You Love Me: A You Novel
Yesterday I overheard two Mothballs call us lovebirds and today we’re in our usual lunch spot outside on the love seat in the Japanese garden. We eat lunch here every fucking day and right now you are laughing, because we’re always laughing, because this is it, Mary Kay. You’re the one.
“No,” you say. “Tell me you did not really steal Nancy’s newspaper.”
Nancy is my fecal-eyed neighbor and you went to high school with Nancy. You don’t like her but you’re friends with her—women—and I tell you that I had to steal her newspaper because she cut me in line at our local coffeehouse, Pegasus. You nod. “I guess that’s karma.”
“You know what they say, Mary Kay. Be the change you want to see in the world.”
You laugh again and you are thrilled that someone is finally standing up to Nancy and you still can’t believe I live next door to her, that I live right around the corner from you. You chew on your beef—we eat beef and broccoli every day—and you close your eyes and raise a finger. You need time—this is the most serious part of our lunch—and I count down ten seconds and I make a buzzer noise. “Well, Ms. DiMarco? Sawan or Sawadty?”
You tilt your head like a food critic. “Sawan. Has to be Sawan.”
You failed again and I make another buzzer noise and you are feisty and you tell me that you will fucking win one of these days and I smile. “I think we both won, Mary Kay.”
You know I’m not talking about a stupid Thai food taste test and you wipe a happy tear off your cheek. “Oh, Joe, you kill me. You do.”
You say things like that to me every day and we should be naked on the Red Bed by now. We’re getting there. Your cheeks are rosy and you already gave me a promotion. I am the Fiction Specialist and I built a new section in the library called “The Quiet Ones” where we feature books like Ann Petry’s The Narrows, lesser-known works by famous authors. You said it’s nice to see books find new eyes and you knew I was watching you shake your ass when you walked away. You’re glued to me in the library, every chance you get, and you’re glued to me here, on the love seat, warning me that Fecal Eyes might rat me out on Nextdoor.
“Oh come on,” I say. “I stole a newspaper. I didn’t steal her dog. And they’re like everyone here. Lights out by ten p.m.”
“You come on,” you sass. “You love being the rebel night owl. I bet you’re up all night chain-smoking and reading Bukowski.”
I like it when you tease me and I smile. “Now that you mention it, Bukowski might be the way to get Nomi off her Columbine kick.”
“That’s a great idea, maybe I’ll start with Women…” You always appreciate my ideas—I love your brain—and I ask you what you think Bukowski would have thought of my fecal-eyed neighbor and you laugh-choke on your beef, my beef, and you hold your stomach—it hurts lately, what with the butterflies, the private jokes. I pat you on the back—I care—and you sip your water and take a deep breath. “Thank you,” you say. “Thought I was gonna faint.”
I want to hold your hand but I can’t do that. Not yet. You pick up your phone—no—and your shoulders slouch and I know your body language. I can tell when the Meerkat is texting—you sit up a little straighter—and I can tell when it’s not the Meerkat, like now. I’ve done my homework, Mary Kay—it’s amazing how easy it is to get to know a woman when she follows you back online!—and I know about the people in your life, in your phone.
“Everything okay?” I ask.
“Yeah,” you say. “Sorry, it’s just my friend Seamus. This will just take a sec.”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” I say. “Take your time.”
I know, Mary Kay. You have a “life” here and it’s mostly about your daughter, but you also have your friends, one of whom is Seamus Fucking Cooley. You went to high school with him—yawn—and he owns a hardware store. Correction: He inherited the store from his parents. Whenever he texts, he’s whining about some twenty-two-year-old girl who’s fucking with his head—ha!—and you are compassionate. You always say that he’s sensitive because he used to be picked on about being short—I bet the shithead bullies used to call him Shortus—and I always bite my tongue—Look at Tom Fucking Cruise!—and you’re still texting.
“Sorry,” you say. “I know this is rude.”
“Not at all.”
Making you feel better makes me feel better. But it’s not easy, Mary Kay. Every time I ask you to get coffee or invite you to pop over you tell me you can’t because of Nomi, because of your friends. I know that you want me—your skirts are shorter every day, your Murakami is hot for me—and I come in early and I stay after my shift ends. You can’t get enough of me and you’re spoiled because I’m here almost every day. You never send me home and when you joke about the two of us loitering in the parking lot I tell you that we’re lingering. You like that. Plus, you like all my fucking pictures.
