This story is long (hence: epic). I submitted it to a writer’s contest, but didn’t win, so I suppose my rejects go on my blog! It was one of the early dates I went on with my now husband, Nathan. It felt like an episode of Seinfeld to me. I met some of my favorite people that night.
“I’m going to be busy this weekend because it’s my best friend’s wedding,” Nathan said.
“Okay,” I said.
Don’t you want to bring your new girlfriend? Maybe you want to show me off to your friends? Maybe you want me to meet your friends? Do we invite each other to weddings yet? Where does that fall on the dating timeline? After the first kiss, sure. What about before or after the first time you see me without makeup or clean hair? Or the first time you planned a date over text and not on a phone call? Would it come before or after declaring our relationship status on Facebook? I mean, that right there, that’s a big deal. That’s probably after the wedding date, don’t you think? But maybe it’s different for you because you don’t live near family. Maybe because your friends are your family here, it’s a big deal for me to meet them. Maybe you don’t really want me to do that yet. Maybe that’s why I’m not going. I want to meet your best friend. Eventually. Okay. I see now. Have fun. I’ll go to the gym or something.
I used to go to the gym. I used to go on weekend nights, too. Before Nathan. It didn’t matter. I was busy. Really busy. Busy enough that I almost missed out on the first date with him. I liked being busy. Busy meant I was doing things. Busy so I couldn’t over-think. Busy so I didn’t notice all of my friends raising families with their spouses. Busy so I didn’t worry about my younger brother raising his kids. Busy so I didn’t fret about my younger sister getting serious with her boyfriend. Busy so I didn’t mind going home to a cat. Busy so I didn’t have to tell people I wasn’t a cat lady. He wasn’t a cat, really. He was a Bengal. They’re so different. He plays fetch. He takes baths. He has leopard spots. He sneezes on my walls. I’m a cat lady with feline boogers on the walls. He doesn’t want to introduce me to his best friend. Maybe I should clean the walls at home instead of going to the gym. Ew. Who tells people their cat sneezes on the walls? I clean ‘em. I’m a clean person, really. But then there was that one corner in the laundry room where it was dark and I didn’t realize the cat sneezed over there. What was that, his sneezing spot? I mean when I realized it and put some serious light on the situation, there was a bit of a mess. Such a stubborn mess. It didn’t even give up its hold on the wall with Mr. Clean’s Magic Eraser. You can’t see ‘em now, though. I painted over them. The walls are already textured. So they’re a little extra textured about two feet off of the ground in the corner of the laundry room. Maybe I could check that corner this weekend and see if it needs any touch-ups. No. I think I’ll go the gym.
I can’t text my lifting buddy. He just got engaged. Let’s see. He’s my fourth workout buddy. I can’t keep a consistent, lifting relationship. It started with my older brother, convincing me I could go to the gym and lift weights. I didn’t have to go to a class or stick to the cardio machines. They had weights in my size. I didn’t like it at first, always removing the big plates to put on these tiny five-pound discs so I could bench press a few reps, but my brother cheered me on. Until he moved to another state. I switched over to little brother. He didn’t cheer as much, but I had shed my insecurities by then, because people worried about themselves in all of those gym mirrors, not the skinny, pale girl struggling to lift the bar off her chest. And then he moved to another country. I tried out my big brother’s friend who had occasionally joined us. Brother’s Friend often had wine breath. It’s important to breathe as you lift. And make faces. And sometimes spit. Wine breath wasn’t awesome, but I got over it. Until he stopped regular workouts.
I tried for a while to find a girl workout buddy. We could both use the same, tiny five-pound plates for the bench press, and chat about some cute boy at church. I asked around. Who had a membership at the same gym? I made a mental list. I asked each one. None of them lifted. They didn’t even know where the free weights were, let alone what to do with a Smith Machine. I remembered being like them. My brother had cheered me past it. I could cheer them past it, too. I tried. No takers.
“I’ll be your gym buddy,” boy at church said.
