Biryani

June 2022 Challenge, Day 8

Photo by Louis Hansel on Unsplash

I finally took the advice I’d been giving others for years. Start slow. Be friends before dating. Don’t rush into a sexual relationship before you even know if you like the other person.

The friendship thing worked well. For about two months, but then our chemistry was undeniable. We were friends first. Then we decided that we would try dating, and if it didn’t work out, we promised we’d do all that we could to keep our friendship intact. And we weren’t just saying it; we were great friends. We often slept on each other’s couches and, on a few times, chastely in each other’s bed. When the hugging became an hours-long thing, we decided that with our solid friendship, we wanted to try for more.

Tonight is our third date.

On the first we saw a movie, a comedy; we both laughed freely and fiercely at the same parts. It felt good to let our guards down, laugh, and explore the new terrain of dating a good friend. Whenever we kissed good night, it was an extended thing, something I hadn’t done since I was a sophomore in high school.

On the second date, we went for Thai food and then bowling. It was so comfortable, so familiar, so nice. We knew our friendship would survive. We were both mature enough to know that what mattered most was the other’s happiness. Not in any “no one can love you as I can or make you as happy as I can,” but in a wiser, “I will do all I can to help you find your happiness for as long as I can.” Which might mean bowing out-if someone better, someone who could love them better came along.

###

“Ohh! What about him?” Scott whispered in my ear, pulling me into his heat for a tight congratulatory hug after my fourth strike. He slyly directed my head to the bowler two lanes to our left. “He’s probably got abs! He’s probably loaded as well! They don’t give those MEMBERS ONLY jackets out to anyone you know! Those are reserved for, well members…, only!”

“You goofball. You know I love your dad-bod.”

That was true. Once you’ve dated enough sculpted jerks, you learn there are many things more important than abs.

“Are you sure? Cause I will introduce you to him right now. If you think you might want him.”

I pause for a second and take another look at Members Only. Then back to Scott.

Then it hit me. Scott was serious. It’s not like he was trying to unload me either. I could tell. That first kiss lasted a long time, and I could sense his arousal. Even when he pulled me close after our seventh frame, it wasn’t completely absent then either. This man didn’t have a jealous bone in his body.

“What about you?” I say, swiveling my head around, following his lead, looking for a potential lady for him. But my heart wasn’t in it. I wanted it to be, but it wasn’t. I would take it as an action item. Something I would work on until I could do that without joking and be okay if he said, “Yes.”

It felt like a form of non-grasping love. But even then, we still want to hold the thing we so selflessly claim we don’t want to grasp.

He spins me back to him and gives me a quick kiss there on lane 7. My knees threaten to buckle, and I melt into his form.

I finish straightening the living room. We are going to Netflix and chill I guess. I am old enough that I had to Google the term. But it seems clear to me – tonight’s the night.

###

My doorbell rings promptly one minute before the agreed-upon 7:00 PM.

“Well, he did warn you he was punctual,” I say as I make my way to the door.

Walking to the door, I realize that I feel a dual excitement. I’m thrilled to see my movie-watching, bowling buddy, who I can laugh with, but I’m also eager to be held by the man that will, I expect, be my new lover in just a few hours.

“Hello, I’m early, but I couldn’t drive around your block one more time, or I would have been late, so…”

“Come in, come in,” I say, hugging him as best I can through the half dozen plastic bags he’s carrying.

The scent of curry wafts up to me.

“Oh, that smells good,” I say into his neck.

“Thanks, it’s Old Spice.”

“I meant the curry, silly goose.”

“Check. Note to self, next time smear curry on my neck before seeing Sierra.”

We laugh and step back from the hug.

“This is for you.” He hands me a single, long-stemmed rose in a cut crystal vase.

“Classy.”

“It’s fake.”

Despite knowing better, I feel the leaf.

“Ahh. You got me.”

We share a cheesy grin.

###

We finish spreading all the cartons of food out on my kitchen table.

“So, what pairs with all of this? Red or white?” I say, gesturing towards my counter like I’m a gameshow hostess.

“Umm, I guess we might try both?” he says.

“Well, what did you bring me? That looks like a lot of food.”

“Since you said you’d never had Indian, I brought naan, raitha, and vegetable samosas. But those are appetizers and sides.”

“And for the main course?” I say.

“Biryani,” he says.

I don’t know much about Indian food, but I know there are different kinds of biryani.

“What kind?”

“Hmm?”

“What kind of biryani did you bring for us?”

