It occurs to me that I need the guidance of a friend. Or at least the presence of a someone I can trust to prevent me from saying stupid things and giggling too much. My only female friend–Laura–lives in Baltimore. And Nate, probably my closest male friend, is a virtual shut-in. Luring him out of the house seems unlikely. I decide to enlist the help of London.
Because I don’t own a cordless phone (and at this point in my life, I think that cell phones are for jerkfaced yuppies with careers in the stupid world of finance), I am forced to call London in my bedroom, in plain earshot of Andy and Ryan. I recline on my bed as I attempt to convey the importance of London’s participation in the evening, without actually spilling any details. “It’s just REALLY important that you come out tonight. There is a lot going on that I NEED to talk to you about…IN PERSON.” And so on. I promise him an unlimited number of free drinks. I offer to bike all the way up to his place in Andersonville and bring him back on my handlebars. Nonetheless he declines my invitation, offering to take me out for lunch the next day instead. I can’t turn down free food and a car ride to Chicago Comics (part of my usual Saturday morning itinerary). We chat for a few minutes…and when I look over in the direction of my guests, Ryan is watching me. He’s not even trying to disguise it. Meanwhile, Andy is in the midst of a soliloquy about the sacredness of Native American burial grounds. I stick my tongue out at the scene, which amuses Ryan.
When I hang up the purple plastic phone, I realize that I need to get out of the apartment. And I also need a stiff drink. I suggest that we take a stroll down to Marie’s Riptide, an old man bar on Armitage. Think year-round Christmas lights, Patsy Cline and Conway Twitty on the jukebox, and really cheap, really strong drinks.
As we make the four block walk, Andy points out that it is April 1st. Otherwise known as April Fool’s Day. Years later I will laugh bitterly about this coincidence. Tragedy and comedy are separated by only the finest, faintest line.
For some reason, we decline the opportunity to sit in a booth. And so, instead, I find myself sitting between Andy and Ryan at the bar. It feels like I’m on a date with both of them. Ideally I could just sit at the other end of the bar and have some time to myself. Maybe read a book. It would be best to separate myself from this weird situation. I realize that I’ve forgotten to bring cigarettes, so I stuff my mouth full of cinnamon gum. I’m so busy attempting to politely participate in conversation, that I don’t notice how much anyone is drinking. Specifically: the volume of drinks Andy is drinking. When he stumbles off to the bathroom, Ryan whispers in my ear, “I think Andy is really drunk.” I’m surprised. Ryan indicates that he has seen him down five drinks. Whoa! We’ve only been at the bar for an hour or so. We decide that we should take him back to my place. Maybe we can get him to eat some food to soak up the alcohol filling his stomach.
When I open the door to the apartment, Ashley is waiting in the kitchen. “Where have you been?” The tone is accusatory. I point out the note I left on her bedroom door. She shrugs her shoulders. And then she sees Ryan.
“I ring you up for paint almost every day,” she exclaims. I worry that she is going to try to hug him.
“Oh yeah, you work at Pearl Paint,” he responds enthusiastically.
They are talking while I try to convince Andy to eat a tofu sandwich. He declines this offer, and instead pulls a bottle of Beefeater out of the freezer. Suddenly he’s making gin and tonics for everyone.
I go into the bathroom to check for potential cosmetic touch ups. Ashley squeezes in the door after me.
“OH MY GOD! I can’t believe that Andy is friends with that guy Ryan! I’ve been in LOVE with him forever! Seriously…ask anyone else who works at Pearl….”
And so on. This monologue professing her undying love continues for no less than five minutes, while I decide to brush my teeth again (whiskey breath) and she helps herself to my bin of makeup. Her speech ends with “…And I think it’s totally fate and PROOF THAT WE BELONG TOGETHER that he is here right now in our apartment. And the fact that is the first day of the month just means that we are destined to spend April together! You have to help me win him over. Should I change clothes?”
And then I’m being swept into her bedroom to watch her try on scarves.
When we emerge, I need a another drink. In a flash, I’m cutting lime slices and coaxing ice out of the tray. I sit on the floor next to the dishwasher as I light up a cigarette. Ryan sits down next to me. “You look too healthy to be a smoker,” he says. I explain that while I do smoke quite a bit, I just can’t get addicted to it. And so, I usually smoke for a few days or weeks, and then I stop for a couple months. At the age of 22, I am filled with illogical logic like this. “I know it’s a bad habit, but you have to admit that I look cool when I do it.” I don’t add that I just need something to do with my hands, so I’m not fidgety and awkward in social situations.
