I thought I'd let you guys get a sneak preview of Hooking Up. I have been working on this one for a few months now, but just recently got back into it with a vengeance. Part of my problem was that I knew how I wanted to start, and I knew how I wanted to finish, but the elusive middle was killing me! I think I have a much better grasp on things now, and just recently made a decision to change things further. Here are the first two chapters. I hope you enjoy them!
By Jessica L. Degarmo
It all started the night my two best friends, Kelly, Heidi, and I went to our favorite hole-in the-wall bar downtown. We had all dressed for the occasion: Kelly wore a slinky mini-dress in blazing blue that accentuated her big blue eyes and summer-blonde hair, Heidi wore black in the form of a skin-tight leather bodysuit, showing off her siren red hair, lush curves and her humongous breasts, and I strutted my stuff in a red tube dress and hooker-height heels. My dark, wavy hair hung loose down my shoulders and as I moved, it swung with the same rhythm as my hips. We walked into the bar filled with cigarette-smoke ribboned air and pranced over to our regular table, past the leering old men and the scarred jukebox. The neon “Beer” sign that hung over the bar blinked at one end; the other had burned out long ago.
We sat and played Rock, Paper, Scissors, to see who would buy the first round. Heidi lost, and she grumbled under her breath as she headed to the bar to order us all screwdrivers.
Kelly and I surveyed the regular crowd and found nothing of interest whatsoever. The same tired old men huddled at their tables or at the bar, hunched over their mugs of ale and squinting in the dim light. We sighed in unison. Nothing fresh to look at tonight.
It was Kelly’s idea to come to the bar anyway. She had just lost her job and she wanted a pick-me-up. I supposed that losing a topless dancing job would be heartbreaking to someone with her epic proportions and propensity for wiggling and jiggling. She seemed sultry even sitting still, elbows propped on the table, her face in her hands. She was good at her job, but she had just been replaced with a younger model. She griped now as we waited for our vodka-laced orange juice.
“But I was so much better than that young little upstart. Her boobs aren’t even real!” she groaned, shaking her head in misery. “I had a much better routine that she did. All she did was twirl around a pole. I even had props, a real experience.”
Her routine consisted of a rubber chicken, a farm-girl look complete with a straw hat, Daisy Dukes, a red-and-white checked button down shirt that was tied around her midriff (while it was on), and a painfully affected Southern drawl. I’m not going to mention what she did with the chicken. It was nice to have ambition, however, and I sympathized with my friend.
“She’ll probably waste away after the first month, and then they’ll call you and beg you to come back. Besides, you’re too good for them. What about the place over town? Boobz N’ Booze?” I asked, rubbing her back through the tight leather. She sighed heavily.
“I already tried. They said they were full, but they’d call if something came up. What am I going to do? How am I going to pay for school if I don’t have a job?” she wailed. It just goes to show you that looks aren’t everything. Besides having a bodacious bod, Kelly was a whiz. She was smarter than anyone else I knew, and she had wanted to be a lawyer for as long as I’d known her. She had been putting herself through law school, and she was only a year away from graduating. I knew she’d find a way to make things work for her, but until then, she was entitled to a little bit of self-pity. By tomorrow, she’d be up and scheming again.
Heidi came back with our drinks, and she plunked them down on the table with enthusiasm. She beamed at us and said, “Drink up! I got these ones for free!”
“How did you manage that?” I asked sarcastically. The way she looked tonight, I was surprised that we didn’t have men lined up to buy us liquor. But, the night was still young.
“Silly Caitlin, I just asked nicely,” she purred, using her come-hither voice. She was twenty-three, the youngest of our trio, and still a virgin. She came from good, wholesome stock who sheltered her, and when she came to the city from her tiny hometown in Illinois, she did everything she could to be a rebel. Unfortunately, feeding the homeless and volunteering at church didn’t necessarily help her bad-girl image. How she became friends with Kelly and me remained a mystery, but we wouldn’t trade her tender heart and sweet sensibilities for the world.
“Cheers!” we all chimed in unison, raising our drinks and knocking our glasses together.
“To having options!” I toasted, trying to make Kelly feel better. I did feel bad for her, but I was having issues of my own, and I was a little distracted.
