As promised, Larry calls me. I’d been half-hoping he wouldn’t, but that would have made me feel totally awful about myself. If a guy like Larry won’t even call me back, what does that say about me? Anyway, he called me and sounded enthusiastic, and before I could stop myself, I was agreeing to a Friday night date.
I’m embarrassed to admit I kind of put a lot of thought into what to wear for the date. The thing is, I’ve always been pretty. I don’t mean that in a stuck-up way, it’s just a fact. And at 32, I think I still look good. I don’t look old. Okay, they don’t card me at bars anymore, but I think I could easily pass for mid-twenties. But when I went to my ten year old college reunion recently, there were lots of girls there from my class who looked like they were forty. The ones with three or four kids, who’d been married since age 22. Let me tell you, if you want to stay young-looking, don’t get married and don’t have kids.
A few years ago, I might have felt smug about my wrinkled classmates, but I don’t anymore. I was one of the prettiest girls in my class and it just doesn’t make sense to me that practically everyone is married except me. I mean, there were girls that nobody would touch with a fifty foot pole and even those girls got married. I don’t get it. Seriously. People think I’m picky, but it’s not like I’ve turned down any marriage proposals.
The only thing I can think of is that I’m picking the wrong guys. I’m picking the good looking, successful guys who are commitment-phobes and jerks. I need to pick nice, boring guys. Like Larry.
So when Larry picks me up at my apartment on Friday night, I’m wearing an eye-popping, slinky red dress and red fuck me pumps. Not that I intend to let Larry fuck me tonight, but I want him to want to.
I meet Larry downstairs because he says he’s got a cab waiting. When he sees me, his eyes widen. “Wow, Tasha,” he says. “You look amazing.”
“Thank you,” I say graciously. Larry doesn’t look too bad himself and I can tell he made an effort. He’s wearing a nice green silk shirt, brown tie, and pressed slacks, as well as a dark green tie. I’m big on noticing shoes because I think they say a lot about a guy, and I can’t help but be impressed by Larry’s shoes. If I’m not mistaken, they’re Louis Vuitton and look like they cost a bundle.
Not that I’m surprised, but Larry didn’t bring anything for me. I always think it’s a nice touch when a guy shows up with a single rose or something like that. It doesn’t cost much, but it’s just a sign that he’s trying to make an effort. I told Jason this tip and he says most girls love it when he hands them the single rose.
Larry herds me into the cab, which takes us to a small Italian restaurant in the village. Like every other place in the village, it’s warm and tiny, with most tables seating only two people. Each table has a candle in the middle, which provides most of the light in the restaurant. They must save a fortune on electricity, but when I see the prices on the menu, I see they haven’t passed on any of the savings to the customers.
“Do you want to get wine for the table?” Larry asks me, when we’re seated.
“Yes, please,” I say, a little too eagerly.
When the red wine arrives, Larry and I have barely exchanged two words and I can’t gulp down my glass fast enough. “Good wine,” I comment, trying to smile.
Larry nods. “Delicious.”
“It’s, um, fruity.”
“I suppose,” Larry says, pulling on his tie to straighten it.
I fiddle with a button on my dress. At that moment, I hear my purse chirp. My cell phone. I reach into my purse and pull out my phone: it’s a message from Jason. How’s date?
Of course I told him about the date. How could I not? We have a full disclosure policy when it comes to first dates.
Usually I don’t text people at dinner, especially on a date, but I can’t help myself. I say to Larry, “Hang on, this is important.” Then I quickly text: Disaster.
A few seconds later, Jason writes back: Need call?
During dates, we provide each other with rescue calls if needed. If things are going really awful, Jason will call me with an emergency situation. Everyone does it. And god, I kind of need it right now. But something tells me to try to see this date through to the end, so I write back: Not yet.
Jason instantly replies: OK, standing by.
Of course, I can’t help but wonder what Melissa is doing while Jason is texting me. It’s Friday night, after all. Presumably they have a standing Friday night date. There’s no way he’s home alone.
“I’ve never met anyone named Tasha before,” Larry says as I stuff my phone back into my purse.
“It’s short for Natasha,” I say.
