“It’s not you. Honestly, Harper. It’s completely me.”
Our waitress awkwardly hovered over us, balancing our dinners. The poor girl looked extremely uncomfortable.
I wondered if Glenn thought the cliche sounded better if he slipped in “honestly” and my name. Like I wouldn’t care he was dumping me on New Year’s Eve, that I would have to ring in the new year utterly alone, that I wouldn’t be heartbroken I would have to spend another Valentine’s Day alone.
“What does that even mean? If you’re breaking up with me, it has to be me.”
The restaurant was supremely busy, and though the waitress—Christie, I think she said—didn’t want to step on the minefield that was our dinner table, she had no choice. She plopped down our plates with a half-hearted “enjoy” and scurried off.
Glenn sighed and pressed back against his chair, flicking his napkin across his lap. He ordered chicken parm ALL THE TIME. He calmly cut a piece of chicken which I hoped he fucking choked on.
“Please. Let’s not make this harder than it already is. I’m just not ready to be in a relationship right now. You have your priorities, and right now so do I.”
I watched him eat his chicken, closing his eyes at the taste, and realized what a total dickhead he was.
“You’re fucking someone else, aren’t you?”
Guess what? He did choke on his chicken.
“No—you’re kidding!” My best friend Anna was frozen with a piece of salad halfway up to her mouth.
“Unfortunately, I’m not. He broke up with me New Year’s Eve at dinner.”
“Why the hell didn’t you call me?” Finally she moved again which made me feel better; Anna at rest is an alarming thing to behold. “You could have come to my place. Andy and I watched Ryan Seacrest and Fergie be freakish robots all night.”
My soup burned my tongue and I cursed, asking the universe why everything bad happened to me.
“I didn’t want to intrude. It was your first New Year’s as a married couple!”
She rolled her eyes. “It was totally boring. Andrew drank beer all night and passed out twenty minutes before the ball dropped. He’s lucky I love him.”
I smiled and gently spooned some more soup into my mouth. “Well, all I know is I have the shittiest luck with men.”
Five seconds later something ice cold slammed into my back, running down to the crease of my ass. I shrieked. Slowly I turned and spotted the clumsy busboy who dropped an entire tray of drinks all over me. He apologized profusely; I just nodded. He threw some napkins at me and I tried to dry off, while simultaneously blushing under the penetrating gaze of everyone at the cafe.
Anna snorted into her iced tea. “Sorry. It’s just that ... Sweetheart. You have the shittiest luck, period.”
“I’m going to the bathroom,” I said, shuddering at the ice that was still swimming down my spine.
I didn’t always have the worst luck. I used to have amazing luck. I graduated college early and became an assistant to one of the top publishing agents in the industry. He was handsome and successful; of course we began dating right away. A year later he asked me to marry him. Everything was picturesque and lovely until the day I came home and caught him fucking Phyllis, one of his authors, who was a mega-bitch and old enough to be his mother.
Naturally my self esteem took a whopping hit. I quit, letting the asshole affect not only my personal life, but my professional life, as well.
Two years later I was beyond damaged, working in a tiny bookshop that no one ever went into and only stayed open because Mabel, the crazy lady who owned it, was rich and refused to close the family business.
Obviously, things weren’t going well for me. And it was going to be Valentine’s Day in a flash and I had a particular sensitivity about that date. It wasn’t that I bought into the sappy consumerism or the societal pressure to “have someone”; it was my parents’ wedding anniversary. They had such a perfect marriage and I wanted that, too. Every Valentine’s Day I spent alone reinforced my belief that maybe I wouldn’t have the chance to be happy, after all.
Even when I was with George, the fabulous literary agent, he had to fly to California to work with an author on our Valentine’s Day.
Typical. It was probably to see Phyllis.
So here I was, a few days after a traumatically unhappy New Year’s, wiping ice off my back and wishing away the next few months. Stores and restaurants glued faded red and pink hearts on their walls. Valentine’s Day had already soaked the city with forced romance and sad desperation.
Something needed to change. I couldn’t go on like this, one door after another slamming in my face. It was time to change things up.
