Monday, February 24, 2014

What Friends Are For

I wake up with a jolt at 6:35 AM on Saturday.  I always wake up early the morning after I drink.  Shit.  And was I drunk.  Immediately I yank the covers over my head and groan, not because of my steadily growing headache but because of the flashes of memory from last night that have begun to resurface.  I can’t believe I dragged Cam home and then passed out immediately! 

            Just to be sure, I peek out from under my blankets and check next to me.  No sign of Cam.  So he did leave last night.  Part of me is relieved; it would have been worse if he’d stayed.  I tend to snore when I drink—not the cutest habit. 

            My mind is racing as I put together the pieces of last night.  I’d had way too much to drink, but I’d had fun.  Cam and I clearly still have a spark, and even the copious amount of liquor I’d downed couldn’t make me forget our hot makeout session.  It makes my toes tingle just thinking about it. 

            One thing’s for sure, though: I owe Cam an apology.  A major apology. 

            The next thing I know, it’s four hours later.  I’d passed out again.  This time, light was flooding in through my window and my tiny headache had grown into a full-blown hangover migraine. 

            I practically crawl out of bed and open my bedroom door.  Emma is sitting at the kitchen counter, a mug in her hands.  At the sound of my creaky door opening, she turns and looks at me. 

            “Damn,” she says, “you look like you need this more than I do.”  She points to a pot of coffee that smells like it’s been freshly brewed. 

            “Thanks,” I croak.  It’s then I realize I’m still in my clothes from the night before.  And then I remember that Cam helped me take my shoes off.  I called myself Cinderella, for god’s sake.  That man deserves a medal. 

            “Soooooo,” Emma starts as I search for my favorite giraffe mug in the cupboard.  I know she’s eyeing me and she has every right to.  My obviously hungover state and last night’s clothes scream hookup and we both know it.  “How was your night?”

            I still haven’t told her about Cam, but now seems like a bad time.  I hate lying to her, but I know that sooner or later the time to talk about it will come. 

            “I went out for some drinks.  A few too many, actually.”  I pour the steaming coffee into my mug and inhale deeply.  I love the taste of coffee, but the smell in particular is hypnotizing to me.  The scent of fresh coffee is better than any candle, in my opinion, and I can feel its transformative effect already. 

            “I can see that.”  I don’t have to look back at Emma to know the expression she’s making—the “you aren’t giving me enough information, so what are you hiding?” face that includes narrowed eyes and furrowed brows.  Sometimes, if she really means business, she’ll curl her upper lip in an effective display of contempt.  I’m almost positive her lip is curling now. 

            “How was work?”  The change in subject won’t be lost on Emma, but she will recognize that I don’t want to talk about it.  She may be nosy, but she’ll reign it in.  For now. 

            “Same old, same old, except with a lot more obvious couples,” she laughs.  I finally look at her and bring the coffeepot over to where she sits.  Her cup, as I’d suspected, is nearly empty already, so I pour her some more.  She smiles at me. 

            “Any breakups?” I ask, sitting down across from her.  As usual, she still has last night’s makeup on, so we match.  I’m sure my mascara isn’t as perfect as hers, though.  The girl has a gift with mascara; it stays on for days. 

            Emma shakes her head.  “No breakups!  No marriage proposals, either, so a pretty successful Valentine’s Day in my opinion.” 

            We talk for a few more minutes about the budding romance between her coworkers and then she heads back to bed.  Emma can drink a whole pot of coffee and take a nap right afterwards.  I want to sleep, too, but know I have damage control to do. 

            My phone lies on my bed where I left it, facedown.  I’m dreading looking at it, so I stall a bit first and change out of my tight jeans into some comfier weekend wear.  Yoga pants always make me feel better—they’re like the clothing version of mac n cheese, except they make you look and feel hot instead of full and slightly disgusted with yourself.  Then I decide that my emails just have to be checked on a Saturday morning.  Finally, I tell myself that I am a grown-ass woman and check my phone. 

            Nothing.  Not one single text. 

            I throw my phone back down on my bed and decide to distract myself.  I know I need to apologize, but I’m so embarrassed and I have no idea what to say.  While we weren’t officially together, things between Cam and I had been going well and I’d completely screwed that up.  The worst part was, after all my suspicions about him drinking, I’d been the stupid drunk.  Maybe I’m the one who needs to grow up, not him. 

            This was a lot of personal discovery for a Saturday morning, so naturally I immediately snuggled up on the couch with Netflix and my blanket, which had been my plan for the night before.  I’d gotten through three hour-long episodes when Emma emerged again from her bedroom. 

            “How was your nap?”  I asked. 

            She walked over to the couch and swatted at me.  “Hey!  What if I’d been working on an amazing grad school application essay?”

            I raised my eyebrows.  “Okay, so I wasn’t,” she admitted.  “I was sleeping.  But I could have been working!”  She eyes my computer and says, “Sleeping is better than watching TV.” 

