“Looking up at stars can be very romantic,” I told my Tinder date—I don’t remember her name—as I glanced at the stars above us. “It can be, truly, but it’s a very… um… situational ‘can’. But, there are times where it's not. For instance—and I’m just spitting ideas here—when they’re in the center of pentagons…” I squinted at the apartment’s ceiling. “Written in either blood or jam—either way it’s not coming out, which is a huge other nightmare in its own right.”
She strolled over to be with two glasses of wine in her hands. I got the fullier one since she had already drank half of hers. “That’s good, I'm not planning on getting rid of them any time soon.”
I refused to look down and make eye-contact with her. “Well… if you’re renting this apartment I would recommend researching some good cleaners online. I can send you a list of my top ten cleaning products if you want.”
“Pass,” she whispered in a voice like liquid ecstasy as she scooted closer to me.
My date reached out and gripped my chin, running her fingers over the stubble I forgot to shave as she forced me to meet her gaze.
“Besides…” She purposefully spilled her wine on the white carpet underneath us. I cringed, but she kept talking. “I’m looking to be dirty tonight.”
Slowly, my eyes drifted over her body, and I noticed how every inch of her tight clothes highlighted her curves. Her eyes were hypnotizing, and her lips were fuller than the moon. I guess most people would refer to her as sexy.
“Miss,” I said.
She giggled and bit her bottom lip. “Miss? Are we doing a student-teacher fantasy? I could get into that.”
“You are an aesthetically pleasing woman,” I told her, “but as I wrote on my profile, I’m not looking for a serious relationship or sexual hook-up—just a date to my twin sister’s wedding. This is a trial date, not a one night stand.”
She laughed. “Oh, come on. You were serious about that?”
I stood and walked towards the door. “Yup.”
“So you just walked out???” My best friend laughed so hard he was wheezing over his burger. A few people at surrounding tables in the food court gave him the death glare for being so loud, but he didn’t seem to notice. “What was her face like?”
“I don’t know, I was looking at the door.”
His hand slammed against the table as he snorted. “Oh man, I bet she was pissed!”
“Maybe,” I said without looking up from my phone.
“You know,” he snatched the phone from my hand, “it’s rude to be on your phone during a meal.”
“Richard, give it back!”
“After, I see what’s taking all of your attenti—” He stopped talking the minute his eyes fell on the screen. “Tinder, again? Dear god, how many people have you swiped right on?”
“Literally everyone that’s come across my screen.” I said as I stole the phone back.
“Uh huh. And how many physios have you met?”
“I wouldn’t call them ‘physios’, exactly,” I mumbled. “Out of twenty-two dates: four cultists, five cheaters, and one sex offender. Oh, and some girl pulled a knife on me because I looked at the waitress taking our order.”
“But, another girl baked me a cake when I told her the story about knife girl that said ‘sorry, but not all girls are physios’.”
“Not really. She was one of the cheaters and had originally written ‘sorry, for cheating’, before her ex-boyfriend dumped her.”
Richard looked at me with pity.
“I’m desperate, okay? You’re lucky to already have a girlfriend to take,” I snapped. “The rehearsal dinner is on Friday. I already told them I’m bringing a date, which leaves me three days to find one.” I kept swiping. “I just need someone my parents won’t nag at me for dating. Or at the very least, someone who can lie well enough so my parents won’t realize they should be nagging at me for dating.”
“You’re never gonna find someone like that in time.”
“Don’t worry. I have a back-up plan. I figured I could always hire a cheap actress or an escort for the night.”
“Or you could find someone you’re actually interested in having a relationship with and taking them to the wedding.”
“No, that wouldn’t work. This is better.”
Richard slouched back in his chair. “Thinking about it, I’ve never actually met anyone you’ve dated…”
“Neither has anyone in my family—that’s why I need to bring a date. It’s a tradition in my family to get married by twenty-five. And there’s my twenty-five-year-old twin sister about to get married to the love of her life, meanwhile I’ve never brought a girl home once. If I don’t show up with a date to at least prove that I’m capable of dating, they’ll do some arranged marriage shit like it’s a Middle Ages.”
“That doesn’t seem reasonable.”
“My mother is forcing my sister to wear her great-grandmother’s silk wedding dress for the sake of tradition even though she has a rare silk allergy.” My phone pinged as someone finally matched with me. “Being ‘reasonable’ was never an option.”