Two weeks later I was working, mindlessly shelving books people would probably never read. Per usual, I was feeling sorry for myself.
“You should go see my therapist.”
I paused my restocking of Pablo Neruda, the poet who always sold out this time of year. Even Mabel’s shop was frequented by lovestruck hipsters who quoted Neruda incorrectly as they sipped on their nonfat caramel lattes.
Mabel applied another ring of blue eyeliner. It caught unflatteringly in all of her wrinkles, and it really wasn’t the right color for her, but I didn’t dare say anything. The last time I tried to suggest Mabel change her appearance—she dyed her hair purple—she screamed at me and threatened to make me do the Sunday kiddie readings with Frank. Frank was Mabel’s only other employee. He wore the same shirt every shift and perpetually had a booger hanging from his right nostril.
“Well, you’re always complaining about being a single mess. You should go see a shrink and talk about it to her.”
“Thanks, Mabel, but I don’t think I’ve reached the level that I need professional help yet.”
She gave me one of her long-suffering looks. It would have been scary (considering her threats to make me work in close quarters with Frank) but her heavily made up face and the feather she wore in her hair made it too ridiculous.
“Not everyone who goes to see a psychologist is a lunatic, Harper, and I would have thought you were above that stigma.”
Sighing, I put another collection of Pablo’s work on the shelf. “Sorry, it’s not that. I just don’t think I want anyone in my head.”
“And that’s why you’re single.”
She shrugged and stood, closing her makeup case. “Honey, I’ve been around almost 76 years and let me tell you—I’ve never worried about spending Valentine’s Day alone. You know why? No, it’s not my looks, though they’ve always been impressive. It’s my attitude. I think I can do and be anything.” She packed up her purse and came over to squeeze my cheek. “You need a little of that sparkle.” She pressed a business card in my hand.
She clicked out in her impressively high heels and I peeked at the card.
“Dr. Penelope Lange, Psy. D”
I put the card in my pocket, sure I wouldn’t be giving her a call.
Yeah, I was having problems but a therapist? No.
Two giggling girls stumbled in, holding Starbucks. “Um, like, where’s your Neruda? Barnes & Noble is sold out.”
Instead of throwing myself off the nearest tall building, I heaved in a breath and pasted on a smile.
I could do this, and on my own.
That night, I played around on Facebook. I was still friends with my ex-fiancé George because I liked seeing what he was up to, as much as it still tore up my heart to witness him moving on without barely a scar.
George Cruise commented on his own photo: “Shirley, you’re such a flirt :P”
“Dick,” I muttered, fisting another handful of dry Fruit Loops into my mouth.
George Cruise liked Diane Dawson’s status.
“Asshole.” I uncorked a bottle of wine and took a swig right out of the bottle.
George Cruise is engaged to Phyllis Landry.
“Piece of...” but I stopped, rereading the words until they became blurry and twisted.
I kept reading the sentence and it grew increasingly foreign to me. The words didn’t even appear to be English anymore.
My breathing returned in gasping and shuddering swells. I chugged more of my wine and threw my laptop somewhere in the corner, ignoring the great smashing sound it made.
“No!” I screamed.
I went to drink the rest of my wine and noticed the bottle was empty.
“Time for vodka,” I announced to no one. I took a couple of shots and began to find my situation quite funny.
I put some music on and cried along with Sinead O’Connor as she wailed that nothing compares to you. I choked on my tears when Amy Winehouse and I went back to black. And I launched into full hysterics when Morrissey whined that he knew it was over. It was all over.
My vodka and my sanity was dwindling right around the time Barry Manilow came up on my shuffle. “Can’t Smile Without You” blared out of my stereo and I sang right along, treating my bottle like a microphone and kicking my legs to the beat.
Right around that time I heard my neighbor banging on the wall, telling me to shut the hell up.
After I hobbled over to my iPod and disconnected it, I collapsed on my sofa and let the real hurt trickle in.
Of all the songs I played, The Smiths hit the nail on the head: I knew it was over, and it never really began, but in my heart? It was so fucking real.
