Sam was sitting on a counter top at an old diner eating a sandwich when Charlie came in and sat down next to and put his book bag on the table.
“I met a girl this week.”
“You meet a girl every week. You’re in college.”
“I asked this one out on a date though.”
“Why’s asking her out a bad idea?”
“Okay. Let me rephrase and ask a question. When were you planning on taking her out?”
“Tomorrow after both our later classes are over.”
“You do realize that tomorrow is Valentine’s Day right?”
“No! I thought that was next week! Oh man.”
“Either way you’re an idiot. You don’t ask a girl out on Valentine’s Day and you don’t want to ask any girl out on a date any time before Valentine’s Day. It basically leaves you stuck with having to buy her at least some flowers, but you won’t want to seem ordinary so you’ll get something else too, which she’ll interpret as you being really interested in her instead of just feeling the pressure of the stupid day itself.”
“Not a Valentine’s Day kind of guy?”
“Who is? Guys are prone to hiding their emotions because our society has forced us to closet them, to show no weaknesses around other men and women. And now there’s a day where we are supposed to open up and show our emotions through chocolates and flowers? Who chose these items as the items of love? Hallmark? What you should do is give her an apple and plant flowers with her. You’ll be making her healthier and planted flowers will last longer instead of killing off dozens and dozens of flowers just to look at and appreciate them for one night. What’s that one quote? Enjoy the journey and not the end result. The same thing should be applied towards flowers.”
“Okay then. A simple no would have done it. Any real ideas of what I should do?”
“Reschedule. Say you have to go home.”
“Without rescheduling. She will just figure out that I didn’t want to take her out on Valentine’s Day and think I’m a
“That’s not far from the truth.”
“Yet you want me to lie to her to get out of it?”
“Are you a fan of symmetry?”
“You lie to her and she figures out the truth. She might think you’re a jerk but at least it’s honest. You actually take her out on a date that should have some form of significance that you didn’t plan on having you’re starting a relationship out deceiving and lieing. Get my drift?”
“So I’m kind of screwed then aren’t I?”
“No. I’ll figure out what you should do. I just need some time to put it all together. Let it process in my head. I’ll meet you tonight outside of your dorm. I’ll call you when I get there. Just make sure you have a nice dress shirt.”
“Thanks. I’ll see you later.”
“Wait. Wait. Wait. Pay for my sandwich at least. I just gave you a free session of therapy and I’m also providing the solution.”
“We’re not friends? Isn’t that what friends do? Discuss their problems and help solve them?”
“Maybe. Yes. And no you talk about your problems and I always solve them. Now pay for my sandwich or I’ll sabotage your date.” Charlie pulled out his wallet and left a five on the table and the two of them left the diner.
Later in the day it had turned dark outside and Sam was sitting on a bench about fifteen yards away from the dorm close to the small parking lot. He was listening to his voicemails before calling Charlie. A girl with dirty blonde hair, jeans, and what appeared to be some form of casual designer top came walking in Sam’s direction. He caught a glimpse of her face in the parking lot lights. She was carrying a teal dress shirt. As she walked passed Sam she gave a smile.
“Hey I know you from somewhere.”
“Yeah? And where might that be?” Sam paused and tried to figure it out.
“You’re Charlie’s older sister aren’t you?”
“What gave me away?”
“A lot of things gave you away. You just happen to catch me off guard.”
“Oh yeah like what?”
“The teal shirt was the biggest thing.”
“A male’s dress shirt gave me away. It’s Charlie’s. He wanted me to…” Sam cut her off.
“It’s more impressive if I do the explaining. The shirt gave you away because it’s teal. Charlie has aqua colored eyes and a teal shirt would match well with them. Now as a nineteen year old with low level knowledge of fashion he wouldn’t specifically ask for this shirt. No. But his sister who also has the same color eyes which probably runs in the family would know what would go best for him. The top you’re wearing now shows you also know or care about some level of fashion. It also shows you have a job because not a lot of girls around here are wearing nice clothes unless it’s on the weekends and they’re going clubbing or partying. They also wouldn’t wear it because they’d probably ruin it in the washers and my guess is you take that to the cleaners. Your shoes, which are quick dull, shows you just threw them on because you weren’t really trying to impress anyone. To me that shows you’re older and not the type of person to be on a college campus at this time of the day. Except for the fact I told Charlie to get a nice dress shirt which then turns us back to the dress shirt gave you away.”
“And what if this shirt was dark blue and I really was dressed like a college students and instead appeared to be delivering it to my boyfriend? Would you have picked me out then?”
