Something New | A short story
This is part of a story I wrote a few weeks ago. Like many good stories, Its real, but none of it happened. I'd love to hear your thoughts on it. You can download this for free as a spiffy, designed pdf when you sign up for my newsletter. Already signed up? Just email me and I'll send you the rest.
Like most romantic relationships, Michael was first attracted to Kari based purely on the way she looked. He was at a friend’s housewarming party and, along with all the other twenty-something transplants to Brooklyn who filled up the cramped space, Michael was enjoying a craft beer by a brand he had heard of, but had never seen in stores. A sort of phantom brewery, the new tenant had managed to fill his refrigerator with six-packs of their elusive summer ale.
Michael had just recently ended a fling with a woman he knew from college, but had reconnected with online. A post “like” turned into a direct message, and eventually, a date in the real world. Whatever they choose to call what they had, it lasted about two months until Michael began to feel the trappings of a relationship. When the text messages became more frequent, and the conversations more emotionally charged, he told her that he wasn’t looking for anything serious. He understood that it could have seemed like a hurtful rejection, or that he was somewhat callous, but he didn’t want to lead her on. The weight on his heart lifted after he hung up the phone and got ready to see a movie with a friend.
Though that break up happened only the week before, Michael was in good spirits as he clutched his beer, joking with people he had met only an hour before. He scanned the room between laughs. He liked the folks he was talking to, but he also liked to mingle.
Michael soon caught sight of Kari. She was strikingly beautiful, with long, bone straight black hair and dark pupils that looked like polished onyx hidden behind her slight eyes. He looked at her creamy, blemish-free skin and wonderfully symmetrical face from across the room and instantly thought about sucking on her neck.
As Michael lost himself a little in the daydream, the host walked over to him. With a grin that insinuated he knew exactly what was on Michael’s mind, James put an arm around Michael’s shoulder and excused him from a couple whom he was debating the nutritional merits of quinoa with.
“Didn’t get much of a chance to catch up.” James said, “doing my hostess-with-the-mostest thing. How are you doing?”
“Doing all right. Great beer by the way. You can’t find these anywhere though, so how’d you get them?”
Walking them slowly towards Kari, who was standing by herself after separating from an upbeat blond, James said, “One word. Magic.”
James began to work his magic again as he introduced Michael to Kari. With slow and deliberate words that smelled of weed and wine, James said to Kari, “Kari, I think I found you the perfect man.”
Kari’s eyes opened wide and Michael’s freckled cheeks flushed red, though his generally unassuming countenance changed little.
“I didn’t know I was looking.”
“We’re all looking, so don’t lie to me.” Both James and her chuckled, then he continued, “Unlike Marcus, who needed two hours to get ready, Michael here needs very little grooming. I work across from him and I haven’t seen him so much as comb that fiery hair of his. You should talk to him.”
James gave Michael a peck on the cheek and slowly walked away to another corner of the room to mix beer with the Cabernet Sauvignon already in his stomach.
Cheeks still red, Michael extended his right hand and said, “Hi. I’m Michael.”
“I gathered.” She shook his hand.
“Sorry about that. I didn’t ask James to say any of those things. He just… he’s spontaneous like that.”
“No need to apologize. I know him too. That’s why I’m here.”
“So how do you know James? He already gave away our backstory.”
"We met in college. James dated an ex-boyfriend of mine.”
“Yeah. The guy was always a little awkward. Because of James, I discovered why. You know. College stuff. People trying to figure themselves out."
“Do you think that stops in college? The figuring yourself out?”
“That’s a deep question. I would say that personal growth and self-exploration doesn’t end until you’re dead. But by twenty-four I think a man should know whether or not he wants another man in his asshole.”
Michael took a swig of his beer and looked at Kari with a wry smile. “I would have to agree. I realized where I stood on that debate much younger that twenty-four. By the way, James was wrong about my grooming habits, though it does only takes me a half hour to get ready.”
