Monday, February 26, 2018

Tyler/Valerie: Coffee with Anna

Ever since this thing happened with Josh, my life has been a fight.

Fighting with Josh to disconnect Valerie's life from his.

Fighting with Valerie over what to do next... and who's actually to blame.

Fighting with myself over... well, everything.

Meg has said I have a guilt complex... I can somehow blame myself for everything but be very touchy when others do the same. Which probably explains how I can beat myself up over what happened but get very defensive when Val puts the blame on me for not being, well, her.

When I finally did sit down face to face with her, she looked exhausted. I think Anna's life is putting her through the wringer in addition to the emotional distress from the wedding fallout. Or maybe I'm just sexist and still think that anytime a woman doesn't put on full makeup she looks ill.

She met me at the coffee shop after work but we decided to go to a neutral location so that my co-workers wouldn't interrupt us.

Even though we had planned to have this big conversation, which I was sweating over all afternoon, neither of us really seemed to want to talk and we spent a lot of time making failed small talk about the weather and work.

Eventually I said, "I've been telling people what happened... everyone's very sympathetic."

"What have you been saying?" she got a worried look on her face.

"The truth," I shrugged, "He cheated, went back to his ex and fathered a lovechild."

She looked away. "I hope people aren't going to be too hard on him."

I sputtered, "What! Val, he's a monster! What he did--"

"I just don't know if he deserves to be shunned! He's such a good person..."

"How can you think like that?"

"Well--" she choked a little, "I still love him, Tyler. Part of me would even forgive him if I could talk to him directly."

I didn't comment on that.

"I keep wanting to tell you to go to him and say some things on my behalf, but I can't put you in that position, to say things you don't actually feel."

"That's a conversation you'd need to be there for," I said. "Maybe when you get back..."

She shook her head, "I should move on, really. I said part of me wants to forgive him, but the other part... I'm too devastated."

"That's understandable."

"I want to believe you did all you could," she sighed, "I don't want to go on blaming you, but the alternative is that it still would have happened if I were there, and that's hard to swallow."

"Uh huh." I hoped we weren't going to fight about it again.

"I just can't help it. I think he knew. I think he knew it wasn't me but he couldn't process it so it made him run. I don't care how much you look like me, you're not my essence. You're not even really a woman."

I don't know why, but that bugged me.

I have my own theories as to why it happened, which basically boils down to the relationship being broken on a fundamental level... maybe he was always iffy on her and from what I can tell - I'd never say this to her face but maybe I can get away with writing it here - she took him for granted. The way he behaved around me, he was used to the doormat treatment. It's not hard to see why a guy like that might stray.

I asked if she wanted to discuss our plans for returning to the Inn, and she said things were fine. "I don't want to think about how the life I'm going back to isn't the life I want."

"Fair, I guess."

"I heard you're living with Ryan Moreno now," she said with some consternation in her voice, "Be careful with that one, he's always had a crush on me."

I raised an eyebrow. "He seems fine. He's with someone."

She rolled her eyes. "Yeah, for now..."

I shrugged. "It's going okay. Gotta live somewhere."

"I would have moved back home... if it happened to me. I'd want to be with my mom."

I winced. "She's very sweet, but a bit overbearing I think. Very protective when I told her what happened."

That made her smile, weakly. "She would be."

There was a lull, and she said, "I'm dating someone."

I nearly spat my coffee. "What??"

"It's just casual. It won't interfere with the Inn. But even before the break-up with Josh I was lonely. You could say I'm on the rebound."

In my head I thought, it'd better not interfere. Out loud I said, "Do what you gotta do."

"Do you think you'd like sex, as a woman?"

"I've had it," I answered back, "I liked it, but I'm not missing it."

She snickered, "Liar." She sipped, "You find men attractive?"

"It's... complicated."

She smiled in acknowledgment. "If I told you you could have some, would you?"

I bristled at having to get permission for it. I'd like to think that, after Josh, if I wanted it I would have pursued.

I shrugged. "Someone's bound to get hurt. Maybe me, maybe someone else." I nodded in her direction.

She sipped the last of her coffee and said my words back to me, "Do what you've got to do. We'll talk again soon."

