“Ah, Mr Chekhov, I was just admiring your gun.”
As a chat up line, it isn’t great, but we’re at a Star Trek party (the original 1960s TV series, not any of the spin-offs or the much cooler, recently reimagined films), organised by my friend Jake, who just happens to be Nick (aka Chekhov)’s housemate.
“It’s not a gun…” – his words are laced with flirtation – “…I’m just really pleased to see you.”
He’s lying, of course – no one, no matter how well-endowed, has a detachable member that he can conveniently tuck into a holster at his side. But I laugh anyway and step closer, wishing that my own costume wasn’t quite so short. What was it Kathleen Turner once said? “My chest isn’t up to much but I’ve got great legs.” That’s me too; but the underwired bra I’m wearing certainly gives my boobs a perky silhouette in the tight-fitting Lycra; and the way Nick’s pupils are dilating, I can tell he likes what he sees.
We’ve been doing the flirtation dance for some time now, Nick and I – ever since he moved into my friend Jake’s place on Pershore Street, just round the corner from my apartment. Jake and I were in high school together: he was the friend of people I knew, but since he didn’t take any of the same classes as me, our paths never crossed. Even when we were older and ended up choosing the same university – he majored in science whereas I took French literature – we still didn’t talk.
It was only when I moved into my apartment, at around the same time I started working for a company that rented office space in the same building as his firm and realised he was just a few floors away that we got to know each other properly. And no, that isn’t a euphemism for something else. Jake’s a lovely guy, but there’s a lot of him: at six foot, he probably weighs around two hundred and forty pounds, and he spends most of his time in sweatpants because he’s too big for jeans. He’s got a heart of gold, though – has my spare key “in case of emergencies” and uses it to let himself into my place about five or ten minutes before I get home from work so he can have a mega-sized coffee waiting for me. He’s my go-to-guy when I need to change a light bulb (no, I’m not pathetic – it’s just that my ceilings are ridiculously high and I’m five foot nothing) or help with other bits of DIY. Over the months, we’ve become close friends, and most weekends he comes over with a bottle of cheap wine and we watch a film together and eat takeaway pizza. He’s been there for me through all my recent dating disasters – and I seem to have stacked up quite a few; and he knows about my mega-crush on Nick – he has to: Nick’s all I’ve been talking about for the past few months.
Speaking of Nick… We’re still moving closer to each other in unbearable slow motion, the air between us so thick with desire that the longing is almost palpable. It’s no surprise when he finally kisses me, and the experience lives up to everything I’ve imagined for the last ninety-four days: it’s Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve and July the Fourth, all rolled into one huge firework display that explodes in a million sensations. My knees buckle, so it’s a good job Nick’s holding me, or I might have found myself on the floor.
Finally, we finish kissing and break apart. He’s breathing heavily; my bones have turned to jelly. His eyes search mine: a long, lingering look. “Shall we take this somewhere else?” he says.
This isn’t what I usually do, but I’ve been dreaming about this moment for so long that I don’t want to pass up the opportunity. “Okay,” I say, letting him take my hand and lead me to his bedroom.
Only, it turns out his bedroom is already full of people playing some sort of virtual game on his PS5; and Jake’s room – which is the largest by far in this apartment – has been turned into a cinema room for tonight, showing vintage episodes of ‘Star Trek’ on a massive 40 inch screen.
Jake’s in there now, knocking back a bottled beer and talking animatedly to a couple of nerds dressed as Spock. I watch them for a moment, wondering if Jake, in full Klingon regalia, will get lucky tonight – it’s unlikely, though: not because of his size but because he’s still hung up on a girl he fell for years ago at university. Helen was from London, England, and once she’d finished her degree, she went back home without ever knowing about Jake’s unrequited love. We were talking recently, and he made some comment then about how frustrating it can be to spend so much time with someone who only ever sees you as a friend. He used to dream of getting a job in London so that he could walk the streets every weekend until he ‘casually’ bumped into her, but it never happened.
I turn to move, but Jake’s spotted me already, weaving his way through the nerd-clusters to see how I am. Then his eye catches sight of Nick, standing behind me, his fingers interlaced with mine. Jake falters, looking confused – or is it embarrassed?
“When did this happen?” he asks in a low tone.
I give a half-shy, half-triumphant grin, as if to say, I haven’t a clue, but it’s brilliant! But he’s already turning away.
“Jake!” I call after him.
He pauses, swivels back to face me.
