I cooked breakfast for Kate in the morning as she sat and read the same magazine. Pancake mix dripped off her tile counter. There was flour on my jeans, my sole item of clothing. Outside, a hard wind pressed against the house. It had gained momentum last night and had not let up since.
“I put bananas in them,” I said, bringing the plate to the table. I made twelve, thinking it might have to be lunch too.
“And chocolate chips?”
“Of course,” I said. “No healthy meal goes without chocolate.”
“We fucked four times last night,” she said, not mincing words much. “Does this mean I have to drive you off a bridge?”
I was in the middle of chewing. “I don’t get it.”
“You haven’t seen Vanilla Sky, huh?” She didn’t seem surprised.
“Can’t say,” I said. I had seen it; I just didn’t know what she was talking about.
In between bites she said, “Near the beginning, Cameron Diaz exclaims that she had sex with Tom Cruise four times the other night. Tom asks if that’s good. Ooh, these are really good,” she said, switching topics between Tom Cruise and pancakes.” She says that two times is good and kisses him. Wow, what did you put in these?” I hadn’t done anything special. In fact, I wasn’t a particularly good cook. All I’d done was follow the box-side instructions. “Then she says three is really good in this sultry little sex-kitten voice. She kisses him again. Tom asks her what four times means. Seriously, you’re cooking every morning this week.” At this point, I simply figured that Ray had been actively trying to poison her food before this, because these were really nothing-special pancakes. “She just kisses him, even though he keeps asking. All she says is ‘four is...’ and it’s driving him crazy.”
I’d remembered the scene and where she was headed by this point, but she was on a roll and hearing her go on about something while eating my cooking just sent me over the edge.
“Anyways, the next scene she plays him her music and drives off a bridge.”
I kissed her. “Way to ruin the ending.”
She said, “Whatever. That was like, what, twenty minutes into it? There’s a lot more than that.” Then she kissed me for the fourth time that morning. It was one of those kisses where we were both in awkward positions, but we held it just to prove that we could.
I had a new sense of focus like never before at work. With my article finished almost halfway through the day, I found myself helping out other columnists with their editing. I was doing anything I could to keep busy. It wasn’t that being bored would make me think too much. It was that I felt I had nothing to fret over. I felt free of neurotic worry for the first time in months.
Before the end of the day, the boss gave me something extra to write for the next issue. We were in the middle of a Chinook, he said, and it’d be interesting for the traveling businessmen to have something they could read and experience at the same time. The issue was going to be out in a few days, so I’d need to take this one home to finish.
I was down on the floor of Kate’s living room writing about Chinooks on her laptop when I heard the shower running. I stopped writing as a realization came to me: for at least the last day, Kate had smelled of me. I knew it was stupid to think this, but I didn’t want her to shower. I wanted whatever residue crawled between us to stick and become permanent. Other people would know that way. The people who smelled one another would know.
She came downstairs in a long t-shirt and jeans. Her hair was still wet but she left it down. She sat next to me and kissed my shoulder.
“She’s not giving you too much trouble?” she asked, referring to her computer. “She does the weirdest things sometimes.”
“Sometimes she’ll flicker and just turn off. She doesn’t like being forced to do something she’s not comfortable with.”
“You’re kidding,” I said. “It’s just a computer.”
“That’s what I thought when I bought it,” she said, curling her hair behind her ears and sitting cross-legged. “But it’s got feelings. It’ll only let me check my email at certain times of the day. It’s cracked.”
I clicked on the Internet icon, and Hotmail sprung up. I signed in and winked at her.
“Well,” she said, “It likes you better, I guess.”
“Can’t say I’ve got an answer for you. I’m not a computer nerd or anything.”
“You’re stereotyping me,” I said. “I am deeply offended.”
She kissed me. “Say that again.”
She kissed me. I said, “I am deeply offended.”
Kate laughed. “It’s just, you hung around those people at school all the time. You had to have picked up on it, right? I mean, isn’t that why you were with them?”
“You think I did that out of common interest?” I asked.
“Why else do people hang out with other people?”
When Kate asked me that, it immediately made every morning I walked into high school and didn’t talk to her seem like a stupid and immature decision. The closest thing to a good excuse was that as a kid I was a scared little shit who was only comfortable around people who didn’t intimidate me, and as a teenager I never found the courage to try being any different.
I said, “It’s stupid now, I know, but back then, I thought there were a lot of rules. Like, rules about who you could talk to and whatnot. My friends filled me in, pretty much, and I never really questioned them. But, who isn’t generally stupid in high school, right?”
Immediately I knew, like I always had known, that Kate wasn’t stupid in high school.
“I can’t say I really regret anything about it,” she said. The back of her t-shirt was wet from her hair. “I had a bunch of goals and I went for them. I had some pretty good friends. I have so many great pictures and stories.” I wasn’t anticipating she felt any guilt over having a better four years than I did, but that didn’t stop me from searching that out. “But you’re right, Scott. Most people are pretty big shits in high school. They comfort themselves with the idea that they were young and stupid and that makes it all right, but they were just as conscious of their actions then as they are now, you know?”
I didn’t get it. This all seemed to be a direct contradiction of what we’d talked about before. “But what about the fizz candies? What about the crap in your teeth?”
“Well, it’s nothing I’d ever consider doing again. I mean, planning and goals and all that stuff is really a giant drag at this point. And I don’t need a ‘few great friends’,” she said, and paused for emphasis, “When I can get so many good ones instead.” I had no idea what she was trying to imply.
I hadn’t particularly wanted to share my spectrum theory with Kate, but I knew I couldn’t bring it up anyway as she began to share her own ideas. For one thing, it would make me look exactly like the kind of guy she was talking about, but more than that, Kate would never need to know about the spectrum because she always existed outside of it.
I was living outside my range, too happy to dwell on theories explaining repression and the unfairness of life. It was being too fair, really. According to my own set of beliefs, this would lead to something terrible.
Later that day, we were lying on her kitchen floor.
“If you look at it this way, you can totally see it,” she said. Kate was trying to show me the giant face of Che Guevara on her ceiling. She told me it was there when she moved in, but Ray never noticed. It had been driving her crazy every time she looked at it.
“Please tell me I’m not crazy,” she said, nudging my shoulder with hers.
“Of course you’re not crazy,” I said. “But at the same time, just because you see things that aren’t there doesn’t mean that you’re crazy. You might just be gifted.”
“So you don’t see it either?”
“I’m not gifted.”
“Shut up!” She said. “Nobody sees it. Nobody ever sees it. I’m hungry.”
She got up and grabbed some ramen noodles from a cupboard, the kind you can eat without water or heat. “Can I ask you something?”
“Sure,” I said.
“Why did you move away from home?”
I didn’t have to think about it for that long. I said, “hated my parents, mostly.”
“Me too,” she replied. “Crazy how that works, huh?”
“So, what was it?” She asked.
Thinking about my parents was akin to working diligently on a tile-stain in the bathroom of your newly rented apartment. The problem was present before you ever got there, and no amount of effort was ever going to fully remove it.
I said, “I think the only reason my parents got together was so that each of them could have someone to fight with all the time.” I stayed down there, on the floor. Through all of this, I was focusing on the spot where Kate saw Che. “I mean, some nights they just wouldn’t sleep. Some bill was paid too late or dinner was burnt or the car had a scratch or just some random bullshit that most people would forgive the person they loved for. But that was the problem, you know? I don’t think I ever saw them in any situation resembling love.”
“So they weren’t fight fuckers then?”
“No,” I said. “My parents were not fight fuckers. Or maybe they were. I sure as hell hope not.”
“As I see it,” she said, “There’s only two kinds of parents. The ones that divorce, and the ones that should.”
