That Girl – By Leslie DJ – Book Tour
Stacey Melendez doesn’t believe in marriage. It’s 2008 and she’s perfectly content being a single 28-year-old Latina living in Manhattan with her best friend and roommate Lin. She doesn’t mind dating handsome unreliable men. But when Lin suddenly announces she’s getting married Stacey is forced to reevaluate her love life and living situation. Stacey must learn to live on her own and find love within herself in order for anyone else to love her in return.
Half past nine. Just great. Stood up once again. I was at a point in my life where staying at home and listening to Coldplay was second nature. I was pretty sure the notorious “they” had labeled this dreadful point of our lives as a “quarter-life crisis.”
Men are scum. Take, for instance, Scenario Number One: it was 2008 and I was home alone on a Saturday night listening to Chris Martin sing about “closing walls and ticking clocks,” hanging upside-down from my futon—yes, futon, because that’s all I could afford if I was trying to convince myself, and more importantly my mother, that I could make it on my own. After all, “If I can make it here, I can make it anywhere.” Good ol’ New York!
I lay with my feet against the back of the futon and my head hanging off the edge, hair spilling onto the floor, munching a bowl of extra-fatty popcorn. While watching, in mute, some crappy made-for-TV movie about a girl who was in an abusive relationship and managed to come out of it on top, I realized how pathetic I’d become.
His name was Victor. We met on a crisp autumn day at one of those round-the-clock drug stores—the kind that sells everything from prescription meds to discounted chips and ice cream. I was rummaging in the shampoo aisle when I heard him barking into a phone, probably a burner phone—the kind drug dealers use to keep their anonymity.
He said, “If it itches so much, why didn’t you come down and get it yourself!” He snapped his phone shut and yelped like a tiny dog when he saw me.
“Sorry,” he said.
“My brother,” he said, pointing to his cell phone, “thinks he has crabs.”
“Oh.” I mean, really, what are you supposed to say to something like that? A smarter person would have pretended they’d found what they were looking for and walked away. “Maybe he should see a doctor,” I suggested. “There are free clinics, you know.”
“I told him that. Go to ’em all the time.” His wide smile began to fade almost immediately as his brain processed what he’d said.
You’d think that at this point I’d walk away, but no, then I wouldn’t be me.
“Listen…” he said.
“Stacey,” I supplied.
“Stacey—I’m Victor, by the way.”
“Do you wanna grab some ice cream or something?”
“Should I meet you in aisle five?” I asked. I half expected him to be joking—I mean really, who gets picked up at a drug store?
“Aisle five, where they have the ice cream… Oh, never mind!”
“Oh, right! No, I meant at the place across the street.”
I said, “Sure,” and we headed towards I SCREAM! The Ice Cream Bar. The place was designed like an actual bar, with mood lighting smack in the middle of the day, jukebox music filling the air and stools in front of the bar area. Tables were a rarity because this establishment expected patrons to walk around with their cocktail-style glasses full of ice cream with long-stemmed spoons that doubled as straws.
I ordered a root beer float and he ordered a “Bloody Sundae,” a milkshake-like sundae with a splash of vodka and a handful of maraschino cherries.
We opted to stand near the jukebox so that we could guess which awesomely bad tune would be next and played a round of BIO (Basic Introductions Opportunity). That’s what I call the game strangers play when they want to squeeze out as much information about a new person as possible, while deciding whether or not they should book a follow-up date or an “accidental” second encounter.
“Let’s see,” he said. He paused and pointed at his head. “I’m one of four, third in line…”
Ah, a middle child. I should’ve known he’d come equipped with emotional baggage.
“Currently between jobs…”
“…tenacious, a hopeless romantic…”
Comes with stalker-like qualities.
“…and my shoe size is eleven.”
I ignored the ringing phone, convinced it would be one of the two people I least wanted to hear from. I’d just let the machine pick up, ’cause I’m old school—and lazy.
“Stacey, it’s your mother,” she said with a sigh, as if it pained her to admit it. “Well, it’s Saturday night, so my guess is you’re either out at the movies, alone as usual, or sitting by the phone screening your calls.”
Gee, Mom, thanks. And she wondered why I didn’t return her calls. “Give me a call when you have a chance. It’s your mother.”
Somewhere between Coldplay and Queen, the phone rang again. A part of me wanted it to be him—size-eleven Victor, with a lame-o excuse so that I could later return his call and lie my ass off about how at the last minute I decided to go out and ended up meeting the “nicest guy who is perfection in every sense of the word.”
“And guess what,” I’d say. “The best part is, he’s nothing like you.” But I thought that would be a tad over-dramatic. So I let the machine pick up again.
“Stace, hey. It’s me, Lin. I’m just… I need to talk to you. I don’t want to tell it to the machine. It’s kind of huge, you know? So…”
I knew better than to ignore my best friend and roommate in a time of possible crisis, so I got to my feet and picked up the phone.
“Lin? Yeah, I’m home… You know, screening as usual. What’s up?” I grabbed the stereo’s remote and turned the music down.
“Well… Oh God, I don’t know how to say this but okay, here goes… No, wait, are you sitting?”
I began to worry, but whatever it was, I could stomach it. Or so I thought. “C’mon, Linda, whatever it is, it can’t be that bad unless… Well, unless someone is sick or something.”
“Oh, no! It’s nothing bad, thank God! It’s good.”
I sat up and reached for my bowl of popcorn. Then she dropped the bomb.
“Okay, here it is—I’m getting married! He just proposed! Just now!”
A piece of popcorn went down the wrong pipe. I flailed my arms around like a propeller as I jumped up and desperately gasped for air, and the receiver fell to the floor.
I could hear Linda’s voice asking, “Hello? Stace? Are you there?”