And now I was so fucking lost.
“So what brings you here today?”
I stared at Dr. Penelope Lange—who didn’t look much older than me, by the way—and made a helpless sound. “Um, a terrible vodka and Barry Manilow hangover.”
She smiled and tossed her blonde hair back, pulling it up into a ponytail. She wore a short dress and fishnet stockings. She was not your average therapist, or what I thought an average therapist was, anyway. All the books on her shelves were about self-healing and feng shui. Wind chimes and crystals were strewn about her office like it was the most usual thing in the world. I was a little uncomfortable about it all, but fought hard not to judge.
“Sounds serious.” Her blue eyes twinkled when she said that and I relaxed a bit, relieved she at least had a sense of humor.
“Oh, it was. I don’t feel like talking about it, though.”
“Sure.” She cleared her throat. “What do you do for a living, Harper?”
“I work in a shitty bookstore.”
“What did you do before? What did you study in school?”
I groaned because this was about to lead to what I didn’t want to talk about, but I figured I couldn’t resist every topic. “I studied writing. I used to want to write, anyway.”
She wrote in a little notebook she had. “Why do you say it’s something you used to want to do? What do you want to do now?”
“It feels late for me. I mean, I know I’m young I just ... It all feels exhausting. I have terrible luck. I used to work in publishing for my ex and then everything fell apart.” I cringed. “He actually is the reason I got drunk on vodka and Manilow last night.”
“So let’s talk about what led to that particular hangover.”
I tugged on a loose strand of my sweater that wouldn’t just fucking let go yet. “Well, my ex got engaged. And my last boyfriend dumped me three weeks ago. On New Year’s Eve, actually, a few hours before the ball dropped.”
Penelope didn’t “aw” or say she was sorry, or do any of that other predictable bullshit.
“That sucks. Did he give you a reason?”
“Said he wasn’t ready for commitment.”
“That’s a bullshit excuse.”
A corner of my mouth quirked up. “I know. So what do I do about it? Obviously at this point I have to face it’s me.”
Penelope brought up her legs and sat on her feet. She was so unorthodox; I liked it. “Why do you say that?”
“Why wouldn’t I say that? If you knew my full track record, you’d understand.”
“Hmm.” She stood and walked over to her bookcase, yanking out a particularly large volume that was called How to Feng Shui Your Way into Love. I fought an eye-roll. “I want you to take this home with you. Give it a read. You might find that some of these adjustments will help you become more positive, and to see the world around you in a more optimistic way. You need to let go of these negative men and negative energies, or thoughts, and take charge of your life.”
“This is your suggestion? You think my chi is bad?”
Her smile was mysterious. “Humor me. You just might surprise yourself. And at the very least, it’ll make a good story.”
As soon as I got home I threw the book on my couch and left Mabel a furious voicemail.
“Thanks for sending me to a lunatic who sent me home with a book on feng shui instead of actually helping me!”
She didn’t call back. I opened up a bottle of wine and fiddled around with my laptop. It was hopelessly broken so I accessed Facebook on my phone.
George Cruise is so happy!
I didn’t throw my phone, though I desperately wanted to. Instead I unfriended him.
“Fuck you, George.”
I switched on to Glenn’s page, the asshole who dumped me on New Year’s, to see what he was up to. I nearly vomited.
Glenn Hopper is with Carrie Marissa at La Bella Restaurante
Glenn Hopper loves Carrie Marissa <3333 ::
The dick who was so afraid of commitment was in love with another woman only three weeks later. I saw red and heard the music from Kill Bill in my head.
I almost turned to vodka and Barry in my time of need again, but then I spotted the huge book Penelope gave me.
Could it really hurt? No. It was silly and I’d feel ridiculous, but what if it worked? Or what if it helped to take my mind off things? Relax me?
It would be worth it then. I poured myself a glass of vodka and OJ because, I mean, I needed a little liquid courage, and cracked open the book.
And proceeded to freak out.
