Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Research Day

I looked around the huge hall at all the faces I didn't recognize. It was way too early in the morning to deal with this social anxiety. I had taken a seat at a pretty empty table but as time went on, the table filled up with chatting friends. I picked up my small styrofoam cup filled with black coffee and brought it to my lips. It was only 8:30 in the morning, but I already felt like it was noon. I began picking at one of the two mini bagels (don't judge) I had on my plate as I waited for the keynote speaker.

Today was the day I presented my thesis at my university's research day. I was used to public speaking, and I had presented two years ago when I was an undergraduate, but I was still nervous. I really just wanted the day to be over.

I found myself back in that same hall a few hours later feeling a lot better. There was another speech I had to sit through, followed by awards, but my job was over. Plus, there were now sandwiches being given out where the bagels had been.

Beside the clicker not working for my Power Point, forcing me to nod at someone standing at the back of the room every time I wanted to change slides which was far from a flawless system, my presentation had went pretty well. I discussed my research, which basically looked at all the different technology platforms individuals use in present day society and the influence these may or may not have on our romantic relationships, before taking a few questions. I was mostly worried about those, because questions can be so unpredictable as opposed to a rehearsed speech, but luckily I knew how to answer all of them.

I shoved a turkey sub into my mouth as a successful alumni discussed her research on gender roles. With everything going on in the media about Bruce Jenner, this couldn't have been a more current topic for the speaker to discuss, even though I'm sure my school had this speaker booked way before Jenner's Dateline.

Once the speaker was done and met with a roaring round of applause, the organizer of the research day announced that she was going to begin calling on award winners. I swallowed my food and took a sip of water. I didn't know how many people presented in my category and if any of them were any good or not, but I thought I had a shot at an award. I was tempted to drive home and take a nap as soon as I was done presenting, but the faint hope that I could actually win something, in addition to free lunch, kept me at school. I very rarely win things, whether it is radio contests or some sort of merit based award. Sometimes I just feel like I'm always coming up short.

Psychology, of course, was the last category they announced for. I sat and held my breathe.

"For Graduate Psychology Oral Presentations, the award goes to..."

And then, after a short pause, the organizer said my name. Mine! The crowd began indiscriminately applauding and I awkwardly stood up from my table. I didn't know anybody at the table, so they turned and when they realized I was standing up, they began clapping louder.

I was sitting next to an international student who I had gathered didn't speak too much english. "That you?" she asked. I modestly nodded and smiled at her. She gasped and began  feverishly clapping. I felt like this tiny girl had magically absorbed the spirit of two excited parents at their daughter's preschool dance recital. It was kind of nice.

After some pictures and a wrap up speech, I was ready to go home. It had been a long day, but luckily the school cancelled classes on research day, so I didn't have to hang around for my typical night classes.

As I listened to my heels clack on the pavement of the parking lot, I watched the undergraduate students galavanting around campus, clearly enjoying the amazing weather we were finally having. Even though I felt so accomplished for the day, I was still simply walking to my car like it was any other day.

I took out my phone and dialed Scott's cell phone number. No answer. I let out a heavy sigh of disappointment. I know a lot of times he can't answer his phone while at work, but he would've been really excited for me to have won this award. I decided to talk to the next best person, my mom.

"Caroline, that's such great news!" She screeched in a kind of hushed exclamation, since she was definitely at work. I don't know why they continue to have these things on weekdays. I guess since it's really only for students and faculty to attend. Still, it would've been nice for one or two of my loved ones to have seen my work.

"Yeah, I kind of can't believe it," I replied.

"Of course, you won," she gushed like any proud mom. "Why wouldn't you? You put so much work into this research and you've always been a good speaker. I don't know how you do it. I'd rather die than get up and talk in front of people."

This was true. I wouldn't say I was the best public speaker by nature, but I am able to stand up in front of a crowd and easily talk about a topic, as long as I've had ample time to prepare. Public speaking is pretty much the number one phobia people have and I really can't connect with that. Have people never heard of snakes?

My mom insisted that we go out to dinner that night to celebrate and I obviously hadn't eaten enough free food at school so I agreed. I got in my car and opened the sunroof. It was a beautiful day.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Break Down: Part Two

As I recovered from nearly choking on my pizza, I managed to say hello back to Mike. I don't know what I expected when I texted him but seeing him in person felt, well, strange. His smile was brighter than I remembered and it looked like he had put on some muscle since I last saw him.

