I think the world is made up of two kinds of people: those who prefer McDonald’s and those who prefer Burger King. I prefer McDonald’s and Will prefers Burger King. It’s amazing we can even speak to each other.
He persuaded me to go to BK tonight, mostly because last time we did McDonald’s. Not that I hate BK or anything, but it’s not my favorite. “I don’t like the fries here,” I say as I look down at my tray containing a cheeseburger and small order of fries. I also got a Diet Coke, as if that makes this ridiculously calorie-laden tray any better.
“McDonald’s fries are really good,” Will admits, holding up a fry thoughtfully. He’s still wearing his nice clothes from work and he looks a bit out of place at a fast food joint with his suit and tie. “But Burger King has better apple pies.”
“You’ve got to be kidding me.” Will shakes his head. “McDonald’s apple pie isn’t even a real pie. It’s not even pie shaped!”
“Yes, but it has cinnamon.”
“So that’s all it takes? Cinnamon?”
“Proper seasoning is important,” I say. “Burger King’s pies are bland.”
“Whatever,” Will snorts. “Well, the burgers at Burger King are better, at least. You have to at least concede that.”
“I actually prefer the McDonald’s burgers.”
Will gasps. “I can’t believe you just said that.”
I shrug. “It’s true.”
“McDonald’s burgers have like no meat in them,” Will points out. “In fact, I think the McDonald’s corporation just finished serving their first full cow.”
Will grins. “It’s true. He was just a baby too. His name was McDonald.”
I throw a french fry at Will. It lands on his shirt and he stares at me in shock. “Did you just throw a fry at me? Are you ten years old?”
“Um,” I say.
Will picks up a fry from his own tray and flicks it in my direction. It hits me in the face. I pick up another fry and this one only clips his shoulder. His second fry lands in my hair and as I pull it out, I see red. “Hey, that one had ketchup!” I cry. “No fair!”
I pick up another fry and this one hits Will’s collar and bounces right down his shirt. “Hey!” he yells. He undoes the top button on his collar and peers into his shirt. I can see his chest hair peeking out and it’s strangely sexy. I watch him, suddenly hoping he’ll undo another button...
I look up and my stomach sinks. It’s my damn boss. What the hell is he doing in Burger King? Is he following me or something?
“Hello, Mr. Peterson,” I say, plastering a smile on my face.
The lights of the restaurant are reflecting really strongly off my boss’s bald head and it’s almost blinding. He’s looking at me funny, maybe because I look a little different than when I go to work. I’m wearing my glasses and I’ve got my hair up in a spider clip. And most of my make-up from the day has rubbed off.
Will has retrieved the French fry by pulling his shirt out from his belt. He looks up at Harvey and to my surprise, I see recognition on my boss’s face.
“William!” Harvey exclaims. “How are you?”
“I’m fine, Harvey,” Will says, somewhat warily.
“What are you doing here with my Libby?” Harvey asks. He chuckles. “Not looking to steal her from me, are you?”
What the fuck? Does he think I’m having a job interview at freaking Burger King?
“No, I’ve got an assistant already,” Will says.
Harvey looks at us for a minute, then a smile dawns on his face. “Oh! Are you two a… couple?”
“No, we’re not,” I say quickly. I can’t even imagine the kind of comments Harvey would make if he thought I was dating Will. “We’re friends. Just friends.”
“Got it, Libby,” Harvey says, winking at me. God, I hate him. If I hear any jokes about sex with a guy in a wheelchair, I swear I’ll quit. “Well, it was good seeing you again, William. And I’ll see you at work tomorrow, Libby.”
I can’t even bring myself to move until Harvey has gone out the door. When he’s finally left, I raise my eyes to meet Will’s. “What a douchebag,” Will says.
I manage a smile—Will always knows what to say. “How do you know him?”
“Helped him out with a few contracts maybe a year ago,” Will says. “Not worth the money, that’s for sure. Went crazy over every little detail. He’s such an arrogant asshole.”
I hide my reaction best I can, because I actually remember this from a year ago. I remember him talking on the phone, going on and on about some crippled lawyer who was such a genius. Made some unfortunate comments about how he’d been worried the lawyer’s brain wouldn’t work any better than his legs.