“Natasha Moran,” he muses. “That’s interesting.”
“My mother is Russian and my father is Irish,” I explain. “I know, it’s a ridiculous name.”
“It’s not ridiculous,” Larry says. “Natasha is very pretty.”
“It sounds like I’m some Russian cartoon spy or something,” I say.
Larry looks at me blankly.
“You know,” I say. “Like Boris and Natasha.” Jason laughed his ass off the first time I made that joke. But he was about ten.
Larry is still looking at me like he has no idea what I’m talking about, so I add, “From Rocky and Bullwinkle?”
“Oh, yes,” Larry says, although I’m not convinced he isn’t just pretending to know what I mean to end this painful exchange. He then adds, “I was named after my great-grandfather. He died when my mother was pregnant.”
“Oh,” I say, because what the hell else do you say to that?
Over the next hour or so, I discover that Larry doesn’t eat red meat, that he likes documentaries except ones in English (“Americans just don’t know how to make proper documentaries”), he has an appointment with a podiatrist next week for a toenail clipping, he doesn’t like mushrooms (and thus had to remove about two dozen mushrooms from his dish. Tell me, why order a dish with mushrooms if you hate mushrooms?), and his apartment probably needs to be repainted in the next year or so. I also discover that I can drink three quarters of a bottle of wine in an hour. (Actually, I already knew that. I am a woman who can hold my alcohol.)
It was a bad date. The old Tasha would have never considered going out with Larry Gold ever again. But the new Tasha (who is coincidentally the older Tasha) just blew a birthday wish saying she wanted to get married. And Larry has some redeeming qualities.
For example, I’ve been out with plenty of hot guys who wanted to split the check when we went out to eat. But when the check arrives, I make a reach for it and Larry gives me a shocked look. “Tasha,” he says, “it’s my treat, of course.”
“I could pay the tip,” I offer.
“Absolutely not,” Larry says as he plunks down his credit card.
And that bill—well, I know what our food cost and what the wine costs, and that bill was nothing to sneeze it. Larry paid it without a second thought. I guess, much like Jason, who pays bills the same way, money isn’t such a big deal to him.
Larry also hails us a cab and takes us right to my building, then lets the cab go so he can walk me to my door. Even though I tell him it’s practically impossible to find cabs in my neighborhood at night.
“I had a really good time tonight,” Larry says to me at my door. He hasn’t asked to come inside. Yet.
“Me too,” I lie, but it feels like less of a lie than it would have fifteen minutes earlier.
“Can I call you again?” he asks.
“Um, yes, of course,” I hear myself saying.
“Wonderful,” Larry says. He looks down, then back at the elevator, as if debating something. Finally, he says, “Would it be all right if I kissed you goodnight?”
I don’t think any guy in my entire life has ever asked permission to kiss me. The kind of guys I tend to date don’t ask permission. They just stick their tongue down your throat. I’m oddly touched by Larry’s consideration.
“All right,” I say.
And then Larry kisses me. On the lips. There’s no tongue, but it’s not a peck either. It doesn’t make my knees go weak, but it’s not horrible either. It’s an entirely pleasant kiss.
When our lips separate, he looks at me for a minute, then smiles and says, “It was a pleasure, Tasha.”
“Likewise,” I say, feeling a bit like a tool.
Then I go into my apartment and Larry goes home, presumably spending the better part of the next hour searching for a cab.
“See,” Jason says, “the second one really bothers me because when Biff comes back to 2015, shouldn’t he return to the new 2015, instead of the old one? I think if this movie has done one thing, it’s convince me that time travel isn’t really possible because it’s just too damn confusing.”
“None of this bothered you when you were twelve,” I say.
“When I was twelve, I thought The ‘Burbs was the greatest movie ever made,” he points out. “People grow. Mature. Realize inconsistencies in time travel movies.”
We’re sitting in Jason’s living room, roughly halfway through the Back to the Future trilogy. He’s transferred out of his wheelchair onto the couch next to me and we’re sharing a giant bag of buttered popcorn I just popped in the microwave.
“All right,” Jason says, grabbing the remote and stopping the movie. “Break time. I need to hear the, um, L.D. on last night’s date.”
