Even in the dream, Luke realized it was a dream. His subconscious knew that it was pretty unlikely that Anna Kendrick was singing “Isn’t It Romantic?” to him. In a man’s voice. And a Wonder Woman costume. Still. A dream about a pretty girl? It has to be progress, right?
He yawns, stretches and rolls out of bed. The music continues to play, but he listens to a more compelling call. That of nature.
Peeing with the door open is one of the great joys available to a single man. It’s a primal thing. It’s freedom. It’s slightly taboo. And it is not exciting him as much as it used to. He tries dancing and swaying from side to side a little. Nope. Just another thing she took from him. His Springsteen greatest hits box set. His blue-striped button-down shirt. His youth.
He looks at himself in the mirror. So scruffy. Hair a mess. Full beard. He sucks his gut in, pats it a few times, then releases it. Yet another of the great joys available to a single man.
“Isn’t It Romantic?” ends. He’s curious. He walks over to the open window, trying his best to ignore the mostly dust-free rectangle on the desk where once sat a framed photo.
On the balcony below, his downstairs neighbours appear to be having some kind of romantic brunch. The man refills his lady’s champagne. The lady wears a lovely sundress.
The weather could not be more perfect. Sunny and warm without being oppressively hot. The light breeze is making sure of that. Birds sing just far enough away, as the lady pushes some cutely stubborn strands of hair behind her ear, and the man touches her cheek.
“The Way You Look Tonight” starts up. The couple laugh. The man sings it, badly off-key, as “the way you look this morning.” The lady puts her hand on his arm.
Luke turns away from the window and walks back to the desk. He runs a finger through the dust-framed rectangle. The photo was one of the first things he removed when he returned home.
Home. Home. He’s not sure the word fits anymore. His parents still live in his childhood home. The Queen of the Harpies lives in his last home. Now he is back in rent-controlled limbo. In the apartment he kept, at her urging, “just in case.” With temperamental AC. With creaky floors. With rusty pipes – the apartment, not him. Home is supposed to be where the heart is. His heart is in a broken heap. Maybe he is home after all.
The photo was one he loved. At first. A family gathering. His family. It was taken when he first took her to meet them. He thought it went well. She later banned the photo because it made her look “washed out” and her hair was “stringy.” And it apparently caused an immediate need for her to sigh wearily and roll her eyes. He thought she looked cute in it. Since the incident, he saw it differently. His smile looked like it was walking on eggshells, and hers looked like it was almost well-enough rehearsed. He put the picture in the back of his closet the day he moved back in.
Prior to the recent unpleasantness, Luke had been dumped three times in his life. In ascending order of pain, they were:
Break-up #3 – Fiona Smith – High School
Fiona was his first “real” girlfriend. They met in 9th grade. She gave him her french fries in the cafeteria and he wanted to marry her. Yes those two things were related. Hers was the first butt he ever touched. It was by mistake while he was reaching for the remote control. No, really. They “dated” for six months and these are all of the things he knew about her:
– good kisser
– giggled a lot
– smelled like watermelon
– was skeptical when told that you touched her butt by mistake while reaching for the remote control
He sold a valuable baseball card to buy her a necklace, and she dumped him just as he was pulling it out of his pocket to give to her. They’re Facebook friends now.
Break-up #2 – April Jones – College
She lived the floor below him in a co-ed dorm. They met at a mixer. Two Boston kids on the west coast. She could rock a ponytail. No. She could REALLY rock a ponytail. She had six different majors in two years. They spent spring break of their freshman year together at her house. They got caught having sex by her parents. Then her brother. Her aunt. The neighbor kids. The Papa Gino’s Pizza delivery guy. And Donnie Wahlberg. She dumped him when he asked if he could lock a door. He had dinner last year, with her and her wife.
Break-up #1 – Roger Clemens signed with the Toronto Blue Jays following the 1996 season.
