I had been feeling pretty darn good about my workouts up until the day of Kristy’s move. Like, they’d been happening! And once or twice I was able to pick up heavier weights than the ones I’d used before! Sometimes I didn’t even have to use the lightest weights in the rack! All thanks to dating a super-hot personal trainer.
Seriously. I thought I was winning at life.
Then I encountered Kristy’s dresser.
Don’t get me wrong– it’s a gorgeous piece of furniture. Art deco, walnut, with these stained inlays to look like starbursts. Surprisingly snazzy taste for Kristy, although my guess is she got it because she liked that it looked like something out of Monica and Rachel’s apartment in Friends, not because of any reverence for classic design. But, whatever. It was beautiful, regardless of her reasons.
It was also HEAVY.
So we were all standing around, post Jessi storming off, all feeling a little awkward because Kristy’s girlfriend kept calling Jessi a bitch even though, let’s be honest, Jessi wasn’t totally wrong (even if she should use her words more), and staring at this furniture that nobody in the direct vicinity could move more than three inches at a time.
Let me tell you, I was really looking forward to my post-move beer.
“I don’t know what I’m going to do,” Kristy said. “I have to be out by five.”
We all continued to stare.
Then I realized something: “Did you ask Eric to move?” Technically, he was her employee, but they generally seemed to get along, and CLEARLY she didn’t have a problem with fraternizing with her staff.
Kristy shook her head. She looked so pitiful, leaning against the arm of her couch, wincing every five breaths. “I thought we had enough people.” She cringed. “I guess I should have thought more in terms of quality, not quantity.” She clapped a hand on her forehead and simultaneously yelped with pain. “Crap. You know what I mean.”
Of course, nobody planned on giving her a hard time at this moment. “Let me see if he’s around,” I said. I texted him, and he was, and a half hour later he showed up with his friend, who also worked at Kristy’s gym and was one of those douchey bro types. Looked like Captain America, you know, but smarmier. Always kind of smirking.
Don’t get me wrong. I loved Ben. He was super strong… but he was a data scientist who worked out maybe two times a week, and that’s being generous. I kid you not– I’d seen Eric lift barbells stacked with multiple tires. And chains. He’s shown me photos of himself pulling a MONSTER TRUCK. Like with the wheels that are taller than a person.
So, like, these guys practically skipped up and down the stairs with Kristy’s stuff. At one point, Eric put an arm chair on his back and just ran down the stairs with it. No help.
Anyway, the rest of us lugged smaller things to the truck, and in just over an hour, Kristy’s apartment was empty, ready for a last quick sweep and vacuum before closing up shop. Eric drove the truck, and everybody caravaned over to Mary Anne’s, for the joy of unloading. Etc.
After, Kristy insisted on still ordering pizza, although she was now lying completely flat on her back on Mary Anne’s couch, a heating pad tucked beneath her while Monica held her hand and gazed forlornly at her, like she’d just been diagnosed with cancer and given one month to live. “I have a six-pack of Road Jam with your name on it, Claud.”
She forced a grin, but it was one of those smiles where her eyes weren’t really smiling with it. She had dark circles under her eyes while the rest of her skin looked sallow.
“Are you sure? We could also postpone to another day, when you’re able to enjoy it.”
“I can enjoy it!” She attempted to pull herself up the couch, gave a sharp gasp, and collapsed backwards. Monica tutted and stroked her arm.
The others were all looking around as well, trying to read the room. Stacey added, “Yeah, I’m fine to postpone until you’re doing better, Kristy.” Everyone murmured agreement.
Mary Anne said, “We can even have a shindig here. The kids love sleeping over at Dad and Sharon’s, and now that they have space again…” (Her parents had kicked her stepsister, Dawn, out after some instance of burning contraband in their apartment. Weed or sage or possibly crack. You can never really know with Dawn. Anyway, she was living on some coworker’s couch now.)
The rest of us replied in a chorus: “Count me in.” “Same.” “Me too.” Etc.
A look of relief washed over Kristy’s face. “Are you sure, guys? I don’t want you to think I don’t appreciate all your help. But I really feel like I could just take some pain meds and pass the fuck out right now.”
“That sounds like a great idea,” Stacey said.
I walked over and squeezed Kristy’s hand. “Feel better, buddy.”
Once we got outside and our friends started trickling towards their respective cars, though, Eric turned to me and said, “I am STARVING. Want to grab a bite?”
“I do, but I think I’m too gross to go out in public like this. I smell like a high school locker room.” I wrinkled my nose.
He flung an arm around my shoulders and pulled me towards him, burying his face in my neck and taking a deep sniff. I squealed. “I think you smell marvelous, darling.” He spoke with a posh accent, the last word coming out, “dahhhhh-ling.”
Stacey was digging through her purse like she was looking for something. Which was weird, given one of Stacey’s many super powers is never losing anything in her bags because she has some bizarro system where every item has a specific pocket or spot where it’s held.
“Stace, you want to come with?”
She stared at her bag, frozen in place for a moment. Then she looked up and replied, “Just the three of us?”
“Gary’ll come!” Eric said.