“I’ve seen your picture before.”
“You’re Marcus aren’t you? Or should I say Sam?”
“You ask a lot of questions sister.”
“Some people find that annoying.”
“Not me. It show’s curiosity. I just don’t answer things without getting information in return. Give me some information first because obviously you have more on me than I do of you.”
“My name is Lauren. I’m 25. I work in the Human Resources department for a fashion company. It gives me some perks when it comes to clothes shopping. I love my brother and I worry about him. I’m real curious as to why or how you have taking a liking to him as you don’t even go to school here but are always found on campus.” Charlie paused as he tried to remember what was on the background check he had run on Charlie’s family many months ago. He wasn’t sure if Lauren was clever enough to lie to him or if she was actually telling the truth.
“Can I trust you Lauren?”
“I don’t see why not. Charlie seems to trust you.”
“You can call me Sam then.” The two of them walked together to the front door. Sam pretended to have a phone call by turning up the volume button which set off his ringer and he stepped back outside. He lifted his phone to his ear and watched Lauren turn in her driver’s license to the lady in the front and the lady escorted her to the right wing in the dorms. Sam quickly but quietly rushed inside and used the scanner behind the counter to copy both sides of Lauren’s driver’s license and then placed the ID back on the counter. The lady at the front counter had returned as Sam was folding the papers into his pocket. Sam smiled at the lady and gave her his ID of Marcus Moreno and told her that he knew where he was going.
Charlie was trying on the dress shirt and looking into his door mirror as Lauren sat on his bed giving him a pep talk about going on dates. Sam couldn’t help but chuckle a little. Lauren gave Sam a dirty look.
“And what is so funny?”
“Your dating advice.”
“You don’t think he should act like a gentleman and compliment her?”
“I think he should just be himself. If that’s a sloppy inappropriate jerk then I’d suggest him doing that.”
“You don’t want him to leave a good impression on his first date? You think insulting her will just make it more
interesting for you. But not necessarily help him. Charlie don’t listen to what he says. He’s not worried about you. He just wants a good story for himself.” Sam couldn’t help but smile because she was partly right.
“The problem with dating is that people always try and put all their best qualities first and try to appear as if they have no flaws. It isn’t until you’ve spent hundreds of dollars and had a fight or two until you finally see what a person is like. People are so afraid of being themselves they act like the best version of themselves and pretend to themselves that is who they are. It’s not until they finally get comfortable enough with the person or themselves that they no longer feel like they need to maintain this front. This idea of what that person will want. It’s not until then when the walls finally come down when you see how the person really is. Now if you can avoid all this and simply just accept that you’re comfortable with who you are now and just act like your normal self on the first date you’ll realize sooner if that person finds you a good match or not and save yourself hundreds on dating expenses and bad movies. The girl will also become more comfortable with you faster as well and you’ll see her true colors as well.” Lauren gave Sam another look that let Sam know he was right but she wasn’t happy that he was right. Charlie saw Lauren’s look and then looked at Sam.
“So what is the plan then?”
“Take her to the mall. So many older couples will be there buying their spouses expensive jewelry that they couldn’t pick out themselves because they don’t really know them.” Charlie cut him off.
“Do I really need the full explanation?”
“I guess not. Just take her to the mall. It’s the best night to people watch. Be clever and make fun of awkward couples. Make a game out of it. How long have they been together? Will she like the gift? Will they be together much longer?”
“Kind of like we do on the docks sometimes?”
“Exactly. It’s simple fun. Inexpensive. She’ll enjoy your humor and you’ll see if she has any. You don’t need to over dress. This shirt and some jeans are fine. When you guys get hungry take her to the diner you met me at earlier. I’ll have them make something that’s not on the menu that you’ll enjoy.”
“I don’t have a car though.”
“Your sister does.” Sam said looking at her. “And the loving older sister really wants to help out on your unplanned first date on Valentines that she’d do anything to help out.” Lauren opened her purse and gave him her keys.
“So you want my brother to go to the mall with no activity other than making fun of couples and being rude? What if none are there? What do they do then?”
“Oh they’ll be there. It never fails. Plus in this mall they have restaurants too. Even if they’re not couples you’ll see awkward depressed people who are single that you can make fun of.”
“And you know this how?”
“I’ve done it before. We had a blast. We both thought the idea of Valentine’s Day was stupid and didn’t want to put too much pressure on ourselves. Also ended up getting some anyways that night.” Charlie nodded his head and smiled. Lauren saw this.
