and in exchange, you’re going to talk,” he said, plating a pancake and adding some berries on the side.
“Simon, I really don’t want to. I worried about it all last night and didn’t get any sleep.”
“I know. You’re going to have to do something about those circles under your eyes before you leave for work. I hear Preparation H works wonders,” he said as he pointed a spoon at me.
“Preparation H? Isn’t that for diaper rash or something? Why do you know that?” I answered, hoping he didn’t pick up on my intentions to change the subject.
“Well, actually I saw it on an outtake interview with one of the drag queens from RuPaul ... No! Get back on topic. You can’t send me a text about having a date Saturday night and then not give me any details!”
I almost had him. Shit. “OK, OK. Here’s the deal. His name is Carter. We are work friends and he’s on Facebook, so you are welcome to use my computer to creep,” I added, knowing Simon was already trying to figure out how to find pictures of my mystery man. He ran across the living room, grabbed my Mac and got to work.
“We work in the same building, he’s an attorney upstairs and does something with business mergers and contracts. We met during the building’s fire safety day and he’s had lunch with Kacey and me a few times. Then he asked me out yesterday and Kacey basically threw me to the wolves. I think I’m going to have the flu tomorrow, though.”
“You. Are. Going. On. This. Date! He has abs!” Simon turned the computer for me to see. It was a bathing suit shot in what looked like the Florida Keys or the Bahamas. He was very attractive, but that made me even uneasier. “Why are you being so weird about this? It’s just a date! It’s not like he asked you to run away to Argentina and have his babies. Although ...”
“Stop! There will be no babies,” I shook my head, amused. “I just have my reasons. I haven’t dated since college and my last relationship ended in a not-so-hot way.” I cringed thinking about cleaning my stuff out of the apartment I had shared with my ex. The breakup didn’t hurt anymore, but the situation was so awkward that the memory still made my skin crawl.
“I know you’re over that. You were over that when you were still dating Steven. If you lie to me one more time I’m taking those pancakes away and I’m eating all the blueberries.”
My best friend had moved across the country to be with me, he made me breakfast and was now threatening to eat my favorite part in return for information. He really was the best.
“Fine. It’s embarrassing, though ...”
Simon waved the spoon in a circle, prompting me to continue.
“I read romance novels all day, every day. I have read about more throbbing penises in the past four months than I think there are actual penises in the world. And every other book is about being tied up and spanked. Two things I have no interest in because it doesn’t sound fun. The other books are about mythical creatures, like vampires and zombies getting it on in the forest. Sex has taken a weird turn, and I would prefer it if people just keep their throbbing penises, handcuffs and Halloween costumes to themselves.”
Simon was bent over in his chair laughing at me. I was working myself up into a frenzy, it was his fault for getting me here and now he was laughing at me.
“I haven’t slept with anyone for like a year and before that it was Steven for a few years. Then Twilight and all those BDSM books came out and that shit is everywhere. I am not ready for that. I will never be ready for that. What if that’s what he expects because the fucking media is publicizing it all the time? If so, he will be disappointed and it will have been a waste of a very expensive dinner.”
Simon caught his breath and looked across the table at me, “You’re insane. It’s a first date! Planning to jump in bed with him on a first date?”
“Well no, but I’m really good at dating. I’m great at talking to strangers and being friendly and flirty. I’m amazing at pretending to listen to all the boring getting-to-know-you stories and coming up with questions about them. That means first dates lead to second dates and then that leads to, well ...”
“Good! You could use to get laid!” Simon shouted excitedly. “One of us should be getting some action and currently my conquest is still safe behind a pane of glass and on the other side of the street.” He pointed to the window that had quickly become his favorite spot in the apartment.
I took a bite of pancakes. Talking to Simon had calmed my nerves a bit and an indulgent, carb-rich breakfast would help calm the rest, I hoped. Maybe I was just being paranoid. At 23, I shouldn’t be acting like a middle-aged divorcee afraid to jump into the dating pool. I had once again over thought everything and being laughed at made me reel myself back in.