While waiting for Leena, my new Tinder date, to arrive, I fiddled with my soda’s straw.
“I’m here,” a voice called out from behind me. I twisted around to see a white girl in a sweater with ‘Jesus’ knitted on it doing an apologetic sorry-for-being-late-but-I'm-not- running jog across the street to the outdoor cafe.
“Are you Leena?” I asked.
She plopped down beside me. “Yeah. Joshua?”
I eyed her sweater for a little too long, because she noticed and said, “your profile said you needed a date to take to your religious family’s wedding, so…” She panned her hand under ‘Jesus’. “Religious enough, huh?”
I snorted and choked on my soda as I laughed. “Maybe not wear it to the wedding. Where you raised Christian?”
“Nah. Actually, I’m an atheist, but also a damn good liar. But, my parents sent me to a Christian boarding school when I was 15. That’s when I became an atheist—and a damn good liar.”
I cracked a smile. “You’re funny. I think you would get along with my dad.”
“Great, it’s always been a dream of mine to impress strict, conservative fathers.”
“So, what is your reason for going to the wedding?”
Leena raised an eyebrow. “Are you really that suspicious of me?”
“A week ago, I met a girl who wanted to go to the wedding because she was the groom’s ex-girlfriend and she wanted to lie to him about being pregnant so he would go back to her.”
“That’s twisted—but as for my reason, I happen to love eating expensive salmon dinners paid for by irritating people.”
I smiled as my muscles relaxed. “Alright then. Now, do you have any lavender dresses that would match my tie?”
Already in full swing, the rehearsal dinner buzzed around us as my sister cheek-kissed everyone who shared an ounce of DNA with her or her fiance. Meanwhile, I tugged at my tie as Leena eyed the waiters bringing out fondue pots. “Hey, you okay?” She asked.
“Never better,” I lied, as I adjusted my arms to hide my sweat stains.
“Is this about your parents?” She scanned the restaurant's floor for anyone that looked like a judgy, aged version of me.
I didn’t even have the time to lie before a voice said, “Is this your girlfriend, Joshua?”
I spun around to see my mother and father looming over me. “Yeah,” I choked out.
My mother upturned her nose. “About time you finally date a girl and bring her home.”
“Although,” my father chimed in, “that Merryweather’s daughter is going to be awfully disappointed.”
“After we spent so much time talking you up to her.” My mother scoffed. “And there was so much to talk up. Plus, that venue we were about to book is never going to open up again. What a waste.”
“We thought we were never going to find anyone for you. Anyone acceptable that is.”
My ear tips flared pink. Not because of shame or embarrassment, but because of anger. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Leena’s eyes narrow and I could practically hear the gears grinding. I flashed her a warning don’t-do-it face, and she took a deep breath and bit her tongue like I’ve been doing for the past twenty-five years.
“I mean, I’m not homophobic or anything,” I mean, you definitely are, I thought to myself. “But look at how happy your sister is, marrying someone who isn’t a sin.” My mother said.
Again, I begged Leena with my eyes not to attack this woman like a feral animal.
“So when are you getting married, Joshua?” My father asked.
“Soon! Soon,” I lied and went to take a swig from my champagne, only to find the glass empty.
“I’ll get us new drinks,” Leena said. “Excuse me.”
I gulped as she walked away because while the words she said were appropriate, she said them with an animosity to commit murder. Not third-degree murder out of frustration, but like she was going to start planning an ‘accident’ the moment this dinner was over.
“Oh look, there’s someone who you...” Haven’t insulted yet, I thought. “Haven’t talked to yet,” I said instead, then I ducked out of the conservation and walked over to Richard.
“Having fun?” I asked him.
“Depends on your definition of fun.” Richard said as he looked at Leena talking to a bridesmaid that snagged her attention on her way to getting drinks. “But it looks like you’ll be having fun later on because damn you’re date is hot.”
“Oh, she’s hot, Richard?” His girlfriend, Amanda, crept up behind him with a glass of champagne in her hand. I kept a close eye on it in case she motioned to throw it.
Richard choked over his words. “Smoking… like she’s burning because she’s a witch. A witch and a bitch. What a whore.” He took a swig of his liquor to shut himself up.
“Ah huh,” she teased with a smile on her lips.
I relaxed a little. I guess Amanda isn’t the jealous type.
Amanda glanced at the bridesmaid laughing her head off at whatever Leena whispered in her ear, then turned to me. “So, Leena seems nice.”
