I tried to improve the opening line, thinking about genre, and the romcom genre often starts out with top ten lists.
On any top ten list of best Sunday plans, today’s brunch with my former crush and his new girlfriend would rank number eleven. But I couldn’t say no. We’re still friends. And I’m over him. There’s absolutely no risk I will say “I love you, Jamie” ever again.
The subway is oddly crowded at this time of day. I squeeze on, getting the prime real estate spot leaning against the metal doors (right up against the “Do Not Lean On Door” warning) and hold on tight to a small sliver of a handrail. As the train approaches 42<sup>nd</sup> Street, the conductor announces that it is going express, and groans erupt. Works for me. At 42<sup>nd</sup> Street, half the train empties out, but it quickly fills back up, as if we’d all just exchanged dance partners. Three stops later and the train car shudders to a stop, spitting me out along with a stream of passengers jostling each other to get a place in the ant line marching up the stairs. The last brush-by without even a “Scuze me” skews my hat, my favorite 1920’s style cloche. So much for all the time I spent positioning it just right, so I’d look different—more sophisticated—less cute little buddy—when Jamie sees me again. I adjust it and push through the turnstile. Even before I reach the last step of the stairs to the street, the smell of honey-roasted nuts from the Nuts 4 Nuts vendor cart at the top is making me hungry.
At least Rory agreed to join me at this brunch with Jamie and his new girlfriend, so I’m not the rejected third wheel. Chambers Street is crowded with vendor tables, but not many people yet. The juice shop smells of coconut and lime; the phone store and clothing store with back-to-school sale signs are still in business, not yet joining the other boarded-up stores on this block. And then Michael’s. The lure is strong. Not that I need any more crafting supplies, but it seems a waste to be in the neighborhood and not check out its sale selection. But I want to be first to the battlefield, able to plan my strategy, as advised in The Art of War. Not that I’ve read it, just The Art of War for Writers.
One more block. Rory is leaning against a streetlight, reading a book. One lock of his brown wavy hair has fallen onto his face, and he pushes it away, to join the rest of his unruly mop of hair. He could be modeling menswear, except that the cover of the book he’s holding is bright pink and yellow. A romcom book I recommended. He wanted to read other books in my genre so he could compare my draft manuscript to the competition, and so I gave him a list of my favorites. He looks up and our glances catch. My heart melts just a little bit. Rory’s blue-green eyes slayed many a woman in college.
“Like your hat, Penelope. Suits you.” Rory kisses me on the cheek. He smells like fresh laundry.
We push open the door to the brunch place. Bells jingle and the buttery smell of pancakes welcomes us. The restaurant has this white-washed wood old farmhouse vibe. Lots of vintage signs with pictures of black and white cows or a bushel of peaches for $1 decorate the walls. We stand in line in the small foyer waiting to be seated. I’ve been seeing more of Rory lately. He broke up with his last girlfriend about two months ago. When he has a girlfriend, we see each other about once a month. But now he calls me to get together for brunch nearly every Sunday. My best friend Zelda, who also knows Rory from college, was like: “Well, he obviously likes to hang out with you, but you’re solidly in the friend lane with this Sunday brunch thing.” Trust Zelda for straight talk. It’s not that I thought I was changing lanes and moving to the speeding girlfriend lane. I’m good driving at a controlled 60-miles-an-hour, and not hazardously heading-for-a-heartbreak on some highway of love.
“How do you like the book?” I punch his arm playfully.
“It’s good. Better than I expected. Funny.” Rory smiles. “So, what’s with this fake boyfriend trope? This is the second one with it.”
“I like that trope.” I tilt my head.
“Do you?” Something in the way he asks makes me look at him more closely.
“Yes. I’m writing a fake dating plot now.”
“Why do you like it?”
“Friends to lovers seems more realistic.” I smile at Rory. “So, what happened on Thursday? Your voicemail message. Did you say your client’s wife . . .?
Rory raises his eyebrow. “Exactly. I got this weird vibe from my client’s wife, but I thought no—she’s got to be about 50 and my client is right there—and then, she copped a feel of my butt.”
“Oh yes. I jumped.” Rory laughs. “Which threw her too. But still, it’s fucking awkward.”
“That’s crazy. Did she pinch anybody else’s butt?”
Rory laughs. “I didn’t take a poll.”
I point at the book. “I know what you need. You need a fake girlfriend to protect you at client functions.”
Rory stills, staring at me. “That’s not a bad idea.”
“You’re welcome.” Rory takes off his coat and he’s wearing this worn t-shirt that does little to hide his flatboard stomach. Mmmm. “But aren’t there any women currently in the running to be a real girlfriend?”
“How is that possible?” We move up in the brunch line. We should be next. The smell of bacon frying is making me hungry.
Rory just gives me his look of annoyance, which is one eyebrow cocked, head tilt and a slight shake of his head. “Did I miss the memo where you’re dating someone?”
“There wouldn’t be a memo.”
“Your sister would definitely issue a memo.”
I laugh. “A legal memo. To whom it may concern. But seriously, Rory, you’re not usually at a lack for dance partners.”