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Emotion, Unchecked (part 1) by Ray Printer Friendly

“I think he’s cheating on me.”

Oh, shit, not this again. I roll my eyes, exaggerated, so she can’t help but see it and realize that I don’t want to talk about this bullshit.

“Don’t roll your eyes at me,” she says. “I want to talk about this.”

“I don’t. I mean, come on—can’t we just talk about a movie or something? A new band you heard? Something like that?”

She hands me a cup of coffee, puts hers in the cup holder, and slams the door. Too hard. I’ve told her over and over not to slam the damn door so hard, but she just won’t learn. I hear chicks going off all the time about how men just can’t remember to put the toilet seat down, and I always wonder if we could just make it an even trade—I’ll leave the seat down if you learn how to close a fuckin’ car door.

Of course, the toilet seat thing’s not anything I have to worry about—staying single is my forte, and I plan on being the only one living in my house until the day I die. I like being single. I like not having to worry about what she’s going to say if I make a sandwich and then leave it on the table over night. I like pissing with the door open, I like being able to do whatever I want without having to worry if it’s going to hurt some chick’s feelings.

Two, three dates, that’s about the max. After that, they usually gotta go. I try to be nice about ending it—you know, in case I ever need a piece of emergency tail—but even if they don’t go gracefully, they still go.

It’s not that I’m a complete asshole, it’s just that I like to fuck. And I like variety. I don’t dance around the issue, I don’t talk about how I’m in love with them, how I want to spend the rest of my life with them, whatever. I don’t lie. I’m looking for someone to have a good time with, and that’s it. I’m more honest about things than most of the married people I know.

A lot of women are okay with how I do things, and they’re willing to go on a few dates, have some fun, have some good times, and then go away. A lot of them aren’t. Each and every one of them know what I’m about up front, but some of them just can’t believe it. They think they can change me, they think that they’ll be the one that will win my heart. Which is why I live in a gated community and have an unlisted phone number.

The chick that just slammed my car door, that’s Jessica Millstone, and she’s the one that I haven’t been able to ditch. Honestly, I haven’t ever tried. She tells me all the time that she’s the closest thing to a “real” relationship that I’ll have until I settle down. I tell her that every one of my relationships is more real than the bizarre shit she’s got going on.

Jessica’s married. Has been for something like eight years. To Harold. And for three of those eight years, I’ve been hearing all about it.

We work together, Jessica and I. Inner company investigation consultants for huge corporations. Say you have a company, like Wal-Mart or whatever. And say that you’re losing all kinds of money at one particular store. The first line of defense is the Loss Prevention people, they come in, do their thing, whatever. The thing is, the L.P. people aren’t always the brightest bulbs in the building, and even if they are, there’s a chance that they can be in on the scam, too.

That’s where Jessica and I come in. I’m an asshole, and she’s your best friend, and we’re both really good at what we do. Two weeks, tops, we know what’s going down, we report it to corporate, and we move on. There are other parts of the investigation, sure, but we’re mostly just people people. We talk to the workers, figure out what’s going on, shit like that.

You might not think that I’m much of a people person, considering that almost everyone dislikes me seconds after we meet, but I have a great bullshit detector, and—if I need it—a wealth of charm. That second one, I don’t use it much.

“I’m so tired of hearing about this bullshit!”

“It isn’t bullshit, Chris. This is my life we’re talking about.”

“Okay, if we have to talk about this again, I’m not pulling my punches, got it? I’ve been hearing about this for the past two weeks, I’ve done the consoling friend thing, I’ve tried to pat your back and move on, but you just won’t let it go. So if we’re talking about this again, I’m not going to dance around and try to make you feel happy about life, got it?”

Jessica and I get along pretty well, for the most part. We’ve had our share of fights, but we make a good team. As a general rule, we try to be nice to each other. I talk about my nights and she doesn’t go off about how I’m a horrible person, she talks about her marriage and I don’t go off about how she’s a stupid one. She doesn’t agree with my lifestyle and I don’t agree with hers, and we’re both okay with that. But sometimes, when we’re being totally honest, it is necessary to cross the lines. We give warning, of course, which is what I’m doing right now.

“Fine,” she says. I look over at her to make sure she’s serious—honesty is really never the best policy, I’ve found—and she points at the road. We’re burning down the freeway, bumper-to-bumper, at about eighty miles an hour. I’ve been driving this route for so long that I can do it with minimal attention, but even after three years of accident-free driving together, she still doesn’t really trust my driving ability. I know where the flow of traffic congests and where it frees up, so barring an accident, I could pretty much drive this with my eyes closed. And if there’s an accident that I’m not counting on, at least the paramedics will already be there to haul me away, right?