She offered me some noodles. I took them.
I said, “I can’t argue with that.”
“So that’s why you moved out here to the city?”
“I was sick of home, but they were really only part of it,” I said. I kept looking at that ceiling, thinking, how does someone see people in their ceiling if they’re not crazy? “I was sick of the whole thing, really. The high school, my friends there, and Carly.”
Kate asked, her mouth full of raw ingredients, “What happened between you two, anyway?”
“I was with Carly for three years,” I said, but then stopped. The actual hours clocked spending time with Carly far outweighed time I’d spent with any other person in my life. And at the same time, it was so easy for her to let go of me. And just when I thought I could maybe make out part of Che’s hat, I had the realization that I might never get over Carly. I might be fifty and still wondering, what if?
“I was really, really in love with her. The last year of school started really well. We were going so strong, and what the hell did I know, right? I thought we’d be together forever. But then she began seeing this other guy. It started as a one-time thing, but then she just kept going. They started seeing each other more and more, and I slowly fizzled out of the picture. She came to me one day and said ‘you know it’s over, right?’ She didn’t care what I had to say about it. She was just making sure I wasn’t stupid about the whole thing. As if I needed an ‘oh, by the way.’ So I spent the last half of school sulking around, mostly hanging out by myself, writing, smoking.”
Kate just stood there. After a moment she said, “And then that’s where I fit in, isn’t it?”
I nodded. That’s all there was to do.
The next morning, Kate came downstairs in a pink housecoat and a messy, frayed ponytail. She sat down at the table with me and stretched.
“Morning,” she said, detached; squinting.
“You have to work today?” I asked.
She nodded her head, and her ponytail shook, settling in a way that drove me nuts. She added, “But only for a few hours.”
“Coffee?” she pleaded. I pointed over to the percolator, and she smiled wide. I drank my tea slowly and read the paper.
“Jeans with holes in the knees are back,” I said, reading a headline in the fashion section.
“Good!” she said, with more enthusiasm than I figured it’d warrant.
That 67’ mustang that I wanted in the classifieds was sold. Kate came back and asked for the horoscopes and crossword. I’d noticed over the last two days that it was her little thing in the morning. Once she got about seven words in the crossword, she’d quit to make out with me, ignoring her morning breath.
“Want to hear yours?” she asked. “It says ‘Aries: you’ve got a birthday coming. The stars tell me that you have been restless lately, and that love has been on your mind. Don’t ignore these feelings, Aries. Something you love may be just around the corner.’ Ooh, Mr. Scott Clarkson, someone just might have a crush on you.”
“Kate,” I replied coyly, “it didn’t say ‘someone,’ it said ‘something.’ And it’s wrong. See? My Mustang is gone. Someone bought it.”
“Well,” she said, pouring her coffee, “It’ll just have to be a someone, then.”
Kate sat down next to me, took a pen from the utensils’ drawer and studied the crossword puzzle. About ten seconds later she asked what a seven-letter word for ‘pants’ was.
“Trousers,” I said, and she scribbled it down.
The arts section had a feature on a few new jazz bands oddly making the charts lately.
“Well, shit,” I said.
“Jazz was just about the only thing left.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Jazz,” I said, “Was the only free thing we had left. And now they’ve killed it.”
Kate sighed, and at that moment I should have probably dropped it. I’m not really sure why I cared. I’ve sometimes found myself rambling on about things I didn’t even feel passionate about. I really could not care less about music, the underground, or the average American.
“Jazz,” I sighed, as if it were the last time I’d utter the term. “They really sped up the process. I mean, I knew it’d have to go eventually; that there would come a time when it wouldn’t be okay for someone to take up an open microphone and belt out 5 notes without a shill for shoes or soda or batteries. Someday, it would stop being about love and become about the mechanics. I just didn’t think it would happen so soon.”
“What are you talking about, Scott?”
“This is how it always happens, you know? Every genre gets this treatment. It starts with a handful of jazz singers who get lucky and get breakthrough records in the underground. Those major labels see this happening, and snatch them all up, give them huge advances and big press. Their major label debut comes out, and by the end of the first month, they’ve all sold a million each. This gets called things like ‘unprecedented,’ and these singers are getting praise and press from people who have never covered jazz before, like this guy here. The genre gets big, the radio overplays them, the music becomes the soundtrack to every car commercial in the country, and soon enough nobody can stand it. Poof, dead genre.”
“How do you know he’s never written about jazz?” she asked.
“You can just tell,” I said.
“There’s no way.” Kate sounded like she wanted a fight, but I couldn’t go there. Not this early, not with her. Still, the process of sophomore philosophizing is an easy thing for me; words spray like a garden sprinkler system a child might have neglected to turn off. It doesn’t turn off until the parent braves the blasts of water and turns the tap.
“You’re fucked up, man.” Kate told me. “Honestly, how a guy comes up with that shit at this hour, I’ll never know.”
“It’s kind of automatic,” I said. “It just sort of comes out. Honestly. I didn’t even think it through.”
“Like the Brad conversation,” she said.
Kate wrote down ‘squall’ along the bottom of the puzzle, and explained it like this. “The Brad conversation. It happens to me at least once a week. Hell, we probably had this conversation back in high school.”
She looked at me, pursed lips and wrinkled nose.
“Brad Pitt, stupid. This is how it always goes, always: there are two girls chatting. One mentions a random celebrity and says how much she’d love to meet him or sleep with him or whatever. Now, the second girl will disagree about this particular celebrity, and mention someone a little more famous. The first girl will disagree with that choice and up the ante again. This volleys back and forth for a few minutes until one of them mentions Brad Pitt, and they both immediately swoon.”
“Okay,” I said, recognizing the story and knowing exactly what would follow. I was jealous of her at this point. I was sure I had come up with this whole spiel. “I think I get it.”
“I’m not finished yet,” she replied. “Now, a third girl enters the scene, and while the first two girls bicker about their preference for ‘Interview With The Vampire’ Brad or ‘Oceans 11’ Brad, this third chimes in, saying she thinks he is the most repulsive man on earth. The first two girls are all aghast at the statement, immediately defending his infallible acting prowess and unforgettable photo ops. Nothing they say will steer this third girl off-course from insulting everything about the man. Whether she’s jealous or genuine never matters, and isn’t the point. What matters is the consistency of this conversation happening to just about everyone at some point in time. This happens to everyone at least once.”
I had never been on the opposite side of this conversation, but loved that we shared this morsel of basic life philosophy. I said, “At least.”
“Oh, one more thing,” she said. “There has to be a guy who was either there and kept silent the whole time, or comes in after the third girl had expressed her hatred. When the three girls have exhausted their opinions, they turn to him and ask his opinion, which is one of three choices. This, by the way, is a great way to judge a guy. He can adopt the traditional, homophobic stance of saying ‘hey, I don’t rate guys by their looks,’ attempting to be macho, or he can say that he either finds him attractive or not. It’s the test I use every time, and I won’t date the guy that chooses wrong.”
Her kitchen tiles were cold against my feet and a chill went through me. The tea refreshed my reflexes and senses. My hearing was astute and my sight medically perfect. I had no problems with my sense of smell or touch or taste. I felt empathy, but I knew that empathy wasn’t the correct feeling. Fact of the matter is, I will still never understand women. Stand-up comics that I watched late at night as a teenager had told me to stay away from the whole lot of them, to live in the mountains with my beard and coal stove and beaver pelts. They told me I’d be happier up there, rid of all the puzzles surrounding the opposite sex.
And like an amateur, like someone who hadn’t had almost the same conversation in a different universe, I asked, “So what’s the right answer?”
