I’m on the phone with my mother and she’s discussing the flower arrangement for Lydia’s wedding. The only reason I’m even tolerating this is that I know I’ve got my secret engagement. I’m dying to tell her, but I’m waiting for the exact right moment.
“Of course, you know Lydia is crazy about pink,” my mother is saying, “but I said to her that every flower can’t be pink! I mean, she’s not five years old.”
“Uh huh,” I say politely.
Mom hesitates. “Tasha, honey, I know this is hard for you. But I promise you, you’ll get married someday too. It’s just not as easy for some people as it is for others. It’s just taking you a little longer to find the right guy.”
Ordinarily, this patronizing talk from my mother would have made me want to slam the phone down. But not today. Thank you, Larry!
“I know,” I say casually. “Actually, I already found the right guy.”
“You… you did?” Mom asks. She sounds skeptical.
“Yes, his name is Larry,” I say. “And… he asked me to marry him and I said yes.”
There’s a long pause on the other line. Finally, my mother says, “Really?”
“Yes, really!” God, is it so hard to believe someone would want to marry me?
“I’m sorry, Tasha,” she says. “It’s just that I never heard you mention this man before. How long have you been dating?”
“Six months,” I reply.
“Oh,” she says, sounding a little gobsmacked. “And when did he ask you to marry him?”
“Just last night.”
“Tasha,” she says. “I would hate to think you’re rushing into anything because of Lydia. If you’re not ready to get married…”
“I’m ready,” I insist. “Larry’s a great guy. He’s an investment banker and I met him through Jason Fox.”
“You met him through Jason?” she asks, her tone changing slightly. My mother loves Jason and has made no secret of the fact that, like Nana, she thinks he and I should be more than friends.
“Yes,” I say. “Jason told me he was a great guy.”
“Well, if Jason likes him…” My mother is likely just about to give her tentative approval, but then I hear a beep and realize I’ve got another call on my cell. Speaking of the devil, it’s Jason’s number.
“Mom,” I say. “I’ve got another call. I’ll talk to you later.”
“But wait! What does Larry—”
I cut her off mid-sentence, not really to face a barrage of Larry-related questions. Not that it would be so bad. On paper, Larry comes off as totally amazing. I just wasn’t looking forward to introducing him to the family.
“Jason, hey,” I say. “What’s up?”
His voice is low. “Tasha, I need to talk to you.”
“Okay, what about?”
“Oh,” I say. “Well, when are you free?”
His voice sounds weird and he’s acting weird and the only thing I can think of is that maybe he and Melissa finally got engaged. Yes, that’s probably it. And when he tells me, I’m going to act happy for him. Because I am happy. We’re both going to get married. This is great news, right?
“All right,” I agree. “Where do you want to meet?”
“The bar near your apartment,” he says. “I’m in a cab. I’ll be there in five minutes.”
I have barely enough time to grab my purse and run out the door.
My best description of how Jason looks would be “rumpled.” His hair is mussed, there are purplish circles under his eyes, and his T-shirt is wrinkled like he slept in it. Actually, now that I’m closer, I realize it’s the same T-shirt he was wearing last night so he actually did sleep in it. Even his glasses seem a little off-kilter on his face. I’ve seen him look like this during busy times at work, but I don’t even think he went to work today. He’s shifting in his wheelchair, looking very anxious. If he were anyone else, I’d think he was on drugs.
“Jason?” I say, sliding into the seat next to him. “Are you okay?”
He’s already had time to order a drink and I see it was in a shot glass, which is not really like him. He’s usually more of a beer man. “Not exactly,” he says.
“Did something happen with Melissa?” I ask. I take a stab in the dark: “Did you guys get engaged?”
He snorts. “Not quite. We broke up.”
“Oh, Jason,” I murmur. I reach across the table and give him a hug, which he returns without enthusiasm. “What happened?”
“After Larry proposed to you, she got really worked up,” he explains, running his hand absently through his hair. “She told me that I had to make a decision. Either we moved forward, like got engaged or moved in together, or she wanted to break up. I couldn’t propose or ask her to move in, so she dumped me.”