“So,” Will says casually, “I guess the thought of you and me being involved is pretty horrifying.”
At first I don’t even know what he’s talking about. But then I remember my reaction when Harvey assumed Will and I were together. “I didn’t mean it that way,” I mumble.
“Hmm,” he says. He’s not showing it, but I can tell he’s a little bit hurt.
“Look,” I say. “We’re not involved. And anyway, you don’t know what he’s like. He’s so goddamn nosy about my personal life. If he thought we were together, he’d… he’d ask me… well…”
“If we ever had sex in my wheelchair?”
I look up sharply and see that Will is smiling crookedly. He’s joking around. Obviously. But now I’m suddenly picturing climbing into Will’s lap and straddling him in his chair. I imagine him sliding his hands up my thighs, lifting my skirt…
“Something like that,” I say. Thank god he doesn’t know what I’m thinking.
To my relief, Will laughs. “I’m sorry your boss is such a douchebag, Libby.”
“Yeah,” I say breathlessly. “Me too.”
It’s my birthday today. I am thirty years old.
It was inevitable that this would happen. Everyone turns thirty eventually. But every time I think about it, I feel a little sick. It’s the end of my twenties. I should be married by now or at least in a steady relationship. I should have a decent job rather than just being, let’s face it, a secretary. I am not even close to what I wanted to be at age thirty. This is the most depressing birthday ever.
At least I’m not entirely alone on my birthday. I have Jude. “How old are you
going to be?” he asked last week.
Okay, sue me. I shaved off three years. But 27 just seems so much nicer than 30. It’s better if Jude thinks I’m still in my twenties. If he’s a man who’s intimidated by commitment, he’s going to realize how important this birthday is and would probably be sent off running in the opposite direction.
Jude has big plans for tonight. He’s going to surprise me by taking me to some ridiculously expensive restaurant tonight and he mumbled something about purchasing special oils for our after dinner activities. I’m cautiously optimistic that tonight won’t be awful. Maybe an evening of pleasure will help me forget that oh my god, I’m thirty now.
Prior to dinner, we’re meeting up with Will for a drink at a bar near where they work. When I show up, Will is already waiting at a table. He’s still wearing his work clothes, but he’s slightly loosened the tie around his neck. When he sees me, he waves enthusiastically.
“You’re on time,” I note.
“I’m always on time,” Will says.
Actually, it’s true. Will is almost always on time. Jude’s the one who’s 20-30 minutes late as a general rule.
He’s already got a beer and he takes a long drink. “You look great, Libby,” he says.
I smile. Once again, I’ve purchased a new dress for tonight, a green number with thin fabric that is much too short. “Do you think Jude will like the dress?”
Will shrugs. “Why wouldn’t he?”
I’m not about to start telling Will all the relationship issues that Jude and I have been having lately. I’d prefer to play the part of the happy girlfriend.
“Let me buy you a drink,” Will says. “For the birthday girl.”
I laugh. “You make it sound like I’m five.”
“If you were five, I probably wouldn’t be buying you a drink.”
I really want to get a beer like Will has, but I know Jude hates the taste of beer and he always makes a face when he kisses me after I’ve had a beer. So I order a kahlua and cream instead.
“You look completely miserable, Libby,” Will comments when the drink arrives.
I stir it, take a sip, and decide it doesn’t have nearly enough alcohol. “It’s kind of a… big birthday.” Although I couldn’t tell Jude, I figure my secret is safe with Will. “I’m turning thirty.”
Will smirks. “Are you aware that Jude is under the impression that you’re 27?”
“I don’t know where he’d get that idea,” I say innocently. Then I shoot Will a look. “Don’t you dare tell him.”
He starts laughing. “Oh, come on, it’s not that bad. You’re younger than I am. Or Jude.”
“So how old are you?”
“I’m 33,” he says. “Jude is 34. So really, you’re just a baby. When I was in third grade, doing the multiplication tables and cursive, you were just a kindergartener eating paste.”
“I never ate paste!” I harrumph.
“You think I don’t know a paste-eater when I see one?” Will grins.
