I take my groceries home, stopping briefly to put them away before leaving. I spend a good 20 minutes wondering why I took my car out into the New York traffic instead of just walking to my destination. The ice cream parlor Eric and I usually go to is just a street down from my apartment, as are a few other shops. I have a fondness for the Mint Chocolate Chip flavor, he likes Rocky Road. I think one of these days he's going to get a heart attack due to the plaque I'm sure is clinging his arteries. It's not healthy to eat three scoops of chocolate ice cream and marshmallows every week.
Eric tackle hugs me at the door, a flurry of short blonde hair and boyish grins.
"Jenna Bo Benna!" he chimes affectionately. "Hi!"
"Hi, Eric," I respond, trying to breathe. "Could you let me go? I can't do that thing people need to do where they pull air into their lungs."
"Can't you just be a normal person and say breathing?"
"What's the fun in that?"
He lets go with a groan, letting me know he does not approve.
His exasperation is comforting, something familiar and definitely not at all like a certain dark haired man.
"So what's shakin', bacon?" he asks
"I am not a breakfast food."
"Remind me why I'm friends with you."
"Because you irritate everyone too much for you to have any others."
If anyone ever hears us talk, they think we hate each other. The things we say can often be called vitriolic, but it's all done in good fun. As best friends we have to be slightly mean to each other. As they say, friends help you when you fall on the stairs. Best friends start laughing at you. However, if I ever need anything, Eric asks me when and where. He's never missed being there for me for a single breakup, or failed to show up with jumper cables for a car breakdown.
"So," he starts, "are you going to tell me what you were busy with? Unless you want to confess that it really was the third season of Chopped."
I don't answer, trying not to think about what just happened. I'm not saving people anymore, as it apparently leads to awkward situations.
Eric must see something in my face, because his grin fades. He's known me since we met three years ago in a line for Black Friday. I needed a new computer since I accidentally spilled coffee on my old one, and he needed some new headphones. The length of time we've been friends sometimes quite unfortunately means that he knows when something isn't right with me.
"Since I'm the greatest friend in the world, I'll graciously ignore your tardiness and pay for your ice cream," he proclaims.
"Thank you. I appreciate it," I answer, genuinely touched despite it being his turn anyway.
"You're getting two scoops instead of one," he orders. "Then we're gonna talk about whatever is bothering you. No protests allowed."
He hooks an arm around my shoulders, pulling me into the line of customers.
"Why am I getting two?"
"Because it'll help you with any and all stress you're feeling," he answers.
"So why are you paying to have three?" I ask. "I don't see what stress you have."
"I have to listen to you talk. That's pretty stressful."
"Hey! I resent that statement."
"I'm just kidding! Or not. You'll never really know."
"Love you too. Now go sit down and get ready to delve into your subconscious, because I'm the best therapist ever."
I roll my eyes at him as I leave, and he blatantly ignores that.
I watch him stand in line to order our ice cream once I sit down, laughing quietly as he starts to dance. I'm sure he thinks he's being inconspicuous, but it's drawing a few looks from the other people. Eric's a musician, and that shines through every part of him. If he's not singing to everything he hears, he's plucking imaginary guitar strings along with some melody he's got locked up in his head. He's talented enough to make it big, but he prefers to stick to the indie scene. He likes playing bars and small clubs. I don't know why. Neither does his wallet. Sometimes mine.
Actually, I think it has something to do with the fact he refuses to let someone change his music, or him for that matter. But considering his music is so great because it comes from his soul, I don't really blame him.
It's no surprise he's flirting with the girl at the counter. He doesn't take much in life seriously, and that includes dating. It's not that he's a bad boyfriend from what I've seen, he doesn't forget dates or cheat, the girls just get tired of his frivolous attitude towards everything romance related.
Unfortunately for them though, they have a tendency to be disarmed by his perpetually mussed sandy hair and warm brown eyes. I can't see the attraction, but I think that's more because he's like a brother to me and less because he isn't worthy of it. Popular to contrary belief, guys and girls can be friends. I have no secret longing for Eric, and I'm positive he isn't interested in me. We've seen each other at our worst. Like when we've been drunk, hungover, dirty, or even that one time when we both had the stomach flu at the same time. I don't know how I could be attracted to Eric after seeing him that night. After smelling him. I shudder.
He saunters over to where I'm sitting once he's done turning the cashier to a mush that gazes forlornly at him, casually sliding the ice cream container across the table.
"So," he begins, "how does that make you feel?"
"That's really offensive to psychologists and you know it. They do so much more than that."
"I know, Jennasaur. Just trying to make you laugh."
