1 LMU Drive, MSB 6689
Los Angeles, CA 90045
"You're sure you don't mind?" My concentration on a lose shoelace that I've been staring at for the past two minutes is shattered. I make a sound of recognition as I look up. "Hm?" Marta grins at me. "You SURE you don't mind? If watches the movie with us?" I go back to looking at my shoe. "No, of course not." I can still sense Marta standing in the doorway, nervously watching me. "He doesn't have to come if you just wanna, you know, hang out, you and me. You don't have to like, like him just because I do, you know, if you don't want-" "Marta, please. I don't mind. I even want to hang out with him, okay? It's not like I know him at all. And uh," my voice drops low in that inexplicable way it does when I tease those I know too well, "If you, know, LIKE this fellow then I insist on getting to know him right and proper." Marta tries not to look too pleased, then resumes texting like a speed demon on her surely-exhausted-by-now phone. As I watch her, deeply in concentration with the intricacies of modern language, I marvel at her ability to pursue everything she's interested in with the fervor that she does, yet with such a focus and delicate balance that she somehow always ends up being the pursued. This is a foreign concept to me, and I think that maybe only certain girls of the world received the how-to manual for the Marta Outlook on Life. I look back down at my shoelace. I hadn't lied. If Rob's presence made Marta happy then hurrah, I am all for it.
There is nothing to particularly take issue with so far as Rob was concerned. He's nice and funny and I cansee him being a good foil for my friend, if it does work out between them. At this point in time they have entered that strange limbo phase, the mirror phase, the eye contact phase in which they are circling each other, trying to get a grip on what they might find attractive about oneanother while trying to play it cool. At any moment either of them could easily throw up their hands and step back. They could deny their feelings at any misstep- "What, you thought that thing meant something more than it meant? No no no, I meant it in a totally friendly way!" and everything would be fine, no pride hurt, no real feelings trampled. Though Marta claims this process was fun, I can't imagine being able to withstand it. Maybe I'm too emotional or not emotional enough, but I would rather chuck all of that on the table and put it together for him. Not even my feelings but my directions—"the wheels go HERE, you see? And the engine's installed like THIS—" perhaps this is why I have no prospects. The quieting of emotions seems like too much of a game to me, though apparently people have a lot of fun playing it. As Marta's eyes light up and a huge smile conquers her face at the mere buzz of her phone, I figure it has to be better than Monopoly.
It is settled, Rob is coming to watch The Ghost and the Darkness with us. This prospect isn't necessarily comfy as I will be in close quarters with Rob and I'm not yet sure of how to relate to him or if I can joke around with him without seeming like one of those people who acts as if she were BESTFRIENDS (single word) with someone from the get-go. Such people are not to be withstood, but again, if it will make the situation more comfortable I had feel no reserve in humiliating myself. Perhaps that will give them even more to laugh about later, when they were official, if they were ever to be official. For now I sit, pondering my own ability to overthink any given social situation, my ears aware of Marta's comings and goings as she straightens things up. No undergarments on the countertops, no school papers with her repetitive doodles- mainly consisting of colorful variants of hand-drawn fonts spelling out her own name- nothing weird out in the open. Except for me, I guess. Haha. I laugh at my own wit but she doesn't hear me.
"Hey, when he gets here I'm actually gonna need to take a shower- after that run I smell sick and I won't have time after he goes home to wash my hair for tomorrow." Time constraints. And this involved me how? "Do you mind just hanging out with him downstairs while I do that? Shower? Or would that be too weird, do you feel weird around him?" Naaaaaaaaaaaaaw. "No, that's fine, we can.. find something to talk about. He likes movies, I like movies…" (he enjoys a peanut, I enjoy a peanut…) She smiles at me but she's wary. She's afraid I'll say something weird. I promise her I won't say anything. She's afraid of that too. Oh well, there's the doorbell. Suddenly I decide I would not like to babysit boyfriend possibilities, I would not like for Rob to join us for tea and a rousing film about death in the jungle. I would not like to share my thoughts on Val Kilmer's ridiculous evolving accent and slow motion running ability with anyone but my inner circle of trust. But he's downstairs.
