Take Me with You

“Take me with you.”

These were the words he woke up to,

on a note left on his nightstand.

Though asleep when she left it,

he clearly pictured her,

first standing in the doorway,

hoping he was awake,

before retreating into the bed that used to be theirs.

How many nights did he know she stood there,

but feigned being asleep?

Seeking reconciliation and comfort,

in attempts at salvaging their

shared promise of forever.

A promise now buried

after being on life support for far too long.

All he had to do was invite her in.

And maybe they could fix what was once

so beautiful and pure.

Maybe, it could have been different.

Would have been different.

One last ditch effort in

the waning days of sharing the apartment

where they once cried with joy

when they finally had a place to call their own.

Though it was still theirs for a little while longer,

they were simply going through the motions,

as he awaited his new lease

set to begin the following month.

Before her new roommate would move in.

Though they never officially broke up,

what else could this be?

They were blinded by the denial,

that clouded the obvious steps

they had taken to ensure a slow, prolonged death.

“Take me with you.”

Day trips and weekend getaways

had been their thing from the start.

But today, he needed a solo pilgrimage

to get away and clear his head.

A fall getaway and return

to their favorite beach town.

Their first trip to northern Michigan.

It would always be “their” town;

their shared paradise.

But now, it would have to be shared separately.

How was this possible?

“Take me with you.”

How could he say no?

One last trip.

An eulogy for an unexpected break-up.

That neither saw coming.

Yet, did nothing to stop it when they could.

It was time for one last happy memory,

following a deluge of unhappy ones.

A memory that could exist

non-canonically outside the context  

of their sad timeline.

A bittersweet coda,

with no turning back.

Even if they wanted to.  

Rain was in the forecast.

A high of 43.

In total contrast to the bright summer day

when they first came.

But they would make the most of it.

Just like they used to do.

When being together was

more important than where they were,

or, where they were going.

As they drove,

they listened to their “infinite playlist”,

which had been finite for quite awhile now.

The last song was added over two months ago.

just before their long fall.

Neither one would listen to it again after this trip,

but neither one would delete it, either.

“Take me with you.”

When they arrived,

they headed straight to the empty beach,

stars of their own black and white art film

like the kind they used to watch together.

Not another soul in sight,

as though the world

was giving them space to mourn.

Against the backdrop of a beach enveloped

in a foreboding fog,

mixed with a misty drizzle,

and a whirling, whipping wind.

Even the red lighthouse

jutting out in the distance

was bleached out

like a ghostly figure shrouded in fog,

as violent waves splashed against it.

Though neither did anything about it,

they both secretly longed to hold one another,

as both shelter from the cold,

and a last chance to salvage themselves,

before they faded forever into the mist.

“Take me with you.”

But sometimes, it’s too late,

even when you don’t want it to be.

What they did take with them

was one last memory.

A memory as sweet and beautiful as their first.

Steeped in melancholy and sadness.

A memory they would always carry in their pocket.

“Take me with you.”

He moved out as planned.

And over time, they both moved on

from one another.

Though, we can never fully move on from

these sort of things.

“Take me with you.”

He held on to that note for the rest of his days.

A final, sad promise.

But not in the way

they had promised once upon a time.

As these things so often go.

Observations from the Tangent Gallery

Observations from the Tangent Gallery

i.

She barely looked old enough to be out so late.

Let alone with someone his age,

Though he couldn’t be more than 25,

It spoke volumes about just how young she looked.

Perhaps she was older. I hope.

With her drugged-out, spacy, quasi-vegetative state,

a puppet in a Barbie doll skirt,

following her master like a puppy dog,

without a consciousness to call her own.

He spoke nary a word to her,

nor did she speak to him.

How could she in that state?

His only interaction with her

consisted of tossing his jacket over her head.

A human coat rack.

He then turned his back from her

and toward his bros,

and she barely blinked,

promptly removing the jacket, placing it over her chair.

She then fixed her messed up hair,

caused by the jackass’s jacket.

He with the backwards douchebag hat,

Shooting the shit with his douchebag bros.

As though she did not exist.

Beyond an existence for her convenience only.

Eye candy

and presumable sexual gratification,

A likely two-pump chump.

If even that.

Perhaps this was some sort of sub/dom fetish thing?

Would that really make much of a difference?

Perhaps, if it made her a more willing participant.

As the minute dragged on,

she continued staring into the void,

as the douchebag continued giving

her more reason to disappear into it.

And then he got up,

motioning for her to do the same,

as he was the one who called the shots.

She handed him his jacket.

He snatched it from her with grave indifference.

He was the one who called the shots.

He headed toward the exit.

The puppy puppet followed.

I couldn’t help but feel the need to save her.

Could I save her?

Did she need to be saved?

Wouldn’t it have been worth a try?

Like so many other things left undone.

ii.

On the other side of humanity’s coin,

entered a girl in a wheelchair,

pushed by a caretaker.

Sister, friend, or lover?

Not clear. And perhaps not relevant.

She had two artificial limbs,

capped off with some bad ass classic Doc Martens.

Her friend wore a matching pair.

Her friend, who was so attentive, navigating her wheelchair

through the pebble-coated ground.

Adjusting the chair for the best possible sightlines.

Engaging her in conversation,

even if it meant having to stoop down on her level.

A reminder that love lives among us.

As hard as it is to find.

And of course, the old adage…

where there is love,

there is always hope.

Audio Spotlight

“Just think…if this goes well…we’ll die like this,” he said, as they lay entangled in the afterglow of amazing sex.

She laughed, knowing exactly what he meant.

“Remember this moment after you leave me.”

“Who says I’m going to leave you?”

“My collective past.”

“Well, I am not part of your past.”

“Someday, you will be. And somewhere down the road, you will find yourself at a Kohl’s or JC Penney just before closing, and you’ll find yourself unknowingly standing underneath a speaker and our song will come on. And you’ll freeze beneath an audio spotlight.”

“An audio spotlight?”

She elaborated:

“Someday, after we are no more, you will be shopping at Kohl’s on a Friday night just before closing – and quite possibly the highlight of your weekend – and unbeknownst to you, you will be standing directly beneath a ceiling speaker, as you are looking at comforters or Yankee Candles, and our song will hit you. Under an audio spotlight.”

He knew exactly what she was talking about and assured her that he would never have such a moment with her – at least not of the heartbreak variety, of which she elaborated was its most common form.

“It doesn’t have to necessarily be at a store,” she continued. “It could be in a restaurant restroom, coffee shop, or doctor’s office. Maybe while sitting in the dentist chair. Or, late at night at Big Boy.”

The memories invoked by an audio spotlight could be happy, sad, or somewhere in the bittersweet melancholy of in-between the two. The most powerful moments, of which were usually defined by loss – if only the natural passing of time, when the past is awash with rose-tinted, nostalgic perfection, which is why even the happiest moments were often tinged with sadness for a period of your life that no longer existed. Though memories could also be sparked by olfactory and oral senses, nothing hit quite like an audio spotlight.  

