“Hey, Beautiful, I haven’t seen you in so long! I missed you!”
Lex greeted me with a warm embrace as I walked onto the St. George platform. She tried to lift me up but her skinny arms could never get me off the ground.
“I missed you so much, Beautiful! Like the kind of miss you can’t fully understand until you’re right in front of the one you’ve been missing. I feel like I’m going to cry.”
“I have tissues.”
“Do you want to just sit and have a coffee before we go anywhere? The place we used to go to all the time is still open.”
“Oh my God, Le Beanery? Do you have gloves and top hats in that bag?”
“No, but I have some eyeliner. We can pencil in fancy moustaches on the way.”
As we waited for the orange hand to disappear, I asked Lex if I ever told her that I saw Margaret Atwood walking by there once.
“Only a million times.”
Lex told me about her job back home in Saint Andrews, New Brunswick. She was being groomed to take over the family business – they ran a few whale watching tour boats. She didn’t know she could love whales so much after hating them as a kid. But she had never hated those amazing creatures, just the fact that she had to work ten hour days in the summer if she ever wanted to see her dad.
I told Lex about my editing job at a small press. It had been months since I’d found a manuscript to fall in love with. All the innovators were publishing independently. And an avant guard publisher can only go so long without good new experimental authors. I was starting to give up on finding the one that would bring our house to Booker shortlist prestige.
We found a table on the patio near the back away from the busyness of others. It was a gorgeous May afternoon. Sparrows were eating crumbs from a plate left on the table next to us.
“So, how’ve you really been, Eleanor?”
“God, you know I hate it when you call me that.”
Lex looked over the top of her sunglasses at me, knowing, even after years, that I was pretending to do better than I was.
“What gave me away?”
“I can’t explain, Nora, I just know.”
I rolled my eyes. “Woke up this morning to a hate mail notification from Sean.”
“No way. You guys broke up, what, three maybe four years ago, right?”
“Yup, and he’s still stalking me online. He’s fucking insane. I’m glad I got out of that when I did.”
“What ever happened to Derick?”
“I don’t know,” I kind of laughed at how stunned that still made me feel. “Whatever happened, it didn’t work.”
“Who has been coveting you these days?”
“Fuck off! The girl who had all the uni guys tripping over themselves.”
“Give me a break. They were uni guys. What else would they do? What about you? All those uni girls throwing roses into our window at four in the morning.”
“I think I’ve given up.”
“Who broke your heart?”
She looked at me.
“So he was married.”
“That’s what I get for dating older men.”
“Oh, sweets, it’s not your fault. Some people are just fucked up.”
“Ya, and I think I’ve met them all.”
“So how do you know it wasn’t the married guy sending you hate mail?”
“Sean has his own style of hate, I guess. When the married guy would get drunk after I left, he would send stupid love poems trying to get me back and then go off calling me a cold hearted whore when I said I wouldn’t see him again.”
“Ya, and Sean isn’t normal. There’s something broken in his brain. We used to watch The Office together, the American one, not the British one, and I have a ‘haha’ Pinterest board with stills from the show. Ever since we split, whenever Sean would get angry about something, he would use a fake account to save a pin that shows one of the characters standing on his desk with a sign around his neck. The sign says, ‘liar’. Since he’s the only one who knows about this account, it’s pretty obvious.”
“Jesus, Nora, you weren’t kidding when you said Sean is insane.”
“That’s not even the worst of it.”
“Do I even want to know?”
I held out my hand, palm up, and started ticking off a list. “Sean got the married guy’s number after I found out he was married and threatened to tell his wife.”
“Before that, Sean lured me to a pub by telling me he was thinking of killing himself and he had nobody else to talk to, then he started crying so I brought him back to my place. I woke up the next morning – a work day- feeling hung over as hell, like I had been black out drunk when I’d only had two drinks. When I went into my living room there was an empty blister pill pack beside my half-drunk beer. And later that day he sent me a text saying he could have fucked me but he didn’t… this time.”
“You’re fucking kidding.”
“Oh, and then there was that one time Sean slept with my sister and posted photos online. She didn’t know he was recording it.”
