The Guy with the Sketch Pad
Obligatory attendance at weddings is the mortal enemy to a girl who really just wants to be home sitting on her couch with a bottle of wine and a deep dish pizza from Nancy’s. Especially when it’s on her birthday weekend. However, when you’re the maid of honor and it’s your best friend’s wedding, nobody really gives a crap about your feelings. Your job is to make the bride happy on her special day and deal with anything that may prevent the bride’s happiness. Things including a bipolar and altogether dysfunctional relationship between the bride and her mother.
Also part of the job description of maid of honor is giving a toast to the newlywed couple in addition to listening to everyone else give a toast and smiling the entire time like this is the best thing in the world that’s happened.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m happy for my best friend. Really. I am. And I’m certainly not jealous of her because I am officially the last not only unmarried but totally single person out my group of friends. I had my short petty pity party about that over a bottle of wine and a large pizza months ago right after the initial engagement. But, to hell with it, it’s been a long few months and an even longer weekend of planning, coordinating, explaining to the cops why the blowout in the parking lot between the bride and her mother was just a non-serious misunderstanding, and trying to keep the bride from worrying about anything that would make her stress eat so that she fit into her dress on the big day.
I’ve had enough of trying to make sure people get along, and I’m counting down the minutes until I can leave.
When the last toast is done, I’m relieved that it’s over while at the same time dreading the next part. Now that the dance floor is about to be opened up, the people that wanna get drunk out of their minds can do it now without being so obvious. I need to keep an eye on who might cause a problem.
Note to self: If I ever get lucky enough to get married, no alcohol. I don’t care who the hell complains about it. I’ve got some friends who are near alcoholics and the last thing I’ll be doing on my maybe wedding day is collecting keys and calling Ubers and Lyfts.
“You look like a mess.”
I turn to one of the other bridesmaids who has on her boyfriend’s black jacket over her sleeveless yellow bridesmaid dress.
“Why thank you for your unsolicited opinion, Shana,” I reply dryly.
Shana is Mariah’s other best friend and has actually known Mariah longer than I have. She knew Mariah in high school. I met Mariah five years ago at a mutual friend’s wedding, and we’ve been inseparable ever since. She’s definitely salty that Mariah chose me as the maid of honor and has given both me and Mariah the cold shoulder these last few months as a result. I hadn’t realized it until Mariah’s mother pointed it out to me a couple of days ago though. If I had known a lot sooner, I would have told Mariah I wouldn’t be hurt if she let Shana have the role just to avoid any drama like the girl not answering any of her messages and then not showing up for the wedding until we had already lined up for the procession. I also would have gotten out the mandatory maid of honor duties.
“I’ll keep an eye on the people going to the bar. You go… chill out somewhere.”
I don’t really trust her to do that because I know Shana to be one of those people who reside in the gray area between people who drink too much and people who are alcoholics, but almost, I need to semi-recharge. #Introvertproblems.
I make my way to the far back of the room where the furthest table in the corner is. Away from the dance floor and away from the buffet on the side of the wall. I reach under the table and grab my purse from where I left it earlier when I scouted this corner as a place to retreat, intending to check google for what time Nancy’s closes and if I’ll make it home in time to meet a Postmates’ deliverer.
I’m snapped out of my daydreams of the perfect combo of cheese, bread, and sauce by the bride herself approaching me. Of course, while I’m hiding at the furthest table in a dark corner, she would find me.
“You okay?” she asks pulling up a chair next to me.
“Yeah. You know me. Being around this many people too long I start to get overstimulated. I just needed a minute to discharge,” I reply. It’s a half-truth.
“Positive,” I say with a sigh. Not only do I really not want to talk about my problems right now because I don’t think I’d be able to without crying, but also Mariah gives terribly misguided coping advice. “Just tired. I’m so glad this is almost over. You and your new man will be off to honeymoon wherever, and I’ll be asleep in bed come tomorrow morning.”
“Who the hell are you kidding? God, me and Jared should have just eloped and been done with this whole thing.”
She falls for the subtle redirection hook, line, and sinker much to my relief and disappointment.
“Don’t act like you didn’t enjoy every second of it,” I say as I pat her thigh though I doubt she can feel it through her dress. Mariah avoids my eyes as she smiles. Then I add, “It’s almost over though.”
“It’s almost over… Oh, wait! Almost over. That’s right. Before I forget,” Mariah says turning to me with her hands clasped.
“What?” I ask with a longsuffering smile.
“Do you still have the marriage license. I know I handed it to you after we signed it. But I know you’ll grab your purse and go home with it and nobody will be able to contact you because your phone is off.”
“Glad you asked. You know I will,” I reply as I try not to be disappointed that one thing she didn’t want to forget was wishing her supposed best friend a happy birthday. It would be easy to forgive her for it because it was a mistake with all the chaos of her wedding if not for the fact that her forgetting my birthday is a regular occurrence. At some point, it stops being a mistake. It’s like my mother not acknowledging my birthday because as a Jehovah Witness, she doesn’t believe in birthdays. A choice.