No matter where it occurs, one thing is certain: transported to a nostalgic journey back to a memory attached to a song. Though most often tied to a relationship, it could be from any part of your past – or example, but not limited to: a family vacation, a childhood memory, a bonfire, etc. Though you don’t always have to be directly beneath a ceiling speaker for it to work, it is more often than not a final, necessary ingredient for it to reach maximum impact. And the moment it hits you, you freeze in place, as you become fully enraptured and blanketed by the music coming out of the speaker like a spotlight.

Transported back in time.

Acoustic time-traveling.

When the source feeling was new and immediate.

A feeling akin to being high on weed, or shrooms.

“And in that moment under an audio spotlight, despite how badly it will presumably have ended, you will be stripped of all the negativity and will instead only feel the loss of what once was beautiful and perfect. And in that moment, you will achieve the perfect monument to a love that once was.

No what couldn’t be.

But was now no more.

Preserved only in this moment.

When everything was possible.”

In this present moment, they were still in the GPS phase of their relationship – not just in terms of trying to figure out how to navigate one another, but in terms of still needing GPS to get to one another’s apartment (due to his awful sense of direction, he realized it would probably take longer than usual to memorize the route by heart (though, he probably could get there by heart if he tried…but mentally, he wasn’t willing to allow his mind to make that sort of commitment).

Most relationships rarely get past the GPS phase – a modern-day milestone, much like not only programming somebody’s number into your phone, but eventually changing it to an endearing nickname like “Love Monkey”, or some other such moniker.

 Until recently, his inbox was filled with dozens of texts of unprogrammed numbers with different area codes from Bumble and Tinder matches from across the land that never evolved beyond the texting phase. There are so many “how are yous?” one can exchange with someone without going deeper beneath the surface?

Then there were the occasional exchanged pics, which provided a valid reason to lock his phone for the first time to keep out of the hands of his children. He was finally at the point where he could feel safe about unlocking it again. Keeping his phone locked always made him feel sneaky. He didn’t like it.

Getting out of the GPS phase certainly made things feel more…official. Some relationships would get right on the cusp of being GPS-free, but most never came close. Even first date that went well often went nowhere.

Shooting stars.

Of course, some dates were complete dumpster fires from the start and he couldn’t get done fast enough. There were so many, they all sort of just blurred together into a cacophony of nightmare fuel.

The endgame, of course, was getting to the point where our phone was convinced that your place of residence was actually the address of your special someone. Currently, his GPS didn’t even recognize his own bohemian apartment that he moved to after his separation as his residence. It was convinced he lived at the liquor shop kitty corner from it. If that didn’t say it all…

Looking back at his first date with Jackie just over a month ago, he remembered not having a real indication of which way things would go. But he was okay with this. He preferred when both parties went into it with a layer of casual ambivalence. A no-pressure date where it was clear from get go that neither party was looking for anything serious, but also open to anything. Most often translated as “down to fuck.”  Perfect for a newly single father of two who could count on less than one hand how many partners he had been with in his lifetime.

The problem going into single life was that he was a hopeless romantic who fell in love too easily – or, at least convinced himself that he was in love. It took months of therapy to finally built a defense shield around himself that (he thought) was impenetrable. He sealed himself off, which was progress for someone who was always a little too open and vulnerable. If someone were able to somehow penetrate him (for lack of a better description), then (for another lack of better description) it would be like Cinderella’s slipper.

And only then would he know.

And then it hit him like an audio spotlight.

Cut to one month later. They were out of the GPS phase. And for somebody with no sense of direction like himself, he took at it as a sign how quickly he memorized her route.

It only took a couple of weeks to realize that it was clear that they had something.

(Who was he kidding – more like after the first date).

So much for the defense shield. But maybe…the defense shield actually worked.

Maybe she was truly the one?

Both had been heartbroken too many times to have full confidence in what they were feeling, as much as they wanted to believe it. They were both especially convinced that it was only a matter of time before the other grew sick and annoyed with the other. And though they both reminded one another that the past was the past, they still couldn’t help but feel the past was very much alive in the present, no matter how much therapy they both had. They both had to learn how to trust not only one another, but themselves. And though they had both made progress, there was still a long way to go.

As much as he tried to re-assure her that they would never have to worry about having such a moment in the context of an ending, he also knew that deep down, she was probably right, just based on the odds alone (as much as they both hoped that it wouldn’t be the case). But for now, things were going great, so it was possible they were both wrong.

“That won’t be me. That won’t be us.”

 But as it turned out – as it always, most likely turns out – it did become them.

A beautiful thing – a seemingly invincible, beautiful thing – would die.

Such a delicate flower love is turns out to be more often than not.

But as they acknowledged, the spirit of love doesn’t die. It lives on. In the memories you take with you. And then someday, it will find a new host. And the cycle begins again. A cycle that rarely has a happy ending. But arriving with the naive hope that one will come.

And maybe this time, you will get it right.

You vow to get it right.

Until some day, you find yourself alone in a Kohl’s.

Just before closing.

Looking at comforters, or shopping for a Mother’s Day or birthday gift.

Under a ceiling speaker.

And it doesn’t matter how many years have passed.

Or, how many relationships have come and gone.

You will find yourself sucked into the undertow an audio spotlight.

And it would be in this moment that you finally fully realize that it is over. And how much you lost.  

And how much you had gained before your lost.

That you were in denial that the relationship was not over, but rather on pause, or hiatus.

And even though you already knew this, there was still part of you that refused to accept it.

You were in denial that something so beautiful and pure could turn to rot and crumble apart.

That the future that you thought was set in stone has evaporated. And that there is no going back. There is no fixing things. Maybe once upon a time, there was. But you let that moment pass, as you helplessly watched it sail past you, thinking that every ship eventually returns to port.

Until you find yourself under an audio spotlight.

And even though you have gone down this road time and time again, you are likely to go back down that road time and time again.

Even when you thought your convinced yourself that you were done searching.

That you could be happy single for the rest of your days, until the next person comes along that penetrates your defense shield. Because this time, it would be different, even when you know deep down that it will probably never be.

And it would be in this moment, you accept that it is truly over. And that the hope you were clinging on to is set free like balloons accidentally released, when all you can do is watch them disappear forever into a blue sky-turned gray.

And now you know with a certainty hitting you like a brick wall that person you built your word around was no longer yours. Just as you were no longer hers.

How is this possible?

How could everything that once felt so perfect and beautiful, and secure rot at its very core?

How do we allow to happen?

Over and over again?

How can something feel so in our control, yet feel so out of control at the same time?

These were the moments tailor made for audio spotlights.

Time portals that take us back to when everything was great.

And everything was perfect.

And all that is left is hope and potential to once again find somebody someday that will inevitably once again catch you off guard at a Kohl’s just before closing.

Under an audio spotlight.

Shut the Light Off

“Shut the light off.”

“No.”

A fair enough request.

(Or, so she thought).

And a totally unreasonable response.

(Or, so she thought).

At first, she thought he was joking. He had already proven to have an uncanny sense of humor, so she just went along with it.