            Laughing, I shove her back.  “Hey, I’m watching Scandal.  This is practically educational,” I inform her.  There’s a few minutes of comfortable silence while I check my emails (again) and Emma stares off into space.  I love when a relationship gets to the level when words aren’t necessary and silence isn’t uncomfortable.  However, I also have known Emma long enough to figure out what’s coming next. 

            “So Ryan,” she starts, “it would take a complete moron not to recognize that something has been going on with you.”  Emma glances at me and offers up a reassuring smile.  “Since I can be kind of a moron sometimes, I’ll admit that I didn’t put the pieces together until, oh, this morning when I saw you do a walk of shame from your bedroom to our kitchen only without a man.”

            I laugh.  I can’t help it; Emma is so good, so nonconfrontational, that I already want to tell her everything. 

            “Do you want to talk about it?”  At this, I nod, and Emma leans over and rests her cheek on my shoulder.  Prime listening position.  It’s easier to spill your guts when you don’t have to look someone in the eye. 

            I try my best to be as detailed as possible.  I tell her about the Christmas party hookup, our increased texting, the date, and end with Valentine’s Day.  “I was such a mess, Em.  Such a mess,” I repeat, and put my head in my hands.  Strangely enough, I’m laughing.  It’s such a ridiculous situation.  By now Emma is laughing too, which has to be a good sign. 

            “You know, I always thought Cam was kind of an idiot,” Emma tells me.  I roll my eyes.  “No, no, hear me out!  He was definitely an idiot for doing what he did to you.  But maybe now he’s less of one.” 

            “We’re all idiots, Emma,” I deadpan.  Still, her words resonate with me.  In her own roundabout way, is she telling me to give him another chance? 

            I’m quiet for a minute.  “It’s weird.  I’m starting to think I acted like that, a drunk idiot, because I was nervous.  I didn’t want to be the one making a mistake and going back to a doomed relationship.  If I screwed it up before anything got too serious, it would be all on me but at the same time not my fault at all, because forgiving a cheater is hard.” 

            Emma’s nodding, somehow understanding my rambling.  “Well, if you think you want to give him another chance, I’ll stand behind your decision no matter what.”  Making a fist, she smacks it into her open palm with a faux-menacing glare.  “But if he dares hurt you again, he’ll have hell to pay,” she whispers in a creepy, horror-movie voice. 

            I can’t help but laugh.  There’s a reason Emma and I have been unwavering friends for years, and that’s because we support each other without question or (much) judgment.  We’ve both made our fair share of mistakes and have gone through more hookup and dating scenarios than we can count.  It’s easier learning your lessons the hard way when you have a good friend by your side. 

            Emma and I watch an episode of Scandal and then I know I can’t stall any longer.  I need to text Cam.  Quickly, I snatch my phone off the sofa and check my messages.  Still nothing. 

            “Ughhh,” I groan.  “Do I really have to do this?  I hate being an adult.”

            Emma pats my shoulder sympathetically.  “I believe in you.”  She stands up and grins.  “And if he acts like a baby about it, he isn’t worth it anyway!” 

            As I open Cam’s contact information, I see the ellipsis which indicate that he’s typing.  Talk about crazy timing!  “Em,” I hiss, “he’s texting me!” 

            Emma zooms back over to the couch.  “What’s he saying?!” 

            “No idea yet.”  We both stare at the screen for a solid sixty seconds, but the ellipsis remain. 

            “Maybe he started to type something and then put his phone down,” Emma says.  I roll my eyes.  It’s situations like these that remind me that while Em and I have graduated college and are technically adults with salaries and health insurance, we still sometimes act like college freshmen.  Nothing like some good ole fashioned contact with boys to turn grown-ass women into giggly girls at a slumber party. 

            Eventually I send a quick text: “I had such a great time last night, but it looks like I need to lay off the liquor for a while!  Can’t wait to see you again.”  Short, sweet, to the point, and without any groveling.  Even Emma approves. 

            The two of us spend the rest of the day and most of the evening talking and watching trashy TV.  We order Thai and Emma drinks cheap beer, which prompts her to tell half-hour long stories about her coworkers: who is sleeping together, managerial power struggles, and my personal favorite, the recently-turned-21-year-old who hits on Emma nonstop.  I’m convinced it’s true love, while Emma vehemently denies anything (“He just started drinking legally, Ryan.  He has so much life left to live!”  “Says the 23-year-old,” I retort).  It’s the perfect way to spend a Saturday, and by the time the two of us pass out before midnight, I’ve forgotten that Cam never texted me back.  

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Better Late than Never

I don’t see Cam for the rest of the weekend, which turns out to be a blessing.  Our date went much better than expected but I still need time to think, and I’m sure the same is true for him.  Nevertheless, we texted back and forth, and I’d be lying if I said that my heart didn't beat a little faster when I saw his name pop up on my screen. 