Kate sipped her coffee without taking her eyes off me. Then she snickered and walked out of the room, saying, “We’re always kids, you know. I don’t think anyone grows out of saying ‘if you don’t know, then I’m not going to tell you’.”
After work, I still wasn’t done the Chinook article. I couldn’t think. I was enraptured. When I arrived back at Kate’s doorstep, she handed me a beer. We began drinking at five and by seven were seeing each other in different lights.
“Favourite colour?” Kate asked. “Brown,” I said. She gave me a look, just like everyone else does before I explained things. “I don’t mean like any brown though. I mean brown as in a theme, like a season or a city. I once read this big story on the UK punk scene emerging in the early seventies out of a very ‘brown’ London. It’s like the idea of a broken-down and listless area where people get pissed off at their situation and do something about it.”
“Wow,” she said. “You put more thought into your favourite colour than anyone else.”
“Really?” I asked. “Anyone else?”
“Maybe not the guy from Blues Clues.”
“Yeah,” I said, “I’m sure he’s got to think real hard.”
“Well, sure,” she replied, “Why would you assume that because the show is called Blues Clues that his favourite colour is blue? How do you know it’s not red?”
“I suppose we could call him,” I said, being both preposterous and daring. I’d find him, if she wanted me to. At this point I’d call anyone and ask for favourite colours.
“Your turn,” she said. We’d been playing this game since the third beer.
“ Okay,” I said. “Favourite random person on the bus.”
“Oh, toughie. One sec.” Kate uncrossed her legs and ran back into the kitchen. We’d been sitting on the spot where the chair had been before she’d broken it. She said she wanted to get to know things about me that didn’t matter in the least. Banal things. Ice breakers. We began revealing our favourite movies, moved right onto music, sports. Eventually it became difficult to stay in the shallow end of the pool.
She came back with two more beers. These were Ray’s. There was close to a full case when we started. “Thanks,” I said.
Kate sat back down and flipped her hair behind her ears. “Okay, it’s got to be this one driver I used to see almost everyday. It was first year of university, and I really don’t remember how we began talking or anything, but almost every day I got on the bus, we’d chat. We ended up being pretty close. She told me about her kids and how they were doing in school and how they were almost my age and stuff like that. We really opened up to one another. How about you?”
“This one’s easy,” I said, cracking the new beer open. “College. My buddies and I used to call her the emergency wife. It sounds horrible now, and we never said it to her face or anything, but back then it was really funny. She didn’t seem to have a pattern, like the weather. You know, ‘if you don’t like the weather in Calgary, wait five minutes’ and all that. She would be on the bus when we left campus to go to the pub or whatever. She sat near the front, and every time we’d pass her, she’d ask us to marry her. Once, she grabbed Greg’s arm and almost pulled him down into her lap. So this one time Marshal came up with the idea that the last one of us to marry would have to come back and find her.”
Kate was holding back that infectious laugh she’d cultivated. “That’s really awful of you guys. She must have been crazy if she was asking you and your friends for it, eh?”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Don’t fish for compliments,” Kate said. “It’s not attractive.”
I said, “I wasn’t fishing for anything.”
She said, “Everyone is always fishing for something.”
It was funny, her saying something like that without changing her tone; she managed not to lose any of her half-giddiness. It made it impossible to take her seriously. If Kate had tossed out a general, sweeping statement like that back in high school, it would have sounded deep, maybe even profound. But on the floor of her living room, it carried the weight of a dollar-store birthday card. Kate was never the kind of girl I would expect would have much to say about the universe. She just didn’t have enough scars for that.
“Do you think he’s thinking about you?” she asked me during a commercial break. We were watching hockey.
I knew who she was talking about, but asked her anyway.
“Don’t be cute,” she said.
“I don’t know how to be cute.”
She said, “But you know how to evade questions.”
“You said we weren’t going to talk about him this week.”
“I said you wouldn’t talk to him. Talking about him is completely different.”
“Why do you want to do this?” I asked.
She said, “Because the game is boring tonight.” I knew she probably just wanted to hang me out to dry. Nothing I could possibly say about Shawn could help me and Kate. Recent relationships where wounds are still open are never good news.
She was right, though. The game was boring.
“I don’t know if he’s thinking about me,” I said. Then, I lied. “He’s probably happy I’m gone.”
Kate turned the volume down a little. Her legs rested on top of mine, and they were light. She was wearing woollen socks and tights and a hoody. Kate was the most comfortably dressed person I’d ever spent time with.
She asked me, “What do you think he’s doing right now?”
I said, “I don’t know.”
“Do you think he’s with that guy? What was his name?”
“Right. Mark.” Kate sounded sinister, like she’d just found exactly what she was hunting for out in the dark, when most people were sleeping. I wasn’t comfortable with her using Mark as a weapon between us.
“Kate,” I said, “I don’t really want to talk about him.”
Kate turned the volume down zero. We weren’t paying attention at all anymore. Her tights rubbed against my jeans, rubbed against her couch, sunken in from cuddling over the years.
“When was your first kiss?”
“Was he with Mark at the time?”
I never told Kate this, but sometimes I was jealous of her. I was jealous because she was capable of moving in circles I had no glimpse of. It wasn’t that she was successful, because I didn’t know what she did for a living. I didn’t know how much of Ray’s decision to leave was her fault, because I came too late. I didn’t even know if she was happy because she always seemed ready to lie. She navigated vessels I could not begin to board.
“I thought you wanted to tell me everything.”
I hated her for her capabilities, so superior to my own. She held keys to doors I didn’t. She saw things I didn’t. My world had some windows into hers, but she had doors into mine.
“I don’t remember ever saying that.”
“You said something of the sort.”
“Why do you want to know about Shawn?” I said.
Kate kissed me on the cheek and snuggled into my side. “I already know plenty about Shawn,” She said. “He’s my friend too, remember? But I can’t really picture you two together. I was just trying to understand how it worked, you know? I mean, I told you all about Ray.”
I hated her because I couldn’t understand her, and even though I could have always asked her to explain, I wasn’t capable of trying.
“You didn’t tell me all about Ray,” I said. “I don’t know when your first kiss was.”
“It was on New Year’s. The Millennium.”
I hated her, but I couldn’t help laughing.
She defended herself. “What? It’s romantic.”
“Yeah, just like a teddy bear caught inside a claw-operated machine,” I said.
She retracted, “Oh, and your first kiss was any better?”
It wasn’t something I understood at the time, but later on I would learn that it was a common thing for guys to ask their new girlfriends about. They seemed oddly unable to let their past be in the past; an inherent kind of male jealousy, I’d soon learn this relationship dance Kate and I were performing was a lot more common than I thought.
So, knowing I was beaten but not knowing how to avoid it, I retorted: “It was spontaneous. Back in the summer, when I met him at one of his parties, he spent most of the night stalking me. I didn’t know he was with Mark. He was relentless.”
I could sense I was already a joke to her. I could see the creases formed by her smile twitching in a sly attempt to hold back her laughter at my stupid cliché.
“He wouldn’t leave me alone all night. And then, he had me cornered, and he said, ‘just kiss me already.’ And I did. I didn’t think about it. He pressed me against the wall as he kissed me back. I knew he was taken and I knew he was dangerous, but the second I kissed him, I was somewhere else.”
Kate’s creases folded out into a full grin, but she maintained composure.
“I had never kissed anyone like that before. He was almost a complete stranger, but I felt like I was getting to know him just from this kiss. Suddenly, I knew all of his favourite songs and what his writing style was like, and how he licked his stamps. I could taste his favourite drink and knew how much chocolate sauce he mixed with milk, what kind of magazines he bought and when he first started thinking about college. It wasn’t just that I felt like I knew him. I could feel things about him that he didn’t know yet. I knew I could get him to fall in love with me. And I thought I knew how to make him mine.”