“Jesus, Nora, you’re right. It is a good thing you got out when you did. You were talking marriage the last time we spoke before you guys broke up.”
“I know.” I looked down at the tea in the mug between my hands. “So, I give up.”
On the West end of Toronto proper, Dan was waking up after a twelve hour staff writer’s meeting that had gone until ten in the morning.
He was looking forward to seeing what Jennifer had sent him after he revealed that he wanted her to surprise him.
It had been a few months with Jennifer online and there was something about this one that seemed perfect.
Dan had been cautious about telling any woman what he was truly looking for after his last girlfriend Julia had ripped him apart with her lies and manipulation and other generally crazy shit.
Indisputably crazy. Poking holes in the Trojans crazy.
But Jennifer was everything he wanted without him having to reveal anything too detailed about his deal breakers.
Dan was going to ask Jennifer, finally, to meet after all those hours of getting to know each other online.
She was a pretty good writer. Not the best he’d ever read. Not even the best who’d ever written him a poem. But the pictures she took for him showed a beautiful creature he couldn’t believe that he, of all people, had resisted jumping right into his old self and coming up with lists of things for her to do that used to help him feel sure that the woman he was talking to was being authentic.
Jennifer was perfect so far. She was nothing like others he’d talked to online. She had taken six weeks to even send him a photo of her bare shoulders. And it wasn’t because she was a prude. She was being cautious because she was a single mom.
Last night, before he started work, Jennifer had been driving him crazy in ways he didn’t even tell her about. Things were heating up. And doing it this way was surprisingly erotic. She asked him what he’d like to wake up to and he told her that he trusted her. He knew whatever it was would be perfect.
Dan thought all this as he was stepping into his ensuite, yawning. He purposely left his phone face down on his night stand to leave her surprise longer, to make sure he was ready to respond.
He got back into bed, pulled the covers up over his half naked body and got comfortable.
Dan’s heart pounded as he picked up his iphoneX. There was a notification from Jennifer on his locked home screen.
He smiled seeing her name.
He opened WhatsApp before checking his texts or anything else.
Dan’s pulse spiked as he clicked on a photo. At first, he thought it looked like a dick. ‘What the fuck?’ He looked closer. It was a dick.
Jennifer had a good sense of humour, but it wasn’t sick or twisted. She wouldn’t have sent that to him as a joke. He checked to make sure it was her account. He looked for signs that she had been hacked. Then he looked at the photo again. There was something eerily familiar about that curve.
Dan pushed down the anxiety that began to overwhelm him. He squinted to make up for the blur that was starting in his vision.
“Holy fuck. What the hell.”
He whipped his phone across his bed as if it was burning acid in his hands.
It was his cock. His own cock. But how would Jennifer –
Dan started listing off the names of any girl he’d sent a dick pic to and then he thought of which ones knew his real name and which of those would want to hurt him in such a malicious way.
After a few minutes of deep breathing and mindful thought exercises, Dan picked up his phone again. ‘Jennifer’ was online.
“How’d you like the pic, lover?”
“Jesus Christ,” he said out loud even though no-one could hear him.
Julia had called him lover, even after he left when he found the useless condom in the garbage. No other girl he’d been with talked in that stupid faux kissy-kissy language.
He didn’t reply. He was about to block her when another photo came through.
It was Julia with a lollipop in her mouth and an exaggerated lusty look in her crazy fuck eyes.
Dan blocked her. He felt anger warm his blood. Then he thought of how filled with glee Julia would be if she knew he was furious. So he shoved the anger down into the pit of his belly and checked his texts.
Rav had messaged an hour before Dan woke asking if he wanted to meet for a beer.
“Hey Rav, I just got up. Worked until 10am.”
“Fuck, I thought Jennifer had kept you up again.”
“Nope. She turned out to be kind of a bitch.”
“Shit, sorry, man.”
“Whatever. Life goes on.”
“Do you want to come out?”
Dan hadn’t started a day drinking since his mid-twenties. ‘Fuck it,’ he thought.
“Sure. Give me half an hour to get shaved and dressed.”