            Unfortunately, we didn't get a chance to see each other for much of the following week, either.  It’s New York Fashion Week, and even though I live in Columbus, I was swamped the entire week with clients calling in and asking where to get the newest fur stole or floral midi skirt.  I’d also been writing blog posts and gathering NYFW info almost nonstop, especially after the Kendall Jenner/Marc Jacobs nipplegate.  I was so busy that I hardly had the chance to check my phone at home, let alone at work.  Even Emma was getting sick of me since I passed out every night at eight PM.  I was hardly the exciting, fun roommate. 

            By the time Friday rolls around, I’m ready for a night out.  Emma’s working, and I asked Abby to grab happy hour drinks with me, but duh—it’s Valentine’s Day.  She has plans with her man, and from what she tells me, they sound extravagant.  He’s cooking her dinner, and a gigantic bouquet of lilacs and lilies—her favorite, and totally out of season—arrived at noon.  I don’t even have to fake my excitement for her. It’s so obvious that they’re in love that I just want to bathe in her happy glow. 

            Of course, that does mean that I’m alone on a Friday night.  I could go visit Emma at work, but I’m sure it’ll be packed and I’ll be alone there as well.  I could text Cam and ask him out, but despite my firm feminist stance on most things, there’s something decidedly sad about asking out your sort-of boyfriend on Valentine’s Day.  We’d texted somewhat during the week, but neither of us had mentioned anything about V Day.  I wonder now if he had been put off by my slow responses. 

            That’s ridiculous, I chided myself.  I’d told him I was swamped, and it’s not like we’re officially together.  Cam getting mad over my slow response times would be absolutely insane. 
            Still, I was out any plans tonight.   I do have other friends, but like Abby, they’re coupled up and will probably be holding hands over a candlelit filet dinner at some point tonight.  Maybe I would just order pizza and enjoy a romantic snuggle with my fleece blanket and laptop. 

            After work I’d pretty much given up on any Valentine’s Day plans.  Cursing myself for being such a procrastinator, I flop down on my couch, still in my work top and statement necklace.  Emma is already at work, so it looks like I’m all alone.  Not that being alone bothers me—I’m slowly learning how to love my own company. 

            I pick up my phone to order Chinese and see a recent text from Cam.  For a second my heart flips but I try to keep my cool as I read.  Drinks tonight? it says.  I can’t help feeling a mixture of relieved and disappointed.  So last-minute!  So casual!  But then again, I had been the standoffish one.  I’ve been the one still pushing back at his attempts at a relationship.  Everything seems to be moving so fast, and honestly, I don’t even know why I’m being so stubborn.  I was impossibly busy all week, but I should have made a little more time for him. 

            I text him back and suggest a bar near my house, and he immediately responds with a time.  Leaping off my couch with a speed I didn’t know I possessed, I skip to my room and pick out an outfit.  This is no easy task; what does one wear to casual drinks with a potential boyfriend on Valentine’s Day?  No red or pink—too cheesy.  No dress—too cold still.  Black work pants are too severe, and I can’t wear the same jeans I did to our date last week.  Finally, I settle on white jeans (who says white is only for summer?), a burgundy cable-knit sweater, and, of course, black heels.  I decide to leave my makeup on from work today, only touching up my eyeliner and adding some bronzer, and am out the door in a record forty minutes. 

            By the time I get there the nerves start to kick in.  Cam had suggested drinks, again, and I worry about him when he drinks.  We’re both grown adults, but what if I walk in and he’s huddled up in a corner with some girl in a shirt that shows more cleavage than mine?  Maybe this is why I’ve been sort-of ignoring him all week: I still don’t trust him. 

            The Pint House, a huge bar with killer deals, is packed, as expected.  I order a vodka tonic to sip on while I look around.  All around me are recently-graduated kids, like me, most in flannel shirts and vests.  In college, I never wore heels out, because it wasn’t the thing to do at OSU.  Now I wear them everywhere, making up for lost time.  It seems like most of the girls here are either in six-inch platform pumps or flat riding boots, and I can guess who is out of college based solely (get it?  Solely?) on that fact. 

            I’m admiring some girl’s gorgeous leopard ankle booties when I feel a tap on my shoulder.  Smiling, I turn around, expecting it to be Cam—but it’s some random guy in a crew neck.  My smile’s frozen on my face as I try to place him, but no, I definitely do not know him. 

            “Hi,” he says, mirroring my smile.  Like most of the people here, he’s holding a huge glass of beer.  “You here alone?” 

            “Actually, I’m waiting for someone,” I say politely. 

            “Too bad,” the mystery man says, taking a gulp of his beer.  “How about I buy you a drink in the meantime?” 

            Are they always this forward?  I wonder.  I don’t even know his name yet.  But then again, it’s Valentine’s Day, and I’m assuming everyone wants to get laid. 

            “Actually, I’m okay for now,” I tell him.  “Thank you though.”

