You can no longer deny the fact that you are the kind of person who could do something like this. That’s not the biggest surprise, though you wish it were. The biggest surprise is how easily you did it. How easy it was to meet one stranger, one cute, accessible, smart stranger and find that you had the same interests. How you were just going through the motions of your day, helping mostly incompetent people with their technology problems, and it wasn’t until you got back to your desk that you realized how cute that last guy was. Wasn’t he? You don’t look again. You go back to your work.
But then he is at your desk and you were right, he really is cute, and he’s talking about Your Favorite Author. You blush, knowing that you’re playing right in to the bookish librarian stereotype and hating yourself a little for it. You really do love this author and can’t help sharing and lighting up in a way that you don’t usually do with patrons. You’re gushing about your Favorite Author and the cute guy is saying that he’s actually from the place the author committed suicide, how it’s impossible to grow up there without experiencing some kind of fascination with the man.
He is a writer, he lives in Brooklyn, he’s visiting friends out here for the week. He asks you if you are a writer, too. Your throat catches the way it does when people ask you that question and you mutter something along the lines of “not really…used to…and now…occasionally…working on it.” He tells you the magazines and news outlets he’s written for and you feel like an idiot for answering anything other than a flat-out “no.”
It takes you a moment to realize that he’s asking you realize that he’s asking you out for coffee or a drink. You’re still thinking about how ridiculous it is to think of yourself as a writer when you haven’t completed anything in years. But now there is a question lingering between the two of you and you need to answer, although this, too, is uncharted territory. You haven’t been asked out since you got a boyfriend, which is apparently something you now have. The title has been agreed upon, anyway, but you keep waiting for it to feel different. When you were little and had a birthday your grandmother would call in the morning as ask if you felt any different. You would lie and say yes because you wished it was true. But each year it always felt like any other day.
You tell him that you would like to have coffee or a drink with him, but that you are dating Someone and just feel like you should be clear about that.
The Writer is unfazed and says he would still like to talk to you more about your mutual Favorite Author. You are relieved and embarrassed (it’s entirely possible you sounded like an arrogant jerk—who is to say that he cares about your dating life? He’s only in town for a week for fuck’s sake but, then, better to be up front about it, right?). Before you can determine exactly how embarrassed you should be, other patrons with technological ineptitude are lining up behind him and you scribble down your email address. Then you leave him standing alone at your desk so you can give a Technologically Challenged Patron a refresher course on the importance of clicking inside the search box before typing a query.
He sends you an email by the end of the day as you had hoped, and known, he would. Your certainty doesn’t come from arrogance so much as a long history of working with the public and an understanding of people and their motivations. Inaction is motivated by fear. The Writer leaves in a week. There’s nothing to fear in asking you out, nothing to lose. The bigger question, the one you avoid like the blistering cold outside, is why you go.
But you do go. The bar has overpriced beers with more ingredients in them than any food you have ever made. The bar food is not really bar food at all but an offering of delicious vegetable dishes, prepared simply. You have already eaten but when he insists you share some of his Brussels sprouts and kale, you oblige.
You sit in the dimly lit bar with The Writer, eating his vegetables and drinking mineral water while he sips beer with ginger and molasses in it. You talk about everything except the Someone you are dating. You talk about Your Favorite Author and California and the library and the kids you work with and the articles he’s working on and why he left California in the first place if he obviously loves it so much.
It has been a very long time since you closed down a bar. 5 years, 11 months, at the very least. But that’s exactly what you and The Writer do. The stories he tells make you laugh and ignore the blink blink blink lights of last call.
Outside in the cold, he tells you that he’s supposed to leave on Wednesday, two days from now, but some things–-work things–-are making him wonder if he should try to push his departure back. Basking in the glow of the evening and the dangerous, excited feeling that’s creeping into your chest, you encourage him to stay longer. “Through the weekend or whatever” you say, hoping to emanate a nonchalance you don’t feel. The friends he was staying with have gone away for the holidays and told him he’s welcome to their empty house as long as he wants.