“He’s in a towel!!! He’s eating toast with jam in a towel. Oohhhh!” Simon announced from behind his binoculars, back at his perch in the nook. I snapped back to attention and wandered over to take a look for myself. “Get down! You’re going to give us away!” Simon jumped in my arms and pulled me down to the floor.
“I’m going to give us away? Really, because the giant black binoculars glued to the window every morning and every night isn’t a little obvious?” I asked quizzically. “For all you know, he’s putting on a show for you. He probably saw you yesterday and is just toying with you now,” I said as I scooted away from the window and stood up out of sight, “I’m going to take a shower. Thanks for breakfast. You’re the best.”
I walked back into my room and shut the door. Talking about Carter had helped some. My stomach danced at the idea of having a date and maybe a new romance. I was still nervous as hell, but a few good scenarios had crept in among all the bad ones. I turned to my closet to find something to wear to work. It was always a struggle digging through my stuffed closet to find something I thought I looked good in. Then it hit again. The recurring question that had forced me to lie awake at night:
“Simon! What am I going to wear?”
Sometimes you end up elbow deep in a sink full of dirty dishes and wonder where your life is going. Or where it went. Or how exactly you ended up sleeping on your best friend’s couch and living each day as an unemployed mess who will never find employment again until you make it to heaven and Jesus assigns you to janitorial duties for the angels.
Okay, maybe it was a little soon to drag up old tales my hairy Sunday School marm used to tell my class. I had been unemployed for a little less than a week.
Nothing to freak out about.
I never went through that phase that most college postgrads go through where they live in their childhood bedroom for six months until a benevolent employer calls and beats around the bush about offering them a job. I just graduated and got a job. No drama. And now I didn’t actually know how to be unemployed.
Do I apply for food stamps?
With my hands still submerged in soapy dishwater, I was too distracted to notice the adorkable guy who lived in the apartment building next door strut by his window. I was completely oblivious to the fact that he was in nothing but black briefs that hugged his buns ever so snuggly. Not only was I trying to figure out what would happen to me when I would finally have to drag a mattress under the nearest bridge, but I was trying to decipher the muffled ramblings coming from Eva’s bedroom.
The girl was up to her old ways: talking in her sleep.
Back when we were in college, Eva went through about a month where she couldn’t fall asleep at night. She’d get a few brief moments of relief when her eyelids were too tired to stay open, but after a few minutes they’d spring open again. I knew she had gone off the deep end when she started shouting like a mad woman.
“Louboutins on clearance! 80 percent off?! I’ll take five!”
I knew it was probably just the stress of being at the bottom of the totem pole at a publishing house, but I felt partially responsible for Eva’s sleep problems. Here Eva was, already going through a difficult situation in a city where it’s a constant worry about how you’re even going to afford rent each month, and then I barged in and set up camp on her couch. This morning, Eva deserved pancakes. (Enough pancakes to go off to work in style, but not too many to not be able to burn them off in one trip to the gym.)
Eva, of course, purchased all of the ingredients, but I was basically a live-in maid. And she deserved a morning treat before rushing off to reject another dozen or so hopeful authors.
Eva’s Fitbit buzzed against her bedroom floor, waking her from what I didn’t know at the time were four hours of off-and-on sleep. I wasn’t quite sure why she had a Fitbit if she didn’t ever use it except for its subtle alarm clock.
She emerged from her room a few minutes later with charcoal circles under her eyes, some sweatshirt that looked borrowed from a chunky man on MUNI and a pair of surprisingly cute moccasins. It would take some work on my part to get her gussied up and out the front door with her new Kate Spade purse. Cerulean.
“Good morning. I made breakfast and in exchange, you’re going to talk.”
One hour later
After a round of pancakes (two each) and Eva circling a few Help Wanted ads in the newspaper for me, it was officially time to start the day.