"Oh," I reply, awkward. "I'm sorry."
Maybe something's just wrong with me today.
"Okay, now I know something's not right. You always have some sassy comeback. Come on, tell me about it. Dr. Eric is at your service."
"Look, I don't really want to talk about it. It's silly for me to be bothered anyway."
I pick at the chocolate chips melting along the side of the green ice cream, trying not to think about certain eyes that are also green. I don't think I really like the color anyway. It's a stupid color. Just like men are stupid. All of them.
"Hey," Eric calls. "Seriously, you can tell me what's wrong. I won't think you're silly. You know that. Was someone mean to you? Because if they were I have no problem whatsoever with forcing an apology from them. Nobody is allowed to hurt my best friend."
Okay, maybe one of them isn't stupid.
I tell him what happened at the store, since it's obvious he won't let it go.
When I'm done, he leans back. He looks puzzled.
"That doesn't make any sense," he ponders aloud, then brings his attention back to me. "Are you sure you didn't say anything?"
"Like what?" I ask, offended.
Why does this have to be my fault? I mean I wondered that too, but still. Maybe Brendon's just a weirdo, and I just dodged a bullet.
"Well, I don't know," Eric replies, exasperated.
He runs a hand through his hair, thinking again.
"Did you say anything that would make him think you weren't interested in him anymore?"
"I am not interested in that . . . man. How could I want to be with someone who can't save themselves from stalkers?"
"I had to save you from a stalker once, remember? That guy who was in that pottery class you took."
I shiver, remembering that unpleasant experience.
The guy kept trying to come up behind me and 'guide' me his hands. He didn't understand personal space. Added to this the fact that he made me a scrapbook of pictures taken in class of everyone without their knowledge, he was creeping me out.
“You didn't save me,” I reply. “I could have handled him myself."
"You called me because he was at your door with whatever that clay thing was."
"He made me a pinch pot because 'I pinched his heart.' That's not even romantic."
"Whatever," he says dismissively. "The point being that you were too scared to handle him yourself and needed help. Which I don't blame you for, as you shouldn't blame this skinny dude."
"Okay, fine. Either way, I didn't say anything. He just kind of went back to being quiet again."
Eric shrugs, looking noncommittal.
"I don't know what to tell you then, Jay Jay. He's just missing out then."
"I don't know . . . I guess."
He leans forward, a ten-year-old-like grin fixed on his face.
"Besides, there's a reason you shouldn't worry,” he says.
"And why is that?"
"Because you're an independent woman who don't need no man."
He snaps back and forth. I'm best friends with an idiot.
"I can't honestly believe you just did that," I groan, sinking in my seat. "I don't know you. Nope, not at all. You're just another guy who's stalking me. That's what I'll tell people."
"Don't sass me, woman."
"I can if I want. I'm an independent woman, remember?"
I grin at him as he rolls his eyes.
Well, he may be dumb sometimes, but I can't deny I feel better. Fine, he's not so bad. I'll just never tell him that.
As Eric drones on about the new guitar he wants, I slip into thoughts of my appointment later.
I'm going over some final designs for Maggie and Jason's wedding invitations, the fourth ones we've agreed upon before changing. Sometimes freelance graphic designing causes me to have quite the headache.
"What time is it?" I ask, wondering how long I have until I get the video call. It can't be too late. It feels like it's only been an hour or two.
"Time for you to get a watch."
"If you say that to me one more time I'm disowning you as a friend."
"Then get a wat-ow! What was that for? You're so mean."
"Just tell me the time or I'll hit you again."
"It's 4:30. Geez, girl. You need anger management classes."
"No, what I need is blood pressure medication. You raise it so much one of these days I'm just going to keel over. Wait, did you just say 4:30?"
Oh my god. No, no, no. I'm on my feet in a flash, scrambling to gather my things.
"Why didn't you tell me it was so late?" I ask him, frantic.
"What's wrong? Got a meeting or something?"
"Yes! With Jason and Maggie. I'm supposed to video chat with them at 5:00. Oh, I'm so late. Can I make it back in time?"
"Calm down. You still have half an hour. Why are they even talking about it? I thought you finalized their designs."
"I'm worried because they're always early. As in always at least fifteen minutes early. And we did finalize the designs. But we did last month too. They can't make up their mind."
I peer out the window, only to be greeted with the sight of rush hour traffic. Of course.
"What to do?" I wonder aloud. "I might be able to make it if I sprint instead of taking the car."
What am I supposed to do with it though? Come back later?
"What are you mumbling about?" Eric asks, amused by my flustered state.
