Larry and I have a standing date on Saturday nights, but that still leaves Sunday night free for Jason and me to hang out. When I meet him at the usual place (the diner) on Sunday, I can’t help but wonder if Melissa wanted to spend the evening with him. Maybe I’m monopolizing too much of his time.
I beat Jason to the restaurant and I find us a table. While I’m waiting, I notice a few tables away, there’s a boy maybe eleven or twelve years old in a power wheelchair with his family. He’s got splints on his hands and he looks like he’s eating his meal with a lot of difficulty. As I watch, another little kid of about five with his mom starts gawking at the older boy in the wheelchair. He loudly asks his mother, “What’s wrong with him?”
The mother apologetically hustles her little son out of the restaurant, but I can see how embarrassed the older boy is. His cheeks turn pink and he looks like he’s going to burst into tears. “Mom,” I hear him say, “can’t we just go?”
Somehow I’m reminded of Jason when he was younger. He was pretty well adjusted, but there were times when we were out in public and I could see him getting flustered over things, especially when people stared at him. Kids just want to blend in, I guess.
At that moment, Jason wheels in. Even though it’s Sunday, he’s dressed up formally enough that I could tell he was at work until now, although his shirt is un-ironed and he’s not wearing a tie or anything. As he waves to me, the boy in the power wheelchair stares at him. Jason, who’s usually pretty good at ignoring stares, notices the boy looking at him. He makes eye contact, and to my surprise, wheels over to the other table. “Hey,” he says to the boy. “I like your wheelchair. It’s really cool.”
The boy blushes. “Thanks. I like yours too.”
I listen in fascination as Jason and the boy (who is named Andrew, I discover) have an animated conversation about wheelchairs that lasts a good five minutes. To hear Jason talk about it, it really sounds like being in a wheelchair is the coolest thing in the world. At one point, I see him doing a wheelie. When Jason finally comes over to my table, the boy is beaming. “Sorry about that,” he says.
“It’s totally okay,” I say. “That was actually really sweet.”
“That kid ought to be in a manual chair,” he says. “He seemed to have good upper arm strength for it. And he can actually get some exercise.”
“I didn’t know you were such a wheelchair advice guru,” I say.
He grins. “Well, I’ve been in one long enough.”
“You ever use a power wheelchair?” I ask. I can’t remember ever seeing him in one, but he seemed to know a lot about them when he was talking to the boy.
“For a little bit in college,” he says. “I tore up my shoulder kind of bad so I used a rental powerchair for a short time to give it a chance to heal. I really hated it though. I felt like it was harder to maneuver, harder to get through doorways, and impossible to hop curbs. Plus it ran out of batteries on me once.”
“Oh god,” I say. “What were you doing when it ran out of batteries?”
“That’s the best part,” he says. “I was on a date. A first date.”
I can’t help myself. I start giggling. “Oh no, that’s awful.”
He makes a face. “I’m glad you’re amused.”
“What did you do?”
“I had to switch the chair to manual,” he says, “and ask my date to push me back home so I could get recharged. My shoulder was still kind of bothering me, but the next day, I started using my regular chair again.”
“Well,” I say, “for what it’s worth, I really like your chair.”
“You do, eh?” Jason says.
“Definitely,” I say. “It’s sort of sexy.”
“Yeah, it’s a total chick magnet,” he says, flashing me a half-grin. “I have to beat ‘em off with a stick.”
Suddenly, I feel a bit guilty. Telling Jason that he’s sexy, even as a joke, is not the kind of thing that totally platonic friends should be doing. Maybe Melissa really does have a point.
“Jason,” I say, “do you think we spend too much time together?”
He seems shocked. “What are you talking about?”
“It’s just that,” I begin, “you and Melissa are obviously getting more serious about each other, and I’m worried that maybe I’m… monopolizing you.”
“What?” He shakes his head, looking upset. “Who told you that? Melissa?”
“No, no,” I say quickly. I know I’m not going to make things better by ratting out Melissa. “It’s just this sense I get.”
“Well, don’t worry about it,” Jason assures me. “I don’t think we’re doing anything wrong. And Melissa’s fine with it. And if she isn’t, then to hell with her.”
I’m kind of shocked by his last statement. I have to admit though, it makes me kind of happy to hear him say something like that. Maybe he’s thinking about breaking up with Melissa. That would be great. Well, not great. It would suck for Jason for a little while, but I really just don’t think she’s the right woman for him. “Is everything okay with you and Melissa?”
“I don’t know…” He rubs his forehead. “Ever since she turned 35, she’s been really leaning on me to… move in together or propose or… something.”
