I Take the Stairs Now

Here’s the thing: I love ’80s rom-coms: Pretty in Pink, St. Elmo’s Fire, Can’t Buy Me Love, When Harry Met Sally, Say Anything.

Here’s the other thing: I don’t even want a boyfriend.

Here’s where I contradict myself: I’m an absolute sucker for meet-cutes.

It was a Saturday in late-November. I’d just recently moved into my studio apartment in downtown Seattle. It was freezing cold outside. Actually. I could see a dusting of snow on the tops of cars parked outside my west-facing windows. I’d put on blue jeans, a chunky white sweater, and red lipstick. I’d even brushed my hair. The main plan was to get some Christmas shopping done. But first, I wanted to check my mail like a proper adult.

In the elevator I tried my best not to notice anyone. But of course I did – I couldn’t help it, because there’s this guy in the elevator reading a thick, hardcover book that’s fanned open in his hands. The building has only nine floors. Even if he was coming down from the ninth floor, that doesn’t leave too much time for reading. But he was so focused. Neck bent. Eyes glued. I tried to catch a glimpse of the title on the cover and failed. Either it was one helluva good book or he was even more adamant about evading elevator small talk than I was.

He exited on the second floor.

I exited on the first floor and cut through the lobby, opened a door, took the three steps up into the mail area, and almost literally crashed into the guy. “Oh!” we both exclaimed. Somehow I recognized him even without his book in hand. There seemed to be an unspoken, You again! left out of our exclamation. Then he headed toward the side exit, and I headed toward my mailbox. Except, he stopped. “You’re really beautiful,” he blurted.

“Thank you,” I replied, because thank you sounds more sincere than thanks.

He stepped forward and leaned against the wall. “Do you have a boyfriend?” he ventured.

“I do not,” I replied, and I tried not to feel paranoid about the fact that my mailbox number corresponds to my room number. Whose brilliant idea was that? Anyway, when he asked for my phone number, I gave it to him.

Two weeks later, he finally used it.

Through text messages he told me that books had been his best friends since he was a kid, he lived in North Seattle, but worked downtown, and he was a writer. Damn! I’m always on the lookout for new writer friends.

We made a date for a weeknight.

We planned to meet at my place then get drinks at a bar nearby around eight.

I don’t think I’d ever been more nervous for a date. Then it occurred to me why: I was going on a date with a complete stranger – as opposed to a friend of a friend who is only sort of a stranger – and I wasn’t even taking care to meet up with him in a public place or in broad daylight. And, hell, he already knew where I lived! This didn’t feel so much like adult dating as dumb dating. My coworkers quickly became a sounding board for my madness. By the time I’d finished, they’d caught secondhand anxiety. “Text me when the date’s over, okay?” one coworker requested. I did him one better: I wrote down Elevator Guy’s phone number on a post-it, put it in my desk drawer, and told him, “Have the police track this if I don’t show up tomorrow.”

Better to be safe than sorry. Better to be paranoid than dead. If a meet-cute doesn’t evolve into a romantic comedy, you know what it does turn into? A Lifetime movie. An ex of mine liked to call the channel the We-Hate-Men Network; in my opinion, a better title would have been the This-Is-Why-We-Fear-Men Network.

As an added measure of safety, I told Elevator Guy to text me when he got to the lobby, and we could go from there. While waiting for his text, I made myself date-pretty and blasted The Menzingers and Taylor Swift on Spotify, while dancing around spastically and drinking leftover wine I had in my fridge.

He texted, and I took the elevator down to the lobby. Coat on. Purse slung over my shoulder. It took me too long to recognize it was in fact him standing outside the door because I’m sort of face blind. Someone else entering the building let him in before I did. Now inside the lobby, he asked, “Do you happen to have a wine opener?” and presented a glass bottle from his dark green backpack. “I do,” I told him. “Upstairs.”

So much for avoiding my room . . .

