Gerald suffered from the inability to say no. When asked to be a wingman on a blind, double date, his gut reaction was, “You know I hate blind dates, they terrify me and I can’t stand watching you with a woman. It’s the most cringe-worthy experience that any human being could endure; one’s skin literally crawls off the bones from watching it.”
What he said was, “Yeah, sure, of course,” which he regretted, every time.
“I knew I could count on you,” Mark said, “after Tommy and Finn bailed. Thanks man. I’ll text you the deets , you’re going to love it, I promise.” He gave Gerald a fist bump.
Gerald smiled politely, gave Mark a nod. “Yeah,” he muttered, “Friday. Sounds great.”
What Gerald felt and what Gerald said never matched. He pushed all of his actual feelings down into the pit of his stomach, he replaced them with pleasant smiles and the word yes.
Did he care that he was Mark’s last ditch, third rate Hail Mary? That Mark put him on the spot, despite knowing that he suffered from social anxiety and hated meeting new people? Of course, Gerald hated it all. Did he get angry? No. Gerald made excuses, told himself that Mark was being considerate. Mark was trying to respect his fears and anxieties, so he asked him last, when no one else would do it, he turned to a friend he could rely on.
Mark elbowed Gerald in the arm. “You’re going to love her. Trish says that her friend is a knockout and loves all of that science fiction shit that you’re into.” He smiled at Gerald and gave him a quick salute as he turned to leave.
Mark was everything that Gerald wanted to be, he was tall, handsome and brimming with confidence that comes with being tall and handsome. Mark drove a cherry, red Corvette, had a great job running Geralds’ entire department and always went home with the most beautiful woman in the room. Always.
“I can’t wait,” Gerald said as Mark walked away, “Friday, woo hoo.”
Gerald stood there, still wondering how he’d once again gotten himself into this. He thought about getting a t-shirt printed that read, “How did I get myself into this?” but he’d never have had the nerve to wear it. Three days until the double date, woo Hoo.
Every one of those three days, Mark tormented Gerald at work, giving him the “guns” and saying things like, “Can’t wait,” or, “It’s going to be epic”.
Gerald suppressed the urge to vomit and swallowed down bile that tried to fight its way out. He’d inwardly scream until his head blew open like a cartoon thermometer, but on the outside, Gerald returned fire with his own index fingers and gave a genuine, Gerald grin.
Three o'clock in the morning. Friday. Gerald stared up at the ceiling, every nerve in his body on fire. He looked at his clock, then back at the ceiling. He got up, paced the room, jogged on the spot and then, futilely tried to go back to bed. Minutes later, he was counting the cracks in the plaster. Gerald gave up and started to get ready for work.
He looked at himself in the mirror while he towelled off. He poked his stomach. “I could eat better, maybe hit the gym?”
He pulled his tie through a half Windsor and then Gerald set to laying out clothes for that evening, adding an extra undershirt and decided on an antiperspirant over his regular deodorant stick, just in case. He sniffed at himself to make sure that the flop sweat hadn’t soured his shower-fresh scent. Only five more hours until he had to be at the office.
It was the longest day of work that he could remember. Five o’clock seemed to take days to arrive and when that last minute finally passed, Gerald leapt out of his chair and he was out the door right on the hour. He usually stayed to get some extra work done or tie up loose ends, but not today. He wanted out of there as quickly as possible, to get home and try to relax before the date. If he couldn’t get his stomach to stop performing backflips, at least he’d be at home, on his own toilet.
Steps from the street, Gerald could smell freedom, nearly.
“Hey, buddy,” Mark said, grabbing his shoulder, “You’re leaving early. We’re going for a drink, it’ll loosen you up, you’re so tense. Besides, there’s going to be a few execs there and I put in a good word for you.”
Why did he put in a good word? Gerald was perfectly happy at his job. Good salary, just enough responsibility to keep him busy, but not enough to keep him awake nights. “I’ve got to get home, Mark, sorry, maybe another time. I hate to say no, but...”