I grin, “Why, Mr. Fox, I didn’t realize you were such a commitment-phobe.”
“I’m not,” he says quickly. “I mean, I want to get married. I fucking hate dating, seriously. It’s just… can you really see Melissa as my wife?”
God, no. “Um, maybe?”
“Well,” he says, “it looks like I’m going to have to make a decision pretty soon. And I don’t want to lose her, so…” He lifts his green eyes to meet mine. “I’m probably going to ask her to marry me.”
No. No, this can’t be happening.
I want to throw up. I really do. I didn’t think I’d feel quite this awful, but somehow I do. I do NOT want him to marry Melissa. She’s entirely wrong for him. She’s a total bitch and if she marries him, I’ll never get to see him again. She pretty much said that much to me. But how could I say that to him? I don’t want to be selfish. And it’s not like he has tons of options.
“Um, when?” I ask.
Jason grins sheepishly. “I’ve been looking at engagement rings a little bit. Actually, I was sort of hoping you’d help me. Give me your opinion.”
I feel like I’m about to burst into tears. Jason can’t be getting married. He can’t! But apparently, he’s decided to ask her. And since Melissa’s obviously going to say yes, and that will be it for our friendship. And then I’ll just be a lonely old maid. Oh god, this sucks.
“That would be wonderful,” I say.
I should have guessed that looking at rings meant looking at photos of rings online, which I guess is better than going to a store and the salesman assuming that I’m the one getting the beautiful ring, which I know I’m not. We go back to Jason’s apartment after our dinner and we browse through dozens of pictures of rings. When I see the price range he’s considering, I feel a little ill. I can’t believe he’s going to spend that much money on a ring for Melissa.
“They’re all really beautiful,” I tell him after we’ve been looking for about thirty minutes.
“That’s not helpful,” he says.
“I don’t know,” I say. I look at Jason and decided that if I can’t be honest with him, I can’t be honest with anyone. “Truthfully, it’s just kind of depressing that I don’t see any guy buying me rings in my future.”
“You’re nuts, Tash,” he says, shaking his head as if baffled. “You’re gorgeous. And you’re awesome. You could be married in five minutes if you wanted.”
I can tell Jason isn’t just being nice. He actually believes that.
“Unfortunately, that’s not even remotely true,” I say. “There are lots of guys who want to date me or sleep with me, but I really can’t envision a guy wanting to spend his life with me ever. It seems impossible.”
Jason frowns at me. “Tasha,” he murmurs. “I really don’t know how you could say things like that. You know, I would…”
He stops speaking abruptly and looks down at his hands. I’m watching him and I suddenly realize I’ve been holding my breath.
“You would what?” I say.
“Nothing,” he mumbles, after a long pause. “I just think you’re selling yourself short, that’s all.”
I feel a flash of disappointment, although I’m not entirely sure why. What did I think he was going to say to me? Jason and I are good friends, nothing more, period, end of story.
For the next several weeks, I keep expecting to see Melissa wearing an engagement ring. Each time I see her, I hold my breath and feel this intense sense of dread. But somehow it doesn’t happen and Jason doesn’t offer any explanation to me. I do notice, however, that when I spend time with the two of them, they seem to be fighting more.
Like for example, she picks on him for every little thing. Stupid things that nobody in their right mind could possibly get upset about.
For example, the four of us are out at dinner, and Jason orders a burger with fries. Melissa gets this disgusted look on her face and says, “So I guess you’ve just entirely given up on your health.”
“What?” Jason says, baffled.
“You just don’t care,” she says. “You don’t care that you’re clogging up your arteries and gaining weight.”
Larry, who ordered a chicken fried steak, remains silent.
“I haven’t gained any weight,” Jason says.
“How do you know?” Melissa retorts.
Jason sighs. “Look, I’m only 32 years old. I can eat a burger and fries sometimes if I want.”
Melissa’s face turns red. “Are you saying that I’m OLD?”
Jason stares at her. “No, I… I… what? What are you talking about, Melissa?”
At that point, Melissa storms off and goes to the ladies room. Despite the fact that she hates me, I feel somehow compelled to follow her. I find her in front of the mirror, dabbing at her make-up. Although she has completely mastered the “natural look,” Melissa actually wears a lot of make-up. I wonder how she’d look with no make-up on.
“Hey, Melissa,” I say.
She glares at me. “What do you want?”
It may be anti-feminist, but I seriously want to ask her if she’s on her period. “Listen,” I say, “you should probably know that the other day, Jason made me help him look at engagement rings. So that’s it. You won.”
I’ve never seen Melissa flash me a smile that genuine. “Really?”
