Another year around the sun, and still single. I stare out at an amalgamation of my friends, their friends, and some of their friends’ friends sullenly sipping my whiskey sour. I realize that it’s not that I don’t socialize or put myself out there that renders me still single. I’ve made my way around this party to hug my friends I saw last week at our ritual weekly dinner, introducing myself to the friends they brought and those that those friends brought. Maybe they can smell the desperation of the introvert really putting themselves, or there is just something inherently off-putting about me that my friends haven’t mustered up the courage to tell me.
In my group of friends I’ve always felt like an outlier even though they’d never treat me as such. I was the shy one, the one that had to be convinced to do the stupid things we did, and yet always included. Leslie had been my next door neighbor growing up, and as I stand here and watch her pour beers for everyone heading over to her makeshift bar, I see the woman who is single-handedly responsible for me having a somewhat normal social life.
Leslie had been everything a popular girl usually us – cheerleader, Honor Roll student, and head of some major school organization. In her case she was the President of the Student Council. All of her achievements she earned with hard work, determination, and her good heart. We had been each other's first best friend, a title we keep to this day. Because no matter how different we were, we balanced each other out. A lot of her high school friend group consisted of others at the top of the social pyramid, and most didn’t understand why Leslie wanted anything to do with the quiet bookworm in the marching band.
There were a few exceptions to that general consensus that were present tonight and in our solidified friend group. There is Mike, Leslie’s long-term boyfriend since sophomore and soon-to-be fiancé based on his text messages to me inquiring about Leslie's preference of engagement ring. He was a football player who didn’t have dreams of making it into college, but played because his parents forced him to. But that’s how he met Leslie and it all worked out – he’s a fairly popular video game streamer that probably makes way more than he lets on.
The other exceptions are Tyler and Brian – both former baseball players in high-school and college. Tyler was also on the football team, and he threw a party after one game that he invited Mike to, who invited Leslie, who invited me.
I feel that I earned my friendship with boys in my own right. Their confusion at my presence, a verifiable nobody, was squashed when Leslie gave me a shot that I threw back with a skill only the daughter of a bar owner could display. I'd earned a level of respect in both of their eyes. Especially when I drank them both under the table. My unfazed appearance the next day, thanks to the teaching of my parents-slash-bartenders, when the other party go-ers looked like the living dead solidified my “secret badass” identity with the boys. And suddenly our oddball table had two new seats at lunch.
Brian and I became even closer when at a college party when I was the first to figure out he was gay. I’d been roaming the house of a fraternity, one that none of the guys were a part of but we all found ourselves at, looking for a quiet corner to clear my head and sober up enough so I could hopefully drive everyone home. I’d stumbled on Brian making out with a member of the fraternity. My interruption caused the other guy to flee and Brian to clearly flounder, but I assured him I wouldn’t tell anyone and it was up to him to tell everyone when he was ready. He had confessed that it was Tyler he was afraid of finding out the most as he wasn’t sure how his best friend would take it. When he finally did set us all down a couple of months later and revealed the news to everyone for the first time, with me being the exception, Tyler was cool with it and even made it his personal mission to support Brian by promising him he’d find him the perfect partner.
It took him a few years to honor that promise, but he did. We graduated and became part of the real world. Tyler, with his fancy office job, had a coworker that was shy and quiet. He had recognized a specific notification on his coworker’s phone walking behind his desk and decided to scope out his coworker to see if he would be a good match for Brian. Whatever methods Tyler used, he finally convinced his coworker, Luke, to go on a blind date with Brian.
“Doing okay over here, Erin?” Luke wrapped his arm around me in a side hug, and I returned it easily. With Luke being our most recent addition and his demeanor matching mine very well, we clicked instantly. To the point that Brian sometimes complained that I was trying to steal his husband with all the antiquing trips and in-game meetups. One of the key solidifiers of our friendship was that Luke played the same MMORPG that I did, and having a new questing buddy in real life and in game meant we spent a lot of time together and became fast friends.
“Oh you know, waiting for the ball to drop. Maybe a little less enthusiastically than everyone else.” I eyeball two women I recognize as Leslie’s coworkers putting shot glasses in their mouth for Tyler to take in some kind of orchestrated dance move that leaves the glass empty in his mouth each time. Luke sees and rolls his eyes.
He cares for Tyler just as much as the rest of us, but Tyler spends a lot of his time hanging out at Brian and Luke’s and often complaining that he is having a hard time finding “the one”. Out of all of us Tyler never left his partying phase, whereas the rest of the group dabbles and Luke and I try to avoid it unless we have to attend out of sheer necessity to maintain social graces.
