Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Guardian Angel

"Are you crazy?" I asked Mark as I clutched my hands in front of my stomach. I felt sick at the whole accusation. "I did not fuck Greg in a bathroom. Why would you even think that?"

Mark let out a heavy sigh. "That's just what he said and then I saw you two walking back in together. I mean, where would that crazy rumor even come from if somebody hadn't seen something?"

I couldn't believe I was standing with a guy I barely knew outside his friend's wedding reception arguing over whether I fucked a bridesmaid's boyfriend in the bathroom. I could only imagine the other conversations going on.

"Mark, I don't know what to tell you," I began. Then, I remembered something. "Oh, Sara saw me!" Sara was my friend from the shuttle that I ran into while fixing my shoe. "Go ask her."

Mark pressed his palm against his forehead. "I'm pretty sure she's the one who told Brandon."

I felt the anger rising through my body. "Okay, she saw us outside the bathroom. He was helping me with my shoe. Nothing, I mean nothing, happened. He has a girlfriend!"

"Yeah," Mark laughed. "Well, I heard that doesn't really matter too much to him."

"Okay, but it matters to me! And I came here with you." Then, I thought of something else and was feeling so angry that I felt the need to go somewhat off topic. "We wouldn't even have been talking if you hadn't left me alone all dinner."

"That really bothered you?" Mark asked, looking at me like I was crazy. "I was gone for two minutes."

"It wasn't two minutes. I finished eating before you got back." I shook my head and realized that this argument didn't matter. "Whatever, Mark. I'll go find Greg and we can work this all out now."

Mark shrugged. "If you want to go back in there, I won't stop you."

My emotions took a sharp turn and I felt the waterworks coming. "You want me to go?"

Mark didn't say anything. He just looked at the ground. "I figured you'd be uncomfortable."

I blinked back tears. "Yeah, I'll find a way home or to another hotel or something. Hey, maybe I'll stay with Greg!" Okay, my anger still wasn't gone.

Mark chuckled. "Real mature, Caroline."

Real mature? I couldn't even look at Mark anymore. I turned around and didn't look back at all.

I ordered an Uber and waited outside the hotel. I realized that I had to go back to the hotel to get my stuff and then I had to decide between getting another room or taking an Uber back home. I couldn't just go home, though, because I left my car at Mark's house. Plus, I'd have to get my car in the morning because I'd been drinking. I sat on a bench, put my face in my hands, and let the tears come.

"Are you okay?" I heard a voice ask me. I was so not in the mood to talk to anybody, but I looked up anyway. It was Kat, Mark's female, vegan friend.

I shrugged. "Everyone thinks I'm a big whore in there, don't they?"

Kat picked up her dress and came to sit next to me. "They'll get over it," she responded. She had a really soothing voice that made me sure she'd be an excellent mother one day. "Listen, I'll talk to Mark. I know he can be a handful, but he's a really great guy and I think you two would be good together. Tomorrow morning, everybody's going to realize that this story is nonsense."

"Thanks," I replied as I wiped away a couple tears. "It's fine, though. It's too much drama too soon."

Kat sighed. "Yeah, I get that."

I began to cry again. "Ugh, I'm sorry," I said before the tears could really start. Then I proceeded to tell her about my dilemma with the room, my stuff, and my car.

Kat opened up her crystal clutch. "Here," she passed me a hotel key. "My cousin and her husband were supposed to come, but their baby got sick so they left early. She gave me her room key in case I wanted to get away from everybody. I'll get your stuff and bring it to you. We can figure out the car tomorrow, but I'll help you stay away from Mark. I'll help you stay away from everybody."

I thanked her and then, just when I thought she couldn't be any nicer, she pulled me in for a hug.

My tears had subsided and I decided to ask her exactly what was on my mind. "I can't tell you how much I appreciate this. Can I just ask, though, why are you doing this all for me?"

Kat sighed. "Let's just say, I've been in a similar position. People can be so gossipy even when they don't know what the fuck they're talking about. This night will pass."

Kat was a few years older than me. I think Mark said 29, but I felt like she had years of wisdom on me. "Well, I owe you big time."

"Don't mention it," Kat said with the wave of her wrist. With that, she rubbed my back with one more soothing touch and stood up. "I'll call your room tomorrow when I have your stuff."

A few minutes later, my Uber was there and I felt comfortable going back to the hotel. I got to the room and collapsed on the bed.