“That’s nice. But I think he was spot on about the hair thing.”
“I do comb. I just comb it to look like a bit of a mess.”
“I like it. It’s got a kind of Jimmy Page look with a red overlay."
"Thanks. Was that a photoshop reference? Also, we're talking young Jimmy, right?"
"Yes, and yes.”
While he and Kari talked about their jobs, their neighborhoods, and their favorite spots in the city, Michael imagined stuffing his face between her slim legs. As the night progressed, though, and they continued talking, he realized that he was attracted to more than just Kari’s looks.
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They stood and chatted for the rest of the night until Kari looked at her phone and said, “I think I’ve stayed up a little past my bedtime.”
“Sorry for holding you up.”
“Stop apologizing. I’m a grown-up.” She placed her empty wine glass on the table next to her and said, “It was great meeting you.”
“Same here. Hey, I’d love to get your number. Maybe we can meet over drinks and talk a little more past your bedtime.”
Michael could see the wheels in Kari’s mind turning for a moment as she looked over his face. Eventually, she said, “Sure” and sent him a text message with her name and a smile emoji.
After a few dates, the two ended up at Michael’s apartment. They were having the sex that he had fantasied about that first night and it was everything he had hoped for. They took their time to enjoy the rawness of the experience—the wonder of being intimate with someone who would touch you in ways no one else could because no one else was them. When he kissed her neck he tasted the unique salinity of her sweat. When he held her, Michael’s fingertips discovered the softness of her skin and the way it shifted with the pressure of his grip. They looked each other in the eyes almost the entire time until the image of Kari moaning, or smiling, or just looking calmed was grafted onto his mind’s eye in a way that pushed their closeness beyond the mechanical, into the truly rapturous.
They continued this way for weeks. They traded graphic design tips over bourbon, joked about politics over sushi, and walked to the bodega below Michael’s apartment—both wearing his sweatpants—just to get chicken cutlet sandwiches and debate over an article in The Economist. They saw indie films at the nearby theaters, discussed personal philosophies, and explored each other’s bodies with a focus and intent that lasted for hours.
When the seasons changed, and the New York City air turned frigid, they would bar hop through Williamsburg and get stinking drunk together. On a full moon night they walked out of a biergarten and onto a crowded sidewalk filled with young people and ironically kitschy storefronts. They turned the corner to a darker, quieter side street and Michael slowed down. He kept his arms around Kari’s shoulders and just looked at her as she looked at him. He took in all the things until he was satisfied that his vodka soaked brain would never forget the sensations of that night. He then looked up to admire the few wispy clouds that were moving slowly across the black sky, barely blocking the light of the large moon. Kari’s eyes followed his and grinned as the moonlight became brighter with the disappearance of each cloud.
She then looked at him and said, “I have to piss. Can you cover me?”
Michael nodded his head and walked Kari over to the curb where he used his body to block her from public view as she squatted near some tall grass sprouting through a crack and urinated a couple of cars away from a popular Mexican food truck. He kissed her afterward, softly on the lips, and held onto her slightly moist hands as they went to her apartment without a care.
In the full swing of winter at one of the many Williamsburg coffee shops, during a not-terribly-crowded Sunday morning, the two exchanged secrets. They sat across from each other and huddled around a small, circular, barnyard wood table that matched the polished rustic decor of the establishment. They occasionally leaned left or right to let others pass by. After blowing the steam off his triple, large, half sweet, non-fat, caramel macchiato Michael told Kari that he wasn't generally good in relationships.
“We were all jerks when we were younger,” she said.
“Yeah, but this was different. Me and the girl were together for like a year. I really cared about her. Then one day she tells me that she loves me. Man. I… I was scared.” He took a sip from his cup and continued, “All of a sudden I started feeling this sort of claustrophobia. Like my life choices were disappearing every second that she looked at me. I realized that I kind of loved her too.”
“Why ‘kind of’?”
