In which we skip ahead.
The astute among you will notice that we’re skipping chapter eleven (and the not-so-astute, of course, know it now). I debated how to convey the action that occurs therein, in fact—do I skip it without mentioning it? Do I include it and release all the tension?—and decided I was best off acknowledging the skip and noting the intention to return to it later, at which point I am reasonably certain that my reasons for skipping it will become clear. For that you will have to take my word.
For now to the following morning (so it’s not really a large jump, just a handful of hours), to my crummy apartment. I can’t quite explain why I suddenly want to block this scene like I would a movie, but I do, and so I’m going to, which means I’m going present-tense for a moment: no lights are on, but the sun shines through the windows and lights up the hardwood floor. The hard-drive on the XBOX360 spins next to the old, beat-up television in front of the slightly newer but no less beat-up couch (it was there when I moved in, but I assume somebody bought it fourth-hand if they didn’t simply pick it off the curb).
The doorbell rings.
Nothing moves besides that hard-drive, which continues to spin with a tiny electronic whir.
Cut to my bedroom. White walls and all, old bed. My sleeping form huddled beneath my Calvin Klein comforter.
The door bell rings again. Nothing continues to move.
I snore. When the doorbell rings a third time, I shift and pull the covers over my head, but the movement might be more subconscious than anything else.
Now: a quiet few seconds. Not too long, of course, because you can’t hold your movie audience hostage. That wouldn’t be nice at all. Just a beat.
Close on my cell phone as it rings, as its display lights up, but not close enough to see the caller ID.
I groan. Shift again. This time pulling the covers down. I reach for my phone, which I pull to my face and squint at, because I haven’t put on my glasses yet. And now you get to read the caller ID: VERONICA.
I drop the damned thing when I flip it open. I pat the comforter until my fingers find it, and then I pull it to my ear and croak into it. And not a real croak either: this is the croak of a deaf frog who’s never actually heard a croak and so can only produce a reasonable facsimile.
Now here’s a dilemma: do we want to stay inside, with me on the phone, and hear Veronica that way, or do we cut to the stoop of my apartment building, where she is even now standing, out there on a chilly Saturday morning? Movie-wise and drama-wise, it might be better to hold that revelation, but then again, given that her first words are, “Are you awake? Are you in bed? Can you get up and open your door?” it’s not like the dramatic tension would exist very long anyway. And yes, that’s what she said.
Which was the verbal equivalent of mainlining a double-shot espresso. Not that I know what that’s like, but I was trying to think of what would make a double-shot espresso more powerful than drinking it.
We can go back to past tense now, because I only wanted the movie thing for those moments I wasn’t actually awake (look, I told you at the start I was going to pull out every trick I knew, so you shouldn’t exactly be surprised if I make some up on the fly, should you? But hey, you trust me—
right?), because once I awoke, I can I stumbled out of bed, pulling on a pair of jeans I was even still buttoning as I padded across that same hardwood floor to the door of my apartment. Which I opened onto the little vestibule, then the lobby door, and finally the outer door of my apartment building, beyond which I found Veronica and her storm-black hair and her storm-blue eyes and her storm-grey coat. Or at least I was reasonably sure it was Veronica; I realized as I opened the door that I had left my glasses on my night table, so I started squinting like Mister Magoo, except with more hair.
“Um. Hi,” I said. I don’t think I was awake enough to be confused, but I gave it the old college try, anyway, and pulled a C+. Obviously the espresso I mainlined took its time kicking in.
“Hi. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to get here so early. The train went faster than I thought it would.”
“Yeah. I—,” I stopped, then, because I realized how terrible my tongue tasted. And also that my hair was all over the place when I scratched my head. “You took the train in?”
“I wanted to talk to you. Can I come in?”
“What? Oh, sure,” I said, moving aside to allow her entrance in a rushle of wool and perfume. Her scent was what finally kickstarted my brain, bridging gaps between cotton-coated neurons that still wanted to pull the covers back over their heads, which was about when I became self-conscious if not conscious of everything else just yet, and realized I should wonder, given the abysmal taste of my tongue, how it probably smelled, too. And so, for the rest of the conversation, I basically mumbled in her general direction. “Can I get you something?” I asked as I closed and locked the apartment doors behind me.
“I’m okay,” she said, following me into my apartment itself.
“No, really. Let me met get you something. Water at least. Because I really did just wake up, and you said you wanted to talk, but I won’t be in any condition for the next few seconds. I at least need my glasses.”
“Water’s good,” she said, and so I led her into my kitchen, where I filled a tumbler from the Brita pitcher, before I stumbled sleepily away to the bathroom.
