Friday Favorite: The first flash of chemistry

You know my favorite part in a romance? When the characters first start to realize there might be something there.

Especially if they started the book hating each other, like Jack and Sarah.

~

It wasn’t until she was standing on the sidewalk in front of her building that Sarah realized just how dark and quiet the city was at night. At nearly two in the morning, her office building and the nearby storefronts were all dark. Streetlamps provided equally spaced pools of light and some cars cruised down Light Street, but she was very alone.
She started for the crosswalk and hugged her arms to her body, thinking of all the crazy people who could be hiding in these shadows. She didn’t notice the car that had slowed down alongside her until a voice called out. “Excuse me, Miss?”
She actually stopped and looked around, like he could be talking to anyone else. “Yes?”
He was a young man, maybe her age, leaning out of a sleek black car with tinted windows. “Do you know how to get to Fells Point?”
“Yeah, I think.” She took a step toward his car, stumbling a little. She caught herself with a hand on the window frame.
Something in his gaze sharpened, and his eyes drifted lower. “Maybe you could show me yourself?”
A lick of fear curled around her chest. Sarah jerked herself upright and back onto the curb, suddenly aware of how little clothing she had on.
“I don’t think so.” She turned and started the other way, toward the harbor. Going to a dark parking garage suddenly seemed like the wrong idea. She turned back toward Pratt Street, knowing there was an all night diner one block up, and she could use the phone there to call another cab to take her all the way home.
The guy was yelling out the passenger side window now. “Come on, baby, don’t be like that. I just want some directions.”
“Sorry, no,” she called, speeding up.
“Stop being such a tease.” Anger laced his words now.
Sarah ran.
One block, she thought. I can make it one block.
Her legs disagreed. She barely made it past three storefronts before her heels caught an edge of sidewalk and sent her sprawling. Her face narrowly missed the edge of one of the benches bolted to the ground. Concrete tore through her dress to scrape her ribs.
The car screeched to a stop, followed by the unmistakable sound of a car door opening.
Then the sound of not one, but two pairs of feet making their way toward her.
She couldn’t fight two men. She knew it, but she grabbed the leg of the bench anyway, trying to pull herself back to her feet to run.
“Yeah, you might want to rethink that,” a man said.
I know that voice. She looked up, and Jack stood there, a baseball bat hanging from his hand. The guy from the car was backing up, his hands raised. His car sat idling by the curb.
“Man, I don’t want any trouble. I was just making sure she didn’t hurt herself.”
“Sure you were. She’s fine.” He hadn’t even looked at her. “Get the hell out of here.”
The young guy took another look at her, threw a glance at the man with a weapon standing to her right, and jumped into his car.
Sarah pried her hands off the bench support and scrambled to right herself, pulling her dress closed. Her cheeks were hot, and she hadn’t even done anything wrong. “Thanks.”
He held out a hand, and his voice was gruff. “You all right?”
No. “Yeah, I think.” She took his hand, keeping her dress held shut with the other.
Then the streetlight hit her face. Jack froze. “What the hell? Are you kidding me?”
She stumbled, feeling she must have broken her heel. “I—thank you for what you did. If I could just use your—” She staggered again and gave a small yip when he caught her by the arm.
“You’re drunk too?” he exclaimed. “Lady, I don’t know why you picked me to be your personal—”
“I didn’t pick you for anything,” she snapped, too loudly. “I was just trying to go to my car—”
“Driving. Now that sounds like a good idea.”
“Shut up! I just wanted my phone.” She jerked her arm away from his, and he let her go. She went flying back to the pavement, sitting down hard.
“Wow.” Jack dragged the word into two syllables. He stared down at her and ran a hand back through his hair. “Jesus Christ, you are a piece of work.”
Sitting there on the pavement, staring up at her “savior,” she wanted to melt into the ground. Instead, her eyes betrayed her and she started to cry. She pressed her fingers to her eyes, feeling grit in the cuts on her hand. “Forget it. Just leave me alone.”
He sighed and held out a hand again. “Come on. You can clean up and use the phone.”
She thought he was going to lead her to the store, which was completely dark, but he led her past it to a set of three concrete steps and a wooden door, sandwiched between two store fronts.
He pulled a set of keys from his pocket, but she balked, drawing back. The fear from the guy in the dark car was still too fresh. “Where are we going?”
“I live above the store,” he said. “Where did you think I was taking you?”
Sarah hesitated, torn.
He shook his head and pushed a key into the lock, not looking at her. “Do what you want. You’re welcome to stay out here and take your chances with the next tool in a Lexus.”
She swallowed. “Okay.”
She followed him up a narrow stairwell of carpeted stairs to another locked door. As he unlocked this one, he said, “I thought you didn’t drink.”
She kept a tight grip on the banister. “I don’t.”
That made him laugh, which made Sarah feel like an idiot.
His apartment was huge, larger than she’d have expected, and comfortably cluttered. His furniture was sparse and simple; an overstuffed sofa with an aged coffee table sat along one wall, as did a decent sized television. A stereo took up the other wall, looking newer and more impressive than the TV. Musical odds and ends were everywhere: sheet music, a guitar in the corner, more musical accoutrements she couldn’t identify.
He pointed. “Go into the bathroom.” He went through the other door into the bedroom.
She padded across his floor, barefoot, leaving her broken shoes by the door. The bathroom was clean, at least, though toothpaste, shaving cream, and other guy products sat scattered on the counter.
She could almost hear her mother’s voice now. Everything in its place, Sarah.
But her mother wasn’t here now. Sarah caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror, her running makeup and hair askew, and thanked god for that.
She kept a hold of her dress even though the door was closed and turned on the faucet, holding the more damaged palm under the cold water. It was only then she noticed her hands were shaking.
His knock made her jump. She awkwardly dried her hand on a towel before pulling the door open.
Jack was holding out a black tee shirt. “Here. You can put this over your dress.”
She stared at him stupidly, surprised by this unsolicited kindness.
