Wicked Sexy Liar: A Not-Joe Not-So-Short Short: Chapter VII


Not-Joe

IT’S DEAD FOR a Friday, and I’m shocked that there is no one I need to kick out of the store at closing time.

I pull my keys from my pocket, jingling them a little.

Only Perry sits at the front reading nook, with her nose buried in Nimona.

It’s a great read, but it’s also an easy read, and no way should she still be in the first third of the book, no matter how rusty her English reading skills might be.

She’s stalling.

“Hey,” I say, sliding down next to her on the couch.

She looks up, leaning her head against the back and looking at me with a calm, level gaze. “Hi.”

The last week and a half has been . . . intense.

She’s here a lot, talking to me most of the time. It’s weird to have the sense that I have this new, mysterious best friend, and I’m not totally sure why.

I’m not complaining, mind you. I’m totally fucking smitten. But I know she’s going to head back to France soon, and no matter how much fun I know she could be, I’m honestly a little afraid of how it would feel to get a tiny taste of her only to have her leave.

“I’m closing up soon,” I tell her.

She lifts her shoulder in a single shrug. “I thought you might be.”

A pause, heavy and dense, settles between us.

God. Just . . . fuck it.

“Wanna come over?” I ask.

I don’t even trip on the words, and my pulse doesn’t even race. I want it. I want her. I want more time with her, and I want her alone with me at my place, eating dinner and watching something or doing everything or saying nothing.

She nods, and closes the book with a satisfying snap, standing and walking over to slide it back on the shelf.

She’s wearing jeans, and heels, and a T-shirt that has a giant coral rose on it, but she looks like she’s got nothing on at all. It’s not like the outfit is somehow obscene, because it’s not. I just mean she wears it like skin. She wears everything that way: easily.

When she returns to me, I take her hand. I’m reminded how soft and cool her skin is. And again, I have no idea why I did it, but it just feels right. She must feel it, too . . . or else she doesn’t want to hurt my feelings.

Instinct makes me want to check. “This okay?” I ask, loosening my grip.

But she tightens her fingers around mine and tugs me toward the door. “Come on. I’m hungry.”

Out on the sidewalk, she pulls up short while I lock the door with my free hand. I can feel her watching me. I can feel her attention on my face and it’s interrupted only when the wind blows her hair across her eyes and she reaches up, tucking it behind her ear.

Her hair is like copper. Slippery and fine. Metallic streaks run through it, and they illuminate in the summer evening sun.

“You’re quiet today,” she says.

“I didn’t have a banana for breakfast,” I tell her. “The one I had at home was all brown and gross, and I swear I have a ton more to say when I have one first thing in the morning.”

She nods, as if this make sense, even though I know and she knows—and the entire planet knows—it’s just me saying random shit because it’s suddenly in my head.

“Bananas are a great source of potassium,” she says, and I belt out a laugh because that is exactly the same kind of ridiculous nonsense I would say.

“Exactly.”

It gets quiet again and she tilts her head. “Why am I so comfortable around you?”

I assume she really wants an answer; Perry hasn’t been rhetorical with me very much.

So I shrug. “Maybe because you can tell I like you even though I don’t know you that well? It seems to me it only gets better between us the more you hang around.”

“Do you have a girlfriend?”

“I wouldn’t be holding your hand if I had a girlfriend.”

It’s her turn to shrug. “I don’t know. You seem like a hand-holding person. I wanted to ask.”

Holy fuck, that makes a lot of sense. “Then I’m glad you did.”

We turn and she follows a step behind me to where I’ve parked Betty around the corner.

I unlock her door with my key, shaking a little, and Perry climbs in without comment. I like that she doesn’t try to make it seem like it’s great that I have a run-down piece-of-shit car. Some people pretend to think Betty is great, even though she’s pretty ugly. She also smells like crumbling upholstery, and I imagine she’s really only fun for me to ride in.

The engine roars to life, and I shift into first, pulling away from the curb before speaking.

“There’s this dude named Gerd Gigerenzer who does research on how we make decisions.” I look over at her, adding, “His whole thing is how we should use instinct and simple heuristics more often.”

Perry meets my eyes and nods, listening. She doesn’t give me the oh-here-we-go-again smile I get all the time from my friends. I don’t resent that smile; I understand it. But she can obviously tell I’m going somewhere with this, and it’s sort of cool to be with someone who seems to really want to hear it.