It seemed I was doing everything wrong, at least in Feng Shui World. First of all, my mirror definitely reflected my bed which messed up energy flow and invited additional people into the bedroom, and therefore my relationships. Well, that certainly made sense considering my track record.
Secondly, my walls in the bedroom were painted blue. Apparently that was a major no-no. Water symbols in general were not tolerated in the bedroom, so I tore off the painting from my wall that had a big lake in it, threw out my little fountain I had in there and took a trek to buy new paint.
I picked a nice pale color because the walls were supposed to be flesh-tone and rushed back to my apartment to begin painting. I rearranged all of my heavy furniture so that the “poison arrows” weren’t stabbing me anymore and draped plastic over them so I wouldn’t ruin them during my frenzied painting towards a new life. I swiped my brush passionately against the wall, forgetting everything but feng shui and energy movement.
Until my best friend Anna suddenly appeared, storming into my apartment. She assessed my situation and yelled, “What the fuck are you doing?!”
I turned down Barry Manilow (it only felt right to blare “Ready to Take a Chance Again”) and took stock of the scene around me. Shakespeare tan, the color I bought at Benjamin Moore, was now slabbed all over me and my apartment. I was sweating profusely, having pushed my furniture all over the place, and I was pretty sure my finger was bleeding everywhere.
I was speechless. I pointed a finger at the feng shui book on the coffee table and Anna picked it up, eyeing me like I was about to say aliens told me to do it.
She thumbed through the book and laughed. “Seriously, Harper? This is why you’re acting like a crazy person? A feng shui book?”
“Uh. I don’t know. I have no idea what I’m doing.”
“Sit down and I’ll make us tea, okay? Just put the paint brush down.”
Anna made us tea and I told her about Dr. Lange.
“She sounds crazy.” Anna sat next to me, careful to not get any paint on her clothes.
“I know,” I sighed. “But there was something about her. About the promise of trying something different for a change, if only to take my mind off things.” I sucked in a breath and spilled the terrible beans. “George is engaged. And according to Facebook, Glenn is in love with someone.”
“Ah. I knew you weren’t having a meltdown just because some quack gave you a feng shui book.”
“Shut up,” I laughed, pushing Anna’s arm. “I just want what you and Andrew have. You guys are so happy together. I hate you.”
“Sweetie, you’ll get that one day.” She kissed my cheek and gave me a small hug. “I just think you need to relax about it. So what if you spend Valentine’s Day alone? It’s a stupid day, anyway. Andrew is taking me to Chili’s and then we’re going to have sex and pass out. Really not that glamorous.”
“I know, I know. I just ... want something else for me this year.” I glanced at the feng shui book. “Couldn’t hurt, right?” I said, jutting my chin at it. “Maybe there is something to it ... opening up your space, and your self, and your energy. New, bright beginnings.”
“Maybe,” Anna murmured. I could tell she wasn’t sold on it, and truth be told neither was I.
I didn’t think shifting around my furniture and painting my walls would lead me to the love of my life, but it was fun being crazy for a change.
“Want to help me paint the rest of it?”
“What, your apartment?” Anna asked, gasping at the thought of me going on with this psycho behavior.
“Yeah. I think Dr. Lange is right in her own crazy way. I need a change.”
“Okay,” Anna agreed, grabbing an extra brush with gusto. “Could be therapeutic!”
We painted the day away, playfully splattering paint on each other until the sun went down. It was the most fun I’d had in ages.
“Maybe you should try online dating,” Anna said after a bit. “Bet there is a discount on it now, too, with Valentine’s Day coming up.”
“I’m about to ban people from uttering the name of that so-called holiday around me.” I angrily threw some paint on the wall. “And I would be terrified of online dating. What if I disappointed the guy or something?”
“You should be more concerned about them disappointing you. Come on, what if you meet the guy of your dreams on there?”
I paused for a second. What if I did? I was being snobby about this whole thing, and I was also being a coward.
I grabbed us a bottle of wine and two glasses. We sat on the sofa and got on my laptop. I went onto a popular site, took out my credit card and signed up before really thinking it through. We went through the standard questions—do I have any pets? do I want kids? what are some of my hobbies?—and I stressed about answering each one.
