As soon as Max is down the stairs, I close the door to my apartment and sic myself on Gina. "What the fuck were you thinking?!"
"Whoa, calm yourself. You're overreacting."
"Just, stop interfering, okay? I know you want to fix me, but that was downright embarrassing. You're certainly not helping me out any."
"I wasn't interfering. I asked you yesterday if you would help me, and you agreed. How was I to know that you were going to bring Max back here? Which, by the way, could you do that when I'm not around? The walls are thin in this place."
"Gina! Jesus Christ, we're just friends. You turn everything into sex. And I wasn't going to invite him in. I was going to tell him goodbye when you answered the door in just a towel. Thanks for that, by the way. Max loved the show."
"Like I said—I didn't know you were bringing him up here! I have a little more decency than that. But what's the big deal anyway? If you say that you and Max are just friends, then why do you care if he liked me or not?"
"Well," I start, but I don't know how to finish my thought. The feeling in my head isn't quite coherent, so I don't know how to go about putting it into words. "It's not that I.... I mean, can just one time a guy not like you over me? I'm sick of being the ugly friend."
"But you don't like him, remember?"
"Of course I remember! I'm a red-blooded female, though. I know he's gorgeous. And I like his subtle accent. But that doesn't mean anything."
"It means you like him," she says slyly.
"No, I don't. I mean, so what if I do? I have a lot to juggle right now, a lot on my mind. I'm not over—"
"Don't say his name!"
"—The Jerk. And I've been friends with a lot of guys that I've been attracted to." Shit, did I just admit that I was attracted to him out loud? Gina's never going to let me live this down now. "It's not a big deal. Max is just fun to be around, and that's what I like about him. That's all. But thanks to you, he's probably going to want to be over here all the time so he can see you naked. Why did you have to answer the door in a towel?"
"I didn't have time to get dressed. I was waiting for you to come back so you could spill about what happened on your run. Looks like you had fun, though. Limping and squinting. What the hell went down?"
"Ugh. I cramped up and then I ripped a contact. Which was my last left contact, by the way. I have half a box of right ones left. And I don't know what I'm going to do, because I can't get them shipped from Chicago, but I don't think I can just order them in Pittsburgh. I'd have to schedule an eye appointment and have them examined before I can get a new prescription."
"So? That's not a big deal. I'm sure you can get in somewhere soon."
"I don't have the cash to just up and make an appointment. And I need a haircut, too. I hate living paycheck-to-paycheck. And now I have to save money for dinner on Thursday. I won't be able to afford groceries this week. I think maybe I should get a second job."
"Wait a minute. What's this about Thursday?"
Shit. "I'm having dinner with Max."
"Dinner? As in, he's taking you out on a date?"
"No, as in we both have to eat dinner that night, so we might as well do it together. Stop turning everything into something it's not. We're friends. You're the one who encouraged me to go on the run and be friends with him. Can you not do this?"
"First off, I'm not doing anything. And even if I was doing something, which I'm not, I'd stop if you could just admit to yourself that you like him. I hope you have fun. And if you're serious about a second job, I have a proposition for you. Some of the private gigs I do could maybe use a singer. I'd be willing to split the profits with you, if you're interested. Plus tips."
"Gina, you know I don't sing anymore."
"Well, you should. Max seemed impressed," she teases.
"Whatever. I helped you because you asked."
"So you won't do it for money?"
"If I tell you I'll think about it, will you get off my back?"
"Only if you honestly think about it."
"Okay, I will," I tell her, pushing all those thoughts out of my head and heading into my room to gather up all my dirty laundry. I hate that I do this: I wait until I have nothing left before I do the wash. I wait because I hate doing it, but it wouldn't be such a chore to do it if I did it more often instead of doing it all at once. The laundry room in my apartment building is on the ground floor, which means I have to lug everything up and down two flights. I knew I should have done this yesterday.
I run into Ted down in the laundry room. I say hello as I discretely try to toss my underwear into the washing machine. He's either gay or extremely metrosexual; I haven't been able to decide yet.