“Yeah,” I said. “She’s funny, too.”
“You like her?”
“She’d be a cool person to befriend, I guess. Though, she does seem a bit angry…”
“Friend?!” Richard said. “Dude, no. She’s on Tinder, she’s single, she’s hot, she’s nice, she’s funny… just ask her out already.”
I shrugged. “I don’t know. I’m just not… attracted to her.” I held my head down, really missing not having a drink to slam these feelings down with.
Richard patted me on the back. “Don’t worry, buddy, there’s a million fish in the sea. You’ll find someone.”
“But what if I don’t want to find someone?”
Richard laughed. “I’ve been there. Thought I was done with love after my last girlfriend cheated on me. That was… until I met my sweet Amanda-kins. Ain’t that right, Amanda-kins.”
“That’s right, babe,” she said as she pulled him in for a kiss.
They looked like they were gonna be busy swallowing each other for a while, so I told them, “I’m gonna get a drink.”
After I emptied a new glass of champagne, Leena came up to the waiter I was standing by and took one for herself. “So, what was that about?” I asked her.
“I’m thirsty,” she said.
“That’s not what I’m talking about and you know it.”
“They were being assholes to you and you know it.” She slammed her drink. “And you just let them.” She picked up another drink off the tray of the waiter we were basically holding hostage with our need to get drunk as fast as possible.
“Look, I don’t need you getting offended by my belief like I’m some too shy Christian choirboy who’s afraid of his own shadow because one: I never took choir. And two: I’m a grown man who can stand up for himself. I’m just trying to avoid a scene at my sister’s wedding.”
“What you’re doing is letting them belittle you for taking your time to find someone you like.”
“I don’t know why you’re making such a big deal about this now—I told you they were going to be this bad going in.”
“Their homophobic asses were trying to set up an arranged marriage for you at age twenty-five! Call me crazy, but that’s a little too soon. I mean just because you’ve never dated, never wanted to date before, and don’t get married now doesn’t mean you won’t later on. Everyone falls in love at different rates with whatever gender they please!”
“Or,” I slammed the empty glass back on the tray, then ushered an apology to the waiter for slamming a glass onto his tray. “They don’t fall in love at all!” I lectured in a hushed voice, because again, I’m still trying to avoid a scene. “And I’m tired of people saying I will when I don’t want to.”
With that I spun around, and walked straight out of the restaurant. With a starry sky lighting my way, I trudged down the sidewalk before plopping down in a depressed lump at a bus stop. I was too drunk to drive, but not too dignified to take the bus.
Footsteps followed me to the bus stop. “Leena, I really don’t feel like talking right now.”
“My name isn’t Leena,” a male voice said.
I twisted around to see the waiter whose tray I slammed standing behind me. “Sorry again for slamming that glass on your tray.”
“No worries,” he said as he sat beside me.
“Not to be rude, but shouldn’t you be working right now?”
“Nah, I got Tiffany to cover for me for a minute or two.”
“I don’t know who Tiffany is, but okay.”
“Listen, I couldn’t help but over your conversation with… Leena was it?”
“Oh my god.” I covered my face with my hands. “Don’t tell me you’re here to tell me that ‘there’s someone out there for you, you just haven’t met the right person yet’ spiel, are you?”
“Nah, I’m here to ask you a question. If you don’t mind.”
“Okay, what is it?”
“Do you know what asexuality and aromantic are?”
“Uhhh… no? Never heard of them.”
The waiter chuckled. “I thought so. Well, asexuality is when a person experiences little or no sexual attraction to anyone. Being aromantic means a person experiences little or no romantic attraction to anyone.”
“So, are you trying to say you think I’m asexual and aromantic based off a five minute conversation you overheard?”
“I’m not saying anything except no matter what you do or don’t identify as, you’re still valid no matter what others say.” He stood and brushed off his pants. “I should be getting back.”
“Asexual and aromantic, huh?” I said to myself once he was gone. It sounded right.
I let my body go limp as I relaxed every muscle in my body. My body hugged the curve of the bench as my head rested on its top, my eyes staring into the starry night star. Off in the corner of my vision I spotted the North Star. While all of the other stars huddled together, the North Star stood on its own. Alone.
But that didn’t make it any less bright.
I still think that looking up at stars can be romantic, but right now, they’re not. But, it doesn’t make them any less beautiful.