At this point, my studio had exactly two pieces of sit-worthy furniture: my desk chair and my bed. My entire apartment was basically my bed. And I was all too aware of the implication of a bed in the presence of red wine and a guy I didn’t know in the context of a date. He opened the bottle, and I found us a couple of glasses. Plastic, stem-less glasses, but glasses nonetheless. I have no idea whether it was “good” wine or not, but I guessed that corks rank above screw tops.

We leaned against my kitchen counter as we talked.

I learned that he was a thirty-year-old divorcee with two sons, that he didn’t exactly work downtown, and wasn’t exactly a writer. He never did say what he allegedly wrote. When we talked books, I recognized one title: Catcher in the Rye.

What a phony!

I ended up kissing him anyway – not because I particularly liked him but because I do like kissing – and realized I’d never made out with a dad before.

After another glass of wine, he needed a smoke break. Let me clarify: a cigarette break. We returned to the elevator where we’d met. Or maybe not. There are two elevators and at this point I was very drunk and not very sentimental. By the time the elevator opened up to the lobby, I didn’t feel just very drunk; I felt too drunk.

“Go ahead,” I told him. I pointed up. “I’ll be right back.”

I made it back up to the fifth floor, down the hall, into my apartment, and, more importantly, into my apartment’s bathroom, where the wine poured out of my stomach and into the dirty porcelain. Classy, I know.

I composed myself and found Elevator Guy outside. (If you’re wondering whether I’m calling him Elevator Guy to protect his identity or because I don’t remember his name, it’s the latter.) We sat with our backs against the building, and I stole drags from his cigarette. It’d been quite a night. Wine. More wine. Vomit. Toothpaste. Ash.

When I got around to noticing the time, it was late. I didn’t have to get up early for work exactly, but I did need to get up for work. Wine drunk is the worst kind of drunk, and so it demands getting at least some sleep. But he didn’t appear to be leaving. How late do buses to North Seattle even run? At some point, he had decided to spend the night. Probably I shouldn’t have been surprised. I mean, he did show up with a fucking backpack.

So I changed out of my date clothes and into plaid pajama pants and a tank top. He climbed into my bed wearing his jeans and t-shirt. We didn’t cuddle. We didn’t even touch. We awkwardly lay next to each other, and I fixed my eyes on the ceiling, which seemed awfully far away. So did the numbers on the clock lit up on the microwave/convection oven. We had a long way to go before morning.

I managed to talk myself out of the worry that he might be canvassing the joint when it occurred to me that aside from my laptop and a couple of necklaces, I don’t own a single thing worth more than $50.

I could’ve cried with relief when my alarm went off. It gave me not a reason to wake up (because I was already awake) but an excuse to get out of bed. Of course, he also took it as his cue to get up. He sat up, consulted his phone, and accepted an early morning job via some phone app for housecleaning. (His non-writing gig, I guess.)

Then Elevator Guy spent an inordinate amount of time in my bathroom.

I desperately wanted to brush my teeth. So when I noticed that the bathroom door wasn’t shut to indicate privacy, I pushed it open. He wasn’t taking a shit or anything, but he was sitting on the toilet. Seat lid down. Pants up. He looked up at me with his face covered in what can only be described as white crap. I recognize it as my Proactiv Solution Refining Mask, but it looks less like a face mask and more like bird shit. Personally, I use it as a spot treatment because I can’t stand the smell. But this guy? He’d even coated his eyebrows and eyelashes in it.

“How’s it going?” I asked him. Both my eyebrows reached for my hairline. Because, really, what are you supposed to say to that? Hey, do you do this often? Invite yourself to spend the night at strange women’s apartments and then spend the morning helping yourself to their skincare products?

I opened my medicine cabinet and wished I were reaching for something stronger than mint-flavored toothpaste.

Once he’d left and I’d locked the door behind him, my mind settled some; after all, the most important thing you learn on a first date is whether or not you want a second date. My stomach spent the rest of the morning playing catch up.

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