What happened was, I had to endure a two-month shitstorm, basically on my own. Val was obviously distraught and I tried to console her, but she didn't want to listen to me because this happened on my watch so deep down, she holds me to blame in a sense. Would this have happened without me in the picture? Is there anything I could have done to prevent it? I don't know. But if Josh was the kind of guy who was going to do this, what did she want with him?
She wanted me to fix it. Early on, once she got over the initial shock, she asked me to go back to him, swallow "my" pride and suck up to him and make it work. And I just... couldn't. I felt like, with an affair and a pregnancy, this relationship is just too broken.
She disagreed and said it was something to work on, a concept that "obviously" I had little experience with. That stung, so I fired back by saying that maybe if she didn't treat her man like a doormat, he wouldn't have felt the need to get back at her this way. Not my proudest moment.
She said she was washing her hands of the situation, that she had "Anna problems" to deal with, and that since I got her into this mess (again, debatable) I could clean it up however I saw fit. Sure, I'm used to it.
In the meantime, Val's and Josh's lease expired, and with no hope for reconciliation... let's just say working 30 hours per week pouring coffee doesn't get you a nice Brooklyn apartment. I was packed up and out on my ass for New Year's.
I didn't have many options. I didn't want to reach out to Val's friends because I still wasn't even sure I wanted to tell people the marriage was a failure before it began - again, I don't know why but it felt like my failure, my embarrassment even though I could still be considered an outside party. My only friend in the area is Pete, and while she was happy to let me crash on the couch for a night or two, her roommate wasn't crazy about it as an ongoing arrangement. And to be honest, I don't think my back could take it much longer either (let's face it, I'm already starting in pretty rough shape, having to lug a pair of cantelopes like these around all day.)
My only other options seemed to be Marie, Val's best friend, and the one she would confide in if her marriage really did crumble, or Val's mother, who adored Josh. Turning to either of them was too heavy for me to contemplate.
Then two days ago, my salvation came in the form of an old friend... of Valerie's.
When you're an Inn-Curse-Person, you get used to recognizing the look people give you when you're "supposed" to know them. So I was working behind the counter at the coffee shop and this guy gives me the look. He stops in his tracks and gives this little gasp like he can't believe it.
I take a quick glance, and there's this guy in the doorway. Skinny, not tall but that's all relative because everybody's taller than me. Short-cropped hair, a nice scarf... kind of handsome, good face.
I get in character quick, "Oh, heyyy man!"
I think to myself, this guy can't be particularly close because he wasn't at the wedding.
"Unbelievable. I just started working on this block, I had no idea you worked here!"
"Yeah, crazy..." I say, trying lightly get him to move along.
"So how's married life? I was so sorry I couldn't make it to the wedding..."
I wince - he s invited, so he's got to be pretty tight with Val. I sigh. "That's okay, it... well, can you keep a secret?"
"Josh... was already married. The wedding was... like... a sham."
I had actually been dying to say it out loud for some time, and it felt like a good opportunity since I hadn't seen this guy before so I was feeling less self-conscious.
He reacted like he was really stunned. "Woah! I can't believe it..." he stammered. "You... are you okay?"
"I'm... handling it. In my own way."
"I mean, you've been in love with that guy for ten years... I can't even imagine how you must feel."
"It's... been rough," I admit, and as detailed above, there's some truth there.
Then he says, "Do you want to... get a cup of coffee or something?"
My heart sinks. I don't know where this guy is coming from. Surely he's not using this as an opportunity to try to hit on me? Or is this just a friendly cup? I start to get anxious about it, I'm not sure how much longer I can fake my way through this conversation, and I need to come up with something.
"I don't know," I start to squirm, "It's a really hectic time..."
"Come on, Val... it's me." He says this with such weight that it seems to mean something.
Then in walks this girl. Beautiful tall, thin brunette. I feel a pang of jealousy for her looks, because after using a stepstool to reach the lowest shelf for six months, I'd love to be a skinny tall brunette, especially one who doesn't have to special-order her bras. She wasn't even that tall, maybe 5'7.
Anyway, she pecks this guy on the cheek and says "Hey babe, sorry I'm late!"
I nod in acknowledgment in case I'm supposed to know this girl, but the guy gestures to me and says "Val this is Alexa, Alexa, Val's an old friend from high school."
She smiles (and I can't help thinking this girl is a bitch even though I'm sure she's perfectly nice) and I return it. But deep down I'm satisfied that these two are an item so of course this guy just wants to catch up.
He orders for the two of them, and then asks again about catching up.
I can't say for sure where my head was at... strategically it made no sense to engage this guy any further. But what do I have to lose? If he wants to reminisce, I can fake it, I've got the curse's protection, and what do I care if he has a problem with my version of Valerie? And the weird thing is, I just... felt like I needed a friend in that moment. someone who wasn't an Ex or my sister, or a hyperactive nut like Pete.
"What the hell," I shrug, "Hey, why don't you text me to see if I've still got your right number?"
He pulls out his phone and within a swift moment he has sent a text of a smiley face.
Ryan Morasca, the name reads. I congratulate myself for being sneaky. The name did ring a bell.
"Meet me here at 8 tomorrow, Ryan," I say, "I'll tell you some stories."
Pete/Brig was obviously excited when I told her, her eyes bugging out. "I can't believe you have a date!!"
"It's not a date. It's coffee with an old friend of Val's."
"Don't be naive," she smirked, "I bet he wants you."
"He's taken," I emphasize.
"I'm not seeing a contradiction..." she hummed, and I tried to laugh it off.
"Well he'd better get used to disappointment," I groaned, "Now, help me pick an outfit that says, 'You seem cool and all but this isn't going anywhere'."
For that, Brig suggested jeans, a cardigan sweater and a big scarf. "It seems fancy, but it limits his opportunities to ogle you since the girls are nicely hidden."
"You've given this a lot of thought," I remarked.
"I hope to get out there one day."
"I'm not out there," I reiterated through gritted teeth.
"Sure, sure," Pete giggled - "How about make-up?"
I said no to that. I really did want to look as plain as possible... although being female has warped my brain so much that leaving the house without at least some foundation on makes me feel naked and wrong.
And the truth was, the coffee really was just pleasant. I didn't have to rely on my small knowledge of Valerie's life, because we mostly talked about what had happened with Josh. And not in a way where he was slobbering on me waiting for a chance to hit on me, just... interested, friendly. I didn't get the sense that there was really anything more to it than that. He also told me about his life, how he had been traveling for work but was back in New York permanently.
"You don't happen to have a line on a cheap apartment, do you?" I asked.
"Funny you should ask," he said, "One of the guys I was supposed to room with left the country. Interested?"
"Seriously? What's the rent?"
He told me, and it was... well, a bit high.
"Well... what if I helped you out a bit?"
"No, I couldn't."
"Seriously, no strings attached."
I didn't know people still did that.
I asked, "What about Alexa? She won't be jealous you're out with an old friend?"
"Nah, she's cool," he said, brushing it off in a way that suggested to me that maybe he didn't know for sure if she actually was cool.
But hey, I don't have time to go looking a gift horse in the mouth. I've got to get my stuff out of storage.