            He narrows his eyes at me, and I notice they’re a strange combination of blue and green.  Almost too pale for my liking.  “Can’t a guy be nice to a girl?”  He seems exasperated and I’m already getting annoyed.  Yes, being rejected sucks, but there’s no need to act like a child about it!  There are dozens of other girls at this bar, waiting to be swept away at a bar on Valentine’s Day.  I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t one of them.  Just not with him. 

            “Sorry,” I apologize with no conviction.  Suddenly I see him.  “There’s my date,” I say, more to myself than the creepy-eyed guy still standing in front of me.  I wave, and Cam spots me immediately. 

            He knows something is up, and for a split second a panic.  I do not want this to become a crappy rom-com where there’s a bar fight over my affections on Valentine’s Day.  Luckily, my life is not a rom-com, crappy or not, because the guy walks away without another word. 

            “Perfect timing,” I tell Cam.  “What is it about bars that makes guys so persistent?” 

            Cam shakes his head, still not smiling.  I wonder if he’s upset with me for some reason.  It’s silent for a moment, and I notice my drink is almost empty. 

            “Wanna grab something?”  I offer.  “First round’s on me.”  I grab his arm and practically pull him towards the bar.  It’s then that I notice the slight smell—he’s been drinking. 

            I decide not to say anything and instead order myself a double whiskey sour.  Fight fire with fire, or alcohol with alcohol.  Surprisingly, Cam doesn’t get a drink. 

            “So,” I say, uneasy at his silence, “Happy Valentine’s Day!”  I lean in closer to Cam and lower my voice.  “Wanna make bets on who goes home with who?” 

            Finally he cracks a grin.  His eyes skim the bar, and he points out a tall brunette next to an even taller blond guy in shorts, of all things.  “Them.  They’re perfect together.  I can practically see the stars in her eyes from all the way over here.” 

            I laugh and sip my drink.  “Who knew you were such a matchmaker,” I joke. 

            That’s when he wraps his arm around my waist, gingerly at first, and then gives me a little squeeze.  I’m so surprised that I let out an uncharacteristic giggle.  Maybe I will have a Valentine after all. 

            An hour and a half and two more whiskey sours later, I am definitely buzzing.  Cam broke down and ordered a couple of the huge beers, which he has finished in record time.  It’s easy to tell that he’s a recent college grad by the sheer speed of his drinking.  I’m pretty sure I’m more buzzed than he is. 

            “So were you mad at me this week?”  Yep.  Definitely more buzzed than him. 

            He looks at me with a bit of surprise.  “Mad at you?”  he asks. 

            I swat at his shoulder.  “Oh don’t play dumb.  This week was hell for me.  I was crazy busy and we barely talked.  I was wondering if you were mad.” 

            Cam shrugs and takes a swig of his beer.  He seems to consider what I said before answering, but his pause is maddening.  “No, not really.  I know you were busy, and it’s not like we’re officially together or anything.” 

            “Right,” I agree quickly.  “I just didn’t want you to think I was ignoring you.” 

            Cam won’t look at me when he starts laughing.  “Oh, Ryan,” he says, still laughing.  “Queen of Mixed Signals over here.” 

            “What?”   I’m slightly taken aback and almost angry. 

            “Come on.  You know.  We had such a great date and now you’re standoffish.  Yeah, maybe you were busy all week, but give a guy some hope here.” 

            I have no idea what to say, so I just finish my drink.  I’m more than a little buzzed, and this confrontation makes my feelings amplify.  “Cam, I wasn’t ignoring you and I’m not being standoffish!”  I set the glass down on the bar and it makes a loud thud, louder than I expected.  “Let’s just get a few things straight, shall we?”  I clear my throat.  “One, you cheated on me.  I’m trying to get past that, because yeah, it was a while ago, and I want to start over.  I do.  I’m trying.  Two, you can’t expect me to fall right back into your arms out of nowhere!  Three, I have a life, Cam, and a job.  I’m sorry I can’t be as available as you want me to be, but that’s just how it is.” 

I know I took it too far, but I’m too mad to care.  Cam finally looks at me.  “I know all that.  Ryan, I’m trying too.  I want to be with you.  I do.  No messing around this time.  I want you.” 

More words pour out of my mouth.  “Why were you drunk before you got here?”  It sounds accusatory but I have a right to ask. 

Cam laughs.  “Ry, I took a shot with my roommate before I left.  He had a date with this girl, and he was nervous, and I was obviously meeting you.”  He stares me dead in the eyes, and I feel a warmth spread throughout my body.  “If you want this to work, you have to start trusting me.” 

I’m not sure how I feel about that, about trusting him, so instead I leaned in and kissed him.  It’s been a long time since I’ve made out with anyone at a bar—so college—but I don’t care, and after a few minutes I hear a few cheers behind us.  Finally we come up for air, and when I open my eyes again, the room spins a bit.  Uh oh.  Definitely a little more than buzzed.  I lean in close to Cam’s ear again, as though I am about to tell him a secret. 

“Do you want to get pizza?” I ask.  Cam raises his eyebrows and shakes his head, but agrees to go with me. 

