Chapter Seventeen, Part One
Joe slouched in his seat that night at Sharon’s table, nursing his sorbet and watching Sharon and Erica chattering away, oblivious to his disdain. From the moment he realized why Sharon had called Rob and rearranged his evening, a sour coating had formed on his tongue, ruining the taste of her cooking that he normally enjoyed. He was mostly angry at himself; Sharon couldn’t be faulted for trying to set him up when she didn’t know he was in the middle of a shidduch. But he resented being used as a “wingman” while Sharon devoted her attention to some guy she also invited, who Joe was finding to be nice but dull. So he mostly sat quietly in his seat, eating with no appetite, responding when spoken to, and counting the minutes until he could go to sleep.
“I still can’t get over your apartment,” Erica said to Sharon. “It has so much potential if you just get rid of all the 70s furniture.”
“You find me a storage space around here that isn’t an arm and a leg,” said Sharon. She asked Andy, “How much do they go for anyway?”
“I can tell you how much a parking space goes for,” Andy offered as he reached for a piece of melon. “Much more than that.”
“Well, nobody asked that,” Sharon said to him jokingly and flashing him with a funny face.
“No, this room needs an earth-tone motif,” Erica said, looking around inquisitively. “Or something Southwestern.”
Sharon then said, “You know, Joey, Erica is a designer.”
Joe hadn’t heard a thing and was instead giving much attention to his inner dialogue:
Fine, she’s incredibly pretty, but she isn’t Rachel – What’s so special about Rachel? I’ve only met her twice – There’s a rapport, we haven’t had a stuffy conversation since the first date, and she’s been checked out – Erica’s a friend of Sharon, and she even liked me in college, so what could be wrong with her? – That was two years ago, but Erica isn’t on the table right now. The question is whether to continue dating Rachel, not whether Erica is an option – But why miss the opportunity if I’m already in doubt about Rachel? – What doubt? Just because I’ve never sat so close to such a beautiful woman in my life I’m going to throw away the whole shidduch? – Aren’t I meant to find out through dating whether a girl, who already makes sense, also feels right, otherwise why meet her? – No, there’s gotta be more to it than just that. Besides, I do like Rachel – Really? So why am I staring at Erica? – Because I’m stuck here for the next few hours and don’t want to tip Sharon off to something amiss – Why do I care about Sharon’s feelings? Look what she got me into? – But staring…
Amidst his ponderings, he discerned that he was being called from across the table. He shook his head and found everyone staring at him.
“Sorry,” he murmured with a dramatic yawn. He took a big spoon from his ice cream. “Brain freeze.”
Sharon glared at him and squinted suspiciously. “I just said that Erica works in fashion design.”
“Right, you told me.” Joe blinked rapidly until he felt he could open them widely enough to appear interested. “Where did you pick up something cool like that?”
“It’s not that cool,” she said dismissively, looking away from him. “After I left Cooper, I learned so much about art and fashion in LA that I dumped the first and stuck with the second.”
“I always thought you had it in you,” Sharon declared. “I guess you had to go out there to bring it out.”
“Are you saying I didn’t know about fashion in high school?” Erica asked, shooting Sharon a playful glance. She grabbed a piece of melon from the tray and asked Joe, “So Joe, Sharon and I were talking about this earlier. How did you take to the Village after growing up in the suburbs?”
He picked up his cup of Snapple and took a long gulp. “First you tell me.”
She shook her head. “No, it’s not the same. I was going into the city all the time, you know, to shop and to shows. You came from Maryland. That’s far out.”
“I went into DC,” he boasted.
“Yeah, but it’s not New York.”
He closed his eyes and opened them again. “So your real question was ‘what’s it like to move from Maryland to Manhattan?’ Am I correct?”
“Don’t get all Gemara on me!” Erica cried. “Just answer the question!”
He raised his cup to his lips, hiding a feigned smile as Erica laughed unabashedly at her last comment. Through the corner of his eye, Joe caught Sharon mouthing something to Andy, who tilted his head towards the door. She stood up, raised her eyes to Erica and grabbed the remaining plastic plates as she walked towards the kitchen. Before Andy could escape the table to join her, Joe grabbed his attention.
“So Andy, where are you from again?” he asked.
Andy shifted in his seat. “Teaneck. Just across the river.”
“Yeah? Can you see your house from here?”
He laughed. “No, not that close. Like, ten minutes from the bridge.”
“Oh.” Joe nodded, which Andy mirrored.
After a moment, Andy stood up. “I’ll help clean.”
“Thanks,” Joe said, not looking up. When he left the room, Erica dropped her elbow onto the table and leaned towards Joe.
“I’ve been wondering this all evening,” she started, “if you don’t mind me asking.”
He blinked quickly, his heart racing. He could smell the scent of her raspberry body spray wafting in his direction. “Go ahead,” he tried to say coolly, his voice cracking nonetheless.
She licked her lips and stared directly into his eyes. He was ready to admit anything, everything, when she asked him in a lowered voice, “Everyone calls you Joe, but Sharon calls you Joey. Which is it?”
“Oh, that,” Joe said, leaning back in his seat. “You gotta ask her.”
“You don’t know?” Erica asked in amazement.
“I do, but she tells it better.” He added a hasty smile.
Erica wrinkled her nose and smiled. She leaned back and shook her shoulders playfully as she finished her melon.
Joe figured he should add something. “I’m pretty tired,” he explained, heavily drooping his eyes. “I usually make Shabbos early.”
“I understand,” she said softly. “We still have all day tomorrow.”
Joe was relieved that Erica turned her head when they heard footsteps and didn’t see his frown. When Sharon came into the room, Erica immediately turned to her. “He told me I have to ask you why you call him Joey.”
She looked at Joe and asked him, “What, you’re too tired or something?”
Joe gazed back at her tiredly. “Maybe. You tell it better anyway.”
“Well, Andy’s falling asleep so I’m going to walk him halfway.”
When everyone turned to him, he closed his eyes and wilted his head against the wall.
“Well, I could use a walk,” Erica said as she jumped up. “I’ll be your company for the way back.”
“So, then why don’t you come too, Joey?” Sharon asked quickly. “We can tell Erica the story on the way.”
Joe looked up at Sharon and in so many motions, detectable only to Joe, she made it clear that she wanted to walk with Andy and didn’t want Erica to be a third-wheel. For a second, he made the face he’d wear to tell Sharon he didn’t appreciate her nagging, but then a moment later he stood up with a jerk, inhaled deeply and started to sing, “Shir Ha’ma’alos…”
What will Joe do about Erica? How far does Andy live from Sharon? What happened to the Snapple? Find out more (or other things) by ordering your copy of Outdated TODAY from www.nathanwolff.com or Amazon! In hardcover and Kindle versions.