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Take Me There, Too
It’s 7:18. I was supposed to meet her at 7 o’clock. Sharp, she had said. When she said “sharp” she did that cute little thing where just one corner of her mouth curves into a smirk as she speaks. And now it’s 7:18, and I’m still scrambling to catch a taxi, and I am certainly not expecting that smirk when I show up to the restaurant a half hour past the “sharp” time.
What makes this even worse is that I hate Valentine’s Day. The passion people feel for their significant other on February 14th is equivalent to the hatred I feel toward this stupid day. It’s not that I don’t like Angela. I mean, she’s pretty. She’s funny. She made this dinner reservation without me having to lift a finger, and yet I still end up late to it. It’s not her. It’s this stupid day, in this stupid city, and my stupid legs that won’t move fast enough to get me to catch this stupid taxi.
I stop my feet from racing just in time for a taxi to halt in front of my flailing arms. The orange-ish yellow cab has a dent in the right side and is covered by only a few raindrops. The New York City air seeps into my nostrils right before I exhale a quarter of the stress that’s been residing in my sprinting legs. I unlatch the car door, duck down to get inside, and my nose is suddenly just two inches from the last person I wanted to see on what is already the worst day ever.
“Jessica?” my voice cracks.
“Well, hi, Nick.”
I feel like the Titanic is re-sinking itself in my stomach, and yet she doesn’t look phased in the slightest. Her lips sit in a delicate, calm smile and her pale, freckled hands sit in her lap, one on top of the other. My eyes dart from her beautifully devious face and striking red hair to the driver and back again.
“What…what are you doing here?” I’m frantic, I’m nervous, I’m caught off guard, and yes, she can hear it.
“In a taxi cab? I mean, I know this is new information and all, but we do live in New York, and this is the only real means of transportation…” I had almost forgotten how sassy she is. Almost.
“Yeah. Right.” By now I can tell the driver is annoyed at me not telling him where I’m going just by the look on his ungroomed face.
“Tornilles,” I say as soon as I notice. “Please.”
With a grunt the cab driver turns back to the wheel and leaves me suddenly excruciatingly aware of the sweat beads on my nose and the fact that Jessica is staring a hole through my head. I cannot honestly remember the last time I saw her. Oh, wait, yes I do. I remember the buff guy that answered her apartment door at 6 in the morning. I remember staring at him, towering three feet over me with his shirt off and in hand on Valentine’s Day of last year. I remember then flickering my eyes to her face and watching her try to stop me from walking right back down those stairs. Yes, I remember.
I remember so clearly, in fact, I’m about ready to open the door and jump out of this stupid taxi into on-coming, stupid traffic. But then, she speaks. She speaks and I’m sweating even more now, and to be quite honest, I didn’t know it was even possible for your toes to sweat. But hey, I guess anything can happen on February 14th.
“Tornilles, huh?” she questions. “That’s a nice place. Got a hot date?”
“I actually do.” I feel the sharp defensiveness in my voice cutting the air like a knife. She has to know I date. She knows firsthand how great I am. I’m smart. I’m hot. I’m basically a young Ryan Gosling. She knows I have to be taken by now.
“I’m not surprised.” She nods. Of course you’re not. I’m fantastic.
I glance down at my watch out of habit. 7:34. Wonderful. Just wonderful. Valentine’s Day take two with the girl I finally got out of my mind a little over a month ago. I’m sure Angela will be thrilled to hear this one.
“I’m running a little behind,” I tell the driver. “Do you think we could move this along a little faster?”
“Ah, so some things never do change.” Jessica grins.
“I’m just saying. I do recall countless days where I would be out the door and you were just stepping out of the shower. You were always running a little behind. Remember our first date, when we saw Marley and Me? You showed up at my door twenty minutes after you said you’d be there. I thought I was being stood up. You did come, though. And your hair did look great…” she trails off.
