by Suzanne Johnston
“And you don’t know the half of it!” Derek shouted, efficiently ending our two-year relationship. Did he literally mean the three betrayals I knew about could be doubled, or even tripled? If that was the case, I didn’t want to know; and I wasn’t going to stick around to find out.
I signed up for three online dating sites the minute Derek carried his last glass dome of exotic-bird taxidermy out of my apartment. Screw watching reruns of Friends, shooting tequila to soothe my battered ego. Overnight, I had four dates lined up.
Spending my evenings on dates meant I wasn’t throwing myself pity parties of one. I was a social creature with no family in Saskatoon and only a handful of work acquaintances. I yearned for connection, but had trouble meeting people in a city of well-established cliques. Online dating opened up a new avenue for me. As long as the guy wasn’t shady or pantless, I’d chat with any man over happy-hour sangria or frothy lattes. Most nights ended in handshakes, high fives, or the occasional hug if it had been more of a therapy session than a date. I didn’t sleep with a single one and rarely went on second dates. Was it my steadfast rules or their steadfast disinterest in me? Either way, I wanted companionship without commitment. I needed to fill my gaping wound, still weeping from Derek’s infidelity. I should’ve adopted a cat.
My downward spiral into the online dating abyss was reckless and wrought with a melting pot of men. Loneliness had many faces of the week. After six months of rapid-fire dating, I’d exhausted the list of available men. Criteria: employed and wearing a shirt.
I made the mistake of going for drinks after work with my co-workers to avoid spending a Friday night alone in the deadening silence of a Prairie winter. I seldom socialized with office folk—one drink leads to another, and soon they’re all swearing they’ll set our marketing agency on fire. Every martini laden with drama, fuelling the pile of unintelligible napkin drawings claiming to be “the next big campaign idea.” Cece, our creative director and my ride home, was matching one of our account managers shot for shot. At five foot one and barely a hundred pounds, Cece was a confident lightweight. When she started calling the wait staff racist—she was one-quarter Japanese—and sexist for cutting her off, I cajoled her out of the bar with the bouncer’s aid.
Cece was always bursting at the seams, an endearing attribute for such a petite figure. A constant circle of people orbited around her, waiting to hear outrageous remarks like, “Some guy asked me where the best sushi is, and I told him to back the fuck off before I kamikazed his racist ass.” Cece was only a year younger than me, but because of her size and verbal carelessness, I treated her like a little sister which is why I couldn’t release her into the night, alone and senseless.
We walked four blocks before Cece realized her car was parked outside the bar. It was midnight by the time I dragged her up the icy steps of her apartment building and through the entry door. She slumped against the rattling radiator blasting cold air on a minus-ten-degree night and dozed off. Tired and annoyingly sober, I considered leaving the snoring drunk there for someone else to deal with; but I’d volunteered to see her safely home, and that meant actually in her home.
Complication: Cece’s apartment was on the third floor. No elevator, just the old cast-iron staircase. I imagined her head bump bump bumping up the large steps as I dragged her up feet first. I could’ve tied her purse around her chin like a pillow. Lucky for her, the entry door opened and in walked a familiar face.
I’d met him three months earlier at a new brewery. He was a personal trainer. A handsome face you’d remember—peppered with a well-groomed five o’clock shadow and deep-set emerald eyes. “Tyler?” I asked. A chubby pug hid behind his leg.
“Have we met?” Tyler said, and with a nod to Cece, “Is she okay?”
“Plenty of Fish. We met for drinks at The Bottled Neck a few months ago.”
“Oh yeah. Jill?”
“Right.” He knelt beside Cece. The pug sniffed her face and recoiled. “Does she need to go to the hospital?”
“Just to bed. Can you just grab her shoulders?” I lifted Cece’s legs.
Tyler handed me the pug’s leash. “Take Chet.” The dog eyed me dubiously. Tyler threw Cece over his shoulder as if she were a towel. Her long silky black hair swung like a curtain on his back. His runners squeaked as he climbed the steps. Tyler was one of those guys who wore stylish fitness clothes to walk the dog at night, but his tousled dark-brown hair tried to fool you into thinking he didn’t care about looks. Effortless. I jerked Chet up the stairs behind me, wondering how many squats it took for Tyler’s ass to look so alert.