“That’s wrong. Do not sleep with this girl on your first date Charlie. Be better than that.”
“Just be yourself. If that leads to anything so be it.” Sam said. Lauren shook her head.
“So what am I supposed to do then when Charlie has my car?”
“Grab a bus.”
“Sam! Give her a ride home. Don’t make her ride the bus.”
“No. She doesn’t think my plan will work.”
“Then how about we do the same thing and we monitor their date? You can see how well it is going to go.”
“Fine!” Lauren said.
“No! I don’t want either of you two watching me on this date. It’ll be like the good and bad angels on my shoulders.”
“He’s right. That’d be so awkward. Not for me but maybe for you two.” Sam looked at his phone. “It’s getting late sir. Go get the car and pick her up.” Charlie sprayed on some cologne and kissed his sister on the cheek and left the room.
“So what are we going to do then?” Lauren said.
“Oh we will still follow them. Just very discretely.”
“You just said you wouldn’t.”
“No I implied that. I never said I wasn’t. I’m definitely going.”
“And what about me?”
“Well you can both come with and help be my decoy or you can take the bus home.” Lauren rolled her eyes and grabbed her purse and stood up off the bed.
“Can we at least go grab some fast food? I’m starving.”
“You’re paying for mine too then.” Lauren paused in the doorway.
“Did you just con me into a date? One where I buy dinner?”
“And why would you say that?”
“My brother doesn’t need a nice dress shirt for this type of date. He could just wear one of his nice polo’s and be fine. You wanted him to wear a dress shirt because you knew he didn’t have one.”
“You think I have his wardrobe memorized?”
“Yes. And if you weren’t conning me you would have simply said no when I asked. Instead you asked why I would think that.”
“How would I know that you would deliver the shirt though?”
“I don’t know. You guessed that I might since he doesn’t have a car and I live close to my parent’s house.”
“I sound convoluted. How much has Charlie told you about me? It sounds like you think I’m this genius mastermind.”
“Well? Did you or didn’t you?”
“I left the option open. I wasn’t sure how smart or annoying you might be.” Lauren rolled her eyes and walked out the door. Sam smiled and shut the door behind him.
Lauren and Sam decided to grab a bite to eat at one of the restaurants in the mall. They chose one by the door as to see Charlie walking in with his date. Lauren bought the food and Sam bought them drinks. They were finishing their meal when Charlie walked in with his date. The two of them tailed the couple down the hallway as they strolled into a store. Most of the stores were closed by this time of the day but there were many stores that were still open and that stayed open for holidays and special events. Lauren and Sam sat down on a bench while they waited for the two to leave the store.
“My brother told me you threw him a birthday party and that’s why he couldn’t come home.”
“But you don’t consider him a friend?”
“Does he tell you everything? I mean seriously?”
“You answer my questions I answer yours.”
“He’s… the closest person on the spectrum of almost a friend.”
“What do you mean by that?”
“Well I guess you’d have to define what a friend is. To me a friend is someone who cares about your well-being and is a part of your weekly life. He knows how to motivate you no matter what, whether you’re up or you’re down.”
“And Charlie doesn’t?” Sam gave Lauren a serious look.
“He didn’t even know my real name for the longest time.”
“So you’re a box full of secrets. He at least tries to be there for you. That has to count for something right?”
“Yes, but what does a teenager know about my life and how I live it? I don’t need him to be there for me and I don’t want him to worry about me. He’s got his own life to worry about.”
“So because you don’t want him to get inside your head and actually get to know you to the point where you might rely on him you’d rather tell him he’s not your friend and push him away?”
“I thought this was a question for question type of thing?”
“When did you lose your virginity?”
“That is none of your business.”
“Oh come on. I thought we were getting personal here? You want to get in my head so you ask questions about how my mind works. I want to get in your pants so it’s only fitting I get the sexual history.”
“You’re an ass.”
“Yet you’re into me. You want to know about me because somehow I’ve already established a little place in your mind where you have this image of me and you want to find out more. You’re curious and it’s bugging you that I don’t simply just tell you everything about myself because that’s what everyone does. They’re selfish creatures that think about themselves and they want everyone to know how special their flower is. But since I don’t want to talk about me you’re curious to see what kind of flower I am. Or if I’m even a flower at all.”
“Tell yourself that while I find a nice and cozy place next to your brain.”
“I just care about my brother. I want to know he’s in good hands and not being taken advantage of.”
“So what’s the conclusion boss?” Lauren crossed her legs and sat back on the bench and stayed quiet for a few moments. Sam went over and bought a pop from the vending machine and then sat down again.