“He’s not talking about using probability statistics to make better decisions. He’s talking about intuition. Like, using your gut, but assuming to some extent that your gut instincts are based on life experience.”

She smiles with uncertainty. “Okay?”

“His whole thing is mostly about economics and investment,” I admit, “but, I don’t know, it just popped into my head right now, something he said once. He said, ‘If you are in an uncertain world, make it simple. If you are in a world that is highly predictable, make it complex.’ ”

Perry shakes her head. “I have no idea where you are going with this, but I’m listening.”

“I usually don’t know where I’m going with a lot of things, but today you’re in luck,” I say with a wink.

She snorts, and I continue as I pull out into traffic, “He basically means to use mathematical models when circumstances are predictable and intuitive models when the circumstances are complex.” I look at her and she nods in understanding. “In most ways, my life is really predictable.” I let out a little chuckle. “My days are the same, my people are the same. Every time I do something random and weird, and Oliver laughs at me, it increases the chance that the next time I do or say something random, he’ll have the same reaction. Likewise, I surf the same beaches and do tricks I probably shouldn’t try. But the more I do them and survive, the greater the chance that next time, I’ll do something crazy and survive. For most of my decisions, probability works fine.”

“Okay . . .”

We pause at a red light and I turn to look at her. “I’m in an uncertain world with you, but unfortunately I don’t really have a lot of experience to base anything off. My instinct sucks.”

I watch her swallow, her eyes wide and fixed on the side of my face as she nods, serious now.

“There’s a lot going on: who you are to Ansel and Mia, why you’re here, how long you’re here. Whether you need distraction, or are just feeling like the seventh wheel. Whether you like me,” I say. “Who you have back home, whether you’re excited to go back home.” I smile at her. “Still with me?”

She nods. “Yes.”

“So we should keep it simple.”

Her face twitches with a tiny flash of disappointment, and it makes my blood hum.

“Instinct, I mean,” I add quietly, turning back and accelerating when the light turns green. When she doesn’t say anything to this, I tell her, “I like you.”

I can hear her smile when she admits, “I like you, too.”

And that’s all I fucking need. Simple.

“Cool,” I say, merging onto the freeway. “Do you like Thai food?”

Perry laughs, shaking her head at me. “Are you done with your economics decision analogy?”

“Well, do you?”

Perry’s eyes narrow as she gives me a sneaky smile. “Yes. I like Thai food.”


WE CARRY THE takeout up to my floor, and I keep waiting to feel that buzzing tension over having a woman in my apartment, the looming will-we-won’t-we, but it doesn’t come. Perry walks in behind me but moves smoothly past, looking at the art all around her.

I know what she sees: walls covered in photographs, paintings, masks, and sculptures. Some are from my trips to different countries; lots are from friends who have traded art for my help in small ways: financial advice, fixing a car, a job referral from my dad.

She blinks away from the wall to look at my living room: couch, chair, table. They’re all hand-me-downs from my parents. My mother redecorates every five years on schedule; I have their set from nearly fifteen years ago because it still feels too nice for the small studio apartment I like to keep.

Perry looks at me in mild surprise, but I can’t quite read her expression. “It’s tidy.”

“It’s not always tidy,” I tell her.

This seems to put her a little at ease, and it makes me remember Ansel’s mild OCD tendencies.

She smiles at me. “I like your art.”

“Thanks.”

I put the food down on the dining table and move to grab some plates from the kitchen. But there’s no need: Perry picks up some chopsticks and a carton and starts to eat as she looks around.

She stops in front of a painting my friend Terra did for part of her senior art project. Perry just stands there, staring at it. It is mesmerizing. It’s a painting of a couple. He stares at her, as if he’s trying to see inside her mind. Her eyes are closed, face tilted into his cupped hand. The paint itself is thick and swirling—Terra’s trademark style makes the viewer feel both the literal and metaphorical weight of the art—and the colors are muted blues, creams, and grays. Only their lips are brilliant red.

“This is so lovely. The way he looks at her,” Perry says.

Most people remark on the color of the mouths; I love that this doesn’t seem to be what she notices.

“That’s what I like about it, too,” I admit. “She doesn’t even know. He’s not looking at her like that for her benefit.”

Turning to me, she asks, “Have you ever been in love?”

I chew a bite of noodles, thinking it over. I think back to my yearlong relationship in college with Mandy. Swallowing, I admit, “No.”

