CHAPTER THREE

Gavin walked briskly out of the elevator tugging at his baby blue silk tie to loosen it from around his neck. His polished black Oxfords reflected the streams of sunlight coming through the sides of the parking garage attached to the office building. The top six floors of the fifteen story Mercer building was home to the Impera advertisement firm at which he'd been a marketing manager for the past three years. He had just been released from a three-hour meeting to discuss marketing for a new dog food. He was not a dog person and a Saturday morning dog food meeting had not helped the canine case.

Sometimes he worked on the weekends. It wasn't like he had any real plans for his weekends so it didn't matter to him. While walking through the four story parking garage to his car he took off his grey blazer and slipped the tie off up over his head. He yawned as he put the key in the door of his shiny black Mazda3.

Before he could get inside his car, his cell phone started vibrating. He reached into the front pocket of his grey dress pants. The outside display screen of his phone read "Jay". He flipped the phone open and put it on speaker as he got into his car. "Hey, wassup?"

"Yo, Gavin, you done with work today?"

"Yup." He started his car and backed out of his parking space.

"I'm thinking you and I need to go to the club tonight."

Gavin sighed loudly. "Jason, you know me." He pulled his car out onto the highway to get home.

"Exactly. I know you. That's why I'm telling you to go home, say bye to Belle, then leave the house and come out to the club where you can get some real pussy."

Gavin grimaced. He could hear Jason's crooked smirk over the phone. "We've gone over this a million times, Jay! I'm not interested."

"Yeah, I'm beginning to think you're not interested in women at all."

"Jay!" Gavin yelled. Jason was his best friend. They'd been friends for ten years and Jason knew how to push Gavin's buttons like no one else. Gavin was a little obsessive sometimes about his appearance, a borderline metrosexual some might say, a tendency that got him jabs from some judgmental people. Couple that with the fact that he had a cat, and the teasing commenced. But how could he have looked at Belle that day six years ago, huddled in a box behind a trash bin, too thin to be in good health, meowing at him with big expectant hazel and green eyes, and not have taken her in?

"You know I'm teasing you, Gavin. I'm sorry, man."

"Whatever."

Jason sighed. "I just don't want to see my boy all morose again like how it was last year. You know I'm just trying to keep your spirits up."

"Well, thanks but I'm doing good now. Everything's good."

"You're right. You sound alright, dude. I guess I'm just trying to get you back to how it used to be. Hangin' out like old times. After what happened it's like you don't want to get out of the house anymore."

"Me not wanting to go clubbin' anymore doesn't have to do with...that. I just grew out of it, Jay. It's not fun for me anymore."

"Fine. I get it. You don't love me anymore. Anyways, I'm gonna go get my hair did. This girl I know is gonna to hook me up."

"And you call me gay?"

Jason was of mixed race, Italian and African-American, so he had thick light brown unruly hair. He usually had it braided into lots of little intricate cornrows. It had been a month since it was last done so he needed them redone quick and in a hurry.

"I'll talk to you later, alright? Stay positive, 'kay?" Jay said.

Gavin rolled his eyes slightly annoyed but knowing that his best friend was just being concerned and encouraging. "Got it. Later." He flipped his phone closed and turned the corner onto Pine street where his apartment building was. He climbed the stairs up to his flat and kicked his shoes off once he stepped inside. Belle, a white Calico cat with tan patches of fur, hopped off of the couch and walked over to him to brush against his legs in a slow figure eight. He smiled down at her. "Hungry?" He walked into the kitchen, opened a can of cat food and put it into her bowl. She ran over and started eating her early dinner. It was around five o'clock.

He walked into his bedroom and took off his white button down shirt. He stretched and massaged at his lower back which was stiff from sitting around all day. He smoothed a hand down his flat stomach and entertained the idea of going for a jog. He decided he'd go for one early Sunday morning. He slipped out of his pants and changed into a t-shirt and basketball shorts. He went into the bathroom, briefly looking at his reflection before opening up the medicine cabinet to take his Zoloft before he forgot, and then he went into the living room to watch the local news.

There was a distant ringing in his head. It was getting louder. His eyes fluttered open and he realized that his phone was ringing. He'd fallen asleep on the couch. He stood up quickly and walked hurriedly over to the phone on the table by the loveseat. The caller I.D. read Lenton, May. Who is that? he thought. He picked up the phone and said "Hello?"

"Hi." A female voice responded as if he knew her.

"Uhhh, hi?"

"Hello there."

Was this lady on the phone going to make herself known or what?

"Yeah, who am I speaking with?" He said slightly annoyed.

"Well, this is...the girl you gave this number to."

So Sydney, that cute girl from Dennison's Grocery, had finally called him. Interesting. He was almost certain she'd never get around to it since she was a "vibrant young nineteen-year-old", as she had put it, and so busy with school. She was the unlucky girl who he had almost paralyzed from the ankle down one fateful evening at the grocery store.

