Most of the dinner was spent discussing Ashley and Colin’s new business venture and a quaint time-share in Maui a colleague told them about.
“It will be like we own our own island paradise,” said Colin. “We could spend half a year there. Heck, we can use it as an off-site office location!”
“That sounds amazing,” said Ashley. “All I would need is for someone to house sit for me while we are gone.”
I knew what was coming.
“Erica, you would be able to do that for me, yeah?”
It’s not like I don’t have my own apartment—I do. It’s not like I don’t have any pets I need to take care of—I do. My salt-water fish tank is home to an array of marine life. I found the perfect mate and sea anemone for Bert, my spastic clown fish. I’d just finished constructing the perfect hollow for them to mate and lay their eggs. I even planned on taking time off from work to witness the whole event while relaxing on my Klaussner chaise lounge—which provides the perfect amount of support and comfort during those really intense late night Iron Chef battles.
“Um. When are you two planning to do all this?” I said.
“Next week,” Ashley said. “This is why Colin and I invited the both of you to dinner to tell you the great news! Isn’t this great news?”
“How long have you known about this?”
“This is what I’ve been telling you about all year. You haven’t been paying attention to anything I’ve said?”
“Oh, well I thought you wanted to go on vacation, not live part of the year in Maui.” I said.
Colin motioned for the waiter to bring more wine, and “what’s his name” was all too busy admiring me from across the table. I tried to hide behind the vase of lilacs.
It didn’t work.
“Well then, I think this is great news for the both of you,” what’s his name remarked, lifting his glass for a toast.
“Indeed, Patrick,” said Colin.
So that’s his name.
“Yeah—so ‘Patrick,’ what does any of this news have to do with you?”
“I’ll explain,” Colin answered. “Patrick will stand in for me at the office while I am gone. Since I know I am the best person for my job—Patrick runs in at a close second.” He winked.
This meant that Patrick will be my boss. Just great.
“This also means that you and I will work together over the next few months since you’ve been working for Colin and Ashley—and happen to also be best friends, I think that there is no one who could help me learn what goes on in the office better than you,” Patrick said.
“Heh, yeah…great.” I motioned for my glass to be refilled—to the rim. Don’t worry, I was careful not to spill any.
“Erica, you absolutely must do this favor for me,” said Ashley. “I would be forever in your debt.”
She used a cliché. Not good.
“Yeah, well I was planning…”
“What? You never go anywhere or do anything. You spend most of your time taking care of that fish of yours!”
“Breeding,” I said. “I am breeding my clown fish.”
“And that’s supposed to be important?”
“It is to me,” I said.
“Well I think that if my best friend wants to take care of her fish instead of her job…”
“Well I think our going away won’t get in the way of Erica and her mating—her fish—her procreation duties,” Colin said.
“I didn’t say no, I just wanted to be sure you two were really wanting to be away for so long. I don’t mind helping out at work,” I said.
“That’s a good thing,” said Patrick. “Because I do look forward to working with you.”
“Great! Then it’s settled, let’s toast!”
Ashley refilled everyone’s glasses again. Except for mine—she filled it only half way.
“Here’s to us!”
The sound of the celebratory joining of fine crystal glasses was enough to make me vomit. I knew once this dinner was over, so too were my late nights with Bert in front of the television. There goes my casual Fridays where I would leave work early just so I could get my pick of Asian cucumbers and the occasional jicama before all the working moms rushed the isles to get their weekend shopping done accompanied by their obnoxious, private schooled, pretentious pre-teens—texting on their phones and snapping pictures of the unfortunate marine life floating in the cloudy tanks in the sea food section of the store.
“Erica will assist Patrick with running the home office and Colin and I will head to Maui and get things started there,” Ashley said.
“Indeed,” said Colin.
Ashley focused on me through the bottom of her wine glass and set it down without even looking where she’d placed it.
At times, I am always afraid of sounding over confident and possibly losing the friendship I have with Ashley. The only real friend I ever had. I don’t know why I even told her about Bert, my fish. I wanted to convey his importance to me in some way. Maybe to give Ashley some sort of hint that it really is just “Bert” I have to go home to. Maybe I was hoping for a little empathy on her part. It’s my fault that Ashley continues to treat me in this way. It hurts, and she knows it.
I have to keep reminding myself that she likes to twist the knife in deeper once she sticks it in.
“Well I guess it’s time for me to leave, I’ve got an early day tomorrow,” I said.
“What do you have to do tomorrow? It’s Saturday,” said Patrick.
“Kissing her fish,” said Ashley.
“No, I won’t be,” I said.
“I was hoping we could go out again, tomorrow.”
What? Seriously. Patrick started talking immediately about asking me out again, how he would like to see a film he thinks I’d enjoy.
“The underlying theme of the film is one that isn’t easily deciphered…”
He went on like this for a few minutes before he realized I was busy with adding my contribution towards dinner, which Ashley quickly pocketed when I left the table. It seems as though little ills about Ashley’s personality always gets to me. It makes her seem self-centered. But I see her another way: she is the spoiled little girl of divorced wealthy parents who gave her anything she wanted to compensate for robbing her of a stable home; each of them trying to out do the other when bearing gifts. Ashley’s mom brought her a beautiful cream color Saab 9-5 turbo convertible, and her dad one-ups his gift—a very sleek, black Audi A6 convertible with detailed interior.
I benefited from the exchange by Ashley “gifting” me the Saab, so I’m not complaining. It came in handy during my tri-county search for Bert’s perfect mate—or the right Ocellaris he’d submit to. It’s a really complicated match. However, I am working with a breeder, and I am sure to find the right fish for my Bert. It took me few months before he finally “accepted” the anemone that took me a year to find.
Patrick accompanied my exit from the restaurant. I realized he was still following me part way up the block.
“Did I forget anything?” I said.
“You never gave me an answer about the movies tomorrow night.”
“Oh well I have a lot to do tomorrow afternoon…”
“With your fish? I understand.”
“No, not just with my fish, I…”
“Can I ride along with you?”
“This would be okay, yes?”
He was standing tall enough so that the back of my neck hurt to look at him. He may have noticed, as I saw him hunch his shoulders. He stood there, charming, and looking generally concerned about seeing me again tomorrow. It was at that moment I realized how extremely attractive he is. So childlike and naïve, I believe it would hurt him if I were to say no. Wow, he has green eyes.
“Brilliant! Are you on your way home now?”
“I’ll walk with you then.”