Then he ruined it. “Do you need me to translate or something? Take it.”
She took it, and he turned his back. “Where were you tonight that you ended up looking like this?”
She pushed her arms through the sleeves. The shirt was huge on her, and Jack wasn’t that big a guy. “I was with my friend. Some dance club.”
“Some friend.”
Sarah remembered Kate’s offer to walk her out, and wondered where she’d be now if she’d taken her up on it. The man with the sword and the disappearance on the street suddenly seemed a million miles away. Now, standing warm and safe—sort of—inside Jack’s apartment, she wondered if her crazy brain had made up the whole thing.
Then she glanced down at her hands, seeing the first scrapes she’d gotten when she ran for the club doors. Maybe she’d imagined the vanishing, but she definitely hadn’t imagined the rest.
“Did something else happen?” asked Jack, and a new note entered his voice. He turned back around. “Do I need to call the cops for you or anything?”
For a minute, all she could think of was the guy with the sword. Then she realized he was asking if she’d been assaulted. After seeing her face in the mirror, she could hardly blame him. “No,” she said. “You stopped that guy out front.” Her addled brain sharpened for an instant. “Hey, why were you even out there?”
“I do this every night,” he said. “Sit out front with my baseball bat and thwart would-be rapists.”
Did he constantly have to be a jerk? She frowned.
He sighed. “I was waiting for someone.”
“At two o’clock in the morning?” A bookie? A dealer? Surely not, after the disdain in his voice when he’d called her a junkie.
“Maybe you can save being judgmental for a day you don’t show up on my doorstep looking like a roughed up hooker.”
She flinched and turned away from him, bringing her hands back to the sink. Ending up with the guy in the Lexus would have been worse, but Jack was starting to make her wonder how much worse.
She put her hands under the water, gritting her teeth against the sting, painfully aware that he was watching her.
Jack sighed.
Then he was beside her, his fingers wrapping around her wrists, pulling her hands from under the water. “Sit,” he said, and gestured to the toilet. He pulled a hand towel out from the lower cabinet and laid it against the sink, followed by a tube of Neosporin and some hydrogen peroxide.
He turned the water on warm. “Give me your hands.”
She did, feeling more like a little girl than she ever had around him. She expected him to be rough, but his long fingers were gentle against her skin.
He rubbed his thumb against the worst of the scrapes. “You need to get the dirt out or they’ll get infected.” His gray eyes flicked up to meet hers.
She nodded. “Thank you.”
“Don’t thank me yet. Those knees will hurt worse. They’re a mess.”
Sarah could stand the pain. She wasn’t sure she could bear his hands on her legs. “Who were you waiting for?”
“Hmm? Oh, a friend of mine. He works nights.”
“You wait for him with a baseball bat?”
He laughed softly and turned off the water. “No. I keep that just inside the door. Some punks broke into the store a few weeks ago.”
He blotted her hands with the towel and opened the tube of Neosporin. As he was rubbing it onto the scrapes, his hand went still. “What’s your name, anyway?”
Had she really gone this long without telling him that? “Sarah. Sarah Parrish.”
He nodded and smeared some ointment on her other hand. “I’m Jack.”
“I know.” His eyes flicked up to hers again, and she added, “Big sign over the door. I looked you up, remember?”
“Right.” He recapped the tube and gestured to the tub. “Swing your legs in.”
She started to protest. Even clinically, it seemed too intimate. But she couldn’t force the words past her lips. She swung around until her feet were hanging in the bathtub. He reached over her knees and ran the faucet, then sat back on his heels.
Sarah looked down at her newly treated hands, resting on the skirt of her dress. Bruises were already forming on her knees, and now in the bright light of the bathroom she could see just how much damage her shins had taken. She bit her lip. “I guess I really do look like a roughed up hooker.”
“Not really,” said Jack, sounding amused. Then he smiled. “Crack whore, maybe.”
Sarah winced. But this was the first time she’d seen him really smile. It softened his eyes, pulling some of the tightness from her shoulders.
Jack must have had the same thought, because it had the opposite effect on him. He lost the smile and moved forward to check the water temperature, new tension in his movements.
He cupped some water in his hand and let it run down the front of her left leg, letting the drops pull road grit down her skin. He did it again, using more water this time, not touching her.
She sat very still, watching the muscles in his arm work in rhythm. She was trying to make out the words worked through his tattoos when she noticed he was humming, very softly, under his breath.
She’d almost picked out the melody when he stopped and looked up. “Tell me if this hurts too much.”
“It’s fine,” she said, too quickly.
He ran another palm full of water over her leg, but this time he rubbed at the scrapes with his thumb, laying his fingers against her calf.
Sarah swallowed. “What’s that—” Her voice was breaking, and she tried again. “What’s that song?”
He didn’t look up, but did the same thing to her other leg, his hand strong and warm against her skin. Sarah had to remind herself to breathe.
“Pachelbel’s Canon,” he said.
“You like classical music?” It didn’t fit him, the slow familiar melody clashing with his rough kept hair and tattoos.
He shrugged and reached around her for the bottle of peroxide. “I like throwing different sounds together to see what comes out.”
“You make classical sound like rock.”
He shook his head and smiled slightly. “Not really.”
She fell silent again, watching his hands for a moment, wondering if the peroxide was going to burn, or if the fact that he’d brought it around meant he was almost done touching her. “So what are you doing with the Canon piece?”
Her voice had come out scratchy again, and he glanced up. She hoped he attributed that to the alcohol. “Drums,” he said. “I always start with drums.”
She searched for the silver glints in his eyes. “I’d like to hear that.”
His hands went still. “Well,” he said, drawing out the word as if he weren’t sure what was going to come next. “Come by the store sometime.”
“Okay,” she said, her voice soft.
He stared up at her, his face two feet away, his breathing shallow.
Then he reached around her to turn off the faucet. He grabbed the bottle of peroxide and rose to his feet, holding it out in front of her face. “Can you do the rest?”
His sudden shift startled her. “Yeah—yes. I can.”
“Good. I’ll call you a cab.”
~

