Monday, October 1, 2018

How the Grinch Stole My Heart, Chapter 5

Jeremy

As part of what is fast becoming my strategy to never leave my apartment ever again, I get all my medications through the mail.  I’m not the only one—thousands of people, old and young (but mostly old), get prescriptions mailed to them at home.  Every three months, I receive a package with a bunch of pill bottles in it, which means one less time I have to venture outside. 

It’s great that the modern world makes it so easy to get food, medications, and even toilet paper without ever leaving the comfort of my home. I do believe there will come a day when I enter my apartment and never leave again. The writing is on the wall.  I’m only one more one-click shopping app away from it.

My medications usually come with these easy-open lids that I can flick open with my left thumb, which is necessary since I’ve only got one working arm.  Unfortunately, something got screwed up this month, and I got normal lids on the pill bottles.  Normal lids are difficult.  For the last two weeks, I’ve been struggling to get the lid off my bottle of baclofen, mostly using my teeth.  And this morning, when I was trying to get it off, I dropped the whole bottle.  In the toilet. 

Honestly, if the pills had fallen on the floor, I would have just picked them up and used them.  My bathroom floor is clean enough, and it would have saved me a lot of trouble.  I’ve done it before.

But I can’t swallow pills from the toilet.  That’s where I draw the line.

I ended up calling my neurologist, who phoned in an emergency prescription to the pharmacy.  I’ll get a month of the baclofen, then I’ll have to fill out some paperwork to replace the pills I lost.  It’s a pain in the ass, but I take that medication for my muscle tone, which is bad enough as it is.  Without those pills… I don’t want to think about it.

When I get to the pharmacy, there’s a line three people long to get to the pharmacist.  Three freaking people on a Tuesday afternoon.  Three people may not seem like a lot, but I know from experience it’s a lot when it comes to the pharmacy. All of them are elderly, and I’m in good company with my forearm crutch, because they’ve all got assistive devices like me—two have canes, one has a walker.  I tried a cane back in rehab, figuring it was a little less conspicuous than the crutch, but it wasn’t supportive enough and it hurt my wrist.

It’s hard for me to stand for such a long time.  There are some chairs next to the line that I could sit in while I wait, but if the old man with the walker can stand in line, I should be able to also.  So I suck it up and stay on my feet.

By the time I get to the front of the line, I’m cranky as all hell.  There’s a young woman working the counter who smiles brightly at me, and I can just barely spit out my name for her to find my prescription.

She’s gone for several minutes, and when she finally returns empty-handed, my stomach sinks.  “I’m sorry, sir,” she says.  “I can’t find your medication.”

“Are you kidding me?” I say through my teeth.  “The pharmacy called me to tell me my prescription was ready.”

“Huh.” She purses her lips thoughtfully.  “That’s so odd.”

My jaw twitches.  “Yeah.  Odd.  Do you think you could find my pills for me please?”

“What did you say your name was again?”

I take a deep breath.  I don’t want to lose my temper.  But I don’t know if I can stop it from happening if they can’t locate my pills.  “Jeremy Grieder.”

Her brow furrows.  “Rider with an R?”

“No,” I say. “Grieder.  G-R-I—”

“Oh!”  She laughs. I don’t join in.  “I thought you said Rider.  Let me check again.”

I tighten my grip on my crutch as my right leg twitches under me.  I need those pills.  Also, I need to quit being so pissed off at this girl.  Maybe it’s not her fault.  Sometimes I worry I’m slurring my words, even though my speech therapist discharged me from therapy, saying I was “better.”

When she returns with a bottle of pills with my name on it, I feel weak with relief.  Until I notice she’s got them in a bottle with a child-proof lid.  Not easy-open, not even a normal bottle.  Impossible child-proof.  Fuck my life.

“I need them in an easy-open bottle,” I say. 

“We only use child-proof lids,” the girl explains to me.

I nod down at my right arm, which even in my thick black coat, is obviously completely useless.  “I’m not going to be able to get that open.”

She blinks her pretty blue eyes at me.  “Don’t you have someone at home to help you get it open? Like a nurse?”

“No, I don’t have a fucking nurse at home.” 

She flinches.  I shouldn’t have cursed at her.  That isn’t how adults should behave in normal society.  But what the hell?  Do I really look so impaired? 

An older woman in a white lab coat comes over to join us, as the girl helping me has become very flustered.  It’s really frustrating.  All I wanted was a one-month supply of my pills in a bottle I can open.  Is that really too much to hope for?  I mean, were all those arthritic old people getting their pills in these crazy child-proof containers?