“Because I wanted to be with her, but I didn’t at the same time. I wanted to keep enjoying her company, to be there for her, but I knew it wasn’t enough for me. I couldn’t see it ever being enough. I don’t think that’s real love.” He paused then said, “I told her something like that and she was really hurt. I thought about it for a while afterward and I’m not terribly happy about what that moment may say about me.”
“And what’s that?”
“That I’m selfish. That I won’t want to share my life with anybody.”
Kari puckered her lips, and with a chuckle Michael responded, “Not the best advertisement for keeping me as a boyfriend is it?”
A space behind Michael opened up as a large group began to leave. He pulled his seat and the shared table away from Kari, giving her more leg room. She leaned back in her chair and crossed her legs. “But you are a gentleman.”
“And I wasn’t even trying. So, do you have any scary reflections about yourself that you’d like to share?”
Keri paused as her eyes dropped down and her smile relaxed. She said, “I’m a thief.”
“What do you mean?”
With a long exhale she said, “My mother doesn’t speak much English. When I was a kid she spoke absolutely none, so I was always translating for her—I was like her little assistant. You can imagine as a kid how much I hated being dragged around government buildings, her doctor’s office, especially to the bank. I would try to translate words l didn’t really understand while dealing with the most important thing my mother had. Money. That shit was nerve-wracking, and when I was a teenager, I thought, ‘you’ve been doing this for as long as you could talk. You deserve something for all that work.’”
Michael let silence pass as he watched Kari’s face wrinkle in odd ways, while she struggled with words and emotions.
She said, “One of the things I helped with was transferring money overseas to my grandmother in Jeonju. She’s still alive, but even ten years ago, she was super old., loose skin everywhere, bony fingers, and a back bent from a lifetime of work and not enough vitamin D.” Michael smiled at the humor in the odd description, but didn’t interrupt.
“Well, when I was fifteen, I would take some of that money. Not all of it, but amounts that a teen would think was a lot. I did that for three straight months. I blew it on crap like clothes I outgrew and tech that was outdated the next year. At the time, I saw them as gifts for all that work. My mom never noticed, or at least never said anything to me. But I know that I’m a thief.” Tears fell down Kari’s cheeks as she said, “That I snatched money from an old woman who needed that cash to keep food on her table. All this time I’ve never said I’m sorry.” The tears multiplied as her breaths became shorter. Sobs affected her speech. “I'm such a coward. I didn't have the courage to tell my mom or anybody else what I did, and, I mean, it's been years. I've never been able to look at her the same as I did when I was a kid. It’s like, our relationship was stunted because I'm ashamed to be her little girl again."
Kari's eyes remained low the entire time. She pursed her lips, and slowly picked up her coffee for a sip. Once she placed it down Michael reached over the table and wiped her cheeks with his thumb. His face full of empathy, he said, "Oh god... Kari, today isn't yesterday. We've all done some horrible things in our lives. I know I have." He paused then continued, "but that's not who you are now. You're an adult, and if you wanted to, you could pay your mom back ten times over. How about you talk to her next weekend. I can go with you and hold your hand while you tell her what happened. It's only hurting you to hold it in."
"What if she tells me that she's ashamed of me? That she... She doesn't want to have anything to do with me anymore?"
That's a choice she would make. You holding this shit in is hurting you, and it doesn't give your mother a chance to forgive you."
Kari nodded. Then she nodded again, more resolutely. "You're right." She looked up at Michael and smiled soothed by his words and the motivations behind them.
"I know you’re a selfish prick, and it might scare you away but, I love you."
Michael thought about his response no quicker than a second and replied, "I love you, too."
It was the first time he had said those words to someone who wasn't his mother, and he took it very seriously. He held those words in his heart as he held Kari's hand in his hand during their meeting with her mother. Her grip tightened in fear, but he didn’t let go as she told her mother she was sorry. The afternoon ended with homemade kimchi and a crass joke from her mother about dog soup. Michael drank tea and smiled because he couldn't think of anything he'd rather do for the rest of his life.