Hey, good lookin’

So I was at the grocery store last night, and the guy running the till was in his late teens or early twenties. He had dark hair, dark eyes, and glasses, but his hair was short and he had the kind of chiseled features that make girls swoon. Seriously, he was a good looking guy.

He also had bad acne. Not terrible, but enough that he was probably really self conscious about it. He’s probably had it for years, but but has only recently grown into that facial structure. There were a couple young girl checkers who were being silly nearby, and I saw him glance their way a few times, very shyly. It was the kind of look that said he wanted to banter with them, but he didn’t have the confidence.

This broke my heart.

I wanted to take him by the shoulders and shake him, and say, “Dude! You’re hot!”

He probably wouldn’t have appreciated that from a random woman in her thirties, but still. It broke my heart.

There’s a movie from about ten years ago, Shallow Hal. It features a couple of shallow guys, one of whom gets hypnotized into seeing women for who they are inside. For instance, he starts dating a 400 pound woman, but he sees her as this svelte, sexy blonde. (Played by Gwyneth Paltrow.) He keeps telling his friend about this hot woman he’s dating, and he’s shocked that she’s so down-to-earth and friendly with him.

His friend says something like, “She probably didn’t get hot until after college, so she never got the self-confidence. She’s hot but she doesn’t know she’s hot. That’s a real find.”

Seeing that guy at the grocery store reminded me of that line. He’s going to grow out of his skin condition (probably). He’s going to start getting female attention. He’s going to appreciate it, and he’s going to treat women well, because he won’t be one of those guys who got in girls’ pants by virtue of his smile.

He’s going to be a real find.

And that’s kind of a shame.

P. S.: I don’t think I even made a point. I just felt so bad for this kid and I had to tell someone about it.

~

Prince Charming

My husband, Michael, proposed on a Thursday evening, on the couch in our apartment. He was totally slick about it too. We’d occasionally talked about getting married, and we’d started looking at houses, but nothing really serious at that point. Thursday nights had always been our “date night.” (Even still, I try to be home on Thursdays so we can crash on the couch and watch TV together.)

So we’re sitting there, and I think I was in my sweats, and he makes some offhand comment like, “So how would you want the proposal to go? Would you want a lot of fanfare or something?”

And I remember tilting my head back to look at the ceiling and saying something like, “No, I don’t think there needs to be a lot of fanfare. I think it’s about the moment, and the people. That’s what really matters in a relationship.”

He said, “Good. Because I bought a ring…”

What was the first thing I did? I put some clothes on and ran to the nail salon. Then he took me to dinner at Famous Daves, and then to Borders to buy some wedding books and magazines. What? I like ribs and I like bookstores.

We Kemmerers are practical people.

I remember reading somewhere that your relationship with your spouse has to come before your relationship with anyone else. Even before your children. Because one day your kids are going to be grown and out the door, and you’re going to be looking at someone you haven’t talked to in 20 years. I think about that a lot.

