[Writing Prompt: Revisit a famous book title, time = 30 minutes]
NOTE: I actually got choked up writing this. Dayumn.
The tea shop seemed the ideal place to have Brian meet me. After all, it’s where he was Skyping me from all afternoon two weeks ago. I sat, legs pressed together tightly, with two chai teas, one for him, one for me.
And hark, along comes Brian.
This time around I’m going to approach the opportunity for a relationship thusly: don’t be too abrasive up front, let him drive the conversation, and, by all means, don’t roll out the ultimatums before the check is paid. He smiled his shy smile of relief, and I complimented him back with my appreciative, wide grin.
Brian proceeded to chastise me, accusing me of avoiding him these past few weeks. Although I tried to defend with thoughtful retaliations, his peaked eyebrow of disbelief suggested I give it up. He reached across the table, motioning for one of the teas, when he stopped and asked which one was his. I flirtatiously suggested he check for the lipstick smudge. Brian sneered at my sarcasm. I like that he likes that about me.
He knows what I do for a living, he’s read my blog. We haven’t talked much about him, other than where he lives and what his plans were for the holidays. So now, I ask him, what do you do? Surprisingly, he doesn’t give the straightjacket answer of his employment, but offers a sigh, then, “I like to drive the Carolina coasts, go camping, fishing. Sometimes, just hang out in the woods for hours on end. Oh wait, you asked me what I do? Like, for work? I’m a truck driver.”
The first part of the answer was the answer.
The next day, same tea shop, different Brian. Why I parsed out these dates like this, I don’t know. Zealot for ironic entertainment, I suppose. And entertainment for Christine, the tea shop owner. She’s happy to see me not only up and about, but courting the boys. Christine, no children of her own, dotes on me like a child. I love her for it.
This one walks in the place like he owns it. Brian’s tie has flitted over his left shoulder due to the gust he passed through. We met in an old school fashion; he saw me loading my car with groceries, stopped to compliment me, and in a classy, keeping-it-together fashion, handed me his business card, suggested I call whenever I can, shook my hand, and walked off. High school hunk cool.
I won’t get into comparing the two. Physically already, they differ greatly. I’m trying to stick to the ol’ Dr. King adage, judge a person not by the color of his skin, but the content of his character. Seated in the same corner, same table, I motion to leave my seat and meet him at the counter. Brian bellows across the small shop for me to keep my seat, and asks what I want to drink. Dealer’s choice is my response, and he offers a crooked smile as he retrieves a leather wallet from his suit jacket.
Same tea shop, same table, same question. Brian launches into his resume: undergraduate degree from THE Ohio State University, graduate degree from Stanford, been in banking since he graduated, member of such and such fraternity, such and such business society, and is considering running for local council. I attempt to be playful and ask, “But what do you do, Brian?”
He looks as if he saw a ghost. I’m forced to explain it was a joke. The laugh he offers in response is as stiff as his starched buttoned-down shirt. I sip my honeyed green tea to fill the awkward silence.
The first Brian noticed me across the room at our mutual friend Gary’s house party. He observed someone cool, collected, happy where they were in life, but also, lonely. That he saw my loneliness from across the room made me think twice about my own perception of comfort. When was the last time I engaged anyone for other than a feature or a human interest piece? I realized I was keeping the possibility of a relationship at a strong arm’s length.
The second Brian saw me in that parking lot, then again in the downtown Tampa commercial building pretending not to be looking for him. He’s very present, that Brian, very hard to avoid his energy. He smells of power and vigor. Brian is very much in control. Yet he sends me the wackiest, soft-hearted text messages throughout the day, sometimes just a, thinking of you. I imagine he’s sitting in a meeting somewhere on the upteenth floor texting me when he should be paying attention. This Brian brings out my insecurities. What does he want from little ol’ me?
Both tea dates were very successful, and so I call for a second round with each. This is no dating show, but this is the first time in years I’ve had more than one suitor, and, let’s face it, I’m no spring chicken. If there is such a thing as a possible commitment out of one of these Brians, we’re going to figure it out now.
Second Brian goes on about his recent weekend on South Beach, making sure to cut in a, so wish you could’ve came with us! every few sentences. My local coverage doesn’t allow much distance travel, but I enjoy listening to him talk with an air of relief. He’s got a high-stress job, it’s a rare moment when he gets to leave the building, let alone the county, for more than one day. Even with his effort to include me, I get the sense he’s trying too hard. As if, he’s only doing this for show, until he’s certain I’m willing to be his and his alone. The possessiveness sneaks out in just these tea shop interludes: the way he orders for me, the way he calls over the other patrons to have Christine service us, the way he frowns when I take a quick call from my editor. Makes me wonder; what’s it like with Brian when there’s no audience, behind closed doors?
First Brian meets me at the tea shop an hour before closing. I’m nervous because I want to decide between these two wonderful men today. I’ve already ordered our teas, but he motions towards the counter case and picks a coffee cake for us to split. Christine asks if he wants it warmed, and he charms her with his silky, Southern-drawled, yes ma’am. I shake my head as I watch the old bird gesture a 20s era swoon. First Brian is filthy, and he notices me noticing his appearance. He enters into a rapid apology, explaining he spent the day helping his landlord repair a step on her patio. I am endeared, but keep my frown.