Kate’s smile vanished. She looked pained, but then she sat back up and looked straight into me, searching for her own version of the truth.
She said, “I hope I find someone who kisses me like that.”
And here was just one more way Kate could shake me. For most of the week, she would be wonderful. She would make me smile in the same way I did when fantasizing about happiness. She seemed to personify so many archetypes of love for me that it seemed like for once, the world would deliver on a promise of happiness.
At other times, like this one, she’d say something that Shawn had himself said once, and while I’ve learned that people sometimes say similar things in moments of serendipity, it was still hard to completely forgive her for being a little bit like him.
These connections between Kate and Shawn were problematic to my attraction to both of them; I didn’t want to see bits of Shawn in Kate. I wanted them to be completely different, but I knew that would probably never happen, because they both breathed, they both kissed, and they both referred to me when they talked about things that changed their world.
It was one of those mornings where nothing needed to be done. We were trying to stay in bed as long as we could. We were hungry but relished resisting the hunger.
“So,” she said, resting her head on my arm, “Tell me about your novel.”
“I don’t have a novel,” I said.
Kate tilted her head and looked at me. “You spend your days at a computer writing articles, editing articles, reading articles. I remember you wanted to be a writer. That means you have a novel.”
“You’re stereotyping me,” I said.
“It’s early. I don’t have the energy to see a multitude of dimensions.”
“I don’t have a book.”
“Yes, you do!” She exclaimed. “Even if you haven’t written it yet, you’ve got one. Fine, forget that you’re a columnist at a lame magazine. Everyone’s got an idea for a novel.”
“No,” I said. “I just, I don’t know. I don’t want to talk about it.”
Kate poked me in the chest, like a kid. “Why not?”
“Why don’t you want to talk about your job?” I asked.
She said, “That’s different.”
Kate hid herself in my arm.
“Hey, come on.”
“Didn’t we go through this?” she asked.
People were most honest after they’d used up every lie when pressed on an issue. I figured she would run out of reasons not to tell me eventually, and until then, I wouldn’t dig in too far.
I said, “Yeah, I’m sorry.”
Kate moved a few strands of hair out of her face and looked up at me like a duck, angled and with one eye.
“So?” She asked. “What’s it about?”
“It’s lame,” I began, feeling half-embarrassed. I hadn’t thought about this story since college. “And it’s not fleshed out and there’s only about a third of it on paper, and I have no idea how it ends.”
“That’s fine,” she said. “I just want to hear your story.”
I said, “It’s about a hotel. It’s this run-down place on the edge of some town. Drunks and hookers, you know, but there are a few guests. There’s a college professor and a dancer.” I looked down at her, and saw only her eye. “The story’s about what happens in a day at this place. There’s general unhappiness inside and out, but a few glimpses of hope are still visible. Like, there’s this kid, he’s 10 or so. He’s an orphan, but he lives there, and he has these dreams of someday owning the place and making it nice. And there are these lovers.”
“Are the lovers people you know?” Kate nuzzled her nose into my forearm. It was so damn cute. “Are we the lovers?”
“Sure,” I said. “They can be us.”
Kate said, “Awesome.”
Kate reached with her lips to the part of me closest to her. She kissed my shoulder.
She asked, “Is there a happy ending?”
“I don’t know,” I said. “Do you think there should be?”
“Well, that depends,” She said, kissing my arm again, “Does the reader deserve it?”
I shrugged, “I don’t know what you mean.”
“Well,” she said, “By the end of the book, have you put them through enough that they deserve a happy ending?”
“Put them through enough?”
“Yeah,” she said, sitting up halfway. “Like, most of any story is suffering, right? Whenever I see a movie or read a book it’s always like that. There’s just this hero or group who go through some peril to get to the end, and that’s like a reward for going through the whole adventure, right? You know, they learned their lesson, or he got the girl, or she got the girl, or whatever.”
I shifted her way, “So you think the whole point of any story is to fight and suffer so someone can get a girl?”
“Pretty much,” she said, “But I meant that it’s more about the audience. Like, if I’m reading a book, I’m the audience, right? And part of the reason the book exists is to please me, yeah? So, part of the reason there’s a happy ending at all is so that I feel like the book did well.”
“Even if the whole journey is completely torturous to read?”
“Especially,” she said. “Then, the ending is crucial.”
Just then, there was a gust of wind through her bedroom window. The Chinook had been blowing all week, but only now did it actually break into the house.
“See,” I said. “I hope my book isn’t like that.”
“A torture to read?”
“Yeah, obviously. I don’t want to get that sort of negative response at all.”
I thought; did she open the window while I slept? Did she get up without me noticing?
I said, “But it’s more than that. I want people to enjoy every page. Like, why take three hundred pages to get to the happy part? That’s not life, right? That’s not what really happens. Life isn’t just suffering and drama with the happy moment at the end.”
“It is for some people,” Kate said. This derailed me. She was right, again, even if her logic was flawed. I couldn’t argue with her. I wasn’t fast enough.
“Well,” I gave up, “I don’t know. I don’t agree with you, though.”
“I think you’re just trying to create this ideal world where there’s only good all the time, some fantasy place with butterflies and cotton candy and pancakes,” she said. “I think it’s kind of childish.”
I wasn’t thinking of that at all. I thought: was this one of those Brad conversations? Did it even matter what I said?
“I’m hungry,” I said.
Kate said, “Me too, but I have one other question.”
“Only if it involves peanut butter or yogurt.”
She asked me, “Do you love it?”
She gave me that look she honed so well. “Writing, stupid.”
I said, “Sometimes. When I’m on a roll it’s great. It’s like I’m performing the one function I was really meant to do here. Sometimes that muse actually does take over, even when it’s work and I don’t actually care about what I am writing. Sometimes it’s that easy. I don’t even think. I just put my hands down and it comes.”
Kate got closer to me, and we touched again.
“But then, other times, like when I get interrupted or I lose my train of thought, it can totally leave and not come back for days, and I can’t write anything. I mean, I try to plough through, but it all comes out wrong, and I end up deleting it. I can’t ever seem to force it. Like, the entire process is up to someone else and they’re just using me to get it down, you know?”
“I think,” She whispered. “You’re not taking nearly enough responsibility for your actions.”
Kate snuggled close, taking in a heavy breath, and seemed, for a moment, to fall back asleep. I could hear people walking down the street, likely pushing strollers and carrying plastic bags. What I was really focused on was Kate’s breath on my chest, her hair brushing my arm and her arm around my neck.
In my head, I was cataloguing images of Kate to save for later, but the snapshots were starting to lessen in number.
“Hey?” I asked. She murmured something. “Didn’t you say you were hungry?”
Kate groaned, “I’m comfortable.”
“We should probably get up soon.”
“And it wasn’t me,” she said, groggy from the few minutes of unconsciousness. “You said you were hungry,”
“I mean, we can’t just stay in here all day,” I said. “I’ve got to go to work.”
“Me too,” she said. “I’m hungry. Damn you.”
I was hungry, sure, but the real reason I got her up was to ask her something.
“Hey, do you love your job?”
“What?” She asked in a kind of disbelief.
“You don’t have to tell me anything about it,” I said. “But I guess I was just wondering if you loved your job.”
“You don’t love your job,” she said, slowly getting up and trying to avoid this. “You just said that you hate it sometimes.”