Jason thinks he’s being funny. I grab a handful of popcorn and throw it at him. “Hey!” Jason cries, picking up kernels from his black leather couch. I have no idea what this couch cost, but it’s the most comfortable thing I’ve ever sat on so I think it was a bundle. “Easy on the popcorn flinging. We can have a food fight when we’re at your apartment, okay?”
“Okay,” I say. “You were right about him. He’s boring.”
“He’s a gentleman,” he says. “And that’s not such a bad thing.”
Jason nods. “He’s a good guy. I can vouch for that.”
“So I guess I’ll give him another chance.”
Jason smiles. “Good.”
“And how are things going with you and Melissa?” I can’t help but ask.
“Oh,” he says and scratches his head till his hair sticks up. “Uh, okay, I guess. More or less.”
“More or less?”
Jason gives me a half-smile. “Well, you know. Every relationship has ups and downs.”
“So this is a down?” I ask, perhaps a little bit too hopefully.
Jason studies my face. “You really don’t like Melissa, do you?”
“Hey, she’s the one who doesn’t like me,” I point out.
This is a point of contention between Jason and me. I know for a fact that Melissa hates me and Jason thinks I’m out of my mind. I have tons of evidence though. For example, last year she threw a New Year’s Eve party at her huge apartment (she’s an i-banker, like Jason) and invited practically everyone in the city. I didn’t even know about the party until Jason mentioned it casually in conversation and was shocked I wasn’t invited. He said Melissa must have just forgot, but that doesn’t explain the fact that she barely speaks to me when we’re together and once when I put on a little bit of weight, she actually had the nerve to point it out to everyone in the room. Loudly.
The thing is, I don’t know why she hates me. Melissa doesn’t seem like the kind of person who should be jealous of anyone, especially me. She’s got it over me in every way. She’s got a better job, she’s got tons more money, she’s skinnier, and she’s actually very pretty. Really, if anything, I should be jealous of her. The only thing I can think of is that she’s jealous of my relationship with Jason, but that’s totally crazy because we are completely platonic friends. Nothing has ever even remotely happened between the two of us and it never will.
I get worried though, because if things go to the next level between Melissa and Jason, which is beginning to seem inevitable, I think she’ll try to end our friendship. And I do rely on Jason a lot. He’s the closest friend I’ve got by a mile. I can’t stand the idea of losing him.
“Melissa likes you,” Jason insists. “Why are you so paranoid?”
“Please,” I say.
“You know what we should do?” Jason says. “We should double date. Me and Melissa, and you and Larry. I always just felt like you need to spend more time with Melissa to get to know her better.”
“Hmm,” I say.
“Come on, Tasha,” he says. “You’re my best friend and it kills me that you don’t get along with my girlfriend. It’s important to me.”
I hear myself agreeing to his request, because it’s honestly very hard to say no to anything Jason asks of me. Even though I know this is going to be one of the most painful dinners on record.
Before you think I’m some kind of evil person trying to wreck all of Jason’s relationships, let me assure you that I’ve actually made an effort in the past to get him to hook up.
I know Jason dated some girls in college, but when we first reconnected in the city, he was very single. He also seemed to have zero interest in dating, which seemed crazy for a virile young 25 year old banker. He might have been a paraplegic, but he was also pretty good looking. I had to believe that some girl would fall in love with those green eyes. But he said that his work kept him way too busy, which I guess was true to some extent. He worked pretty much 16 hour days or longer, and often both days of the weekend.
“Aren’t you horny?” I asked him. I still wasn’t entirely sure what sort of action Jason had going on below the belt, but I was pretty there was something going on. After all, he kept those Playboys around for some purpose.
“It’s not like going without food,” Jason replied, despite the fact that sometimes it seemed like he was going without food a lot of days too. And sleep.
I was on a personal mission to sleep with every guy in the city (or at least every musician) so it seemed criminal to me that Jason obviously hadn’t had sex in probably over a year. “I’m going to hook you up,” I said.
“Uh, that’s okay,” Jason said.
“I want to,” I insisted. “Tell me what your type is.” I really had no idea, since Jason had never expressed any interest in any girl in high school and I’d never met any of his college girlfriends.