But in this instance, he was deadly serious.

And with Billy, here she was actually thinking that she finally met someone who didn’t arrive immediately waving, or even handing out, red flags. But as she knew all too well, some guys held their flags close to the vest. It didn’t matter how nice they came across initially. Some took a few dates to reveal their truth, but it was always only a matter of time. At least the ones who reveal their true selves right away didn’t waste as much of her time. The endless stream of disappointment that had been her dating life was just so…exhausting. She had grown tired of it. But she had a feeling that Billy would be…different.

She couldn’t help but wonder: what red flags did she sound off? Surely, she had some of her own. She was by no means perfect. She was the first to admit that.

It was just about finding someone who could not only tolerate your limitations, but barely even noticed them…if at all.

 She wasn’t naïve to think that Billy was perfect. Nobody was. But she certainly didn’t expect…this.

They had met a few weeks ago on a dating site. Unlike so many guys, he didn’t come on too strong. In fact, it seemed there was no hint of flirtation at all in their initial Bumble conversation.  He seemed genuinely interested in what she had to say. And she felt the same way about him.

Aside from the general lack of flirtation, there was also the absence of the superficial “getting to know you” stuff. She didn’t think it was even possible to meet someone in the modern age of dating that lacked the robotic feeling of a job interview. With Billy, they both  started with the very core of one another’s essence and allowed the superficial stuff to reveal itself organically, rather than a stilted, forced way.

They had prolonged, (sometimes, but not always) deep, stream-of-consciousness tangential conversations that seemed to flow with seamless transition from topic-to-topic. This more than made up for the lack of flirting, too. In fact, the way she saw it, their deep conversations were flirting. And she was excited to see how it would transpire in the real world.

As it turned out, very well.

Despite the lack of traditional flirting, there was no question that she was attracted to him. And she assumed the feeling was mutual.

After nearly two weeks of intense texting – the kind that makes your fingers and wrists sore – she was surprised that he hadn’t actually asked to take her out yet. But she would remain patient.

And sure enough, he finally came around to ask her to meet for coffee.

Most guys asked for a drink.

A short analysis:

Did he not drink? Or, was he just attempting to be a gentleman (of which he had already proven to be so).

She tried not to overthink it. At the end of the day, she was certain he would turn out to be a creep and/or jerk like all the others. In fact, she was so tired of it, she nearly deleted her dating apps entirely, on the heels of so many first (i.e. last) dates and bad experiences. But like every gambler, she couldn’t help but think that just maybe, next time, she would get lucky and hit the jackpot.

And then came along Billy.

In fact, she felt so confident, she decided to respond to his invite for coffee with a request of her own:

“How about a drink?”

“Even better!’

She had no idea where a sudden burst of assertion came from. All she knew was, she liked it!

Before they knew it, they made dinner plans.   

The date went well, ending with a sweet kiss on the side of her mouth and the promise of a second date.

A half hour later, she invited him back over. She had never done something like that before. They were both already dressed in bed and agreed to keep it that way.

They made out on the couch for awhile, before she invited him back to the bedroom and everything was sunshine and roses.

And then came his refusal to her simple, reasonable request.

“Shut the light off.”

“No.”

Once she realized he wasn’t joking, she added:

“Please?”

He still refused, despite climbing into her bed.

She still wasn’t fully convinced he was serious, but it was becoming more and more apparent. She began to regret inviting him back and was trying to think of the best way to politely let him know that she just wanted to go to sleep.

Though she knew he was the one in the wrong, was she really going to let such a simple matter get in the way of what had otherwise been a spectacular evening? An evening that up until now had been glorious two dates in one night?

She would give him one last chance, hopeful that he was pulling her leg, but she was really beginning to lose faith.

 “Why not?” she finally asked, forcing the issue.

“I like to see everything.”

Oh, here we go.

“But I’m really self-conscious. Plus, I have a night-light.”

At least she was asserting herself. A lifelong struggle.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “But the light stays on.”

She was seriously getting creeped out.

What kind of guy would risk not having sex over a stubborn refusal to keep a fucking light on?

This guy apparently.

She thought about asking him to explain his intentions. But she was really beginning to question his stability and didn’t want to make a bad situation potentially worse.

And then he had the audacity to attempt to kiss her. She turned away.

“Seriously, because of a stupid light?” he asked, offended.

“I should be asking you the same question.”

“You are so beautiful. And I want to be able to see you.”

What a dick.

For one thing, this was her room. Her rules.

Lights out, put out.

No lights out, no put out.

He continued trying to remind her that she had nothing to worry about. That she was “so beautiful and deserved to be “both seen by the light and bathed by the light.”

 Was this guy for real?!

This is the exact same sort of bullshit men say when they are trying to get what they want. Only, she was already willing and ready to let him have it.  

Was.

So, what gives?

 At this point, it no longer mattered. Light on, or light off, it was too late.

 “I think you need to go,” she finally demanded.

 “Please. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to come across in a negative way.”

Should she give him a second chance? After all, he really did seem like a great guy. Was she really going to throw it all way over something as trivial…as a light?

She realized it was a question that she should be asking him.

Deep down, she knew she could never recover from this. It felt oddly like a variation on assault.

Maybe she would be willing to give him another shot.

Just not tonight.

 Maybe it was time to give up on dating altogether.

She was tired of all the disappointment.

She was tired of all the too-good-to-be-trues.

At first, she thought he was going to refuse to leave. But then he finally got out of bed, waving the white flag in the form of a woe-is-me pout.

“I had a really wonderful time,” he said with no trace of irony or cynicism.

“Me, too…until, well to be honest, this whole light thing is really weird.”

“Do you want to know the truth?”

Oh boy.

“Of course.”

She braced herself for what she assumed was going to be a bullshit answer.

And the answer she got threw her through a major loop.

“I wouldn’t normally admit to this. At least, not this early on. But I like you. A lot. And, well…”

 She waited on pins and needles.

“I’m afraid of the dark.”

She froze, unable to begin to even process this.

“Are you serious?”

“I am.”

She wasn’t sure what was worse: if he was telling the truth. Or, if he was lying.

He looked so pathetic and vulnerable that she couldn’t fathom it being anything other than the truth. So much so, that she considered inviting him to stay.

And who was she to judge, anyway?

Everyone has their quirks and their flaws, underneath our shiny veneer. She was certainly no exception.

Yet, the damage had been done. For that night at least.

He knew it. And she knew it.

“Guess I’ll get going,” he finally conceded. “Again, I’m sorry.”

“You don’t need to be sorry.”

“But I have a night-light,” was all she could muster to say.

 And then he headed out the door with his tail between his legs.

 She instantly regretted that she didn’t let him stay. If only to talk. Or, maybe watch a movie. He really didn’t do anything wrong, especially after his explanation.

Again, she could always give him a second chance.

Another date.

But there wouldn’t be.

There rarely ever was.

Mask Me for a Date

They met on Bumble.

After a brief stumble through the no man’s land of Tinder douches and bots.

It was time for a change.

