Cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs

I took a deep breath. “Okayyy. Care to elaborate?”

“Actually,” Kate said, “I wouldn’t care to elaborate. I’m pretty sure you know what I’m talking about.” With that, she turned around in her chair and went back to typing away.

“You don’t want to at least talk about this?” I asked. “Can I even tell my side of things?”

“Not here,” Kate said, over her shoulder.

“Lunch?” I asked.

Kate paused. “Fine.”

I was actually glad Kate didn’t want to talk about it until lunch, because at that moment I was so irritated with Richard I just wanted to call him up and give him a piece of my mind. That kid was on my shit list for taking it upon himself to tell Kate what happened. It took two to tango and it should have taken two to tell!

I would have called Richard, but Kate wasn’t that far from my desk and I didn’t want her to hear that conversation. Instead, I sent him a text, “Did you tell Kate about that night after the Social Media party?”

To my surprise, Richard called me back immediately. I picked up, my voice low. “Richard,” I whispered. “I can’t talk about this here.”

“I know,” he said. “So just listen.” Richard told me that he had been telling Kate about this job he was close to getting, and how he’d made an off hand comment about how the office was mostly guys, but maybe that was a good thing because hooking up with co-workers had always gotten him into trouble. Kate latched on to Richard’s plural use of ‘co-workers’ and demanded to know if something had happened between him and I, and at that point he felt he couldn’t lie to her, so he told her there had been a drunken kiss after the Social Media party but that was all.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “It was an innocent slip but once she asked me directly about it, I felt I couldn’t lie.”

“You could have at least given me a heads up about what I was walking into this morning,” I whispered.

“She seemed fine when we left!” he said. “I didn’t think she would say anything to you.”

“Well, she did, and she is pissed,” I said. “I have to go.”

“Wait,” Richard said. He groaned, but didn’t say anything else.

“What?” I pressed.

“I keep making a mess of things with you. I just feel like such a dick.”

“You are a dick, Richard!” I exhaled. “But whatever, maybe it’s for the best that she knows. I feel like Kate is mad but not so mad she’s never going to speak to me again. At least it’s out. It was kind of eating at me.”

Richard and I hung up and I made myself busy until lunchtime. Around 12:30, I knocked on the wall to Kate’s cubicle. “Want to go?” I asked.

Kate gathered her things and we rode the elevator down to the street in silence.

Once we were outside, Kate said, “I don’t even really care that you guys kissed. I care that you didn’t tell me and you guys kept this secret from me and I look like the idiot.”

“I know,” I said. “I’m sorry. I guess I just didn’t want to upset you when it was a one time thing that would never happen again.”

“But how could you let me go home with him not even twenty-four hours after it happened?” Kate demanded. “Was he just trying to make you jealous? God, that’s so embarrassing.”

“I tried to talk you out of it!” I said.

Kate gave me the side eye. “Come on. If you had told me that you guys had kissed I would have never gone home with him. I really wish I’d known.”

I jammed my hands in the pockets of my trench coat. “I guess I just didn’t know how to tell you, but you’re right, I should have. I would have wanted to know too.”

We walked in silence for a few blocks. “I know I’m, like, inexperienced at all of this,” Kate said. “Dating. Guys. But I just hate feeling like you view me as this kid sister who you keep the truth from because she can’t handle it or something. It’s so fucking condescending.”

I don’t give Kate enough credit, because that was a pretty astute observation. I did kind of view Kate like that, and with my track record, it was hypocritical. “I get it,” I said. “I won’t do it again.”

“Good,” Kate said. We’d reached our favorite deli.

“So are we okay?” I asked.

“Not until you buy me a salad with all of the one dollar toppings,” she said, holding the door open for me.

Later that week, I was in William’s office, going over a few things, when he said to me, “You know, I don’t like getting into my personal life. But I just want to let you know that Elizabeth and I are no longer together and she is not welcome in this office.”

You don’t fucking say. But I was curious what made him bring that up—had he somehow gotten wind of the fact that Elizabeth had contacted me? “What made you say that?” I asked.

“Security mentioned to me that she was in the building the other week. Trying to get up to my office to give me a birthday present.” William snorted. “My birthday’s in July.”

I tried to keep my face neutral. “How odd,” I said.

William held his hands on either side of his head and moved his eyes back and forth. “Cuckoo for Cocoa puffs, that one,” he said.

When I got back to my desk, I was surprised to see that I had a text from Peter. “You left some work stuff at my apartment,” he said. “Manuscripts and stuff. I can mail them to you or you can come by and pick them up.”

“I don’t mind picking them up,” I said. I didn’t want to make Peter mail them out, and I also hated how we had left things that night in the lobby of my building. I had secretly hoped we could have another chance to talk because I didn’t want things to end on such bad terms. “When is good for you?”