“I don’t think I have a type,” he said, which I never really believed to be true, although I’ve admittedly never figured out what his type is.
Somehow I zeroed in on my roommate Alyssa. Alyssa was also a waitress, which is how I met her, when we were briefly working at the same restaurant and hit it off. She was trying to make a go of it as an actress, thinking maybe the competition would be less in New York than in LA. Alyssa loved to act, but I never had the heart to tell her that she probably wasn’t pretty enough to be an actress. Actually, Alyssa and I lost touch and I have no idea what happened to her acting dream, but I’m fairly sure she hasn’t made it big or anything. I mean, you haven’t seen any movies or TV shows with an Alyssa Robertson in it, have you?
Anyway, while Alyssa and I were watching Frasier reruns one night, I said to her, “You’re not seeing anyone, are you?”
I was pretty sure she wasn’t. Alyssa’s love life was usually about as dire as Jason’s.
“No,” she said, munching on one of the granola bars that she seemed to eat about a dozen of per day. “Why?”
“Would you go out a friend of mine?”
“His name is Jason.”
Alyssa swallowed some granola. “The guy in the wheelchair? Nuh uh.”
“What? He’s cute.”
“I’m not going out with any disabled guys,” Alyssa said, crinkling her nose. “Christ.”
Alyssa shook her head. “If he’s so great, why don’t you go out with him, Tasha?”
Alyssa’s reaction was typical of what I got from all the rest of my friends. There were even a few girls who I knew for a fact were not very discerning and even they said no. I didn’t get it, except maybe they equated his disability with being mentally challenged. Which was ridiculous, since Jason was one of the smartest guys I knew.
A few weeks later, I was at dinner with Jason and he casually asked, “So how’s the hunt to set me up going?”
And I burst into tears.
Jason was shocked. He rubbed my shoulder while I sobbed, “I’m sorry, Jason. I can’t… nobody will…”
“Hey,” he said. “Tasha, it’s okay. Geez, I didn’t expect you to set me up. I can get my own dates.”
I looked at him skeptically.
“I can,” he insisted. “Really.”
The truth was, I didn’t believe him. I thought Jason was destined to always be alone because no girl could look beyond his disability, realize how awesome he was, and fall madly in love with him.
Even, I guess, me.
But anyway, Jason did manage to prove me wrong. About six months later, he started dating some girl named Rachel. A librarian. The Rachel relationship seemed a little rocky from the start though and they broke up a few months later. Then there was Carol. And Ann. And Yvette, the masseuse.
Prior to Melissa, Jason’s longest relationship was with a girl named Danielle. I know you’re going to say it’s a pattern, but I almost immediately despised Danielle. There were a few reasons for that, all of which I think were very good reasons. Danielle wasn’t terribly pretty, but there was something kind of perfect about her. She had this perfect straight blond hair, perfect straight white teeth (caps?), a perfect straight nose (rhinoplasty, I’m pretty sure), and perfect pert boobs (boob job, I’m positive).
Jason, while an amazing person, is not perfect. That kind of goes without saying. I think she liked him because he had a great job and made a lot of money, and was very generous, but I don’t think she liked him very much. And that’s why I grew to hate her. I think the first time I really disliked Danielle was when we took a drive down to Coney Island together: her, Jason, me, and my current boyfriend, this Latin type named Mario who was a model/waiter. Jason wanted to stick to the boardwalk, but Danielle was really adamant about wanting to get a great tan. I could see Jason struggling to wheel in the sand, and she just didn’t give a shit.
When we finally reached a location on the beach that was acceptable to Danielle, she quickly stripped down to her bikini. I have to admit that Danielle had a fantastic body, between the silicon boobs, eating only carrots, and the gym work that left her without an ounce of cellulite. Then again, I have a great body too even more so back then, and I think my red string bikini gave Danielle’s a run for her money.
Mario probably was the winner between the three of us though. When he pulled off his T-shirt, Danielle’s jaw dropped when she saw his bronze Latin body, with the six-pack, the bulging biceps, and the snake tattoos. Yes, my boyfriend was mega hot. You can still see that incredible body in magazine ads.