For several months we consistently lifted weights three times a week, an hour or more each time. Until Church Boy fell in love with one of my friends. I cheered him on to an engagement and lost another lifting buddy.
I guess I could go and lift by myself. On a Saturday night.
A few days later, Nathan texted me. “Actually, could you come with me on Saturday to the dinner and ceremony?”
This is it. We were at the Wedding Date phase. I don’t need to verify this with him, right? I mean, last time I checked things out in regards to our relationship status, he seemed surprised, maybe even a little offended. I only asked him if he was dating anyone else. We should be on the same page. If that’s what he was doing, I would do the same. I mean, I didn’t know who else I would date, but I could find a blind date, probably. Maybe I’d try something on PlentyOfFish.com. When I had asked, Nathan was sitting on the floor, his back against the couch in my small living room. He looked confused. It was like the phrase, “dating other people” was foreign to him. He thought about it for a moment. He seemed to let it sink in. He tossed the toy down the hall for the cat. The cat brought it back and pawed his hand. He said he’d only been taking me out. No other girls. He tossed in an asterisk by offering me the option to do that if I really wanted to, date other guys. Oh well. That wasn’t the point of me bringing it up. I didn’t want to get on Facebook and see some girl post something on his wall about repeating the fun they’d had the night before. That was the last guy. Then Last Guy went on a cruise. I figured I’d ask him about it when he came back. I planned it all out, too. I wasn’t going to be confrontational. I’d say it’s okay. I’d say I’m on the same page. I’d say he could decide if he ever wanted to change that. How I got this. He dates other people. I date other people. Whatevs. But then he never returned my phone calls when he came back. To rebound from that relationship, I went on a trip to London with two girlfriends. Moving along. I unfriended Last Guy on Facebook so I wouldn’t keep checking his wall.
Oh hey. I need to text Nathan back about our wedding date.
People talk marriage at weddings. They talk commitment. They talk about a lifetime together.
“That would be fun, yes.”
“I’ll pick you up for the dinner at four, then we’ll be going to the ceremony after,” Nathan later told me on the phone. “Sound good?”
“Yep.” I smiled as I said that, to help my tone of voice sound light and excited. What was I going to wear? Should I put on heels? How much makeup? What about my hair?
“Oh, and I’m the best man so, um, I have to dress nice but you don’t have to be really formal. And it’s not a big ceremony, just like a celebration with friends. They already got married at the courthouse.”
I tossed my phone onto the bed and walked into my closet. I pushed a few hangers around, looking through a few white shirts, pushing back the skirt hangers to consider choices. My clothes hung to the back of the wall, hangers lined up facing the same way, color-coordinated: the abundance, the choices, the order, the plenty, and yet, none of it appealing.
I would rather get ready for a soccer game. I had lots of choices of shorts and tall socks. But getting dressed up? Which skirt should I pick? Or should I wear a dress? Nylons? I hate nylons. I hate the cramp in my side I get after an hour of wearing them. And they tear. Always tearing. I need Beth’s help. I wish she wasn’t working on Saturday. She had style. She could help me pick the right outfit. But she’d be at work. Wearing her lab coat, hair pulled up, safety goggles and mask on, testing specimens in the lab. I’d rather get ready for lab testing.
I laid a skirt and shirt on my bed. This and this. That works. My cat perked his ears up from where he had curled up next to some of my pillows. He looked at the outfit, considering whether it appealed to him. It did. He got up, stretched his long front legs out, toes popping up like pussy willow buds in the spring time, his long tail arching up and out, and his back a sharp curve. He pulled his body back in and pranced over to my clothes.
“Hey, no,” I snapped at him. He mewed back at me. “No, seriously.” I clapped. He winced his eyes and ducked his head a little, but didn’t back down so I grabbed him and tossed him on the floor. “Don’t get your fur all over my stuff.”
Now, shoes. Nathan is the exact same height. Does he care if I’m tall? Would it bug him if I wore stilettos? These gold, flat, lace up sandals I own could work. Except for the toes showing. I hate my toes showing.