"How are you?" I enthusiastically asked as I stood up and gave him a somewhat awkward hug. You know those hugs that you give to people you haven't seen in forever but you were really close with?

"I've been good. Better than you, it seems," Mike replied as we pulled away. I almost stepped into my defensive pants until I realized he was referring to my flat tire.

I rolled my eyes. "Yeah, it's been a sucky day."

Mike squinted at me. "Caroline," he began. "Have you been crying?"

I instinctually wiped at my eyes. "No, what are you talking about?"I didn't want to lie to Mike, but I was embarrassed at how emotional I had gotten over something so routine as a flat tire.

Mike looked down and laughed. "Whatever you say. So how's the pizza here?"

I titled my head at him. "You haven't eaten here?"

Mike smiled and shook his head. "I know, I live so close, but this place has only been around for about six months."

I nodded. "Well, my slice has been pretty good." He looked down at my half eaten, falling apart slice, before telling me he was going to grab one himself.

While he was at the counter, I began nervously chewing on my lip. This felt weird. And more than weird, I felt bad. I mean, if Scott were having pizza with his ex-girlfriend, I wouldn't be happy. But nothing was going to happen. Plus, Scott made it very clear that he wasn't the jealous type, so I'm sure he would think this was no big deal.

Mike returned with his slice. "So how the hell are things? I haven't seen you in months!"

I looked down at the table, feeling a sense of unease looking right into his eyes. Should I tell him now that I had a boyfriend? I didn't want to start with that but I also didn't want to lead him on. There was no way he thought this meeting meant I wanted to get back together, right? I mean, he could have just as easily been seeing someone new also.

"Things are good," I casually responded. "What about you? Are you done with school?"

"Yeah, starting a new job soon, actually," he confidently answered.

My eyes widened. "Where?"

Mike proceeded to tell me about this recruiting office that he interviewed for a couple weeks before. They had called him a few days ago and he was working out a start date with them. "How's school going with you?"

I told him I was graduating soon and definitely looking forward to it. He laughed at my response. "What?" I defensively asked.

Mike shrugged. "No, I'm sorry. It's just, you stress so much about school. I don't know what you're going to do without it."

I rolled my eyes again. "Just because you never cared about school doesn't mean that I 'stress' too much over it," I retaliated. "Besides, I'll have my master's degree. I think that's enough for right now." I was a little worried about entering the job market at 24 with nothing but an office manager job on my resume, but now that Mike was going to be recruiting maybe I could use him to my advantage?

Mike put up his hands. "Hey, I got by. Ds get degrees."

I took a sip of my soda to hide the smile on my face. I forgot how easy it was to talk to Mike about things, not that it wasn't easy to talk to Scott. Mike and I were just together for so long. Am I the only one who finds it weird that we break up with people and then never talk to them again? Even when there was a real friendship underneath the romantic relationship?

"So?" Mike began again. "What else is new with you?" He looked at me with soft eyes.

"Um, nothing really," I began, trying to diffuse what I was about to say. "I, um, actually have a boyfriend now." I looked at him, eager to know his reaction and I can't really explain why.

He looked away from me. Now he looked slightly uneasy. After what felt like forever, but was actually three seconds, Mike responded. "Well, that's awesome. I bet he's not as cool as me, though." He looked up at me and I his smile had returned.

I laughed. "How can anyone compete?" After a few seconds where we each took bites of our food, I did the polite thing and asked him if he was seeing anyone, hoping that I'd be prepared for the answer.

He exhaled a breathe. "Kind of," he responded. "I mean, it's still new, but yeah."

I nodded. Even though I was happy with Scott, there was still a small part of me that felt a ding of jealousy that Mike was seeing someone new. But this quickly passed as I realized how surprisingly nice this encounter was going. Here I was, sometimes dramatic Caroline, having lunch with an ex-boyfriend where we could both discuss our new relationships. I figured that admitting to each other that we had seen new people naked on a regular basis was good enough for one afternoon.

We spent about another ten minutes catching up before my brother called me saying he was close by. I told Mike and got up to give him a hug goodbye. "Thank you so much for keeping me company!" I exclaimed.

"Anytime, Caroline. You know I'm always here for you." Mike reached and gave me a hug. "We should keep in touch."