I turn my eyes back to the road. “Okay, first things first—when you said that you thought he was cheating on you a few weeks ago, I almost laughed scalding hot coffee out my nose. I’ve been wanting to give you shit about it, but then I would have had to explain why I was fighting laughter so hard.”

“And why was that?”

“Because, Jessica, to think that your husband is cheating on you is outlandish. You’re the best he’s ever going to get, because, frankly, your husband looks like a little gnome.”

“Oh, come on!”

“Nope! No candy-coating, babe. He’s a short hairy little beast, and I swear, I think his gut gets bigger by the day. He’s like a gnome with a bad comb-over. He’s got bad breath, too—I don’t know if gnomes are known for their bad breath, but Harold has some rank-ass breath.”

“Why don’t you tell me how you really feel about him?” She’s trying to sound hurt and sarcastic, but really she sounds resigned and a little embarrassed. Jessica looks fantastic. I’m not at all lacking in the looks department—in fact, I once heard that attractiveness is a prerequisite for this job because people tend to trust beautiful people—but she’s even out of my league. To be stuck with a dumpy little husband that has bad breath, that’s gotta suck.

“You’re too good for him, that’s the thing, and if he doesn’t realize that, he’s even dumber than I thought. Oh, yeah, that’s another thing—the guy’s an idiot. And boring. He could write a book of horrible, un-funny jokes, or maybe something along the lines of the dullest shit ever. I don’t know what the hell you talk about when it’s just the two of you, but if it’s anything like what he talks about when he’s out in public, I’m surprised you didn’t kill yourself long ago.”

“Oh, he’s not that bad.”

“Oh, he’s that bad, all right. Did you know that at your Christmas party last year, he talked to me about goldfish for two and a half hours? Two and a half hours! About what? Goldfish! Yeah, I said it. The only reason I stayed put was because your neighbor was giving me a handjob underneath the table.”

Sally was doing that?”

“No, I just really fuckin’ love goldfish. Yeah, Sally was doing that.”

“She’s married. She has three kids. She’s the stereotypical soccer mom.”

“Do they give outstanding handjobs, those soccer moms? Because if they do, she is, she’s stereotypical as hell.”

“Uhg—she was dishing out the pie.”

I laugh, because I find that really funny, and I say, “Yeah.”

She glares at me. “I ate that pie.”

I get my laughing under control, lose it, and then get it back under control again. “I’m sure she washed her hands, okay? I mean, otherwise there would have been—you know—dripping all over the table.”

“You’re so disgusting.”

“Hey, my hands were clean. Besides, we’re getting off subject here.”

“You know, after that little confession about the Christmas party, I don’t think you have any room to judge.”

“There’s always room to judge. Seriously, I don’t know what you’re doing with this guy. Like, when I first met him, I thought maybe he was dying or something, and you were part of his Make-A-Wish Foundation wish or something. But then he kept on not dying, and I realized that you actually saw something in him. I tell ya, he won some sort of cosmic lottery with that one, too, because he has no business being with someone as hot as you.”

“You think I’m hot?”

“Man, you know I think you’re hot. I don’t generally tell you stuff like that because I don’t think you would take it as a sincere compliment from a self-absorbed womanizer like myself, but yeah you’re hot.”

“Huh. Thanks, Chris.”

“Yeah, whatever. So he has to realize that he’ll never do as good as you again. And if he’s not bright enough to realize that, he at least has to know that he’s a horrible little beast that couldn’t score again this side of the Mexican border. You know what? Not even the Mexican border, but rather the border where Mexico sends all of their used up, STD-infested hookers that can’t even sell themselves to drunk college kids for a buck fifty. Over-the-hill Whore Town, I think it’s called.”

“If there really was a ‘Over-the-hill Whore Town,’ I would think you’d have a summer home there.”

“Too hot down there—I’ll stick to Suburbia.”

“You’re a mess.”

“Yeah. Yeah. Who’s the one worried about their gnome having an extra-marital affair down in Old Whore Town?’

“I thought it was called ‘Over-the-hill Whore Town.’”

“As mayor, I can change the name any time I choose. So in answer to your concern—no, Harold is not cheating on you.”

“He’s on his computer all the time.”

“Yeah, that’s because he’s a geeky little weirdo that plays video games all the time. You had to know at least some of these character flaws before you married the guy, right?”

“He does that online chat-room thing all the time.”

“That’s all the rage with geeky little weirdoes these days. You should be glad that he’s got his greasy little gnome fingers on a computer keyboard instead of trying to touch you with ‘em.”

“Could you stop being so mean?”

“You know I can, but you wanted my honest opinion, remember?”

“Yeah, but you don’t have to keep calling him a gnome.”