Neither one had come close to finding a date on Tinder

Not even close.

But they both had a similar overall excuse: a global pandemic.

And a handful of specific individual excuses.

Then there was the quality of content out there. Neither one was impressed.

It was time to seek greener pastures. 

Though they were both masked up in their profile pics, it was clear that they were both attractive from the top half of their respective faces. It was a natural assumption that the other half would follow.

Though both would deny that there was any sort of political message in their masked pics…there was certainly one subliminally Like silently waving a flag, without getting too far out of hand. Of course, it was an assumption on both of their parts.

In truth, they had a much more obvious motivation for wearing their mask. But neither one could have possibly guessed it.

When they matched, they hit it off right away. And though initially hitting it off on a dating app wasn’t that uncommon, he rarely had the courage to actually initiate contact, which is why he liked Bumble. He later came to realize that the issue wasn’t so much him – he just wasn’t meting anyone worth opening up to. And she rarely messaged anyone herself, even after matching. But unlike Tinder, Bumble gave her full control in this regard when it came to first contact.

In this instance, they both felt an instant connection. The competition wasn’t much to write home about, but even with that in mind, they both knew they stumbled upon someone special.

Neither seemed judgmental or disinterested in one another’s dating bios – the highlight reel one brings to a date to showcase their best selves. Of course, the real trick was to do it in a way that didn’t so much come across as bragging.  

Both came across to the other as humble, yet confident and abundant with talents and passions and aligned politically and even religiously.   

She even fell for his cheesy pun: “May I mask you out on a date?” – if only because of her love for all things cheese.

It would be their first date since Covid. And even pre-Covid, It had been almost a year for both.

And though they both felt rusty, they both felt like they found a match worth jumping into the deep end with – not to mention worth the potential Covid exposure, despite both being recently vaccinated and ready to mingle!

They agreed to meet at a coffee shop. He proposed a drink, but she didn’t drink. Normally, this would be a red flag for him, but he was trying to drink less, anyway. So naturally, he saw it as a sign.

She suggested a new French-inspired café that felt like it was right out of a Wes Anderson movie. It was the kind of place where you feel compelled to order a double shot of espresso so you could drink out of one of those teeny cups. And then choose among an immaculate display of pastries and tortes that resembled enlarged Victorian doll house pieces. The fork and spoon were as dainty as the cups their espressos came in.

Somehow, she even laughed at his incredibly awkward joke upon entry: “The little girl in me is excited.” In fact, from the moment they met in person, it felt as though they had known one another forever.

They ordered.

He offered to pay. She insisted they split.

He added the tip.

They then headed to table. And the time for the great unveiling of the lower face had come. They would finally see one another’s full face – a sign of the pandemic times. And they were both dreading it

 He noticed that she seemed reluctant to take off her mask, yet not wanting to make a scene about it. Perhaps she had lower face acne, too? If so, she certainly wouldn’t be alone.

She lowered her chin, as though to hide, then slowly removed her mask     

In solidarity, he looked away, then removed his, before looking back up.

Only to see a grotesquely disfigured face starting back…

…at his.

It was as though they were both staring into a mirror.

Coffee Shop

Emily’s fantasy cliché of meeting cute was bruised, but not broken. Her romantic yearnings were part of her DNA, implanted by a healthy (some might say unhealthy diet) of Disney films and The Princess Bride

She was eager for another shot at love (but not the likelihood of missing out at said shot).

Emily was comfortably perched in her favorite cozy, indie coffee shop where everyone is creative and full of life and purpose and ideas. Though outwardly conservative, she always felt more at home among these “type” of people, despite the realization that they were likely to see her as the outsider –a plain Jane. Of course, she knew there was more to her than that. Rarely, did others see it. If only they could hear her playlist.

Even in her own social circle, she was an enigma. Her liberal friends found her too conservative. And her conservative friends found her too liberal. So, where did this leave her? One would think being smack dab in the middle would make her feel at home anywhere, but instead, she felt adrift in a no man’s land, never quite good enough for either side, uncomfortably doing the splits with one foot in one door and another foot in another door.

At least she felt like she had a safe haven at this coffee shop, eschewing Starbucks in favor of supporting small business (though, admittedly, she preferred the big chain coffee over most indie brews). She felt even better about the fact that was using a mug, rather than wasting a paper cup. Two levels of guilt killed in one stone.  

Aside from her primal need for caffeine and finding the man of her dreams, she was here to study, work on sketches for her art portfolio, and hopefully if she had time – read her hard cover copy of Lord of the Rings that she got from her parents for Christmas – one of those collector’s editions from Barnes & Noble.  

But, of course, she was always on the lookout for his Prince Charming – no scratch that, her Westley to her (albeit nerdy) Princess Buttercup.

 And this is why she was single.

But then suddenly…

She first spotted him standing at the front of the line from her vantage point in the back of the café. She could tell he was flustered about his order. She turned down the volume on her music to listen in. She immediately noticed that he was going out of his way to be as polite as possible, despite the inconvenience. Being assertive probably wasn’t his strong suit because he hated coming across anything other than ‘nice’. Some might see this as a weakness. She saw it as enduring. She hoped he knew that.

She got the sense he was the type of guy who was too humble to ever take a compliment well.

Whatever the problem was, he appeared to be doing everything in his power not to appear like an asshole – the type of guy who was used to putting up with shit – probably a bullied kid. An ugly duckling who blossomed into a beautiful, humble swan prince. In other words, the male version of herself.

As it would turn out, she couldn’t have been more right.

She rarely got such a strong sense of someone’s character. It was as though she already knew all there was to know about him. Although she was admittedly never a good judge of character, this time just felt so…different.

So, what could she do about it?

For starters, she hoped he wasn’t simply taking his coffee to go. But even if he stuck around, then what? Probably nothing. Why should today be any different?

So even though she was unlikely to find the courage to approach him, what was the likelihood he would approach her? As much as her past shook her confidence, what was more upsetting was the unlikelihood that another guy would ever attempt something like that again.

For what it was worth, she got a similar vibe from this guy as she did on that fateful night. Again, she realized this probably meant nothing. But she was hopelessly devoted to her internal hopeless romantic.

 He certainly didn’t strike her as the type of guy who would hit on girls in a bar – let alone a coffee shop. But as much as she saw this trait as a plus, her inability to convey any sign that was interested made the probability of finding someone like this problematic. Somebody would have to break character.

So why not her?

She devised a plan. She would stand behind him in line with the hope he would somehow notice her. At the very least, she could settle for being noticed.

But she was tired of settling dammit!

And knowing her track record, even if she got noticed, it would be by being awkward. It was her modus operandi.

So, what she could do to end her streak of bad luck? Like she promised herself and her friends?

First, she would wait to see if she stayed in the cafe, or took his coffee to go. If he was leaving, she would have to act far more quickly. If he was staying, she would have time to game plan.

Hypothetically, if he did happen to stay in the café, perhaps she could sit closer to him. Leaving nothing to chance, she gathered her belongings and hopped into line. She needed a refill, anyway.