I smiled and agreed. Who know? Maybe keeping in touch will be nice.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Break Down: Part One

The following week wasn't too exciting. Scott hadn't brought up the "jealousy" incident again and I was more than happy to drop it. I never really act jealous with him and I'm sure he's smart enough to know how lucky he is that I'm not more insecure. I know he's surrounded by gorgeous girls in his office all week and he goes to plenty of happy hours without me, where I'm sure a good looking guy like him has his temptations. But I really do trust him. Whenever I had a moment to think during the week, though, my mind wandered to his comment about Jenna. What happened to them? I know it takes two to tango, so I couldn't imagine Jenna being the whole problem. Why didn't they work out and what if the same thing happened to us? That's what I was truly concerned about.

I put it all out of my mind, though. After all, Scott and I were doing great.

I managed to score off on Good Friday, which made me feel like I had so much more free time than I actually did. I spent the day doing errands I had been putting off, like returning that unflattering dress and taking my dog to the groomers. Anna asked me to meet her at her school to watch a track meet because apparently she has a crush on the coach. I seriously can't keep up with this girl.

So, I told her I'd leave once I picked up my dog and dropped him off at my house. On my way home from the groomer, I went over a pretty bad pothole but thought nothing of it. Until, that is, I felt my car driving funny on the highway as I drove to meet Anna.

I wasn't sure what I was feeling, but got off at the next exit. I checked three of my tires and thought I was in the clear. Then, I got to my front right tire. It was completely torn and flat.

I know it was a complete overreaction, and I knew it at the time also, but I just got back in my car and started crying. I was so frustrated. I tried to compose myself and texted my brother to see if he was around. Anna's school was a good 45 minutes away in traffic and I had driven for about 30 minutes so I knew even if he was home, it would take him at least that long to come help me. I checked my truck and of course, there was no spare. My sister had gotten a flat a few months before while borrowing my car, so I assumed she hadn't put the spare back.

As I shut my trunk, I saw an emergency vehicle making its way off the highway. He stopped on the grassy patch I had pulled over on and asked what was wrong.

"Do you have a spare?" He asked after I told him I had a flat. I shook my head no and he looked disappointed. "If you had a spare, we change it for free. I can call you a tow truck but it's going to cost you $150 just to hook it up." I could feel my eyes watering again.

I didn't even care about the money at this point, but knew that my dad and brother would laugh in my face and be a little annoyed if I got my car towed when they are both mechanics. I told the emergency vehicle driver that someone was coming to get me but thanked him for stopping.

My brother texted me back that he'd be able to get me but it would take about an hour. I scrolled to Scott's name in my phone. My finger lingered over his name but I knew he was still swamped at work and didn't want to bother him. I put my phone down and let out a deep breathe of frustration.

I looked out onto the road, envious of all the cars driving by. I looked around at all the stores on the main road. I couldn't pretend I didn't know what town I was in.

It was Mike's town. He lived less than five minutes away.

Mike was my first boyfriend and I had barely talked to him in over a year. But, when we did talk, it was friendly. There was really no romance left. If we were just friends, and I happen to break down literally three minutes from his home, I shouldn't call him, should I?

I couldn't call him. I shouldn't. I mean, would it be so bad?

I was stuck there for an hour and starving. Regardless, I was going to grab a slice of pizza from a place I saw across the street.

Before I could stop myself, I fired off a quick text to Mike, simply stating that I got a flat tire and was going to grab a slice of pizza with the name of the pizza place.

I quickly put my phone into my bag and gathered my things. I locked my car before making my way across the street.

I sat down with my slice of greek salad pizza and diet soda. I took my phone out of my bag. No text from Mike. I mentally shrugged. It was probably a dumb idea to see my ex-boyfriend, even if I felt like there were no feelings there anymore. I mean, I was in a happy relationship and I didn't even know what he had been up to.

I started scrolling through Instagram when I remembered that Anna was still waiting for me. I sent her a quick text explaining to her what happened before stuffing the slice into my mouth. I was thoroughly enjoying my moment of solitude when it was interrupted by a familiar voice.

"Why, hello there."

I looked up, still mid bite, to see Mike's face, still attractive, smiling down at me.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Beer Garden: Part Two

I squinted my eyes. Yup. It was definitely Scott and I definitely didn't know the girl he was talking to. I took a deep breathe before jumping to any conclusions. I obviously didn't think Scott would do anything to hurt me, and if he did he obviously wouldn't be stupid enough to do it while I was there, but something about their body language didn't sit right with me.

I rolled my shoulders and tried to steady my step as I walked over to him. I was drunk but composed.

"There you are," I cheerfully greeted Scott without addressing the girl he was with. "I've been looking for you!"