“Come on,” Mark insisted, smacking Gerald’s cheeks between his hands, “a couple of drinks and you’ll be home in plenty of time.”
“Fine,” Gerald caved, pushing Mark’s hands down “one drink.”
“One drink,” Mark assured him, “You chat up the execs for a few minutes and then boom, gone.”
“Boom,” Gerald repeated. Mark put his arm around him and lead Gerald to the elevator.
Nix was the office bar, an upscale place about a half block from the office. Mark lead Gerald in by the shoulders as if he might run off. Mark whistled loudly to Gus who was sitting with the other executives in a private booth along the far wall. Gus waived them over, he was an older guy, a life-long member of middle management. He still had most of his hair, which was thin and grey, like his creepy moustache.
“Slide in,” Gus said to Mark.
“I’ll be right back,” Mark said, “Gerald can keep my seat warm.”
Gerald slid along the leather seat and worked his way around the glossy, black table. He looked at the faces around him and realized that he only recognized a few. The rest must have been fifth floor.
“Hey, Gerald, Alex,” He was about the same height as Mark, six foot or so and had that same slimy drawl. “Mark says you might be looking to move up?” he asked.
Gerald stammered, “I don’t know if it’s right for me...”
“Nonsense,” Alex cut him off, “You’ll fit in fine. You can drink, can’t you?”
Alex laughed at his own, terrible joke. Gerald could smell the booze on him. He smiled politely, but couldn’t bring himself to laugh.
Mark dropped himself into the booth a few minutes later and slammed a couple of glasses down. “Jerry, drink up,” Mark said, “To your health and success.”
Mark raised his glass, Gerald took the other glass and toasted. Clink. Mark shot the drink in one gulp, while Gerald sipped at his. It was fowl, he’d never even asked what it was. It would’ve been rude, especially when someone bought it for him.
Gerald threw back the last sip and then tried to excuse himself from the table.
“Why the rush? Stay for one more.” Mark begged.
Gerald’s stomach couldn’t take any more. He came up with a terrible excuse to leave. He couldn’t even remember what it was and started to wonder if Mark would bring it up again at dinner because he’d have no clue, which made him even more nervous. His stomach boiled and he had to get home.
He ordered an Uber. His driver asked him three times what was wrong, but Gerald wouldn’t even speak for fear of losing the slightest bit of concentration and having an explosively embarrassing accident in the back of the car.
“Thank you,” Gerald said as he flew out of the car and bolted for his building. He pressed the elevator call button repeatedly, knowing that it wouldn’t help, but it distracted him and that was good enough.
The doors slid open and he got in, pressing his floor frantically. When he got to his floor, the doors opened and Gerald bolted through the hallway, thankfully not running into anyone and flew into his apartment and straight into the bathroom with a sigh of relief. He’d never been happier to see his toilet as far as he could remember.
Endless Love began to play, it was his ringtone and it was terrible. His mother’s favourite song. One mother’s day he’d set the ringtone to Endless Love and she got such a kick out of it that Gerald hadn’t the heart to change it. He got to the phone after two rings, looked at the screen and grimaced as he answered.
“Hey Mark, what’s up?”
“Change of plans buddy,” Mark said.
“Was there much damage to the floors?”
“Uh,” Gerald stammered.
“The pipe, in your apartment, was there a lot of damage?”
“Oh, no,” Gerald lied, “no, they got it shut off before it got too bad, thanks.”
“That’s good,” Mark said, “Look, the girls called after you ran out and they want to meet earlier.”
“How much earlier?” Gerald asked.
“Like, half an hour,” Mark told him.
Before he could come up with a reason why he couldn’t get there any earlier, Mark was already speaking. “Oh and I really want this to work out, so don’t fuck it up, okay? Ciao.” Mark hung up.
Gerald sat there on his couch holding the phone, watching the screen go black. He exhaled and ran his hand over his face. “Fuck.”
