Monday, March 21, 2005

I THOUGHT that cold cream smelled funny...

Sunday, March 6, 2005, 3:15pm
Steve's house

I've got her now. She's starting to relax.

Another week or two, and this will be ancient history. And I've learned my lesson, too.

My phone rings. It's a local exchange, but I don't recognize the number.




"You don't know me, but my name is Carly. I go to school with your girlfr- with Stephanie."

Nice slip-up, honey.

I guess this means that Steph is blabbing to all her study group friends about what a prick I am. Or, possibly, about what a nice guy I am for helping her out this morning.

"Yeah, I've heard your name. Hi, Carly."

"Listen, I hate to put you out, but could I ask you a HUGE favor?"

"What's that?"

"Well, I have to get to the train station. I have a family emergency at home, and I don't have a car right now, and we're JUST starting to make some progress here and nobody really wants to take a break, so Steph suggested I call you."

"Are you going to to the station by ninety-five?"

"Yeah. Is that a problem? If it's a problem, I can call a cab, I just don't have my car-"

"It's fine, Carly. I'll give you a ride."

"You are AWESOME, Steven!"

"Call me Steve."

I hear a door creak open, followed by a whistling wind and the rumble of passing cars. Why is she going outside now?

"I'm about 20 minutes out, Carly."

"No problem. Listen. I know what happened with you and Steph," she says, her voice shrinking to a whisper.

"Oh, really? Is that why you stopped yourself from calling her my girlfriend?"

She laughs. "Sorry."

"So she told all you guys?"

"Not all. She told Elena, because she wanted some advice. And it was such a grey area that Elena couldn't make up her mind, so she asked two guys in our group, and they have big mouths, so they told us."

"So what does everyone think?"

"Well, the guys all think it was de minimus. And they think you were an idiot for admitting it. Do you know what de minimus means?"

"It means it's so insignificant that it's not even worth mentioning."

"Right. The guys think she should appreciate your honesty and forget it ever happened."

"And the girls?"

"Elena says you are a really great guy, and very successful and motivated, but you have issues. She thinks you guys should just take it slow for a while."

"You mean like, non-exclusive dating?"

"Either that, or just not seeing each other as much."


"She says it's not enough to break up with you, but she thinks Steph ought to be very careful and take it slow for now to see how you behave."

"And what about you, Carly?"

Long pause. "If I tell you, you're not gonna give me a ride to the train."

"You think she should break up with me."

"Well, I mean, it's just that you have such a history, Steve."

"Thanks for your honesty."

"I mean, I hope it works out for you two! Don't get me wrong! As a matter of fact, I think she wants to see you."

"Why do you say that?"

"Why else would she suggest that I call you for a ride? There's a lot of other people I could have called. She SO wants to see you."


"She keeps saying how sweet it was of you to do her laundry."

"OK. Be inside the house when I get there, and I'll just kinda come in."

"OK! Bye!"


3:50pm, Steph's study group
Kevin's home

There are six students in Steph's group; each one takes turns hosting study sessions. Whenever Steph is hosting, she begs me to come over and help her clean up, so that people actually have a place to sit. Of course, her idea of "cleaning" is picking up dirty clothes, cramming them into a tiny closet, and forcing the door shut. But I digress.

Today is Kevin's turn to host study group. He lives in a small, nondescript, boxy home along a main downtown thoroughfare.

I walk up to the front door and turn the knob. I tap on it with my knuckles as it opens. "Hello?"

Six haggard law students look up at me simulateously, their faces long and droopy, like runny watercolor paintings. It impresses me that they have enough motiviation to put up with this kind of pressure, week in and week out. They obviously care about their chosen profession very deeply. Either that, or they really love money.

"Steve!" a couple of them say. I've met them all a few times before.

"I heard there were free Doritos up here!" I say.

"We got rice cakes and Triscuits," Kevin says.

"And smiley fries," another guy says. Everyone laughs.

"We ate your smiley fries," Steph says. I look at her. Her hair is twisted into a sloppy bun with a pencil through it, and she's got dark circles under her eyes. She still looks sick to me.

"How were they?"

"They were good, but Kevin puts vinegar on his, which I find disgusting." The girls make squeamish faces.

"That's the only way it tastes good!" Kevin protests.

"Hey, I heard you're a good house cleaner! Maybe I can hire you to clean my place," Elena says. Chuckles fill the room.

"We'll talk," I say, smirking.

"If you can clean up Steph's place, you can clean anything," Elena says. Five heads nod.

"You need a biohazard suit in that place," Carly says. Laughter.

"My favorite was when I opened her refrigerator and found her toothbrush in there," I say.

Steph rolls her eyes; the other five stare at me with quizzical looks.

"It made me wonder where the bean dip wound up that day," I say.

They laugh uproariously.

"Thanks so much for the ride, Steven," Carly says, rising from her chair and flipping her backpack over her shoulder.

"Actually, do you have to leave right now?" Steph says, getting up.

"I have time," Carly says, raising her eyebrows at me.

Steph pulls her coat on. "Steve, can I talk to you for a minute outside?"