That feeling began to wane slowly and inexplicably.
Michael didn’t notice at first how he had slightly less passion for Kira than before. He lacked that level of self-awareness and continued to hold her, laugh with her, and sometimes look at the sky with her, but with dwindling levels of enthusiasm. He caught himself looking at other women; wanting to know how their laugh sounded, how it felt to kiss them, what they would feel like under his body.
That same month he stopped orgasming during sex, began flirting with a woman at his job. In the office kitchenette, next to the coffee machine, he saw one of the programmers, Rachel, She wore a khaki colored skirt that showed off thick, tanned calves, and a black cardigan and a matching midriff top that showed of her flat stomach and large chest. It was a casual outfit but looked like it took a bit of fashion sense to put together. It focused Michael’s eyes on her body, more than normally. He pulled his eyes away from her shape and said, “That’s a cool outfit.”
“Thanks. I’m going to a poetry reading today, nothing fancy, but I wanted to show off a little.”
“Continuing to talk about the way she looked could easily turn creepy,” Michael thought, and then asked, “Really? Do you write poetry?”
“A little is still pretty amazing. I’m Michael.” He held his hand out.
She reached out with her right to meet his “Rachel”
James came in to grab his vegetarian lasagna from the fridge. He pressed start on the microwave just as Rachel left., and Michael poured himself the cup of coffee he had originally gone in the kitchenette for. As he mixed the almond milk with the Costa Rican roast, Michael turned his head to see James leaning against a counter and staring at him.
Michael asked, “What’s up?”
“What do think?”
“That we’re too old to play guessing games?”
“Dude, I like you a lot. But Kari is my friend.”
“I like you too. And Kari’s my girl. What are you trying to say?”
“I’m not an idiot. I saw you flirting with Rachel. Look, that shit happens sometimes. We all want to feel wanted. When someone shows interest things can go a little out of bounds. I just wanna make sure you know where to draw the line. You understand where I’m coming from?”
Michael was quiet for a second then responded, “Yeah, I understand. There’s nothing to worry about.”
“Cool. So how’s everything with you two? Any exciting plans this weekend?”
“Not really. Just the same old with us.”
The next week Michael caught up with Rachel at her desk. He asked her how her reading went, and they talked for a few minutes about art, his graphic design work, and their favorite authors. Until Michael suggested they meet for drinks that evening. The bar’s dark, but warm atmosphere lent a clandestine quality to their tryst. Michael knew he was wrong, but a deep biological desire for something new, something exciting, made the smell of Rachel’s perfume intoxicating, and caused a tingle in the back of his head that made him dizzy. The electric touch of her hand on his arm made him feel light. He became essentially giddy as they talked. After a few meetings, they were in her apartment.
It was a one-time event that Michael somehow kept from being an awkward situation at work. He and Rachel chatted and would slyly smile at each other, if they passed in the hallways of the medium-sized office floor.
Outside of work, Michael felt stagnant. He knew he loved Kari, but in another way, he didn’t want her. He wanted the electricity that shocked him alive whenever she was around, but he was growing numb to that sensation. Michael wasn’t aware of the details of what he felt, but he knew what he did was horribly wrong and that its cause wasn’t something he could live with.
Michael and Kari were reading together at her apartment on a Sunday morning when Michael put his book down. They sat at opposite ends of her small living room couch—legs meeting in the middle—as their backs propped up against the armrests. Michael untangled his legs from Kari’s and sat properly on the couch with his elbows on his knees. “Kari, I need to tell you something.”
The ominous language and the use of her proper first name put Kari on edge in a way that could be seen on her face. She put her book down, straightened her back, and asked, “What?”
“About two weeks ago, I had an affair. It was someone at my job, and it’s over. But it happened.”
Kira stood in front of him while he remained sitting. As soon as their eyes locked, she slapped him across the face.