“Who knows, one of them could be his future wife.” He takes a sip of his drink and stares warily out at the crowd. Without taking his eyes off the crowd becoming increasingly intoxicated in his backyard, he leans over and says, “Remind me the next time Tyler and Brian try to talk me into having a New Year’s Eve party that alcohol will not be included next time.”
I giggle at my friend’s concern. “Why? Did someone puke in your new garden bushes already?”
“Worse.” He turns to look me dead in the eye and stone-faced as he says, “One of Tyler and I’s coworkers puked on my new carpet.”
My eyes widen in sheer panic. “The one you–”
“Spent a solid month deciding on before being confident it was the perfect amount of plush and durability and that it would match our color palette? Yes. However, the reviews on how cleanable the carpet would be didn’t seem to include a mixture of vodka bombs and cheese puffs.” He sighed heavily. “Brian tried scrubbing it out before I saw it, but I saw. The damage is done. The carpet will have to be replaced.”
“Oh sweetie, I’m sorry. I’d have a word with Leslie and tell her to start watering the beer and mixed drinks down.”
“Good idea. It baffles me that out of all of us you have the most bartending experience, yet you let Leslie do it.” He narrows his eyes at me. “If I’d had you bartend this evening, would everyone’s drinks have come pre-hydrated?”
I raise my hands in defense and shake my head. “I can’t say that would be the case. But Leslie has always had this fantasy of running a bar-slash-coffee-shop café and she wanted to try her hand at it. But you know Leslie doesn’t have it in her to tell people no when they’re having fun, so I say you go play bar manager.”
“You know, you could use the frustration of your coworker puking on your carpet to channel that inner rage I remember you having as a kid and cut everyone off for the night.” I turn to see Jane, Luke’s sister approaching. I’d seen her floating around from group to group throughout the night but I hadn’t mustered the confidence needed to approach her.
Luke was nodding his head enthusiastically now and I could see the gears in his brain working as he was trying to figure out the best way to tell Leslie to slow the flow of liquor. “Yeah, yeah you’re right! It’s my house, my rules. I’ll be back later – Leslie! Leslie, hold that vodka! No, don’t you dare!” And he was gone, and I was suddenly left with my friend’s very attractive sister.
I take a moment to take a couple of quick glances at her. I haven’t seen her since Luke and Brian’s wedding, but she’s just as striking as I remember. She and Luke have the same high cheekbones and strong jaw, but on Jane it looks like it could cut glass and the rest of her is just fierceness and confidence. Like she’s some athletic goddess. She’s taller than Tyler and Mike, and if I remember correctly, Luke told me she played basketball in high school and college and was apparently really good. Her hair is short and shaved on the sides with the hair on top styled effortlessly to look messy but on purpose.
“So how have you been?” She breaks the silence between us and I look at her to see her staring intently at me. She has beautiful hazel eyes – wait, don’t stare into her eyes. You’ll make it weird, Erin.
I scramble to rack my brain for an answer as she patient waits for my response. “Since the wedding?” She nods. “I’ve been okay, I guess.” I hesitate before saying ‘okay’, weighing the word in my head to assess if it fits how the last seven months have been.
“I mean, as well as I could be. All things considered.” I realize how lame that sounds and decide to redirect. “How about you?”
She gives me a long look and I keep glancing away then back to her face to find her eyes haven’t moved. “I guess the same, all things considered.” She drains the last of her beer before tossing it in one of the many trash receptacles her brother put out.
“Well, I guess that’s us. Erin and Jane, just two ‘okay’ people.” I find that the joke falls flat and way more cringey than I intended, and quickly toss my drink away to give me something to do.
But I see Jane smirk, twisting her mouth in an effort to get rid of a smile. I’m still trying to process her reaction when she says, “I think I’m okay with that.”
I preen a little at her response and figure I’m not totally blowing having a conversation with a woman who left me completely flummoxed and flushed the entirety of the planning portion of Luke’s wedding. And the wedding day. Leslie absolutely loved that there was finally someone I showed genuine interest in, and had personally sabotaged me several times by “running late” for certain events that caused Jane and I to be alone together. Alone time I spent in panicked silenced and one-worded responses trying not to embarrass myself further.
“Did you make any New Year’s Resolutions this year?” I ask her. It seems like a harmless enough question and very appropriate given the event.
“Some. I didn’t get to them all, and some I’m still holding out for.” She replies, keeping her eyes on the crowd. She motions for me to follow her to one of the stone benches to sit.