“I didn’t even know people still purchased classified ads, much less looked at them,” said Eva, pushing the folded newspaper to my side of the kitchen table. “And remember, this was your idea. You just quit your job. I think you should take some time for yourself. Paint, scream, do whatever.”
I didn’t know if I could just do whatever.
Both of my parents had worked the same jobs for 25 years, forgoing vacation time in exchange for extra money during Hanukkah and only using sick days for funerals of immediate family members.
I had no role models when it came to being — I’ll just say it — lazy.
Seriously. That’s what I was being. I quit a full-time job (with “competitive” benefits, three weeks of vacation time each year and tuition reimbursement) to be poor. All for what? To pursue a life with purpose? How millennial of me.
Eva was staring at me. “I’ll think about it,” I said before getting up and fetching Eva’s coat.
She dropped two keys in my hand. “Your very own set! A door key and one to the mailbox. See, you can’t move now. You have a mailbox.”
If Eva — a person who had a five-, 10- and 25-year plan — was fine with my situation, then I needed to be, too.
Now it was my turn to push.
“Get out of here or you’re going to be late. Oh, and if you see Carter today, flirt a little but save the good stuff for tomorrow.” It was fun to tease Eva about her love life because she always clammed up. But, honestly, when it came to Carter, I think she just didn’t want to jinx things.
Eva gave me a peck on the cheek, grabbed her red umbrella from the stand near the door and turned around right before she shut the door and said, “By the way, if you take my advice and actually take some time off, you should check out the bookstore across the street. There’s a cute guy named Beau who always gives me a discount and they have a huge gay and lesbian section.”
“Beau,” I repeated. The last time I had heard that name was when Eva and I were undergrads at the University of Oklahoma and I was unsuccessfully trying to seduce a cowboy in the student union. (That Beau had a girlfriend. Brandi.)
“And stay away from the porn.”
And like that, I was alone.
But I liked being alone. A loner. Yep. Solo. One was not the loneliest number. Okay, maybe I was too anti-social sometimes, but being alone helped me recharge. Dealing with people exhausted me. (Eva excluded, obviously.)
I grabbed my iPhone, slipped in my earbuds and pressed play on my go-to song when it came time to get lost in the city: “All Too Well” by Miss Taylor Swift. When I studied abroad near London two years ago, I must’ve listened to that song more than 20 times a day. It lived at the top of my iTunes Most Played list. The lyrics didn’t really apply to me, but it had a way of relaxing me.
After locking up and heading outside of Eva’s apartment building, I realized for the first time just how beautiful this building was. With vertically endowed bay windows, the eggshell blue building had three floors with three apartments each. And my favorite part: Every apartment came with a nook that looked out onto the street below. Every sort of gay man wandered by, most on their way to work and some just now going home from the night before.
Eva wasn’t lying about the location of the bookstore. It was literally right across the street from our apartment. Its nondescript outershell had hidden its identity from my vantage point on the third floor but now I could see right through the big glass windows to the shelves and shelves of books. Beautiful, antique books with linen spines and gold foil were on display in the windows and rainbow flags hung from the narrow entryway.
If Belle’s library had a poor gay cousin, this bookstore — Cover to Cover — would be it.
Note to self: Schedule the next meeting of Sterek enthusiasts here.
Second note to self: Stop watching “Teen Wolf.” I’m too old.
Making my way across the rainbow-painted crosswalk and leaning in to grab the door handle of the bookstore, I noticed a flier being taped to one of the windowpanes.
It said something that kind of went against Eva’s advice, but ... then again, it also kind of followed her advice.
A slim guy in his late 20s with the name “Beau” embroidered onto the right breast of his apron smoothed out the piece of tape holding up the Help Wanted flier.
Eva said to take some time off. Well, this technically still counted. “Bookstore clerk” was definitely outside of my career trajectory.