What reason does he have to go home, really? Back to Brooklyn with all its snarky hipsters and shitty weather. You tell him that it sounds like work is much more here than there. He looks at you with eyes the color of dark chocolate and you don’t look away, even though you know that you should have looked away hours ago. He is still looking at you, and you at him, when he says, “OK. I’ll call Delta tomorrow and see what I can do.”
He walks you to your car and the spell of whatever it is breaks when he says “nice to meet you” in a way that you can only take to mean that you won’t see him again. You give him a quick, one-armed hug and tell him to let you know if he is around longer. Otherwise, you say, pulling back, it was nice to meet him, too.
You don’t look at your phone on the way home, knowing that Someone will have called or texted you goodnight many hours ago. You want to prolong this feeling–-even if it’s just for the cold, ten-minute drive home. The feeling of being Someone-less. Of being with Someone Different.
When you arrive home to a heated apartment and a dog who needs to be fed and walked, you look at your texts. There is a simple, kind message glowing on the screen: goodnight, sweet dreams. You feel guilty, though not for meeting the Writer this evening. It’s a vague, omnipresent guilt. Guilt that Someone is a Good Guy and you are not turning out to be a Good Girl. He is not demanding or overprotective, passive-aggressive or needy. In other words, he has given you nothing with which you can justify your behavior. You respond to the text, though it’s late. You echo his words exactly: “good night, sweet dreams.”
The next day, there is no email from the Writer. You pretend (to whom, you are not sure) that you are neither surprised nor disappointed.. You make a list of all the successful male writers you know and note that they are all, unequivocally, narcissistic assholes. While the jury is still technically out on this writer, you feel safer having placed him on a list of people you have officially Grown Out Of.
Still, the disappointment settles in over the course of the day, like a faint but irritating chest cold. At the end of the night, though, you receive a long email from The Writer, telling you about his day, asking about yours. The last line reads, “Meanwhile very close to extending thru weekend. Will report back tomorrow.” You shut off the computer and lie in your dark bedroom, a cocktail of giddiness and guilt swirling through your veins with exhilarating force.
A few nights later you are sitting on a couch belonging to a family you have never met and likely will never meet. They are vacationing in Hawaii for the holiday, though there is a fully decorated and lit Christmas tree in the corner of the room. The tiny colored bulbs and the glow of the paused television are the only sources of light as you and The Writer sit in this house that doesn’t belong to either of you. Children’s toys are piled haphazardly in baskets shoved against the wall. A child’s small, pink rug is positioned in front of the television and The Writer tells you this is where he would fall asleep with the dog before the family left for their vacation.
He is not on the pink rug now. He is sitting on the long, leather couch next to you. It’s one of those expensive sectional things that looks like two couches pushed together to form a half square. You sit on the side he’s not on, as though this will keep you well-behaved. Like the two sides are separated by some wall of chastity that’s impossible to cross, instead of pushed against each other so tightly that the two pieces of furniture are, for all intents and purposes, one.
You watch 10 minutes of a movie before you are talking again and all the awkwardness disappears. He tells you about the political people he’s met in Washington D.C., and even though he’s dropping names without much subtlety, you can’t help lapping it up like a star-struck teenager. You tell him that in another life, you wanted to be a political commentator–-that Washington D.C. is your Hollywood.
He tells you to do it, that you’re smart enough, and those people make a “shit-ton of money.” You try to picture what that would be like but instead all you feel is the magnitude of the difference between his life and yours. You’ve seen other people who live that life, each in their own ways, the life of Important People and Important Connections and Big Money and trying to imagine that being your life fills you with an exhaustion so palpable it makes your head spin. You start to explain that you love what you do, and then realize it doesn’t matter. You can see in his eyes the same thing you have seen in the other writers’ eyes. They think it’s cute that you love being a librarian but they don’t understand why you, with your love of the written word, aren’t trying to accomplish something more. They look at you like older women do when you mention you don’t want to have kids–-like you are simultaneously adorably naive and baffling.