Eric. That's right. He can drive it back for me.
"Here!" I exclaim, unfastening my car key from my lanyard and tossing is at him.
"What am I supposed to do with this?"
"Take my car home. Pretty please? Okay, thanks! You're the best. Love you, bye."
I turn on my heel, bolting out the door.
I hear Eric yell something faintly behind me.
"Get back here! I am not taking your car! Hey!"
He'll do it. He's going to complain for days about it, but he'll do it anyway.
I skitter along the sidewalk, rushing to get to my street. Come on, stoplight! Now there's a bunch of old ladies crossing the street, talking about knitting. I bob my head around them, trying to find a gap. I can't just mow down the elderly, even if it means my clients back out. I do have standards. But my stomach won't when I don't have any money to eat. Please move faster. I know you have walkers and stuff but I need to get home. When there's a gap between the one in the cat sweater and the one with a colossal necklace, I slip through it. They give me a dirty look, but I don't have time to do anything but feel like a terrible person.
My lungs are burning as I pull in ragged breaths of air. My muscles scream at me for my abuse when I skid to a halt when I almost miss the corner.
I really should do more cardio. I just hate going to the gym when everyone’s dressed in yoga pants with perfect hair. Sometimes I swear they're wearing full makeup. Whatever it is, they're always maintaining a majestic appearance. How do they manage to not look like they've come from running fourteen miles? I'm always a sweaty mess, my hair askew and my face blotchy.
I regret not asking how to be a beautiful Adonis who goes all the time now. I finally reach my apartment building, almost slamming into the doors.
The new guy at the front desk greets me but I'm too busy streaking by to do more than grunt. What's his name again? Jason? Jared? Jeremiah? J something. I should probably check that out when I'm not hearing my heartbeat thunderously crash through my ears.
I fumble momentarily with my lanyard, cursing my love for keychains when I can't find my apartment key. To be honest, I didn't need the monkey wearing a sweatshirt or the solar powered flashing plate of my name, but I wanted them anyway. I found it!
I jam the key in the lock, tossing my bag onto the couch while I simultaneously lunge for my bedroom.
I have to step over the obnoxious pile of laundry that I've been meaning to do for the past week. These clients are killing me. I swoop down to remove a sweater covering my laptop. Then I shove the takeout containers away from my bed to make my space look more professional. They're going to call any second now. Sure enough, the video chat icon pops up almost as soon as I log in.
I'm only now realizing I'm still panting like a maniac. I bet my hair is ruined now. Just wonderful.
I quickly attempt to smooth it down, taking deep breaths as I try to bring my breathing back to normal. My efforts are unsuccessful. The computer has beeped three times. Jason's probably having a panic attack just waiting for more than one.
I tap the icon, straightening up.
The couple's worried faces come into view, and I try to smile reassuringly.
"Jason, Maggie," I greet, my voice peppy and bright, "It's so good to see you!"
"Jenna boo!" they both shout enthusiastically. I hate that nickname, but I can't tell them that. They love me much more than I love them.
"We were worried you might have had a heart attack with your diet," Maggie says, laughing.
When we first met to discuss business, Maggie asked to meet up at a restaurant. Apparently if you don't order something that's gluten-free, fat-free, and low on carbs, you have an unhealthy diet. I mean I do, hence the food containers, but Maggie doesn't know that. She'd really be concerned if she actually knew what I eat.
"Ha, yeah," I laugh along with her, absolutely faking it. "You know me so well. I should really change to that plant based diet you were telling me about. I just love the idea of . . . eggplant pasta?"
"Oh, Jenna boo, you'd love it. You should come over sometime for dinner. Jason and I would love to have you, right honey?"
"Of course. You just say the word."
Jason peers at the screen quizzically.
"You look tired, Jenna boo. Are you okay?"
They just had to notice, didn't they? Come on, Jenna. Think of something. Wait! Maggie once spent half of our informational meeting telling me about steam yoga. Or was it hot yoga? It had this foreign name and I don't remember because I tuned her out half way through. All I remember is her telling me you do yoga in a hundred-and-four-degree room. Like I don't sweat enough to make a small body of water as it is. I most definitely do not need a warmer room. Whatever, even with my lack of knowledge, I can still use it.
"I'm fine," I reply. "I just came back from that thing Maggie told me about. You know, the hot yoga."
"Oh, yes! The Bikram Yoga! How did you like it?"
I quickly Google search the term, scanning over the contents while I speak. Thank god I can multitask with this computer. They don't even notice the light clicks of my keyboard over . . . the sound of their love or something. I don't know.