“Have you seen Gill?” I continue urgently. She and I came to the party together – she always stays at my place when it’s one of Jake’s ‘do’s. I know she’ll have the spare door key to my apartment with her, but I should tell her that I’m going. I have to leave now: there’s nowhere here in this place where Nick and I can have some privacy.
“Haven’t seen her.” He shakes his head, as if to emphasise the not knowing, and I feel a pang of guilt. I know Gill likes Nick too – after one of my mammoth heart-to-hearts with Jake, when I’d practically talked his ear off, telling him how much I fancied his roommate, he’d advised me to “talk to Gill” for a female perspective. It turned out that she’s just as hung up on Nick as I am, although with his Mediterranean good looks – dark hair and come-to-bed eyes, teamed with an olive skin that would make you think he comes from Madrid not Minneapolis – any woman alive would be mad not to find him attractive.
Maybe I shouldn’t tell Gill after all, I reason now: I wouldn’t want Nick to be the cause of a division between us. We’ve been friends since the last year of high school when we were both in the same English class together. We clicked straight away and stayed close despite going to different colleges for the next few years. Once we’d graduated and landed jobs back home, Gill and I talked about renting somewhere together, but in the end we both went our separate ways, needing something accessible for both workplaces. She found an upmarket, trendy bijou residence that’s so small it’s more of a glorified closet than anything else, and I landed on my feet with a one and a half-bedroomed apartment above the San Francisco Pizza Place. (That’s why Jake and I eat so many takeaway Hawaiians.) Gill’s a lot of fun, even if she is an accountant (which is what most English graduates end up doing, apparently).
As we walk back to my place, still holding hands, Nick lets out a low laugh. “Lame sort of party,” he comments.
I say nothing in reply. Nick’s only been Jake’s roommate for three and a half months, replacing Akash, an Indian guy who had a collection of very dodgy videos which I suspect he’d made himself. Nick doesn’t realise that Jake’s parties are legendary, each one of them with a different theme that involves dressing up. In the time I’ve known him, he’s had the ‘1970s’ party – Gill and I were Dancing Queens in shiny jumpsuits and Jake was an overweight Elvis; the ‘T’-party, where we all had to dress up as things beginning with the letter ‘T’ (I was a tiger in gloriously tacky, tiger-print velvet leggings; Gill was a trifle – don’t ask – and Jake played once more to his physical build by going as ‘Mr T’); and, last summer, the ‘Dr Seuss green eggs and ham’ party. Jake’s incredibly artistic, so he decorated the house with hand drawn pictures of some of the most famous characters, including the ‘Cat in the Hat’ and the ‘Grinch’ and a couple that the two of us invented – the ‘Deer with a Beer’ and ‘Hermie the Wormy’. His parties are silly and childish and lots of fun, so I bristle when Nick starts to disparage them and pretend I haven’t heard.
We’ve reached my street now. Nick turns up his nose at the rather sad-looking pizza place then looks startled when he realises this is where I live. I start to worry that he’s regretting this already, that he’d envisioned me living somewhere like Gill’s apartment – all mod cons and style over substance. For a second, I indulge in that fantasy too, imagine the two of us, him and me, sharing somewhere together, looking back on this first night with fondness as we remember how it all started.
But it’s too cold for daydreaming: the February night air is nipping at my nose, freezing my face. If we don’t get inside quickly, we’ll be too cold to do anything other than rub noses, like Eskimos. Smiling self-consciously at Nick, I fish my key out of my tiny black handbag – I know Uhura doesn’t carry one, but this costume has no provision for any pockets at all – and unlock the door. I let Nick enter, wondering whether it would be far too tacky to make a joke about him ‘boldly going where no man has gone before’.
Once inside, he looks round approvingly: this wasn’t what he expected from an apartment over a fast-food outlet. “Nice place.” Then, as his eyes take in the candles and the coloured glass, “Bit Bohemian, though.”
I could lie and claim that all the ‘hippie’ stuff belongs to someone else, but if I want this to work out then we both need to be honest with each other from the start. Besides, as we move from the living room into the bedroom, there’s a lot more of it, so I start pointing it out.
“That’s a genuine Turkish lamp I picked up on vacation a couple of years ago,” I tell him, “and that’s a 1970s shatter-lamp – they’re worth about two hundred dollars on eBay these days.”
