I think I'm in love with him.
Sounds silly, doesn't it? Love. The big, broad, melodramatic kind where you fall asleep thinking about them, wake up wondering where they are. You smile, slowly, secretly when something completely unexpected and unrelated makes you envision them; almost as though they were smiling back at you.
I've waited my whole life it seems to find someone who makes me smile.
Only problem is, he seems to have that effect on everyone. That's what perfect does.
My birthday party is next Friday. The big 3-0. The first step on a road that leads to greener pastures and a new well of experience, should one be willing to accept it. I'm working on that.
He's sitting across from me now, dark red hair falling down into his eyes, me on his left, Sandra to his right. A victory lunch for another account closed, another client pleased, another month's rent surely paid – thank God.
Sandra's picking at her food, unwilling to let him see her inhale her modest salad the way I've witnessed her demolish an extra large pizza in one sitting with a classic movie playing in the background on a Saturday night. I smile at her, her chatty small talk straining for casual. Always so nervous in public.
I never considered myself the outgoing type, but next to her I was damn near extravagant.
“Excuse me,” she said, eyeing each of of us over the table and underneath her eyelashes. “I need to take this call.” Her phone buzzed against her palm.
And then there were two. Lightheaded – well, that was a new feeling.
He smiles as he sippes his coffee and I remember College. Toga parties are rarely memorable considering what goes on, but every instance with him seems etched in past forgetting. That night was my first party, my first drink, my first kiss. First drunken kiss. But a kiss is a kiss, isn't it?
“So, the big party in two days. Excited?” He smiles again, sweeping crumbs that aren't there from the napkin across his lap.
“Yes,” I nod, beaming. “Not every day a girl hits another decade with all her friends to help celebrate. With cake. ... There will be cake, right?”
“Double Chocolate German Fudge, but you didn't hear that from me.” He looks at me sidelong, fingers playing with his fork, his eyebrow raised. I hope I'm not blushing. “Oh,” he adds, sipping coffee, “don't forget the stripper.”
I feel my eyes bug. “Stripper!? I can't.. I mean... what? No. Please, no.” Humiliating. Degrading. Embarrassing! My parents are going to be there-!
He's laughing, barely contained, hand over his mouth in a boyish gesture. “I'm teasing you. I wanted a reaction is all.” Another sly glance, all familiarity.
“Oh.” What a lame response. In two hours I will think of something perfect and witty; I can feel it.
The atmosphere shifts and the air gets heavy. I look up from my plate and I see his eyes staring into my own, serious, timid. “People usually bring dates to these kinds of things.”
Oh God. Oh God.
“Yes,” I reply evenly, pretending to read whatever is so fascinating on the back of the ketchup bottle. “Yes, they do.”
“I have to ask you something. Promise you won't laugh?” He's teasing again.
A little forced laugh: “Girl scout's honor.”
He leans in across the table, conspiratory, close. “I'm thinking of asking someone.”
I resist a smile. “Oh really? And who would that be?” Coyly. Where is this coming from? Why am I not hyperventilating? Twenty-nine year old grown woman or not, successive lawyer or no, hormones are forever 13.
Jared sighs, holds his breath. “Sandra. Do you think she'll say yes? I really don't have the heart for rejection.”
I knock over the salt shaker by accident, angling my face down in attempt to hide the fact that it was falling. “Oh,” I force out.
Nothing witty this time either.
“I think .... I think she'd like that,” I rush out in a mumble of sound that isn't even remotely akin to any kind of words. “Excuse me. My beeper is going off.” I put my hand to the silent device, hurrying toward the bathroom.
Tell him no, I think. Say no. Tell him she finds you annoying. That you're brash and arrogant and frustrating and she's already involved. Yes, it's quite serious too. No, you really shouldn't mention anything ...
“Hey, fancy seeing you here!” Sandra smiles, coming out of the swinging door leading to the ladies room just as put my hand against it to push. “Had to powder your nose to, eh?”
“Yes, something like that.” I can't look at her. “I'll be out in a minute.”
“Wait,” she grabs my arm gently, pulling me aside in the hallway, looking over her shoulder. “I have to ask you something.”
Not more questions, please. I nod though, ever the good friend.
“Jared. If I ask him to your party, do you think he'll say yes?” She bit her lip, unsure.
No, I could lie. He finds you annoying. You're flighty and a bad co-worker – I heard him say it in the conference room to Mal. He's dating someone – the secretary on the 3rd floor.
In my mind it's satisfying. I picture her face, eyes dimming like my did in realization and regret, stinging. I see Jared coming over to me after cutting the cake in two day's time, kissing me quickly on the lips, holding my hand as he hands me a small gift, picked out perfectly to match. We smile at one another, the rest of the room fading away.
He kissed me that once. He could do it again. We could be again...
Sandra squeezes my arm, still looking expectantly. She wants this as much as I do.
I remember those eyes bloodshot with tears, breath coming in gasps on the night of her 21st birthday. He dumped her, right in front of everyone. The “love of her life”, her only boyfriend, the person she wanted to marry. She hadn't dated since. As far as I knew, she never wanted to date again. I hoped she would move past it.
But why like this? Why for him?
I look over her shoulder, into the restaurant. He's sitting at the table still, fidgeting with the tablecloth.
I smile. Suck it up.
“You should go for it. He just asked me the same question about you.” I try for enthusiasm, but it falls flat. Good thing she stopped paying attention.
“Aha, yes! Oh, I knew I wasn't reading him wrong. ... What did you tell him? Should I wait for him to ask me?” More lip chewing. Thirteen year's I've known her and she still hasn't kicked the habit.
“I didn't say anything. I didn't know what I should say. You should just ask him.” I put my hand over hers, comforting, friendly. Everything I wasn't feeling at the moment.
She smiles again, short curls bobbing in her excitement. “Thank you,” she whispers. “You're a great friend. I can't wait for the party even more now. Seems we'll both be getting presents, hmm?” She pinches me on the elbow.
I watch them for a moment at the table when I finally come out of the bathroom. He's leaning into her, her legs crossed towards him. Body language is the finest poet of them all.
The perfect match, I concede.
After all, what is a good friend to do?