My eyes rolled as their lids shut. The faucet gushed and I imagined him running his hands underneath the hot water. Or maybe he was the kind of guy who washed his hands in cold water, too timid to endure the heat necessary for a proper cleansing. The previous night began to come back to me and the first thing I remembered was how timid he was; how gingerly he’d asked me to get the bartender’s attention, how shy he was on the dance floor, how he hesitated getting into the cab. He was clearly the kind of guy that needed me to spell it out for him and I couldn’t help but wonder if he was as short as I remembered him. I was being mean and I knew it, but my annoyance at the fact that he was was still there forced me to look back on him, and the previous night’s dalliance, in the harsh rays of that new morning’s sun. And besides all that, I still couldn’t remember his name.
I took a deep breath and ran my fingers through my disheveled hair trying to prepare myself for this unexpected company. “Lord please don’t let him want morning sex” I thought. His feet shuffled down the hallway from the bathroom and I could tell he was on his toes. But then nothing happened. And then more shuffling. He was in my living room, picking things up and moving things around. I heard what sounded like the jingling of a belt on a pair of pants as they’re being pulled up. Confused, I sat up and looked around. Then I noticed the left side of the bed, still neat–and then it hit me, he’d slept on the couch. I was even more confused. What is proper one night stand etiquette? Staying over after sex seemed like some sort of violation, but if you’re going to cross that line, at least have the decency to sleep in the bed. I decided to be offended.
The hard-bottomed heels of his shoes clicked closer and closer to my door, and then he knocked.
“Uh … hey …?” I said pulling the sheets up above my bare ladies, simultaneously wondering if it was really necessary considering the fact that he’d already seen them.
“Morning Sam” he said opening the door, “I hate to dash off so quick, but I gotta get home and get myself together for work.”
“So quick? You been here all night!” I thought to myself.
“Ok … cool, you need a cab or anything?” I said, feeling like The Situation.
“Nah, I called the number on the magnet on the fridge, I’m good.”
“Oh, so you went in my fridge?” I thought, but didn’t say.
“It was really great meeting you” he continued, “I don’t usually do stuff like this, but I really had a good time.”
There was a sweetness and sincerity in his voice, one that didn’t match the rude, awkwardness of staying over after a one night stand and sleeping on the couch.
“Yeah, it’s been interesting” I responded.
“Are you free today at all? I was thinking maybe we could grab lunch?” he asked.
“Oh … umm … yeah, I’m not really sure, ummm…”
Outside a horn blew.
“That’s probably my cab.”
“’Oh … yeah…”
“How ’bout I give you a call later this morning and we can figure out lunch?”
“Yeah, that works.”
I saw him to the door, then headed into the kitchen to grab a drink. I opened the fridge door and realized I had absolutely no food in the house. I was embarrassed at the thought of him seeing my cupboard so bare, especially now that it seemed like I’d be seeing him again. I decided then I’d take a trip to the super market before lunch. It was always best to go to the supermarket during the day, especially since my super market boo usually worked the day shift.
My supermarket boo is this handsome guy that works in the meat section. Ironic, I know. While it’s hard to see myself ever dating him, he does add a little fun to my shopping excursions. He always flirts, always gives me a couple extra-slices of spiced ham, and despite being consumed by what I imagine to be the perpetually odious scent of raw flesh, he somehow exudes a lazily effortless masculine quality other folks in my generation might describe using a word that rhymes with gag that I’ve promised myself I’d never use. He has the kind of attitude that leaves you both excited to see him and nervous to be around him. One of these days I might just give him my number. But not today. Today I just planned to let him to flirt with me a little.
I pulled the collar of my unseasonably light jacket close around my neck as I stood waiting on the corner of 34th and 8th in midtown. It was one of those deceivingly chilly fall days where the brightness of the sun provided little in the way of actual warmth, and I was trying my best not to be annoyed that I’d been waiting on that corner for more than ten minutes.
“Hey Samantha, sorry I’m late!” I heard him say behind me. As I turned around, a wave of panic rushed over me. I was looking at him, hugging him, kissing him on the cheek, and once again drawing a blank on his name. I tried to remember our brief phone conversation from when he called to set up the lunch, “Hey, it’s me ____” he’d said. I struggled for a minute, and then it hit me.
“Hey Steve, it’s alright, let’s just go somewhere close, I’m kinda cold.”
“Ok, sounds good, what are you in the mood for?”
“Uhh, I don’t know, warmth” I said cattily. He laughed, but I was serious.
“Ok, I got it, there’s this really good chinese spot right up the block.”
“Chinese?” I said.
“Yeah, trust me, it’s really good.”
“So, yeah, last night was a first for me,” he said with a giggle. I wished he’d just leave it alone and not bring it up.
“Yeah, I mean, it was my first one night stand too,” I said.
“Huh?” his brows furrowed, confused.
“You don’t believe me? I’m serious! That was my first time.”
“No I believe you, but I mean, I just wouldn’t call it a one night stand.”
“Oh, no, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean it like that, obviously we’re here today, so it’s not really a one night stand, but, I’m just saying, I don’t usually bring home guys I just met and have sex with them,” I said, embarrassed and lowering my voice so that only he could hear me.
“Sam, you know we didn’t have sex right?”
“You and I most definitely did not have sex.”