Jake gets my obsession, helps me trawl the thrift shops and yard sales for the best bargains. He’s always said that my apartment has character, that the jewel bright colours and eclectic mixture of styles remind him of an Aladdin’s Cave. Unlike Aladdin, I have no magic lamp to guarantee I’ll get what I wish for – although I’m sure Nick will be able to suggest something I ought to rub hard…
He’s not wasting time admiring my vintage throw or my framed Victorian postcards – instead, he compliments my hair, my eyes, then lets his mouth and hands show me how much he appreciates my body.
He’s certainly good at what he does, touching me in all the right places so that I fizz with expectancy and dissolve into a pool of pure pleasure. There’s something missing though: expert though he is, I can’t help feeling that I could be any woman and Nick would still be employing all the same moves. This isn’t making love: it’s him demonstrating his skill.
It’s all over and we lie there silently. I’m unsure of what should happen next: he’s the first man I’ve ever invited back.
What I’m not expecting is for him to kiss the top of my head lightly before getting up and starting to re-dress. “You were sensational,” he tells me. “Let’s make sure we do this again – soon.”
I don’t cry until after he’s gone: silent tears that leave a slimy slug trail down my face. I gave him something special, but he’s treated it as though it were nothing more than the cheap toy inside a Kinder egg – and, like the plastic capsule inside the egg, I’m now hollow and empty.
Even though it’s corny and clichéd, even though I’m supposed to be a feisty, independent woman, I want the fairy tale, the happy ever after. I want someone whose eyes light up when I enter the room; and I want someone who’ll stay and hold me all night, not scuttle back to a party we’ve just left.
That’s when it hits me: maybe Nick doesn’t know how I feel: maybe he thinks I just wanted a quickie and he left when he did to protect his own feelings. I’m clutching at straws and I know it; nevertheless, I’m soon pulling on my own outfit and heading back in the direction of Jake’s house.
It doesn’t take me long to find Nick. The way he’s draped over Gill, with his tongue down her throat, confirms my worst suspicions: he only kissed me in the first place because I was conveniently there. And really, when you think about it, there’s not much difference between us, Gill and I: we’re both wearing short, Lycra dresses, mine teamed with knee high boots, hers with stilettos; we’re both dark haired and petite; and we both have a huge crush on Nick.
Behind me, I hear a sigh. I turn and Jake looks once more confused. “I thought that was you kissing Nick.” Is he relieved or sorry? I can’t tell.
I follow the direction of his eyes, watch my best friend with the man I thought felt something for me, and wonder how I feel. Like I said, the similarity is strong – only, I have an inkling that, unlike Nick, Jake cares which one of us is which.
I can sense the tears beginning to prick my eyes once more and I blink furiously, not wanting to advertise my misery in front of Nick – or anyone else. Jake’s hand on my shoulder is light and comforting. “I’m sorry,” he says.
It’s his concern for me that tips me over the edge. My funny, sweet, compassionate friend has been my rock for the last eighteen months and I love him to bits. If he looked like Nick, he’d be perfect. And a part of me knows, without being told, that Jake wouldn’t just hold me all night: he’d make me breakfast the next morning too.
Somehow, ideas form themselves into words and escape from my mouth. “I’ll see you tomorrow.” I’m fighting to hold back the tears until I’ve left the party for a second time.
Jake touches my shoulder once more. “I’ll walk you home.”
He’s taken off the Klingon mask now, but even so we make an odd couple: me in my sexy, skimpy tunic; him in full battle dress, towering over my less than average height. We don’t talk, both of us too wrapped up in our own thoughts to make the effort with each other.
When, finally, we reach my door, he pauses. I want more than anything for him to come in, to let me cry on his shoulder, to dry my tears and tell me it will all be okay. Instead, he looks at me, half-sympathetically, half-accusingly. “I thought Nick would be the one going home with you tonight.”
“He did.” The words drag from my lips as unwillingly as a toddler letting go of a security blanket. I’m surprised by how much it hurts.
I look up. The pain in Jake’s eyes tells me why he calls round so often, why he’s always there when I need him, why his heart is now breaking. His love for me is as hopeless as mine for Nick. And then, in a moment of clarity, I realise that Jake wanted the fairy tale too.
“Why didn’t you tell me before now?” I ask bluntly.
He gives a bitter, twisted smile. “Klingons have feelings too. Sometimes it’s better not saying anything, not knowing – that way, you can still dream.”
But it’s too late now for dreams – his and mine shattered forever when I took the wrong guy home.
He kisses my cheek before he walks away; and this time I know it means goodbye.