Monday, August 22, 2011

chapter five

This is fun.  I’m not torturing Kristen too badly - I have to remind myself that not everyone is a teammate who can take chirping twenty four hours a day.  But it feels good when she mixes herself up, because it’s the closest she may ever come to admitting that she kind of likes me.  Not a lot, not yet.  And she’s a long way from doing anything about it.  But every time she gets flustered it’s like a tiny window opens and I can see what she’s hiding inside.

The Cubs win for me, just like they did for Tazer on his date.  A few people in our section say goodbye as we squeeze into the crush of bodies heading up the stairs.  Without thinking I reach back for Kristen’s hand.  She takes it without hesitating.

“Did you take the El here?” I ask when we’re finally on the street.


“Good.  This way.”

She lets me lead her a few blocks from the park, dodging sidewalks full of people. I’m in a hurry to be away from them.  It’s just after eight o’clock and no one is going home anytime soon, including us.  I whistle for a cab.

“Where are we going?”

“Somewhere without cameras.”

Kristen slides all the way across the backseat, so I have to move to the middle to sit close.  I do it anyway.  We sit quietly as the city slides by.  She twists the silver ring on her right hand like a nervous twitch and I put my hand over it, holding her still.  Her eyes close briefly and she leans her head back onto the seat.  I think it’s annoyance and I quickly snatch my hand away.  She catches it in mind air and pulls it back to her leg.  Her fingers are slender beneath mine, her hand feels fragile.

The cab drops us on a corner.  We walk through a busy intersection, but keep going until we reach the second alleyway.  Kristen looks at me oddly.

“Is there where you’re going to dump my body?”

“Bodies go in the Lake, babe.”

Halfway down is an open screen door.  Without permission I duck into the kitchen of a Chinese restaurant.  A few heads pop up from behind the line, and they all call out greetings.  Kristen laughs.

“Come here often?”

“I am trying to impress you.”

In fact, that’s exactly what I’m doing.  Not everything has to be front page news - I’ve learned that the hard way.  She paid her dues at the game and didn’t freak out, which is pretty amazing.  Four hours ago I was sure Kristen would stand me up.  And I think she was too.

Surprises all around.

There’s a booth in the kitchen, laid with a red plastic tablecloth and paper napkins.  It is decidedly un-fancy: pots are banging, people calling in orders, every once in a while a flame roars.  But it is the only place in Chicago I can promise that no one will bother us.
Except our bed, Old Me says.
Relax, New Me warns.

Old Me scoffs:

The booth is small, just a half-circle cut into the wall.  Lots of old restaurants have these built-in for staff meals and family seating.  We are only about four blocks from my place and Kristen was right, I do come here often.  My rookie year, I ordered in from this place all the time.  One day, instead of the usual delivery guy, an older woman showed up without my order.  She spoke more English and insisted that I come to the restaurant.  I was pissed - that’s exactly what I was trying to avoid.  But my growling stomach won out.  She brought me through the front door and right into the kitchen.  There was my dinner, laid out nicely on the semi-circular table.  She’d even put a bendy straw in my water glass.

Her name was Mina and she smiles like a proud peacock when she sees Kristen.

“Patrick, hello! You bring friend for dinner.  Nice meeting you!”

Kristen is about to die of the cuteness.  My plan exactly.  She orders wonton soup and beef and brocolli with rice.  I try to order, but Mina just tuts.

“Patrick, always same thing. I remember!”

Kristen holds her hands up in surrender.  “Okay, I am impressed!  Is that your grandmother or what?  I thought she was going to pinch your cheek.”

“Mina is the best.  She always asks why I never bring a date here.”

Only one word can describe the look on Kristen’s face: wry.  She knows I am manipulating the situation, but not how much.  I could be feeding her complete crap that I tell a different girl every night.  It’s exactly what I need: someone who doesn’t just buy every word I say in hopes of getting into my bed and into my wallet.  Not that my bed is a bad idea, Old Me grumbles inside.  Yes, I know that.

Our food doesn’t have far to come.  Over soup and a soda for Kristen, I avoid all talk of anything important.  She asks about hockey, I ask about the friends we now have in common.   We talk about summers and Buffalo and injuries and the Stanley Cup.  