Which was good. Because I needed a moment. The moment consciousness started to kick in, it brought memory with it, the big one being my conversation with Veronica the day before. And so, while I brushed my teeth and scraped my tongue and then put my contacts in and ran my wet fingers through my disgruntled hair, I wondered what she wanted to talk about. I don’t know if I imagined it could possibly be good.
I walked out of the bathroom to find her on the couch with the television on. “Hey.”
I nodded. “I’ve never been good at getting out of bed.”
“Who is?” Veronica said.
“True,” I agreed, sitting down next to her, and then there was one of those moments so pregnant I might have considered names. “So what’s up?”
“I’m sorry about yesterday.”
I chuckled, but without much in the way of humor. “Yeah. Well. My fault, really. I have to admit I’m glad I finally said something, but I might wish I hadn’t. I just—I don’t—I mean, I know you love me like a brother, and really, if that’s all I ge—.”
My throat closed up on me then. Not choking on a thought or unsure of the next one, but rather with surprise.
Because that was when I felt her take my hand. I looked down at our fingers as if to confirm that she had actually done so, and: she had. Her fingers were on mine.
“That’s not what I meant.”
“Okay,” I said.
“I did a lot of thinking last night, after I dropped you off. Kept me up through most of it. I was worried we couldn’t be friends again, until I realized maybe we couldn’t be, maybe we shouldn’t be—.”
“Right. We said some time apart might be good.”
“Will you stop talking a minute? Please? It’s funny, I went over and over in my head what I wanted to say on the way here, but then it all flew out of my brain the second you opened your door. So stop interrupting?”
I thought that responding at all might count as interrupting, so I just let myself fall silent.
“I was laying there last night wondering if we could be friends again, and then I realized I wasn’t sure I wanted to be friends with you, anymore. I remembered how I told you that I wasn’t in love with you, but then I started to wonder if I didn’t think of you like that solely because I never had. You’ve always been like part of my family, and I realized maybe I just hadn’t thought of you any other way. And then I . . .,” she looked down at her hands on mine. “I started thinking about you. And your smile. And those baby blues of yours. Certainly, physically, a girl could do worse—.”
I smiled. “I’m all right some days.”
“And I wondered if you’re such a great guy—.”
“With such brashing good looks.”
“Why didn’t I have feelings for you?”
“It’s not uncommon, if that’s any consolation. You wouldn’t believe how many gals have not had feelings for me. Or maybe you would.”
She looked at me. “Maybe I do.”
“Believe it? You should. Like I—.”
“No. Maybe I do have feelings for you.”
I’d like to think that if I’d been awake for more than a handful of minutes by then, I would have been able to follow the conversation more easily, or at least have been a better participant in it. As it was, I feel even still rather like I sucked at it, and I certainly didn’t know what to say then. I swallowed. A part of me wanted to be hopeful about where the conversation was about to go, but after the one the previous night? My heart wasn’t sure what it could handle, but it knew false hope wasn’t on its list. I wasn’t sure what to say, so I went with: “Maybe?”
“I don’t—we have fun together. And we might not get to see each other as often as we’d like, but we always make it count when we do. We have so much in common, and we’re always honest, and—aren’t those all what’s really important?”
“Maybe,” I said, because all, to some degree, are, “But what’s more important is how you feel.”
“How we feel, you mean.”
“No. How you feel. We know how I feel. I told you that yesterday.”
“You love me,” she said.
I felt my heart shrink back like a frightened puppy from her seeking hands. It wouldn’t have bitten, I’m sure, but it would have trembled at being held, and it might not have stopped for a while. “I do.”
She was looking into my eyes as if for something, but I’m not sure she found it. “How long have you felt that way?”
I shrugged. You know, of course, but I hadn’t told her. “I don’t remember not feeling it,” I told her, because I was sure shrugging wasn’t reassuring. “I’m sure the romantic thing would be for me to be able to recall the first moment I saw you, but I don’t. All I know is that I’ve felt this way for as long as I can remember, mainly because I feel like I’ve known you for as long as I remember.”
“It’s been a long time, then.”
I wondered if I could make her understand. I thought of grade school and church, of Catholicism and eternity. “You know how Christians believe Heaven lasts forever? Because I don’t know about forever, but Heaven is as long as I’ve been in love with you.”
“And given that we’ve known each other so long—I mean, our families are good friends. We’d have such a good foundation. Which is important.”
“No, what’s important,” I said, “Is how you feel. Having a lot in common is great. So is being good together, and laughing together, and having families that get along. Those are all things you hope for. But what’s important, the only thing, in fact, that’s important, is how you feel.”
“I feel scared.”