I had just broken up with Michael, my boyfriend of ten years. It wasn’t a fight or a sudden explosive episode that had prompted the break-up; rather it was a gradual parting of ways that had started probably two years ago. Michael and I just drifted apart as slowly as the continents, until at last we were oceans apart. Michael was a great guy, but apparently, I didn’t really do it for him anymore. He compared the relationship we had to an old sweatshirt: It fit and it was comfortable, but full of holes and stains. Eventually, as much as you liked the sweatshirt, it was time to get rid of it and buy a new spring wardrobe. So, he had shucked me off like he shucked off his winter clothes, and he was ready to start over. He had told me just last week, and by then, he had already signed a lease on a new apartment. He was moving out at that very minute, leaving me behind, stunned and broken.
So, here I was, single for the first time, well, ever. I had been in a relationship for so long that I had no idea what was supposed to happen now. I had forgotten how to date. Michael had known all there was to know about me, and the thought of having to go through that awkward first-date, that weird getting-to-know-you phase had me thoroughly disgruntled.
And why did I need another relationship anyway? I had just gotten out of one that had become stale and boring. Why do the same thing over again? Wasn’t the definition of insanity something about doing the same thing over again and expecting different results? Was I truly insane? I may have been, because I felt abandoned. It was a feeling that I hadn’t had since my parents died eighteen years ago. And why would I have? I had Michael, my rock, my port in the storm. Now there was no one, and I was alone again. I felt like there was a crater inside my chest, and Michael’s absence was excruciating. I needed this night with my girls as much as Kelly did.
“Catie, where were you just a minute ago? You seemed miles away,” Heidi said, gently shaking my arm. I pulled myself back into their conversation, and realized that neither of them knew that Michael and I ended things.
“I forgot to tell you something,” I said, looking at both of them sheepishly.
“What?” Kelly asked, her smooth brow rumpling a little as she looked at me.
“So, tell us now, “ Heidi urged.
I took a deep breath. “It’s over between Michael and me. He signed a lease on an apartment on the East side, and he’s moving out as we speak.”
They both gasped and shrieked at the same time.
“What?” Heidi yelled. “Why didn’t you say something earlier, you moron!”
“Well, that trumps me losing my job! What the hell?” Kelly hollered.
I shushed them both quickly. The old men at the bar were starting to stare. “I just forgot, that's all. Sorry.”
They both looked at me like I was crazy. “How could you forget that you just broke up with your boyfriend?” Heidi accused skeptically. “This is big. How do you feel?”
‘I’m fine. It’s not a big deal, really. This has been coming for a long time, guys,” I told them, shrugging my shoulders, hiding the pain under a guise of nonchalance. “No problems. Just done and over with.”
“But how?” said Kelly, concerned now. This was the first she had heard of any problems between Michael and me. I was good at keeping my private life private. Even though Kelly and Heidi were my best friends, I didn’t tell them everything. A girl needed to keep some things to herself. I had never been one for girl-talk, and I certainly didn’t want them to know that I was such a loser that I couldn’t keep a man.
“It just happened. These things do. It was time for both of us to move on. So now, I’m a free agent.” A free agent? What does that even mean? I was resorting to pulling out sports analogies? Great.
“You know what you need?” Heidi, our innocent friend said. “You need a hook-up.”
Kelly choked on her drink and I gaped, my jaw falling almost to the floor. I pounded Kelly on the back to help her stop choking and silently repeated Heidi’s completely unexpected idea. A hook-up?
Kelly recovered first. “Ok, explain yourself,” she demanded, wiping her mouth with her napkin and giggling.
“It’s simple. You just got out of a serious relationship, so now you need to have a hook-up to get over Michael and move on.” Heidi looked proud of herself. “I read it in Cosmo.”
I burst into laughter. “How do you propose that I hook up?” Something like this coming from Heidi was like hearing Santa Claus swearing—it was so completely out of character.
"Well, you find a cute guy, go up to him and ask him to sleep with you, and then you do it.” She was actually serious. Heidi, pure as the driven snow and destined to remain that way until she tied the knot with some good, corn-fed boy, was serious about me finding a random guy to have sex with.