“Yeah,” I said, getting out of bed myself. I was naked and so was she. We both scanned the floor for crumpled jeans, socks, and shirts. “But that happens with love, doesn’t it? Don’t you hate it every now and then? I do, but I guess I sort of revel in it. I enjoy the moments when I’m feeling impossibly uninspired, because I know how much I’ve got to fight for it. Love is about passion in all aspects, right? I wonder at which point hate comes storming in.”
“Look,” she said, finding a tank top and throwing it on. “I said I wouldn’t tell you anything about it. My feelings towards it are a part of that.”
I found my jeans under her jeans. I handed them to her and put mine on. “Come on. There’s got to be parts of you that want to tell me.”
Kate put her jeans on. I found my shirt. We were dressed. We were awake. I had to leave for work within minutes, and she had to do whatever it was she did. But before leaving the room and doing what she spent so much time avoiding in conversation. She paused for a second and said, “I really fucking hate it.”
I finished the Chinook article. It took me three days and it still felt rushed. Time went by faster for me in places that Kate had yet to invade. I handed it to my boss; he gave me a nod. It wasn’t important, the article. It would cease to be of any value in a few days. Like the strange weather I wrote about, people would forget it in a matter of moments and move onto less trivial things.
“Do you even like basketball?” she asked. We were already on the court. It was in the back of an elementary school nearby, and the ground was pretty dry from the warm stretch we’d had over the last few days.
“Yeah,” I said, trying to be convincing, “Love it. I used to play it all the time.”
“Liar,” she said, and checked me. She let me go first because she knew I was about to get my ass kicked.
“Did you like breakfast?” I asked, dribbling slowly, trying to get around her and failing. She was really good at this.
She said, “It was okay. Not your best one. I liked it when you put the blueberries and bananas in the pancakes at the same time.” She stole the ball from me within seconds. “That was a great breakfast.”
“Maybe I’ll make them tomorrow,” I said, trying to imitate her defensive moves, but failing miserably.
“Maybe you’ll make them tonight,” she said, passing me, tossing the ball. It missed, bouncing off the backboard right at me; I caught it. I paused, amazed. I hadn’t played in years, since the beginning of college. Kate was on me again, poking at my sides, taunting me for my complete lack of talent. She said, “This reminds me of home.”
“My dad and I lived right next to my grade school, and we’d go play basketball all the time. Every time I’m playing, I can smell that house. I can smell him.”
I said, “Home for me was this coffee shop in Strathmore.”
“Which one?” I loved that she asked.
I took a shot and missed. “It closed down about a month ago. I went to visit my mom, and I walked by it and saw the ‘For Lease’ sign. It was kind of sad, but therapeutic.”
“Therapeutic?” She dribbled past me and got the shot in. It was early evening. The kids had gone home, and nobody in their right mind would come out at sunset and play on a half-frozen basketball court. We were here because we felt warm and restless.
“Yeah,” I said. “I kind of like knowing that the place I called home is gone. I know, that sounds weird, but I’d rather that it not be there.”
“So your parents’ house doesn’t count?”
I gave her a look signifying it didn’t. Then, I took advantage of her inattentive stillness and stole the ball. “Hey!” she said. “That doesn’t count; I was busy feeling empathy!”
I threw the ball again. It missed, and Kate got to the ball before I did. “You suck,” she said. And I did. At least, at basketball. “Tell me about this place of yours.” I loved that she was curious.
I said, trying to play defence again, “Whenever I wanted to relax and write and be alone and listen to fantastic music, I always went there. It was just this little hole in the wall, but it had old magazines, dim lights, and was run by this loony who had an affinity for Leonard Cohen.”
Kate dropped one more ball in the basket. It was two to nothing, and the sun was almost completely down. She said, “So you’d go there to be alone?”
“Yeah, but I’d take people there, too. A few of my friends really liked it.”
“And Carly, too, right?”
I was about to agree with her, but then I remembered that Carly had never seen this place. It was weird, because I had memories of the both of us hanging out there, but that couldn’t have happened. I didn’t find this place until after Carly was gone. Why did I think she’d been there? Was it just that I was inventing an aspect of my past? Carly, in my mind, sat comfortably in one of those couches in the back. But she was never really there.
“No,” I said. “I found it after all that.”
So Kate asked the obvious thing. “So where’s your home now?”
I told her, as she got another one in and tossed me the ball, that I didn’t know.
She said, “Yeah, well, I know how you feel.”
I told her that I knew she did. We both stood there in our jeans and winter coats. It was dark now. The only light in the area came from an archway above a door leading into the school.
I had the ball. She wasn’t trying to get it from me anymore. I eyed the basket, and in a moment of stupendous luck, tossed it right in. The sound from the net was loud. Kate grabbed it and went to the three-point line.
“So,” I said, realizing that she wasn’t done playing yet. “What don’t we know about each other?”
She tore right past me and shot. It missed, but she caught it.
Kate said, “Are we trying to get everything down?”
“Sure, why not?”
“Well,” she said, shooting. “Any broken bones? That’s always a good story.”
“No,” I said. “I’ve only been bruised a few times. Can’t say I’ve ever fallen from a great height or been run over by anything, luckily.”
“Luckily?” she mocked me, watching me dribble. “How are you lucky if you missed out on those awesome experiences?”
“You amaze me,” I said. I had scrambled for the ball. Kate wasn’t showing any sign of being tired.
“Seriously,” Kate said. “Those are stories you can tell over and over and they never get boring.” She stole the ball from my hands. She was so fast, even in a big puffy coat. “Like the time I broke my collarbone. I was ten, and I was riding a horse, right? Well, I lost control of it and it took off. I held on as best I could for almost five minutes, but after a while, it was clear I was going to get hurt somehow. The horse jerked one way and I was flung in the other direction, nearly landing on my head. Goddamn, that hurt.”
She shot and missed. I asked, “And this is a positive memory for you?”
“Of course,” she said while dribbling past me. I wasn’t an opponent so much as a traffic cone for Kate to play around with. “It’s positive because it makes for one hell of a story. I can tell that at any party and get a great reaction. It’s always great for breaking the ice with strangers. Totally works in job interviews, too. Shows perseverance.”
I asked, “So you like the memory so much because it makes a great story?”
“Yeah,” she said. “What’s wrong with that?”
She missed by a mile, and I ran for the ball, sliding on some ice and falling on my ass. You could hear the crack of the ice below me so clearly. Kate laughed, standing there in the dark. I came back and she rubbed my tailbone in a cute though perhaps patronizing gesture.
I asked, “What if people didn’t like the story? Would you still like the memory?”
“But people do like the story,” she said. “That’s what makes it so good.”
I said, “Yeah, but what I’m saying is that you’re basing the quality of your own memory on other people’s opinions. Shouldn’t it be more about you?”
“I don’t see the point.”
I felt beaten up. There was no way I was ever going to match her at sports or sex or screwy logic. She had enough endurance to keep rising to higher and heavier levels of reason and existence.
I don’t know why, but I asked, “So what was your wedding going to be like?”
“My what?” she replied, stopping short. Even the dribble came to an abrupt end.
“I’m just trying to fill in the holes,” I said. “You know, getting to know one another.”
“Well, don’t,” she said. “And don’t ask me how he was in bed, either.”
“I wasn’t planning on it,” I said.
“You didn’t plan it at all?”
“I said don’t,” she said, continuing the game seemingly without me. She shot and got another in. “And no.”
I said, “I don’t believe that. Hell, I’m a guy, and I pretty much know how mine’s going to be.”
“Yeah, but what does being a ‘guy’ have to do with anything when it comes to you?” She used air quotes when she said ‘guy.’
“I can’t tell if that’s a knock or not,” I said.
“It’s neither,” she said, checking me, “It’s just an observation. You’re not hung up on being super-masculine all the time. It’s cute sometimes. But it’s mostly just strange.”