We’ve been hit with some bad karma in the Kemmerer house lately. Both cars broke down. (Mine isn’t even very old.) Our AC went up. We discovered a leak under our kitchen sink that was caused by a broken garbage disposal. The leak had been going on for some time, and the entire cabinet base had been destroyed, not to mention needing to replace the disposal itself. Our entire basement flooded, destroying the carpet and most of Nick’s toys, and insurance wouldn’t pick up a dime. Last Thursday, Mike was driving into his office parking lot, and a construction truck backed right into his car.

So yeah. It’s been a crappy six weeks.

But you know what? I feel closer to my husband than I ever have. When we discovered the basement had flooded, it was a really low point for us. We weren’t sure how to clean up a mess of that magnitude (especially considering we have a three year old running around). We weren’t sure what we were going to do financially. But we talked each other off the proverbial ledge, then we rolled up our sleeves and dealt with it.

Together.

Now the basement looks badass awesome, by the way. (Let me give a little shout-out to Empire Today.)

People make a big deal out of the fanfare, and that’s okay. A guy in my office set up this huge, elaborate proposal for the woman who is now his wife. He wanted to make it snow in July, so he put fake snow on the ceiling fan, and set up a Christmas tree, and dressed up in a suit, then woke up early in the morning…hell, I don’t remember it all. But I think he actually had a list. He loves his wife, and it’s special that he put so much effort into it.

But that’s not really where you find the true love.

When I was in my 20’s, a doctor put me on a Holter Monitor. If you’ve never seen one of these, it’s basically a small machine that’s about the size of a paperback, with long wires that attach to your chest so it can track your heart rhythms for 24 hours. You can’t shower or take it off while you’re wearing it. I remember coming home from the doctor’s office, getting changed for bed, then going out to sit on the couch with Mike. I was feeling really low: I was worried about my heart, and I looked like this freakish cyborg. I didn’t even say anything about it, but as soon as I sat down, Mike looked at me and said, “You’re so beautiful.”

That’s a moment. That’s where you find the true love.

~

(See, honey? I don’t just write about old boyfriends. So suck it.)

Firearm

I went out with this one guy who took me to a firing range on our first date.

Yes, I met him on the internet. Come on.

But he took me to a firing range. I’d never held a gun before. I don’t think I’d ever seen a gun up close before, really. I’m not anti-gun, not pro-gun, not anything-gun. I was intrigued.

He was a bounty hunter. The real term is “bail enforcement agent,” but that just doesn’t sound sexy, so we’re going to keep calling him a bounty hunter. He had a full cadre of weapons and bullet proof vests and things like that. For one of our later dates, he met me after completing a job (apprehending a perp, or whatever it’s called), and he was fully decked out in all his gear.

Look, he wasn’t even a good looking guy. But decked out in weapons? Fresh from the “kill” if you catch my drift? That’s kind of hot.

But back to the firing range. I don’t like loud noises.

Funny story. (I promise I’ll stop digressing.) When I was in Orlando with Bobbie, we were at a supermarket. A girl ran by the aisle wearing a pair of loud flip-flops. I jumped a mile. Seriously, I almost dropped to the ground.

But anyway.

Guns? They’re loud. Really loud. Especially all contained in a steel lined room. Yes, you wear protective headsets, but guns are still guns. When we walked into the shooting room (or whatever it’s called) I was a mess of sweat before we even got started, and I was flinching every ten seconds.

But the bounty hunter was a good instructor. Thorough. I learned a lot about guns. (I could barely tell you anything now. This was over ten years ago.) And he paid close attention to what I was doing. I distinctly remember being pleased with my shots on the target and starting to turn to give him a smile or something. He grabbed my arm and kept the gun pointed down the range.

You know, I’d started to point it at him. Silly me.

Now, yes, you may be saying, “You went out with a guy you didn’t know, KNOWING he was fully armed? Are you nuts?”

Yes, I was. I was 21. Feel free to go see prior posts of stupidity in my youth. You don’t even have to look far. Just scroll down.

Mom thought it was awesome that I was dating a bounty hunter. (Mom also was in love with Chuck Norris in “Walker, Texas Ranger,” and during my teen years we saw every Steven Segal movie ever made.)

The bounty hunter was an okay guy. Kind of redneck, but a nice guy. Our relationship never went anywhere.

Since I found out he was married.

A couple years ago I was helping my mom address Christmas cards, and I was flipping through her address book. There was the bounty hunter’s name, right on one of the front pages, the ones for important numbers.

I said, “Mom, why do you have his number in here?”

She said, “In case anything ever happens to you.”

I said, “You know he was married, right? It didn’t end well.”

She said, “He’s a bounty hunter. He could do things the police can’t. I’d pay him to find you.”

My mother watches entirely too much television.

~

OMG OMG OMG (i.e., my head is about to explode)

All right, if you’ve been with me for a while, you know that I was an internet dating pioneer. You also know that I’ve dated quite a few freaks. (Even some scary ones.) I’m not shy about my dating past.

But maybe you didn’t read my post on perspective, where I talked about being a junior in high school, and having an ongoing email “relationship” with a guy who was 30. That post is a pre-requisite to this one, so if you haven’t read it, go do it now. (It’s short. Stay with me.)