I watched her go, taking her long, lean, willowy frame out into the cold night air. She left me with a weird feeling in the pit of my stomach...


Wednesday, February 14, 2018

J.T./Elaine: Three Dates

It's actually been four dates if you count New Year's Eve, but that's a thing we did with a group of people, and when I was stalling because the third date is often the sex date, it was easy to pick up the habit of counting from zero that comes from working with computer people all day.  If that first one was Date Zero, then the third was actually Date Two, and I didn't have to worry about being intimate with another man for at least another few days.  Of course, that just pushes things off...

Still, that New Year's Eve night was a lot of fun - though most of Elaine's girlfriends had couple-centric things to attend, Jezzie had seen the clips of me and Daryl singing karaoke at the company Christmas party and was in no way going to be my excuse for not meeting up for more of that, although she was willing to be my escape route if things went badly.  Which I figured was the best thing that could happen; it's kind of weird seeing Daryl outside a work environment, maybe I can say one of his friends is making me uncomfortable, and we agree that it was a bad idea, and I don't have to deal with Elaine telling me that not taking a chance with him would be very out of character anymore.

We have a great time.

Jezzie, it turns out, has never done karaoke either, but loves it immediately.  We're initially outnumbered four guys to two girls, but Daryl's friends are apparently charming enough that two girls they met at the bar join us, and there's eight of us drinking, singing, and laughing for three hours before we break for "Auld Lang Syne" at midnight and then apparently have another hour and a half in us.  Jezzie winds up hoping up with one of Daryl's friends, and the next time the girls get together, she's telling me that he was really skeptical about the whole karaoke thing, but had a good time, and that he was surprised Daryl found a girl as fine as Elaine at his work, what with his nerd job and all.

I feel weirdly good about the compliment; I may have inherited Elaine's shape, but I've put enough work into it to feel some ownership:  I've lost a pound or two off my butt, got a shorter haircut that I like, and even figured out enough about dressing myself and doing make-up that those early days of embarrassing myself on job interviews are something I can laugh at.  He's not entirely attracted to someone else when he looks at me, and him saying so makes me feel like I've done something right.

Still, I don't really acknowledge that we had a date that week at work, and when the team is talking about how they rang in the new year, I kind of make it sound like we just happened to be in the same place.  He seems to get the hint, not asking me out again that week, but come the next Monday, the 8th, he casually slides by my desk and mentions that he's got an extra ticket to the Bulls that night and would I like to go?

I immediately wonder what kind of vibe I'm giving off, because I do occasionally find myself about to respond when guys in the break room talk sports and then thinking about how it's not really in-character - I've picked up Elaine's workout routine, but there's no team logos on her gear or souvenirs in the apartment, and I don't dress in a "one of the guys" outfit almost ever - but I also really want to go.  I've spent a lot of Sundays just camped out at the apartment watching football and caught more basketball since becoming Elaine than maybe I did in the rest of my life, just for something to follow.  Is there something I'm doing that says "she's not like other girls", or am I just stereotyping?  Heck, maybe he's just figuring that he should find out if the girl likes sports early.

So I say yes, the seats aren't great, but there's expensive watery beer, we get to argue en route to the Bulls losing to Houston, and there's no ironic thing putting us on some sorry of Kiss Cam or anything like that.  We go out for a couple drinks after that, but I don't get drunk enough for more singing.  That's Official Date #1.

I spend the next week and a half lying and saying I've got a lot going on at home, but eventually I cave when he asks me out to a movie the next Friday.  It's not a great one - that "Proud Mary" thing with Taraji P. Henson - but it's kind of fun.  I'm not sure how much I should enjoy her playing this kind of role, in that I still have zero problem identifying with white male main characters, but I kind of do dig watching someone who looks like I do now kicking ass, especially when I'm just letting myself get caught up in things.  I kind of like that she mostly did it in comfortable clothes and shoes, too.  Official Date #2.