“So what, you’re the guy in this relationship?”
She thought about it for a second. “I guess so. I mean, take the whole ‘guy’ thing as an idea instead of this fixed label and you could just put it on a woman, right? I’ve always thought that anyway, but maybe that’s because I’m a sports nut.”
“Yeah, that kind of makes sense.”
“But,” she said. “I’ve always had this little theory.” I shot and hit one, tying it up again. “I always thought the whole idea that boys and girls are automatically attracted to each other to be a little naïve, and that maybe things are a little more complicated.”
“I’m not sure I’m getting it,” I said.
“It’s like this sliding scale. Like, on one end is total masculinity, and on the other is total femininity, and neither of these things has anything to do with gender. Me, I’m somewhere in the masculine camp, and I’m probably best attracted to my opposite, which would be slightly effeminate.”
“Like me?” I asked sarcastically.
“Sure, why not,” she said. “And that’s why you were attracted to Shawn. He’s just chock full of an asshole masculinity that’s really sexy, and you just match up with, and everything balances out. Get it?”
“I think so,” I said, “But I’m not sure I want to. You’re saying I’m really in tune with him?”
“I guess that’s why I didn’t really freak out as much as you thought I might when I heard about you two. I mean, it’s not like it’s this thing where you’re only interested in guys, right? I mean, sure, that might be the case, but I think most people fall into this grey zone where we need to figure out how much masculinity and femininity we have in us and find our opposites to make it complete.”
“That’s how you figured I wasn’t gay, huh?” I asked.
“That,” she said, “And the fact that I’d slept with you before finding out.”
I stopped playing. “I’m not sure I like this theory of yours.”
“You got a better one?” she asked, daring, as if she knew I had one in the making. I thought about mine. My spectrum was not necessarily about sex, but about happiness on the whole. I could tell her about it, but at this point, it was like a favourite song. I couldn’t offer it up to criticism in case it was destroyed completely and I was left with nothing of my own.
“No,” I said. “I never think about life or love, ever.”
“If you’re not going to play,” she said, throwing me the ball. “Then it’s no fun.”
“Seriously,” I said, dribbling again. My hands were beginning to freeze. “I just kind of go with everything.”
“Oh that’s bullshit, and I can smell it from here,” she said. “You just told me that you had your wedding planned. That, Scott, is not much of a fit with everything.”
She had me pinned. I tried to shoot, but she blocked everything. “Fine,” I said. “I’m probably a lot more effeminate that I’d ever care to admit. But that doesn’t mean I over-plan everything in annoying detail.”
She took the ball right from my hands. “That’s mine, bitch.”
I stopped again. “Hey, that’s not fair.”
She laughed and put on this bad southern accent. She said, “I just calls ‘em as I sees ‘em.”
“I can leave anytime I want to,” I said.
“Yeah?” she dared me, “Go. Get.”
“You don’t want me to leave,” I said, realizing that this was probably not the right answer.
A really serious look came over her face. “What I want is irrelevant here. The point is, you won’t go.”
All of a sudden, we were playing chicken, and she had me. If I stayed, she was right about everything. If I left, then I left, and being right and wrong ceased to matter. I didn’t leave.
Kate and I were drinking beers on her patio that night; her friends had dropped by, unexpected. There were three of them: Jackie, Phil, and Stephen. Jackie and Phil were a couple Kate and Ray had known from college. They were the kind of friends that only ever did anything as couples, so it was always the four of them. It was like a tightly-cast sitcom with alternating special guests. Stephen was another college friend, and had assumed there would be beer, and was right. We were nearly done with Ray’s stash, and would finish it all off fast. I had run out to grab extras, and had just come back to the porch as Stephen was explaining the foibles of his last relationship.
“See, what was wrong with her was that she didn’t get how important I was to myself.” Stephen talked with his hands. His face was unshaven. His ball hat was old and ratty. “You know those girls who give you lots of space and are cool about you really doing something with yourself? Stacy was not like that at all. She just smothered me, right? It was really just like, work, sleep, Stacy. It was work, sleep, and Stacy, over and over. I couldn’t take it. It was too much.”
I felt comfortable in this little group, and it was nice to think that Kate was willing to share her friends with me.
“And it’s not that she was just clingy with my time,” he said. “No, she was clingy with everything. I couldn’t visit my parents without her coming along. She’d call me at work every chance she’d get. It was always ‘I was just thinking about you’ or ‘oh, I forgot to tell you this earlier.’ Fucking terrible, man. I tell you.”
I said, “Well, I don’t know, but I think that kind of attention is really sweet. She obviously cared about you.”
“She obviously wanted to wear me down until she could wrap her body around me and squeeze,” he said, trying to imitate a giant snake with his arms and legs outstretched. “Seriously dude, I’m betting you’ve never been in that situation. You’d know if you were. It’s like, every minute, there she is.”
“No, I’ve been there,” I said, totally elated to be in this conversation with a stranger. “I think the difference between you and me is that I like that kind of passionate attention. I like to know that the person I’m with can’t focus well without me. Like, love is supposed to be this all-encompassing obsession, right? I totally buy that, and I love it when I find myself in the thick of it. It sucks when it goes sour, and I feel for you, but I’m sure there was some point in time when you loved it that she’d call every ten minutes to tell you something cute.”
“Shit,” Jackie said, “Kate, where’d you find this guy?”
Jackie looked like every best friend I’d ever seen. She was thinner than Kate, and her blonde hair was similar in length. Her jeans were looser, her shoes newer. She smiled less. She was incredibly aware that Phil thought the world of her, and this annoyed her a little. It was clear she loved him too, but she dropped his hand a few times when he tried to hold hers. I wondered how long they’d been together, if Phil had stayed crazy about Jackie, if she had found a plateau and set up camp there.
“High school,” Kate said.
“So you’ve known her longer than us, eh?” Phil asked me, clinking beers with mine. He shifted his weight to face his girlfriend and gave her this weird, scheming look. Phil said, “Maybe he can tell us.”
“No,” Kate sharply shot the idea down. “He won’t.”
“Tell you what?” I asked. I looked at Kate, and her face became stone.
“Well, we met her in college, right?” Phil said. “But none of us ever really knew what she was like before that. Was she the same, or like, a completely different person?”
“Well,” I said. “I was different, definitely.”
“I was totally a different person,” Jackie said.
“Exactly,” I said. “But with Kate, I think it’s different.”
“Hey, let’s not play the asshole game,” Kate said, glaring at me. I didn’t know what nugget of embarrassment she was trying to hide. Did I know something I shouldn’t? How good were these friends?
I said, smiling, “Maybe because I’ve known her for so long, or maybe because I’ve always had this image of her, you know? Like, I’m the kind of person who sets up a mental image or idea of everyone, and that never really changes. So even if she turned out to be completely different, she’s still the same girl that was nice enough to talk to me when I was insecure and just needed a friend.”
Kate went red, but in a good way. She hadn’t expected me to play along this well.
Jackie said, “That’s like, the most romantic thing I’ve ever heard.”
Jackie reminded me of the talk Kate gave me when she pulled me aside earlier this evening. She asked me to act like I was just a friend, because she didn’t want to get into the messy stuff. She wasn’t ready to talk about Ray yet, and nobody but me knew about it. Kate told me that Jackie would likely suspect something, but speculation wasn’t fire. It was just smoke, and since she couldn’t stop the smoke, Kate figured it’d be best to just not stoke a fire.
Phil said, “So, why didn’t you two ever hook up?”
I was a little insulted to think it was so obvious that we hadn’t.
“Don’t think I didn’t want to,” Kate said. “But unfortunately for me, Scott here never really liked me.”