“Your toes are like fingers,” my niece, Annie, told me years ago. “They’re sooooo long!” She pointed. She giggled. I laughed back, showing her how easy it was to pick items up with my gangly, long toes. The experience stuck with me, one of many times somebody commented on the unusual length of my toes.
Holding up one gold sandal, I leaned down and rubbed my middle toe on my right foot, the scar tissue bumpy and tender. I’d rather hide stubby toe. It wasn’t very long. Or gangly. Not anymore. Not since the surgery when they cut out some of the bone and stuck a titanium screw down the middle. Titanium toes are cool, but only if you know they’re there.
I tried to pick up the other gold sandal on the floor by using my finger-length toes. I struggled. Turns out, when you have a titanium toe that no longer bends, all of your other toes refuse to bend as well. Toe empathy. Who knew that was a thing?
Saturday rolled around and Nathan picked me up. I wore a white skirt, a flowing, green shirt, and my gold, lace-up sandals. My toes would meet his friends. Titanium and all.
At the restaurant, the dinner party sat at two long tables, the bride and groom several seats over, sitting across from each other. We sat next to Nathan’s roommates and across from a woman from France. I couldn’t understand her thick accent amidst the restaurant clamor. Conversation bumped along. I don’t remember what I ate. There wasn’t any program or speech or toast. We ate our food, then paid our checks and started out to the cars.
“Okay, who’s going in which car?” a tall guy asked.
People didn’t come in their own cars? Where are we going next? And why are we shuffling cars? What is tall guy asking people? He’s checking to see who’s in which car? He’s sending the short lady with those other women?
“Well, I can’t ride with the bride,” Tall Guy said with a matter-of-fact tone as he walked over to Nathan and hugged him.
Oh. He’s the groom. He can’t see his bride now.
I stood in the midst of several men: Nathan; his roommate, Aaron; the groom, Eric; and the groom’s brother.
We all went out to Nathan’s car, on our way to tall guy’s apartment.
It’s hot. Muggy. I rolled down the window. The others in the car did the same. Nathan drove up the streets of downtown Salt Lake, headed for the foothills and the campus of the University of Utah. Eric’s apartment was on the way up and he needed to change and grab some things. I wonder what he’ll change into. Is he a tux kind of guy, maybe a simple suit or does he have more of a vest preference? I guessed he might like a bow tie. Tall, slender guys with big glasses and strong Adam’s apples were the bow tie types. Stupid breeze. I kept pulling pieces of my long hair out of my mouth as the wind whipped it around. Something came flying in the window with the wind. It zipped into the backseat and flew around the three men back there.
“Uh oh,” Eric said, “There’s a wasp.”
I noticed some flailing of arms out of the corner of my eye and figured they’d get the bug out. But then it zipped up by me. The wind pushed it down and away from the window as Nathan gassed us up the hill. The wasp landed on the floor right between my feet.
Right between my sandals.
With my skirt catching the wind just a bit.
I pictured my personal disaster, imagining that beast flying up my skirt and getting stuck. There was that wasp, years ago. That wasp was the worst. Awful. And the day was already hot and muggy in Pennsylvania. All the days were hot and muggy: the ideal environment for a summer of door-to-door sales. I was just trying to knock on the dumb door. How was I supposed to know there was a wasp nest in between the glass and wood doors? The wasps came whipping out. One of them flew down the back of my shirt. I tried to get it out. I tried to slap it. I tried to reach between my shoulder blades. I yelped. I screamed. I finally slammed my back into the house and killed it, but the little beast had stung me four times. I bled a little through the back of my white shirt.
I do not want this wasp here today to fly up my skirt.
In a swirl of fear, I realized I hadn’t taken a breath since the last traffic light. Perhaps if I didn’t breathe, the wasp wouldn’t sense a life form hovering over it. It high-stepped around on the car mat, lifting its black-notched legs as it felt around for its next step, its wings quivering slightly.
I leaned down, inch by inch, not daring to let the tiniest breath slip out of my nose.
Nathan glanced over and noticed the wasp now.
“Shoot it’s up here, guys,” he announced.