When we get out of the bathroom, Melissa is all over Jason. She’s incredibly affectionate and basically can’t keep her hands off him. Looks like I helped him get lucky tonight.
It turns out I jumped the gun though, because the next few months go by and Jason never pops the question to Melissa. She’s nice to him for about a week, then ends up even more pissed off than she was before. I feel like I should tell Jason he needs to hurry up and propose, but then again, I don’t want to push him into it. Especially since I don’t want him to marry Melissa in the first place.
As for me, my relationship with Larry always seems to be teetering on the brink of breaking up, although I don’t know if he has any idea. My grandmother called one Saturday night when I’d just come back from seeing Larry, and she said triumphantly, “I knew it! Home on a Saturday night!”
“I was out,” I protested.
“Not with anyone good,” Nana said. “Not if you’re home at ten o’clock. Tasha, you’re the prettiest girl in any room. You need yourself a good boyfriend.”
“I have a boyfriend,” I said, unable to modify “boyfriend” with the word “good.”
“Dump him,” Nana said. “Trade him in for someone you really like.”
Of course, it would have been easy enough to dump Larry. I felt like if I said the word, he’d just fade away into the background. But I spent a lifetime going out with good looking, exciting men, who were the exact opposite of Larry, and look where it got me. Still single at age 32.
I think that being a teacher for little kids is probably the worst job you can have when you’re single. Because kids ask questions and have zero tact. Sometimes they’ll ask things that are flattering and other times they’ll ask things that are so insulting, you want to cry. I’ve been asked more than once how could I sing so off tune. But on the other hand, several kids have told me I look pretty, and I even had one or two boys in kindergarten say they wanted me to marry them.
So it’s only natural that kids in my classes would ask me if I’m married. Frequently. I pretty much expect it at this point. But every once in a while, they catch me off guard.
Last week, one of the first grade girls said to me, “Miss Moran, do you have children?”
“No, I don’t,” I said.
“Why not?” she asked.
“Well,” I said, “because I’m not married.”
“Oh,” the girl said. “Are you going to get married?”
“No, she’s not,” a boy said. “She’s too old to get married.”
Of course, I laughed at the time. But as soon as the bell rang, I ran to the bathroom and cried for most of my free period. I know he was just six years old, but sometimes kids say really wise things. And I thought this kid just hit the nail on the head.
Larry takes me out to dinner to celebrate our six month dating anniversary. Actually, it’s sweet that he remembered. I know he’s trying to be romantic, but the restaurant he takes me to is just so tacky. It’s this Mexican place with a Mariachi band and the salsa comes in a little hat-shaped bowl. The whole thing is so cheesy that he may as well have taken me to Taco Bell or something.
I order a giant Margarita and am taking sips of it when Larry reaches across the table and takes my hand. “Tasha,” he says. “These last six months have been magical for me.”
“Oh,” I say. “Um, me too.”
“I got you a present,” Larry says.
I’m actually kind of touched. And then as Larry reaches into his jacket pocket, he pulls out a little square box and all I can think is, “Oh, hell no. He’s not asking me to marry him.”
For a minute, I think I’m going to pass out.
“Go ahead,” Larry urges. “Open it.”
Oh god, what if it’s a ring? What will I say? I mean, I don’t want to marry Larry, but god knows, it’s not like anyone else great is coming along. Maybe I should just… I don’t know. Oh god, why is he doing this to me? We’ve only been together six months!
I open up the box with slightly shaking fingers. My shoulders sag in relief. It’s not a ring. Instead it’s a hideous giant gold pin, shaped like a musical note.
“Because you teach music,” Larry says.
“Yeah,” I say. “Thanks.” This pin is the ugliest thing I’ve ever seen in my life. I mean, in general, I don’t really like pins. I think they’re things you don’t wear before age sixty. But even if I liked pins, this one is really awful.
“Do you want to put it on?” Larry asks eagerly.
God, no. “Um, all right.”
I struggle to get the giant pin through the delicate fabric of my dress. I’ve probably ruined my dress forever because of this stupid pin. But I have to paste a smile on my face for Larry’s sake.
“You like it?” he asks.
“Um, yes, of course,” I say. The problem with saying that I like a gift that I actually hate is that now he’ll be encouraged to buy me more horrible pins. But I’m not sure it will end up being that big a problem, considering I’m not sure how much longer Larry and I will be together. I’d be shocked if we’re still dating a month from now. “I, uh, didn’t get anything for you. I’m sorry.”
“That’s all right,” he says cheerfully.
“But I’ll make it up to you tonight,” I say.
Larry’s face lights up. I have to say, Larry is definitely a guy who really appreciates a blow job.
To be continued....