I had learned years before that the secret to blending in with people so much more confident than you was to fake it convincingly. The way to do this was to make ballsy claims that nobody could really refute, ideas that seemed to exist just within a hair of credibility but beyond challenge, like the one of Kate ever having a crush on me. It wouldn’t be difficult to play along with Kate here because I’d danced the same dance with other girls who enjoyed creating fiction of life. What was more interesting, however, was that Kate would try to make anything up at all. Was Kate hiding insecurities? Or was she simply hiding me by going in the opposite direction?
I played along by telling the truth. “Hey, it’s not that I didn’t like you, it’s that I was always far too scared to say anything. You were the same way, huh?”
“Exactly,” Kate said. Everyone seemed pleased with this.
The conversation kept at this pace for hours. I didn’t flinch. Nobody suspected that I didn’t belong, and that gave me this great sense of arrival that I hadn’t been able to taste since moving to this city. I came to believe in the comfort I felt at this point, and wrapped myself with it as I would with a warm blanket, like the kind that could soften cold, bare walls.
When the drinks were gone, our guests’ departure soon followed, and as we got ourselves upstairs, I thought about how I’d probably missed out on years of this sort of thing for no goddamn reason at all.
“You’re going to love this place,” she said. “It’s my favourite restaurant in the city.”
We had just been seated in front of a sunken, black fire-pit. I told Kate yesterday that I had never been to a Korean restaurant, and tonight we sat in a crowded hallway.The food arrived on small trays. Everything was raw. The stove divided us. We cooked as we ate. “It’s so much fun,” she said. “But, be careful. Once, I only half-cooked a piece of pork and ended up in the hospital.”
“Great,” I said, placing a small, square piece of beef on the grill. It was turning colours within seconds. “Should it do that?”
“Yeah, it’s supposed to be quick,” she said, dunking some chicken.
“Morrissey would kill me for this,” I said.
“You know,” I said, “Lead singer of The Smiths. They put out an album called ‘Meat Is Murder.’ He’s a pretty avid vegetarian.”
“Huh,” Kate said, chewing on a carrot. “Never heard of them.”
“Really? You must have heard them at some point. Come on. Does ‘Hang the DJ’ ring a bell?”
“Is that one of their songs?”
“Well, it’s part of the chorus for one of their songs,” I said.
She said, “Don’t you hate it when band name songs after things that have nothing to do with the song?”
“Maybe they’re trying to be artsy.”
“Pheh,” she said, waving dismissively.
I said, “Well, who can argue with that?”
“Your beef is done,” she said, pointing with tongs. I picked it up with my fork and dropped it on the small plate in front of me.
“Majestic,” I commented, sarcastically. It tasted like beef, but I still didn’t see the point.
This entire setup wasn’t particularly suited to having a conversation. There was so much attention required for dinner that an extensive conversation was just going to ruin the whole experience. However, Kate had no problem attending to both at the same time.
She said, “Did I tell you I was in Korea for a little while?”
She said, “Just after college. I thought it’d be a blast, you know? Teaching English was supposedly this easy job with free rent and lots of parties on the weekends. So I go, and they gave me this tiny crab-shack of an apartment with three chairs and a bed. It’s way out in the country, right? So it’s like an hour and a half to the closest bar that’s not full of farmers. The kids never listened to a word I said, and the Korean teacher they partnered me with never talked to me. Thank God for online poker.”
I was surprised it took her this long to tell me this story. Leaving the continent for half a year seems like the kind of thing that would have come up much earlier on in the relationship. What other amazing things hadn’t she told me? I played it cool and asked her, “I heard these teaching enterprises kept you there for a year?”
“Yeah,” she said. “Most people stay for the year, and I’ve heard that most people like it. But it just wasn’t for me, you know? So I saved up enough to not make it a complete waste of time, gave my 30 days, and bolted. Since then, I’ve been at the job I’m at now. It was the first thing I could find.”
“Hey,” I said. “Look at you. You’re opening up.”
Kate picked up her chicken with chopsticks and held it for a second. “No, I’m just filling in the blanks. The only thing I took away from the experience was an appreciation for the food. Kimchi cures just about everything.”
“So it’s a total meat-fest over there, huh?” I asked, cooking my chicken, turning it with metal tongs. We were both breathing in the smoke,
“Oh my God,” she said, biting into grilled fish. “Meat-fest. That’s what I used to call porn.”
“Are the bones still in that fish?” I asked, noticing more and more why I shouldn’t be eating this stuff.
“Yeah, you’ve got to be careful,” she said, laughing. “Seriously. Meat-fest. I haven’t heard that in years.”
I said, “It does work for porn, I guess.”
“It totally does. Not only porn but orgies, too.”
“Were you ever in one of those?”
Kate said, “Hey, private!”
I said, “I sleep with you every night. I have wounds that refuse to heal to prove it.”
“So?” she said. “Just because you’re in my bed doesn’t mean you get to be in my head.”
“Well, when will that be?” I asked, picking at something that looked like chicken but came from a different tray.
“You want to talk about futures?” she asked.
In between bites, I said, “Sure. We’ve talked about everything else.” I was lying. I figured there were at least a hundred crazy stories I hadn’t extracted from this girl. But I could tell that this was the moment where I would learn whether or not Kate had any real plans for this relationship.
“You go first,” she said, obliterating any shot I’d have at this.
“Okay. Wait. I’m not really one hundred percent on what you mean.”
Kate poured some soy sauce on her fish and asked, “You don’t have any big dreams or goals that you’ve set out to accomplish? No big mission?”
“No,” I said. “I think I knew everything would work out, but I never hammered out any real plan. It’s stupid, I guess, but I left it up to fate.”
“That sounded tired,” I said. “But I think it’s true. Up until Shawn happened, I really didn’t know who I was. And up until you happened, I didn’t know that there was something wrong with that.”
She said, “You’re saying that I’ve screwed everything up for you.”
“Yes, essentially. This beef is kind of terrible.”
“Pour some hot sauce on it,” she said. “I understand. Trust me. I know what it’s like to wrap your life around the idea of someone and then have it damaged by a sudden departure.”
“Well, yeah,” I said. “So, anyway. That’s me. What about you?”
“Well, I just told you,” she said, grilling vegetables along with pork. “It’s all shot to hell, right? I have no idea what I’m doing now. I’m really playing by Ackerman.”
“Ackerman?” I asked. This, I feared, was going to be lame.
“Yeah, it’s this phrase I had in college,” she said. “Huh. Isn’t that funny? I haven’t said that since college. Like, I have never uttered it since. But there it is, just slipping out, like leftover drunken memories told the morning your new roommate moves in because you need a story to tell over toast.”
“This was a stupid idea for a restaurant,” I blurted out. “What if you couldn’t cook? What if the very reason you left the house to get food at a restaurant was because if you cooked by yourself you’d end up poisoned or dead? What if someone got incredibly sick here because they couldn’t cook and they sued the place?”
“Anyways,” she said, completely ignoring my incredibly valid point. “Diane Ackerman came up with this one quote that I just fell in love with when I first saw it. It was in this quote about travelling. Ever since, whenever I’ve really felt this way, I’ve had her to fall back on,”
I stopped picking at the increasingly suspicious meat and paid full attention to her. Kate sat upright and appeared to begin a scene from a very old play.
“It began in mystery, and it will end in mystery, but what a savage and beautiful country lies in between.”
I asked, “Are you talking about this restaurant or our relationship?”