So our basement flooded last week. Tons of stuff went to the dump. I found this huge plastic bin FULL of stuff from high school. I have old printouts of novels I wrote in high school, I have even more pages where I wrote novels long-hand. (Hey, not everyone had a computer in the early 90’s.)

I also found printouts of almost every email this guy and I wrote to each other.

I haven’t read them all, but I mostly bitch about school, practice profanity, and pretend to know what I’m talking about when I use innuendo. His emails to me are not disgustingly sexual, but they’re also full of innuendo, and he definitely knew what he was talking about. It wasn’t his fault — I led him into it. Seriously, I did. Internet was brand new, and this was no child predator. Yes, it wasn’t exactly right, but it wasn’t criminal. I’ll scan the letters and let you read them if you want proof. He was definitely straddling the line, but he wasn’t firmly on dangerous ground.

And he lived in Seattle! I lived in Baltimore! It’s not like he was handing out his address or soliciting a date. It wasn’t like that.

But here’s what made my head explode. I apparently sent him an email with a list of questions about himself. (How high school.) One of the answers he wrote:

No, I do not have a girlfriend, hence you’re [sic] finding me in a room with M4F NOW in its title. I don’t have a boyfriend either, though some guy from NY IM’ed me during one of your annoying little disappearing acts the other day!

A room called M4F NOW! Did you read that! And I found HIM. You caught that, right? Tell me you caught that.

This threw me for a loop. Just now, standing in the kitchen, I almost fell over while reading. What the hell was I doing in a room with that title? I was a teenager. A virgin. I wasn’t looking to “hook up.” Honestly, I probably didn’t even know what “hook up” meant.

But I was curious.

I’m writing YA (Young Adult) right now, and sometimes it’s hard to remember the choices I made in high school. Sometimes it’s hard to understand how curious I was about the rest of the world.

Going into a room like that was stupid. I could have gotten in real trouble. But I was a teenager, and I thought I knew enough to take care of myself.

I was just curious. Innocent enough, right?

A friend recently compared teenagers to toddlers. It’s kind of true. I have a three year old, and he keeps pushing limits, to see “what happens when…” Teenagers do the same thing, on a broader scale. It’s all about discovering yourself and how you fit into the world around you.

The problem is when you’re a toddler, there’s someone there to snatch your hand away from the stove.

When you’re a teenager, you’re supposed to know better.

Sometimes, obviously, you don’t.

(I’m still flipping out.)

~

Gut instinct

You know how sometimes people say a dog can sense if someone is a bad person, or someone to be afraid of? That’s not quite true. Dogs are pretty basic creatures.

But dogs can sense (actually, smell) fear, especially in their owners. People tend to downplay fear and ignore it, for all kinds of silly reasons. Mostly, it’s out of an overriding fear of looking stupid or being rude. A weird guy gets in the elevator with you, and you immediately want to get off. Your instincts are practically shoving you out the door.

But you don’t want to look RUDE! No, better to stay in the elevator with someone who skeeves you out. And our subconscious is brilliant at picking up things we might not consciously notice. Maybe the creepy guy on the elevator has a suspicious lump in his jacket pocket. Maybe it’s that he’s wearing a jacket at all, when it’s ninety degrees outside. We might not immediately recognize what’s wrong in a way we can categorize it, but our subconscious does, and it lets us know in a big way.

That’s what dogs sense. Dogs can’t even speak, but they aren’t stupid, and they don’t ignore their gut when it tells them something is wrong.

Nah, we do that. Sometimes this whole higher intelligence stuff gets in our way.

All the stories I tell on the blog are true. You know that, right? Usually I poke fun at my own stupidity, or I tell a funny dating story, or I talk about how some life event impacted me. This story involves my own stupidity, it’s definitely a dating story though it’s not funny, and it’s a life event that certainly made an impact. I only have like 30 blog followers, but if you know anyone in a situation like this, please feel free to forward this story on.

In my early twenties, I worked at a Waldenbooks part time, after my regular job at the brokerage firm. I didn’t really need the money, I’m just a workaholic, and I can’t possibly enjoy myself unless I’m working at something for 60 hours a week. (Hello, writing career.)

One Saturday, this clean cut blond guy came in. He was probably between 25 and 30. I’m not going to tell you his real name just in case there’s ever a chance he could trace me back through this blog, so we’ll call him Ed. He came to the register with some finance or real estate book and I did my little sales pitch for the book club, and he flirtatiously declined, and I flirtatiously pushed, and he finally said, “I only read about one book per year, so it wouldn’t be worth it to me.”

Flirt flirt, swipe the credit card, off he went.

An hour later, I took my lunch break. On my way to the food court, I saw him sitting on a bench in the middle of the mall, reading the book he’d just purchased.

All right, so you know how you sometimes have a moment and you know the stars are aligning? I knew, right then, that I was supposed to talk to this guy. I mean, why would he be sitting in my path? After we’d flirted like that! And he gave me the perfect line.

I walked up to him and said, “For a guy who only buys one book per year, you sure are in a rush to read it.”

He smiled and asked if he could join me for lunch.