He still couldn't remember what he was thinking about so intently that had distracted him enough to roll his cart into a human being standing right in front of him. Maybe it had been the sale on Cheetos? He'd offered her dinner right then and there as an apology and, obviously, to get a date out of it as well. He was kind of surprised he'd been able to pull it off without seeming like a total wanker. She hadn't seemed to take it the wrong way. She smiled at him. But then she started acting funny, brushing him off with the excuse of schoolwork. But he was too stubborn to just let it go. Plus, he thought maybe she had realized how stupid he had been to run a cart into her and she was mad at him now. He could tell she was rejecting him, so just to be spiteful he continued to kill her with kindness, suggesting they still have dinner and winking at her suggestively. He felt embarrassed about it afterwards.

Then the next time at the checkout she'd basically called him old to his face. She certainly had spunk! He had thought she was at least 21. She wasn't. That didn't make him feel very good but he tried to keep it positive. They could still be acquaintances. They would have to get along since he'd be at the store every week. So he tried starting up a casual conversation and asking about what she was reading. During the banter that followed he learned that she was pretty funny. Pretty and funny. At the same time she was serious, not some airhead. She had a mature way of being immature, if that makes any sense.

They had the same sense of humor. They just kind of hit it off. In his mind they did, anyway. He was ten years older than her but she could probably still one-up him. He liked that. So he gave her his number, tuning out the annoying little voice of reason that kept reminding him he was too old for her by most people's standards.

"Oh! Hi Sydney. Sorry, I didn't recognize the name on the caller I.D."

"Yeah, the phone's in my mom's name 'cause I'm living with her right now."

She still lives with her mom? He started to have some doubts about Sydney's maturity. He then reasoned that her living situation was probably due to finances and not because she couldn't do her own laundry. "Well, you finally called, huh?"

"I'm pretty bored right now so I figured I'd take you up on that offer to entertain me any night of my choosing."

"Good," he smiled. "Umm, I actually hadn't thought it out this far. I didn't even think of a good restaurant for us to eat at."

This was really awkward for me; talking on the phone with Gavin like this. It was like there was some sort of etiquette I was supposed to be using, and I was ignorantly and offensively breaking all of the rules. When Gavin said he didn't have a restaurant in mind I felt immediately apologetic as if I'd called and forced him into a situation he didn't want to be in.

"McDonald's is fine," I said. Gavin chuckled. I'm an idiot and he's laughing at me.

"No, I want to take you to a real restaurant. Like, okay what type of food do you usually eat when you go out?"

"You mean what do I eat when I go out on a date? Because I've never been on a real date before." Gavin was quiet a moment. I smacked myself in the forehead with my fist.

"Well, what food would you like to try?"

"I've...I've always wanted to try Thai food but I just never got around to it, I guess."

"Then Thai it is. I could pick you up at eight, is that okay?"

You mean he wants us both to go in his car? What if I want to leave? How will I be able to run away humiliated if I need to?

"Can I...Would you mind if I just met you there at the restaurant? I'd be more comfortable with that."

"That's fine. No problem." He cleared his throat. "Well I'll see you at Thai Moon around eight then. It's the restaurant by the water."

"Okay. See ya."

"Bye Sydney."

I immediately dialed Elizabeth's number. "Hello?"

"Help."

"Syd? What's going on?"

"I have to be at the Thai Moon to eat dinner with Gavin in two hours. Come over and bring something nice from your closet that won't make me look fat."

Elizabeth shrieked. "I've been waiting all my life for you to utter those words! See you in twenty!"

I tossed my cell phone across the room and onto my bed. My hands were trembling. I tucked them behind my knees as I snuggled deep into the old red plush fabric chair that sits beside the window in my room. I glanced around at the posters, decorations, and photos hanging on my walls.

I studied the Gnarls Barkley, Led Zeppelin, and Panic at the Disco posters and the magazine cut-outs of artists like Common and Joss Stone as well as my favorite actors Johnny Depp, Edward Norton, Sanaa Lathan, and Steve Carell. Glossy baby photos were collaged along with birthday, prom, graduation, and concerts. The old brass oval mirror with the intricate filigree frame that I'd found at a thrift store hung on the wall across from my bed. My bed stood between two old night tables, its cream bed sheets and comforter all askew. This was the room of a college kid. Gavin's room was probably some mature, modern, minimalistic feng shui thing. And his bed would be neatly made and he'd have extra pillows that were "just there for decoration".

I saw the headlights of a vehicle stream their heavenly beams through my bedroom window which faced the driveway. The rumble of the engine was cut and the person got out and slammed their door. I could hear quick footsteps running around to the other side of the truck. "Who's out there?" my mom asked from the living room where she was watching a game show.

"It's Elizabeth!" I yelled back. I walked out to the front door and opened it to have Sara shoved at me in a hot pink onesie, reaching out her plump brown arms and kicking her fat little legs around under her. Elizabeth wordlessly handed her daughter off to me before running back to her white Expedition and bringing back a black garment bag slung over one arm and the other holding a pair of high heels and grasping the handle of a large makeup caboodle. Then Sara and I were herded into my room. I sat on my bed with Sara on my lap and we both watched in horror, our eyes wide and our mouths trembling, as a mad woman with an evil grin on her face flailed her arms erratically all over the place and threatened me with various modes of torture such as mascara and eyeliner applications, tweezing, the use of a curling iron, and wearing three inch high heels.