Somebody decides that we are going to another bar in my neighborhood. Andy seems less drunk, so it doesn’t seem like a bad idea to me. As we walk down the street, Ashley is talking Ryan’s ear off about something or another. He smiling, so I think he likes her. This is a relief. For one, it would be obviously weird if I tried to make a move on him tonight. And I don’t feel like dealing with Ashley’s wrath.
We’re drinking weird purple cocktails (some odd drink special) at a table when Andy announces that he doesn’t feel well. I give him my keys and tell him to go back to my place. “It’s only a few blocks away. I don’t think you should make the long walk back to your place. Chicago Avenue is far away!” I tell him not to worry. Ashley has her keys, so we will be able to get in later.
I get to use the ladies room. When I return, Ashley is sitting next to Ryan. It looks like they are cozying up to one another. I’m bored and I have a headache. “I feel like I should go home to check on Andy.”
Ryan shakes his head like “No, no.”
Ashley is more like “Yes, yes.”
Ryan grabs my wrist. “C’mon…I haven’t learned anything about you tonight, other than that you own lots of books and you smoke light cigarettes.”
And so I stay.
Ashley tries to make conversation with Ryan, but he won’t stop talking to me. I try to include her, but he shuts me down every time. She’s giving me dirty looks while I try to seem innocent. Every time he asks me something, I reply with something like “Oh, yeah…well that reminds of something Ashley said. Oh, Ashley…you should tell him.” And so on.
Ryan is not interested in Ashley.
Eventually she stands up and says something about working in the morning. She has to go.
I remember an important detail. “Don’t forget, Andy has my keys. You will have to let me in.” Oh, of course this isn’t a problem. She will be awake for a while doing stuff. As long as we come home in an hour, everything will be fine. She waves goodbye. “I hope I will see you again soon, Ryan.”
As soon as she walks out the door, I realize I have made a mistake. I’m sure she’s pissed. And the likelihood of getting into my apartment is slim. But then I decide that I shouldn’t assume the worst about her.
Ryan and I are talking about Chuck Close when he announces his intention to move over to my side of the table so he can hear me better. A few minutes later we’re sharing a drink and laughing at the word “snatch.” I find myself consciously trying to be charming. I realize he really is the cutest boy I have ever met. It’s not even how he looks, it’s more about the really lovely energy he exudes. I laugh at my own thoughts, because I’m not the sort of person who talks about “energy.” As I’m giggling and nervously wiggling my fingers, he leans forward and kisses me.
I pull away because I’m shocked. I stand up, brushing imaginary ashes off my dress. “Well, I guess we should go home, because I need to get back before Ashley goes to sleep.” He nods his head in disappointed agreement.
We start walking back to my apartment. I find myself leading us on a roundabout path. I think I’m just stalling because I actually want him to kiss me again.
“I think Ashley has a crush on you,” I say.
He nods his head.
“And I just feel weird about this.” I stop walking, leaning against a tree. “I mean, she’s my roommate. And you know, I’ve been hanging out with Andy.”
He puts his hand on my shoulder, as if he’s trying to comfort me. But then we’re kissing and I’m pulling him closer and I feel like I might go into some dramatic swoon. We may have been doing this for minutes or hours. Time does not matter. I’m on the verge of ripping off my dress when I realize where we are.
I stand up straight, trying to compose myself. “If I don’t get home, I won’t be able to get in the apartment tonight.”
He’s googly-eyed, but he manages to consult his watch. “Don’t worry, it’s only been 45 minutes.”
We hold hands as we walk back to my house. Yes, Andy is waiting upstairs. But we don’t mention this.
We start kissing again in the gangway of my building, next to the panel with the buttons for the apartment buzzers. In the midst of this, I ring the bell for my unit. No response. I do this again, while Ryan is biting my ear. Still nothing. We start giggling nervously. I try holding the button down for a long time. Nothing.
Ashley is not going to be buzzing me in tonight.
This is only the beginning of the evening. Phase One, if you will. More to come tomorrow?