But as her luck would have it, it was just in time for him to get his order straightened out, along with a coupon for a free drink that he thoroughly thanked the barista for, going as far as to tell her that she didn’t have to do that.

He turned around, making direct eye contact with her.

“Excuse me,” he politely said as he sidestepped her, heading toward the door as “Another One Bites the Dust” played.

No, please don’t leave!

  But he wasn’t leaving! Instead, he veered off to a window table.

 Phew!

And it just so happened that there was a table open right next to him. It was all working out so perfectly! It was all but written in the stars!

But now what?

Even though she was next in line, she debated leaving it so she could grab that table, but she also really needed more caffeine. Besides, it would have been odd if she didn’t have a drink with her after sitting back down.

Would anybody even notice?

She could always set her stuff down, then get back in line. That wouldn’t be so weird, right?

She continued eyeing the table like a hawk. She noticed him watching her.

Oh my God! He saw me. Is he on to me?

Was it possible he would even know why she moved in the first place?

She pretended to be scoping out the rest of the room, neglecting to realize that it was her turn to order.

 “Miss?” the barista nudged.

“Oh, sorry!”   

Panicked, she went ahead and ordered.

“Yes, can I please have a refill. Almond milk. Little bit of sugar.”

 Rather than waiting for her order, she bee-lined it toward the table next to her crush du jour, but was suddenly cut off by another customer who swooped in and took her seat.

 Fuck!

“Order for Emily!”

  She frantically grabbed her drink, nearly knocking it over as she realized that not only had somebody already taken the table she was previously sitting at, but there was not a single table left at all.

So now what? She looked around helplessly, hoping she didn’t look at panic as she felt.

Was she really going to have to leave?

At the very least, she wanted to get work done.

But she would probably have to do so at home.

She turned to head toward the door, bumping into another customer and spilling half of her coffee – and the customer’s.

“So sorry!”

The customer was clearly annoyed and walked away. She couldn’t even clean up her mess if she wanted to, as she had nowhere to set her stuff. Embarrassed and paranoid that she was making a scene, she continued making her way back out into the cold, cruel world.

But then, across the room, she spotted a customer exhibiting signs of the universal language of getting ready to leave.

She made her way over there, struggling with the balancing act trying to keep a respectful distance, but also signaling to others that this territory was being staked out. Same principal applied to parking spots. However, she was trying to become more assertive. She lost way too many spots over the years. This was a sign of progress.

As the customer continued on gathering his stuff, she asked just out of common courtesy:

 “Just checking, are you heading out?”  

“Yep. Will be out of here in just a second.”

“Thanks!”

“All yours,” the man said with a warm smile.

She sat down. It wasn’t ideal, but at least she had a spot.

As she got herself settled in, she kept a periodic eye on her Westley at all times.

Would he even notice me way over here?

  But then, a customer got up from the table directly next to him!

  Fate was certainly testing her.

She wasn’t going to get up again, was she?

Was she trying too hard?

Maybe she should just stay put to avoid drawing even more attention to herself. Then again, maybe being too obvious would be a good thing? Moving closer might be the only way to get his attention.

As long as she didn’t look too desperate.

She also considered: what if the customer wasn’t actually leaving? She didn’t want to get caught in a no man’s land between tables. 

 Next thing she knew, she was heading over there. It didn’t even feel like she had control of her body at this point!

She waited awkwardly, knowing that her mere presence was putting added pressure on him to hurry up, which was only half-true. Should she say something? Or, would that only make it worse? While she waited, she contemplated which side of the table to sit on. Did she want to sit opposite him? Or, parallel to him? What would give her the best shot of being noticed? What would be less awkward?

Just as she arrived into prime position, the customer did an unexpected bait and switch and sat back down. She either changed their mind, or never planned on leaving to begin with.

What a ruse!

Not to mention embarrassment.

She turned around to head back to the other table she had just abandoned. By some divine miracle, it was still available!

But right on cue, she knocked a book off a customer’s table. At least this time, it wasn’t a cup of coffee.

She picked up the book and continued her journey back to her table, but just in time to get cut off by another customer who swooped it and took it.

Part of her felt the urge to claim what she thought was rightfully hers. But by the same token, it was all her own doing!

She accepted this fact: fate was telling her to throw in the towel and leave. She gave it a worthy effort. It just wasn’t meant to be. As she headed toward the exit, with her tail between her legs, a voice beamed out, as thought through parting clouds.

 “You are more than welcome to share my table.”

The man of her dreams.

Is this really happening?

  “Are you sure?”

            An employee rushed to the scene with a mop bucket.

            “So sorry,” she said to the employee, who either didn’t hear her, or ignored her.

            “Thank you so much.”

            “No problem.”

            She settled in awkwardly into her spot.

            “Thanks again. I feel like I am taking up space you need.”

            “Seriousyly. It’s fine. I’m very flexible.”

            I’m sure you are.

            She felt frazzled and embarrassed and could feel her heart racing. She would have been shocked if he didn’t notice, which, of course, only made her more nervous.

            To ease her mind, she pulled out her book, but quickly realized she could only pretend to read it, taking nervous sips of coffee and trying to control the butterflies that were trying with all their might to escape from her belly. Adding more caffeine to the fire probably wasn’t the best idea.

            The words in her book might as well have been in a foreign language.

Meanwhile, her future husband appeared to be far too engrossed in his work to even glance in her general direction – perhaps out of politeness, as to not encroach up on her limited space.

            Again, she considered the possibility that he not only did he not noticed her at all, but that he simply didn’t care. Yet, she couldn’t help but sense his gaze on her. She was too nervous to look back, thus limiting any chance she had at making a meaningful connection. And as much as she wanted him to notice her, she was also equally self-conscious about it.

When then she somehow found the courage, she realized he wasn’t looking at her at all – he was deeply immersed in whatever it was that he writing in his tattered composition book and lost in whatever he was listening to on his headphones. Which also made her realize the possibility that he was a writer. Which, in turn made her fall in love even more.

At least he seemed pretty settled in for the long haul.

Wishful thinking?

Of course, there was no way to know how long he would stay, but he seemed pretty engrossed in that notebook. It was as though she wasn’t even there at all. But she should have expected otherwise? Perhaps it was her time to make a move.

For now, she decided her best course of option was to get busy with her own work. But all she could do was fake it, fixating instead on what he could possibly be writing in that notebook.

As much as she wanted to continue taking secret peaks at him, her shyness prohibited her from diverting her eyes away from the book she was pretending to read.

  But then she thought of a low-risk way to get his attention. She stood up and turned toward him:

“Excuse me, but can you just keep an eye on my stuff while I go to the restroom?”

   “Oh, of course, no problem.”

  She always found asking people to do this was pointless. Did this security measure actually ever prevent a theft? Maybe people only did it in the context that she was doing it? A subtle form of flirtation

 She headed toward the restroom and immediately regretted her method. Because this now meant that his first interaction with her painted an image of her using the restroom. Nothing she could do about it now.

