I sit patiently on a stool in the bathroom as Emma waves a 400-degree piece of metal near my scalp and face. She’s curling my hair, as is our age-old tradition that stemmed from our college years. By now, we’re both pretty much experts at doing each other’s hair. Sure, we could do it by ourselves, but it takes much longer, and plus, this gives us the chance to catch up.
Emma’s telling me about her coworker, the college-aged guy who is undeniably cute but undeniably off-limits. “He keeps flirting with me,” she says, “and I keep flirting back because he’s hot!”
“I say just go for it,” I tell her, trying hard to sit perfectly still. “What’s the harm? You’re almost 24. That’s not a huge difference, really. My aunt is five years older than her husband.”
“Couuuugaaaaar,” Emma coos. She fluffs out a curl and continues. “I get that, and it’d be different if he wasn’t still in school. We’re just at different stages in our lives.”
“Maybe, but he’s graduating this spring, right?” I ask.
“Yeah,” she admits.
“And you guys practically have the same job!”
Emma bristles. “Not really. I’m a manager.” I start to smell burning hair. “Not only is he working for me, but any relationship would be strictly prohibited.”
“Okay, you’re starting to sound like a manual,” I say. “Also, you’re scorching my hair.”
Emma quickly uncurls my hair from the rod. “Oops.”
Fidgeting, I change the subject. Emma will always listen, but she rarely changes her mind. If she doesn’t want anything to do with her coworker, nothing will happen between them. “Are you almost done?”
“Does it look like I’m almost done, Miss Impatient?”
“Yes,” I say. She’s curled all of my hair except for a few pesky pieces that never cooperate, including one strand that is clearly lopsided in the back.
“Don’t sass me,” Emma laughs. After a few more seconds of heat-taming and a lot of hairspray, my hair looks perfect.
“Wow,” I say, admiring myself in the mirror.
“Pretty, huh?” Emma grins at me in the mirror. “Well, Cinderella, I expect you back by midnight. Not that I’ll know because I’m working til close.” She groans and rolls her eyes.
“I hope you get lots of tips!” I say encouragingly. Emma strikes a pose and pushes her boobs together.
“With this rack, how can I not?” I give her a shove.
“But really, is this dress too much?” I step out of the bathroom and twirl. I’m wearing a dress slightly below the knees, tight around the chest and loose and flowy all the way down. Today has finally been above fifty degrees in Columbus, so I had to wear something other than pants, even if I’m only going to Cam’s apartment for dinner.
“You’re wearing a jacket, right?” Emma eyes me.
I nod. “Yes, Mom.” I dash to my room and grab my cream cropped leather jacket (faux, of course). I’m wearing flat ankle booties, so I look casual yet pretty.
Emma gives me two thumbs up in approval. “I love it! That green looks really pretty against your skin.”
I raise my eyebrows. “You mean my pasty winter skin begging for sunlight?”
Shrugging, Emma gives me a look that says yes, but I have no sympathy for you. Emma’s always been porcelain-skinned, paler than a ghost.
“I’ll stop begging for compliments and be on my way.” I grab my wristlet and phone and give Emma a quick hug and a mock-sophisticated peck on both cheeks. “Have a great night at work!”
Luckily, Cam has a parking garage and was willing to write me a pass to use it for the night. As that thought crosses my mind, I curse myself for not bringing a change of clothes and a toothbrush. Would that be too weird? I ask myself. Too soon, maybe? But if I spend the night, my morning breath will be atrocious. I’m already in my car, so it’s too late. Screw it, I think, and start driving.
Eight minutes later (but who’s counting?) I pull into his lot. I park and text him, letting him know to come down and get me. A few minutes later, I see him.
He spots my car, an early-2000’s Dodge, and walks over, smiling. I get out of the car, trying to act nonchalant at first, but not able to keep my cool when he envelops me in a hug.
“You smell so good!” I blurt. Smooth, Ryan.
Cam laughs. “Crazy what deodorant will do,” he jokes. He pulls back and looks at me. “You’re so pretty,” he says. I’m proud of myself for not blushing.
Pulling out a piece of paper, he hangs it on my rearview mirror. “You’re all set!” He grabs my hand. “Let’s go inside, I’m kind of cold.”
“Wimp,” I say, and gently squeeze his hand. “This is practically balmy.”
Cam lives on the third floor, in a one-bedroom like a real adult. I’m not sure how late in life men have roommates, but I don’t anticipate living alone anytime soon. I’m impressed before I even walk in the door.
But when I step past the threshold of his apartment, I gasp. I can’t help it, despite how lame I feel. Cam has set his tiny little dinner table (probably IKEA, but since I own half of last year’s catalogue, who am I to judge) and I can smell something cooking. With his hand on the small of my back, Cam leads me in.