“I was seventeen.” Lauren said shyly.
“Just be ironic since Charlie played football.”
“Ewe. That’s sick.”
“Just seeing how close you were.” Lauren punched Sam on the upper arm.
“So why don’t you trust Charlie enough to be your friend?”
“I am Charlie’s friend. We talk about stuff. I know what’s going on in his life. I help when he needs it. He’s just not a friend of mine.”
“Our relationship is one sided and I don’t have a problem with that. I enjoy that. But we deal with his issues and his drama. I never go to him for input or advice.”
“Because you don’t think he would be able to help?”
“I know he can’t. It’d just be a burden to him knowing that there are bigger issues going on out there that he can’t solve.”
“It sounds like you care about him though.” Sam looked at Lauren in the face.
“Oh don’t do that now.”
“You’re doing that Valentine’s Day thing. You’re falling for me. You think because we have your brother in common all the sudden you’ll believe we have a lot in common. And because I’m obviously good looking and smart you think that my sarcasm and rudeness is all simply a cover and a wall and inside I’m a big softie. Well it’s not. Stop romanticizing it.” Sam caught a look of Charlie walking down the hall and quickly got up to avoid finishing the rest of that conversation. Lauren quickly hurried to catch up with him.
“You’re a jerk. I’m not romanticizing anything.”
“Good. Let’s keep it that way.”
“Even if I was, why do you directly go towards rejection? Are you incapable of having a meaningful relationship? What did you do to jump directly towards rejection?” Sam stopped walking and looked at Lauren.
“You’re fat. Only way to explain it.” Sam continued walking and cut into a store as Charlie and his date sat on a bench. Lauren was not fat and was actually a very pretty girl.
“No I’m not. You think walking away is going to stop me from asking? Do you deflect because you know the answer? Or because you don’t know it?” Sam paused and looked at her but said nothing. “You’re my only ride. You think I’m going to leave your side? I want to know.”
“I have every relationship I want right now.”
“And female relationships? How does that work? I’ve never even heard about your home.” Sam pulled out his cell phone and opened up a contact name, Mrs. Jones, and handed it to Lauren.
“Call that number. Tell her you’re my secretary and wanted to know the next available date to set up an appointment.”
“Who is this? Your therapist?”
“Nope. That’s a woman who is having an affair on her husband.”
“Why would you do that?”
“She’s hot. We have sex and talk about our days. It’s fun.”
“I mean how could you do that to her husband?”
“If he was paying attention she wouldn’t need me. But that’s not the real answer you want to know is it? I do it because it’s all the relationship I need from a woman.” Lauren looked puzzled.
“You’re lieing. I’m going to call it.”
“Wouldn’t have given you the phone if I knew you would believe me.” A woman answered the phone and sounded excited. Lauren didn’t know what to do so she asked what her Friday looked like to schedule an appointment and then hung up after the lady gave her an answer. Lauren stood there next to Sam as he browsed through some shirts by the front entrance. She handed him back his phone and didn’t say a word. After he had finished he walked out the entrance back into the mall’s hallways. He spotted Charlie still on the bench laughing with his date and crossed sides to be on the backside of Charlie’s. Lauren copied him and followed. They sat down on another bench.
“So I’m assuming you’re going to interfere soon?”
“Not at all. I just need to know when they’re leaving so I can order their food and have it done by the time they get there.”
“What’s the food?”
“It’s like this pasta with crab meat and some veggies with a side of garlic bread.”
“Sounds good. Did you poison it?”
“Why does everything have to be so negative with you?”
“You’re sleeping with a married man’s wife.”
“Why does that have to be a bad thing? She gets her needs met that her husband isn’t giving her. It’s a win win.”
“Just because it makes you happy doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do.”
“That’s just a difference of philosophies. Does the outcome justify the means? I chose to follow what I believe is right and not what society always tells me is right and wrong. Think for yourself and don’t let others do it for you.” Charlie stood up with his date and started walking towards and exit. Sam called a number on his phone and told a man named Bobby to start cooking the meal. “It’s time to take you back” Sam said standing up and heading for the exit. Lauren followed.Lauren and Sam drove back to campus in silence. Sam drove back to Charlie’s dorm room.
“There’s a bench. You can wait there.”
“What? You’re going to leave me here in the middle of the night waiting for my brother to show up?”
“There’s campus security. You’ll be fine.”
“I’m not waiting here. Take me to your place while we wait.”
“You’re not going to my place.”