@LadyMaryKay liked your photo.
@LadyMaryKay liked your photo.
@LadyMaryKay WANTS TO FUCK YOU AND SHE IS PICKY AND PRIVATE AND PATIENT AND SHE FINALLY FOUND A GOOD MAN AND THAT’S YOU JOE. YOU’RE THE ONE. BE PATIENT. SHE’S A MOM. SHE’S YOUR BOSS. SHE COULD GET FIRED FOR HITTING ON YOU!
Finally, you shove your phone into your pocket. “Oof, I think I need a drink.”
“That bad, huh?”
“Yeah,” you say. “I think I told you he has this cabin in the mountains…”
You told me about his fucking cabin and I’m not impressed. I’ve seen his Instagram. He doesn’t like to read and he bought his biceps at CrossFit. “I think so, yeah.”
“Well, he brought this girl up there and she spent the whole trip complaining about the lack of Wi-Fi. And then she bailed on him.”
“Yeah,” you say. “And I know it sounds bad, this same old story of a middle-aged guy going for twenty-two-year-old girls, but”—there is no but, it’s just plain bad—“you know how it is. He’s like a brother to me. He’s insecure…” No. He’s just a man. “And I feel for him. He does so much for this island. He’s a saint, truly. He donates books constantly…” ONE HUNDRED GRAND, HONEY. “He’s like our own Giving Tree…”
No man is an island or a tree but I smile. “I got that impression,” I say. “I saw signs for his Cooley 5K and the Cooley ‘street cleaning task force.’ But maybe instead of doing so much for others…” God, this hurts. “Maybe he should be in that cabin clearing his head.”
“Yeah,” you say. Yeah. “And that’s probably the right move because he truly does have the worst luck with women.”
Sorry, Mary Kay, but if you knew about my exes…“He’s lucky he has you.”
You blush. You’re quiet, too quiet, and you don’t want this fucking man, do you? No. If you wanted him, you would have him because look at you. You sigh. Sighs are signs of guilt and okay. He wants you and you don’t want him—you want me—and you shrug. “I don’t know about that. It’s just second nature for me, you know, helping people, being there…”
We are the same, Mary Kay. We just have different styles. “I can relate.”
We’re quiet again, closer now than we were an hour ago. My whole “Mr. Goody Two-shoes” plan isn’t just about me anymore. It’s about us being good together. I swore I won’t ever hurt anyone for you, not even the guy who owns the hardware store where the female staffers swan around in tight jeans and tight shirts bearing the Cooley name. I’m kind like you. I’m good like you. I gulp. I go for it. “Maybe we could get a drink later…”
You put your hand on your shirt. Deep V-neck sweater today, deep for a librarian who bends over a lot. Say yes. “I wish,” you say, as you stand. “But I have girls’ night and I should probably get back inside.”
I stand because I have to stand. “No pressure,” I say. “Just throwing it out there.”
We’re lingering as if we can’t bear to go inside and time is slowing down the way it does before a first kiss and we do need to kiss. You should kiss me or I should kiss you and it’s fall and you’re falling in love with me and I’ve never felt less alone in my life than I do when I’m with you. There’s an invisible string pulling our bodies together but you walk to the door. “Hey, if I don’t see you, have a good weekend!”
Six hours later, and I am NOT HAVING A GOOD FUCKING WEEKEND, MARY KAY. I want to spend my downtime with you and okay. You didn’t lie to me. You’re not out with Seamus—he’s at a dive bar watching a soccer game because people here like soccer—but you’re at Eleven Winery with Melanda.
She’s your “bestie” and she’s @MelandaMatriarchy on Instagram—oy—and she celebrated Gloria Steinem’s birthday by posting a picture of…Melanda. This woman is an English teacher, she’s your daughter’s teacher, constantly harassing your Meerkat to stop romanticizing Dylan Klebold in the comments—Boundaries, anyone?—but you see the best in people. Melanda was the first friend you made in Bainbridge and she “saved your life” in high school, so when she issues Instagram mandates to BELIEVE ALL WOMEN—as in, the mandate is on a T-shirt stretched over her unnecessarily big boobs—well, you like every fucking one of them.