I look at my watch – there is only like ten minutes left of the year. “What are you holding out for that might get accomplished before midnight?”
She bobs her head back and forth as if she is looking for the right words to say. She finally relents but it’s not what I was expecting her to say. “I’ll tell you if you tell me what your New Year’s Resolution was and if you accomplished it.”
I’m taken aback by the question. One because it seems strange to barter for resolutions details, but also because I’m not really wanting to confess that my resolution was to finally find someone and I failed to do that. But looking into Jane’s eyes with the whiskey running through my veins, I yield.
“I wanted to find someone and be in a relationship.” My confession hangs between us like, and I watch Jane take a big breath in almost like she’s steadying herself.
“And did that happen?”
I feel myself flush again in embarrassment. “No. And it wasn’t a realistic goal anyway.” I try to laugh a little to shake off the self-deprecation hanging on that statement.
Her eyebrows bunch together. “Why not?”
“Well,” I taper off and fiddle with my hands, not sure what to do without a drink in them and Jane giving me her full attention. “I just should have known it was going to be difficult for someone like me.”
“I don’t follow. Someone like you?” I’m looking at the ground so I don’t have to face her, but I notice she scoots closer to me. I see her sneakers resting closely to my Oxford pumps, and their juxtaposition strikes me as odd yet fitting. In fact, our whole beings seem at odds. Her athleisure, my peasant dress. Her sleek hair style, my messy top knot. I mean, I enjoy the safety and comfort of an oversized sweater or cardigan. Jane’s entire being says she’d be comfortable in anything, even the nude. I don’t know why I fantasized about being with her – the odds weren’t exactly in my favor.
“You know the shy and quiet girl. Introverted. The friend who prefers staying in on a weeknight and reading a book rather than going to bars and clubs.” I finally answered her after my mental reverse pep-talk.
Jane takes a moment, clearly thinking over what I had to say. “And these are bad things?” To which I can only shrug.
“My resolution was finally getting the courage to ask this girl out I’ve had a crush on for a while.” She must have found my response sufficient enough to warrant a response to my earlier question, though I deflate a little at the realization there is someone out there that does have her interest.
“Yeah, she’s not like anyone I’ve ever dated before. She kind of threw me for a loop. I used to think that people had to be alike to make a relationship work, but Luke and Brian proved otherwise. And when I finally got to meet Brian and the rest of their friend group, I was surprised to find this girl there.”
My brain short circuited.
But Jane continues on, her knee bouncing somewhat nervously beside me. “She’d become one of my brother’s closest friends. He’d asked her to be one of his bridesmaids, along with their other friend, Leslie.” She paused but her knee never stopped moving. “There are only so many wedding related events that you can use as an excuse to talk to someone, and I was finding it was hard to connect with her. Even though I really wanted to get to know her more.
“I’d always been pretty well-liked and found it easy to talk with people. But I was having a hard time with a more reserved person and the last thing I wanted to do was scare her off. She always seemed to shy away from me, like I was someone to avoid.”
My mouth felt dry and my voice cracked slightly as I said, “Maybe it was because she liked you she acted so shy.” Realizing what I said, basically confessing that I liked Jane, caused me to drop my head and stare at the floor.
I felt her turn next to me. I could feel her breath tickle the top of my head, moving my bangs slightly as she whispered, “She can be shy all she wants. I’m more than happy to be brave for both of us.” Her finger touched my chin as she raised my head up, and her hazel eyes were sparkling with emotion and intensity. “Besides, I intend to make both of our resolutions happen just in time.”
I vaguely registered that there were people in the background loudly shouting down a countdown, but my focus was wholly on the woman in front of me. The way her eyes dipped slightly as she focused on my mouth. The way she turned my head slightly as she did the same with hers so she could kiss me how she wanted to. She was so gentle, like she was afraid I would shatter. But the gentleness was causing me to feel too much all at once, and I was afraid my heart couldn’t handle it.
She pulled away and I felt myself chase her a little, desperate for more. A wicked smirk claimed her mouth as she seemed to radiate a giddy energy at seeing me so desperate for her, and that energy echoed inside of me at seeing her delighted at being wanted by me. Jane leaned into my ear and whispered, “Don’t fret. This is just the beginning. With you and I, there can always be more.”
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This was an interesting read. I liked how the story feels like a retelling, somehow. You give details that add a little "something" to each of these characters. I think the story might benefit from some purposeful punctuation. Paragraph breaks can really help the pacing of stories like this one. Otherwise, it was a great read! It's a feelgood piece with a passionate romance at its core.
That was a nice story. Sometimes opposites do attract. Thanks for this.