“It’s funny how quickly I’ve gotten used to this cast,” I say, grateful for the millionth time that it isn’t on my right arm.

“I noticed you keep me on your uninjured side,” she points out.  Indeed I do.

I’m forgetting myself.

Here I am, on my first date in over two years and I have forgotten everything that girls are supposed to do.  I let him hold my hand.  I let him take me down a dark alley.  And now I’m chowing down like there’s a world shortage on beef and broccoli.

Most of all, I’m laughing.  Okay, girls are supposed to do that.  But I am not a regular girl.  I don’t have fun.  I certainly don’t let old Chinese ladies take pictures of me and some guy on his iPhone.  But as Patrick slides his good arm behind my back, getting nice and close in the cozy booth, I’m smiling like a fool.

This is all too much, too soon.  We used to have a rule in college: you know you’re drunk when you think you’re not.  The minute you start thinking “oh, I’m fine” you can be sure you’re slurring your speech and falling into snowbanks.  Right now, I feel completely and utterly fine.

Why did I even come on this date?  Patrick clearly didn’t take my horrible rudeness to heart.  And if I’m so sure that I don’t want to go out with him, why do I care?  

Nothing about today matches my idea of what should be happening.  I should be a frail and furious mess, like last night.  He should be Jersey Shore-ing all over me, trying to get in my pants.  Instead we are cracking up over the collective lack of chopsticks skills.  This is the friendship dynamic I’ve been missing while I mope away about Tyler.  It’s like opening a window to a stuffy room.

Of course there is another dynamic at work.  I am definitely not numb to the prickle of attraction that raises goosebumps along my neck when he moves his body.  Every lull in the conversation frees my mind, and it runs right to inappropriate.  It’s been months since I was with Tyler, and years since I was with anyone else.  In that time I wonder if Tyler ever cared about me.  I wonder if sex would feel different with someone who did.
Will feel different, I correct myself.  I’m not dead yet.
With a huge mental effort, I push all that out of my mind and focus on the fact that Patrick would starve to death without a fork.  He cannot manage a single bite with chopsticks.  It’s so cute I consider the possibility that he’s faking.

“Earth to Kristen,” he says, waving the useless utensils in front of my face.  I guess I was a little slow returning from my brain.  “Lost you there for a minute.”

“I was just…,” I start to blurt out what I was really thinking, but pause to regroup.  Partial disclosure won’t hurt anyone.  “I was just thinking how much fun I am having.”

He looks pleased, but covers it by saying, “Always with the tone of surprise.”

“You really are Ron Weasley,” I laugh.

Mina dotes on us, all smiles and hand-squeezes, and finally brings fortune cookies.  Patrick cracks one in his big hand, nearly crumbling it to dust.  A single shard of intact cookie drops to his plate.  While he’s unfurling the little paper, I reach under his arm and pop the bite into my mouth.

“Who actually eats the cookie?”

I make a face.  “I do.  I love them.”

“They’re like garnish on a plate, no one eats them. They’re just to hold the fortune.”

“Unless it says ‘you will eat a delicious cookie,’ I have never had a fortune come true,” I insist.

Patrick tries not to smile while reading; it comes out like a smirk.  “Mine says ‘you are talented in many ways.’”

We both pause, waiting for the other to add the proverbially inappropriate “in bed.”  A second of silent stretches out endlessly… until I burst out laughing.

“I does not say that!”

“It does.”  But he folds his casted paw around it and tries to hide.  I take the bait like a fish who loves shiny things – I try to climb across him, reaching for his hand.  I’m in his lap, wedged in behind a table, and I’m totally defenseless when he decides the opportunity is too good to pass up.

New Me might be a good guy, but if you climb into my lap you’re going to get tickled.


Kristen spazzes out the second I grab her side with my good hand.  She flails like she’s been electrocuted, immediately forgetting about my paper fortune and trying to curl into a ball around my legs.  A turned-over turtle would be more successful.  I squeeze again, and she thrashes.

“Stop! Pat! Pleeeeeeeeeeese!”

Thunk.  Her elbow hits the underside of the table hard enough to jolt the dishes.  I throw my hands up as she goes completely still.