 She entered the restroom and realized she really did have to go. She could feel her heart racing and realized how utterly ridiculous she was being. She couldn’t help but wonder  whether he had any ulterior motives with asking her to sit with him? Or, was he just being nice? Would he have done the same if it were a guy? Or, a less attractive woman?

Why am I so hopeless?

But it didn’t have to be. Hadn’t she already learned her lesson? She had complete control of her destiny. Well, as in making a move. If he didn’t reciprocate, there was nothing she could do about that.

The question remained: what was she going to do about it? Leave it to chance? Risk letting the potential love of her life walk out the door with the likelihood that she would never see him again? She couldn’t let her past dictate what she was likely to do in this situation. She would have to be proactive. But realizing this didn’t necessarily mean she would follow through on it. In fact, it probably meant there was a greater chance she would crack under pressure.

But there was only one way to find out.

She headed out of the stall, washed her hands, and took a long, last look at herself in the mirror, before realizing that the longer she spent in the bathroom, the more likely he would think about what she might be doing in there.

With a deep breath, she headed back to her table.

 “Thank you,” she said with a smile.

“No problem,” he said. “I had to fight someone off with a stick, but other than that, no issues.”

She laughed.

Oh my God, he talked to me!

Granted, he was only replying to my thank you. Probably just being polite. Can’t possibly mean anything.

  So now what?  

Since reading wasn’t in the cards, she took out her sketchbook to work on her portfolio. Last, but not least, she put on Enya to settle her nerves.

 Her Enya obsession was one of her dirty little secrets. In fact, she made sure her phone was turned so he wouldn’t notice. 

But even with the soothing melodies of Enya pouring into her ears, she still couldn’t concentrate. He was like a magnet, erasing all of her data. She got the sense that even if he did leave, the regret of throwing away a chance for romance would dominate her thoughts for weeks.

  And then…

. “Excuse me…?”

 At first, she didn’t realize he was talking to her, but then she saw the way he was leaning.

  She removed her headphones.

  “Hi, yes.”

“Okay, your turn. Mind watching my stuff?

  “Hmmm, let me think….sure, I guess?” she said with an unexpected coy smile.

“It’s okay” he said sitting back down. “Guess I’ll have to hold it in.”

He’s totally playing along! Is this really happening?!

  “Okay, but what should I do if someone tries to steal it?”

  “Want my stick?”

He’s not only playing along, he’s using innuendo.

   “Oh, my God, that sounded awful,” he said, blushing. “I honestly—”

  “I know,” she said, laughing. “It’s even funnier that you didn’t mean it.”

She actually found herself wishing he meant it. But was more impressed by the fact that he didn’t. Perhaps, on a subconscious level, he did.  

She watched as he headed to the restroom. She couldn’t help but wonder: did he feel self-conscious, too?

  And what was supposed to happen next when he came back?

  If she went by her track record, she knew the answer to that question: nothing.

She would find out one way, or another.

 What she really needed to be doing was studying for her upcoming exam. Or, work on her portfolio. But she knew it was useless. She was relishing being the female lead in a romantic comedy and she had to play the part. And the part was that of a nervous, awkward, hopeless romantic.

 But when wasn’t she?

  The only difference, she now had a seemingly willing co-star.

   She looked up. He was already on his way back! It wasn’t even a minute!

   “That was quick!”

   Seriously?! That’s the best I can do?!

    “You were timing me?”

  “Sorry. I can’t believe I said that.”

    “Don’t be,” he laughed. “And I owe you a big thank you.”

   “For what?”

“Well, everything seems to be accounted for.

   “Oh, yeah. But only because I fought off five people with your stick.”

    “Knew I could count on you.”

   “Glad somebody can.”

   “It’s funny how we feel the need to ask someone to watch our stuff when we go to the bathroom. Because what does that really mean? Has anyone ever had anything stolen? And has anyone ever had to defend somebody’s stuff?”

  “Exactly!”

  “So why do we do it?”

  “You tell me.”

  “You tell me.”

  “And if it were to happen, like what does the person doing the guiding do? Signal for help? Address the thief directly? Call 911?”

   “I bet it’s never happened before. Ever.”

  “Yet, we do it anyway.”

“Sometimes, it’s the only way to get someone’s attention,” she said coyly.

“Now who would do a thing like that?”

They both smiled.  

“James,” he said, offering his hand.

“Emily.”

They shook hands.

 “So, Emily, tell me, what do you do when you are not hanging out in coffee shops?

“Hanging out and drinking coffee at home. But mostly sleep. And study.”

 “Oh! What do you study?”

“Art student.”

“Oh, that explains the sketches!”

“Oh, you noticed?”

“Maybe?”

“You?”

“Marketing student by day. Failed musician by night.”

“Accordion?”

“Bassoon.”

“My second guess.”

“Guitar. Singer songwriter.”

They both laughed at their breezy interplay.

“But the failed musician thing. The artist in me cries.”

“But I can’t quit! Hence, the song writing I’m going. And got a few possible gigs coming up. So, by ‘failed’, I mean, the idea of making money off my art. But I have learned that making money is not what counts the most. Sure would be nice, but not the end all.”

 “I know what you mean. And that’s why I am pursuing a teaching degree to fall back on – even though there’s a part of me that want to get rid of my safety net.”

  “I know what you mean. Sometimes, it feels like my naive childhood dream is all but dead as I get closer to finishing my degree. Can’t help but feel that career is looming. Hoping to at least land something in entertainment marketing, so I can at least help other people’s dreams. And maybe make the right connections to help mine.”

 “Well, that sounds nice at least.”

  “But I will never fully give up on my dream. My philosophy is “Just keep doing your art. No matter what.

“You make it sound so easy.”

“Well, looks like that’s what you’re doing.”

“Yeah, well…it just feels like I’m spinning in my tracks after what my parents call my “pipe dream”.

“Don’t listen. Or, listen and use it as fuel to prove them wrong.”

“Trying.”

 “That’s all we can do.”

 “Well, I will let you get back to your art. And Enya.”

She realized she had turned her phone over!

  “Oh, how embarrassing.”

    As embarrassing as it was, she was honored that he took the time to not only notice, but remember.

 “Hey, we all have our guilty pleasures,” he laughed.

Only, it wasn’t a guilty pleasure. But she wouldn’t let on.

But was he being sarcastic? Or, genuine? Or, genuinely sarcastic? She couldn’t tell.

“Yep, so true.”

“Take me, for instance. I love Hall & Oates. Without shame.

“Okay, maybe I shouldn’t feel so bad.”

“In fact, I’m listening to them right now.”

He put his headphones back on.

As they both got back to “work”, she was a bit disappointed that their conversation was over. For the time being, at least.

As much as she wanted to keep talking, she didn’t want to be a pest. Perhaps he was very busy. He looked busy. And she was supposed to be busy, too. But she gave up on focusing. She just had to fake it.

 A half hour later, he began packing up his stuff and she realized it was over.

 But then he put a folded Post-It note in front of her.

 “It was nice meeting you, Emily,” he added.