My dad never gave a crap about that. He never forgot my birthday and always made sure I knew he absolutely hadn’t.
I grab my purse off the table next to me and as I’m reaching to grab the portfolio, my hands brush across one of those glossy three-fold pamphlets. I grab it and turn it around to the front while it’s still in my bag. It’s the pamphlet for a sperm bank I got from an informational session I went to a couple of weeks ago. I don’t even know why I went. I used to joke all the time about how if I turned thirty and Mr. Right hadn’t come along, I’d get a sperm donor and have a baby, but I wasn’t really serious.
I also really didn’t think Mr. Right wouldn’t have made an appearance yet at thirty.
I shake the thought out my head and grab the portfolio. “Here ya go.”
Mariah lets out a sigh of relief and says, “You’re so great, Spring. I don’t know what I’d do without you.”
She reaches over and hugs me. Despite the fact that the gesture is meaningless to me right now, I hug her back. It’s hard to stay upset at Mariah when she means so well.
“You sure you’re okay?” Mariah asks again when she pulls away.
“Positive. Now go. There’s a yummy looking groom waiting for you on the dance floor,” I say with a smile to reassure her.
She nods and leaves me to my blissful solitude.
Not soon after she leaves, my phone vibrates with an incoming text. It’s from one of my sisters, Nadia.
I tap the message and a video still comes up of Nadia sitting next to her twin sister, Nadina. Nadia has her dark hair in a twist out and Nadina has hers pulled into a tight bun at the back of her head. Most would see this image of them and not be able to tell the differences. But after growing up with them, I can tell the difference between the just shade or so darker beech skin of Nadina, the just slimmer face of Nadia. Nadia, who favors earrings, has multiple holes and earrings in each ear, and Nadina wears thick silver bangles because she likes the noise they make.
I press play and immediately, Nadina exclaims, “Happy Birthday!”
Nadia groans and turns to Nadina while saying in exasperation, “No, Nadina! We were supposed to say it to her together!”
“That’s not my fault. You were too slow.”
I see the exasperation on Nadia’s face as she gets ready to respond before she frowns and says, “Whatever. Let’s start over.”
They both nod their head back and forth a little as though getting in sync with each other as they tend to do and then exclaim together, “Happy Birthday!”
“We wanted to buy you a present,” Nadia says.
“But mama wouldn’t give us the money to because no birthdays,” Nadina says disgruntled.
“And we couldn’t ask you for money for your own present,” Nadia adds.
“But she couldn’t stop us from telling you. So have a good birthday!” Nadina finishes and the video ends.
I look up from my phone at a dark-skinned man with a medium curly top drop fade haircut and short trimmed beard and glasses on his face. I recognize him as Jared’s best man, the man who escorted me down the aisle. He could be maybe near my age, but he’s still got some of that awkward youthful charm and baby fat. So it’s hard to tell. Lord knows people always act shocked when I’ve told them I’m twenty-nine because they think I’m younger. Technically, I’m thirty now, but I haven’t had a chance to tell that to anyone yet.
“Yeah?” I ask
“Mind if I sit here?”
“Oh. Uh. Yeah,” I finally say starting to grab my purse off the table. I actually do mind. There are a bunch of other empty and abandoned tables he could have gone to, but he came back here to mine.
“It’s fine,” he says and sits a couple of seats away from me. He plops what looks like a sketch pad on the table, bends his head so close to the pad that he’ll definitely have a crook in his neck later, and begins to draw.
Normally, when someone gets near my space like this and minds their own business, I go back to my own little headspace. But there’s something about this man that gives me a sense of Deja-vu.
“Hey,” I say before I can stop myself causing him to turn his head in my direction even though he’s still hunched over his pad.
He looks behind him first and then looks at me again and points to himself.
I nod and then ask, “Have we met? Like before this whole wedding thing.”
He squints his eyes at me. “I don’t think so.”
“Um…” He looks at his sketch pad and then back at me.
I know that look. It’s that look that says he really didn’t come back here to be bothered. Now seeing him with his sketch pad, I’m guessing he chose to sit back here with me because it’s the table furthest away from the excitement at the front near the dance floor even though the music fills the whole venue.
I understand his sentiment. I’m back here because people have exhausted me, and I want to be by myself and not talk to anyone but… There’s something familiar about this guy. Maybe he reminds me of a celebrity or something. But I can’t figure it out if I don’t get him talking. His fault for invading my space.
“Trying to get away from the insanity?” I ask, having to raise my voice as those near the front who weren’t already on the dance floor rush to the dance floor as the “Cupid Shuffle” comes on.
“Yeah,” he says not impolite but in a curt manner which tells me that it wasn’t to talk to me.
“What are you drawing?”
“Oh.” He looks back at his pad again and then shakes his head and says to me, “Nothing.”
“You could have just told me you don’t want to show it to me.”
His eyes widen and he shakes his head quickly as he says, “I didn’t mean it like that. I just… You wouldn’t be interested anyway.”