“Oh, all the kinds. We have chicken, vegetable, lamb, and I believe this one is beef,” he says, patting the cardboard carton tops in succession.

“Oh, okay.”

That seems like too much food, but okay.

“Because I didn’t know what you’d prefer and I wanted to be sure that you enjoyed the meal. Seeing how it’s your first time having this cuisine.”

That’s sweet.

###

“Which biryani was your favorite?”

“I loved all of it.

Which was true, but it was also a bit of evasion. For the duration of the meal, Scott’s thigh rested against mine, and a different hunger began to emerge.

It was an effort to keep from throwing myself at him.

We make ourselves comfortable on my couch and watch two episodes of “Stranger Things.”

“Another?” I say.

Please say no!

“No two is enough for me,” he says.

Suddenly, he looks serious.

###

“So, wait, what? You have a jar of rocks with suggestions, and there’s one in your pocket now?”

I’m dizzy trying to keep up with this enigmatic man.

“You’re thinking about Members Only now, aren’t you? You lost your chance with him. He’s probably married with children by now.”

It’s been a week!

###

“Do you trust me?” he had said to me after dinner before telling me about the stone in his pocket.

The funny thing was my trust in him was complete.

If he were to tell me he wanted to be just friends, I’d sigh in frustration, walk him to the door, and attend to my needs tonight. But then, by tomorrow, we’d be laughing at old Ben Stiller movies, walking together in our parks, browsing used book stores, and probably sleeping on each other’s couches again shortly after that.

“Yes. I trust you.”

I meant it.

###

“And you swear you don’t know what suggestion is painted on the stone?” I ask.

I don’t know why that’s important, just that I feel compelled to ask again.

“I swear I didn’t peek.”

Looks like we’re doing this… what would you even call this? An experiment?

“Ready?”

His hands are cupped together before him.

I nod.

He slowly uncovers them.

My heart sinks.

Painted in a too jolly neon green against the stone is a two-word suggestion.

Break up.

I pause a bit. Despite all my high ideals, I am not as evolved as Scott. I want to be, but I’m not.

“I don’t know, Scott, this seems silly…,”

“Trust me?” he says again, taking my hands in his. The casual contact is giving me feelings far removed from breaking up.

I pause.

“Consider it an improv exercise?”

“Okay, if you’re sure.”

So we break up, improv style.

On our third perfect date, sitting with plates of biryani, samosas, and glasses of Chardonnay, we break up. Several times I almost put a stop to the thing, whatever this craziness is, but his eyes are bottomless pools, and in them, I hear his opening question again and again: Do you trust me?

We cry; we swear we will never forget the other and promise to return to being good friends as soon as we can emotionally.

My tears are both genuine and a level of acting that surprises me.

I skate dangerously close to saying the L-word. That would not be good improv and wouldn’t be good.

But what am I saying? I can’t know that I ell him, can I?

We’ve been friends for four months; we’ve been on three dates, and we haven’t even slept together. And it’s looking less and less likely we will with this strange development.

###

I’m so confused and feeling a bunch of things. It almost feels like I’m in shock.

“So, I guess this is good night, then?” I say morosely.

“Yeah. But Sierra, do you mind if I crash…, on your couch?”

“No, of course not…”

But then I feel something ugly trying to make its way out of my mouth.

We drank almost three bottles of wine. It was the reasonable thing to do.

This isn’t over and you know it isn’t over, Sierra. Just go with it.

So I decide to play along.

###

“Good night,” I say and turn and leave him alone to figure out the linens and couch business on his own. He’s been here enough to know where everything is.

From my bed, I hear him put away everything, load the dishwasher, and put the leftover biryani into my fridge.

I almost return to help clean up or kick him out, but my ego keeps me in my bed.

He’s playing a game, Sierra. Don’t sweat it.

I hear him making the couch up.

Then a contented sigh as he sinks into the oversized cushions.

Thirty seconds later, my phone pings.

A text message from him;

So it turns out I’m single again. If you’re still up, maybe I could swing by?

I cry out in relief and frustration. But before my cry is complete, he is there, in my bed, pushing himself under the covers, his arms pulling me to him, his hands peeling away everything nonessential. Our mouths find each other, and the time for words passes.

I push him back for a second and squint fiercely at my bedside clock.

ACTING!

“Okay, but you got to be quick, mister. Members Only is going to be here in twenty minutes!”

His infectious laughter hits him, then it hits me, and it scares me to realize that, yeah, I do ell him. Nutty as that sounds, I ell him like crazy.

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