I wanted to shush him. Don’t let the wasp know we’re on to its location. Shhhhh.
Shouts of concern came from the back, but they muffled in my head. I continued holding my breath, leaning down a bit at a time, reaching my right hand out.
I am alive.
I don’t have any wasp stings up my skirt. That would make a terrible impression. I can’t ruin this with inner-thigh wounds.
“Did you just…?” Nathan swerved a little, glancing over at me then back to the window, back and forth again.
“What happened?” Eric asked.
I glance around for any other wasps. I was going to be okay. Another deep breath.
“Is the wasp gone?” Aaron asked.
“Yeah,” I said.
“Yeah, ‘cause she threw it out the window,” Nathan said.
“She what?” Eric asked.
They’re clapping for me? Oh man, this is embarrassing. My face is getting hot.
I touched my cheeks.
We pulled up in front of the apartment. As we walked up, they congratulated me again on my daring feat. I straightened my skirt. We marched up the side stairway to get to his small, upstairs apartment where a couple of old couches were crammed in the front room. Eric grabbed Nathan, tugging him into his bedroom. I stopped a few feet from the door.
Um, okay. So, he’s going to help him out. It’s not like I’m going in his bedroom. I just met the guy. Although, have we really even met? I wonder how he feels about me being at his wedding celebration, some random girl tagging along with his best man? What should I do now?
I looked around the room. Aaron sat on one of the couches and at least I had spoken with him at dinner so I decided to sit down by him. The couch sat low, as though it was placed in a step-down lounge, and once I sat, I would sink one of three ways: to my right into Aaron, to the back and slide into the crevice where people find coins, gum wrappers, and dead wasps, or to my left and the other sagging, cushion.
I sat down. And down. And down. Once I settled down, I fell to the side, into Aaron. He laughed and put an arm around me. I shrugged. It would be tricky to get up and out of this couch later.
We heard some chatter from the bedroom. “Should I really do it, ya think?” Eric asked. Nathan replied, but I couldn’t hear it. “K. Yeah. This’ll be great.”
“You guys ready for this?” Nathan asked as he came out of the bedroom.
“Sure,” came the replies. Ready for what?
“He found it online a few weeks back. He was pretty excited.”
A bow tie. Definitely a bow tie. And I’m gonna go with a vest. I wonder if he’ll do anything with his hair.
Eric stepped out. He wore a fully zipped Star Trek outfit. He puffed out his chest and grinned, his smile reaching up to brush the lower frames of his large, round glasses. He must have ordered extra tall and extra skinny. It fits him just right. It’s not like those cheap Halloween costumes. They have that flimsy fabric that would rip if you sneeze too hard. This was not flimsy fabric. This is like real movie-set attire. It must have cost him some decent cash.
Eric handed his boom box to Nathan. “Let’s make sure it’s on the right track,” he said. They hit play and the theme music from Deep Space 9 started playing.
“Perfect,” he said. “Let’s go.”
We drove up above the University of Utah to the The Bandstand, near Fort Douglas. I sat down in a chair on the lawn next to Aaron. I met a guy who sat down next to me, another friend from their group.
“Hey, I’m Aaron,” he said.
“Oh, uh, okay, yeah.” I looked between Aaron and Aaron. “Oh, I’m Lauren.” We shook hands. Both Aarons smiled.
Nathan was somewhere across the field with Eric.
“Do you think Nathan shoulda worn a red, Star Trek uniform?” I ask Aaron, nodding across the field.
“Hmm?” he smiles at me. “They’re coming now,” he whispers.
I looked out over the field, watching Eric and Nathan walking up. The distant mountains, spotted with big mounds from the open-earth copper canyons 40 miles away, looked painted across the sky behind the trees, blue-gray and bleary, with a spattering of lights starting to turn on in the valley between us. Not a bad view for this Trekkie wedding.
Eric arrived on the bandstand first, then his new wife, Laurie, began walking from the other side, her maid-of-honor walking beside her, the two of them wearing traditional attire. When Laurie saw Eric, through her big, round glasses, her jaw dropped and she held a hand up to her mouth, joy bursting out from her expression.
