Excerpt: Just One of the Guys
“I think we should stop seeing each other.”
My jaw drops. I inhale sharply, and the stuffed mushroom I just popped in my mouth is sucked right into my esophagus. Jason continues, unaware of my distress. “It’s run its course, don’t you think? I mean, it’s not like we’ve…”
Seems like my little old air passage is completely plugged. My eyes are tearing, my chest convulses―Before you break up with me, Jason, would you mind a little Heimlich?I slam my hand down on the table, rattling the china and cutlery, but Jason assumes that my distress is heartbreak and not oxygen deprivation. He looks away.
I’m being killed by my appetizer. I knew I shouldn’t have ordered it, but Emo makes the little number drenched in butter, with little bits of garlic and parsley and…um…Must breathe now. Save food review for later. The pressure in my neck is building. I make a fist, wedge it just below my sternum, and slam myself into the table. The mushroom shoots out, hits a water glass and comes to a rest on the white tablecloth. I suck in an enormous breath, then begin coughing.
Jason eyes the mushroom with distaste, and without thinking, I grab it, stuff it in a napkin and take another beautiful gulp of air. Breathing. It’s so underrated.
“I was choking, you idiot,” I manage to wheeze.
“Oh. Sorry about that. Well, good thing you’re okay.”
It’s hard for me to believe that I was even dating Jason to begin with, let alone the fact that he’s dumping me. Dumping me! I should be dumping him!
I glance at the wadded up napkin containing the instrument of my near death. The poor busboy who has to deal with that. Should I warn him? Otherwise, he’ll shake it out, innocent, unaware, and the unchewed mushroom will fly across the kitchen, sliding on the floor, maybe getting squashed under a shoe…
Focus, Chastity, focus. You’re being dumped. At least find out why. “So, Jason, that’s fine. I mean, clearly it wasn’t love at first sight. But other than that, do you mind telling me…well, why?”
Jason, whom I have been seeing for about three weeks, takes an impervious sip of wine and stares over my head. “Do we have to dissect this, Chastity?”
“Well, um…think of it as my desire to gain information. I am a journalist, remember.” I try a friendly smile, but I’m not feeling so chummy right now. Or ever, now that I think of it. At least, not toward Jason.
“Do you really want to know?”
“Yes, actually, I do.” I pause, feeling a flush prickle its way up my chest. Our brief relationship has been tepid at best, but I thought the malaise was emanating from me. More than anything, this is a matter of wounded pride. Jason and I have been on four dates now. He lives in Albany, and it’s a bit of a hassle to make the drive, and sometimes neither of us is feeling that inspired. Still. I didn’t see this coming.
Jason’s tongue is searching for something near a back molar. His mouth contorts as his cheek bulges. I find myself hoping he’ll choke, too. Seems only fair. His eyes still don’t bother to meet mine. “Fine,” he acquiesces, leaving whatever morsel lurks at the back of his mouth for later enjoyment. “You want to hear the reason? I just don’t find you attractive enough. Sorry.”
My mouth drops open yet again. “Not attractive! Not attract―I’m very attractive!”
Jason rolls his eyes. “Sure. A handsome woman. Whatever. And with shoulders like those, you could find work down on the docks.”
“I row!” I protest. “I’m strong! That’s supposed to be sexy.”
“Yes, well, proving that you could pick me up didn’t exactly set my libido on fire.”
“We were horsing around!” I cry. It was, in fact, the one lighthearted moment in our courtship…we’d been hiking, he complained that he was tired, I took over. End of story.
“You gave me a piggyback ride for a mile and a half, Chastity. That’s something a Sherpa should do, not a girlfriend.”
“It wasn’t my fault that you couldn’t manage a measly twelve-mile trail!”
“And another thing. You yell.”
“I do not yell!” I yell, then catch myself. “I have four brothers,” I say primly and much more quietly. “It’s not always easy to make oneself heard.”
“Look. Is there any point in this?” Jason asks. “I’m sorry. I just don’t find you that attractive, Chastity.”
“Fine. For that matter, I think you need to bathe more often, Jason. This whole Seattle grunge patchouli thing is so 1990s.” It’s not a bad comeback, but my face is burning nonetheless.
“Whatever. Here.” Taking out his wallet, he puts a few bills on the table. “This should cover my half. Take care of yourself.” He slides out of the booth.
“Jason?” I say.
“You throw like a girl.”
He rolls his eyes and walks out.
I don’t care, do I? It’s not like he was The One. He was just an experiment, just a toe-dip into the dating pool of Eaton Falls, New York. The good thing is, I don’t have to look at his freckled, hairless legs any more. At least I won’t have to watch him cut his food into tiny, tiny bites that he chews relentlessly until they are merely flavored saliva. Won’t have to hear that funny nose whistle he has all the time and is completely unaware of. He was only five-foot-ten to boot, almost two inches shorter than my superfox self.
Superfox. Right. I shove my mushrooms away―who’s hungry now?―and drain my wineglass. Not attractive. Jerk. How dare he say that? It’s not like he was George bleeping Clooney, either! Just a skinny, pale, mop-haired dweeb who happened to ask me out. He initiated contact! I didn’t throw myself at him. I didn’t kidnap him. There were no bags over heads, no handcuffs, no long rides in the trunk of my car. I did not have to dig a pit in my basement and chain him there. Why am I suddenly not attractive?
I glance furtively around the restaurant, hoping for a distraction. Emo’s is packed tonight, families, couples of all ages, friends. My newly dumped status seems broadcast through the restaurant. It’s better than being with Jason, actually, but still. I’m the only person here alone. Emo’s, a place so often visited by my family that we have a booth named after us, is half bar, half restaurant, separated by double French doors. The bar, I can see, is packed. My beloved Yankees are playing at home. They’ve won their first five games of the season. Why, I wonder, did I agree to go out with Jason when I could be watching Derek Jeter instead?
Without further thought, I leave the booth, the site of my humiliation and near-death episode, wave to the waitress to alert her to the change of venue and go into the bar.
“Hey, Chas!” Several men chorus my name―Jake, Santo, Paul, George―and my battered ego is mollified somewhat. Having four older brothers, two of whom are Eaton Falls firefighters alongside my father, a captain, ensures that I know just about every local male under the age of fifty. Unfortunately, this has done nothing for me thus far on the boyfriend front, since there seems to be a law against dating the O’Neill girl, a.k.a, me.