Definitely younger than me. Something about his tone. It’s not childish but he sounds like I did when I was twenty-three or so and hadn’t figured out that I was actually a whole adult yet.
“It’s okay,” I assure. “I get it. When you’re creating it’s like… It’s like your baby. Fragile and developing. The scrutiny of the world would kill it before it got a chance to shine.”
“Yeah. Yeah, that’s it,” he says looking surprised and decidedly more interested in talking as he sits up. “You’re an artist.”
“Ish?” he asks raising an eyebrow and all of a sudden the awkwardness is gone and suddenly I’m not so sure about his age anymore. Now he seems older. It doesn’t help that his voice is a deep smooth baritone that I’m pretty sure has practically melted the panties off women in the past. And now that I look closer at him, he has a certain stockiness to him that’s not the result of working out. It’s closer to a man who has finally filled out the body puberty gave him. Maybe not so young after all.
“I code and program stuff,” I say. “It’s not the same but…”
“It’s still an act of creating,” he says and then looks at the chair that separates us. “Can I?”
He slides over into the chair and slides his pad between us so that I can see what he’s drawing. It’s the vague outline of a body but there are no recognizable features. Nothing that distinguishes it from anything else.
“What is it?” I ask.
He shrugs as he starts to draw again. “I don’t know. I never know until the end.”
“How is that?”
“Because a lot of times I just draw what I feel and whatever shapes I want, and I have to wait for the big picture.”
“You must have something in mind. You can’t draw it if you don’t. I can’t design something from code if I have no idea what it’s going to look like.”
“A human being,” he replies cheekily.
I scoff and roll my eyes.
“So coding? What kind of coding?” he asks.
“Building and flipping websites mostly.”
I shrug. “Eh. It pays the bills. Pretty boring actually.”
“You said mostly. What else do you do with it?”
“You’re going to laugh.”
“You don’t know that.”
“Most people do. They think it’s silly.”
“Because I’m supposed to be some sophisticated professional black woman. And… people think it’s silly or that I have no clue what I’m talking about.”
“But you do it anyway?”
“On the down low… ish. Most of my friends know.”
“Okay. Now you have to tell me.”
I sigh and say, “I’m a gamer. I like to reverse engineer them and explore the metadata and understand what makes them tick so I can demolish people in gameplay later.”
“What’s your favorite video game?” he asks as a grin spreads across his face.
“You’re going to think it’s cliché.”
“I guess I can see why you don’t broadcast that. But I think that’s neat, sweetheart.”
I’d correct him for calling me sweetheart because usually when guys use it on me and they don’t know me it’s because they’re being condescending or patronizing and not taking me seriously. But I can tell that’s not how he means it.
“You really think so?”
“Heck yeah. There’s a whole bunch of white guys on Youtube making videos and making a living doing that stuff. It’s awesome that you’re a geek. You could make a Youtube channel actually. Call it… Call it ‘black girl plays Pokémon.’ Or maybe not. I think there’s an old gamer girl with that name because my friend practically worships her.”
I shrug. “It’s just a hobby. Something for fun. Nothing serious.”
“It’s cool though. Pokémon’s dope. Gaming is dope, period.”
We fall into a comfortable silence after that while everyone dances and Mariah makes rounds and thanks people as she collects cards in a yellow gift bag. No one bothers either of us for the rest of the night. He draws and I just watch him draw until, finally, the DJ announces he’s going to play one more song and that “nobody has to go home but you gotta get the hell up outta here.”
I hear my name from the front where the rest of the bridal party is coming together to gather the wedding gifts.
“Maid of honor duties?” he asks sympathetically.
“Maid of honor duties,” I say dryly. “God I can’t wait until I get home. And then I’m going to sleep and not answer my phone.”
“Lucky you. I’m responsible for gathering all these tuxes and returning them to the rental shop.” He groans.
I wince and say, “Yeah… you definitely win for who has it worse. Good luck with getting those tuxedoes back intact.”
“I’m going to need it,” he says like he’s dreading it but he’s smiling.
My heart rate picks up, and I feel a distinct ache between my legs. I don’t think he’s my type personality wise, but he’s handsome and charming in a bit of an awkward yet appealing way. If I were younger, this would be the part where I would give him my address for later tonight. I bet he’s good in bed, if not a little timid. Those types are always fun. At least they used to be.
When I was ten years younger and had all the time in the world to settle down and find someone, one-night-stands were awesome and freeing and satiated my need for instant sexual gratification because I wanted nothing else. But now, those kinds of encounters have gotten old and giving into sexual hunger usually only leaves me wanting for something that will last a lot longer than the sex. Something much less tangible and quantifiable.
Shana’s urging behind me prevents me from making a decision I might regret as I grab my purse and take off before either one of us can say anything to each other. And by the time we’ve taken all the gifts away, some to the bride’s mother’s car and some up to the suite the bride and groom have for the night, the guy with the sketch pad is long gone from the table in the back corner.