“Do you want kids?” I asked Anna as I typed in a stupid blurb about myself.
She hesitated and I stopped writing. I glanced at her and noticed for the first time how tired she looked, and just a touch depressed. That so wasn’t Anna.
“Yes. But I’m not so sure Andrew does.” She took a big drink of wine. “I asked him about it the other night and he got all weird.”
I didn’t know what to say. She saw the uncomfortable expression on my face and offered me a sad smile.
“See? No relationship is perfect. You need to let go of that crazy belief you have that every relationship is like the ones in Disney movies. I think your high hopes are unrealistic and they’re crippling you.”
I bumped her shoulder. “You might have just given me better advice than the doc.”
“Well, I am a genius after all.” She laughed and took more wine. “And I’m drunk. That’s when I give my best advice.”
We finished filling everything out and went through my matches. I sent drunk emails and we laughed and laughed until we cried.
After she went home that night, I fell into bed and went to sleep almost immediately. For the first time in a long time, I didn’t need an Ambien or soft music playing.
This taking charge thing was suiting me just fine.
A week later (February 1st!) I had another appointment with Dr. Lange set up. I also decided after some more reading I needed to go buy incense and crystals. The book I had said they could be used as “cures” for the problems you had that couldn’t be solved. I had a light fixture directly above my bed, which was supposed to be a big no-no, and I couldn’t move all the corners of my furniture in other directions.
Unfortunately my mother decided to stop by my apartment to catch up before I could head out.
“I thought we could have tea,” she said, not missing the new layout of my place.
I rolled my eyes, waiting for her to say something about it. It wasn’t long before she ran a finger against the wall and made a noise.
“This is an interesting color.”
“What? I’m just saying. I miss the nice blue you had before.”
We went out for tea and did some small talk for a while before she cut to the chase.
“I heard George is engaged.”
I gulped a hot mouthful of tea and nodded, wincing both from the burn and from the unbearable sadness in my chest.
“Want to talk about it?”
“Not particularly,” I muttered.
A barista at the cafe was hanging up a banner of hearts over the front door. I was shocked they were doing it so late. They were definitely behind the curve.
My mom spoke again, drawing my attention from the Valentine’s decorating.
“I wish you would open up to me about it. It must be heartbreaking for you.”
She looked genuinely upset and I felt guilty.
“Sorry. I just don’t want to rehash my romantic failures.”
Mom nodded and changed the topic.
I should have known that wasn’t the last I’d hear of it, though. As soon as we got back to my apartment, Mom began the inquisition.
“What’s with the new paint job? And why did you move your sofa all the way by the window? What’s going on with you?” She picked at her nails, one bad habit she could never break. She went into my bedroom and I followed. She fingered my new curtains. “Red curtains? I’m worried.”
“I’m just trying to get a more positive outlook. Maybe draw some positivity back into my life, you know? It’s nothing to be worried about, Mom, I promise.”
I desperately wanted to change the subject yet again because I was terrified I’d confess about the New Age philosophies I was adopting and I knew Mom would really be upset then. “What are you and Dad doing for Valentine’s Day?”
Even though they had been married for thirty years, Mom still blushed at the thought of Dad. A pang went through my chest and stomach when I saw her flush and grin.
I didn’t get it. “But Mom, he’s a terrible cook.”
“I don’t understand.”
She put a hand on my cheek. “Oh, one day you will. I’m positive of that.” She looked around my bedroom and shook her head.
“Please explain the red curtains and the paint, Harper,” Mom said after a while.
“I’m seeing a therapist,” I blurted.
Mom’s eyes bulged. “Why?”
“Why not? I mean ... she’s a really sweet person and she’s helping me with my obsession over finding the perfect guy. She suggested feng shui as a way of releasing all the negative obsessions while also taking a positive hold of my life. It’s working so far. I haven’t felt this ... buoyant in a long time.”
Seeing my mother’s expression I added, “Don’t get me wrong, Mom, I don’t know if I believe in all of it. But it’s cool thinking about how I can focus on improvement rather than dwell on how all these men broke my heart.”