“So I know I told you we were ordering in food because I can’t cook,” he says, “and that’s half true. I really can’t cook at all. But I tried!” He actually looks anxious, and it’s weirdly endearing. “Don’t expect too much. It’s just spaghetti. But I made the sauce from scratch instead of getting it from a jar, so this is practically gourmet…”
I laugh. “It smells amazing!”
He holds out my chair for me and everything. While he’s finishing up the food, I take a look around his apartment. It’s on the small side, but very tidy. I remember his trash heap of a house in college and can’t even believe this is the same person. Then again, we were all messier in college.
There are no candles or flowers on the table, and for some reason I’m relieved. I don’t want this to turn cheesy or cliché. He’s set the table neatly, and I have to hold back my laughter as I notice his plates.
“What?” Cam has come back, pasta in hand. He’s seen my face.
“Um,” I say. “It’s just that, you have octopus plates.”
It’s true. The plates are a classy white, but have a black octopus design. I glance over and see his looks the same. “I like them,” I clarify.
Cam sets the plate of pasta down and shakes his head sheepishly. “They’re the only matching plates I have,” he admits. “My mom got them for me.”
Laughing, I say, “Well, she’s got great taste.” He comes back with the pasta sauce, which smells amazing. My stomach gurgles audibly. “I have Lion King silverware,” I admit, trying to drown out the sound of my hungry stomach. “I’ve had them since I was a kid, and can’t seem to part ways.”
Cam sits down and looks at me, folding his hands together, elbows on the table. “I wonder if adulthood is marked by things like that,” he muses. “Not by if you pay your bills on time or if you have your own place, but if you have matching silverware and glasses that aren’t plastic tumblers with the Yankees symbol all over them.”
“The Yankees,” I snort. Actually, I’m really impressed with Cam. What he’s just said is thought-provoking. I’d never really considered that guys cared about how their apartment looks or what type of plates they own.
We’re quiet for a moment, but of course that’s interrupted by my incessant stomach. “Let’s eat,” Cam says. “You first.” He’s laughing, and I give him a mock-menacing glare as I scoop pasta onto my plate.
It’s delicious. I wish my face wasn’t so easily read, because my shock must be written all over. Cam takes this as a compliment.
We barely talk while we eat, and after a few minutes, I’m already going in for seconds. “This is really good, Cam,” I say. “Quit your job and open an Italian restaurant.”
“Yeah, a restaurant that specializes in one type of pasta,” he scoffs, but I can tell he’s pleased.
After dinner we talk a little about our week. I start to tell him about my mom’s visit. “I told her about our date, and she seems pretty open to you,” I babble. Seeing the look on his face, I freeze. “What?”
“What did you tell her?” he asks.
I choose my next words carefully. “Nothing really. Just that we’ve been talking and that we had a date today.”
Cam nods with an uh huuuuh noise.
“What?” I ask again.
He shrugs. The atmosphere has changed entirely, and it’s clear he doesn’t want to have this conversation.
“Did you not want me to tell her anything?” Still he’s quiet. “I didn’t say anything about you in college, if that’s what’s bothering you.”
He rolls his eyes. “Ryan, I thought we were over that. Do we have to keep bring it up? No, I’m not talking about when I cheated on you in college.”
I freeze. I’m mostly over that, but hearing Cam talk about it so bluntly still makes me feel hurt and uncomfortable. I look down at my hands and start chipping off my nail polish. “I know that,” I say quietly. “Then what’s wrong?”
I can hear him run his fingers through his hair. How did this night get so awkward, so quickly? “I’m just nervous, I guess. It’s kinda weird that you told your mom about us.”
“My mom and I are pretty close,” I say, confused. “And it’s not like I told her you’re my boyfriend or anything. I’m not that obsessive.”
He visibly relaxes, and I know I’ve got him. “Don’t worry. I’m taking this slow,” I reassure him. “I really like where everything is going with you, and we have so much fun together! I’m not trying to pressure you into being my boyfriend.”
“Do you see that in the future for us?” he asks. I’m a little surprised. Usually guys aren’t the ones to bring up the relationship talk, but it’s honestly a little refreshing. I hate playing games.
“Yes,” I answer truthfully. “I really do.”
As a sign of forgiveness, I go over and sit on Cam’s lap. We’re still seated at the table, so our awkward positioning makes us both laugh. I lean backwards and stretch out so he has to try harder to keep me from falling. This continues until we’re both cracking up—I even start to tear up from laughing so hard, even though the situation itself isn’t really that hysterical. We both lean in for a kiss at the same time.
At that moment I know that, despite what Emma had joked, Cinderella wouldn’t make it back home by midnight… and probably wouldn’t go home that night at all.