I unlocked Cece’s door. “Her room’s in here.” I flipped on the light in the apartment’s only bedroom. Tyler laid her on the king-size bed that hugged the room’s walls. I unzipped Cece’s knee-high boots and pulled the heavy goose-down duvet up to her chin.
“She looks like an elf in there,” I whispered.
“Does she have a boyfriend?” Tyler asked, following me out of the bedroom.
“I think a queen would’ve been more practical.” I turned on a table lamp in the living room. Cece’s apartment had the enviable vibe of an artsy New York loft—colourful canvases, industrial fixtures married with modern furniture, and no television. “I’m going to stay the night. Just in case.” I plumped a cushion on the couch.
“I’m in 403 if you need anything,” Tyler said. He picked up Chet’s leash, and the dog leapt to its stubby feet.
“You’re a lifesaver,” I said. “Can I buy you a drink sometime?” What I really wanted was a sleepover at Tyler’s apartment—his confident masculinity and athletic build reminded me it had been months since I’d gotten laid. He seemed like the type to spoon afterwards. I needed a good spoon.
“You don’t need to do that,” he said. Chet yapped at the door. Tyler opened it; the pug bounced into the hallway, yanking Tyler out with him.
“How about this weekend?” My words dove forward. Did it sound as desperate as it felt?
“Yeah, maybe Saturday or something,” he said and gave me his number.
I lay on the stiff couch in Cece’s apartment with a cashmere throw that offered little warmth, listening to her wheezy snores, mulling over my chance run-in with Tyler. His woodsy smell lingered in the apartment. I loved the way he dragged around that stupid little pug—it showed a soft side that complemented all his lovely hard edges. The way he’d swooped in, like Batman, carrying Cece up three flights of stairs. I swiped through my Plenty of Fish app but couldn’t find his profile. I went to my own profile and deleted it.
That’s how confident I was.
Five centimeters of fresh snow had buried the narrow streets outside my twenty-two-storey highrise.
The shadowy downtown skyline was softened by a frenzy of fat snowflakes. Not a breath of wind to carry them off. The cab I’d called for earlier slid to a stop. I stepped out of the warm sanctuary of my foyer and onto the snowy sidewalk. Snowflakes exploded like tiny cannonballs on my black peacoat and spattered my face.
The impracticality of my two-inch ankle boots with no grip sank in as my feet disappeared into the snow. At least I wasn’t walking the half hour to Broadway. I climbed into the backseat.
The Crooked Rebels were playing that night at Field’s, a quaint neighbourhood pub frequented by adults too old for nightclubs and university students desperate for cheap beer. The cab dropped me off at 9:10, twenty minutes before Tyler and I had agreed to meet. I didn’t want to seem overeager, but I also didn’t want to be the schmuck who arrived late.
At the base of the narrow steel staircase leading up to Field’s, a large group of smokers huddled together, a blanket of powder on their jackets. I weaved between their hooded faces, dodging puffs of smoke and mucous laughter. I navigated the slippery staircase and shouldered open the heavy front door.
The pub stank of old beer bottles and damp wood. Bodies packed together emitted a sweaty warmth that coaxed frizz into my straightened hair. I unbuttoned my wet peacoat, paid the entry fee, and combed the pub. He hadn’t arrived yet. I grabbed a booth along the outside wall and sat nonchalantly facing the door, easy to spot. The Guinness clock glowed blue on the wall above the bar. 9:32. I ordered a Stella and regretted facing the empty bench in front of me instead of the band. The entrance door opened, and I leaned out the booth. Two people, barely visible in their puffy winter jackets, stomped their feet and shook out their coats. Water droplets sprayed the irritated bouncer. I watched the door until my neck got sore and my drink ran dry. I ordered another Stella. 10:05.
“That seat taken?” A twenty-something, wearing a floppy red toque and hugging a slouchy blonde, leaned against the empty bench.
“I’m waiting for someone.”