My mom took my hand. “I know. I’m happy you’re trying to let that go. I just don’t want you to think that red curtains and beige walls are going to magically change your life. You need to do a little heavy-lifting yourself. Feng shui isn’t a panacea, sweetheart.”
“I know,” I agreed. “But Mom? It’s not beige. It’s Shakespeare tan.”
Mom laughed and kissed my cheek. “Hopeless romantic. That’s my Harper.”
“You painted your entire apartment?”
Dr. Penelope Lange had her hair in pigtails for this appointment, and she wore shorts with stockings underneath. She didn’t seem to mind it was freezing outside.
“Yep. My friend helped me, actually. It was a lot of fun.”
“Good,” she smiled. “I just don’t want you to get too carried away. It’s fun to reorganize your life and see everything from a different angle, but if you get too focused on exactly which direction your chair should be facing, you’ll go crazy. Know what I mean?”
“Totally. I’m stopping after today.”
She lifted her eyebrows. “After today?”
“I desperately need some incense and crystals. Some cures and such.”
“Ah, well I know of a little shop nearby. It’s run by a friend of mine.” A small grin flashed across her face but she tried to hide it (and failed). She rummaged through her bag and handed over a business card. “You’ll like him.”
“Thanks, I appreciate it.”
“Before you go, I just want to ask you what your ideal is with love. What do you think it is, and what would you want with it when you got it?”
I thought about it for a long moment. “I don’t really know what love is. I’ve never been in love, I don’t think.” That thought made me sad. “But my ideal would be my parents. Thirty years and my mom is just happy he’s cooking for Valentine’s Day.”
Penelope smiled. “That sounds nice.”
“I want to have someone to come home to. Someone to tell my stories to and who will always side with me. Someone who buys me my favorite ice cream just because. Someone who understands when I just want to stay in and read a book, or watch a good movie. Someone who gives me a hard time because they love me. Someone who I don’t know I ever lived without.” I picked at my nails, just like my mother. “I think that’s a tall order and it’s why I’m hopelessly single.”
“I just think you need to give yourself a break. Stop saying you’re not worthy. Believe in yourself more. And let love flow to you, like everything else. Sounds corny but it’s true.”
Let love flow to me. I could try that.
I got up to leave but Penelope called me back.
“Harper? It feels good to let go, doesn’t it?”
I answered with a grin.
The shop Penelope sent me to was certainly tiny. It was called Crystal Clear. Not very clever, but whatever. I just wanted to get my crystals and go home to see if they’d magically fix my problems. I had my fingers crossed. Naive and improbable, but desperation is rarely reasonable.
Wind chimes sang out when I pushed open the door. The store smelled heavily of incense. Crystals glittered in the faint sunlight coming through the dusty windows. Small, cheap chandeliers hung from the ceilings but barely gave off enough light to see everything clearly. I was about to run out, certain Penelope had decided I was a pain in the ass and was sending me to my death, when a gravelly voice shouted “Hello!”
A man materialized in front of me, super tall with short brown hair and hazel eyes. He wore a plaid shirt with the sleeves folded up and the first few buttons on top undone. His jeans had paint all over them and his fingers were stained with ink. He was rugged and serious. He didn’t look like he belonged in a shop like this.
In short, he looked better than me. I was wearing yoga pants and an ill-fitting blouse, covered in a bulky coat. My blah brown hair was up in a messy bun with strands falling all over the place. I was a disaster.
He grinned after a few moments of me staring at him, and even in the bad lighting I could see how perfect his teeth were. I gave him a small smile, terrified my teeth were gritty from the four cups of coffee I had to drink earlier.
“Need a hand?”
I nearly said, “YES I NEED BOTH NOW PLEASE OH MY GOD!” but I contained myself somehow.
“Um, yeah, actually. I’m here for some crystals.”
Jesus Christ. Such an idiot. He just smiled at me and nodded. “Well, believe it or not we have those here. Any in particular?”
“Rose quartz.” I blushed, hoping he wouldn’t know why I was asking for that particular one.