"Hey, babe," he replied, kissing me so quickly on the cheek that I saw some of his beer spill out of his glass.

I pressed my lips together and turned my attention to this unknown girl.

“Hi, I’m Caroline,” I said as cheerfully as I could.

“Oh, Caroline,” Scott interjected. “This is Amy.”

I turned to him. “Oh, Amy,” I mimicked, emphasizing that simply giving me her name was not sufficient.

Scott stared at me for a second before turning to Amy. “Amy, this is my girlfriend, Caroline. I’ve told you about her.”

“Oh, the infamous girlfriend!” Amy shrieked.

I smiled while trying to suppress a look of confusion. “It’s so nice to meet you,” I managed to reply.

Amy stood up and pulled at the bottom of her dress. “Well, I better go find Bruce. It was nice running into you, Scott, and I hope I get to see you soon, Caroline!”

As she walked away, my mind started connecting dots. “Bruce,” I said out loud. “So I guess that was Bruce’s fiancĂ©?”

“Yeah, Amy, the one I talk to you about all the time,” Scott replied and I could see his jaw clench. Scott always tells me about this engaged couple he works with; Bruce and Amy. Bruce is higher up and Amy is a receptionist. Scott feels like she’s only after his money and the lifestyle Bruce could provide for her.

“Well,” I said putting my arms around his neck. “She’s not what I imagined her to look like.”

Scott let out a heavy breathe as he put his hand on my lower back. I could enjoy cuddling up to him in this secluded corner for a few minutes. He didn’t seem all that pleased with me, though.

“Caroline, you stormed over here like you just caught me in the act or something.”

I scrunched up my face at him. “No, I didn’t.”

“Yeah, you clearly thought something was going on.” Scott looked down at me. He looked legitimately hurt.

“I didn’t mean to,” I quietly replied, looking off to the side. I could see all my friends several feet away, talking and laughing. “I just didn’t know who she was,” I began. “If you saw me off in the corner with some guy, you wouldn’t like it.”

“I trust you,” he shot back. “I mean, don’t you trust me?”

I looked back into his eyes and they were pleading with me. I suddenly felt so guilty, even though my logical side was telling me that he was overreacting. I was mainly wondering when I’d be able to escape this conversation to get another drink.

“Of course I trust you,” I said. “I just wanted to see who she was, okay?” Before he could answer, I grabbed his hand and insisted we go to the bar. Martin and Jessica were waiting for drinks when we walked over.

“Hey, you two,” I quickly greeted them. I needed Scott to forget about our almost, sort of fight as soon as possible.

Martin turned to me and I sensed a bit of uneasiness in his expression. “Where have you two been hiding?”

I laughed off Martin’s question and turned to look at Scott. He was trying to get the bartender’s attention and I couldn’t tell if he had dropped the Amy issue yet or not. It’s not like I walked over and attacked the girl for Pete’s sake!

He ordered us each some type of apple flavored ale and I took a big gulp as soon as I got it. I needed to drink more.

The rest of the night was drama free and I enjoyed catching up with all of my friends. Around 2, most of us decided to head back to the train station. Once seated on the subway, I rested my head on Scott’s shoulder. “Are you mad at me?” I drunkenly asked.

“No, Caroline,” Scott replied rubbing my shoulder. “I just don’t enjoy feeling like you don’t trust me. I would never do anything to hurt you.”

“I know,” I replied as I closed my eyes. Scott seemed awake enough so it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world if I fell asleep on his shoulder. He continued talking though.

“I’ve never cheated on a girlfriend. Ever. And I’ve never lied to you. Not once.” I was beginning to realize how drunk Scott really was. He would never talk about this with me sober.

“I know,” I simply responded again. I didn’t know what else to say. Was this really still a discussion?

“If there’s one thing that’s going to kill this relationship, it’s jealousy.”

I lifted my head and looked at him. He was sitting straight and didn’t turn to look at me. “That’s not going to happen,” I said.

“Okay, good. It’s just Jenna was so jealous and I don’t want to be in a relationship like that again.”

 I silently nodded. I was kind of shocked. Scott never talked about Jenna with me. I really didn’t know much about their relationship at all.

The subway suddenly came to a stop and our conversation ended there, as well. I really wanted to know more about what caused him and Jenna to break up, but I didn’t feel like prying. I was just glad that Scott didn’t want our relationship to end like theirs did.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Beer Garden: Part One

Hallelujah! It's Tax Day!

