youth and beauty

Haha, only I could turn three hours into three million words...

Sure enough, there are two floral love seats in the sitting area of his bedroom. They face one another across a coffee table littered with cards and crumpled wrapping paper. Two foil balloons on their last breath of helium hover just above the table.

"Birthday?" I ask.

"Graduation. Did I tell you that? I thought I told you that." He did. I'd forgotten in the space of an hour.  He walks to the further sofa and stands behind it, running his hand across the back to showcase the print: cabbage roses the size of his palm, strewn across an optic white background. Designed by a friend of his, using vintage fabric from the UK. She's amazing, so talented. They're one-of-a-kind. Cool, right? I suspect that the friend he's describing is a current or former lover. There seems to be no other excuse for these couches, which sit there embarrassedly, like a pair of lace hankies left in the men's locker room. 

I turn to take in the rest of the room, but when I sense Matthew approaching me, I bound across the bed, pretending to inspect the stack of books on the opposite nightstand. The top one is a collection of Matisse prints. I touch it absently, as if admiring the texture of the jacket's paper. "That's nice," I say, pointing towards a painting on the wall. I'm kneeling on his bed, turned completely away from him, still in my heels. "Who did that?" I'm given a short speech about the artist, a local woman who's "about to blow up", according to my host, who has now rounded the bed to stand in front of me. He tries to push me backwards, but the position I'm in prevents this from working very well, and instead I just sort of tip over awkwardly onto my side, in the way Chaucer does when he finishes a particularly arduous side scratch.

"Hang on," I say, aware that a passive-aggressive primness has crept into my voice. I take my time pulling the jewelry from my fingers and wrist before setting it delicately on top of the Matisse book. "Don't let me forget those." Rolling over to sit back up on the edge of the bed, I reach down to unbuckle my shoe straps. I hear myself sigh with genuine difficulty at the maneuver and wonder what interest this paragon of youth and beauty could possibly have in me, and how many minutes I have before he sobers up and I see the desire evaporate from his perfect face.

As if to answer my question, Mathew, still standing beside the bed, pulls off his shirt. He has the sort of physique that comes from natural athleticism vs. long hours logged in the weight room. Proportionate and muscled, but not unnaturally defined or bulky. I can see the yoga; the football is long gone. It's a delightful sight that I can certainly appreciate, though that's about the extent of my response, mental or physical. But even bad pizza is still pizza, and this is a delicious slice of localganic deep dish that any foodie would scold me for not, at the very least, trying a bite of. So I place a napkin on my lap and pick up my knife and fork. 

Five minutes of disastrously bad making out ensue, during which I alternately deflect, unsuccessfully attempt to redirect, and just plain suffer through more of the weird chin biting, some alarmingly rough handling, and general ineptitude of touch. When I can't stand it any more, I launch myself out of the bed, claiming a need to use the bathroom. I pad back down the main hallway in the dark, unsure of where I'm going. I sense more than I see an open doorway beside me, reach in to fumble for the light switch, and stand gaping at a room that I instantly decide I could happily reside in. 

The master bathroom is about a third the size of my loft, with a toilet room, a walk-in shower, and a massive, gleaming, stand alone bathtub at which I stare for a good minute. Nearly as long as my sofa, the smooth white lip of it reaches to my mid-thigh. An impressive network of chrome hoses and four-pronged faucet nobs anchored to the wall beside it promise unfailing efficiency. And the sheer, egregious size of the thing promises relaxation on a level I don't reach unless Vicodin is involved. It looks brand new, but I know it's not. I know the housekeepers just want me to think it is.

"That tub," I say, walking back into the dark bedroom.

"Yeah, you like it? You want to take a bath?" Before I can answer, he springs from the bed, injected with purpose and, I suspect, hope for amplified interest from me. "Let's take a bath!" Despite my better instincts, I follow him wordlessly back down the hall and into the bathroom.  

I watch as Mathew expertly wrenches faucet dials left and right, calibrating the temperature with his bare feet as water pools quickly around them. I shed the last of my clothes, silently cursing my cheap underwear, and climb in beside him, feeling childlike in the oversized tub. He uncaps a bottle sitting on the ledge beside the tub and tips it carefully into the stream of water. Creamy white suds form around my ankles, and an unmistakable scent fills the room. "Lavender," I say.

