I walk into the Cracker Barrel and zero in on Jenn, who is wearing black jeans and a shirt under an open, mid-calf gray dress. I decide this outfit - a bit nicer than what she wore the first time I met her - means she thinks of this as a date. The plan had originally been for Hannah and me to watch the movie Sunshine and for Daniel and Jenn to have another "meeting" that would in no way be a date, but I pride myself on meddling when it could result in a better story, so I suggested to both Hannah and Jenn that it should be the four of us.
This is only my second meeting with Jenn ever, our first being when I claimed to need a social buffer so she would go on a date with me. I am still grateful to her for holding my hand then when I started to panic because my ruse was true and, despite having not seen one another since, we continued to speak online at least once a week. One of the reasons I was pushing for this to be a date was that a romantic relationship between the two would weave her into my life more inextricably. It sates my sense of order to think I can pair my friends off for my own selfish reasons.
"Have you actually met Hannah before?" I ask as we fumble with the tchochkies, waiting for our table to be called.
"No, but I picture her as the ray of sunshine to Daniel's storm cloud," she answers simply, which causes me to grab her and verbally reaffirm that I like her. The description is so appropriate, and is apt enough that she recognizes them as they walk past the window.
Our meal together passes in mutual nose crinkling. Daniel and Hannah are from the South, so his suggesting that he wants to go to Cracker Barrel is akin to an Australian insisting he be taken to Outback Steakhouse. The food is insultingly far from authentic cuisine, but complaining about it reminds him what he is missing, so it serves a purpose. Plus, this was Daniel's decision and he does not make those easily or frequently, so we would stand behind it. I can only hope this disinclination to deciding does not extend to Jenn.
After, we loiter outside and discuss returning to Hannah and Daniel's apartment, a half an hour away. They are plotting how best to arrange for transportation, since Jenn drove from far away to be here and will liking renege if asked to drive another half hour out of her way. Daniel is subtly edging closer to Hannah as the discussion progresses and I cannot allow this.
"Watch this," I stage whisper to Jenn. Then I grab Hannah, say I will be driving her home now, and leave Daniel to bring Jenn. Whether they choose to admit it or not, I will continue to act as though they are on a date and they need some quality car time to get to know one another in better detail. They really only waste their breath stating otherwise. The matter is no longer in their hands.
I won't deny that an acknowledged byproduct of my plan was to get to know Hannah a little better. With Daniel around, I am the odd man out, since years of mutual history engulf them. I had a brief chance to get to know Daniel on his own he first time we met, though he was likewise burdened with outsider status since I had Melanie at my side. In our time together, the only time I have spent with Hannah has occurred with Daniel nearby.
The majority of our car ride, when I am not inviting Hannah to join me in analyzing Daniel's interactions with Jenn, we are either discussing his romantic history (Hannah was his last serious relationship two years ago, lasted over four years, though he's had infrequent but explicitly stated interludes with other women) or her romantic present (with Boyfriend/James seven months, likes him well enough, rocky start on the same site where I found everyone who is new to my life in the past eight months). Even when he is in another car with another woman, the yet unsolved mysteries of Daniel loom too large in my mind to resist interrogating a talkative witness. That Hannah spent four years as his lover, that she was the last significant female in his life, that he resides and commutes with her daily anyway introduces a gaggle of new questions I will have to patiently work into conversations until I can finally claim to fully grasp this situation that I find intriguing. It should only take a few years.
When released into Daniel and Hannah's apartment (I collectively call them Hanniel, I invite you to join me) I study everything as though it were carefully chosen to display their personalities and histories. Hannah's room is the messier of the two, to my initial surprise. As Daniel is not yet home, I don't feel I have permission to trespass beyond the threshold, but peruse Hannah's living space like an anthropologist allowed access to a temple. Her walls are papered with outlines for her novel, character arcs and explanations of plot points. It feels like lingering inside her skull, dirty laundry at my feet and shelves honoring various species of fandom kneeling under her story.
I spend the rest of the evening, when I am not eating the berries and watermelon they provide for our gustatory entertainment or critiquing how terrifying Cillian Murphy is, studying Hannah, Daniel, and Jenn. I want there to be bolder reactions and comments, because I was raised on sitcoms and melodrama. Certainly, there is more going on that is apparent. On the surface, they are just three people watching a movie with me. That story is too boring to be the whole truth. Jenn has privately expressed romantic consideration for Daniel. I have privately (ergo publically) informed all three that this pairing makes sense to me and should be pursued immediately. Jenn and Daniel both wear dark clothing and listen to music sung by people who innately terrify Middle American soccer moms. Daniel has persisted in the intransigence of being Daniel, namely that he hasn't overtly expressed any preference at all, aside from allowing the meeting in the first place and further allowing Hannah and me to tag along as observers. This is against my personal fashion. When I was crushing on Jenn, I was utterly clear about this and in so many words. I doubt I had a heart palpitation that I didn't put into words for posterity.
I want the characters around me to conform to the most exciting possible story and to my own literary prejudices. For example, I know Zack and Cristin are still near constant companions, even after he dumped her and vanished for a few months. That they aren't almost engaged after a tearful and passionate reunion strikes me as odd because it does not closely mimic what I would do in that situation, not that I've ever been in his position. After Kate broke with me, I had a friend who raged and abandon me because I did not follow her post-breakup journey and instead kept trying to reunite with Kate - which I agree was foolish but no reason to write me off as a human being. I am quick to remind myself that different choices are not wrong ones and that I can never fully put myself in my friends' positions. I can't imagine living with my most recent ex as she proceeds to date. There is a saying - though I don't remember whose - that one needs to be kind because everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle. I do my best to honor that.
Soon in Xenology: Self-pity/evaluation. Interviews. Fireworks.