I laugh and take another sip of my drink, trying not to glance at my watch. Jude is now 15 minutes late.
“So, listen,” Will says. “I got you a present.”
I raise my eyebrows. “Proceed…”
“It’s kind of dorky.”
“I love dorky.”
“All right,” he says, smiling. “Well, I remembered you told me that when you were a kid, that Wonder Woman was your favorite comic. That you got all the comics you could find. And then your mom dumped them all when you went to college and you were super pissed off.”
“Right…” I’m intrigued. This doesn’t sound like the usual box of Godiva chocolates.
“So I got you the very first issue,” he says. “Found it in good condition. From eBay.”
I stare at him. “Are you fucking kidding me?”
He looks very pleased with himself. “You’re happy?”
“That’s incredible, Will.” I feel tears rising to my eyes. “That’s so thoughtful. Really. Thank you.”
“Don’t cry,” he says quickly. “It’s not a big deal. Anyway, I don’t even have it with me to, like, present to you. It’s back at my apartment. I didn’t want you to have to carry it around during your romantic dinner with Jude.”
I’m really worried I’m going to start crying now. First, this present must have cost him a fortune. Second, he actually put thought into it. It’s not a gift certificates, chocolates, or some book I’ll never read. I suddenly realize what good friends Will and I have become in the last several months. Believe it or not, I think he might have replaced Mia as my best friend. After all, she got me a sweater for my birthday. And it was ugly.
“Libby?” There’s a crease between his brows.
“I’m okay,” I say quickly. I try to think of things that will keep me from crying. Laundry, I’ll think of doing laundry. Nothing tear-provoking about that.
“I just wanted to get you something you’d really love,” he says.
I’m staring at him when my phone starts ringing. I check the number and it’s Jude, who’s now terribly late. I always hate when he’s late, but I am especially annoyed about it tonight. I mean, it’s my birthday, for god’s sake.
“Darling,” Jude says when I pick up the phone. “I’m so sorry.”
“Right,” I say. “So are you on your way?”
“That’s the thing, love,” Jude says. “I’ve got a big deadline tomorrow and I was so hoping I’d get through this pile of paperwork, but it doesn’t look like it’s going to happen. Can we do the dinner tomorrow instead?”
My jaw drops open. I’m stunned. Jude isn’t the most reliable person, but I didn’t expect him to cancel on me tonight. “But… it’s my birthday…”
“I know, and I’m so sorry,” Jude says. “I wanted to make this night special for you, love, I really did. But the boss came in here two hours ago and I just can’t get out of it. This is my job.”
All I can manage is, “But it’s my birthday…”
Will has apparently gotten the gist of what Jude’s saying to me. He reaches across the table and grabs the phone out of my hand. “Get over here, fucker. It’s her fucking birthday.” He pauses. “That’s bullshit, Jude, that case is… no, Liebermann is not going to… fine. Fine, yeah, okay.”
He hands the phone back to me, not looking any happier. “Darling,” Jude says. “Will said he’d take you to dinner, my treat. And then tomorrow I’ll take you out for a proper birthday dinner. All right?”
Did I have a choice? “Fine.”
I’m fuming when I hang up the phone. I really wish I could slam down the phone, but you just can’t do that with a cell phone. It’s quite frustrating. The best you can do is click “END” very angrily.
“We’ll have fun,” Will says. “I promise.”
He’s right. The truth is, I’ll probably have more fun kicking back with Will than I’d have going to some snooty restaurant with Jude. But that’s not the point. Will’s not my boyfriend, Jude is.
“So where do you want to go to dinner?” he asks. “I’ll take you anywhere you want.”
A waitress walks by with a plate of Buffalo wings and my mouth starts to water. “Actually, maybe we just can stay here.”
Will grins. “Now you’re talking. Buffalo wings, right?”
“God, yes,” I say, feeling my anger start to fade. Good food always helps. “You know, when I was a kid, I honestly thought Buffalo wings came from a buffalo. I thought when you cut them open, they were packed with hundreds of tiny little wings.”
“Sort of like a pomegranate,” Will says.
“What’s a pomegranate?”