He was good looking, clean cut, and charming. Of course I said yes.

We started dating. At the time I was also riding horses. Flipping OTTs if you speak “horse.” Basically, I’d buy cheap ex-racehorses, work with them for a few months, and sell them for a profit. I wasn’t making much of a profit because I was doing one horse at a time, but I told him about it, and he was completely behind it.

See, he had money. Legit money. Self-made, too. See, this guy knew how to work people.

He was completely behind the horse thing. He started working out a plan to buy horses, have me retrain them, and we’d sell them. Together.

Oh, didn’t I mention that on our first date, he brought up the topic of marriage?

Did you just read that sentence and have a little flare of warning in your head? Yeah, I was sitting across the table from him, and I experienced that same frigging flare. But I was stupid, because in the same sentence he was saying, “Horses! I’ll buy horses for you to ride!” and saying things like, “I really want to get married…” (pause for the meaningful look) “…to the right girl.”

This went on for a few weeks. He constantly showed up at the bookstore to see me. I thought this was adorable, until he showed up one night I wasn’t working. He called my apartment, “just to make sure I was there.”

Hello, flare.

He wanted to go out with me all the time. Like every night. Again, at the time, I thought it was adorable. I felt wanted. But really, he wanted to make sure I wasn’t seeing anyone else.

Here’s a touch of irony: at the time, I was good friends with the man who is now my husband. We’d chat on AOL at night. (Give me a break. This was like ten years ago.)

Ed hated that when he found out about it. Hated it. Insisted I end my friendship with Mike.

Flare.

My dog hated him. I still have her. She’s about 11 years old now, and she’s a terrier mutt I got from the pound. She’s adorable and energetic and loves everyone.

Except him. The first time he walked into the apartment, after we’d been dating for a couple weeks, she did that dog thing where she dropped and snarled at him. Lifted lip, true growl, the whole show. Like I said, I’ve had her for over ten years, and I have never seen her react that way to anyone. Ever.

Flare.

I ignored it. See, there’s this biological part of being a woman that seeks a man to take care of her. Be as feminist as you want, there’s something inside all of us that cries out for money, strength, and control in a man. We want to be taken care of. We do. It’s nature. That does NOT mean we can’t take care of ourselves. It means we want a man to come along and prove he’s strong enough to shoulder some of the load.

Some guys do this admirably. My husband springs to mind.

Some guys think control and strength and money mean they get to play dictator. It doesn’t, but it’s hard for women to sort this out at first.

Finally, I visited Ed’s apartment. We’d been dating about three weeks, so this wasn’t a lengthy relationship. He said, “I really think I need to tell you something.”

Flare. I don’t think I was even surprised at this point. I knew something had to be coming. I was expecting him to reveal he was married, or he was older than he’d said, or maybe that he didn’t have the money he said he did.

He said, “I spent seven years in a Federal prison.”

You find me someone else who’s heard those words from a guy on a date, and we’ll go out for cocktails.

Now, I work in the financial industry. I know there are a lot of non-violent crimes that can land you behind bars. When he said he was convicted when he was in college, I started thinking, “Okay, maybe it was totally white-collar crime. Maybe he swiped money while he was on an internship. Maybe he stole some corporate checks during his first job. Maybe it was some stupid youthful mistake that he genuinely regrets.”

I’m telling you, this guy did not scream “prison inmate.” He didn’t even whisper it. He was completely white-bread. You know that term WASP? His picture could show up next to the definition.

So of course I asked him what he did. It wasn’t murder, but it was bad.* Bad enough that I knew I shouldn’t be on a date with this guy.

Flare. Come on, how could I ignore this one?

I did. I went out with him again. But now my instincts wouldn’t shut up. I kept fidgeting, even though we were in a public place. All day, leading up to our date, I told people about him. I asked their opinion. Everyone told me I was nuts. How could they not? Really, I was probably subconsciously letting people know where I would be, and asking for external validation of what I was feeling. I didn’t want to admit to myself that I’d been stupid, so I needed a dozen people to hammer it into my head.

I didn’t tell him at dinner. I waited and told him over the phone, later. I told him I wasn’t comfortable with it, and I couldn’t see him.

Then he started calling. All the time. One night I was on the internet (this was when it was dial-up), and when I finally turned off the computer, the phone immediately rang. It was him. I barely said hello, and he was screaming in my ear, insisting I’d been cheating on him with someone I met on the internet, saying he’d been calling for hours and had gotten a busy signal, yelling, hollering, you name it.

I hung up on him.

The next day, the bookstore called me and told me not to come in. They said he’d been sitting on the bench in front of the bookstore all day, and that he was waiting for me. I called the police, and they said he was in a public place, just sitting there, so they couldn’t do anything.

I missed three days of work at the bookstore because of this.

In retrospect, I’m glad he didn’t know where my day job was, because he probably would have showed up there.

That Friday, my best friend Erin spent the night. I’d gone 24 hours without a phone call, and we were planning on going to the Horse World Expo the next day. We got a bottle of wine and prepared to have a nice evening.