Kat delivered my stuff the next morning as promised before letting me know that she'd drive me back to Mark's house to get my car. We talked the whole car ride and I was surprised at how comfortable I felt after such a horrible ending to the previous night. We even exchanged phone numbers and I couldn't believe that I might have a new friend after all of this. At least one person still liked me.

The Reception

The hall for the wedding was nice. High ceilings and a huge marble staircase greeted us when we walked in, along with servers carrying champagne. Of course, I immediately grabbed one. I also downed it in minutes.

When I grabbed another, Mark gave me a warning look. "We still have the ceremony before the reception," he reminded me.

I playfully rolled my eyes and winked at him. "I can handle my alcohol."

He started to introduce me to a few people; it was his childhood friend's wedding so I ended up meeting some of his friends, along with their parents. His parents luckily weren't there.

The ceremony was short and sweet. By the time we got to the cocktail hour, I was three glasses of champagne deep and starving. There were a bunch of stations bordering the room and we stopped by all of them.

Once I noticed Mark's short attention span earlier in the day, it's like I couldn't notice anything else. He would ask about one option on a table and become disinterested before the server even finished answering the question.

I tried to limit my plate, even though I wanted to pile on the mac and cheese like it was my last meal before execution. We ended up in front of the bar and I immediately ordered more champagne. Mark didn't say anything this time, because he probably forgot it was my fourth glass.

I met most of the people who would be at our table during cocktail hour. Everyone was very welcoming and I could tell they were a close knit group. A guy's friends can be a huge variable and in Mark's case, they were a plus.

I was stuffed by the time the cocktail hour was over, but I knew I had to focus my energy. I was not going to be a boring date. The least I could do for Mark was be a good date.

Once we were informed the cocktail hour was over, Mark guided me into the main room with his hand on my lower back. It was sexy.

I grabbed another glass of champagne. I was not feeling even slightly buzzed and I was getting frustrated.

When we got to the table, I knew almost everyone there; the vegan couple, the newly engaged couple, and the really successful couple. A man in a dark gray suit walked up to us and extended his hand. "Nice to meet you," he began. "I'm Greg, Megan's boyfriend."

Mark extended his hand and I followed suit. Mark soon informed me that Megan was in the bridal party, along with the girl in the vegan couple. They were both in a different area, about to make their entrances.

For the next couple hours, I had so much fun. We all drank, talked, and danced. When dinner arrived, Mark was seated for maybe 90 seconds before he whispered in my ear that he'd be right back.

I began indulging in my roasted chicken for a bit before looking up and realizing nobody was at the table, except Greg. He was looking at me and laughed when we made eye contact.

He picked up his plate and switched seats so he was sitting next to me. "Sorry, I didn't mean to be a creep," Greg said. I shook my head, but he continued. "You're an outsider like me, huh?"

I looked across the room. I saw Mark, with most of our table, chatting with another group of people. "I guess, but I'm having fun."

"Me too," he continued. "I don't mean to sound like a jerk, but didn't really feel like eating alone."

I smiled. "Me neither, but I'm sure they'll be back soon."

It turns out, Greg made a good move. Mark and his close friends didn't come back over for at least 15 minutes and we were done eating by that point.

"I'm starving," Mark said upon return. No apology?

"I'm going to grab a drink. Do you want?"

Mark shook his head. "Boy, you're a drinker, huh?" I smiled and didn't respond.

I was waiting for my drink when I heard Greg behind me. "I guess we're on the same schedule now."

I laughed. "Or you're stalking me."

He laughed. "You caught me," he replied before the bartender appeared with my drink.

I had one more encounter with Greg about an hour later. I was walking out of the bathroom when my left heel broke. "Damn it," I said out loud to myself as I reached down to check the damages. I was balancing myself against the wall when I heard his voice again. "Okay, you're allowed to file a restraining order now."

I turned and laughed. "I always thought it'd be cool to have a stalker, so we're good," I responded.

"Let me take a look at that," Greg insisted as he bent over and looked at my shoe. At that moment, my friend from the bus came towards me.

"Oh my God, I've been looking for you all night!" She squealed.

I was actually eager to see her all night, but at that moment I couldn't wrap my head around anything besides my shoes. "Me too! We'll catch up in there after I finish up here."

She nodded and stumbled passed me.

"Okay, all fixed."

I looked down and wiggled my foot. The shoe looked good as new!

"Whoa, don't shake it too much," Greg laughed. "It's only held together with nail glue."

"Nail glue?"

Greg took a small tube out of his pocket and wiggled it around. "Megan asked me to hold on to it earlier in case she broke a nail. I guess it came in handy."

"Well, thanks," I said. "I'd seriously be lost right now if it weren't for you."