"Lavender," he echoes. "Lots of lavender. Be right back." Mathew steps nimbly onto a crisp white bathmat and then disappears back down the hall. I sit down in the bubble-filled water and look at my surroundings. A shelf behind me is lined with various bath and grooming products, mostly Kiehl's. There are fluffy white towels stacked on a built in shelf below twin sinks. I can't tell if the walls are painted the same icy blue as some of the other rooms, or if they're greener. A small silver square has been pressed into the edge of the tub's enamel: the manufacturer's seal. I run my fingertip across the single, cursive script "m". 

When Mathew returns, he hands me a highball filled with some pungent, amber liquid and lights a candle on the vanity. I sniff the glass, but cannot determine the contents. I set it on the ledge behind me and watch the man I've known less than two hours join me, naked, in his tub.

Several minutes of tragically comic fumbling follow.

At some point we move to the shower, which is large enough for me to lay completely flat in, with my arms extended straight above my head. But the change of location doesn't improve things, and after what feels like a polite amount of time has passed, I announce that I need to go home. When Mathew expresses surprise and disappointment, I am genuinely befuddled. Our complete lack of chemistry and physical incompatibility could not be more glaring. But his objections seem sincere, and I reject offers of breakfast in bed and an early morning ride home as kindly as I can. "I'm sorry. I really need to go now. My dog has a small bladder," I lie. 

"Okay, but you have to come for yoga on Tuesday," he says, reaching for his phone to arrange a ride home for me.

"What, like, here? Private instruction, at your house?"


"Fancy!" I exclaim teasingly. I don't actually respond to the invitation. Instead I inquire about the car service. "So, this isn't a taxi then? I don't have much cash..."

"No no, don't worry about it. It's taken care of." I thank him, feeling guilty as I gather my things. But he doesn't seem fazed or upset or hurt, just mildly surprised by my abrupt departure. He walks me as far as his door, slipping on a pair of seersucker shorts he grabs along the way. He thanks me for coming over, for the dancing, etc, and I thank him once again for providing a car for me. I close the door gently behind me and walk to the elevator, glancing at my phone to check the time. It's just after four am.

When I reach the lobby, the first thing I see is Doc, his hand on the backseat door handle of a shiny black Lincoln MKT. The lobby doors have already been propped open in preparation for my departure. I'll tell Mason about this moment later, too. It was like an invisible red carpet leading me straight to my Ride Home of Shame. I walk the ten steps to my waiting chariot and Doc bids me good evening with a tired but neutral expression. 

I feel pretty tired and neutral myself. 

I tell the driver my cross streets and he nods quietly before asking me if I'd like some water, or gum, or a change in the temperature. I decline all of these and relax into the cool leather, grateful that the sun hasn't yet risen. When we reach my building, I unzip my clutch to look for cash to tip the driver. "No, is payed for," he says, shaking his head. I hand him a ten anyway.

The next morning there's a missed text from Mathew on my phone: a picture of the two rings and the bracelet I left sitting on his Matisse book, captioned Perfect for a still life. I mentally kick myself, hard, before replying.

- Gah! I knew I'd forget those. 

- I take it as a lovely reason for us to hang out again this week. 

I have no idea what to say to this. I finally settle on Yeah? What do you have in mind?, mostly because I'm curious.

- Hmm, putting me on the spot for an adventure... Picnic in the park? Reflexology in side by side chairs?

- Wow. Those are some graduate level activities right there.

- Haha, I also cook dinner and watch movies.

I don't answer. Instead I text my best friend. Are you around? I had an adventure last night...


Mathew texts a couple more times over the next few days with invitations that I decline. On Friday, I take a break from writing the final lines of a blog post about him to ask if he'd mind dropping my jewelry in the mail. No rush, just whenever you have a chance. He answers immediately.

- Boo! No hanging out for us? 

I tell him that he's awesome and very fun, etc., but that I don't have a car and he lives hecka far, blah blah blah. I put the phone down and return to writing my post.

He counters right away with an offer for a "subway date" - meeting me somewhere I can easily take the train to, like Hollywood. I also bike downtown all the time, he adds. I stare at his text, reflecting back on the evening, wondering if it was really as bad as I've since made it out to be. His enthusiasm for wanting to see me again is, after all, really nice, and not something I've experienced very much in the past year. I think of what L. and I discussed that night, about the attentiveness of younger men. 

I look at my phone. 

I look at my computer screen.

I don't know what to type in either place.

I don't know how either story should end, or when.