Then Jason took his shirt off, which, you know, was a perfectly natural thing to do at the beach and all. But the timing just kind of sucked because Mario had just taken his shirt off and Jason kind of paled in comparison. He paled a lot, actually, both literally and figuratively. Obviously, Jason spent nowhere near as much time with his shirt off as Mario did and didn’t have the advantage of a naturally dark skin tone, so his skin was very white. I’d seen Jason with his shirt off several times so I knew what to expect, and he’d also told me that due to the level of his injury, he had no muscles from about mid-chest down. That’s why he needed a wheelchair with a bit more back support. Anyway, as a result, he had what I guess looked like a beer gut bulging out (despite not being a particularly heavy drinker).
Jason’s chest wasn’t anything that would cause you to want to lose your lunch or anything. I mean, looking around the beach, there were plenty of not so attractive people out there with huge guts and cellulite and whatever. But like I said, Mario had just taken off his shirt.
“Please, honey,” Danielle said to Jason, shaking her head at him. “Put your shirt back on. Nobody wants to see that.”
And I could see Jason’s pale skin turn bright red as he quickly obliged and threw his shirt back on over his head.
And then when Danielle and I were alone together later, buying ourselves some low fat frozen yogurt, she made a comment to me, “Honestly, sometimes I’m not even sure it’s worth it. He does give excellent oral sex though. Best I’ve ever had.”
To top it off, Danielle spent the rest of the day flirting shamelessly with Mario. I’m still not entirely sure if the two of them ended up hooking up. It wouldn’t surprise me.
But what really made me hate Danielle, what really made me despise her with every bone in my body was this:
I was having dinner with Jason, Danielle, and yet another of my boyfriends. (God, I had a lot of boyfriends back then. What a slut I was.) Anyway, the restaurant, chosen by Danielle, had two steps to get inside. Jason can manage two steps, but it took him a bit of effort and he wasn’t terribly happy about it, I could tell. And then when we got seated at our table, Danielle said, “Won’t it be nice when you won’t have to worry about stairs anymore?”
I looked at Jason, who was shaking his head like this was something he really, really didn’t want to talk about. But curiosity got the better of me. “What do you mean?” I asked her.
Danielle brightened. “Well, there’s this new experimental treatment that Jason’s going to try. It’s in very early stages, but the success rate’s been really good and they’ve been able to get a lot of paraplegics walking again. I pulled some strings and Jason’s been enrolled in the study.”
I looked at him in shock. I couldn’t even imagine Jason not being in a wheelchair.
“I’m not doing it, Danielle,” he said tightly.
My boyfriend, Rob, spoke up, “What are you—nuts? Wouldn’t you want to walk again?”
“Exactly!” Danielle said triumphantly.
Jason’s green eyes met mine. “This study is time consuming and… and painful. And the success they’ve had is with people who have been injured less than six months. I was injured over twenty years ago.”
“That doesn’t mean they won’t have success with you,” Danielle said.
“Didn’t your read the information they gave us?” Jason said. “It said some of the subjects, especially the ones with older injuries, were left with chronic pain.”
“There are always risks,” Danielle snapped. “Isn’t it worth it? For the chance to walk again?”
“No,” Jason said. “It’s not.”
Danielle later laid down an ultimatum for him: either he enrolled in the study or they broke up. Since they’re not together now, you can guess what Jason’s choice was. When we talked about it, he said that he couldn’t be with a woman who wouldn’t accept that he was disabled. He’d been in a wheelchair practically his whole life, after all, and he was totally comfortable with it. He didn’t feel like it was something about him that needed to be changed.
So I guess in that sense, Melissa is a huge improvement over previous girlfriends. As far as I can tell, she actually really likes him and has no issues with him being in a wheelchair. She’s as big a financial success as he is, so she’s obviously not using him for his money. She’s actually, in many ways, the perfect girl for him. The only problem with her is that she doesn’t seem to like me. But I’m not going to make a big thing about it, because Jason’s had so much bad luck that I’d never begrudge him a great girl.
So I guess we’re going to have a double date.
To be continued....