|When he looks this way, run.|
"This isn't an elaborate set-up for a blind date, is it?" Stevehen asks.
"No, I would go out of my way to make sure that never happens."
He scoffs and then says, "You fixed me up with Melissa."
"I did not! I was just trying to maximize my friend-to-time ratio. I was against your relationship from the beginning, you just wouldn't listen. It was an atrocity and a blight on god's vision," I say with finality. I don't like to belabor points when navigating the Taconic as stone walls whiz by at seventy miles an hour. "Besides, the only person I know at this party is Jamie and I cannot imagine sparks between you two."
I pause to think of the reason that will end this line of questioning most quickly. "Her entire forearm is tattooed with each of the Endless from Gaiman's Sandman series."
"Say no more."
We arrive at the house with a convenience store offering to the god BYOB. I marvel at the setting, like something an architectural student would doodle, set onto the side of a forested hill above a lake. There are platforms leading to lower decks and a winding path of wooden stairs to the lake. I joke more than once that I am going to make a lean-to out of branches and secretly live here. No one would notice until winter, though I suppose Stevehen would be stuck for a ride home.
"This doesn't look like Jess," Jamie says with a laugh as we appear. Almost from the moment I met Jess, I had wanted to bring her to Jamie's Pre-Independence Day Barbecue. However, I received a text from her this morning, saying that she was at work and exhausted, so she'd much rather go home and sleep. I allowed this, but only after stopping by the hotel where she works and harassing her until I was satisfied I could not convince her to forsake sleep a little longer for my company. Stevehen was a latter-day addition, because he happened to have the day off and I thought he might enjoy not sitting around his house. Plus, when I RSVP plus one, I damn well mean it.
"No, she bailed on us," I say. "This is Stevehen, he's my date!"
She gave me batteries just so I could take pictures.|
Do you think she learned her lesson?
He shakes his head. "I am no one's date."
"Not true," I reply. "I brought you in lieu of a girl, therefore you are my date. Or at least my social buffer." I am pleased to note, however, that I don't need one, as I do not even feel the ghost of awkwardness that I thought I would in mingling with strangers. I wonder if my neuroses are giving up on me, if my brain has finally decided that it just isn't worth the effort to produce anxiety. People I do not know are not likely to club me over the head or sic their saber-toothed tiger on me, so I have no physiological need to panic.
After a long conversation with a precocious, dinosaur-bearing five-year-old named Thomas (who argued that nothing is more powerful than something his mommy says, except maybe a cobra), the sun begins to set and the party begins to thin a little. A pale woman, the front of whose shirt reads "Schrödinger's Cat is Dead" and the back "Schrödinger's Cat is Not Dead", strikes up a conversation with Stevehen and me. She is immediately sparkling with intelligence, if the physics joke on her shirt was not suggestive enough. I do my best (by which I mean exactly that, my version of "best") to steer the conversation to places where Stevehen will shine, though this occasionally means making him recount stories about bad exes or embarrassing situations so she can see how amusingly he will do so. I am a fine wingman, whether or not I am supposed to be performing in this capacity. Like any superhero, he goes where he is needed.
|Brilliant in at least two ways! (Get it? Because she is pale.)|
"You know how women hang out with one really ugly girl because she makes them look gorgeous by comparison?" I say to the woman. "That's what Stevehen is for me in a moral sense. I could be calling for widespread puppy rape, but Stevehen will still have some idea that is so ethically repugnant that my puppy rape seems innocuous. It's one of his charms."
"Thanks," Stevehen sneers. "That's really nice. You know how atheists have that one dirty hippy friend who worships rocks?" he asks her, at which point I crack up.
"I'm Suzy," she finally says after our conversation is reaching the hour mark. Stevehen introduces us, though I retain the purely ceremonial title "Dirty Hippy".
I'm highly impressed with him. Since January and the formalization of his breakup from Melissa - as well as the emotional aftermath thereof - he has had to build much of his life. He got a new apartment, dealt with job stress, dealt with Melissa being confused and wanting him back (and making the right decision not to take the easy road), went on dates. But he isn't hiding in his apartment because life didn't worked out the way he had planned. He is taking steps to make his life a little better, even when it conflicts with comfort, and that is more than most people do.
Soon in Xenology: Job hunting. 80s Night again. Vanderbilt. Rollerskating.