Then, at the end of January, I decided to dial back comfortable, because that was the third date.  It's a bit of a cliche that that's the sex date, but I'm kind of susceptible to those expectations; I grew up inside TV and movies, after all, and truth be told, I'm kind of not used to waiting for the third date as a guy.  And, I admit, after four months, I'm kind of curious - I've been intimidated by a couple things at the back of one of Elaine's dresser drawers, I've occasionally lingered in the shower, and I've been kind of surprised that what I've done with my hands hasn't really done that much for me.  Am I just too tentative, does knowing exactly what's coming kill the excitement, or (gasp!) am I just terrible at pleasing women and nobody has ever told me?

I'm 50/50 between anxious to find out and terrified, but I do things up nice, spending way more of Saturday afternoon than I ever imagined in a hair salon, putting on lipstick, putting on flimsy, lacy underwear and spraying some perfume at my crotch after really tidying up down there for the first time.  It's too cold to wear anything really skimpy, but I look pretty great, I think, and, hey, it's not like I haven't spent longer getting ready to shoot a two-minute scene in a horror movie (and wound up looking much less sexy).

And Daryl, darn it, almost looks even better when we met at the restaurant.

It's a pretty nice meal, high-end Japanese.  I never pegged him as a big sushi guy, but it turns out he's a not-so-secret big fan of all things Japanese, though it's not a thing he really mentions to a girl until he's really sure that there's something there.  I guess black nerds not only get it as bad as white ones in high school, they're often kind of invisible in pop-culture, so he often really felt like there wasn't a place for him, and so he kind of keeps a loud on his "otaku-ness" still.

As much as it felt kind of strange for him to be opening up to me like that, it got even weirder when the subject got to me in high school.  I hadn't really had Elaine coach me on that, figuring it was long ago not too come up.  I gather she was not unpopular - she's in contact with a bunch of people from that time on social media - and she's got a few mementos from then in her closet, along with a few more in her parents' basement.  But we got on the subject, and it didn't seem right to say nothing after Daryl said something kind of important to him.

So I improvised, only to find myself putting a lot more of myself into it than expected.  To Daryl, then, Elaine had been popular but busy, not just inside school but out of it, and her parents had tended to over-commit her so that they could kind of soak that up.  Then, come college, she'd gone from being an overachiever to just one of many girls who were good at something, and that was why she was writing emails and annoying people by filling their Outlook calendars instead of creating things herself.

That's not entirely my story - if nothing else, I didn't come close to making Elaine's parents nearly as selfish as mine had been, on the off-chance he might meet them - but it's a lot closer to being mine than Elaine's.  I don't tell it a lot in any form, because it doesn't tend to do me much good; people both think that everybody who works in show business is rich, which is not the case, and take a certain amount of joy in people who have success as a teenager coming back down to Earth.  So it was a bit of a surprise to find Daryl being completely sympathetic, saying that he does know what it was like to feel like your biggest success is behind you.

We keep talking throughout our after-dinner activities, walking around to kill time before some local band he likes plays at 10pm, and then after, we hang out in the bar, talking some more about work, "my" troublemaker sister, his friends, and feeling like you don't really fit in somewhere.  The funny thing was, it didn't quite leave us in a sexy place, especially since the conversation included an ex-girlfriend of his who kind of made him nervous about girls wanting to have sex with him because she saw him as a way out of something and then wasn't easy on his self-esteem in the breakup when he didn't become an Internet millionaire as fast as she wanted.  Maybe the real Elaine would have taken it as a signal to show him what it's like when a girl really likes him, but I didn't.

We kissed, though, and I don't know if it's because I'm black or a girl now, or just random transferred genetics, but I've got much fuller lips than I did before and he's a good kisser - it's the first time I've actually felt like there was a lot going on with my lips rather than their being an obstacle on the way to my tongue, at least to that extent.  It was definitely weird, but one thing I learned as an actor was that the person kissing you can be anyone if you either close your eyes or tilt your head so that you're kind of looking over each other - you can be kissing a mouth, not a man, at least as long as you don't think too much about how strong the hands on your butt are.

Maybe me not being ready for that much eye contact was a signal to him, too.  Didn't really think of that until I started writing.  Still, I can't deny that the end of Official Date #3 had me very curious to see what all the way is like - and I'm sure he's planning something special enough for Valentine's Day tonight that I won't be wearing a thong for nothing!