"Oh it was lovely," I reply. "I had a great time. You were right, it was very relaxing."
"I knew something was different," she proclaims proudly. "You just have a certain glow about you."
Please. The only glow I may have is the radioactive tan from my computer screen light shining on me at all hours.
"Thank you," I respond anyway. "My um, chakras feel very refreshed."
I don't even know what chakra is, I just know she’s said it. Something about energy?
"What was your favorite asana, dear?"
Was that even a word?
"Excuse me? Did I go to a sauna?" I ask, not sure how to respond.
"Oh don't be silly, Jenna boo. You're so funny."
Ha. Oh, yes. So funny. That's what I would call this conversation.
"What are you talking about, Schnookums?"
"Yoga poses, Lover Bunny."
Thank you, Jason. I scroll down the list of poses and pick the first thing I see.
"I really liked the uh, Yoganidrasana," I tell her.
"You liked that one?" she asks, looking bewildered.
"Yes ma'am. It was my favorite."
"But that's a very complex pose. You did that your first try?"
I click the image link, biting my lip to control the gasp. The model for the pose is literally in a knot. Her legs are under her arms and behind her head. How do you even do this?
"Yes," I answer, almost dizzy from the sight. "The instructor said I was um, a natural! Yeah, I guess it's just one of those things. Thank you for recommending it to me!"
Please move on. Please.
"We should go sometime!" she chimes, enthusiasm returning. "You could help me out with my form, since you're such a natural. Jason can come too. Right, Snuggle Muffin?
"Anything you want, Honey Munchkin," Jason replies. Did he just call her that?
Okay, here's the thing. I appreciate love. It's a magnificent thing, or so I’m told. But I don't understand why everyone has to have these ridiculous pet names for each other. It's just disgusting and entirely unnecessary. And why are there so many?
"Snookie Poo, you're so sweet. You’re always there for me," Maggie says.
"Like the sea my love is endless, Sugar Bear."
The sea is not endless, but okay.
"So about those designs you both wanted for your wonderful day," I interrupt.
I know they'll get lost in each other's eyes or something equally nauseating soon and then I won't get anything out of them.
"Oh, yes!" Maggie squeals with her high pitched voice. I think my ears might be bleeding. Hopefully they don't see it because Jason is squeamish when it comes to blood.
Wait. That shouldn't be my first thought. I should be worried about myself. My wallet disagrees.
"Well," Jason says, "Maggie and I talked over the designs. As we said last week, we love them. But there's one eensy weensy thing we'd like to change."
Of course there is. There's always something to change. And it's always supposedly small.
"Of course," I reply, forcing my voice to change from slightly murderous to helpful and understanding. "I want the invitations to be perfect for your wedding."
"Well we put a lot of thought into it, and we think we want to change the theme colors to these ones."
She holds up color cards, one a hideous mustard yellow and the other an equally revolting mottled green color.
"Those are, uh, bold choices!" I say brightly.
Everything is going to look like vomit if they use those colors. I feel the urge to set them straight, but I guess the customer is always right. Isn’t that the saying? Even when they’re extremely wrong.
The thing is, that's certainly not an "eensy weensy" change. I'll have to do the whole layout again from scratch. Even the calligraphy in the design program has to be edged in the colors, and I spent days doing that last time. I resist the impulse to scream at them.
Think of all the pizza you won't be able to eat, Jenna. Think of the caffeine withdrawal you'll go through if you can't make this client happy.
Maggie and Jason are paying me a fair amount of money to do this. I’m not just suffering for no reason. I remind myself to email Amelia to both thank and curse her for recommending me to them. She's Eric's older sister, and I did some posters for her company fundraiser earlier this year. She loved them enough she told all of her friends, which happened to include the couple I am currently hating.
"Well, of course that's not a problem," I say. "But I thought you wanted the blue and silver? You said your mother loved it."
"Oh she did, Jenna boo. But we feel these colors more suit the beach wedding."
Why would you possibly think that? Maybe a beach full of extremely drunk teenagers losing their lunch.
"So can you change it for us, dear?"
I plaster a bright smile onto my face, trying not to cry in frustration.
"Absolutely!" I chirp. "I'll get right on that! Would you like to meet sometime next week?"
"How about we meet next week for breakfast? Around 8:00?"
Someone kill me now. I am not a morning person. I even have a coffee mug that says so.
"Sure, I would love to."
"Okay, see you then. Bye Jenna boo! The Pookie Shnoo and I will see you there!"
I slump over once the video call is over, burying my face in my pillows as I scream.
It's going to be a really long week.