Gary shrugged. “Sure. I could eat.”
Stacey shifted her weight from one foot to the other and looked at her keys as though they might offer an answer.
“Did you really have something else planned already?” Eric said, giving her a light chuck on the shoulder. “C’mon, Blondie. You know you want to.”
She immediately smiled when he said, “Blondie,” then bit her lip. Her eyes flicked from him, to me, to him again.
I smiled encouragingly. “Yeah, it’ll be fun.”
I’d gotten a sense that Stacey had a bit of a crush on Eric. Not anything major, just thought he was hot, because, let’s be honest, he was. He was like a tattooed, half-Filipino Disney prince. But, in general, she’d been pretty cool about me dating him. Not, like, going out of her way to talk to me about him, mind you, but asking the appropriate questions when I told her we had another date set up, exclaiming at the correct times in the conversation.
Anyway, it was probably just weird for her to have these two very different parts of her life coming together… Right? So grabbing a bite and a drink together would make it more normal. I mean, I’d prefer if it had been Keith with us rather than discount Captain America, but what can you do?
She nodded slowly. “Okay. Sure. I need to eat. Can we just make sure to go somewhere with some healthy options? Not, like, pizza or Chinese?”
“There’s that new bistro downtown. My parents went with Janine when she was visiting. And Janine’s not eating anything unhealthy these days.” My older sister, who had the same sweet tooth as me, took up running marathons a couple years back, subsequently gave up sugar and animal products, and basically became a miserable human being. When we were kids she had this annoying habit of correcting my choice of words or use of colloquialisms. Now she just sent me “helpful” articles about the “gut microbiome” and intermittent fasting.
Stacey found that option acceptable, so we wandered across town.
The restaurant was probably a bit too swanky for suburban Connecticut, to be honest. Think super-high ceilings with wrought iron fixtures, exposed brick walls traced with random pipes and gears, tables made from old-school luggage, and about 90 million clocks. Very steam-punk. To top it off, all the wait staff was walking around with Victorian-style aviator goggles strapped to their heads.
The hostess brought us to a leather loveseat and pair of armchairs set around a burgundy steamer trunk. “Does anybody else feel a little underdressed?” I asked. Gary wore basketball shorts and a t-shirt, Stacey was decked entirely in Athleta, and Eric was only slightly better with a pair of jeans… but his t-shirt entirely soaked through with sweat. I was literally the classiest one in our group, because I’d thrown on a sweater I’d found in my car’s trunk over my sweaty tanktop before going into the restaurant. (Well, I was the classiest if you ignored the Pusheen crossbody purse I had strapped on. But Pusheen did have a tophat, monocle, and mustache. That counts, right?)
“Doesn’t look like they’ve got a ton of other people here to care,” Eric said. He was right– there were some couples, one family with a toddler throwing Cheerios by the fistful onto the ground, and… Yeah. We were fine.
Eric grabbed my hand and pulled me onto the loveseat with him, wrapping an arm around my shoulders. I leaned my head against him and closed my eyes for a moment, enjoying the warmth. He’s the first guy I’d dated in a looooooong time who was so openly affectionate– reaching to hold my hand when we walked down the street, kissing me mid conversation, playing with my hair. My normal type was other artsy guys, moody poets and playwrights who spent more time brooding over their own thoughts than they did thinking about me. Eric was a lot simpler. He liked working out and playing video games and working on his bike and, now that I was in the picture, touching me.
And let me tell you, was he good at touching. Wink, wink.
When I opened my eyes again, Stacey was staring straight at us, her hands still clutching her purse in her lap, her expression slack, eyes sad.
“You okay over there?” I asked.
She gave a tiny jolt, said, “Yeah. I think my blood sugar might be a little low?”
“Let’s see if we can get a bread basket or something. Do you think they do that, or will it be…” I had no idea how to finish the sentence. What do steampunks eat instead of bread?
“Oh, hey! Popovers!” Eric exclaimed.
The server arrived and set a plate with two large domes of dough and a tiny ramekin of herb butter in front of us. Eric grabbed one of the popovers and split it open, steam wafting out. He tore off a piece and dipped it in the butter, then held it in front of my face.
I knew bread could be delicious, but this was– look, this restaurant could have sold these things for $10. The shell of the popover was delicate, giving way to this salty custardy-bready hybrid interior that melted in my mouth. I closed my eyes and gave a small moan. “I’m in love,” I said. “Sorry, Eric. These popovers have replaced you.”
“Well, then, I’ll just keep this for myself. Got to keep the competition away.” He gave a half smile. A swoop of his hair had fallen across his forehead, making him look kind of 90s-hearthrob-esque. His face was super angular. Any time I looked at it, I had the urge to draw it, the plane of his cheek and jaw, his eyes made of straight lines approximating an almond shape, the sharp bridge of his nose, his wide mouth.
I giggled and grabbed for the remainder of the popover, but he held it away behind him.
“Ugh. Get a room!” Gary groaned.
My cheeks warmed. Eric winked at me. I glanced at Stacey. She hadn’t eaten more than a couple bites of her own popover.