“Get out! She walked towards the door, opened it, “Get out!” When he got up, she walked into the bedroom and grabbed his jeans and sweater. Throwing them out the door, she yelled, “Get out!”
In his underwear and t-shirt, he left. Without protest he grabbed his shoes and walked out into the hallway to pick his clothes off the floor. Kari slammed the door an inch away from Michael’s body while screaming once more, “Get out!”
Walking down the stairs from her third-floor apartment, Michael felt the sting of her anger and betrayal. He exited the lobby, and found himself on the sidewalk, staring into the sky. The wind had picked up from earlier that morning, and he was hit with the cool, strong breeze of late winter or early spring, depending upon the day. . He stood there and wondered, what was he going to do?
Michael tried to call her. She ignored his attempts to explain why he had cheated?.She ignored his pleas for forgiveness.. Michael was truly sorry he had hurt her, but he wasn’t sorry that he and Kari were no longer together. What he wanted was to be absolved, to tell himself that, he made a mistake, but that despite that, he was a good person.
Kari responded with a text message: Go kill yourself.
Instead of dying, Michael continued to breathe; in spite of their heartbreak. Michael found himself in and out of relationships. Each one brief and meant for nothing more than the easy pleasures they provided. When Michael turned twenty-nine, he moved out of Brooklyn to Queens, into a condo not far from Forest Park, which he occasionally walked through.
He walked alone, like much of his activities—as flings became fewer and far between. The women he met and the opportunities to meet them had reduced with each passing year, and with the move to another borough. More importantly, though, the relationships themselves began to lose their attraction.
Over breakfast, Michael asked one woman, “Where do you see yourself in five years?”
The question didn’t disturb the casual atmosphere as she was washed down her toast with orange juice—topless and unconcerned. Moving her mousey brown hair away from her face and behind her ear, she said, “I don’t know. I don’t think about it much. I like my job, but I may look for another in the next few. I tend not to plan things too much though.”
Comfortable in his boxers, Michael nodded, while chewing a forkful of eggs. “I know what you mean.”
“Why do you ask?”
“Wondering about myself, I suppose. There were things I thought I wanted, but when I look at it now…” He grabbed a cup of water to drink and to hide the break in his voice that would give away the emotions underneath. “... Those things weren’t all that important. I’m just trying to figure out what I should be spending my time on.”
“You mean professionally or personally?”
“Both. Though more personal, if I had to choose.”
“That’s me too.” She smiled, “Though I figure I’ve got a lot of time left to figure it out.”
They both chuckled, and Michael switched the topic to a new song they both liked. The pain he tried to drown with that cup of water would resurface throughout their small talk as Michael went from toast to thinking about his self-deprecating anger for hurting Kari, who he hadn't talked with in years, and for the emptiness that drove him to find light and beauty outside of himself. Any woman with the curves he desired or made him erect, became the object of his attention. The same thing that drove his mind down roads less traveled for the excitement that he didn't feel in his own life.
He thought about these revelations as he held in the sadness, and lifted his breakfast companion off her stool. Bringing her to the bedroom they made love in a way that was emotional and thrillingly unfamiliar. Their relationship ended amicably two weeks later.
A month with one woman had begun to feel no different that two months with another. They were different people with different desires, different shapes, different hues and different personalities, but those things weren’t what brought them together. What motivated them was the wonder of a first kiss, a first night out, the chance to feel something new. In Michael’s mind, those things paled in comparison to Kari and the closeness they shared—the memory of which only cast a larger shadow on his everyday thoughts since he left her.
During a sunny Saturday walk through the park, Michael sat on a bench as groups of children ran past. He breathed in deep and thought about where he was going. At least for that night, Michael was having dinner with some friends. His mind zoomed out for a wider perspective. He was working to become an art director in the advertising agency he worked at. As he began to take an ever-expanding bird’s eye view of his life, Michael thought about the things that brought him joy outside the moments of their existence. Not many things did.