“If he doesn’t show, can we sit here? Great view of the band.”
“He’ll show.” I picked at the label on my bottle.
“We’ll just be at the bar.” They walked away, heads together, her hand in his back pocket.
Another half hour went by. Maybe I’d gotten the time wrong? I sent him a text to confirm: “Still on for drinks tonight?” No reply. Maybe it was next Saturday? I frantically scrolled to the beginning of our texts. He’d definitely texted this Saturday. A group walked in, and the bouncer yelled, “For fuck’s sake! Your boots!” Snow clung to their jackets. They walked past me, and I heard one say, “Hell of a storm out there.” That’s why Tyler was late. No cabs. But why hadn’t he texted or called? I texted again: “Let me know if you can’t get a cab in this awful storm!” No reply. At 10:45, I ordered a double rum and Coke.
“The band is on in five,” the waitress yelled over the loud clatter of voices. “I’ll bring you two.”
“Check, check.” The singer’s magnified voice rose above the anxious crowd. I leaned over, peered at the door again. Tyler was obnoxiously late. He wasn’t coming. That asshole had stood me up. This was the fucking reason I didn’t go on second dates—expectations only led to disappointment. I dragged my rage to the empty bench, so I could face the band. He wasn’t going to spoil my fucking night. The young couple eyeing the coveted seat shot me reproachful stares, and I shrugged my shoulders. Flipped them the finger. The waitress sashayed back with my drinks and a shot of something milky. She gave me a forget-that-dipshit smile and patted my shoulder. I drank the nasty shot. Screw Tyler. Let karma unleash her worst on him.
The waitress was loyal and kept my glass full. The crowd’s heat, coupled with the energy streaming from the band’s steady chord progressions, intensified my inebriation to the point where I swear I was hovering—as much an observer of the crowd as a participant.
A hand squeezed my shoulder. I plummeted back to earth.
“Annette! It’s snowing so fucking bad out there! I haven’t seen that much white since that KKK rally last week.” Cece. I was so relieved to see a friendly face that I latched onto her coat lapels and dragged her down, wrapping my arms around her neck. As she bent towards me, my heart staggered. Tyler stood behind Cece. A Heineken in each hand, watching the band, bobbing his head to the beat.
“Tyler!” I scrambled to my feet. “I didn’t think you were coming.”
He looked surprised to see me standing there. “Yeah, roads are bad.” Cece accepted the second beer from him, an exchange that, had I been sober, would’ve raised warning flags.
“Why didn’t you respond to my texts? Or call?”
Tyler took a long swig. “I ran into Cece.”
“We bumped into each other at the mailboxes,” Cece said, filling in the blanks. “I felt like a total dick when he told me he’d carried me upstairs.” She batted her big brown eyes. “He mentioned you guys were grabbing a beer, and invited me. I’d just gotten back from spin class, so obviously I smelled like a used tampon and had to shower. And then there were no fucking cabs. At least now we know someone who can carry us up the stairs when we get wasted.”
Tyler slid into the bench across from me and Cece glided in next to him. The music roared in my ears, muting what they were saying to each other, but their body language said enough. The way he leaned towards her, brushing her hair out of her face. The way she threw her head back and laughed, slender throat exposed. Their shoulders touching and most likely their legs beneath the table. And me, invisible.
So I did what any slighted woman would do in the presence of unrequited love—I got raucously drunk and danced like hell. I waved the waitress over and ordered two shots of Sourpuss for each of us, despite protests from Cece and Tyler; I downed mine before they’d even put their lips to one. I dragged Cece onto the dance floor and proceeded to grind against her, hoping Tyler would find this sexy and want to grind me later. I fell over at one point and took Cece down with me. Then Tyler was on the dance floor, wrapped up with Cece. I tried to dance between them, but my flailing arms knocked someone’s drink out of their hand. Then Tyler and Cece were back in the booth, and I on a speaker twerking until the bouncer wrenched me off. I cried in the corner, sucking down piña coladas at a wobbly table with an old bearded guy who assured me I was fun. I spent some time in the handicap stall of the women’s washroom puking up my sorrows. When I emerged, the crowd had thinned out, the band had stopped playing, and Tyler and Cece had abandoned me.