I clamped my hands together in an attempt to give myself the Heimlich maneuver. As soon as the kernel of popcorn popped out of my mouth, I threw myself onto the floor beside the receiver and began to cry. Linda’s voice was still asking for me, so I wiped my tears away.
“Oh, sorry. I just got a little choked up. I’m so happy for you, really I am.”
She let out a sigh of relief, and at that moment I realized how much my excitement meant to her. I got up from the floor and began to pace around the apartment as we made arrangements to meet up after work on Monday. She planned to take the rest of the weekend to announce the engagement to their parents, leaving me with full custody of our bachelorette pad. I was the first person she’d told; that put me at ease, that I was still Number One in Linda’s eyes. Well, Number Two whenever her now-fiancé, Frank, was present. Frank Rosa. Lin is marrying a guy whose last name is Rosa, and hers is Flores. Knowing Lin, I’m sure she’ll want to hyphenate it, so her new name will be Linda Flores-Rosa. Translation: Pretty Flowers-Rose. Ugh.
I hung up the phone, then un-muted the TV and made myself comfortable; it was going to be a long night.
Victor walked over with a second round of “drinks.” I didn’t have the heart to point out that this establishment wasn’t such a bright idea for a girl who was trying to make an impression. In my mind, ice cream is a pick-me-up, not an aid to pick a guy up with, because:
It gets messy quickly (and not the good kind of messy, where you’re toppling over the table and causing a scene in the middle of uncontrollable laughter), which brings me to…
It doesn’t impair judgment, which can be a problem when you later try to justify rounding the bases with a complete stranger. Or worse, he turns out to be a total bore and you can’t sit through it or talk yourself into sleeping with him anyway because your judgment isn’t clouded by the false optimism that “things will get better” that comes with the consumption of alcoholic beverages.
Instead, you’re left with sticky fingers and a guilty conscience for overeating in front of someone who’s now convinced you’ll devour an entire menu if taken out on a proper date, and therefore only offers—if he even bothers to see you again—to take you to a place with a dollar menu.
“This city has the coolest places,” he said upon returning.
“I hear they even have bars with beds in them.”
“Yup, cutting out the middleman,” I said.
“Are you bored?” he asked.
“What? No! I’m just…” I couldn’t think of anything, so I feigned laughter, then added, “It’s all the sugar kind of getting to me.”
“Uh-oh, I should get the check then,” he said. He patted down his pockets in what I guess was an attempt to buy some time so that I could offer to split the tab. He kept it up for over a minute and a half.
“Well, while you do that, I’m going to head over to the ladies’ room,” I said, and grabbed my purse and jacket from the nearest stool. (I wasn’t taking any chances. One time, while on a date, I excused myself to the ladies’ room and my date stole money from my purse to pay the tab. I was impressed when he offered to pay for my cab ride home—that was, until I noticed him pull money out from my Hello Kitty coin purse.)
When I returned, he was squinting at a piece of paper and counting on his fingers. His wallet was nowhere in sight, but a few singles had magically made their way into his hands.
“Need help adding up the tip?” I asked.
“No, they included it for us,” he replied. He thrust his hand down one of his back pockets and pulled out a crumpled five-dollar bill. He placed it on top of the receipt, pushed it across the stool to my end, announced, “I should get a wet nap,” and walked away.
I looked down at the money—nine wrinkly dollars—and glanced at the bill.
(2) Root beer floats $4.00 each
(2) Bloody Sundaes $7.00 each
NY TAX 8.25%
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” I muttered. I pocketed his pathetic nine dollars, pulled out my ATM card and walked over to the cashier. Once the tab was taken care of, I walked out of the bar and found him barking at someone on his cell phone.
“No, you shove off!” he shouted, and flipped his phone shut.
I didn’t even want to know; I was done at that point. “Well, Victor,” I said in as much of an upbeat voice I could muster, “it’s been fun. Good luck,” and began to walk away.
“Wait!” I heard him cry from afar.
I hesitated, then turned around. “Yeah?”
“My roommate borrows my clothes without asking!”
“I’m sure he swiped my cash,” he said, lowering his head.
“Look, I’ll even program your number into my phone so I can’t come up with an excuse for losing your number,” he said. He held up his phone, ready to punch it in.
I sighed, defeated. He was kind of cute, so I gave him my number.
“See you Saturday,” he said.
See you Saturday, I thought. The words hung in the air. Saturday. The Saturday that never came.
I wasn’t surprised that Victor was a no-show. It’s not like I was the kind of girl boys fawned over. Quite the opposite—I was the kind of girl that guys pushed out of the way to get to my farmore-desirable friends. I toggled between sizes eight and ten, which isn’t bad for a Latina but for the elite New York City crowd was grotesque. Not that I ran in such circles, but I always found myself gazing at the waifish city girls as they ran, jiggle-free, to hail a cab. I carried my weight in my hips and boobs, making my body the textbook definition of an hourglass figure; a glass with the potential of running over if I didn’t watch my caloric intake.
Leslie DJ is a Dominican-American writer and radio personality who resides in the Washington Heights neighborhood of New York City. She is the writer and founder of SinisterGirlz.com, an online publication that features written and audio music-related content. She hosts Sinister Girlz Live on WBMB Baruch College Radio 94.3 FM New York on Fridays at 4pm EST. In 2005 she was awarded the Dymphna Leonard Award for Fiction for her short story, “The Summer of Lost Innocence,” from her alma mater, Marymount Manhattan College. She graduated with a BA in Theatre Arts with a concentration in Playwriting and received her MFA in Creative Writing with a concentration in Fiction from The New School of General Studies.
Find her here:
Book Tour Arranged by: HCL Author Services & Book Tours
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ItaPixie’s Book Corner – Book Review
My Comfy Reading Corner – Book Review