Everyone loves to hear the story, told from lips which can’t stop smiling because they’re reddened with fresh kisses, below eyes shining with the glow of new regard. People love to bask in new relationships because everything is sunshine, rainbows, and lollipops. You’re taken back if you’ve been there, given hope if you haven’t.
We’ve worked together about a year and a half, Cleopatra and I. She’s an awesome coworker because she makes work fun. She’s responsible and always willing to help. She’s cool, laid back, and accepting, deflating stress and frustration with laughter. In Miami parlance, “Down as fuck, bro.”
I’ve never looked at her twice.
Why not? Well, I was married, stupid, what do you think?
I’m sorry, that was uncalled for. When the marriage ended, there was the age difference. Except one girl in high school, everyone I’ve dated has been older. One year, six years, ten years, twenty-four years. My wife was only two weeks older, but you get the idea. I prefer someone older, or at least in my age range. Eleven is just a number, but in years, that was a large enough number to make Cleo invisible in that way.
Consider another number: fourteen. This is our height differential, in inches. Remember, seeing women five nine and up makes my blood run hot. Strike two against Cleopatra.
At a barbeque several weeks back, everyone went inside to play a game we had no interest in playing, so Cleopatra and I stayed outside. I realized we’d worked together all this time but I barely knew her. I knew she was a single mother, but I didn’t know the particulars of the relationship. I learned some pretty horrific facts. Many try to reclaim their hardships for pity points; she didn’t. She wears the scars of her life with grace, not letting them affect who she is. We had a good rapport, and my respect for her grew.
Next week, she was one of the crowd who helped celebrate my birthday. She bought my ticket to “Where the Wild Things Are.” She moon-walked during a traffic jam in the parking garage. She drew a picture for me on a placemat at Fox’s lounge, scribbling an accurate Carole in seconds.
The following Monday while Cleo and I were drinking at The Bar, I thought I was picking up a vibe. A co-worker showed up before I could make a drunken move, a development I met with equal parts relief and frustration.
A few days later, Cleopatra invited me and another friend to Orlando for Halloween, a friend to whom I confessed my what if feelings. As I was praising Cleopatra, wondering if it was all in my head, this friend received a text message. She read it and her face lit up.
“I have to show you this,” she said.
It was a text from Cleopatra.
Before we road trip I must confess, I have quite the crush on Curtis.
I remember it word for word because I read it so many times that night. I stopped short of asking to have it forwarded to me, but not by much. I have mixed feelings about cell phones, but at that moment, telling my friend what to text Cleopatra, having her answers read aloud, Cleo clueless to it all, technology was my friend.
The next night we hung out after work again, with predictable results.
“Geez, you’re quiet tonight,” Cleopatra said.
Of course I’m quiet, I thought. I’m attracted to you, so I can’t talk to you.
Well, I’d been talking to her for months, so I forced myself back in that mode. This is your friend Cleo, I told myself, nothing to get nervous about. It worked, and we shared some laughs.
Saturday was a memorable night. From club to club, our friends did their best to leave Cleopatra and I by ourselves. I finally saw Churchill’s and Transit Lounge, places I’d heard tell of but had never seen. The venues barely registered. I was trying to work up the courage to kiss Cleopatra.
I’d read the quite the crush text. Cleo gave me signals all night which were the courtship equivalent of neon signs with letters three feet high. Example? She gave me half her beer at one point, telling me she was tipsy enough, but she’d hate for me not to have enough Irish Courage to “make my move.”
Still, I was paralyzed. Until five in the morning, when we ended up at my place.
“I’m staying with you,” she said. “It’s too long of a drive back home.”
Which it is, frankly.
“I don’t want to impose…”
“Impose isn’t the word I would have used,” I told her. “I promise to be a perfect gentleman.”
“I can’t say the same,” she said.
We giggled our way into pajamas and under the covers, still never having shared more than a friendship hug. We admitted the situation was awkward. What happened then? None of your damned business.
Okay, we shared a first kiss I’ll never forget. It was too soon for anything more.
I couldn’t sleep because her scent was so intoxicating.
The next day I spent with my head in the clouds. Staying up twenty-four hours and beyond, I should have been cranky and exhausted. Instead, the memory of an awkward night which ended so sweetly sustained me.
I have worries. Everyone at work loves her. If things don’t work out, I’ll be the douchebag who broke her heart. I could be taking one of the few reasons I enjoy my job – running into Cleopatra every day – and making it a point of awkwardness. I’m also afraid I’m Captain Rebound. My vulnerability amplifies her every move to Mach Q levels. I also haven’t met her son yet.
For the moment, I’m happy, and the more I learn about her, the more I want to know.
One day at a time, I tell myself.