“I’ll walk you home,” he offers, taking my arm in his. 

By the time we pass my favorite late-night slice place, I’m not hungry anymore and am definitely wobbling.  The good news is, Cam is now holding my hand and we look like a bona fide couple on Valentine’s Day, albeit a slightly intoxicated couple. 

“Come upstairs,” I tell him, and he doesn't hesitate.  We make out some more in front of my apartment door, and when we get inside I head straight to my bedroom.  When did I get so sleepy? 

“Hold on there, Ryan,” Cam tells me as I sit on the foot of my double bed, struggling with my shoes.  He sees that I’m not paying him any attention and sighs, bending down to get to my level.  Slowly, and with great care, he unbuckles the strap on one heel, and then the other. 

“I feel like Cinderella,” I say sleepily.  Somewhere in my brain I register his laugh.  I lie down on the bed and close my eyes, patting the space next to me.  Cam settles in next to me and grabs my hand again. 

After a few minutes he stands up.  I’m almost asleep, but open my eyes slightly to see him put his jacket on.  “Go to sleep, Ry,” he whispers.  The last thing I remember before I pass out is feeling him kiss me on the cheek, then on the forehead, and I'm fast asleep before my bedroom door closes.  

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Starting Over

            I wake up surprisingly optimistic on Friday morning.  I do everything right: healthy breakfast of homemade banana oatmeal, perfect winged eyeliner, and I even floss before getting ready to leave my apartment ten minutes early.  My roommate slash live-in best friend Emma eyes me suspiciously as I shove my phone into my navy Kate Spade handbag (thanks, Nordstrom Rack). 

            “You’re pretty chipper this morning,” she says, crossing her arms.  She’s still in reindeer fleece pajamas, her eyeliner smudged from the night before.  As a manager at a hip new restaurant and bar, she mostly works nights, especially on weekends.  Usually she is still fast asleep when I leave for work. 

            I give her the most dazzling smile I can muster and hoist my bag over my shoulder.  “I decided I should actually try to make it look like I put in some effort every morning,” I say breezily.  I unlock our front door and wave.  “Look good, feel good, right?  Byeee, have a great day!”  Before the door swung shut I catch a glimpse of Emma watching me leave. 

            Em and I have been good friends since freshmen year, when we lived two doors down from each other in the dorms.  Both of our respective roommates were nightmares, so halfway through the year we switched rooms and have been pretty much inseparable ever since.  We lived together all through college, so it was only natural that we kept the tradition alive once we entered the real world. 

            I hadn’t told her about Cam’s text and am feeling pretty guilty about it now.  I’m sure she knew something was up, and I’m just glad I left the apartment before she could weasel it out of me.  Emma isn’t the biggest Cam fan, and it’s no surprise why; she’s seen me cry and get drunk over him maybe one too many times.  She’s a great friend, but I don’t want to worry her over my little dinner date.  If you can even call it a date. 

            I get to work before Abby does and start answering my emails.  When she arrives twenty minutes later, she looks surprised to see me there. 

            “Wow, I don’t think I’ve ever seen you here before me,” she says.  It’s not meant as an insult—I’m much more likely to stay at work late than arrive early.  I shrug. 

            “What can I say, it’s Friday!  I figure if I put in a little extra effort at work the weekend gods will grant me a few good nights.”  This isn’t even entirely a lie—I believe wholeheartedly in karma and am hoping that my hard work today will earn me a good date tonight. 

            Abby nods.  “Maybe that means you won’t lose your new ID,” she says with a smirk.  I roll my eyes at her and get back to work. 

            By the time 5 PM comes around I’ve lost all enthusiasm for work and am impatiently waiting to leave.  I think Abby can sense my anxiousness and strolls over as I’m packing up. 

            “What’s gotten into you?” she asks, resting her chin on her hands.  “You barely stopped to take a breath at lunch today and I swear I could hear you sighing every five minutes around all the way from my cubicle.” 

            “Hey, maybe I was hungry,” I retort, pretending to be offended.  In reality, I’m barely paying attention to her and instead am mentally going through my closet.  Shoving my arms into my puffy winter coat—it’s been too cold lately to care about a fashionable winter jacket—I gather my things and get ready to leave. 

            I’m so lost in my own train of thought that I don’t see her walk up to me.  Placing one hand on my shoulder, Abby says “What’s going on?” 

            I sigh and decide to give her part of the truth, just so she stops thinking that something is actually wrong.  “I have a date tonight,” I tell her. 

            “Oh wow!  That’s great, Ryan!”  Abby’s all smiles and I suddenly feel guilty about not telling her about Cam.  Just because she’s in a happy, stable relationship doesn’t mean that she wouldn’t have listened to me. 

            “Yeah.”  I nod slowly, and we start walking out of the office together.  “It’s actually with my ex.” 

            Abby glances at me out of the corner of her eyes, gauging the situation.  “How do you feel about that?” she asks, holding the door open for me.  A gust of frigid air hits us with full force and I shiver. 