Will gasps in mock horror. “Are you serious? You don’t know what a pomegranate is?”
“How could you possibly go through thirty years of life without knowing that?” He shakes his head. “They’re these red fruits and when you peel off the skin, there are dozens of little red seeds inside that are covered in juice. According to Greek mythology, the reason we have seasons is because when Persephone kidnapped by the god of the underworld Hades, she ate 6 pomegranate seeds, so she had to live in the underworld for six months of the year, which is winter time.”
“Wow,” I say.
I smile. “I just… never knew you were gay.” Will’s eyes widen. “It’s quite a revelation. No wonder you don’t have a girlfriend.”
He sticks out his tongue at me. “Shut-up, Libby.”
“Hey, there’s nothing wrong with it. I hope you and your boyfriend the pomegranate seeds will be very happy.”
“Okay, that does it,” Will says. And before I realize what he’s about to do, he wheels around the side of the table and starts tickling me. For a split second, I’m shocked. I can’t remember the last time someone has deliberately started tickling me. But then before I can think it through any further, I’m giggling uncontrollably. I grab Will’s biceps, “Stop! Have mercy! Please!”
He pulls his hands away but I’m still holding onto his arm. I can’t seem to let go. Will’s biceps are absolutely amazing. They’re so incredibly taut. Not that Jude is in bad shape (he’s actually in great shape), but Will’s got much better biceps.
Our eyes meet for a second and I swallow hard. What in hell is going on here? Why is Will looking at me that way? And moreover, why is my heart fluttering in my chest? This is… I guess “intense” is the best word for it. I can’t tear my eyes away from Will, and for a second, I’m scared he’s going to kiss me. And then a second later, I want with every fiber of my being for him to kiss me.
What is wrong with me? This is Will, for christ’s sake. I can’t be thinking these thoughts about him. I’m dating his roommate. It’s just wrong, that’s all. I need to kill this moment. I need to kill it right now. Kill it dead.
“I wish Jude were here,” I say.
Will stares at me. “Oh,” he says.
“Not that I’m not having fun with you,” I add.
“Yeah, I understand,” he says quietly. “Jude is your boyfriend.”
“Right.” I grab a menu off the table. “Um, would you like to order?”
Twenty minutes later, the table is filled with the greasiest crap that the kitchen has to order. We’ve got our Buffalo wings, we’ve got curly fries, we’ve got onion rings, and we’ve got cheeseburger sliders. I don’t want to talk about how it happened, but another twenty minutes later, all the food is gone.
“Oh god,” I say. “I’m going to explode. I’m literally going to explode.”
“I know,” Will groans.
I groan too. If I had a belt to loosen, I would be loosening it now. Will is rubbing his face, looking kind of flushed. He opens the top button on his shirt and undoes his tie completely. Once again, I see the slightest bit of dark chest hair peeking out of the collar of his shirt.
“By the way,” I say. “Did anything ever happen with Diane that other night?”
Will stares at me blankly. “Diane?”
“You know,” I say. “The one who you were playing pool with and was blatantly hitting on you.”
“Oh.” Will laughs. “Not really, I guess. She mentioned something about us going out, but I guess I never ended up calling her.”
“Why not?” I ask. “She was… pretty.”
He shrugs. “I don’t know. I wasn’t really that interested. She’s a little bit… much for me. Too intense.”
“I feel like I can’t relax around her,” he explains. “I can’t just be myself. Let me put it this way: I don’t think I could sit at a bar with her and eat a giant plate of Buffalo wings. I feel like I need to… I don’t know, sit up straight and suck in my gut.”
I immediately feel compelled to check out Will’s gut. He has… well, maybe a teeny one. Not too bad though. “So that’s your dream relationship? Sitting in a bar, eating fattening foods?”
Will grins. “I don’t know. Maybe.”
I frown at him. “How are things going with that other woman you like at work? Any progress?”
“Not really,” he says. And I can’t help but feel relieved.
“Do you still like her?”
“Yeah,” he says. “I do. I really, really do.”
“Still think she’s the one?” I tease him.
He shakes his head. “No, I don’t. Actually, I think I’m an idiot for wasting any more time thinking about her. She’s never going to be interested, it’s pretty obvious.”