Twenty five minutes later, Gerald was walking through the doors of Mezza Forno. He’d picked up some flowers and had them hanging awkwardly in his left hand. He approached the Maitre’D, “Good evening sir, welcome to Mezza Forno.”
Gerald took a deep breath and said, “Uh, hi, I’m meeting some people here, the reservation is under Brunell.”
Before the Maitre’D could answer he saw Mark waiving frantically from a table near the kitchen. “Hey, Jerry, over here.”
Gerald excused himself, thanked the Maitre’D and made my way over to the table. A blonde woman, thin, beautiful with gorgeous, blue eyes was sitting beside Mark. She smiled as I approached and I noticed that there was a woman seated across from her, back facing me. She had long, dark hair, wore a tight red dress and she looked good from where I was standing. Mark got up to greet me.
“You made it,” he said and clapped Gerald on the back. He pulled Gerald in a bit closer so that he could whisper, “Totally worth it though, right? I mean, wow.” He winked and bobbed his head toward the women, very not subtly.
“Yeah,” Gerald whispered back, “she looks amazing.”
Mark smiled, poking Gerald in the chest, “Her name’s Judy and she’s looking forward to meeting you. I’ve been chatting you up so, just try not to disappoint.”
Gerald let out a nervous laugh.
Gerald came around from behind Judy and handed her the small bouquet while he introduced himself.
“Hi Judy,” he said. Judy turned and looked up at him. She was stunning. Her teeth were perfectly straight and white, her lips full and red and her eyes were a deep, brilliant emerald.
Gerald stammered, “these..... are...... uh...”
She took the flowers and sniffed them before resting them on the corner of the table. “Thank you so much, these are beautiful. Gearld, right?”
“Uh,” Gerald stammered, “Yes, Gerald, I ...”
Judy slid her hand into his, “Pleasure to meet you Gerald,” she said. Gerald shook her hand gently.
“Um, yeah, same.” He swallowed loudly.
Why didn’t she recognize him? Gerald started to feel like he’d lost his mind, he was completely baffled. Gerald looked across the table to Mark, but he was no help. Gearld stared, slack-jawed while Mark held back laughter and mocked Gerald with a sarcastic thumbs up.
“A toast,” Mark piped up as Gerald’s confounded ass hit the seat, “to new friendships!”
The three of them raised their glasses, repeating, “To new friends.”
“Hey, hey,” Mark said, turning to get a waiter’s attention.
He looked over at Gerald “Hold on, Gerald doesn’t even have a drink. What are you drinking, buddy?”
Gerald, still reeling, mumbled, “Cosmo.”
Mark snapped his fingers shouting, “One cosmo, please,” over his shoulder.
Gerald’s drink arrived quickly, though it gave Judy just enough time to engage him in conversation, asking, “So, Gerald, what is it that you do?”
“You know what I do,” he thought.
“Gerald?” she prodded.
“Your cosmopolitain, sir,” the waiter intruded, perfect timing.
“Thank you,” Gerald said, then quickly turned to Mark, “So, about that toast?”
Out of the corner of his eye, Gerald noticed that Judy grimaced when he’d evaded her question. Was she screwing with him? He couldn’t tell. After all, she made a mess of that relationship, she’s the one who disappeared, not him.
“To new friends,” Mark repeated the toast.
“To new friends,” they echoed.
Glasses clinked and then, Judy latched back on to Gerald like a pitbull. “So,” she said, stroking her champagne flute, “what is it that you do for a living again?”
“I never said,” Gerald answered, “Besides, I’m pretty sure that you already know.”
Judy raised an eyebrow, the game was afoot, “Why would I know what you do for a living, Gerald? We’ve just met.”
“Well,” Gerald said, “Mark must have told you about me, so I figured that he must have mentioned it, seeing as we work together.”