“Owwwwwwwww,” she moans after a moment, still sprawled across my lap.  Her head us halfway under the table too, so her voice is echo-y.  I brush a handful of hair from her face.

“Oh my God, are you okay?  I’m sorry!  Get up here.”  As best I can with one hand, I haul her upright into her seat.  She’s rubbing her joint.  

“Are you okay?!”

Stupid, stupid, stupid! Horsing around and I hurt her.  Some first date – “remember that time I broke your arm in the Chinese food place?”  Except when am I going to tell that story if she never wants to see me again?  It’ll be online tomorrow: Patrick Kane physically assaults date in restaurant kitchen.  But the smile that breaks across her face is the prettiest I’ve seen.

“You’re lucky you’re injured or I would break your other hand!” she tries to scowl.

I wave my cast.  “It’s not my hand, and it’s not broken.”  

Kristen gives me a glare and threatens me with a chopstick.

“Open your cookie,” I say, amazed it survived the commotion.

She breaks the cookie and quickly stuffs both halves into her mouth.  Her cheeks puff like a chipmunk.  Then she leans away and unrolls the tiny paper behind a screen of her hands.  A second passes before she folds her fingers down to reveal suspicious eyes.

“Did you plant this?”

“Why?” I reach for it but she’s ready, rotating away around the table.  

“Does Mina have special cookies she brings you at the end of a date?”

“I told you I don’t bring girls here.”

Kristen raises one eyebrow - it’s comedy skepticism, but skeptical nonetheless.

“What does it say?”

She turns her hands, the scrap of paper open between fingers, and holds it up for me to read.

Accept the next proposition you hear.

Kristen is watching me; watching my eyes and waiting for them to give away the real me.  The Old Me.  The one that is howling inside that I should kiss her, that this is some barf-inducing romantic comedy moment that will surely lead to a night of passionately banging the headboard through the wall.  This isn’t an opening, it’s a great fucking chasm.

This is also a test.

I used to manufacture chances, I used to skip to beginning of the story and go right for the climax.  I’m trying to learn to read the pages now.  But tonight has presented me with two perfect chances for a first kiss - once with the Jumbotron, now with this fortune.  New Me knows we have to turn it down, the most obvious choices are always tricks.  But what if there isn’t a third chance?

So I cheat a little.

“I guess you have to go out with me again.”

Kristen’s mouth actually falls open, as if she forgot what else to do with it.  She expected me to kiss her and the surprise is all over her face.  Her lips are a perfectly flushed strawberry color, like she’d taste all sweet and juicy.  My entire body groans so loudly I almost give myself a facepalm.

“You did say you were having fun,” I remind her.  

It takes a second for her to come around.  The girl who hated me at dinner last night is processing a lot of information right now.  She knew what to do with that guy, but not the one here now, passing up opportunities left and right.

“I... I am,” she says in a voice that isn’t sure.

“So you don’t qualify for the mercy rule.”

Kristen tilts her head slightly and purses her lips.  “Okay, I’ll go.  One condition.  I get to pick the place.”

I shake my head.  “Nope.  I asked, I pick.  If you want to pick, you’ll have to ask me out.  After tomorrow.  If you think I’m having fun.”

She looks more like she wants to smack me than kiss me and says, “Oh, I don’t have a mercy rule.”


  1. I love this. So incredibly funny. You, my friend, are an immensely talented writer. Keep up the good stuff. :D

  2. Perfection, once again. This is so cute, and indeed very funny! They are charming and adorable in their slowness together! What's the next date?!?!

  3. Adorable. Really, really adorable! I'm from Chicago, I love the Blackhawks, and even I don't really like Kaner. But you're turning me around ... as did his performance at the convention this summer to some extent. You never cease to impress me.

  4. I fist pumped at the Ron Weasley comment. That was awesome. And I'm loving the whole inner monologue between Good Kaner and Bad Kaner. I'm waiting for the old Kane to show himself, but I'm hoping he can restrain himself from making any dumb moves. So far he's on the right track!

  5. Incredible as always! :-) What I love about your writing is how versatile it is, yet you still have a distinctive style that is visible in all your stories. Can't wait for more!

  6. Awesome chapter as had me smiling throughout. Juliet-what's your day job? I sure hope it has something to do with writing because you have a knack for it!