“I told you, she’s in love with someone else,” he sighs, taking a swig of beer. “Anyway, I should probably just move on.”
“You should,” I say.
“Except I can’t.” He looks miserable. I remember what Diane said about how there was no girl at work that he’s in love with, but she’s obviously wrong. There’s no way he’s making this up. “I love her too much. She’s become pretty much the most important person in my life. I can’t even imagine falling for another girl right now. She’s the most incredible person I ever met. I love everything about her, even the things that aren’t perfect… especially the things that aren’t perfect. And when I think about her, nobody else seems to matter at all.”
I can’t help but feel insulted. I didn’t realize Will had such a strong relationship with this other woman. I know I haven’t spent every second with him, but how could I not even know this person who means so much to him? And how could he say that nobody else matters? “Even me?” I ask. I try to make it come out jokingly, but I fail.
Will gives me a strange look.
“What is it?” I ask.
“Libby…” He lowers his eyes and looks down at his beer. He picks up the bottle and swirls around the liquid. “Look, I don’t want to talk about this anymore. Do you want to play darts?”
So yes, darts. We play a few games and Will kicks my ass, even though he tends to aim a bit too low. (Will: “The dart went low again. Surprise, surprise.”) We also downed another two beers apiece. As we’re finishing up the third game, the song “Tik Tok” by Ke$ha comes on the radio. I absolutely love this song, even though I also sort of hate it. I mean, it’s an awful song. Ke$ha has this annoying Valley girl type of accent that annoys the shit out of me, plus I am baffled as to why she puts up Mick Jagger as the gold standard of men? But even so, I can’t help but love this song. Every time I hear it, I absolutely have to dance. It’s like I can’t stop my little white girl booty from shaking.
“I’m sorry,” I say to Will. “I have to dance to this song.”
He shrugs. “I have to warn you, the second you start dancing, that guy to your far left is going to get up and join you.”
“What?” I laugh.
“The guy with blond hair and the Fallout Boy T-shirt,” he says. “He’s been eying you for like the last half hour.”
“Ugh,” I say.
“Well, maybe you should dance with me then,” I suggest. “Stave off Fallout Boy.”
Will shakes his head.
“Come on,” I say, holding out my hand to him, giggling a little. I’m kind of buzzed. “Dance with me.”
Our hands make contact. His palm feels so warm and rough and comforting. He hasn’t locked the wheels of his chair and he gets dragged closer to me. “I can’t dance to Ke$ha,” he says. “I’m too old. And I’ll feel like an idiot.”
“No, you won’t,” I say. “Come on. For me.”
He just stares at me and keeps holding my hand as Ke$ha plays in the background. The bass is really strong and I can feel it vibrating through my entire body. It almost feels like my heart is pounding in my chest as I stare back at Will. God, he’s very cute. And the way he looks at me, it makes me feel…. I don’t know…
All at once, I feel the alcohol I drank start to hit me. My legs wobble a bit and Will tightens his grip on my hand. “Hey,” he says. “You okay?”
I answer him by practically falling on the floor. Miraculously, he grabs me before I fall and lifts me onto his lap. I lean against his solid chest as he wheels us away from the dart board and toward one of the tables. “Why don’t you sit down?” he says. “I’ll get you a coffee.”
I feel intensely aware of how close my body is to Will’s. I’m on his lap and he’s got one arm around me. And all I can think about his how nice this feels and how I don’t really want to get up. His chest is so nice. It’s so… masculine. The stubble on his chin grazes my shoulder and my whole body tingles. “I’m already sitting,” I say coyly. “Why can’t I stay here?”
There’s a long awkward silence. “You’re drunk,” Will says finally. “Get in a chair and I’ll bring you a coffee.”
I scramble off his lap, feeling suddenly embarrassed. I am truly making an idiot out of myself. Will is in love with some other girl and I’m dating his best friend, yet I’m inexplicably hitting on him. I want to crawl under the table. God, I hope he doesn’t tell Jude.
About two hours later, three coffees, and two trips to pee later, I am feel fairly sober again. Will has been sitting with me the whole time, entertaining me with stories about his work. Who knew law could be so funny?
