“You were right, of course. Her name is Gina, and she’s everything than I’m not.” Diane was eating a burger that was bigger than her head. “So I went out that night to feel attractive.”
“You’re very attractive,” I said. “You just didn’t belong in that bar. Neither did I, really, but I don’t know what my excuse was for being there.”
“I think we determined alcohol to be the culprit,” Diane snickered.
“That would’ve been my theory before hearing your side of the story, but you’re describing me like I was sober. If I’m drunk, I usually show it.”
“Well what other option is there?” Diane was almost done with her burger, while mine was nearly untouched. Considering she’d done most of the talking, this fact surprised me a little.
“No clue,” I shrugged. “Maybe I have some multiple personality disorder or something.”
“Ok, Sybil,” she laughed. “Should we schedule you for therapy?”
“I’m serious.” I gave Diane a stern look. “Ok, not totally serious, but maybe it’s something along those lines. Of course it sounds crazy, but maybe I’ve created some alternate personality in my quest to become Nice Ass.”
When Diane had asked me for my story on Friday night, I had given it to her. Apparently I had held nothing back, so she knew all about my Nice Ass experiment.
“You’re right. It sounds crazy.” Diane was already wiping her hands on her napkin. Part of me wondered how she eat so much food so fast and still maintain her figure. “Which means it probably is, and we should stick to the alcohol theory. We’ll just call it an aberrant intoxicated behavior.”
“That sounds awfully official.”
“You aren’t the only one who can tell believable stories about people,” Diane grinned. “And now, I need to get back to my job fair. I hate to eat and run like this, but I did get you to promise to see me this weekend.”
“That’s right,” I smiled. “So what sort of restaurant would you prefer?”
“I think we can squeeze in a trip to a Burger King drive-through in between trips.” Diane’s grin grew wider. “You’re helping me move out this weekend.”
I looked at her in silence while thirty negative responses ran through my brain. None of them made it to my mouth, though, and I found myself telling her that sounded like fun.
“Great!” Diane smiled as she picked up her purse. It was the smallest purse I’d ever seen, and I wondered what useful things she could fit inside it. “I’ll call you this week and give you directions. We’ll have to be finished before 7:00, though, because I have somewhere to be. Thanks for lunch, Ben.”
“Thanks for the company,” I smiled. She smiled back, and then left me alone with my half-eaten burger and my thoughts. The latter of these were rushing forward like lemmings now that I was alone.
My first thought was that I had an incredibly busy weekend coming up. Between coffee with Susan Friday night, helping Diane move on Saturday morning, and drinks with Mary Saturday night, I would barely have any time to myself. I was going to have to slow down if I expected to have any days off.
My second thought was that it was too early in our relationship, if it could be called that yet, for Diane to ask for help with moving. This could mean something, but I decided not to think about that. Instead, I finished my burger and went back to work.
The rest of the workday went by fast, and I decided to head straight to The Saucer instead of going home to change. I left my coat in the truck, but kept the tie. As soon as I walked in, Rachel gave the loudest wolf-whistle in the world. I didn’t see Casey, so I sat at the bar.
“No one gets married on a Monday, and the tie is too happy for a funeral. You have a job interview today?” Rachel wasted no time in pouring a Killian’s for me as I sat down.
“You know me. Always looking.” I grinned at her. Despite Casey’s warning, part of me thought it wasn’t such a bad idea to ask this girl out. At this point, I figured there was no harm in keeping my options open.
“Yeah, I’ve heard that about you.” It wasn’t too crowded, so Rachel was able to keep up with drink orders without wandering too far from the conversation.
“What else have you heard? It’s all true, I’m sure.” I took the first sip of my beer and turned to the guy sitting two seats down from me. “You ever notice how the first sip of beer is always the best?”
“Yeah,” he nodded. “And the last sip is usually the worst.”
“Here’s to first sips.” I raised my glass and took a long drink. Rachel listened with a thoughtful look about her.
“It’s a lot like relationships,” she added.
“Exactly. It’s the whole Peppermint Candy Theory with a different kind of candy.”
“You totally lost me.” Rachel laughed. The guy next to me also looked confused, so I explained my theory.
I’ve long thought that a relationship can be compared to a peppermint candy. You know the kind, the little white hard candy circle with the red stripes. When you first get it, it looks great. Once you pop in your mouth, it starts to dissolve. The red bleeds off and the candy becomes some misshapen white lump with holes in it. It stills tastes the same, but it looks disgusting.
A relationship, when it’s new, is like that pristine candy. You can’t wait to taste it. You spend those first few weeks and months discovering everything new about the person you’re dating. You’re licking the red off of the candy.
Eventually, there is nothing new to learn. You’re left with the same person you started with, but it’s just not as exciting as it was at the beginning. Things that you used to think were cute start to become annoying. You’re tempted to bite into that porous lump and break it down… tempted to get it over with.
“That just means you’ve never met the right girl.” The man next to me was smiling as if he knew some secret. “Don’t get me wrong, you have a point. Every girl I dated before my wife was like that. Once I met my wife, though, I look forward to everything about her, even if it’s not something new.”
“Then I envy you for finding a beer where the last sip is as good as the first.” I smiled.
“Coors Light?” Casey had snuck up on me. “And what are you doing cheating on me? You’re supposed to be sitting in my section.”
“Coors Light tastes like water, so you can’t use that as an example. And I didn’t know what section was yours when I came in.”
“Maybe that’s the problem,” said the man next to me. “You’re drinking all these imported beers when what you really need is a reliable domestic.”
“That would mean lowering his standards, though,” Rachel said.
“When you meet the right one, your standards don’t matter,” answered the man. “You just know they’re the one.”
“I’ll drink Coors Light once all the imports are gone.” I stood up from my barstool and nodded at the man. “But for now, there are plenty of imports to drink. It was nice talking with you. Casey, lead me to your section.”
Casey walked me over to a corner table. More than once, I caught myself staring at the sway of her hips and wondering if she was harboring feelings for me. As I sat down, she took the seat next to me and leaned in close.
“Spill it,” she grinned. “My shift starts in fifteen minutes and I want to hear all about Missus Married beforehand.”
I gave Casey the entire story of how I took her to lunch, how she filled me in on Friday night, and how I’d be helping her move out this weekend. She listened to all of it without interruption, and nodded at all the appropriate places. When I finished, she leaned back in her chair and looked at me in silence. After several seconds, I couldn’t take it any more.
“So what are you thinking?” I asked.
“I’m thinking you messed it up.” Casey is like me in that she isn’t afraid to give an honest answer. I loved her for it, but sometimes I hated her for it, too. I knew what she was thinking because I’d been avoiding thinking about it myself.
“Because she’s asking me to help her move already?”
“Yeah,” Casey nodded. “You’ve been TFZed. It’s a real shame, too, because you’re really falling for her.”
TFZ is an acronym for The Friend Zone. It’s a place that women file men who they really enjoy being around, but have no interest in romantically. It’s very familiar territory to me, and I’m fairly bitter about it.
“So there’s no hope.” I sighed.
“Doubt it,” Casey said. “You’ve fallen for a woman you have no shot with.”