Kelly must have had the same thought I did because she started laughing so hard she snorted. Eventually, she caught her breath, rolled her eyes and said to Heidi, “Where is she supposed to meet this cute guy? And what about disease and creepy stalkers and pregnancy?"
“Well, use a condom, hook up in a neutral place, and make sure to take the morning-after-pill. That’s what Cosmo says,” Heidi said indignantly.
I didn’t know what to say. A hook-up? With some random guy? How does one even begin to prepare for that, much less do it? What would I do—just walk up to some random guy, say, “Hey, Baby, are you looking for a good time?” and run off to the parking lot and do it in a car? How yucky. I shrugged off the thought and concentrated instead on my screwdriver.
“Heidi, you wild woman, I think I’ll pass. But thanks,” I said, giving her a one-armed hug.
Kelly and Heidi laughed in unison, and we all pounded our drinks. It was really just what I needed, and I felt myself relaxing from more than just the alcohol. I had my two best friends in the world, our familiar home pub, and the men were starting to line up to liquor us up. What more did a girl need?
I watched my two best friends get silly on screwdrivers and flirt with the old men at the bar, and I helped them to the restroom when they needed to go. Neither of my girls could hold their liquor, and as always, I ended up taking care of them, not that I minded. I had always been more level-headed than Kelly and earthier than Heidi. We danced to the corny ‘80s music wafting from the jukebox and giggled when the old men tried to keep up. Life was actually good. I felt good. As long as I didn’t dwell on my empty apartment, my empty bed, my empty heart.
By midnight, both girls were sloppy, and I peeled them off of their barstools and called them a cab. I walked home, relishing the crisp evening air on my overheated skin. I wasn’t worried about anyone bothering me. Although I was a willowy, trim 5’7” and 120 lbs., I had always been able to take care of myself. I had earned a brown belt in Karate and felt confident that I could handle an attacker. Besides, I had lived in this town my whole life, and the only exciting thing that had happened in my twenty-eight years was when the old pavilion in the outskirts of town had been burned to the ground by some local hoodlums.
Letting myself into a dark apartment was new. Michael’s things had been moved out already, and the place looked bare and sterile. The furnishings that were left seemed forlorn and miniscule in the large space. I threw my purse on the kitchen counter, flicked on the light to the living room in passing, and kicked my shoes off. I left them on the rug, shiny mementos of a happy time, and headed to my bedroom. At least I still had my bed. Michael had taken our couch and left me with only an armchair and a single end table. The rest of the furniture, including the TV and the entertainment stand, had been moved to the apartment on the East side.
As I slid out of my dress and hung it up in the now half-empty closet, I thought of Michael. How was he doing? Did he miss me? Did I miss him?
I did. There was something unsettling about coming home to a quiet place. Michael was heavily into sports and music, and he always had the volume on the TV or the stereo cranked when he was home. I had come home from work and gotten a headache simply by walking inside the apartment more than once over the past ten years. But at least someone was there. The place was silent now, and for once I had room to think, to rest, to just be. It was a somber change, and an unwelcome one.
I crawled into bed and buried my head in his pillow, inhaling deeply. He always wore the nicest cologne. I wondered why he hadn’t taken his pillow. Maybe he had bought new ones. Maybe he didn’t want to chance smelling my perfume in his dreams. Maybe he was trying to erase any evidence that I had ever been present in his bed. I wouldn’t blame him. Ten years was a long time to spend with someone, and since we had ended it, the time seemed somehow wasted.
I got up and stripped the sheets from the bed. I rummaged through the closet until I found a new, scent-free set, and remade the bed. Crawling in again, I sniffed. Satisfied that there was no longer a trace of Michael in the bed, I sighed and fell asleep.
The next morning was equally quiet. I didn’t hear Michael humming in the bathroom when I woke up, and I didn’t have to make eggs for two. I could read the newspaper as slowly as I wanted without worrying that I was taking too long with the Sports section. I didn’t have to share the bathroom, the toaster, or the coffeepot. This was ok. Really. Maybe If I kept thinking this way, I’d eventually convince myself.
I refused to acknowledge the emptiness that was nestled deep inside me like a malignant growth. I refused to let myself wallow in self-recrimination or pity, and I refused to miss Michael.