"It's Charlotte, right?" he asks, moving his load from a washer to a dryer.
"Yeah. Having a good weekend?" I'm trying to be polite to my neighbor and make conversation. He lives on the floor below me, and we run into each other often on our ways to work in the morning.
"No," he laughs. "If I have nothing better to do on the weekend than laundry, then it's a sad indicator of my social life." I grimace in response. "Sorry, I didn't mean to imply..." he says, feeling bad.
"It's okay," I say, shrugging. "You're right. My social life is severely lacking." I think about what else I could be doing right now. I could be getting my hair cut, going grocery shopping, or even still be visiting with Max in my apartment. Instead, I elected to spend the day by myself, doing the one chore I hated most of all. When did I get so pathetic? I sigh and continue to throw my clothes into the agitator.
I spend the rest of the day doing other chores around the apartment, wiping down the kitchen counter, dusting the television stand, and mopping the floor. So pathetic.
I don't think I've ever laughed so hard in my entire life. To be honest, I wasn't sure what to expect on our run. I was too worried if she was going to show to wonder how it would go.
And I wasn't surprised when she started lagging behind, but I was surprised at how quickly she was giving up. One mile in, and she wanted to quit? "Come on! You made it through the first mile without a problem! We're coming up on the best view of the city. You at least have to make it that far," I tell her, trying to be encouraging.
"I can't! Remind me again why I agreed to this?" she asks, breathing heavily and stopping completely.
"Don't stop moving," I begin to warn her.
"I can't go any farther. I need a break."
"If you stop, your muscles are going to seize up on you. At least keep walking. Work it out." I know she's tired and worn out; I've been there.
"Go on... without me.... Save yourself!" she laughs.
"No! I never leave a man behind! Or a woman. Keep going. You'll be glad once we get down closer to see the Point," I prod. I run this path so often when the weather's nice. It's a perfect day, and I just know she'll appreciate the view once we get down to my spot. I reach and grab her hand, pulling her toward me.
Cardinal Rule #1 of no-mess relationships: never hold hands. Never hold a girl's hand, and don't place your hand on the small of her back, either. Those are intimate touches reserved for romantic relationships. Do that, and the girl will think your intentions are more than trying to get an invite back to her place and into her pants. But with Charlotte, it's too easy to take a hold of her hand and make her follow behind me.
"Just leave me here. Maybe by the time you make your way back around, I'll be able to breathe again," she huffs, still breathless. I like the way her voice sounds like this.
"You kicked ass on the bike in the gym. I didn't think you were this out of shape." I realize as soon as the words leave my mouth the way it's going to come across. I watch as she grabs the bottom of her shirt and raises it to her face to wipe away the sweat. She proves my point as I catch a glimpse of her body under her baggy tee. I see the curve of her hips and some of the skin across her stomach. I lick my lips and hope she didn't see me do that.
"I never planned on running a fucking marathon. I just wanted to lose weight."
"Really? Because you don't look like you need to lose weight." I continue to eye her body.
I know she's not the kind of girl to take a compliment easily. Just like I assumed, she rolls her eyes and brushes me off. "I wasn't asking you to flatter me, dude. I'm just saying that I'm not into this whole... physical activity thing like you. I mean, I can't believe you do shit like this for a living. What's wrong with you?"
The only thing I can think to do is laugh. "What can I say? I'm a glutton for punishment." And it's true. This is pure punishment, agreeing to be friends with this girl I'm kind of crazy about, knowing full well that I can't make move unless I want to scare her off permanently. Talk about being stuck between a rock and hard place.
"I buy that," she counters, a sparkle in her eye. Then she pulls her hand out of mine. Have I really been holding it that long? "Okay, I'm all right," she says, continuing to walk beside me, until we finally reach my spot. We see the beautiful skyline of Pittsburgh where the Monongahela and Allegheny converge into the Ohio. "Wow," she says, looking in awe at the view in front of us.
"Yeah, pretty amazing, huh?" I whisper to her. Because everything at this moment feels pretty amazing to me.