But of course he did. His pleasant grin got bigger and turned playful. “Ah, a love cure, eh?”
“You could say that.”
He handed me a scoopful. “Make sure you put them in the southwest of your home. That’s the love area of your house. Okay?”
“Got it.” Jesus, this was humiliating!
“And you can put a bowl of them in your bedroom. Really draws the love in.”
Shit, shit, shit. Was I blushing? We passed a mirror.
Fuck. I was blushing.
“What else are you looking for?” the guy asked.
“Citrine and blue kyanite.”
He gathered up the rest for me.
“Anything else, sweetheart?”
Oh my God, I had to scream at my body to calm down. I was sweating even though he had no heat running through the place.
“Nope, that’s it.” I tried to sound natural but I sounded like a boy going through puberty who just sucked on tons of helium.
He brought everything up to the register. He rang me up with a private smile that made me want to ask him what the joke was, even though I was terrified he’d answer that it was me.
“You’re getting these crystals just in time for Valentine’s Day.” He stuck his tongue into his cheek as he took my money from me and counted out the change. It was fucking adorable.
“Yeah,” I said lamely.
His hazel eyes fixed on me. “Are you going to try a love spell, too?”
My cheeks lit on fire but I laughed in spite of myself. His expression was priceless. “Stop making fun of me! I just got this stupid feng shui book and I’m trying to make adjustments in my life.”
He put his hands up. “No judgement.”
“Yeah, right,” I laughed, taking my change.
“No, really. I’ve even done a few cures like that myself. Working here will make even the most reasonable person question the power of these crystals.”
“Do you believe in them?”
He bit his lip and shrugged. Delicious. “Sometimes. Oh, by the way you’re supposed to cleanse them before you use them. Check it out online.”
The phone in the back rang and he scowled.
“Well, good luck with all that.” He tried to look me up and down with subtlety. Luckily he was as bad at that as I was. My cheeks turned completely red. Normally I’d be a little uncomfortable, but for some reason his assessment didn’t bother me. “I’m sure you don’t even need it. Next time you come in for crystals, I bet you’ll be in love.”
“Oh my God, I don’t know about that.”
His grin was mysterious and sexy. “I do.”
He tipped his head at me and went into the back, leaving me more than a little lovestruck.
I stumbled back out in the sun, dazed and blind. He was amazing.
Why couldn’t I get a guy like that?
When I got back to my apartment, I looked online for the whole cleansing process and then arranged my rose quartz the way the guy told me to. I wanted to punch myself for not asking his name, but I planned to go back in there again soon. He was too gorgeous not to try again. Maybe this time we wouldn’t get disturbed by a phone.
I had to go to work in an hour and I was dreadfully bored after my whole crystal cleanse. I sat down at my laptop and stared at an empty word document, wondering if my grand story would ever come. Something was tickling my brain, and it whispered it could be great if I let it just be, but I was pushing and pulling it.
And then suddenly something broke and the words burst out of me. I wrote an outline about a neurotic girl desperate for love who tries using feng shui to change her life. She meets an amazing journalist who is handsome and rich and they fall in love. He introduces her to journalism and she wins fifty Pulitzers.
Sounded beautiful to me. Only something was flat about it. There was no real life in it. Sure, she gets all she wants but there was no fight in it. No struggle. Therefore, the pay-off wasn’t as amazing as it could have been.
I glanced at the time and realized I would be late for Mabel.
I closed my laptop and decided to write more later. I didn’t question where the muse was coming from; I’d just ride the creative wave for as long as I could.
“Online dating?” Mabel applied lipstick and shook her head. “Crazy what you kids do today. Back when I was your age we met boys at dances and parties.”
“It’s just for fun, Mabel.”
“Yeah, and so is poker.”
“They have online poker,” I laughed. I glanced at the shelf I was stocking. “We’re almost out of Neruda.”
“I never understand kids,” Mabel sighed, standing up and limping over to me. “All poetry is romantic. This guy has a few good ones but Jesus. They should try something new. Every guy these days comes in here and recites the bullshit to his girlfriend, hoping to get lucky. So silly.”