“Scared,” she said, looking at our hands. “Of this. Of you and me, of trying to be together and of it not working out and of breaking up. Of ruining one of the most important relationships in my life. Wouldn’t you be?”
“I’m always scared around you. I was so scared of how you’d react if you knew how I felt, but then I was also scared that I’d get old and meet another girl and settle down and the only reason that girl wouldn’t be you would be because I’d never told you how I felt. I never knew how to act, or what to say or do, and so I never did anything. I just put my head down and kept going, and it might’ve been a really sucky way to live, but it taught me you can’t let the fear stop you. Didn’t some philosopher guy say that the man who fears nothing is the man who loves nothing? And you know the only thing I was scared of besides you? Mediocrity. I’m scared to death this writing thing is going to go nowhere, of becoming one of those sob stories about pathetic, used-up never-wases, and you know how I fight the fear? I sit down and I do what I’m scared of as best I can. I could give up writing easily, I’m sure, settle in to a decent job and live a good life, and no one would fault me for it, but I can’t, because that’d be giving up, and that’s the easy way to deal with the fear. That would only let it fester into something that would just catch up to me when I finally ran out of live to outrun it in, and then it’d all have been wasted.”
Veronica was quiet a moment, which was okay: I felt like I’d stripped down and then opened up, and there were things I had said I only realized as I was saying them, which may be why they stand out so well in my memory.
Finally, though, she said: “It wasn’t a philosopher. It was Sean Connery.”
Of all the ways she could have responded, that might have been dead last only because I couldn’t think of any others. “What?”
“What you said. About the man who fears nothing. It’s from that movie where Richard Gere plays Lancelot—.”
“Oh. First Knight. I knew someone had said it.”
“Which is fine for Hollywood, but what about here and now and Hoboken, when it’s real people, and there’s no director who’s going to call cut and all the lines aren’t already written? Because I don’t get another take, and I’m scared of doing what scares me.”
I considered that. “You’re right, of course.”
“Easier said than done.”
I nodded. It really is easier to say that you should do what scares you than it is to actually do it. No arguing that.
So I didn’t. I just considered the single action that scared me more than any other, and then I cleared every thought from my head as I reached my left hand to Veronica’s cheek and pulled her lips to mine and kissed her. I kissed her like I’d always wanted to, and I put everything I had into it, like I’d been in love with her all my life, because most days it feels like I have been. I kissed her like she was everything I’d ever wanted, because right then she very much was, and I kissed her like I might never get the chance to again, because I wasn’t sure I would, and in fact, I knew in my heart I would never kiss her like that again, would never again kiss that girl for the first time.
The first thought I finally had, in fact, as that kiss fulfilled, was that I was glad I had brushed my teeth. I would have searched her eyes, then, but they were closed, and so I waited until they opened as if she were waking from a dream. She seemed a little stunned, but I couldn’t blame her for that, because I felt much the same way.
I never got to tell her what I hoped, because then we were kissing again. I’m not sure, now, who leaned in, if I did or she did, but all that mattered was our lips pressing together, my fingers on her check, her fingers in my hair like spring wind after too long a winter.
Part of me wishes that were the end of the story. Of course it’s not; I’m sure I built up Angus’s presence in the story enough that you realize he wasn’t just a catalyst for change. Another story might work with that set up and its pay-off: there’s something to be said for finally having the balls to do what scares you most, that it might just pay off. We could cast Topher Grace and Natalie Portman for the movie and fade out there, and it might not be the most satisfying resolution, but it might be okay, and besides that, you’d have popcorn and Cherry Coke and why would you care?
It would probably never get to the multi-plex, of course, so maybe you’d just swallow that last gulp of wine as you set aside the book. You’d consider yourself amused if not exactly completely satisfied, and then you’d promptly forget about it.
Like I said, though: of course it’s not.
Unfortunately, I have to keep going to see this through to the end. As with so many other aspects of this story, I’ve got no choice. I’m not sure I’d blame you if you wanted to stop here, with that story and that resolution, and you probably wouldn’t blame me for doing so, either, but let’s be honest with each other at this point. Because we’re in this together at this point, aren’t we? And you know as well as I do that there’s more. There has to be, right?
And of course, there is. By my count–given that, as was pointed out, we just skipped a chapter–there are still at least seven.
So what was skipped? What happens next?
Will our young hero-narrator and Veronica Sawyer enjoy a happy, healthy relationship for a very long time indeed?
Well, sorry, but if you want to know, you’re going to have to buy it. You can do that here. I’m pulling the price down to $2.99, because if you’ve been reading, I appreciate that.
It will only be available at that price for a limited time, so get it while it’s hot.
Meets Girl: Let’s do it. Let’s fall in (unrequited) love.