            “You know,” I say slowly, “I think I’m okay.  I think I’m actually looking forward to it.”  And as soon as I say those words out loud, I know it’s true.  I smile.  “Have a good weekend, Abby.” 

            “You too!” Abby starts walking away.  “Text me if anything exciting happens!” she calls. 

            I’d be lying if I said I didn’t speed all the way home.  CFC offices is only a ten-minute drive from my apartment in the Short North area of Columbus and my date with Cam isn’t til eight, but I couldn’t calm my nerves. 

            I walk into my apartment expecting it to be empty, but Emma’s still there.  She’s in the bathroom we share doing her makeup.  This poses a slight problem, since I was planning on taking a shower. 

            “Hey Em,” I say, trying to keep my voice casual.  “What’s up?” 

            “Hey hey hey,” she responds.  She’s artfully applying blush to her cheeks; I watch her enviously.  Emma’s got model cheekbones, high and prominent. 

            “You almost done?  I wanted to take a shower.”  I walk to my room, which is right next to the bathroom, and set my handbag down on my desk.  “No rush,” I call to her.  “I’m just meeting up with Abby at eight.”  The lie comes out so easily that I don’t even question it myself.    

            I hear the water running, and Emma’s voice carries over the sound easily.  “Why?  She knows what you look like so no need to wash up.”  The water shuts off and her next sentence is clearer.  “And besides, you look cute.” 

            I walk back to the bathroom and rest my shoulder against the doorframe.  “Thanks, but it’s been a long day and I feel gross.  I just want to wash my hair and start over fresh.”  Ten minutes later the bathroom is mine. 

            By 7:15 I’m running around the apartment in a robe with a different shoe on each foot.  Luckily Emma is at work, because she certainly wouldn’t believe that I was going to all this trouble just for a meeting with a friend.  Because it’s the dead of winter, I’ve ruled out dresses but want to wear heels to fancy up my jeans a little. They’re blue with a strip of black leather running from hip to ankle, and they call for some cool black ankle booties.  I have the perfect pair, four inches tall with cutouts, but they’re dangerous in this snow and ice.  Not that the cold has stopped me before, but I’m nervous about slipping and falling in front of Cam.  On my other foot is another black heel, lower, chunkier, and without the cutouts.  Definitely safer to walk in but without the wow factor.  I give in to my inner fashion diva and go for the taller heels. 

            Thirty-five minutes later I’m dressed and my makeup is done.  I’m rocking a hint of dark red lipstick to discourage Cam from coming on too strong or going in for a kiss too soon.  I slide on my puffer coat, grab my wallet (with my new ID safely tucked away) and walk out the door. 

            My heels click on the pavement and I don’t lose my footing once.  Bodega, a trendy restaurant and bar about five minutes from my apartment, is usually packed on Fridays but Cam said he got a reservation.  Before I know it I’m there, and I see him sitting by a window as I walk by.  I pretend not to see him but my breath catches in my throat. 

            Once inside, I walk straight to his table and sit down without warning.  Cam looks startled but his expression quickly becomes neutral again.  I’m happy to see he’s drinking water, not beer.  “Hi,” I say, and wiggle out of my coat. 

            “Hey!”  Cam smiles.  His hair has gotten longer, almost too long.  It curls at the ends and I try not to stare.  Yes, he looks different, but good nonetheless.  “Wow, you look amazing,” he offers.  I see his eyes focus on my chest area and I quickly become embarrassed and a little angry.  My hands cross over my chest and I stare him down coldly. 

            Cam recognizes his mistake and says “You’ve got something on your collar.”  I look down.  He’s right—there’s a little red on my crisp white collar.  Lipstick.  I know if I try to brush it off it’ll smear. 

            “Oh,” I force myself to laugh and then explain the situation.  Looks like wearing lipstick backfired. 

            “That’s my Ryan,” Cam says with a grin.  “Always so pretty but so damn clumsy.”  I frown.  My Ryan?  He’s acting too familiar too fast.  He seems to notice my discomfort and clears his throat, changing the subject.  “So I already ordered the artichoke dip.  I know you love it here.” 

            It’s true.  I can’t resist a good spin-artichoke dip, and Bodega has the best.  “Perfect,” I say.  “I hope you weren’t waiting too long.” 

            He shakes his head.  We’re quiet for a moment, and I sip my water.  “Look, Ryan, I can’t act like I didn’t ask you here for a reason.”  I wait.  “I’ve really enjoyed talking with you these past few weeks.  I know things didn’t exactly work out before, but I’ve changed.” 

            I don’t move and just watch him.  I hate that line: “I’ve changed.”  It has always seemed like a cop-out to me. 

            Cam continues.  “We’re out of college now and I want things to be different.  I’m trying not to drink so much,” and he must see my look of surprise and disbelief, because he quickly adds “not cold turkey of course.  I just know I screwed up, okay?  I can’t be that crazy party kid anymore.  I have a job—“ 

            He’s interrupted as the waiter brings us our spinach and artichoke dip.  I’m asked if I want a drink and order a lager.  Cam may want to be sober for this date but I welcome the alcohol. 