Gerald was fuming, he’d been a perfect gentleman. He hadn’t see Judy for three years, they’d dated for three months. They slept together, they joked about having kids and getting married. Things were really good until, out of the blue, Judy broke it off. She blindsided him, ghosted him and now, here she was acting like they’d never met. Gerald wondered where the hidden cameras were.
Gerald finally had enough. He was nice, too nice, but even he had a breaking point. “Judy,” he said. She didn’t immediately turn around, so he tapped her lightly on the shoulder.
“Gerald,” she said sickeningly sweet, turning around, grinning, “Am I pronouncing that right?”
“What the fuck?” Gerald blurted, springing up out of his seat and throwing his napkin on the table. The restaurant went dead silent, heads turned.
“I’m sorry, I -”
“Jerry, are you okay?” Mark asked.
Gerald saw Trish’s horrified expression and Mark, with his “What the fuck?” eyebrows raised, shocked. Judy though, she was enjoying the show.
Gerald looked at her.
“I’m sorry,” he said, sitting down, slowly. He hadn’t even realized that he was standing.
“You fucking know who I am, Judy,” he hissed.
Judy smiled back at him. “Yeah, I do,” she said.
“Then why are you acting like this?”
“Because, I thought that it would be easier to pretended that I didn’t know you, that we didn’t know each other, so that we wouldn’t make a scene. If I just pretended like I don’t know you, maybe these two,” she pointed toward Mark and Trish, “might have a nice night. I guess that you just can’t leave things alone though, can you?”
She was loud, people were staring. This was precisely why he never caused trouble, never said no, always acted appropriately. He was sinking into his seat and trying to be invisible. His stomach rumbled it’s disapproval.
“And,” Judy continued, “you have the nerve to ask me why I’m acting like this, after what you did? I’m trying to be the bigger person here.”
Gerald racked his brain to try and figure out what in the hell she was talking about. He hadn’t been anything but respectful, kind and considerate to him.
“Bull shit,” Gerald whispered, trying to bring the conversation down, “I did nothing to you, I was a perfect boyfriend. You’re the one who ghosted me.”
“Me,” she said, loudly, “Me? Guess what? Next time you decide to go screwing around with some fucking blonde bimbo,” she paused, looked over at Trish, “Not you sweetie.” Trish waived it off and encouraged Judy to continue.
“My friends were at Alberto’s that night,” she said, “they saw you.”
“Saw what?” a bubble rode up through Gerald’s lower intestine.
“Saw you walk in with another woman on your arm, that’s what, you piece of shit!”
Gerald spied their waiter speaking with the Maitre’D, they looked over. Gerald looked back at Judy.
Judy shot daggers at him with her eyes.
“It was three days before Christmas, a month and sixteen days before I found out and never called you again,” she told him, coldly, “Is that better?”
“Shit.” His stomach settled.
“I think we’re going to get out of here,” Mark interrupted, starting to get up, “We’ll give you your space.”
“No,” Gerald said. He motioned for Mark and Trish to stay, then turned back toward Judy.
“Judy,” he said, “I don’t believe this. I wasn’t cheating on you.”
Judy stared at him.
“This is going to sound cliche, but that was my sister, Claire, cross my heart.” He crossed his heart.
“I swear,” Gerald said, “Look, I’ll prove it.”
He fished his phone from his pocket and thumbed through his Facebook posts until he found the reunion pics. There was even a pic of them as kids, with a comment from his mother. Judy took the phone. She looked up at Gerald, then back down at the phone.
“See?” Gerald said.
“I-” Judy started.
“Drinks?” Mark asked, trying to cut the tension.
“Shit,” Judy said.
“Judy, it was all a misunderstanding.”
“I feel like an idiot. We had a good thing, didn’t we?”
“We did,” Gerald admitted, smiling, “we really did. I wish that you’d just talked to me”
“Sir, ma’am,” the waiter placed four glassed of champagne on the table.
Gerald looked up and Mark winked at him. “Cheers, to,” Mark said, raising another toast,“new beginnings?”
Gerald looked at Judy and raised an eyebrow, she smiled back.