Alright. Alright, fine.
Javier could be a Thing.
Wednesday night, there was a fundraiser happy hour at a neighborhoodish bar. I couldn’t go at the prescribed fundraising time because of my previously prescribed class, but Javi had asked me if I was going to be there. As promised, I arrived 30 minutes after the end of my class, which was an hour and a half after Javi had sent me a picture of his glass of wine and urged me to ditch school early. The handful of folks still mingling was all dressed pretty officiously, having come straight from our grown-up jobs (or gone straight to class from the job). I was even wearing heels. Usually when I’m in my officle or walking across campus, I’m in flats, for the sake of my back, but I’d had a couple of major meetings that day.
Alright, fine. I swapped shoes in the car so I’d be wearing the heels for the neighborhood thing.
There are a lot of shoes in my car. The passenger side floor of my Honda is not unlike a second closet.
After an hour or so, everyone had left, but I was eating, so Javi and I were finally able to catch up on our own. Totally innocently, but with a little more depth than is usually possible with nosy neighbors lingering nearby. At the perfectly reasonable hour of 10:30, we decided to head to another place to rejoin some neighbors. On our way out, we ran into Gaybor Steve downstairs and invited him and his date to come along.
Alright, fine. Javi kept putting his hand on the small of my back as we walked. And I kind of love that.
Now: back in May, Javi had finished up grad school at the institution where I work, but hadn’t really celebrated. A few weeks ago, he’d told me how much he loved the mug he got when he finished his B.S., with the school’s logo and his name on it. So I thought it might be nice to grab a few things from the merchandise we marketing types have heaped in closets, and fill a gift bag for him. Among the merch was a stainless steel mug with the school’s logo on it, which I’d had engraved with his name, degree and post-grad year.
Alright, fine. I went to the bookstore and paid for the travel mug. And for a couple of other things. Because I think his parents deserve to have keychains that say “This School Mom” and “This School Dad” on them. I don’t know if they have anything from the institution where their oldest and most adventurous son got his degrees.
“I have good news and bad news,” I told him as I popped the trunk of my car open with my key fob. “The bad news is: we don’t make the mug you got in 2002 anymore. But the good news is…” I reached for the bag.
“Oh my God, are you seeriahs?” Javi exclaimed, grinning and throwing his head back. “Oh my God!”
“…Congratulations on getting your master’s degree four months ago!” I finished, holding the bag up.
He riffled through it for a minute, pulling out this and that. He gave me a hug and a kiss on the cheek. “Dis is so great!” he exclaimed genuinely. “I’m so essited about dis!”
Awww. Now that’s just sweet.
By the time we each found parking spots and walked the block or two in opposing directions to meet at the second bar, the joint had shut down and all that were left were the bar-back and two neighbors, arguing with polite heat about the virtues of capitalism vs. socialism. (Yeah… these are my friends and neighbors.) They decided against the third venue Javi suggested, so he and I walked there alone.
“Tavern?” he asked, referring to the neighborhood version of Cheers we all tend to frequent. The Tavern is a short walk from our respective houses, so we decided to each put our cars to bed first. He walked me back to my car and then got in the passenger side.
“Oh,” I laughed. “Am I giving you a ride to your car?”
Javi had to kick aside about four and a half pairs of shoes at his feet. “What is ahp with all dese shoooz?” he wanted to know.
Parked at our houses, he watched from the end of my alley as I walked from my parking spot toward him. Then we walked the three blocks to Tavern.
Oh come ON, neighborhood business owners! I know it’s Wednesday, but it’s not even 11:30! Can we be adults?
“Okay, fine,” Javi said. “We are going to your house.”
…Oh. Well, I do always have wine…
We walked to my house.
Still in the damned heels, by the way.
“What would you like to drink?” I asked him from the kitchen, where I had headed directly after kicking off my shoes at the front door. “I have wine and vodka.”
“Well… what are you having?” Javi wanted to know while eyeing an unmatched Franco Sarto plaid heel that was lying, inexplicably, on my loveseat.
“Okay, then I’ll have wine.”
“It’s red…” I warned. Javi tends to prefer white.
“Das fine,” he said measuredly. “I just ushally like it when iss cold.”
“Do you want an ice cube in it?” I teased him. I have to tease him, even though I know he’s referring to outdoor temperature. He has been known to violate my principles of wine drinking with an ice cube before.
“No,” he laughed. “I mean when de weather iss cold!”
With our goblets of medoc, we settled on my couch and started talking about our friends, the neighborhood zeitgeist and local politics—our usual fallbacks that are guaranteed to create conversation. But then things started skewing to topics like our families, how we grew up, what we believe in (Javi is atheist but was raised Catholic; he told me about when he told his mother he doesn’t believe in God).
It was somewhere in the middle of a sentence about God that Javier suddenly leaned forward and tried to kiss me.
I think I uttered something eloquent like, “Oh! Um…” as I held a hand up to his chest and turned my head. I half-wish there had been a camera on this. I’m a little concerned that my evasion looked like I was trying to dodge an insect. His kiss landed firmly in the center of my right cheek.
It all gets blurry here, but I know that after a few seconds of somewhat awkward smiles and sounds that didn’t really qualify as words, I gently explained that I can’t let anything happen as long as he has a girlfriend. And he leaned back to his original position with a sheepish smile and downcast eyes, and said they broke up a month ago, but have been talking recently, so he guesses he still technically does have a girlfriend.
“But…” he said quietly, “…I like you.”
Deep breath. “Well, I like you too,” I admitted, concentrating on the end of a nail where the polish had chipped. “And I’ve wondered if there was something here more than the friendly-neighbor thing. But I’ve been trying to be really careful—”
“I know you have,” he laughed, and I smiled, glancing at him. He doesn’t know all the reasons I’ve been careful. This was a test for me. Could I stick to my guns, to the lessons I’ve learned lately?
“I just…” I looked for the right way to do this. ”As long as you’re seeing someone, it won’t work for me. And it’s not fair to her.”
“I know,” he said openly. “You’re right.”
He rubbed his face with his hands, eyelids drooping at the hour. ”I know you don’t need to hear more than this,” he said without defensiveness, holding his open hand out to ask me to just hear this one thing. “But… something has been missing from that relationship for a long time. And I have been struggling with that for a long time.”
Hmm. They broke up for a reason, and the reason wasn’t lily pad hopping.
I don’t remember whether there were words that ended the conversation. But it wasn’t uncomfortable, really. Just… here is the situation. No now what? or demand for an action plan. Just… here it is. And I was okay with leaving it there.
He apologized for being so sleepy. We hugged goodnight and he left, pointing to the shoe on the loveseat.
“I dink I kicked de other wan in your car,” he smiled.
A short time later my phone dinged with a text message. ”I wish it was Friday or Saturday.”
Alright, fine. I’ve spent days trying not to reply.