“Yes we did, I totally remember it, you’re not like, tryna be a weirdo are you? Please don’t be weird.”
He laughed, genuinely.
“Sam, I’m not being, weird. We totally didn’t have sex. I mean, I thought that’s what was gonna happen when I got into the cab. And we were definitely very touch feely the ride home, but … didn’t happen.”
“So like … what happened?” I asked.
“You passed out. We got to your crib, went in your room, made out for a while. Then you said you were thirsty. I got up, went to the bathroom, then went into the kitchen to grab some water out of the fridge, when I came back, all your clothes were on the floor by the bed and you were under the covers knocked out … it was quite funny actually.”
“Oh my god, you’re not serious.”
“I’m absolutely serious.”
“So like … why did you stay?”
“It was late, I tried calling a cab but none would come.”
I began to smile, the humor of the entire ordeal beginning to settle in.
“Can I tell you Steve, I had no idea why you’d slept on the couch. I didn’t even realize you were still there till the toilet flushed.”
“Oh well, yeah, I mean, after I couldn’t get a cab, I was going to get in the bed, even after you fell asleep because I really wasn’t trying to sleep on that tiny couch, but I could see your undies on the floor by the bed and I felt like it would be kinda foul to get in bed with you when you were naked.”
And just like that, all of my morning’s annoyance with his meekness in approaching me at the bar, his timidness on the dance floor and his shyness in getting into the cab seemed to dissipate. I came to realize that it was born of the same place that prevented him from taking advantage of me in my embarrassingly drunken stupor; and that made it all the more endearing.
“Thank you,” I said with every ounce of heart I had. He sat silently looking back at me as if to say “For what?”
“You know, I had like, a really terrible day yesterday. I know that sounds cliché but, you know it was just kind of unexpectedly awful.”
“Really? Why? What happened?
“I mean, it’s not really a big deal at this point but, this guy that I thought was a friend basically offered me money for sex.”
“Are you serious?”
“Yeah, it’s not really worth discussing, but I mean, that’s why I was kind of acting out of character last night.”
“I understand. Totally. That’s why you wanted to do the one night stand thing.”
“Pretty much. I just wanted to own it, you know? To remind myself that I own myself.”
“Right … and, luckily for me, I just so happened to be there,” he said.
We sat talking for the rest of his lunch. He told me about his son and his son’s mother, who he didn’t live with – thankfully. The mother had moved south and so he only got the chance to see the boy over the summer and on long breaks from school. I told him about my experience with the sergeant. He laughed, chiding me for my naivete.
And that’s how we began. The one night stand that wasn’t ended up growing into the most productive, healthy relationship I had since moving to New York. From that lunch forward we essentially started over. I guess you might call that our first date. Over the next couple of months we hung out often, sometimes more than once a week. He was not a part time gentleman, nor was he a knave dressed in kindly clothes. He was a nice guy, plain and simple. A true gentleman. We took things slow, not becoming intimate for a long while. When we did have sex, it was followed by a long conversation about where we are and where we were going. He told me that he was falling for me, and I told him that I was at a point in my life where I was mature enough to understand that I really didn’t know what I wanted. He respected that and we agreed that, while we weren’t yet ready to attach any titles to our relationship, we also weren’t going to see other people.
Time flew by, seasons changed and before I knew it, I’d had him in this relationship Purgatory for almost nine months. I can’t say that we grew closer together or that we grew further apart. We kind of just were. We were each other’s Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights. There was a simple consistency to our relationship that I both appreciated and loathed.
Before I knew it, summer had come and we were sitting in a cab, coming back from Laguardia Airport after picking up his son. He was six years old and super excited to see his dad. He spent the entire ride alternately jostling and punching his father and staring menacingly at me. I smiled and tried to play, but it all just felt really weird. The plan was to spend the day shopping, getting him new clothes for the summer, and then spend the evening watching kids movies on Netflix. It sounded fun, and pleasantly different from our normal routine, when we discussed it before the kid arrived. But once he was there, I just couldn’t take it. I felt like a kid myself. The cab pulled up to Steve’s apartment complex, but I didn’t get out.
“Babe, what’s wrong?”
“I don’t know, I think I’m just gonna head home…”
“What? Why? We had plans?”
“I know. Steve. I just … This … all of this. I just can’t … this is terrible, I’m sorry. I just can’t.”
And, ever the nice guy, he just leaned back in, kissed me on the cheek and told me he understood. He reached into his wallet, and against my objections, handed me enough cash to cover my ride home. And just like that, as awkwardly as it had begun, our relationship was over. I found myself crying the whole trip home. But I wasn’t sad, I was guilty.
The next couple weeks I spent a great deal of time thinking about why I couldn’t get myself to fall for Steve. Nice guys always get mad when women say they want a nice guy. They know the truth. The truth is the nice guy is amazing in theory, and not so amazing in practice. There’s nothing wrong, but there’s also nothing to write home about. Maybe one day I’ll get to a point where that’s what I want, where “how well he treats me” becomes the top thing on my priority list when it comes to looking for love, but at that point in my life, I just wasn’t there. I wanted to feel deeply for the person I was committed to. If I learned anything from my relationship with him it was that, at that point, I was not ready for a serious relationship. I knew that I wanted to be there eventually, but not just yet. There was still more fun to be had and the supermarket seemed like a good place to start.