 “Nice meeting you,” she mumbled.

Then he was gone.

  She looked at the note: “Call me if you ever want to get coffee sometime.”

Followed by a smiley face.

She smiled right back at it.

The Thing About Leaves

They enter our lives in the spring

and greeted with great fanfare.

In the brilliant pastels of the season.

A promise of re-birth.

New life.

And better days ahead.

A reminder of the life cycle that we are all part of.

Spring leaves, heralding the arrival of

summer’s warmth and breeze.

We soon take the leaves for granted,

with the distraction of summer’s endless splendor,

even while seeking shelter in their shade.

Before we know it, summer fades into fall,

and we return our attention back to leaves,

who cry for attention with their vibrant cornucopia of color.

Our world is once again filled with color,

but a warmer palette to blanket us from the cold.

An echo of the distant spring from which they arrived.

And we embrace them with wide-open vigor.

But then one by one, they drop from their limbs.

And we mourn both their sudden absence,

but the oncoming dead of winter.

And then we rake and we rake

and we moan and we moan,

now seeing what was once so beautiful as a burden,

fallen from their heavenly loft,

as they lay in their mortal slumber on earth.

Only to be disposed of. And forgotten.

Something that was once so young…

…so comforting.

And so beautiful.

Santa’s Swan Song

There are few greater barometers that mark the end of childhood than the realization that there is no Santa Claus. For some kids, it’s as simple as a switch being turned off. One moment they believe. The next moment, they don’t. For others, it’s a slow evaporation coated in the frost of denial. One way or another, it’s an inevitable part of growing up, like losing baby teeth, or learning how to ride a bike.  

For parents, the notion that the magic of Santa Claus would one day run out was always a sobering reminder of how quickly youth and naïve innocence fades. It is easy to take for granted the finite nature of childhood and become complacent about the inevitable truth. That it is a necessary and rational transition into the next phase of life – a foreshadowing that life is full of letdowns and disappointments, often at the hands of the things we most cherish.

Nick Frost knew this better than anyone. 

His daughter, Lucy, stopped believing just short of reaching 10. It was probably only a matter of time before she slipped and spoiled it for her little brother, even though she promised not to (unlike some kids who seemed hellbent on running Santa for their younger siblings). Charlie was six.          

If there was any saving grace, it was that Charlie’s deep devotion to the man in red hate was like Teflon. His patented stubbornness only made him cling harder to his unwavering belief.  

Though Nick was initially hopeful that his kids would believe as long as he did (he was 12 ), he knew he was being naïve, especially in the digital age. Also, he knew that 12 was simply too old for a kid to still believe. He remembered how badly he was teased and taunted by his heathen classmates who had stopped believe two, three, or even five years before. He was the last kid standing. And he refused to back down. Especially when motivated by the irrational fear that he wouldn’t be able to get presents anymore if he no longer believed. It was becoming increasingly evident that the sugar plum doesn’t fall far from the tree.

Ever since his first born, Nick actually was Santa at their extended family’s annual “Dago Christmas” party.

At the peak of his Santa duties, 15 believers eagerly awaited for their present to be hand-delivered from Santa himself. It was the closest he would ever feel to being a superhero.  

As the years went on, each child stopped believing, one by one. And when you actually are Santa, you can’t help but feel your powers being drained – and there is nothing you can to stop it. And even though each child would eventually realize that Santa was really Uncle Nick, they knew not to tell those who still believed. And in return, they still got a present.

 And before long, there was just one: Charlie. He wasn’t even the youngest, but the two younger ‘uns had stopped believing the previous year.

Though he had no way to be sure, Nick couldn’t help but feel that this was the last year.

He knew that it was inevitable that this day would come, nothing could prepare him for the sadness he felt. Being the neurotically nostalgic person that he was, it was consistent with the other things he “clung” to. Giving up the Santa “lie” was no different than giving up the crib, the toddler bed, the pacifier, the stroller, and even baby teeth. This was the same man who never threw away a ticket stub and saved candy wrappers from his high school girlfriend.  

 From the moment he found out his wife was pregnant with their first, there were three things he as most excited for: first baseball game, movies, and most of all, Christmas.

Christmas was such a big deal in his family and he wanted to impart the tradition onto his children. His wife, not so much. It wasn’t that she disliked Christmas. But to her, Christmas meant more clutter in the house (many of his beloved holiday décor remained in boxes year after year). There were many times she threatened to get rid of them all together.

In fact, for his daughter’s first Christmas, “Santa” went totally overboard and bought a smorgasbord of presents behind his wife’s back. On Christmas morning, she was shocked beyond disbelief to see the heaping pile of presents that he blamed on Santa. She knew better. And he should have. It almost ruined his marriage. He never made that mistake again. But his holiday spirt would soon payoff: when the family’s elders decided to incorporate a visit from Santa at the annual Christmas party, it was an anonymous decision to appoint Charlie.

Year after year, none of the kids ever seemed to notice that Uncle Charlie was conveniently missing during Santa’s visit. But if they did question it, the answer would be simple: Uncle Charlie was in the bathroom. Nobody would be surprised.

This year, Charlie had a sad, sick feeling in the pit of his stomach. It was the feeling that a chapter was coming to an end that he wanted to see last forever. And there was nothing he could do to stop it, short of stopping time. Not even Santa himself could do that.

After dinner, Charlie slipped into an upstairs bedroom and put on the Santa outfit (which had certainly seen better days based on both sight and smell). He couldn’t help but wonder: would this be the last time he donned the suit? Soon, it would be hidden away in storage, like so many toys brought by Santa that now sat collecting dust in the basement, or had already been donated or given away.

Waiting for him in the corner was a garbage bag filled with the presents that parents brought for their children. He realized he never did get a real Santa sack. It was all but too late now.  

After slipping into Santa’s boots, it was showtime!

“Ho, ho, ho!” Nick shouted with glee, as he made his way down the steps and into the basement where everyone was gathered.

With his son being the lone believer left standing, he no longer felt obligated to make eye contact with every child as he made it a point to do so in the past, and was therefore able to keep most of his attention on his son, who stood transfixed, brimming with delight as he did every year with visions of sugar plum fairies dancing in his head.

If only he could stop time. Nonetheless, it was a moment that would exist in the photo album of his mind.

And then it dawned on him. Just maybe he would get another year out of this after all. But even so, this much was certain: time was running out.  And he continued to have a hunch that this year would be it. Either someone would spill the beans, or Charlie would figure it out on his own.

He took solace in the idea that someday, he might have grandchildren and he could relive these memories all over again. But he didn’t exactly want to get old.

But for now, he still had this moment. And a kid who still believed. Nothing could take that away from him. 

Well, except time, of course.

As much as he wanted to embrace this moment, he couldn’t help but think of the sadness hangover he would feel when it was all said and done, especially as he lay wide awake at night wondering where the time had gone.

But in this moment, he was Santa Claus. And to remain jolly, he had to cast these melancholy thoughts behind and get to the task at hand.