She turns to me. “Why not? How old are you?”

“I’m twenty-three.” I’m treated to a cascade of memories, all sharpened by hindsight, of me putting water polo before everything else. “And, I don’t know.” I shove another bite of food in my mouth, chewing as I think. “I had a girlfriend in college. I didn’t love her because I was stupid.”

“I have a hard time believing you were ever stupid about anything.”

“Oliver might argue with you on that point. But no, I just didn’t really get until later how great she was.”

She nods, turning back to the painting. I watch her mouth as a tiny smile flickers across it.

“Were you in love with Ansel?”

She nods again and I shove more noodles in my mouth, trying to figure out what I feel about this. Both happy and sad, I guess.

Once I swallow my bite, I ask, “Are you still in love with Ansel?”

She bends, taking another bite of food and making me wait for her reply while she chews. Maybe while she thinks. Finally, she manages, “No. I love him, but not romantically anymore. We were so toxic.”

This makes me groan. “I hate that word. It’s so buzzy.”

“Because people use it in cases where it isn’t true,” she says, laughing. “But in our case, it was. We both wanted him to feel something he didn’t, so we pretended for a very long time and were both resenting it at the end.”

I stare at her and then shiver. That’s super fucking depressing. If memory serves, Ansel was with her for a really long time, like years.

“Let’s watch some Matlock.”

“Matlock? The old man?” Perry laughs when I nod. “You get me some wine, I’ll watch some Matlock.”

I point to the selection of bottles near my dining room table and she heads there while I find the remote and start up the DVD player.

Two weeks. I’ve known her for two weeks, and when she returns with two jelly glasses and an open bottle of red, she collapses down next to me on the couch with the comfort of some combination of lover and sister and best friend.

“I like how you move,” I tell her.

She looks at me, playfully scandalized.

“I mean it,” I tell her. “You move like water, or a ninja.”

“Those are two very different things.” She bends, pouring wine into each glass, and I do my best not to let my eyes skirt over her body.

“Not really.”

She shakes her head, taking a sip and studying me. “You like the way I move.’ ”

I inhale, realizing she has a scent: it’s soft, like an actual petal. Not some fake version of a flower. I let loose a tiny fantasy where she rubs a rose petal on her neck every morning, and then laugh. My brain is a Hallmark card.

“I like the way you move, too,” she says. “It’s like you’re sort of . . . what is the word . . .” She taps her finger to her mouth. “Dancing? Not really, but moving like this.” She does a little bouncy dance on the couch. “You are comfortable in your body.”

“It’s because I’m usually just hanging out at my apartment, naked.”

She blushes. “Just walking around, naked?”

“Yeah.” I smile at her. It’s true. “I just hang out here, drawing or reading or cooking. Watching Matlock.”

Before I really realize what she’s doing, she stands and pulls her shirt off. Kicking off her shoes, she shimmies out of her jeans and falls back onto the couch in her underwear. She grins at me, looking like a misbehaving teenager.

Hell yes.

I stand up, following suit, and shed my shorts, my T-shirt. “We’re watching Matlock in our undies.”

Perry giggles, curling in on herself. “I can’t imagine a better way to spend the night.”

And then she stretches, catlike, and curls into my side.

I’m warm, she’s smooth and cool, and I feel when our skin meets in the middle. I reach for her wine and hand it to her, and then grab mine.

Her thigh comes over my own, twisting our legs together, and when I turn, she tilts her face up to me.

So I kiss her.

It’s the soft press of my mouth to hers, and I linger, surprised by how much I like this. I’m also struck by the realization that even though I absolutely want more, she’s on the cusp of returning to the world after heartbreak, and I don’t expect her to rush headlong into anything.

She leans into me, eyes open as she sucks a little at my bottom lip, making me hum happily. I already know we’ll only smooch a little tonight, and it won’t turn wild or raw or move too fast. But the sense that there is more for us buzzes just beneath the surface, and the electricity between us makes the hair on my arms stand on end.

Perry pulls away, touching her lips and smiling as she looks at my face, and then she turns back to the television. Her head comes down to rest on my shoulder. I feel her fingers slide between mine and squeeze.

“J’aime ça, c’est bien,” she whispers.

And those words I know: I like this, it’s good.

I nod in agreement, giving her a simple, “Yeah.”


Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Options

not work with dark mode
Reset