The Literary Girlfriend: Proof of Relationship
Even though the woman’s nose ended up being broken, everybody said she was okay. By “okay,” they meant she didn’t die or anything like that. Yeah, she had been in a lot of pain, and her nose might always have a bump on it for the rest of her life, but she was “okay.” I still felt guilty. I wasn’t used to physically hurting people. It was a new experience for me. The woman’s boyfriend knew it was an accident; the woman shouldn’t have been walking across a living room when a bunch of guys were dancing by swinging their elbows, so he didn’t want to punch me out anymore. But I still wondered if I should have been more careful.
In other news/gossip, Linda spent the night with the brute she had brought uninvited to Jerome’s party. Linda had barely known the guy, and had probably spent the night with him out of spite because she knew word would get back to Kirk. I wasn’t going to be the one to tell him. Daniella probably wanted me to. Daniella had probably suggested to Linda that she spend the night with the brute, but I wasn’t going to participate in the gossip relay.
I did, however, argue with Daniella about it.
“That guy was a walking genital wart,” I complained. “How could she throw everything away for one night with a human virus?”
“He was cute,” Daniella said. “Not a stud like you, but cute.”
Daniella was calling me a stud (which I knew wasn’t true) and talking me up. It was nice but distracting.
“Kirk spent a lot of money and time with Linda,” I said, “and Linda does that… with… that guy?”
“Linda doesn’t owe Kirk anything,” Daniella said.
“But still, it… should mean something,” I said.
“Things don’t always mean things,” Daniella said. “It’s these books you read that make you think like you do,” Daniella continued, pointing to my shelves of classic literature, even though she knew I hadn’t read most of them. “Stuff always means something in them, but that’s not how it really is.”
That was true, I had to admit. I didn’t like it, but it was true.
“I like that you want everything to mean something,” Daniella said, her tone softer.
“What about you?” I asked. “You keep saying that you’re ‘feeling’ me. Does that mean something?”
“It means a lot,” Daniella said, with no hesitation. “It means as much as anything can mean.”
As tempting as it was to try to get Daniella to explain exactly what she meant, I let it go. After all, we were “soul mates” (I reminded myself to come up with another term that wasn’t as annoying), and we had plenty of time to figure things out, now that I knew we were getting serious.
A couple days later Daniella presented me with a framed picture of the two of us. Jerome had taken a bunch of photos of his 30th party (none that I saw were of the woman with the broken nose) and had them developed. This one was Daniella and me on a couch before she’d told everybody I was a stud. She had an arm draped around my shoulder and a leg over my lap. I looked kind of sheepish, but her smile dominated the picture. Guys kill to have a picture like that with a woman like Daniella, especially if the woman’s smile is sincere. But that was also the problem. Daniella had taken off her glasses for the picture, and without the glasses, we were an obvious physical mismatch. Even with the glasses, it was clear I wasn’t in her league, but without them?
“Take that to work,” Daniella said. “Put it on your desk.”
There goes my productivity, I thought. As strange as this may sound, I kept pretty busy at work and rarely thought of Daniella there. I wondered if she’d start calling me at work next. I’d heard that it was an early milestone in relationships.
The next day, I placed the picture at the highest point in my cubicle where I could see it almost at all times. Despite my productivity at work, I still had a cubicle. A few employees younger than me (but not by much) had gotten small offices, and I was a little resentful, but they went to the office socials and parties, and they schmoozed with the bosses and each other. I’ve never felt comfortable in that environment, so I just went to work to work. I got passed up for several promotions, which was bad, but when recessions hit later on, the people who’d gotten promoted were let go, and I wasn’t. A couple bitter ex-employees said I was lucky. I think I had a smart boss.
A few co-workers noticed the picture (not at the same time) and asked who that was in it. I was tempted to say “Me,” but I wasn’t known for having a sense of humor, so that response might not have gone over well. I told them (again, not at the same time) that the woman was Daniella, my girlfriend. I stated that proudly. As an average-looking boring guy with a hot girlfriend, I deserved to be proud. A couple co-workers nodded without comment. One said, “Hmmmm.” I knew what that meant. They believed Daniella was a fake girlfriend. It wasn’t something you accused another adult of doing, but they were thinking that.
Despite being the kind of person who might have invented fake girlfriends, or fake long-distant relationships, I’d never done that. When I didn’t have a girlfriend, which was most of the time, I always admitted it. Faking a girlfriend was worse than admitting I didn’t have one. I might lie about having read a classic novel, but I’d never lied about having a fake girlfriend. It’d not that I was especially honest. I knew that if more experienced guys started asking too many questions about the details of my fake girlfriend, I’d mess up the answers. Most of those same experienced guys could question me all day on classic literature and they’d never know if I was telling the truth or not.
The week after I put the picture up, I overheard a conversation about me. I’ve always been pretty good at eavesdropping because people were usually unaware that I was around, but I had never been the topic until then. One co-worker (whose name I don’t remember) said that the woman in the picture was NOT my girlfriend, that she had probably been drunk (that part was actually true), that she probably took pictures like that with a bunch of other guys. Basically, he accused me behind my back of having a fake girlfriend. My suspicions, my paranoia, had been right all along.
Some guys would have gotten angry, but I wasn’t the confrontational type. I thought it was funny. I had no social life at work; why would I put up a picture of a fake girlfriend? It didn’t make sense. But I inwardly grinned and returned to my cubicle without being noticed. The picture was a conversation starter. I was being talked about. I was being falsely accused. It felt good. But that picture, that photo that Daniella had thought was so important, was about to cause a huge problem.
To be continued in… The Literary Girlfriend: Sickness and Health .
If you want to read “The Literary Girlfriend” from the beginning, start here.