Kate made a face that told me I wouldn’t be receiving an answer. That was okay. I didn’t want to talk to Kate about the wisdom of stealing quotes from books, or how she probably had it out of the proper context somehow. I didn’t want to challenge her idea of a divine truth. The only thing I wanted was to burrow inside whatever idea she had of the future that wouldn’t be destroyed by oncoming storms.
We were sitting in Kate’s kitchen. The sun had set about an hour ago. Calgary’s days can last forever on a warm day. I’d made lunch. We’d eaten and cleaned up, and now we were sitting there.
“You’ve run out of things for us to do, haven’t you?” I asked.
“No,” she quipped. “Why would you say that?”
“Because it looks like you’re thinking of something, but nothing’s coming.”
Kate gave me this look that said ‘don’t be ridiculous.’
She said, “I’m thinking of having a party tomorrow night. It’s the end of the week, after all.”
“It is?” It had gone by so quickly, I hadn’t noticed. I hadn’t really thought about what would happen afterwards. What was Kate going to do with me now that the week was over? That was a stupid question. This wasn’t it. She wasn’t going to use me for a week and then just take off. It wouldn’t be like that. It wouldn’t make any sense. Even if that’s how it might have started, that’s not how it’d end. She won’t use me. Kate wouldn’t do that.
It was when I saw how naive I was being that I began to wonder if I was in love with her. My sane friends would say that it was impossible. I simply had not been with her long enough for that kind of sentiment to grow in me. To them, I’d say that all of the hours I’d spent with Kate this week would add up to the hours they’d managed to actually be in love. I was in love with Carly, and the feeling I had now was close. This time, it seemed older, more aware, but it was still beating my keener senses down to make room for the sensual escapades of sweaty dreaming. I was suddenly oblivious to the fact that Kate would ever intentionally hurt me, and this, above all things, was love as I knew it. Barring any better guidepost, the best I could do was make sail and hope for wind.
“Kate,” I began, “I...”
Kate’s phone rang. She put her finger up to me, like she did every time she interrupted whatever it was I was about to say.
“Yeah?” she said to somebody. “Of course you can come. Sure, bring it all. Will who be here?”
I moved closer to the phone, trying to be cute, spying on her. She grabbed my shoulder with a stretched-out arm and held me in place. She shook her head and widened her eyes and at that moment, I should have known exactly who she was talking about.
“I’ll be in the other room,” I whispered, and left. Her eyes stayed fixated on a ghost I couldn’t see.
I sat down on her couch and thought about our entanglement. They were friends, and somehow she had already gotten the word out about a party. Shawn was never one to stay home, so he would call. This made sense. Regardless of plans, he would invariably call her at some point. He didn’t know I was staying here. He didn’t know half of the situation. This is going to be weird for him. He’d never seen me with a girl. Every moment that I’ve known Shawn, he was it for me. No other girl or boy had been able to sustain my attention until Kate came along. In a flash, I considered his feelings. Just as swiftly, I crinkled these feelings into imaginary paper balls and bounced them off an imaginary waste backet somewhere inside my head.
Kate put her lips on my neck, and kissed me for a moment before I could think to speak.
“Hey,” I said. “I don’t think I want to go to this party.”
She moved down, pulling my shirt to the side and kissing my shoulder. She whispered, “Yes, you do. I want to introduce you to the rest of my friends.”
Her arms were wrapped around me, and her hands were working slowly on my buttons. I tried to explain. I said, “It’s just that parties aren’t really my thing. I always get uncomfortable and nothing good ever comes of it.” None of this was completely true.
She pulled the shirt off my back and hugged me tight. She said, “No good comes from any party, honey. But good things aren’t really the point of parties, are they?”
“Look,” I said. “I’m serious.”
“Scott,” she told me. “Quiet.”
She turned me around and kissed my cheek and began to work downward. She didn’t want to talk. She put a finger to my lips and kissed me.
“Hold on,” I said. “Are you taking my clothes off just so that I won’t protest this party anymore?”
She nodded her head. “That’s exactly why. So shut up and enjoy it, cowboy.”
She put her hair up in a ponytail as she began to kiss my chest. My hands were on her shoulders, playing with the straps of her bra.
Kate grabbed my belt and yanked it out. I told her to stand up, and then I pulled off her top. Jeans were slid off. We landed on the couch, and were at each other in the kind of ravage I’d grown accustomed to since Kate first kissed me near the river. I had quickly learned how she liked to fuck. It did not take long to adjust.
In seconds, we were naked. She was not one for foreplay. Our clothes were deserted in stormy piles on her floor. It was all propulsion, mileage, and damage. Her nails dug into my side and I moaned. My teeth pulled at her nipples and collarbone, and she seemed to purr.
Sex with Kate was a hot wind coming from all directions. I had to give up all other thoughts if I wanted to keep up with her. It wasn’t like being used. She wanted me to be as hungry as she was, but there was just no way I could muster that kind of animal behavour on cue. I left no marks on Kate. I was too weak to draw blood, but she wasn’t.
We fell to the floor together. Kate was on top, her hands tight against my chest, her lips all over mine. Her ponytail fell on my right shoulder, and my hands held her ass. The carpet rubbed against the claw marks, electrifying every inch. She saw the pain on my face, and she smiled that beautiful naked smile that got me in this mess in the first place.
Kate repositioned us so that I was on top, but she gave up none of the control. Her legs wrapped around my ass, and she was halfway off the ground. Every time I tried to kiss her gently, she would lunge her tongue inside my mouth. Kate sped up, but we weren’t synchronized. She grabbed the back of my neck. She wanted to be pulled up, and I yanked back.
Kate straddled her weight on my thighs and she looked at me, biting her lip. It wasn’t the kind of sex that lasted forever, and it was mostly because of her pace. I couldn’t imagine anyone who practiced Kate’s style of fucking producing a respectable time.
She flipped us again to make it last a few moments longer. She put me behind her. She grabbed the edge of the couch pulled my cock in. I put my hands on her shoulders and tried to keep as close as possible. I didn’t like keeping my distance during sex. I wanted sweat on sweat, grind on grind. People don’t fuck to create babies anymore. They did it to exchange fluids.
Kate grabbed one of my hands and put it on her ponytail. She wanted me to pull her hair when she came. It was one of her things.
She came. Her right heel came down on my foot and nearly broke it. I lost balance, and we collapsed to the ground. All of the intensity numbed into a dull pain, but the pain was still too distant to think about after what’d just happened. “Wow,” She said. “That’s new.”
“We came at the same time,” she said, panting. “Not bad.”
“That’s never happened before,” I said. I felt bad about it, but I lied. I may have cried out, but I hadn’t come.
“Well, I’m sure someone’s done it,” she said, grabbing hold of my left hand and giving me a sweaty kiss.
We lay there for a moment, watching the ceiling fan, my cock still mid-throb.
“To answer your question,” Kate purred, “ About the party, anyway. We’ve talked about this before. Wouldn’t you rather have a great memory than a great time?”
“Even if the memory is awful?”
“Even then,” she said.
“I don’t know. I guess it all depends on how you gauge happiness.”
“Well,” Kate asked, “How do you gauge happiness?”
Kate was agreeing with the idea of my spectrum to a degree, even if her understanding of it went way beyond my theory. To me, the really unmemorable and uncool people had to be the happiest, because that was the only way the universe could be fair. But my spectrum left out the one absolute in life. Life’s really not fair, no matter what theory you use. Life will always slice through you using someone else’s theories. Kate always had the upper hand on my ideas about life.
Thank you, Kate. You’ve destroyed it completely this time.
“Kate,” I began again, “I...”
She put her finger to my lips again and inched closer. She whispered, “We’ll have none of that.”
I listened to the still air and realized that the winds outside had slowed. Eventually, we got dressed and finished up the last day, getting ready for this big party.