“Hey, Stace. Need more butter?”
“Oh, yeah, sure.” She tore off a piece of bread and dabbed it delicately in the ramekin.
“These are insane, right?”
“Yeah, definitely.” She said this in a lackluster tone, though. Her mood definitely seemed to have taken a nosedive.
I shifted away from Eric, just a bit. I suddenly felt itchy with guilt, even though I was sure I hadn’t done anything wrong, besides act a little obnoxious. She’d done the same with Keith when they first started seeing each other, although that was so long ago.
“So who’s surprised Kristy is still dating Monica?” I asked.
This question had my intended effect. Stacey perked up immediately and leaned forward, elbows on her knees. “Oh. My. God. Right? Did you hear her talking to Jessi?”
The boys, unfortunately, were terrible gossips, but Stacey and I managed to continue on this thread: Did you see how she wouldn’t move more than a foot from Kristy at any given time? The only girl she wasn’t giving side-eye to was Mallory… Etc. Right after we ordered, Eric patted me on the shoulder and said he was going to pee. I nodded, kept talking to Stacey, who was smiling and laughing like her normal self now that I wasn’t flirting with Eric.
A moment or two later, my phone buzzed with a text message. I glanced at the screen. Eric: I need you.
Another buzz. Can you come back here? First bathroom.
“Ugh. I have to pee too. I guess that means I stayed hydrated?” I announced.
Stacey laughed. “Kristy will be proud.”
I went back towards the bathrooms, and, once I got there, knocked on the door of the first one. “Come in,” Eric said.
I squeezed in, and found him leaning against the sink. He raised one eyebrow, then grabbed my by the hips and pulled me in for a kiss. My stomach dropped like I was plummeting down the first thrilling hill of a roller coaster. He continued to kiss along my jaw, down my neck, his thumbs hooking into the waistband of my jeans. A giggle rose in my throat. My heart beat hard against my sternum. I reached a hand up the back of his shirt and pressed it against the warm skin of his back.
One of his hands traveled to the button of my jeans, his fingers tickling my stomach.
“No,” I said– admittedly not super convincingly– and stepped back. I shook my head. “Not right now.”
“Oh, come on. We can be fast.” To emphasize this point, he pulled his own jeans down over his hips without unbuttoning them… which caused the button to pop off and skitter across the floor. “Shit.”
I wanted to laugh, but suddenly I could not stop thinking about Stacey, how depressed she seemed watching Eric and I together. The thoughts smacked my momentary excitement away, leaving me tense. I motioned for him to pull his pants back up.
“What?” He shook his hips. “You sure you don’t want any of this?” I noticed the growing bulge and averted my gaze.
“Not right now!”
He sighed and pouted. “Fine…”
“I’m perfectly fine leaving and letting you deal with pants that won’t stay up. Or you can cool it, and I can help you fix it.”
He pulled his pants all the way on. His brow furrowed in confusion. “What’s wrong?”
I wasn’t about to tell him Stacey might still be pining for him, of course. I wasn’t even sure that was what was wrong with her. If my hunch was right, though… it’s not like I would have gone out with Eric if I’d known her feelings. We’d been best friends for 25 years. Twenty-five years! Our friendship was old enough to rent a car! Besides my family, she was the most important person in my life.
Or maybe it was nothing. Maybe it was… bad gas. Or a fight with Keith that had no bearing whatsoever on my relationship. Or someone stole her credit card. Or maybe she was just really annoyed about the terrible noise and sound reduction efforts in the restaurant. (That happened a lot. She even had an app that was basically a combination of a sound meter and FourSquare, where you could score a restaurant based on its noise levels.)
Eric continued to watch me, so I offered, “Nothing. Bathroom shenanigans just skeeve me out.”
He motioned around the room, at the very large dried floral arrangement, the immaculate black tile covering every surface, the shimmering copper sink that connected to copper pipes that snaked across the room, and the carefully constructed pyramid of rolled hand towels on the counter. There didn’t seem to be a speck of dirt anywhere.
“It’s just the idea of it. Anyway, Still. I’m not sure Stacey would appreciate being left alone with Gary that long.” I was getting to the point where I was about to leave him to deal with his bare bum situation on his own.
Thankfully, he shut up and made no further comments. I dug through my purse and, after some searching (look, we can’t all be as organized as Stacey!), found the sewing kit I always kept on hand.
“Would this be easier if I had my pants off?”
“Let’s keep them on, buster.” I threaded the needle and knelt on the floor in front of him. I picked up the button and started to attach it to the fly of his pants when there was a knock on the door, and, a moment later, the sound of it creaking open.
“Oh, sorry! I didn’t realize anyone was…”
I turned as Stacey’s voice trailed off, just in time to lock eyes with her, my hands on my boyfriend’s crotch.
© 2019 Kat Setzer. This page has no affiliation with Ann M. Martin, Scholastic, or any other entity involved with the Baby-Sitters Club Series. Original photo of woman © 2019 luismolinero from Adobe Stock Images (although I replaced her head). Bathroom from some restaurant website or Pinterest. I can’t remember. Whoops.