“Oh, Jason,” I say again. “But… I mean, you liked Melissa… why didn’t you…?”
He stares down into the shot glass. “I don’t know. She wasn’t the one, I guess.”
“How do you know?” I ask. Of course, I can’t help but think about me and Larry. Is he The One? The thing about The One is that there’s only one. Out of all the men out there in the world, is he really the only one I’m meant to spend my life with?
Then again, I already said yes to his proposal. It’s a little late to be second guessing myself.
“I just know,” he says. “I mean, she’s pretty and she’s smart, but she’s not…”
I frown. I’m curious what elusive quality Jason is looking for in the opposite sex that the perfect Melissa doesn’t seem to satisfy for some reason. “Not what?”
Our eyes meet for a second. Jason’s are a touch bloodshot. “Never mind,” he mumbles. “I can’t do this.”
“Do what?” I’ve never seen Jason act like this before. I guess it’s hard on him breaking up with Melissa after so long. “Come on, tell me what’s so wrong with Melissa?”
He takes a deep breath. “She’s not you.”
My heart sinks into my stomach. What is that supposed to mean?
“You know,” he says quietly. “When Melissa left, she said a lot of things that weren’t particularly nice. But some of those things were true. She told me that I was too in love with you to ever settle for any other woman.”
I study his face, trying to find signs that this is some sort of elaborate joke. “Oh come on, that’s not true.”
“It is true, Tasha,” Jason says. He’s looking at me with his intense green eyes and I realize that he means it. Or at least, he thinks he does.
“That’s totally crazy,” I say. “I mean, you’re like a brother to me.”
“I know you think that,” he says. “That’s why I never told you.”
I look down at my hands and see that they’re shaking. “Jason, I don’t… this is a little hard to… you know…”
“I know,” he says quietly. “Look, Tasha, I don’t expect you to leap into my arms and make passionate love to me or anything. I never expected that, even though it would obviously be, well, great.”
I stare at Jason, unable to believe that he can think of something like that. Of the two of us making love. That this is something that’s been on his mind for the last… god knows how long. Maybe forever. I’ve never thought of him that way. Never.
“How long have you felt this way?” I ask him.
“I don’t know,” he says. “Maybe twenty years.”
“I never meant to tell you,” he says. “I figured eventually you’d meet some great guy, get hitched, and I could be happy knowing that at least you were with someone really wonderful. That’s what I wanted for you, Tasha.” He takes a deep breath. “But when I saw you agree to get engaged to Larry…”
“What’s wrong with Larry?” I ask weakly.
Jason snorts. “Are you seriously going to insult us both by forcing me to answer that? Larry’s a nice guy, but I’m not even sure you like him, much less love him. He’s the most boring person I’ve ever met and you’d be miserable if you married him.”
“He’d never cheat on me,” I say.
“And that’s all that’s important, huh?” Jason leans forward closer to me and I’m suddenly suspicious that the shot on the table is not his first of the night. His face is dangerously close to mine and I can smell the whiskey, strong enough that it seems like it might be enough to get me a little drunk too.
“It’s important,” I say quietly.
“Tasha,” he says. “What kind of friend would I be if I let you marry this guy? You deserve better.”
“And that’s you?” I retort.
Jason jerks his head back as if I slapped him. “Okay, point taken,” he says.
I instantly feel guilty. This isn’t some jerk hitting on me in a bar. This is Jason, who I adore. I may not be in love with him, but I don’t want to hurt him. “I’m sorry,” I say. “You know I love you like family. But I just don’t feel that way about you, and I don’t think I ever will.”
“Yeah, I figured,” he says. He gives me his half-smile, but this one is kind of sad. “I had to try though. I mean, if you have any shot in hell with the girl you’ve been in love with for twenty years, you have to take it, right?”
I don’t want to tell Jason that he really didn’t ever actually have a shot in hell.
“But fine,” he says. “Forget about me for a minute. Please don’t marry Larry, Tasha. He’s awful. He’s totally wrong for you.”