We walked back into the reception and I found Mark. He was talking to one of his friends and when I walked over to him he gave me a serious look. "Can we go talk?" He asked.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Getting to the Wedding

I called Anna as soon as I got home.

"Ugh," she began. "On to the next one, Caroline. He's the worst!"

I was surprised Anna had this reaction. I was honestly expecting her to encourage me to go to the wedding. Over the past few months, I had depended on her to tell me everything I did was okay.

"Why not?" I asked as I began looking through my closet. One could argue that I had already made up my mind. "It's not like I have anything else to do that night."

Anna paused for a second. "I don't know, I wouldn't go."

I completely saw where Anna was coming from and I couldn't deny that she had a point. But that didn't stop me from throwing on a dress from my closet and agreeing to meet Mark at his place anyway.

He said we'd leave from his house together and that it was about an hour drive. He had a hotel room for the night and told me that he could change it to two twin beds if I wanted. I heard my mother's voice telling me, "that's not going to keep him from murdering you in your sleep." Even though we hadn't slept together yet, I told him one king size bed was fine. I wondered how I could casually ask why my invite was so last minute, but couldn't think of a way to phrase it.

"Hey," Mark greeted me at the front door. He kissed me on the cheek and it felt strangely familiar. "How're you? I should be ready in a few minutes if you want to come in."

I nodded and walked into his house with my overnight bag.

I sat on Mark's couch as he got ready and in that 15 minutes or so, I realized something very important.

"How was your day?" He asked as he threw some clothes out of his bedroom onto the couch I was sitting on.

"It was okay," I began as I pressed my lips together and glared at the television. "How was yours?"

"Hectic," he stated as I heard a bag zipper. "I had a bunch of errands. Oh, man! I love this commercial."

I looked at the tv and a GEICO commercial was on. "Yeah, I like this one."

"Yeah, so I had to pick up my suit from the dry cleaner. I still didn't have a card. I wanted to run to the grocery store quick, but didn't have time to go to the one I like."

"Which one is that?" I asked. Since I was still relatively new, I was always eager to hear about store recommendations.

Mark didn't answer right away. He was looking down at a shirt he had thrown on the couch to pack. He licked his finger and was trying to get a stain out. "Oh, sorry. Um, I usually try to get to Fair Market, but it's far from me."

Things began to click from that point on and our day continued to reinforce my theory. Mark wasn't really playing games; he just couldn't focus on anything. He was on a lot of dating sites (I ended up Internet stalking him with Shelby; sue me). Whenever we'd go out, he'd stare at me, like he was super focused. However, looking back, he had made a few quick comments about not wanting any distractions. Focusing wasn't easy for him and maybe that meant I just wasn't satisfying his varying needs for stimulation. I'm sure some girl could, but I felt like I'd know it by now if that girl was me.

Regardless, Mark was a nice guy. Things didn't have to abruptly end and I still felt like I could enjoy his company. Isn't that what dating is all about? Fun? At least I understood the situation a bit more.

Mark finished packing and we hopped in his car for the drive. He rapidly changed radio stations, as I would have predicted, but maintained fluid conversation. I was able to talk to him a little bit about work and how I was adjusting to California.

"Would you consider moving back to New York? You know, if they somehow offered you a position in a New York City office?"

I squirmed in my seat a bit at the thought of working in the same city as Scott. Even though there would be over eight million people around us, I didn't like the idea of running into him.

"Maybe," I replied. "I miss my family, but I'm starting to feel really comfortable here."

We arrived at the hotel and dropped our bags off in the room. We had about 20 minutes before we had to head down to the shuttle.

"Do you need anything before we head down?" Mark asked. He sure did look good in his gray suit.

I shrugged. "Nope, my clutch is packed."

"Good," he replied. Then, out of nowhere, he approached me and cupped my face. He kissed me deep. Maybe there was something to being with somebody so "spontaneous."

We made out for a few more minutes and while I impulsively wanted to do more, it was better for us to head to the lobby.

As we waited for the elevator, he squeezed my hand. "I'm glad we had some time," he said.

"Me too," I replied with a smile.

We got to the shuttle and it was almost full. There were a couple empty seats toward the front, one in front of the other. I ended up sitting next to a blond girl and he sat in front of me, next to a teenage boy.

After a few minutes, I bonded with the girl sitting next to me. We quickly bonded over the fact that we were both someone's date to this wedding. She had recently started seeing the best man and Mark had told me he grew up with the bride.

By the time the shuttle arrived, I had made a new best friend.