Marta and I pad down in our stocking feet to find him perfectly at home with the younger sisters of the household, sitting on the steps and observing their homework with a stern eye indicating he'd never do anything so studious on a Sunday night. He stands up right away when he sees Marta, still in her running clothes, and I can practically hear him counting the seconds of their eye contact. He reminds me of someone, like Steve McQueen's younger, somewhat uninvolved brother- the one that wasn't interested in motorcycles, but still had a great complexion. He and Marta immediately launch into some sort of banter so inherent to their beings that I hang back as usual and smile when I hear my name referenced. Out of the corner of my eye I see Marta moving her hands behind her back, nervously, as if she might fly away. The movement clashes something awful with her smooth tone. She is rambling though, now, I notice, trying to figure out a way to build a bridge for us, to build a bridge to her own cleanliness.
I finally decide to be the personality that always seem to have but never embody, and my voice comes out good and hardy. "You, take a shower," I say, grinning, "you're not gonna have time later." "Oh, yeah… I need to take a shower," she looks at Rob. He laughs as if hygiene were a novel notion. "Okay," is all he says. "And YOU," I point at him as I search the area for my wallet- it has a tassel on it, it should never be so hard to find- "are going to come with me while I pick some stuff up at the 711." He shrugs. "Sounds good to me then." Good, good. Only four more hours of this to go.
As he follows me out to the car I realize that as I ramble I'm giving him an incredibly false impression of who I am, but I don't stop to question it. It actually doesn't matter so much that I'm making him think I'm fun and outgoing. It's not me that he needs to get close to, so there's no reason to pretend worry about being truthful now. The important thing is that we keep talking, that he makes nice with me because Marta's my best friend, that he likes me for that only. This seems doable. 711 is just a block and a stone's throw from Marta's house. As we make conversation about the fact that both he and I own spectacular examples of impressive vehicles- the three- cylinder wonders that are Geos (his is black, mine is yellow and thus superior and much more comfortable on a summer's day)- I commend myself for my good planning.
He struggles to fit himself into the disaster zone that is my passenger side. Kicking aside trash- filled fast-food bags and old homework assignments he tries to grin sideways at me as if to assure me that he's having a great time relating to me, but I'm too distracted by the fact that his knees rival the height of the dashboard. "Off we go," I say. He says something in a funny tone, but I don't hear the actual words. I chuckle anyway.
We're quiet for two seconds as we pull away, but thankfully the faint strains of my current favorite song, a mysterious tune strung together with thick layers of harmony- a folk song with power behind it. It is gorgeous, but I doubt somehow that it is Rob's kind of music. He's told me he likes the classics, which earns him respect, but I don't see this guy appreciating what is known as variety or off the beaten path. He could probably never appreciate Elliot Smith, Iron and Wine, Tom Waits. His idea of mellow is probably the standards on the smooth jazz stations. The more I think about it, the more stupid he starts to look to me, peering over the dashboard, watching warily as I roll past the stop sign at the end of the road. We don't say much the rest of the way.
In 711 we get the cheap, tall cans of green tea in different flavors for Marta and me, and I make nice and pony up for a red bull in honor of Rob's courtship. I hope the person at the counter- a long-haired guy with bad teeth- doesn't think that Rob and I are together or anything. I'm glad that Rob continues to poke around the store while I pay. Paying together; ugh, how awkward. How gruesome…. I start to think maybe I've developed a social anxiety while away at school. Another attractive quality. Rob probably senses it, oh no. What if he thinks I like him? Make this end, make this agony end now.