“Larry has a lot of good qualities,” I say. “He’s kind, he’s intelligent, he has a good career, and he’s… fairly attractive. And he cares a lot about me.”
“But he’s not fun,” Jason says. “Tasha, I’ve known you for 25 years and one of the reasons I love you is that you’re probably the most fun girl I’ve ever met. I don’t know what will happen to you if you marry someone like Larry. I’m worried he’ll suck the life out of you.”
“Okay, let me ask you this,” he says. “Have you ever actually had fun with Larry?”
I want to say yes, of course. But I start thinking back to my six months with Larry and I really have to wonder: have I? Have I really actually ever had fun with him? Have I ever been doing something where I felt the need to throw my head back and laugh because I was having such a great time?
There must have been a time like that. I just can’t happen to think of it right now.
“Yes, I have,” I answer indignantly.
Jason looks skeptical.
“Look, I’m sorry about you and Melissa,” I say, and Jason winces as I say her name. “But Larry and I are genuinely very happy together. I just wish you could be happy for us. You’re my best friend and I think… I think you owe me that.”
Jason frowns at me. He fingers the empty shot glass of whiskey in front of him. “Tasha, if you’re happy, then I’m happy for you. I just…”
“Then that’s all there is to it,” I say. I’ve noticed my voice has become angry, abrupt. “There’s no reason for you to attack my choices like this.”
“Tasha,” he says quietly. “I understand on some level why you’re doing this, but I think I’d be a pretty shitty best friend if I stood aside and let you make the biggest mistake of your life.”
“Well, maybe we shouldn’t be best friends anymore,” I say. I grab my purse off the back of my chair and Jason looks at me with alarm. “Friends are supposed to support each other. This… what you’re doing right now… it isn’t supportive. I know what I’m doing, Jason.”
I expect him to back down and apologize, but instead he says, “You’re wrong, Tasha.”
“I’m not wrong,” I shoot back. “And… I’m leaving.”
I practically knock over the drink of the person at the next table in my haste to get out of there. When I get outside the bar, I see my hands are shaking. I’ve never fought with Jason before. But then again, today was a lot of firsts for our relationship, I guess.
“Engaged? How are you engaged?!”
It’s bad enough that I had to take shit from Jason, but now my grandmother seems determined to do the same. I was sort of hoping she’d be happy for me or something, but somehow this reaction doesn’t particularly surprise me.
“People get engaged,” I say. “I’m 32 years old, after all.”
“You’re doing this because of Lydia,” Nana says. “You’re ruining your whole life just because your sister is getting married before you. Really, Natasha, I thought you were smarter than that.”
“I’m not ruining my life,” I insist. “I met a great guy.”
“And how come I never heard of this great guy till this minute?”
“Because I don’t tell you everything.”
Nana huffs. “What’s his name again?”
“Larry Gold,” I say.
“Sounds like a used car salesman.”
“He’s an investment banker,” I say. “Just like Jason, who you apparently like so much.”
“Jason’s a good kid,” Nana says. “If you were marrying him, I wouldn’t have any problem.”
“Well, I’m sorry,” I say. “I don’t feel that way about Jason.”
“So you say.”
“Nana, I don’t!” I take a deep breath. “I’m in love with Larry. I want to spend my life with him.”
“Tasha, I’ve know you since you were in diapers,” she reminds me. “You think I don’t know when you’re kidding yourself?”
“Okay,” I finally concede. “Larry isn’t the greatest guy in the world. But he’s a good person and I do like him. I mean, what am I waiting for at this point?”
“I miss the old Tasha,” Nana grumbled. “The one who liked to have a good time and wasn’t settling for some loser because he has a good job. It’s one thing for Lydia to settle. She’s ugly. But you shouldn’t.”
I’m blushing. “Nana, don’t say that about Lydia.”
“What? It’s true. She’s ugly, her fiancé is ugly, and you can bet their kids will be ugly.”
I groan inwardly. I would say that Nana had lost her censor as she got old, but it’s not entirely clear to me that she ever had a censor. In any case, I’m convinced that she’s wrong. And Jason’s wrong. I know what’s best for me. After all, who knows me better than me?
To be continued....