He passed out all the gifts to the non-believers who still believed in the magic of Christmas presents. He saved Charlie’s present for last.

“And last, but not least, Charlie, who had been waiting ever-so-patiently. Here ‘ya go, Charlie!” Santa said handing his stars-struck son his gift, knowing full well that there was no way he could ever possibly make this son this happy minus the suit.

Charlie opened the gift. A stuffed Curious George – his favorite character. He gave it a giant hug. In that moment, there was nothing more special for either of them. Unlike other toys, he had a feeling that this one would be cherished for the rest of his life.

And just like that, the moment was over, as all the gathered for their annual picture with Santa. And though the magic was gone for everyone but Charlie, the tradition wasn’t.

It was finally his son’s turn to jump into lap.

“Have you been a good little boy?” Santa asked.

Charlie nodded his head.

“You always are!”

“Sometimes, I get in trouble, though.”

“But you are always sorry. And that’s important.”

“I love you, Santa,” Charlie said. “And I will always believe in you. I’ll never stop believing.”

With that, he gave Santa an enormous hug. Bigger than the one he gave to Curious George even.

Thank God for a big white beard to both conceal and sop up the tears.

“I love you, too,” Nick said.

Charlie jumped off his lap. Nick watched him run off to join his non-believing cousins, for whom the magic had ended. But for one more year, it didn’t end for Charlie. He hoped to God nobody would spoil it. At least, not on this night. Then again, the moment was already preserved for all time no matter what happened.

It was the type of magic that could live forever.

 If you let it.

Wrapper

Joe Smith was the kind of man who lived his life by a strong moral code. He didn’t have an ego about it. It was just how he was wired. He was a devoted family man, only drank for social occasions (and never too much), always said no to drugs and most importantly, never cheated on his wife. In fact, his only vice was a voracious sweet tooth, but otherwise ate clean and healthy. And his once vice was the very thing that nearly did him in!

“What is this?,” his wife stormed into the room, holding what looked like a torn, gold piece of a wrapper.

“Looks like some sort of wrapper.”

“I found it in your pocket when I was doing laundry.”

“Sorry. At least it wasn’t Kleenex this time.”

“Don’t play dumb.”

“I’m sorry,” Joe said, confused. “But I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“Don’t lie to me.”

“What is this all about?”

“ It’s a condom wrapper.”

“It’s a candy wrapper!”

“Bullshit.”

“I can prove it!”

  “How?”

He remembered eating Haribo gummy bears the other day. Their packaging did have the same look of a Trojan condom wrapper, he supposed.

“I ate a package of gummy bears the other day.”

“You and your damn candy.”

“I’ll get another bag and you will see it’s the same color!”

“How would that prove that it’s not a condom?”

There was only way to prove it.

By first going through the trash. He opened up the cupboard where the trash can was stored, before realizing he had already taken the trash outside. Which would mean it would be in his building’s dumpster. At least trash pick-up wasn’t until tomorrow.

He headed outside and proceeded to go through his apartment building’s dumpster. At least it was cold enough to keep things from stinking too much.

Through process of elimination based on bag type and color, he narrowed it down to likely candidates before finally finding the right bag. He immediately began sorting through it until lo and behold: Eureka! He struck gold (wrapper)!

He quickly threw his mess back into the dumpster, then raced back inside to prove his innocence, like the prince with Cinderella’s shoe.  

The pieces were a perfect match. He was acquitted and praised for his efforts to prove his innocence in order to save their marriage.

He was just that sort of guy.

Enya 4-Ever

Everyone has embarrassing dating stories. Some of us just have more than others. I have enough for an entire book.

 Among the highlights: following a break-up with my high school girlfriend, the first girl I asked out in college was a lesbian. In fact, my entire college dating resume involved one gaffe and foible after another – like having a crush on someone who invited me out with her friends, which included a boyfriend that she had never mentioned. And finally asking out a barista that I had a crush on by writing her a note asking her to go out with me – complete with checkboxes! She was married. And though not certain, I presumably became a laughingstock at my favorite coffee shop.

Yet, I have never lost hope.

My checkered college dating life was further hampered by the fact that I didn’t go away for college. Instead, I attended a commuter college in my hometown. So, it was sort of an extension of high school, especially taking into the fact that I was still with my high school girlfriend – who was literally still in high school for my first two years of college.

Then came along Sara, who I met in my linguistics class. This class was by far my least favorite class in my English degree. As I quickly realized, linguistics is the math of English. And I suck at math. So naturally, linguistics was a struggle. As it was for Sara, of whom I had a raging crush on. And per usual fashion, I had no way of knowing if she had a crush on me. If I could do the math right (which I couldn’t), chances are she didn’t. And chances are, I would end up in the friend zone. Always the bridesmaid…or, more like the straight “gay best friend” – the perpetual guy girls felt safe around because I would never attempt to make a move.

We quickly became good friends, bonding over being in class neither one of us wanted to, combined with our mutual love for Detroit techno.

After floundering in class for several weeks, we decided to have a study session (operative word: session – not date).

Maybe things would be different this time. Maybe it wouldn’t only be a study session, even though my parents would be home. I couldn’t have been more wrong. But not for a lack of trying!

 She came over on a chilly October Sunday night. The fact it was a Sunday should have been my first clue of my chances. That didn’t stop me up from dressing up way more than necessary. As in, I wore a tie. She, on the other hand, came in sweatpants and an old, tattered sweatshirt.

 Dressing up was one thing…but lighting way more of my mom’s Yankee candles than necessary was a whole other thing. Looking back, not even one candled was necessary. I lit at least five.  But the cherry on top was putting on Enya’s “Orinco Flow” album – not my mom’s mind you. Mine.

All of this while my parents in the next room. And did they try to stop me? Nope. Just like they didn’t try to stop my Sea-Monkey and Grease II obsession.

When Sara arrived, I awkwardly introduced her to my parents, then lead her to the back room where my study pleasure palace awaited, aglow with candles (which on second thought, was not enough light to study with) accompanied by the otherworldly sounds of Enya.

How could she possibly resist?          

“Is this for me?” she asked, quivering with appeared to be fear.

“For us. To help us study.”

She responded by bursting into laughter.

“Oh, my,” she added.

And just like that, I knew my chances were over. It was clear that her emotions were split evenly between disturbed and amused.

“So, do you like Enya?” I asked.

“No. She fucking sucks.”

I shut the music off..

“Also, these kind of candles trigger my allergies.”

I promptly blew out the candles.

Apparently, she was also allergic to cats. We had two of them.

When it was all said and done, we did manage to study. And we both passed the test. So, all wasn’t lost.

We never hung out again after that night. Nor, did I blame her. Adding insult to injury, she even stopped sitting next me in class.

If only I knew now what I know then. Wait. What am I talking about? I could totally see myself doing something like this today.

But I have no regrets. I was true to myself – a hopeless romantic. With an unabashed loved for candles. And Enya. (I mean, could any two things go more hand in hand?)

 Till this day, I still have Enya in my master playlist. In fact, I am listening to her as I write this.

Got a problem with it?