Here goes nothing, I think as I kick out, pull up my jeans, and show Brian my prostetic legs and matter-of-factly explain how I lost both when our Humvee rolled over an IED in Iraq.
When I did the same move to Second Brian, he gasped and said, “I’m so sorry, Kenneth. I didn’t notice you were crippled.”
First Brian stared a bit, then asked, “That’s not gonna stop you from going hiking with me, ain’t it?”
Police knock at the front door.
The lock is picked.
I scurry to the bathroom and press into the far left corner. If he opens fire, I’ll be out of range.
This will be Eviction Number Four, in the two years I’ve lived here.
The first eviction seemed legitimate. A couple, young, brash, drug-riddled, constantly assaulting each other. I didn’t report them but I’m sure old Miss Doris did. The second was weird. She was a God-fearing woman, who adorned her door knock with a small, wooden plaque, the word “Faith” carved in beautiful cursive. I never saw her, nor heard her. Just the one moment in time, walking up the stairs after running errands, seeing a large woman with sad eyes and quiet voice tell the landlord, “I thought she paid this time.” She was gone before the week was over.
The third was a disappointment. A young family, a smiling, eager father in his 20s, holding and adoring a freshly born baby. If there was a mother figure, I never saw her. For a baby living next door, he never cried at inopportune times. I was able to type for hours at my writing desk, sleep through the night. The father and I passed each other on several occassions in the common space of the brownstone, and he always smiled towards me. And then, without warning, he and the baby boy were gone.
Which brings us to Eviction Number Four. College kids. The nearby liberal arts college is an expensive campus to live on, so I wasn’t surprised to see the collegiate set moving in with us retired folk. A breath of fresh air, really. Nothing is more hopeful to engage than a mind open to new ideas. But these four men turned out to be idiots. I encountered them in the parking lot passing a football between each other, lobbing the ball purposefully out of reach as to intentionally strike the cars in the parking lot. The football bounced off the top of the van parked by my vehicle. I fumed, and I reminded them there was over a hundred yards of open field right behind the brownstone, maybe take their touch game back there? Or were they able to afford repairs to my luxury car? Pointing out their ineptitude and its cost should they continue, they slunk back into the building. Very all or nothing, this generation. A few raucous parties, expected. One evening after a late writing session I couldn’t fall asleep due to the incessant chattiness of one houseguest, which thankfully, one of them took her down, shifting her pointless prattle into sexually-induced moans. But it was the dog that got them.
Out on the balcony one morning, I saw one of the men running around the building, being chased by an energetic brown dog. Oh good, a friend for Bobby. Not too soon after that sighting did I receive a call from the landlord, asking if I had my dog. Yes, he’s here. And you have two dogs, correct? No, just the one. She had to remind me Bear was dead. Soon after, the eviction notice was pasted to the door, and now, this morning’s visit by the sheriff.
It must be me.
[Writing prompt courtesy of textsfromlastnight.com; time = 15 minutes]
The number of times I’ve puked in the Walgreens bathroom is becoming way too much for my pride. Whatever’s left of it anyways. That girl ripped my balls off with volition, sprinkled with determination. My fault, really. The drinking is, well, a problem. The intersection of bars, liqour stores, this Walgreen’s and her house is too convenient. But you know what? Fuck her. We met on a bar crawl for fuck’s sake. She thought it was cute when I slurred my gangta words at her. She was cute too. Ahh, Kendra. With her blonde hair all long and pretty to one side, matted and sweaty to the other. She had to lean against the wall just to maintain eye contact.
Fine. I’m the irresponsible one. Maybe I shouldn’t have lit that cat on fire. Maybe I shouldn’t have cussed out the bouncer as he was throwing me out of the bar. But she’s no angel! Oh no, what about that one time, she took her shoes off, ran across the street and hit that random girl in the head with the heel of her pump, just because she didn’t say ‘Excuse me’ when she passed her from the washroom? There was blood involved, Kendra! But oh no, I’m the asshole. Oh oh, another round into the Porcelain King.
28 days. We’ve known each other for 28 days. Wasn’t that a zombie apocalypse movie? Yeah, same shit. She ripped my heart out and made me watch her eat it. I need help, she says. I have a problem, she says. You know what? You didn’t have a problem with me buying you drinks, buying all your whore girlfriends drinks, buying all their fuck buddies’ drinks! I went the extra mile to fit in. What does she do? NOTHING. I have to hang out with her friends, go to the bar she likes. I bought two silk shirts for her. For. HER. I even know what she likes to drink and how she likes it made. I know her drink.
I know she’s just like me. She’s probably in the women’s room right now barfing up a lung. Lemme check. Whoa! Sorry Miss. Have you seen a tall, hot, blonde chick? No? Hey, YOU fuck off. Meanie.
You know what? I’m gonna tell her about herself, right now. Her apartment is right over there. Hold on, think we’ve got one more contribution coming up. Wait. Nope. Alright, all clear. No, YOU watch where you’re going, you cocksucker! Fuck your mother! Kiss MY ass! You know what, I don’t have time for this, I’ma go. No, YOU’RE the pussy.
“Do you know that guy?”
“No! He’s some drunk talking shit. Oh fuck, his head’s bleeding. Whoa! That dude just took off! Hey man, you alright? You alright?”
“Bro. He ain’t movin’. He’s dead.”