After a few moments, Michael pulled out his phone to write an email—fingers trembling slightly with a mix of embarrassment and nervousness. He paused, and then he deleted what he had written. A few tears fell down his cheek, but eventually, he picked up his phone again to write a message to Kari. It read:
I don’t know where you are in life but I hope it’s a good place—a happy place. You may have already deleted this email, and that’s okay, I suppose, but I hope you’re reading enough to read that I’m sorry. I know those are just words, but they’re the best ones I’ve got to express how I feel. How I’ve felt since we broke up.
I don’t know if you’ve found the love of your life and got married or if you’re pregnant right now, or even if you're still living in New York. As much as I hope you’ve found happiness, I’d also be lying if I said it wouldn’t hurt to know that you were with someone else…
What I’m trying to say is that I loved you, but I betrayed you. I wasn’t able to see how special our relationship was. I took it for granted, and I let my dick lead me. I see that now, and although you have no reason to trust me, I promise that if you gave me another chance, I’d treat you like gold, cause honestly, you’re the most wonderful woman I’ve ever been with. I miss everything about you, not just the way you felt, but how you made me feel. How you made my heart smile. If there’s the slightest chance that I could prove to you that I’m a better man, please let me know.
As the evenings passed, Michael fought the urge, as he had been for months, to troll through Kari’s social media accounts or met her at her place. He waited for some response, but there was none. Michael understood that there would never be one, and every few days—as he worked, laughed with friends, began taking longer walks by himself—that fact would hit him. He continued to live as he had been until he had celebrated the birthday of a friend in Park Slope, Brooklyn.
He walked through quiet, historic blocks with beautiful old brownstones that reminded him that, when maintained, almost anything could last beyond the years expected of it. At the party, he held onto a bottle of water in an attempt to stay sober on his ride back home. He listened to the music and chatted with his friend, Jesus, about what birthday goals he had set for himself for next year.
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Jesus sniggered, “They’re like New Years Resolutions. I aim for the sky but usually hit an anthill. When I turned thirty-four last year, I promised I’d go vegan.”
Michael laughed and asked, “How long did that last?”
“It ended as soon as I smelled some bacon at a restaurant.”
“I don’t have any statistics to back it up, but I would guess bacon to be the number one killer of vegan diets. Did any of it stick though? You trying to eat healthier?”
“Yeah it did. Eating less processed foods. Cooking more. This time I missed the sky but hit someone’s second-floor bedroom window. How about you?”
“I eat pretty healthy.”
“I mean goals. You got any?”
Michael went silent.
Jesus said, “Wow. It’s that deep?”
“I just wanna be a better person.”
“That was deep.” They both laughed. “ I’m gonna get me some whiskey to wash down that profoundness.”
“I’ll be hanging around the fruit, birthday boy.”
Michael reached over for a slice of mango from a tray on the large living room table. As he ate,. he noticed a woman looking at him. and was struck by how beautiful she was. His eyes, however, quickly grew tired from years of taking in beauty, and not much else.
He looked away and grabbed another piece of fruit in the way of distraction. On the last bite of his first mango slice, the woman walked up to him.
“Hi. Michael, right?”
“That’s right.” He smiled politely and held out his hand to shake hers. “How did you know that?”
She grabbed his hand and said, “Malik introduced you to like twenty people when you walked in. You shook my hand then too.”
He laughed, “I’m sorry. It was a blur of faces I’d never seen before.”
“It’s all right. What usually sticks in someone’s mind is the personality behind a face, not the face itself. That takes a while.”
“That’s the truest thing I’ve heard in a long time. What was your name?”
Michael’s eyes looked at Jasmine’s glowing dark brown skin and golden wavy hair. Then his eyes stopped. and he paid attention to the way her smile made him feel, her gentle voice, and the way her gentle eyes put him at ease. More than excitement, he felt a warmth in his chest that he hadn’t felt in a long time.
After a short, but deep exhale, Michael said, “Hi, Jasmine. I’d love to put a personality to the face. So how do you know Malik?”
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