            After my beer is set on the table and we’ve both eaten a little of the appetizer—as good as always—the conversation turns back to us.  Whatever “us” is. 

            “I’m not asking for you to be with me forever and ever.  Can we just try to be normal and start over again?” 

            Finally I look at Cam in the eyes.  They’re brown, darker than mine, and I’m surprised to hear the sincerity in his voice.  He looks so good in his flannel button-down shirt—so hipster, so typical graduated-frat-guy—and I want to believe him.  Dysfunctional as it is, we have a history together, and I was so excited about this date.  He gets to me somehow, and maybe it’s the beer or the nerves that encourage me, but I reach out and grab his hand. 

            He seems surprised but says nothing, waiting for me to speak.  Well, if he wants us to start over, that’s what he’ll get. 

            “Hi,” I say.  “I’m Ryan.”

            “Cam,” he says without missing a beat. 

            “Nice to meet you.”  I look down at my plate.  “I hope you don’t mind, but I’m going to finish off this dip.”  And I do. 

We talk about his job—he works at a bank—and my new apartment, and I’m struck by how easy it is with him.  We’ve known each other for a while, so there’s no lack of conversation, but we can both sense something new and different in the midst of that comfort.  I’m not sure if that’s dangerous or not. 

            At ten-thirty he helps me put my coat back on.  I catch a whiff of his cologne, so familiar, and I’m not sure who leans in first but we’re kissing.  Someone at the table behind us whistles, and I can feel Cam smile as we kiss.  It only makes me want him more.  Disappointingly, he pulls away, still smiling, and holds the door open for me. 

            We step into the frigid night and both glance up at the clear sky.  “Check out the stars,” Cam says in awe.  They are breathtaking—the cold air makes for a clear night, and the stars are bright and inviting.  Cam grabs my hand and we start walking.  It’s a true testament to a good night that I do not wobble in my heels the entire way back to my apartment. 

            I want to invite him in, and I know that he wants the same thing.  But we settle for a few more kisses (okay, more than a few) and then he squeezes my hand and lets go for the first time since we left the restaurant. I watch him walk away, his breath leaving a trail of mist behind, and wonder if it’s possible to start over with someone you already know.  

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Meet Ryan

What better way to start the day than a trip to the DMV?  Luckily for me (but unluckily for my sleep cycle) the DMV opens at 7 AM on weekdays, which means that at 7:25 I am stuck in a ridiculously long line of soggy, snow-covered, and disgruntled patrons.  Like me, they are shivering and impatient; unlike me, they are not wearing heels. 

Call me crazy if you want.  It’s fifteen degrees out, and there is a layer of ice on every unsalted sidewalk covered by at least six inches of treacherous snow.  This wouldn’t typically be high-heel weather, but because I work in fashion, wearing UGGs is just not acceptable, even in a snowstorm.  So what if I’ve gotten a few odd looks?  I have an image to uphold. 
At 7:58 it’s finally my turn in line, and when I hand over my passport and social security card to the woman behind the desk, she squints and frowns.  “Ryan?” she asks. 

“That’s me,” I say brightly.  She studies me for a moment, as though if she looks hard enough she will be able to see past my decidedly female figure and long hair.  “It’s a family name,” I lie.  Yes, I’m a woman.  Yes, my name is Ryan.  Ryan Evangeline, because my mom wanted to supplement my traditionally male first name with the girliest middle name possible.  She thought it would help alleviate confusion, but as I stand looking into the skeptical face of the DMV worker in front of me, I know my mother’s efforts were for nothing. 

I speed through the standard procedures, the eye check, the drug questioning.  As I smile at the webcam, I silently thank myself for that extra coat of mascara I applied in the early hours of the morning.  My new driver’s license photo won’t be earning me a modeling contract anytime soon, but at least my skinny eyelashes are making an appearance.  Surprisingly, I look somewhat presentable. 

Of course, I slip and nearly fall on the way to my car.  Damn snow.  Damn heels.

At work, I’m surprised to see Caroline, our student secretary, already answering calls at the front desk.  “Didn’t school get canceled?” I ask. 

Caroline shakes her head as she hangs up.  I should have known.  She studies fashion at Ohio State, my alma mater.  While it’s an amazing school that made college some of the best years of my life thus far, the university is infamously stringy with off days.  It would take no less than an actual blizzard to close the main campus down. 

“We’re in a level 2 snow emergency but we still have class,” she laughs.  “I thought that if I have to go to 11-AM bio I may as well get a few hours in here.” 

I smile as I walk by.  “Not a bad idea,” I say, though I know that if I were in her position, I’d be snuggled up in bed all day, not attempting the commute to work or class.  Hey, sometimes a girl’s gotta take a personal day. 