“You’ve talked to me all night judging me for every move I make and every action I’ve told you. You’re the psych
major; you tell me why I don’t want you to come to my place.”
“Because you think I’m right. And you’re tired of hearing it.”
“No. You want to believe that you’ve changed me in some way, in any way, but it’s not true. You can have your opinion of me and that’s fine. It doesn’t matter. But you’re not coming to my place because I don’t trust you and I don’t even like you. I’ve put up with you all night and now I’m tired and want some peace and quiet.”
“I’m not getting out of this car.”
“So now you’re going to be childish and stubborn?”
“I don’t know this area. I’m not going to sit around waiting to get raped.”
“There’s a library up there. It never closes.” Lauren didn’t move and just stared at Sam. “What? Why are you looking at me?”
“Tell me something about you. Tell me a story nobody knows.”
“Something personal, something that’s not a con and it’s not a lie. You seem to read people well why don’t you date anymore? Why do you only want the physical relationship? Something must have happened.” Sam took a deep breath.
“Nothing happened. I just get bored with people.”
“But you’ve had a girlfriend before right?”
“Of course I have. I’m not as withdrawn as you think I am.”
“So tell me about one of them then.” Sam paused to think about it.
“I dated this one girl once when I was a freshman. It didn’t last very long. She was older than me but still in the same grade. It turned out she had been raped. I guess I have a trusting face because she didn’t hide it from me. I only knew her for about a month before she told me. Told me she had gone to counseling and even thought she had gotten pregnant from it but she didn’t. She was insecure about her body, all kinds of mental issues going on, couldn’t trust men, and yet somehow she took a shining to me.”
“What’d you do?”
“I was nice to her. She was pretty but in the way that she didn’t know it. Because of what had happened to her she was a loner type. She didn’t really have any friends and would eat dinner by herself. I had a couple classes with her and she never talked to anyone in the classes. So one day I started sitting with her for lunch and we started a friendship.”
“Well that was nice of you.”
“Just let me finish the story. I thought she was interesting. She would read a lot and I never saw her at any parties. A couple times I found myself in the girls’ dorm on a Friday or Saturday night and I’d see her doing her laundry then. She was weird but at least it was different. I just wanted to know why she was like that and then one day I stopped by her room to return one of her books and she started kissing me. She threw me on her bed and started taking off her clothes. I didn’t know what to do. I thought we were just friends and she was just a puzzle I hadn’t figured out yet. I didn’t really want to say no and have her feel even more insecure but I knew having sex was going to complicate the puzzle even more.”
“So you had sex with her?”
“Yeah. It was the lesser of two evils.”
“Then what happened?”
“Well after that she kept calling me and texting me and would complement everything I did. She loved the shirt I wore, or the way I mixed up my food, or how I would roll my eyes when someone would say something stupid. It all just became too much. She would call me on the phone and want to talk on the phone for hours. She became obsessed with me.”
“So what’d you do?”
“I started ignoring her calls. I started acting more like myself. I would get sarcastic and say mean things about the world. She didn’t understand it. I started detaching myself from her but I couldn’t break up with her.”
“You wouldn’t believe my reasoning.”
“Just tell me. It doesn’t matter what I believe.”
“I dated her to get in her head. Once I realized what she was going through I tried to fix it. I knew if she could trust men again she could start trusting more people and fit better in with everyone else. I had her become interested in me to then force her to become disinterested in me like it was her choice. If I broke up with her she’d fall back into her insecurities and loneliness but when we dated she started socializing more and feeling more comfortable in her shoes. I didn’t want her to lose that.”
“So you continued dating her for her benefit, even though you didn’t really like her?”
“Basically. It was just a project to me. Once she started becoming more normal I lost interest in her. She wasn’t unique anymore. Once she started believing in the idea that she could trust men she had hope for any relationships. So then I started acting like an ass so she’d break up with me and she did. She told me I had changed and she didn’t think it was going to work with us anymore.”
“I bet you were happy.”
“Yeah initially I was but the thing is that people never really realize the things you do for them. They might look back on something in twenty years and think well that person is the whole reason for something but by then you’re nowhere around. There’s no gratification from the person.”
“No. it’s okay. She’s actually married now and has a little girl. She’s happy. That’s all I can ask for.”
“So is Charlie another people project of yours?”
“No. I stopped worrying about trying to fix people. It gets frustrating. People will only change if they want to change.” Lauren leaned over and kissed Sam on the cheek.
“Goodnight Sam. I’m going to the library now.” Lauren said and then got out of the car and walked deeper into campus.