I know that's not the reaction most people have to April 15th, but it is mine and probably anybody else's who is dating an accountant.

Scott does a lot with taxes at his job. I don't know much about differing accountants, but I know that his job is slightly different than Moose's job, who has told me that tax season doesn't really influence how much work he does, which I think is something with auditing.

Scott agreed to come with me to the city. It was finally getting nicer out, so Moose suggested a beer garden in Manhattan. Sometimes, I'd prefer to hang out somewhere on Long Island, since the train can be a hassle, but then I realize I'm being ungrateful. A forty minute train ride from one of the greatest cities in the world and I can't be bothered? Come on, Caroline.

My friends and I have been to a few beer gardens, which seem to be getting more and more popular, and we are rarely disappointed. They have great outdoor, as well as semi-indoor, seating and so many unique types of beer. I threw on my favorite pair of black jeans and paired it with a plaid button down I recently purchased during an online shopping binge.

Scott picked me up so we could grab dinner before catching a train. We went to a new restaurant that recently opened and my boss had recommended. When we arrived, it was packed but Scott had luckily made a reservation. The place was a unique mix between Mexican and Italian, with a design that I can only describe as rustic. All the decor was made of wood but it felt weirdly upscale. When we sat down and began surveying the menu, the guacamole quickly caught my eye.

“Want to split the guacamole?” I eagerly asked.

“Only if we can split the flaming cheese, also,” Scott replied, mirroring my enthusiasm. “Great restaurant pick, babe.”

“Thanks,” I cheerfully replied. Scott seemed in much better spirits than he’d been over the past few weeks. It wasn’t that he’d been in a bad mood. He just seemed tired all the time. He seemed excited for a night out, though. He was wearing a dark grey V-neck and while I love how he looks more dressed up, it was nice to see him looking, and feeling, more casual.

After splitting the starters, we also split a mini margarita pizza and angry fish tacos. I was feeling pretty full and we also had two margaritas each so I was feeling a slight buzz by the time we stood up to leave. Scott drove us back to his house before Martin picked us up for the train. I hadn’t seen Martin in a few weeks and I didn’t even realize Scott had invited him along until he told me over dinner. I quickly sent Anna a text to give her fair warning. Since her and Martin were never really serious, their relationship died out shortly after New Year’s Eve. I’m sure she hadn’t seen him in at least two months.

“Haha, thanks for the heads up,” Anna quickly texted me back. “You guys are going to make our train, right?”

Since I was taking the train with Scott and Martin, I was going to meet most of my friends at a later stop. I quickly told her we would before arriving at the station, buying our tickets, and heading for the platform.

I thought it would be difficult to find my friends, but as soon as we stepped onto the train, I could hear them at the end of the car. Almost all of my guy friends were there, along with Anna, Darlene, and Jessica. I didn’t see Beth, Moose’s girlfriend, around so I wondered if she wasn’t coming but when I asked Darlene if she knew anything about it, she told me Beth was meeting us in the city.

“She very rarely stays on the island,” Darlene quietly continued in my ear as my guy friends rambunctiously talked while drinking beer, a common visual you’ll see on any weekend LIRR train. “Sometimes she stays at her parent’s place, but I know Moose usually stays with her in the city.”

I nodded as I returned my attention to the group. With the whole group of us, we took up a good portion of the train car. Most of my guy friends from high school have really hectic careers along with girlfriends who live in the city or old college friends that they see a lot, but on nights like these I was happy to see them.

We arrived at Penn Station and quickly grabbed a subway to the beer garden. I stood next to Scott on the subway and nuzzled up next to him as he held on to the subway poll. “So what’s this place like?” he asked.

“I don’t know,” I answered without pulling myself away from him. “But I’m so glad you came out tonight.”

“Wouldn’t miss it for the world,” he said. We got to our stop minutes later.

The tables inside were long and the lights were dim but hung low over the tables. We could barely move inside. Everywhere you looked, people were carrying beer in boot shaped pitchers. We found a place outside and while it wasn’t exactly Spring yet, I was happy to be outside.

Beth and two of her friends showed up a little while later. I was catching up with a few of my guy friends throughout the night and was happy to see Scott having conversations with several of my friends on his own. I love when a guy I’m seeing can maintain a conversation without having to be glued by my side.

After a trip to the bathroom with Darlene and Jessica, I walked out feeling particularly tipsy, but I froze when I saw Scott. Tucked away in a corner. Talking close to a girl in a tight, strapless, black dress.