My mouth tasted like I’d licked the armpit of a sweaty hockey player. I was more than ready to go home. My jacket was lying in a sticky puddle underneath our table. I circled the bar to see if I’d overlooked Tyler and Cece, but they’d vanished. Rightly so, the way I’d acted, but still. Hadn’t I always taken care of Cece when she’d drunk herself stupid?
“Hope you have a ride,” the bouncer said as I staggered out the door.
“I’ll catch a cab.”
“Good luck,” he scoffed, and the door swung shut behind me.
My boots sank into the white canvas of snow stretched out over the quiet street. It filled my boots and hugged my calves. I descended the staircase, no longer able to see the steps. My wool mittens slid along the handrail and accumulated mass like snowballs. A light breeze nipped my ears and nose, and I wished for my bulky knee-length parka with the faux-fur hood.
I took out my cell phone. “Calling a cab?” a male voice called out from under the awning of a clothing store. I nodded. “I’ve been waiting here over an hour. You’ll never get one.”
“I’ll try,” I snapped bitterly. But my defiance was met with a constant busy tone that left me feeling hopeless and afraid. I couldn’t think of a single person to call who’d come to my rescue and not ask awkward questions about how I’d ended up in a foot of snow on Broadway Avenue at three in the morning, smelling of puke and Smirnoff Ice.
The glowing lights of downtown didn’t seem far from where I stood. I should’ve stayed inside the bar where it was safe and warm, where they might have let me sleep on a bench. But when you’re done, you’re done. The curse of the after-drunk. Wet and cold, my boots ruined, I resolved to walk home.
“Sure that’s a good idea?” the stranger said as I trudged past him.
“Beats waiting for nothing,” I replied.
The snow sucked my feet in, grabbing hold of my boots so that sporadically a socked foot broke free. By the time I reached the bridge to downtown, I looked like the abominable snowman—my peacoat a magnet for the sticky snow. I hadn’t seen a car since I’d emerged from the pub almost an hour ago.
“This is fucking ridiculous!” I screamed at the red crossing light before lumbering onto the northbound lane of Broadway Bridge, towards downtown. “I hate this fucking snow!” My words plummeted over the side of the bridge into the black river below. “Fuck you, Tyler! Fuck you, Cece! Fuck you, Plenty of Fish!” I kicked up snow, fell over, pounded the ground with my fists, rolled around in the snow, got to my feet, stumbled forward, fell, got to my feet, fell.
Eventually, I lay on my back in the middle of Broadway Bridge, exhaling foggy clouds into the starless night. I thought of all those meaningless dates. Those wasted nights scrolling through profiles of men I’d never cared to know. How I’d fallen for one wrong man and then another. How in my quest to never be alone, I’d ended up alone in the end. “Here lies Annette,” my headstone would read, “in self-inflicted solitary confinement.”
The whine of an engine pierced the night. I scrambled to my feet and turned to see a car ploughing down the bridge towards me, headlights bouncing off undulating snowdrifts. I jumped up and down, waving my arms. The Jetta skidded to a stop. The window rolled down.
“What the hell are you doing? Get off the road!” the man inside yelled at me. “I coulda killed you!”
“Please, sir!” I clasped my hands in prayer. “Please! Can you drive me home?”
“Lady, I can hardly drive at all!”
“Please! I can’t walk anymore! Look at my boots!” I took off a boot and showed him what was barely recognizable as footwear. He hesitated. “I’ll give you twenty bucks,” I said.
“Done.” I handed him two twenties and slid into the backseat, too exhausted to go around to the passenger side. “I thought I’d die out there.”
The Jetta carved its way down the empty bridge, through the sleepy streets tucked under their wintery blankets of white. I fished my phone out of my pocket, navigated to my conversation with Tyler. I was tempted to write, “Hope you had a nice night banging Cece, you dickhole.” Thought better of it. I’d already embarrassed myself enough for one night. Instead, I opened my browser and typed “rescue cats Saskatoon” into the search bar.