As we walk back outside, into the breezy California night, I notice the sun is completely gone and I begin to wonder how that happened; it is summer time and the sun is supposed to set much later. It's then I realize it IS late, and Rob has popped his Red Bull open with a look of satisfaction. As we walk to the car in silence- with the welcome exception of my rattling plastic bag, cans inside bumping against each other tinnily, I can smell the energy drink and I am reminded that they always smell like liquefied candy, especially sweet tarts. I used to eat sweet-tarts that came in the shapes of Disney characters- the Chesire Cat, the Hunchback of Notre Dame (bet you Victor Hugo never saw that one coming), Cinderella. I usually ate too many; I got sick. OH, get me OUTTA here.
We're pulling out of the parking lot and the friendly words from earlier have totally died, mostly because of my newly discovered social anxiety and my nausea at the memory of sweet-tarts. Disaster, I think. I have ruined the mood of the evening- no, he has, the little runt. Some boyfriend he'll make, some friends we'll be. As we continue to drive slowly- there's cops in these parts, Rob reminds me, smiling goofily- I decide the only thing left to do is play my song. I start the cd over, then turn it up so Rob can hear every harmony, ever inflection to its perfect pitch.
"This is my new favorite song." I say, proudly, "In case you didn't know, the world counts on me to spread my good music taste. It just doesn't come naturally to most people, you know." Rob nods as if to confirm, of course. You know everything- NOT. Joyously, however, the strains of this powerful ballad are so strong, the singers voices so like romantic mountain men, I think- that I forget that Rob must be judging me and I get lost in the sound and the streetlights. Before I know it we are back at "home", I am parking, but the song is still playing.
"Well," I say, about to take the keys from their ON position. "That was--" Rob puts his finger to his lips at nods at the radio. I'm confused, what? But Rob has settled in; he looks comfortable, as if he has found a niche in my Geo, a place amidst my trash, my papers, my anxiety. I realize he wants to hear the song till the end. So we sit there and we listen to the glorious break-up of the ballad, the soaring beauty of their five manly voices weaving together to describe a figurative rescue. It is the type of song that makes one feel epic, the kind you wish God would play from the skies on the day you choose to backpack in Greece or crest the hills of Africa in your by-plane or lift your wounded soldier brother onto your shoulders and carry him into the sun. It is the sort of song you long to be surrounded by, the kind of song you want to BE- its character, encapsulated in a mere three minutes, four seconds, seems so much richer than my own being. When it's over, the tail four seconds comprised mainly of the random sounds of gypsy instruments, Rob turns to me and nods solidly (but passively, as I reckon by now is his nature) and says "Good song."
The rest of the night is uneventful. Marta is in a good mood, once we get inside Rob is in even a better mood- I can tell because his eyebrows are slightly raised and he nods more than usual. We watch Val Kilmer. We watch Micheal Douglas. We watch Michael Douglas die. We watch Val Kilmer run in slow-motion and say nooooooooo a lot. Marta finishes her online summer school homework as she watches. I catch Rob looking at her cute little toes, poking out from beneath her blanket. All is well.
Two weeks later, they become a couple, officially. The cat is out of the bag. There's no taking the offer off the table, no ignoring the joking, the flirting, the hilarious texts, the wooing of the best friend. It's all full speed ahead now, and isn't that nice, yes, I think it is. I think they're having fun. That's nice, too. But I still can't get over the smell of red bull, the goofy grin, the lack of conversation, until one Saturday Starbucks afternoon, in one of the rare moments that she is without her new addition, Marta turns to me, offering me a sip of her iced coffee as she always does, which I always love her for, and asks me what I think of Rob. "He's cool," I say, earnestly. "You know," Marta says, brightly, "He played me this awesome song the other day, by that folk band you like. He said you showed it to him." My ears perk up. What? She nods, vacantly, already thinking of something else. "He said he bought it right after you played it for him." I make a move to sip my tea- though it's too hot and I merely make a show by resting my nose on the tip of it. "Really?" I ask. Marta nods, and starts to move towards the creamer.
I think that's nice. I do.