So you don’t explain why you will never be one of the talking heads on CNN and instead just smile and shrug, as through the possibility of something beyond your world of teenage angst and overdue library books isn’t as far away as you have led him, or yourself, to believe.
You turn your head back to the T.V., as though you have any idea, much less interest, about what is happening on the screen. You feel The Writer’s eyes linger on you for a moment before he follows your lead and turns to face the screen again. A moment later, you feel his arm on your shoulder, his fingers on the back of your neck, running through your hair.
“Is this okay?” he whispers and even though your heart pounds and a thousand thoughts about Someone run through your head–-things you know you should say–-you nod yes. It is okay. It shouldn’t be, but it is.
The way your body tingles in response to his touch–-the immediate flush of your face and shortness of your breath –remind you of being thirteen years old at summer camp and sneaking out of your cabin to meet Andrew Sweet behind the archery range. You had never been kissed and, as you darted through the crisp summer night in the black sweatshirt and sweatpants your more-experienced-at-sneaking-out friends advised you to wear, you were sure that tonight would be the night that changed. The night you changed. You spent hours with Andrew Sweet that evening, leaning against bales of hay and looking at the stars. You talked softly and sometimes not at all and, though you were waiting for him to kiss you, when he took your hand an electric pleasure surged through your body and suddenly you didn’t need him to kiss you because everything seemed as perfect and exciting as it could possibly be.
Of course, things are far less innocent and far less perfect here on the couch that belongs to a family you will likely never meet. But you tell yourself that you are just sitting on a couch with a friend. No lines have been crossed. You continue to let The Writer brush his fingertips across the back of your neck and through your hair. You close your eyes.
“You have made this trip so much more fun,” The Writer says, scooting closer to you on the couch. You open your eyes. Why do writers always have to talk so much?
“I’m glad,” you say, eyes on the screen, and guilt bubbles up inside you, like a bottle of fizzy water that has been shaken. You take a deep breath, trying to suppress your guilt long enough to think about it before it can bubble up and over, ruining the moments of this evening that seem to be strung together perfectly like the constellations you gazed at behind the archery range. And yet here you are, opening your mouth and allowing words and air to tumble over each other as they escape from your lips.
“I’m sorry it can’t be more fun,” you say, turning to look at him, your heart pounding so relentlessly that the sound reverberates into your ears.
His hand stops moving through your hair but he doesn’t pull it back, instead letting it rest on your shoulder.
“It can’t,” he says.
You shake your head and look at him, wondering if he can see how much you don’t want to be saying this.
“I told you, I’m–”
You nod. “Yeah.”
“Someone who you’re not even sure you should bring to your Aunt’s 60th birthday,” he says. You are not surprised he brings this up. You slipped this into the conversation at dinner, telling yourself it “just slipped out,” a lie so obvious you can’t even convince yourself of it.
You nod, knowing there’s nothing worth saying. Everything that needs to be on the table is. ____ grips at your chest, knowing that you are complicit in ruining your own fantasy.
He sighs. His hand begins to move again, his fingers soft against the warm flesh on the back of your neck.
“Can I still do this?” he asks, and you hear a note of mischief in his voice. You have known enough men to know that this means he has not given up.
You smile and nod. You move closer to him on the couch. You have done the responsible thing. You know this is not entirely true, that you should not be here, on this stranger’s couch and certainly not nestled under The Writer’s arm but you are not technically breaking any rules and, given how much you want to be breaking rules, this feels like a moral success.
The moments speed up after that. The Writer is stroking your back first over your sweater and then, not long after, underneath it. It feels so good you want to burst into tears at the unfairness of it, all the while knowing that there’s nothing unfair about this at all. That you have already gotten away with more than you should have.
You start to move away from him and he pulls you back playfully, wrapping his arms around your waist. You fall back easily, either because you want to or because your legs still feel like Jell-O from his hand under your sweater. You let The Writer hold you for a minute. You refuse to look up at his face, though, knowing that doing so might provoke the kind of danger you are not strong enough to resist. Awkwardly, you roll off of the couch, ending up on the small pink rug in front of the television.
