Sharon awoke some time on Saturday night to a dark house. When she squinted in the direction of her night-glow alarm clock and discovered it was 9:30 PM, she sighed and declared Baruch hamavdil bein kodesh l’chol. She opened the drawer of the night stand next to the bed and turned on her phone. Almost immediately its ring pierced through the silence and startled her. She was further surprised to see Joe’s name on the Caller ID.
“So nice of you to call,” she said, sweetly.
“Hi Sharon,” he replied quickly. “How was Shabbos?”
“Fine,” she said with a stretch. “I just woke up.”
“From the morning?” he asked astounded.
“No. I just went to sleep around five. But tell me, Joey, to what honor do I owe this call?”
“Ha ha. Stop laying it on.”
Sharon yawned and got out of bed. “No, I honestly can’t recall the last time I heard your ringtone playing from my phone.”
“Enough, Sharon,” he said, annoyed.
She opened her eyes widely. “What’s that supposed to mean? And why are you so serious?”
He stammered for a moment. “I’m just…confused.” She heard him sigh. “I need your advice.”
His tone alarmed her. “Really? What’s wrong?”
For about five minutes, she listened to the history of his latest crush while locating what she needed for havdalah, her heart sinking as he told over his oft-repeated story. He’s never going to learn, she told herself.
“Look, I don’t know enough about her,” she said when he concluded. “But it sounds as if she doesn’t know the game. You caught her by surprise and she got scared.”
“I didn’t even bring it up,” he said. “She was saying this to one of my landlords’ daughters.”
“Maybe she was just trying to placate her.”
“No, she knew there was something going on. But when it actually came down to the reality of an actual date, she covered herself by showing no interest in dating…if Mrs. Gruberman was telling me the truth.”
“You’re making too much of this. She said no. Who cares why? Leave it. Move on.”
There was a pause, which Sharon used to pull out the bottle of Kedem grape juice from the back of the refrigerator. “Maybe I was reading more than there actually was,” Joe eventually admitted, defeated. “You know, I thought about it all day today. Since college began I haven’t had any success with girls.”
“You’re shomer negiah; you haven’t touched a girl in, what, four years? That’s cause for celebration.”
“OK,” he conceded, “but I haven’t even had a girlfriend, not even a girl who liked me.”
“That’s not true,” she said automatically, though she knew he was telling the truth. She had placed her grandfather’s silver kiddush goblet on the table, the Kedem, the cinnamon sticks from the spice cabinet and the end of a Safed Candle Factory havdalah candle on the table and was waiting, unsure whether Tamar would also need to hear. She went to the living room and sank into the couch. “What about my friend Erica from Cooper Union…you remember her?”
“Erica?” he scoffed. “She didn’t really like me. She was probably hallucinating from all the lab fumes.”
“She was a Fine Arts major,” Sharon corrected him. “She definitely liked you and she’s cute…in a sense.”
“Ah, there you go. She’s a perfect example, because the whole time she tried hanging around with us I was chasing Elisheva Ashkenazi.”
“I’ve told you before that whole Elisheva thing was a mistake.”
“In hindsight,” said Joe. “But I was so distracted I didn’t care that Erica was at all interested, and who knows what could’ve been?”
“You wouldn’t have liked her,” Sharon decided for him. “And so what if you didn’t find your wife from the gaggle of immature girls at NYU? You’re still young, with a graduate degree and a shoe-in at a firm on Wall Street. I’m telling you, Joey, if you moved up here you’d be grabbed in a second. Any girl with a brain would be clamoring for you.”
“But that’s not enough,” he whined. “If I don’t know how to play the game, which my experience shows I can’t, I’d only hit fouls despite being pitched slow balls down the center.”
Sharon understood his baseball reference, but said nothing. It was true that he had never been able to turn any of his crushes into a relationship the entire time he was in college, and Sharon felt that she was somehow responsible for a lot of his failures, inflating his confidence only to be disappointed each time. Often he would romanticize what he believed were signs of real interest when Sharon knew that he never had a chance. She didn’t understand why already in college he needed a serious girlfriend and wouldn’t be satisfied with just hanging out like everyone else, but she couldn’t shake him of his dream and so she tried to help him in the best way she could, hoping that one day he would succeed with enough experience. Yet instead of growing wiser with his setbacks, he reverted to a feeling of inadequacy. This latest episode was simply a continuation of the same story with Joe, and Sharon feared that he would one day realize the pattern and blame her…or do something more drastic like speed dating or mail-ordering a bride from Singapore.
“Well, Sharon, I called you this Saturday night to declare that I am giving up. I’ll just wait until I can buy myself a trophy wife.”
“Don’t talk like that. Don’t let one misjudgment throw you out of the game.” Sharon heard the front door open and saw Tamar turn on the hallway light. “Here, my roommate just walked in. Let’s get her opinion.”
Tamar must’ve heard Sharon’s voice because she approached the living room with a puzzled face. “Why are you sitting in the dark?” she asked Sharon.
“I just got up,” she explained. Extending the phone out to Tamar, she said, “Here, Joey wants to ask you something. Joey, you’re on speakerphone.”
He got right to the point. “Is there ever a way that a guy can tell whether a girl is interested? I mean, if it isn’t obvious. Does he just have to go out on a limb every time?”
“Am I supposed to be some expert on the matter?” Tamar retorted.
“No, just…come on, I’m not asking for the secrets of womanhood. I just want to know if there are any signs a guy can use to size up a girl’s interest…not what they are, but whether they exist at all.”
Both girls looked at each other and shared a smile. “No,” they both said.
Then Joe whined, “Then how is a guy to know whether a girl’s checking him out or not?”
“Sometimes it’s obvious,” Sharon said. “And sometimes not. Right, Tamar?” Tamar agreed with a gesture before turning and going out of the room. “She nodded. Listen, Joey, I’m starving and we haven’t done havdalah.” He mumbled something that she hoped was his understanding of her hunger. “Can we talk later? You’ll be all right? You’re not going to go call a shadchan over this?”
“Again with the shadchan?” he exclaimed. “Leave it alone already!”
“Sorry,” she laughed awkwardly. “Can’t take a joke?”
“You never seem to think there’s anything funny about it.”
Sharon was growing impatient. “You don’t agree?”
“I really don’t know,” he said matter-of-factly. “I only know what you’ve told me.”
“Well, don’t even go investigating. It’ll ruin your reputation.” Sharon laughed at her own sarcasm as Tamar reappeared and jerked her head in the direction of the table. “OK, Joey. Gotta go. Get some sleep and calm down.” He huffed. “We’ll talk.”
“Bye,” he grumbled.
Nathan apologizes for the shortness of this chapter; promising to make up for it with a longer Chapter Seven next month! For more kodesh, chol, or the satisfaction of knowing the next chapter faster than the other Sasson subscribers, go to www.nathanwolff.com and order your copy of Outdated now!