Standing next to each other in the middle of the bandstand, they smiled, and someone turned off the boom box. They said a few things to each other, then lifted up their hands, one palm up, the other making a fist on top.
They’re playing rock-paper-scissors. I swear, that’s what they’re doing. Yeah, they are. Bam. Bam. Winner. Eric lost. What does that mean? He’s picking up the mic.
He looked nervous.
“I, uh,” he looked up at the bandstand roof. “Okay, um…” He trailed off then whispered, “I’m nervous.”
Laurie took the mic. “I’ll go first,” she said and smiled up at her husband. She was just over five feet tall, while her husband inched over the six foot mark. He nervously smiled back. “We chose to choose a new last name together,” she said. “Not because we didn’t love and respect our families, but because we wanted to both change and do it a little differently. There’s a double-star system made up of Alpha Centauri A and B. They orbit a common center of gravity. They’re like us. So we chose together to change our last names to Centauri.”
She continued on about meeting Eric and falling in love and promising to be a great wife. He beamed.
Eric talked a little about their love of Star Trek, then other things that were probably related to Physics or Chemistry or something science-y and I watched Nathan: their English major friend, standing off to the side. Their friend that writes poetry. Their friend that likes to read Lolita. Their friend who made red velvet cupcakes from scratch for them tonight. Their friend who flattered me in an email when he wrote, “But your words madam, your acute sense of grammar, those bustling active voices, the sounds and the fury of carefully crafted verbs… I… I… who is this master of the English language?” He was a pretty handsome guy.
The evening transformed into dancing on the bandstand, eating cupcakes, and chatting. At one point, I sat down in one of the folding chairs and pulled out my flip phone. My sister had sent a text. Nathan sat next to me, talking to some friends sitting a row in front of us. I looked back out over the field again, lights glittering the valley, the distant mountains looking like strips of torn construction paper, placed on an ombré canvas, the sun finished setting behind them, and the mines hardly visible.
I nudged Nathan.
“Yeah?” he glanced over.
“My sister and her boyfriend just got engaged,” I said. “She wants to know when I’ll be home.”
“Do you need to go?” he asked.
“Nah, I’m okay. I’ll just let her know.”
I texted her about getting home later. We stayed to the end, cleaning up tables and chairs and cupcake wrappers. We walked out across the field alone, holding hands, staring up at the few stars you could see above the haze and city lights, one of them, probably the Centauri stars. We got in the car and I texted my sister.
“Thanks for coming with me,” Nathan grinned.
“Sure,” I said. Thanks for introducing me to your friends. For taking me on a wedding date. For being the single guy at the party who introduces the new prospect. For taking me home now and seeing my sister who’s coming over with an engagement ring. For not running off after this. Don’t run off, okay? Weddings and new last names and life-long commitments and engagement rings and Deep Space Nine music; that’s serious relationships stuff.
Nathan turned the car on. It sputtered. It died. I glanced out the window to the dark neighborhood. Nobody around. And this car won’t start. It seemed the only appropriate ending though. Let’s end this day of wasp-catching and Start-Trek-outfit wearing and star-system-naming activities with a broken down car.
“Let me get something out of the trunk,” he said. He didn’t have a hint of embarrassment in his tone.
He grabbed a tire iron, then went around and lifted the hood. He banged several times, the noise reverberated around my ear drums, echoing off the nearby mountains. Well, no. It didn’t echo off the mountains. Just in my head.
“Try it now!” he called from somewhere under the hood.
I laughed. “Okay, sure.” I leaned over to turn the key, expecting nothing. It turned right on.
Nathan dropped the hood, threw the tire iron back in the trunk with a thud, and climbed in.
“Good to go.”
It turned on? He banged it and it turned on? Is this some ploy to impress me? He has a tire iron in his trunk. So he can bang his engine every now and then.
We went home to meet my sister and her giant ring. I wondered what Nathan thought about somebody with a ring the size of a Centauri star.