“Okay, well let’s just say that Harold has really ‘let himself go,’ okay? That’s not a sign of a man playing the field. And as far as the chat-room thing goes, he’s probably talking about finding a secret power crystal or some kind of shit like that with all of his nerdy little friends.”

“I went in the other day to give him his lunch, and he was gone to the bathroom. I saw that he had been typing stuff to a girl.”

“You serve him lunch in his computer room? And somehow you feel that I’m a womanizer? Outside of restaurants, I have never asked a woman to serve me my food, okay? Do you fetch him his slippers and highball when he gets home from work, too?”

“Shut up. You’re missing the point. He had been talking to a girl.”

“What was he saying? Shit like, ‘I want to insert my jump drive into your port?’ That’d be so like him to think that that’s sex talk.” I see that she was blushing profusely, and realized that I had hit a nerve. Fuckin’ creepy, that geek sex.

“No, nothing like that. It was just…I don’t know. He was very familiar with her, you know? And he kept referring to their ‘dirty little secret.’”

“Did you ask him about it?”

“No, I just went back to the kitchen and waited until I heard him come out of the bathroom, and then went back in to give him his lunch, acting like it was the first time I had been in there. He minimized that screen as soon as I opened the door.”

“So you think he’s meeting this chick? Banging her in some hotel somewhere?”

“No, no, not at all. He works all the time, and I take care of all the bills—I’d know if he was doing anything besides going to work and going home.”

“Then what’s the big deal? So he strokes off to this chick online. It isn’t like the dude isn’t beating off in front of his computer four times a day, anyways.”

“The big deal is, it’s a real person. It’s one thing when he’s just watching internet porn. It’s something else entirely to have a real person there, responding.”

“What? Why?”

“There’s such a thing as an emotional affair.”

“Of for fuck’s sake! Emotional affair? Did you learn that shit from Oprah? I swear that chick won’t be happy until every woman in the world is a complete moron that cries about everything.”

“Piss off.”

“‘Emotional affair?’ Listen, babe, if there’s such a thing as an emotional affair, it’s totally a chick thing. One thing guys don’t need more of, is emotion from women, okay? ‘Yeah, so I’m just not getting enough of all the weepy, door-slamming, dish-clanking, silent-treatment bullshit from my wife—I better go out and have an emotional affair.’ Do you see the flaw there, Jessica?”

“That’s not what it is, and you know it.”

“You know what I know? I know that when guys cheat, they fuck. If you’re mad that Harold is beating off to some anonymous chick—if it really is a chick—then just say it. ‘I don’t like him beating off to some chick.’ But save this emotional affair bullshit, okay? It’s just conversation until you come, that’s what I say. And even coming doesn't count if you're more than eleven feet away.”

“Eleven feet?”

“Long story, involving a bet.”

She shakes her head, rolling her eyes in that same exaggerated fashion as I did before. “I don’t even know why I talk to you.”

“Because it’s instant enlightenment.”

She laughs, and there’s tension in it. I’ve worked myself up, and probably said more than I should have, even with the no-punches-pulled agreement. The thing is, I really like Jessica, and I don’t want her making up with Harold and then hating me for the things I’ve said. Most of the time, I wouldn’t give a damn, but we’ve been friends for three years, and I would hate to lose that.

“Seriously, babe, I’m just giving you all kinds of shit. I mean I do think Harold is taking you for granted—I’ve been listening to you bitch for years now—and you’re my friend, so of course it’s going to irritate me. But he’s an all right guy, I guess, and if you’re this worried about things, you need to talk to him. I don’t recommend bringing up any of this emotional affair bullshit, but let him know that you’re concerned. Let him know where the boundaries are, what you consider being unfaithful, and let him know that anything past those boundaries is unacceptable.” She’s looking at me like spiders just crawled out of my eyeballs. I take my eyes off the road and stare back at her. “What?”

“I just didn’t know you had it in you, Chris. Who knew you were a real person?”

“I’m the realest person I know, babe—it’s the rest of the world that’s bullshit. And don’t serve him his fucking meals anymore, Jessica—we are not Leave It To Beaver. Make the bastard at least come to the kitchen to eat with you.” I look back to the road and smile. “It’s degrading.”

She laughs. “You would know all about degrading women.”

“I’m just a product, babe—none of ‘em have to buy me, and how they use me is up to them.”

“Yeah, you’re the one being used.” And then we’re both laughing, and the serious time, the no-pulled-punches time, it’s all over. We’re back to being light-hearted friends. I tell her about my night with the stripper that wanted to drive my car, she tells me I’m a pig and that she doesn’t want to hear anymore, but we both know that she does.

One of the reasons we get along so well is that I’m her window to the wild world, and she’s my anchor to the normal one. Neither one of us would ever want to switch places, but hearing about the other side is fascinating.


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