The Writer looks wounded and amused, the latter perhaps preventing his hurt from becoming a boyish pout, something you find universally unattractive. Instead, the sliver of amusement in his eye is infectious and the next thing you know, you are straddling him on the couch, holding his face in your hands.
“It’s not that I don’t want to,” you say, and the utter truth of this statement makes you ashamed and guilty and very, very frustrated.
“It’s just what?” he asks and the cocky writer half-smile is back. It’s a smile that makes your knees tingle. Though it feels painfully wrong, you slide your butt over to the couch and draw your legs in against your chest: an exponentially safer position. He shifts to face you.
It’s just what? You repeat the question to yourself. The various forms of frustration you are experiencing-sexual frustration, obviously, but also frustration at yourself for having a Someone, for being here when you have a Someone, at The Writer for walking into your life at exactly the wrong moment–-you had been Someoneless for years–-actual years–-before Someone came along a couple of months ago, are all starting to build into a what feels like a full-body ulcer, nauseating and painful. You stand up. The Writer looks startled.
“Well?” you ask him, with more sharpness in your voice than you would have liked. “What’s your deal?”
The Writer raises an eyebrow. “My deal?” he repeats, standing up to face you.
The way he mocks your colloquialisms is only half-charming. It pulls the heat out of your anger but leaves it in tact.
“Yes,” you say, not caring what he thinks about your word choice, “your deal.”
You face him in the glow of the muted television screen and watch the confidence and charm slip off of him, like a child’s cape at the end of a long Halloween night.
“You really want to know?” The Writer asks, looking somewhere over your shoulder.
You nod yes even though it is precisely the opposite of what you want. You want to rewind the evening to the part where he asked if it was okay if he stroked your hair and you said yes because it was. That is where you want the night to be and that’s where you want it to end but it’s too late. You know what’s going to come out of The Writer’s mouth before he’s even opened his lips.
Her name is Rachel and she has been the love of Your Writer’s life for the past five years. You call him this now, in your head, “Your Writer”. The fact that he’s about to explain just how far he is from Your anything makes you want to hold on to the nickname tightly. You have always been like this, a child clinging desperately to a toy she previously had little interest in simply because she was told it was time to let it go.
But he is in fact Rachel’s Writer. He’s says out here to escape her–-escape the breakup that haunted him for two months in Brooklyn before he fled out here under the guise of work. He tells you how beautiful it’s been. Staying with his old friends, the cold nights and warm days, and meeting a cute librarian who just happens to have a thing for his Favorite Author. He looks at you, the specter of a hopeful smile on his lips.
Before this moment, reality had stayed where it belonged: outside the house with the pink rug on the floor and the small Christmas tree in the corner. You weren’t stupid enough to think that you could escape it completely–- you knew whatever happened in this room would have consequences in the reality out there but it was still out there. Now, as you listen to this story that you’ve heard an infinite number of times before, reality seeps into the room and you breathe it in. It slows your pulse, brings the flush down from your cheeks, and settles into your chest, heavy and cold.
You don’t reveal any of this, of course. What would you say? You don’t even know, or want to think about, what it was you hoped for. Though it is safe to conclude that you didn’t want this. You didn’t want to be sitting in the living room of a family you will likely never meet, hearing the same story you’ve heard so many times before, nodding in the sympathetic way that you do, and suppressing every urge you have to marvel at how fits of rage, cruel outbursts, and accusations seem to make so many men become more attached to the women in their lives. A decade or so ago, you might have even admired these women for their ability to act like fucking nutjobs with so few personal consequences. Now, however, it just makes you feel old. Old and tired of the dramas people create for themselves. You wonder what kind of drama you were trying to create for yourself by coming over here.
You stand up to leave. There is Somewhere you have to go. There is Someone you have to see.
Katie MacBride is a Librarian and writer in the San Francisco/Bay Area. Her work has appeared in Whimperbang, substance.com, The Bolt Magazine, The Plum Creek Review, and The Bold Italic. Visit her website at katiemacbride.com