Then he started calling. He’d call, I’d answer, and he’d hang up. Then he’d call again. I’d answer, he’d hang up. I stopped answering. He kept calling. Again, and again, and again.

Now, I lived in a locked building, but I was on the ground floor. So someone could walk right up to my back door, which was sliding glass, and take a baseball bat to it to get into my apartment.

Luckily, he started with the buzzer. Laying on it, so it was this long, loud piercing sound in my apartment.

Yeah, you read that right. He showed up where I lived.

Erin and I had shared a bottle of wine, but we weren’t too blitzed to miss that this meant trouble. I called 911.

Okay, here can be the funny part of this blog. Since the guy was laying on the buzzer, my dog was going ballistic. As I said, she’s a terrier mutt. She barely weighs 20 pounds soaking wet. But she’s got a deep bark, and when I was on the phone with the 911 operator, the woman said, “Ma’am, do you have a way to confine that animal?” And the way she said it, I knew she was thinking I had some 100 pound pit bull or something.

Yes, my badass Josie dog.

Anyway, the cops came, he ran, and that was it. He called the next morning and Erin answered the phone, and told him I was out. He laughed and said she was a bad liar.

We snuck out of the apartment, looking for his car. When it looked safe, we got in my car, and left.

As soon as we pulled out of the parking lot, his car pulled out right behind us. I drove straight to the police station. He didn’t follow me into the lot.

And I never heard from him again.

This could have gone a lot differently. I’m glad I went through it, because I’ve learned to trust my instincts about people. I’ve learned to believe in myself, and not think it’s okay for some man to control my life, just because I want a man who’s in control of himself.

The best book I can recommend for every woman to read is The Gift of Fear. I cannot speak highly enough of this book. It’s well written and an entertaining read, first of all. It’s not some boring tripe about women’s self defense. It will teach you a lot about yourself, and about men, and about violence and manipulation. Every woman should read it. Every woman.

As an added bonus, this is one of my favorite books for writers. If you want some solid insight into criminals and why they act the way they do, (i.e., if you want some fodder for designing fantastic villains), this is the book for you.


* I’m not telling you what he did because I don’t want there to be any chance of someone knowing him and letting him find me through this blog. If I know you personally, you can ask me, and I’ll tell you.

Did anyone catch the plates on that hit-and-run? I think they started with WTF

Back when I was meeting guys on the internet, email was still a relatively new thing. People didn’t have four hundred pictures of themselves on Facebook. If you tried to email someone a picture of yourself, it would take about ten minutes to load, and it would come up line by line, like some weird game where you try to guess what something looks like before you see the whole picture.

I wish I remembered the password to my old AOL account, because I would totally dig up the names of my old internet dating conquests and find out where they are now.

Wait. I just called them conquests. That implied I slept with them.

Ick. I did not.

This one guy wanted to meet at Barnes & Noble in Annapolis, then we’d see if we hit it off, and we’d possibly get dinner.

Ding, ding, ding, sounds like a winner, right? I’d chatted with this guy online for a few weeks, he sounded all right, and hello, he wanted to meet at a bookstore. A bookstore. That’s like asking if I like money or if I’m sure I want to have a second helping of french fries.

I got to the bookstore early. I’m like that. (Or I was before I had a kid.) I was sitting and reading in one of the comfy chairs, casually looking up every time a guy walked into the bookstore.

This one guy walks in wearing old jeans, and an honest-to-god stained gray sweatshirt. He looks like he hasn’t showered in the last 24 hours. Actually, the last 48 hours looks sketchy.

I say to myself, Please don’t be the guy. Please don’t be the guy. Please don’t be the–

“Excuse me, are you Brigid?”

Yeah, he was the guy.

But you know what? I’m a nice girl. (Or I was before I had a kid.) I decided to give the guy a chance. Maybe he had to work all day. Changing oil or something. On a tractor. On a farm. Where they didn’t have showers.

It could happen.

We talked. He was okay. A little keyed up and shy, but he was okay. He actually seemed shocked to be talking to a girl. We were both young, and I had awkward moments too, so I gave him the benefit of the doubt. When he asked if I wanted to go across the street to Outback, I said yes.

You know how sometimes people will make that high pitched sound of a bomb dropping, then a big crash at the end? Imagine me doing that.

So we’re sitting at the table, and the waitress comes to ask for our drink order. He asks for water.

Nothing wrong with that, right?

But he specifically says, “Can you bring me three glasses?”

The waitress shifts her feet. “Of…water?”

He says, “Yeah. I have a condition–“

Interjection: if you’re on a first date, and the other person at any point says, “I have a condition,” that’s your cue to leave. There’s nothing wrong with having a condition. You’re a hypochondriac? Bring it on. An irrational fear of lampposts? I can work with that.

Leave it out of the first date talk.

Save it for the second date, probably after a cocktail.

Anyway. He had a condition where he was always thirsty. THAT was his condition. Not something medical. He was just always thirsty.

So she brings him three glasses of water and lines them up in front of his plate. He proceeds to drink them all.

At once.