Huh. Our first date. I remember that, too. I was late because I had just gotten a haircut and spent a half hour in the mirror trying to decide which amount of hair gel made me resemble a college frat boy the least. I also remember how stoked I was to finally be going out with who I thought was my dream girl, the Jessica Keesh. You know that totally cliché I-have-a-whole-garden-of-butterflies-in-my-stomach kind of feeling before a first date? Yeah, that was me right before ringing her doorbell just about five years ago today. Good, good times.
“Nick?” her voice snaps me back into reality.
“What? Oh, yeah. I guess I still have some of the same flaws.” I laugh awkwardly. I don’t know if it’s the fact that The Best Love Songs of the 90’s is playing in this taxi or maybe the fact that I’m just now noticing her new haircut, but I can’t seem to show her how bothered I am by her presence. I don’t hate her. Okay, well, she’s not exactly my favorite person, either. But how do you find it in yourself to hate the first person who saw the word “love” escape from your lips?
“You know,” I squirm in my seat. “You have some flaws too.”
“Oh, I do? Please, enlighten me.”
I almost scoff out loud. Does she honestly need me to re-play the scenario of her cheating on her boyfriend of five years? On Valentine’s Day? It was embarrassing enough having to go home to my family that Christmas and tell the story to them. “Hey Mom, Dad, remember my future fiancé? Yeah, about that...”
“Really?” I squint my eyes in her direction. “Is that really how this is going to go?”
She sits. She doesn’t say a word, doesn’t smile nor frown, just sits and waits for me to continue.
“I mean, fine. Let’s talk about your flaws. Where should I start? I know, let’s start with the second I opened the door to your love affair! Brilliant, I like that idea.”
“Nick…” she tries to intervene. But no, this is what she wanted. And I’m just getting started.
“I don’t blame you, really. I mean, did you see that guy’s biceps? Who am I kidding, of course you did!”
“The only thing, Jess, the only thing is that he’s blonde. You always told me you loved my brown hair. Blonde was too ‘surfer dude’ for you. But I guess you did say a lot of things you didn’t mean, right?”
“He was my cousin.”
“And wow was he…wait, what did you just say?”
Cousin. Yep, Nick, I think she said cousin.
“I tried to explain. For months I called, emailed, texted, but you blocked my number,” she says. “I even visited your parents in Portland, and they shut the door in my face. Did they tell you about that?”
I want to nod because yes, they did. But my whole body is so numb at this point I’m not even sure I still have a head.
“I don’t know how many times I stood outside your apartment or called your office. The lady at the front desk stopped answering when she saw it was my caller ID about five months ago.”
I know I should say something. I know I should really close my mouth, which has been hanging wide open for a solid minute and a half, but I can’t. I can’t decide whether to kiss her, to ask her why the hell she had never mentioned a cousin that was coming to stay with her that day, or ask if she has a hot date tonight. What I do know is that I can’t take my eyes off her lips in anticipation of the next heart attack worthy thing that comes out of her mouth.
“Nick, I’m so sorry.” She continues. Wow, I do love hearing her say my name again. “I never meant to hurt you. And I’ve been waiting for a year to tell you that I would never, ever cheat on the love of my life.”
Alright, here comes the heart palpitations.
Suddenly, the car jolts to an immediate stop, and I finally move my eyes to something other than the enigma sitting beside me. I glance out the window and see women in high heels and men in suits rushing into Tornilles, where I should be going right now to have my Valentine’s Day dinner with my brand new girlfriend, Angela. I take a breath so deep I fear my tie is about to pop a seam, exhale as silently as possible, and lean over the seat so the irritated cab driver could hear me.
“Wherever she’s going,” I tell him. “Take me there, too.”
The middle-aged man tightens his face, turns back to the wheel, and the car starts again as he angrily hits the gas. To where we are going, I don’t know. But I do know I just need it to be with her.
“What about your date?” Jessica questions.
“Well, I can’t go on it now.” I tell her. “The love of my life is, like, right next to me.”
She laughs. And then I laugh. And then she reaches for my hand. Looking at her, her soft red curls framing her face, gliding my thumb over hers, and thinking about the entire year of my life I had just previously wasted, I come to a realization. Maybe Valentine’s Day isn’t so bad after all.
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Remember the lesson, not the disappointment