Storyteller: IN GOOD COMPANY

FOCUS Ari Kruger

In good company.


It was only a kiss.

A simple kiss, you know? Nothing fancy. Not with even a fraction of tongue. Why did I give him my phone number? Perhaps out of pity? Nah. He could have just as easily gotten a phone number from any girl in the room—but why mine? I get it. He pitied me. That figures. Every guy I met this year rejected me, and all of a sudden, it’s on New Year’s when someone finally held any interest in me. That kiss expelled an entire year of first dates, paying for my half of the meal, and finding out what a good friend I am.

Fuck it. I’ll take what I can get.

That was before I changed my mind about going to dinner with him on Friday. I saw him waiting with my best friend in front of her apartment. I saw him, but he didn’t see me. Maybe he doesn’t know me well enough just yet to “see” me. I am sure we were both drunk that night. It’s not like our souls existed in some metaphysical place and we were already in love. Somehow I was able to convince myself it was only a New Year’s kiss and that the mention of dinner was only happenstance as a formal response to kissing a complete stranger after downing one too many Amaretto sours. I just find it difficult—well, impossible—to convince myself that that kiss may have been the start of a symmetrical intimacy that will put an end to my late night funk of eating sliced cucumbers dipped in ranch and watching Iron Chef ® episodes on Netflix. I will be polite. Pay for my half of dinner. Find out what a good friend I am before heading back home.

I had decided all this before I crossed the street.

“It’s about time you got here!” Ashley said.

The first time Ashley said that to me, she had just lost her grip from a frayed rope we used to swing from my parent’s back yard to the top of the picnic table stationed under a tree in her back yard. I ran from our back yard and around the block to her parents’ house to ask if she could come outside to play. It took me a whole four minutes and thirteen seconds to get there. Ashley believed she lay there for at least an hour before I showed up, and when I did she let out a wail so loud that whenever I thought about it, to this day, my ears would instantly ring. Although it wasn’t my fault she fell, my parents punished me for an entire month after that.

“Yeah! I know, sorry about that.” I said.

I don’t think she ever forgave me for being late to come to her rescue after that frayed rope incident—or the time she landed on the ground flat on her back when she fell from the monkey bars in the school playground—or the time her father decided to go on vacation with his secretary and forgot that it was his weekend to pick her up in front of the Dairy Queen. I ran an entire eight blocks it took me to get there, only to have to run back because she neglected to tell me that her mom had already picked her up and gave her a ride home.

The larger issue is that I’m mostly dependent on Ashley’s friendship. I was never any good at being on my own. Most of what I could recall about my childhood was that it was spent in front of the television. My dad would spend the evenings in his La-Z-Boy recliner, avoiding my grandmother’s centerpiece gossip. My mother spent most of her time hording bingo ink daubers in an array of colors and clipping coupons. When she wasn’t waiting in line to get in the bingo hall—she was waiting in line at the bingo hall clipping coupons. You might think I’ve had a lonely childhood, but on the contrary, the rest of my time was spent shadowing Ashley.

Ashley is pretty and popular. Always has been. Her green eyes are round and large like anime eyes, framed with long parallel eyelashes. Her face, a flawless smile, and her heavy chest made her popular all through high school. Even though she thought of herself as being average looking, she’s the center of attention. Still, she always considered me a close member of her family. And I considered myself to be very lucky.

When my grandmother died, I spent a whole summer trying to keep my mother happy. I believe I’d never seen my father happier. He began staying away from home often, so taking care of my mother became my primary job after school. At the same time, being in sub-service to Ashley’s friendship often made an unfortunate mess of things. I had to hurry home to prepare dinner for my parents and for myself. After dinner and after all the dishes were cleaned, I had to hurry around the corner to do Ashley’s homework. While she won praises for her grades, I was failing all my courses. In between playing maidservant to my mother and my father’s drinking habit, I was often tired and too busy to make time for myself.

Needless to say, I have a history for always being late.

“You’re not late,” He said. “You’re just on time.”

“On time for what?” I forgot his name.

“My God, let’s just go,” Ashley, said. “I don’t want to be late meeting Colin at the restaurant. Save the re-introductions for later.”

With that, we followed Ashley in cadence to meet Colin at an undisclosed restaurant hand in hand with a man I ‘d met only once.

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