Seriously, he drains all three glasses like someone opened a spigot of the nectar of the gods over that table at Outback, and he can’t get enough. I hadn’t even looked at my menu at this point. I was mystified by this guy’s behavior. Maybe this is why he didn’t have time to shower: he was constantly drinking and peeing.

Then again, maybe he’d be right at home in a shower.

I digress. (Again.)

Throughout the course of the meal, he drinks 11 glasses of water. I AM NOT MAKING THIS UP. God, I wish I could find this guy’s name. He lived in Huntingtown, Maryland. Do any of my 26 followers know a guy in Huntingtown who can’t stop drinking? Water, I mean?

But he also gets a steak, a salad, sides, dessert, the whole schebang. I do the same (minus the water). I wasn’t going to sit there and stare at him while he ate.

Now, I’m a modern girl. I did NOT expect him to pick up the tab.

Apparently, he didn’t expect to pick up the tab either. Any of it.

At the end of the meal, the long, bizarre, freakish meal, he stares at me and says, “I don’t have any money.”

Not like, oh-my-god-I-can’t-believe-I-forgot-my-wallet.

More like, lady-you-better-have-a-credit-card.

It was completely deadpan, too. I don’t know if he just had no sense of societal conventions, or what.

We ended up dating for two years.

No! I’m completely kidding. I never saw him again. He called me incessantly after that, and I think I made something up about him being too good for me. I seriously don’t think he’d ever gone on a date before going out with me.

Here’s where I’m going to reiterate my loathing for all-girls schools. Or I’m going to insist that parents make sure their daughters get socialized through sports, or outings, or camps, or whatever I should have been doing. I never learned about dating in high school. I should have.

Maybe those nuns should have spent a little less time talking about how using a tampon meant you were having sex with cardboard, or maybe they could have skipped chastising me for sitting on the floor next to a boy (not touching) at a high school mixer. Those things didn’t really help me later in life.

But I could have used a lesson or two on figuring out things like mentioning a “condition” of being “thirsty” might not bode well for a first date.

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Balance of power

When I was a sophomore in high school, I had a friend named Michelle who was a senior. I use the term “friend” loosely — we never did anything outside of school, and I’m pretty sure I never had her phone number. Actually, her name might not have been Michelle, now that I think about it…

Anyway. I was a sophomore, she was a senior, and I thought I was totally badass to be hanging out with her.

Let me get this out of the way right up front: I was a dork in high school. I got extremely good grades, I loved hanging out in the library before school, I didn’t have a curfew because I didn’t need one. I was a teacher’s pet. The kind of girl people sought out when they missed notes or forgot their homework.

Nothing about me was “badass.”

But I wanted to be. Here was this senior talking to me, hanging out with me, spending time with me. It felt good to be gossiping about people I didn’t even know, to make fun of other girls — older girls — and talk trash. I loved it.

One day, right before Christmas, she wanted to get back at another senior. Since it was a Catholic school, there were Christmas decorations everywhere, and the seniors had all decorated their lockers with wrapping paper and bows and things like that. The senior locker room looked like Santa’s workshop had exploded. Michelle wanted to trash this other girl’s locker, but seniors had a lot of the same classes, so she didn’t have any opportunity to take care of it privately.

So I did it for her.

I’m ashamed to admit that, now. I don’t even remember the name of the girl whose locker I trashed. I remember tearing up the paper and scrawling hateful things on the paper that was left. I remember that I was caught, and threatened with suspension (me!), and I heard that the girl was crying in the restroom for hours because she didn’t know why someone would do that to her.

Since I’d been on the receiving end of that kind of treatment all my life (hello, I was a dork), hearing about that made me feel terrible. I didn’t hang out with that senior again. And I wrote about a dozen notes apologizing.

It wasn’t until much later (like, now) that I started wondering what Michelle got out of that relationship. Why was she hanging out with a sophomore? Why was she getting a kid to do her dirty work?

See, I wasn’t the only one craving that balance of power. She liked being the older one. The influencer. You ever notice how people fall into those roles almost automatically? Master and apprentice. Mother and daughter or father and son. Big brother, little brother…you get it. There’s power and acceptance on both sides.

But there’s an implied responsibility in being older, and sometimes people fail to remember that, like Michelle. It’s not enough to be the older and cooler one. Dan Savage calls it the campground rule: if you’re in a relationship with someone younger and much less experienced, you have an obligation to leave that person in better shape than you found him or her. He’s talking about sex (come on, he’s Dan Savage), but it applies to all relationships in life. You know when you’re the master vs. the apprentice.

It’s hard to have to set a good example all the time. It’s easier to impress less experienced people with how “badass” you are. It feels good to have an acolyte, right? Who wants a student when they can be worshipped?

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, because a friend of mine was working a college internship for a woman just a few years older than she is. My friend is 19, her “employer” is in her early twenties. Pretty clear line, right? But the employer made some bad choices and encouraged some very inappropriate practices for a 19 year old. She — the employer — wanted to impress her interns with how “worldly” and “experienced” she was.

Unfortunately, she didn’t come off as badass.

She just came off like an ass.

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