“Love is a war of lightning,” I quoted, “and two bodies ruined by a single sweetness/ Kiss by kiss I cover your tiny infinity, / your margins, your rivers, your diminutive villages, / and-”
“Ugh, enough. I used to have a boyfriend who read that crap to me all the time. Any more outta you and I’ll make you go in the back with Frank.”
I glanced at Mabel’s only other employee who was lingering by the register and shuddered. Per usual, he was wearing the same shirt. Today there wasn’t any snot hanging from his nose, but I knew it was only a matter of time. He was also being extraordinarily rude to a customer who looked ready to bolt.
“Fine, but you probably should order Neruda if you want to make some money this month.”
Mabel rolled her eyes but she pinched my cheek with a little curve of her lips. “I see Dr. Lange is working for you, kid. You have a little sparkle today.”
“She’s ... okay. A little unorthodox, no?”
“You need a little unorthodox in your life. You’re a Virgo—so uptight! See I’m an Aquarius. That’s why the boys love me.”
My cellphone dinged and I went over to take a peek. I had an email from the dating site, letting me know I had a message. I stepped to the side and logged in. The guy’s name was Tristan and he looked a tad too preppy for me.
“Hi!” he wrote, “You seem like a really cool girl! Would love to grab some drinks with you maybe next week. Let me know! ;)”
Mabel must have been reading over my shoulder. She clapped her hands and scared the shit out of me.
“No buts. Always whining about how you don’t have anyone, but you never take chances, Harper! You date easy guys who float into your life and they always turn out to be terrible. You need to work a little!”
I shocked myself by responding, “Okay.”
So I replied to Tristan. “Sounds great. I’m free Wednesday.”
And so it began.
“What did you think of the shop I sent you to?”
Penelope dyed her hair pink since I last saw her a week earlier and yet she was wearing a very plain, conservative dress.
There was something in her expression that told me she knew exactly what I thought of it.
“The guy there is gorgeous,” I admitted. “The shop is nice, too.”
She poured me a cup of coffee. “I thought you might appreciate it.”
“Hmm, I bet the sexy guy in there had nothing to do with it.”
Penelope grinned. “His name is Anthony.”
Anthony. My heart fluttered. Then I thought I was no better than a sixteen year old girl with a crush on a guy who’d never notice her and shifted my thoughts in another direction.
“So I have something to tell you.”
She motioned for me to go on.
“I subscribed for online dating.”
She clapped her hands together. “Good for you! Any matches yet?”
“This preppy guy messaged me. Wants to go for drinks.”
Penelope flicked her pink hair. “Well, just be careful not to fall into old patterns. Have fun and keep yourself open, but remember what attracted you to those other men.” She laughed. “Here’s where I get all therapist-like and ask you what originally appealed to you about those past guys.”
Shrugging, I sipped my coffee and thought about it. “They were easy,” I finally sighed, thinking back to what Mabel said earlier. “And predictable. I always knew what I was going to get out of them. It was familiar, even if it wasn’t healthy.”
“Ding ding ding,” she laughed. “I think you don’t really need me. Sounds like you have it all figured out.”
“Maybe the crystals in my room got this Tristan guy to email me!” I got excited, thinking possibly this whole thing worked.
“I wouldn’t go that far,” Penelope said. “You subscribed to the site.”
“I was reading about bamboo plants,” I went on, ignoring her. “Do you think I’d be taking it too far if I got one with two stalks and put it in the southwest section of my apartment? It’s supposed to promote love.”
She narrowed her eyes and analyzed me. For the first time, I really saw her psychologist-side. “Look, there’s nothing wrong with doing something that comforts you as long as it doesn’t hurt you or anyone else. I do think you’re starting to put too much faith in it all, which could end up disappointing you if anything goes awry. But if you desperately want a bamboo plant, don’t hold back because of what I may think. Just remember it’s a plant, not a magical wand. Okay?”
“I want to get at those core issues inside, Harper. The issues that make you pick loser after loser when you have so much to offer.” That was a bit of a downer.