After breakfast, I decided to rearrange my pitiful collection of furniture throughout the house. I pushed the bed to the opposite wall, moved my dresser closer to the bathroom door, and hefted the bookshelf in our room until it was next to the side of the bed that Michael had always occupied. I grabbed a spare comforter and remade the bed with it, just to change the look. I stepped back, perused the now completely different room, and nodded. I moved to the living room, and since I only had an armchair and an end table, did nothing. I guessed that I would have to go shopping soon for something to fill the space.
Satisfied with my efforts, I hopped in the shower and scrubbed the scent of used tobacco from the night before from my skin. I pulled on some sweats and an old holey t-shirt and sat down to think.
It’s funny how some ideas, although they are completely crazy and not worth even an iota of thought, can stick with you. Though Kelly and I laughed at Heidi’s “Cosmo” idea, it was stuck in my craw, and stuck good. A hook-up sounded dangerous, and actually kind of slutty, but maybe it was the right thing to do. People have rebound relationships all the time, and they are no worse for wear afterwards. But could I do it? I had never had a one-night stand. As a matter of fact, Michael had been my first, and only, serious relationship. He was actually the only guy that I had ever slept with, pathetic as that seemed in such sexually-enlightened times.
Michael and I had known each other since grade school. He was actually the first person besides my immediate family who knew that my parents had died in a plane crash. He was there for me, and held my hand and acted as my rock more times than I could count. We attended high school together, and we had drifted together romantically in much the same way we had eventually drifted apart: slowly. We had always been in the same group of friends, and one night, when we were the last two of our group to be walking home from the movies together, we kissed. It had been sweet, chaste, and just the sort of thing that shy teenagers would do. The funny part was that neither of us had any idea of what to do about the budding attraction we had felt for each other. We groped like the gawky teenagers we were in the back of his car, we walked to classes together, and we went to senior prom together. And that night, after prom, we consummated our romance in a hotel room he had reserved for the occasion. We never imagined that we’d be anything other than together. It was a comfortable relationship from the start, aided by the fact that we had grown up together. When had we grown apart?
I was old-fashioned by nature. I was never promiscuous, and I had never thought of having sex just for the sake of having sex. It had to mean something. With Michael, it had meant something. But here I was, seriously contemplating having a one-night stand with some random stranger who meant absolutely nothing to me, and to whom I meant absolutely nothing. That was wrong, right?
I wasn’t so sure. Everything else had changed so drastically in such a short time. Why couldn’t I?
The only person I could call to help me with such a drastic change of self besides Michael was Kelly. Kelly was my co-conspirator in everything. We had gotten in a lot of trouble throughout the years. She was the only person I would trust talking about such a drastic measure with. She would tell it to me straight.
“Catie, you can’t be serious!” she exclaimed, and I was sure that on the other end of the phone line, she was throwing her hands up in the air in a gesture of futility. “You? The Queen of the Prudes?”
I took offense to that remark. I wasn’t a prude. I was just … controlled. Sorry if I didn’t undress in front of thirty guys every night for tips. I preferred a more subtle approach.
“I just think that maybe I need something different. I’ve never just gone out and done it before. Maybe it’s time to experience what every other girl in the United States experienced when she was a teenager. ” I frowned. Seriously, what did my friends think of me?
“I just think that Heidi was way off-base with the whole hook-up thing. You never know what you’ll run into out there. I think you can do better.”
“But it hurts. This loneliness thing hurts. I don’t like it.”
“You won’t be happy with yourself afterward, you know. That type of behavior is not in your makeup. I’m surprised you’re even considering it. You don’t want to do this. Really you don’t. You just want something. Take my advice, and let it be for now. You’ll feel differently in a month or two, I swear.”
“You’re probably right,” I conceded. After all, I had just gotten out of a relationship. I didn’t need any complications right now. I had to find myself, that’s all. I couldn’t rely on a guy to find me for me. And why, for Pete’s sake, was I contemplating dating advice from a twenty-three year old virgin who swore up and down the first time she did the good old up and down would be on her wedding night? I would be much better off listening to the stripper.
I pushed the thought away. I would concentrate on finding me and leave the rest to fate. How hard could that be?