And you do this even though she doesn’t like all of your pictures—you are the bigger person, just like me—and when she wants to go to Eleven Winery and bitch about her OkCupid dates—generally this is every Tuesday and every Friday—you go.
It doesn’t take a genius to see that I should be with you, that Melanda should be with Shortus. But they’re two sides of the same coin. She likes to hate men because she’s too guarded to find real love—your words, not mine—and this man-boy wants a chick to suck on his Shortus. And then my phone buzzes. It’s you.
You: How’s your night?
Me: Hanging in there. How’s girls’ night?
You: You mean women’s night.
This is our first text—YES!—and I can tell you’re a little drunk. I want to pound my chest and pump my fist because I’ve been waiting for you to reach out to me and I haven’t reached out to you because I have to be paranoid. I know how it works in this antiromantic world. I couldn’t be the one to hit you up on your personal phone because the Injustice System could take my innocent gesture and frame me as a fucking “stalker.” This is life without a Get Out of Jail Free card but it turns out, life is good. You did it, Mary Kay! You crossed the line and texted me after hours and the library is closed but you are open. And thank God I dragged my ass to Isla Bonita tonight—another win!—because now you’re gonna see that I’m not sitting at home pining for you. I’m just like you, out on the town with my friends—the other guys at this bar would appear to be my “friends” on security camera footage—and now I get to make you sick with FOMOOM—fear of missing out on me.
Me: Well I’m at BOYS’ night. Beer and nachos and soccer at Isla.
You take a beat. It’s killing you to realize that I’m on Winslow Way too, 240 feet away. Come on, Mary Kay. Spill that wine and run to me.
You: You make me laugh.
Me: Sometimes boys and women drink at the same bar.
You: Melanda hates sports bars. Long story. Bartender was rude to her once.
I bet every bartender in the state was rude to Melanda but then, it can’t be easy being Melanda. I snap a picture of the bumper stickers behind the bar—MY BARTENDER CAN BEAT UP YOUR THERAPIST and I DON’T HAVE AN ATTITUDE PROBLEM. YOU’RE JUST AN ASSHOLE—and I send it to you and then I write to you.
Me: Tell your friend Melanda that I get it.
You: I love you.
Me. Numb. Lovestruck. Speechless. Cloud 9000. I stare at my phone, at the dots that tell me there’s more to come and then boom.
You: Typo. I meant I love your picture. Sloppy fingers. lol sorry just…yeah…wine.
My heart is pounding and you love me. You said it. Everyone around me is oblivious, but Van Morrison is egging us on from the speakers—this seems like a brand-new night and this feels like a brand-new night—and what the fuck am I doing?
You want me. I want you. Fuck it.
I’m outside, en route to Eleven Winery, closer as in Closer, but then I stop short.
Yes, you told me where you are but you didn’t invite me to join you. And let’s say I did interrupt your women’s night. Is this really the way for us to start our love story? Deep down, I know that good guy island etiquette requires that I give you your fucking “space.” The walls of Eleven are thin and I hear laughter in “your bar.” You’re not just with your best friend. You know a lot of flannel-vested townies inside and I want to rescue you from that noisy tedium that can’t possibly compare to our lovebird lunches in the garden.
But I can’t save you, Mary Kay. Tonight we made progress—you texted me, you started it—and I want that to be what you think about when you wake up tomorrow. It’s not easy, but I walk into the alley, away from the sound of your voice. Before I get home, I’m smiling again because hey, this was still a big night for us. You had all those people to talk to, your best fucking friend, but that wasn’t enough for you, was it? You picked up your phone and texted me. Rude. Obsessed. Sassy. And of course you couldn’t help it.
After all, you love me.
And you can tell me that you didn’t mean it that way. You can point to the fact that you were drinking. You can say that you were sloppy. But anyone with a phone knows that there are very few actual mistakes when it comes to the things we put in writing, especially after a few drinks. You said it and on some level, you meant it and your words are mine now, glowing in the dark in my phone.
I sleep well for a change, as if your love is already working its magic on me.
|October 3, 2022
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