Not that I’ve taken a personal day in a while, I think as I settle into my desk.  In fact, it’s been over a year since I’ve taken a single day off.  I’ve worked at Creative Fashion Consultants, or CFC, since graduation last year.  Some may think it’s a fru-fru job, styling outfits and writing fashion articles.  However, that’s only the fun part of the job.  Most of the time I’m working on Excel, taking notes in meetings, or editing grammar.  It’s really shocking how much proofreading takes place on a daily basis. 

By lunch I’m starting to see spreadsheets whenever I blink.  I peer over my coworker, Abby’s, cubicle, which is almost identical to mine, except she’s decorated it with photos of her equally-cute boyfriend and dog.  “Food time?”  I ask. 

Abby, a tall, thin blonde with eyes so dark they’re nearly black, almost jumps out of her chair.  “Jesus, Ry, you scared me,” she laughs, her hand fluttering to her chest.  “But yeah, let’s go.  Pizza?” 

Ten minutes later we’re sitting at Pizza Rustica, a local Columbus eatery, discussing my new ID.  “I might have left it at the bar last Saturday, or maybe it fell in the snow somewhere,” I explain, covering my eyes with my hands in embarrassment.  “So either some college kid found it and is using it or we’ll find it in a puddle after the snow melts.” 

Abby laughs and slides my ID over to her side of the table.  “The new one’s not bad at all,” she says, studying it.  “But the real question is, why were you so drunk that you left your ID?” 

I feel myself start to blush and swallow a sliver of pepperoni whole.  The question wasn’t pointed or harsh in any way, but I feel interrogated.  “Rough day,” I admit, then clear my throat and change the subject.  I don’t really want to get into it—while Abby’s a good friend of mine, she has a steady relationship untainted by her college days.  She’s 25, two years older than me, and seems to have her life together.  I’m willing to bet her boyfriend is about to pop the question any day now, and it would be silly to bother her with stories about my ex. 

Well, sort-of ex, anyway.  Here’s the condensed version:

Cam and I met after a bad breakup on my end.  I basically threw myself at him, and he responded pretty well.  We did the whole friends-with-benefits thing until he started drunk texting me about wanting to be more.  I know, so college, right?  By the time I started reciprocating those feelings it was my senior year and we’d been hooking up for over six months.  The problem was, he never talked about his feelings unless he was drunk.  Really, really drunk.  Hooking up while intoxicated was one thing, but figuring out our relationship under the influence of PBR was no easy task.  I got frustrated and issued an ultimatum, and boom, we started dating exclusively.  Or at least that’s what I thought.  A few months into our relationship I discovered that Cam was hitting up girls at the bar and had made out with one of his closest girl friends while drunk.  We broke up, we graduated, we both found jobs in Columbus.  It seemed like a relatively clean break, and I had even started going on a few dates (all busts, but still, I was trying!)  I hardly ever saw him until an ill-fated Christmas party this year where we ended up feeling each other up in a bathroom.  Classy. 

And that brings me to where I am now—we’ve been texting on and off ever since, and on Friday I ran into him at a bar.  He told me he wanted another chance, said that he missed me, and I didn’t take it well.  As usual, he was far from sober.  Cue me getting drunk and losing my ID the very next night. 

Considering how embarrassing the whole ordeal was, it makes sense why I don’t want to tell Abby all the gory details.  I don’t even know how I feel about it myself. 

For the rest of lunch, Abby excitedly tells me about painting her new apartment with her boyfriend.  They apparently both agreed on a color without a hitch (nebulous gray for the living room, Mediterranean foam for the bathroom).  For a moment I almost want to tell her about Cam, about how confused I am.  Abby is a phenomenal listener, but my story sounded so pathetic in my head that I’m almost too ashamed to talk about it.  I’m a grown woman with a salaried job, damnit, and I need to leave all this college drama behind. 

Throughout the rest of the day, as I proofread articles and wrote a short piece about wearing white in the wintertime, Cam and the “college drama” that surrounded him were never far from my mind.  After a slightly terrifying drive home in the snow-induced traffic, I check my phone to find a text from him.  “Dinner tomorrow?” it reads.  “I want to talk to you.” 

My thumbs hover over the illuminated screen.  I type “sure,” then “I’d love to,” and finally “hell no stop talking to me” before deleting it all.  It’s only after I’m cocooned in a quilt in bed, hours later and half asleep, that I revisit the text and respond “okay.”  Before the message has the chance to send I toss my phone to the foot of my bed and try to fall asleep.  

Welcome to High Heels and Happy Hour!

Hello everyone!  My name is Lex and I'm the author of this soon-to-be blog.  The first post is almost finished, and I'm really excited to share it with you!  

This blog is going to follow the life of a single twenty-something who currently lives in Columbus, OH.  Who knows, though--our heroine could end up moving at some point.  This is all just for fun, so if you have a request, suggestion, or question, feel free to comment and let me know!  

Thanks so much for reading, and enjoy!