Luke’s last name is Williams and his middle name is Ted. So it comes as no surprise to anyone, that Luke’s dad is a huge Boston Red Sox fan. His dad likes other sports too, but baseball is his game. It is a slower pace. The world moves fast enough, he says often, he wants his sports to be a reprieve from that.
Before he was old enough to know why, Luke was fascinated by watching his dad watch baseball. Long stretches of serenity, broken by shouts of excitement, or by words he wasn’t allowed to tell his mother that he knew. Luke couldn’t get enough of it. Any of it. He stayed awake at night, looking at baseball cards under his covers with a flashlight, the way other boys would look at wrinkled, coverless Playboys, purchased from older boys with lunch money change. He memorized stats. He wanted to impress his dad with the knowledge. His dad was “more of a gut guy, than a numbers guy,” and trusted his eyes more than he trusted stats. But he made no secret of the pride he took in sharing an interest in baseball with his son.
Whenever Luke would start dating a new girl, his mom would pull out an old photo album. Invariably one picture would make the girls “awwwww.” Little Luke sitting on his dad’s lap on the couch wearing Boston Red Sox footy pajamas that were, at least, a size and a half too big.
Possibly through parental osmosis, Luke took on his father’s love of underdogs. In sports and in life. And for his formative years, the Red Sox were underdogs. A concept that now seems especially strange considering the team payroll and number of fans. But.
For Luke, and his father before him, The Curse of the Bambino was almost a badge of honor. From 1918 until 2004, Red Sox fans wore it. Some proudly. Some begrudgingly. Some absolutely chafed against it. Luke loved it. He was glad they traded Babe Ruth. He even hated Baby Ruth chocolate bars.
Everything changed for Luke once the Sox won in 2004. He celebrated it at the time, but something changed for him. Maybe he was just growing up, but he missed being an underdog. Baseball hasn’t been the same for him since.
But in the fall of 1996, it was just about everything. Roger Clemens was his favorite player. He had cheered when Clemens won an MVP award. When he won Cy Youngs. He claims to remember clearly when Clemens struck out twenty batters in a nine inning game in 1986, even though simple math would rule that out pretty conclusively
After the 1996 season, Red Sox management offered Roger Clemens a huge contract, but he opted to sign instead with the Toronto Blue Jays. Luke took down Clemens posters. He gave his Clemens jerseys to Goodwill. He changed his dog’s name from Roger to Nomar – for Nomar Garciaparra, his second favorite player. The poor mutt was more than a little confused. Even though Clemens played for more teams after Toronto, and his career is now tainted beyond repair, talking about the off-season of 1996 still gets Luke riled up.
This most recent dumping, however, seems to have trumped the others. He can’t remember how long they were together. Definitely years. But how many? He never knew. It was the same in past relationships too. It was a source of great consternation for girlfriends past. Her most of all. It made her angry. Legit angry. His apologies and attempts to reassure with “I’m just not good with dates” made her even angrier.
Luke runs a finger through the dust rectangle again. And again. Distorting it. Changing it. But never getting rid of it completely. Until. He takes the bottom of his t-shirt and wipes the dust completely away. Definite progress.
The couple giggle, sharing inside jokes outside. Luke walks back to the window. They’re at that point. The eye contact. The inability to stop touching. Frequent easy laughs. Luke remembers that point. Or he remembers thinking that he wished he was at that point. Time is funny like that. History wants to be written in pencil.
The man kisses his lady. Really kisses her. Hand in her hair. Other arm around the small of her back. The wind competes unsuccessfully for her attention, as it whips around the bottom of her sundress.
Luke leans further out of his window.
The moment is perfect. The music. The kiss. The lighting. Perfect.
“Six months ago I saw her giving a handjob to a FedEx driver in his truck!” Luke yells.
Luke steps back away from the window. So maybe he hadn’t made a whole lot progress after all.
photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/wallyg/156079118/”>wallyg</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/”>cc</a>