"What do you have in that bag, ma'am?" I said to distract my assailant. She zipped open the black garment bag and pulled out a red velvety sleeveless dress with a deep scoop neck and asymmetrical hemline. "Bright red? What am I, a lady of the evening?" Elizabeth rolled her eyes.

"Can't you see how absolutely gorrrrgeous you will look in this? And with the silver heels and the silver stud earrings and the necklace? With your hair in curls? Come on!"

I tilted my head and looked off dreamily into space contemplating her suggestion with a smile on my face and then met her eager eyes and shook my head 'no'. Her face fell but I knew she wouldn't take no for an answer. It was going to happen to me.

She was afraid Sara could fall off of the bed so we arranged my blanket and pillows on the carpeted floor of my room and set Sara down on it. Elizabeth used her mommy superpowers to make Sara's favorite toy materialize out of thin air. I honestly did not see Liz walk in the house with that bright yellow, elephant stuffed animal twice the size of my goddaughter. Then she dragged me into my bathroom that was attached to my room and left me standing there in front of the wide rectangular mirror as she ran off to get a stool for me to sit on.

I looked at my reflection and noticed what appeared to be bags under my eyes and a pimple emerging on my forehead and my nose looked oily and I had frown lines and a curly hair was under my chinny chin chin! I rifled through Elizabeth's caboodle, found some tweezers, and yanked the hair out.

"Ow! Son of a b-"

"Naah!" Sara said from five feet away on her bed that was of my bed.

"Sorry Sara," I said in a soothing voice.

Elizabeth returned and I sat on the bar stool that was usually at the breakfast counter in the kitchen. I closed my eyes and felt a soft make up brush whisked across my face and something was smoothed across my lids and something that smelled like candy was swiped across my lips. I felt her hands in my hair and felt the heat of the curling iron. As she styled I heard Sara quiet and finally fall asleep making little noises once in a while as she breathed. Elizabeth was pregnant right after she was married to Evan. I teased Elizabeth about it, saying that she was conceived before they were married, but Elizabeth got really upset about the issue and swore that her child did not come out of wedlock. I know it's true.

Elizabeth and I both held the belief that it was best to keep our legs closed until we were with our husbands on our wedding nights. I never would have thought that a few years after we pinky swore during sophomore year of high school the whole shebang would have happened to Elizabeth and left me in the dust of their impatient, undying love. How I had hoped it would die. I don't feel that way now but I did. You'd think I'd look up to Evan and Elizabeth and see their marriage as an example of how true love could happen for me. But I was never that secure in myself.

It's hard for anyone to find true love in this day and age. The divorce rate is high and I'm certain infidelity is even higher. Anyway, the divorce rate doesn't relay just how bad relationship situations are because there is no figure to represent how many people just aren't getting married at all and are settling for a common law sort of coupling. Sorry, but I can't do that. I need more than that. I need a ring on it. It's my whole life at stake, right?

Why am I thinking about this again? Haven't I thought this out time and time again? I'm tired of being so serious! Seriously!

"Sydney, don't open your eyes yet. Let's make this like a surprise makeover. Go in the room and put on the dress and the heels. Let me know when you're done and I'll come in and help you put the jewelry on and then we'll have a big reveal!" Elizabeth clapped her hands together merrily. "Oh! And don't you dare ruin it by peeking into that old mirror in there. Now go!"

I tiptoed into my room because I didn't want to wake Sara. I put on the red dress, careful not to get any of my makeup on it as I slipped it over my head. I buckled the silver heels on and hobbled around my room a bit until I felt comfortable in them. "Okay Liz." She came in and put the silver earrings in my ears for me and strung the necklace around my neck. It had a crescent moon charm on it. Ironic, since I was going to a place called Thai Moon. When Elizabeth closed the clasp behind my neck and stepped away from me she had tears in her eyes.

"Oh, keep it together, you baby." I grumbled.

"Go, go, go," she whispered as she ushered me back into the bathroom. There is where I saw what she was all choked up about. I didn't even look this nice when I went to my senior prom! I raised my hand and waved at myself to make sure that what was in the mirror was me. The reflection waved back. Elizabeth had put soft curls in my hair and they softened my face a lot more than my usual bob. My eye shadow was smoky and my lips were glistening with a pink tinted gloss. The red dress made my skin glow and complimented my figure too well, in my opinion. It still looked rather nice on me. My mom popped in out of nowhere. She was still in her scrubs from work and her long braids were up in a bun. "Sydney, honey! You look amazing! He is going to have to roll his tongue back into his mouth." I gave her a little frown. How did she know I was going on a date? Mothers. I turned back to the mirror and smiled.