“Thanks for staying with me,” I say to him.
“Of course,” Will says. “What was I going to do? Run out on you when you’re trashed?”
I lower my eyes. “I’m… really sorry for the way I acted earlier. I wasn’t…. I mean, I didn’t mean to act like…”
“I know,” he says quickly. “You were drunk.”
“Right,” I say. Although I’m not sure how drunk I really was. I was thinking pretty clearly, to be honest. But he doesn’t need to know that. “I would never think that you and I… you know…”
“Of course,” Will says abruptly.
I can tell he doesn’t want to talk about it anymore, so I keep my mouth shut. I know he’s not going to tell Jude, thank god. Anyway, nothing happened. I just acted like an idiot and Will gently rejected me.
Will yawns and rubs his eyes. “Tired?” I asked.
“Hell, no,” he says with a weary look. “It’s only two in the morning. The night’s just beginning, right?”
I laugh. “All right, let’s go.” I hesitate. “Will, I was just wondering if I could come over to your place. I’d really like to see Jude. And I don’t think I want to be alone on the night of my birthday.”
He nods. “Yeah, I think that’s a reasonable birthday wish.”
We hail a cab and Will nearly falls asleep during the ride back to the apartment. Damn, he’s really tired. And he probably has to be at work at like six in the morning tomorrow. I feel awful I made him spend the whole night entertaining me. “Thanks for tonight,” I say to him.
Will flashes me a sleepy smile.
I figure I’ll tiptoe into Jude bedroom and cuddle up next to him, so he’ll have a surprise when he wakes up the next morning. I only sleep in Jude’s bed maybe once a week, but I love sleeping with another person. I always feel lonely when I’m all alone in bed.
Will unlocks the door to the apartment and wheels himself inside. But as soon as we get into the foyer, his face goes deathly pale. Suddenly, he seems wide awake. “Libby,” he says in an urgent voice. “I… I left something in the bar. Do you think we could go back?”
“What did you leave?” I ask him.
“I…” Will is just staring at me. And that’s when I hear it: a giggle. A female giggle.
No, this can’t be happening. My boyfriend did not just blow me off on my birthday in order to spend the night with another woman. That doesn’t happen to real people. Nobody would be such an awful person. I must be imagining this.
But then I hear it again. Now it’s an outright laugh. And there’s no doubt there’s a woman in Jude’s bedroom.
“Libby,” Will murmurs as I stride toward the bedroom door. “Maybe you shouldn’t…”
But there’s no way I’m not opening this door. I grab the doorknob and yank it open so roughly that the hinges creak threateningly.
At least they’re not having sex. But they’re in bed and it’s no question what’s going on here. Jude’s naked, for one thing. And so is she. And he’s kissing her neck. So yeah, this is definitely not, like, an innocent legal work session or something.
“Libby,” Jude gasps.
“Fuck you,” I say, my eyes filling with tears.
He leaps out of bed, still completely naked. I can’t even look at him. The whole thing is too horrible. I want to leave, but my legs feel frozen. My eyes fall on the girl, who looks embarrassed but not terribly upset by the whole thing. Also, she looks young. “I didn’t know Will was going to bring you here,” he says.
“Yes, because this is obviously Will’s fault.”
“I’m sorry, darling.” He reaches for my shoulder.
His touch, instead of making me tingle like usual, sets off waves of revulsion. I jump away from him, no longer frozen. “Don’t touch me,” I snap. I grab my purse from the kitchen counter. “I’m leaving. Goodbye.”
“Libby…” Jude grabs a towel and wraps it quickly around his waist as he tries to run after me. But it’s pretty clear he’s not getting too far wearing just a towel. Really, it’s a pretty half-hearted attempt. He’s not actually going to chase me.
I yank open the door to the apartment and slam it roughly behind me. As I storm down the hallway, I can hear Will yelling at Jude: “…on her fucking birthday, you asshole! You’re such a goddamn…”
And that’s all I can make out. I wait for the elevator, my eyes welling up with tears. By the time, I get on board, I’m outright sobbing. Luckily, it’s so late, nobody’s around to see it.
To be continued....