Peter told me to come by on Saturday morning, and I agreed.

On Saturday morning, I did a run up the East River, stopped for a few minutes to creepily ogle the dogs in the dog park, before cutting west to Peter’s apartment. By the time I arrived I was sweaty and out of breath.

“You didn’t have to get all dressed up for me,” Peter said when he opened the door.

“Ha ha,” I said, stepping inside. I saw my things in a pile on the kitchen table. “Thanks for holding on to these for me,” I said.

Peter shrugged. “Thanks for coming to get them.”

We stood in silence, awkwardly. Finally, Peter asked me if I wanted water or something.

“Water would be great,” I said.

Peter disappeared into the kitchen and returned with a glass of water in his hand. He has one of those refrigerators with a water dispenser built into it, and it always seemed like the most luxurious thing in the world to me. “Thanks,” I said, taking a sip.

“So how’s work?” Peter asked.

“Bleeding money.” I grinned.

Peter rolled his eyes. “So that’s how it’s going to be?”

“Come on,” I said. “It was a joke.”

“Whatever happened with Elizabeth?” Peter asked.

I shrugged. “I told her not to come, and I didn’t think she did. But William told me she was at security, trying to get in. You know it wasn’t even his birthday?”

“Doesn’t surprise me,” Peter said.

“I should thank you though,” I said. “For pointing out that it was absolutely nuts for me to take her at her word. That would have been a disaster if she got into William’s office on my watch.”

“I have a few years of Elizabeth experience on you,” he said. He leaned up against the wall and crossed his arms over his chest. “So listen,” he said. “We still have that date…from the charity dinner? I got an email about it a few days ago….if you want to still go, as friends….” he trailed off.

“I didn’t think you’d want to go with me,” I said. I was honestly shocked he suggested it.

Peter looked down at his feet for a second. “I thought a lot about what you said. Then I thought about where I was when I was twenty-five.”

“And where were you when you were twenty-five?” I asked.

“Living in a shithole with three of my frat brothers, barely able to take care of myself let alone a girlfriend.”

“Why do I have a feeling Fedora Guy was one of your roommates?”

Peter laughed. “Of course he was.” Peter paused. “The point is, I shouldn’t have made fun of you for wanting to ‘find yourself.’ The people who don’t do that when they’re young are always the ones who end up divorced.”

“But,” I said. “Didn’t you end up divorced anyway?”

“I ended up divorced because I ignored some red flags about my relationship,” Peter said. “But I’m just thinking about a lot of my friends from college. The ones who didn’t play around in their twenties have either gotten divorced, or are really unhappy in their marriages.”

“That’s what my mom always tells me too,” I said. “I just have this feeling that I don’t want to be tied down right now, and I want to honor it.”

Peter nodded. “I can respect that.” He cleared his throat. “So this charity date thing. If you don’t want to go, I have other options.” He wiggled his eyebrows at me.

I laughed. “I’m sure you do.”  I thought about it a second. “I’d go,” I said. “But I mean, come on, are we really going to be able to go to this thing as friends?”

“I can if you can,” Peter said.

I thought about it some more. Maybe it could be just a friendly thing. Maybe Peter and I could be ‘just friends.’ Not friends the way Nina and I are friends. But every now and then, we call each other up, see how the other person is doing? Maybe grab a drink? Maybe, eventually, we’ll be in the same place at the same time and things will work out? It wasn’t unthinkable. “Sure,” I said. I smiled. “I’d really like that.”

Peter smiled back. “Me too.” He held the door open for me. “Now get out of here, you’re starting to stink up my apartment.” I gave him a little elbow nudge as I walked out the door.

I was in a good mood by the time I got back to my apartment. The sun was shining, the birds were chirping, and I’d already worked out and had the whole day in front of me to do with as I pleased. As I turned the corner, I saw that Ashley was standing outside my building.

“Ash?” I balanced the pile of manuscripts in one hand and shielded my eyes with my other.

“I’ve been calling you all morning,” she said.

“I went for a run,” I said. “Then I had to swing by Peter’s. I didn’t bring my phone with me.”

“You were at Peter’s?” Ashley asked, surprised.

“Just to pick up some stuff I left there,” I said. “Nothing happened.” I handed her the pile of manuscripts. “Hold these.” I dropped to one knee to take the key off my shoelace. I stood and unlocked the door. “Here,” I said to her, indicating that she could hand them back to me. “What are you doing here? Is everything okay?”

As Ashley passed the manuscripts back to me, something hard and sharp scratched the skin on my wrist. “Ow!” I yelped. But then I knew what had scratched me before I even saw it, before Ashley held up her hand and announced, excitedly, “We’re engaged!”

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