It turns out that, yes, they do have easy-open containers.  And they can transfer my pills to one of those containers, but I’ll have to wait fifteen minutes.  For the life of me, I can’t figure out why it takes fifteen minutes to transfer a few pills to a new container.  I’m furious, but at the same time, I’m one outburst away from being thrown out of the drug store, so I force myself to calm down.

I need to buy some of the instant oatmeal I eat every morning for breakfast, so I figure I’ll go buy some of that while I’m waiting.  Yes, I eat oatmeal for breakfast every morning.  I really am old before my time.  But I like oatmeal.

Except when I get to the aisle with the cereal boxes, I stop short at the person standing there.  Guess who?

It’s none other than that sexy cashier from the diner who I met two days ago.  Noelle. I love that name, even though it reminds me of my least favorite holiday.  She’s looking at a box of Frosted Flakes, chewing thoughtfully on her thumbnail.  She’s wearing a sleek black coat, but I can still see the outline of her tits.  And those knee-high leather boots paired with skinny jeans.  Christ, she’s sexy.  It takes my breath away.

I almost say hello, but then I remember.  The way she looked at me when she noticed my arm.  The patronizing tone of voice she used when she spoke to me after that. 

No.  Not going to say hello.  Going to get the hell out of here.

I consider making an about-face, but then she looks up and sees me.  Now if I turned around, it would be obvious why I was doing it. 

And then she smiles at me.

 

Noelle

Murphy’s Law states anything that can possibly go wrong will. 

I don’t know if that’s true, but I can definitively say that if I am shopping and I run into a guy I find attractive, I will be carrying a box of tampons.  I guess that’s not Murphy’s Law though.  Tampax’s Law?

When I see that cute guy from the diner, I do my best to hide the box of tampons I’m holding.  I hold it behind my back as inconspicuously as I can.  I consider quietly sticking it into the row of cereal boxes, but I feel like it will stand out more in there.  Plus—just being real here—I need these tampons.  It’s just short of an emergency.

“Uh, hey,” he says.  He’s just standing there, like he wants to do an about-face, but doesn’t want to be rude.  He’s just as hot as I remember though.   

“Hi.”  I flash my best smile.  I try not to think about the fact that it’s been so long since I’ve flirted, I’ve almost forgotten how.  “How was the bacon cheeseburger?”

“It was, uh…”

I raise an eyebrow.  “You can be honest.  I won’t be offended. It’s not like I cooked it myself.”

He gives me a crooked smile.  “It was actually pretty good.”

I return the smile.  “Does that mean we’ll be getting some repeat business?”

“Uh… sure.”

His eyes are darting all over the place.  He’s looking everywhere but at me.

“I’m Noelle,” I blurt out.

“I know,” he says, and then his ears turn red.  “I mean, it was on your nametag, and… well, it’s a memorable name… with the holidays and all.”

He remembered my name.  That definitely means something.

“I should tell you, I’m only Noelle until Christmas.  On December 26, I go back to being… Muriel.”

He cracks a smile, and I pat myself on the back.  “I’m Jeremy,” he says.

I suppress the urge to say “I know.”  If I did, I would definitely have turned as red as his ears did.  Instead, I wave my hand at the rows of cereal boxes.  “Okay, Jeremy, I need your help.  Which cereal should I buy?  There are a lot of choices.”

“I don’t know… what do you like?”

I sidle up a little closer to him so I can get a better look at those sexy blue-green eyes.  “What cereal do you eat every morning?”

“Oatmeal,” he says.  Then he laughs—it’s a nice laugh.  Friendly.  And sexy.  “I know, I know.  Deep down, I’m eighty.”

“Nothing wrong with oatmeal.”  I finger a box of Cinnamon Toast Crunch.  “But I need a pick-me-up in the form of something really sugary and delicious.”

“Well, if you add some brown sugar to oatmeal…,” he starts to say, then his ears go red again.  “But, uh, well, if you’re talking cold cereal, I always liked Corn Pops.”

“Oh yeah.” I grin up at him.  He’s got a good five inches on me, even leaning on that crutch of his.  “Gotta have my pops.”

His eyes light up.  “Or Frosted Flakes.  They’re Grrrr-reat.”

I giggle so hard, I need to cover my mouth, which I almost do with the hand holding my tampons.  That was a close one.  “I see you watch as many commercials as I do.”

He nods.  “I was convinced Lucky Charms were magically delicious when I was a kid.  And then I convinced my mom to buy them for me.  Turns out they’re not magical or delicious.”

“The worst cereal of all is Captain Crunch.” I grimace at the memory.  “I honestly don’t know who likes those.  I bought them once for the prize in the box, and I had to throw them out.”

“What are you talking about?  Captain Crunch is my favorite!”  He grins at the look on my face.  “I’m kidding.  Yeah, they’re awful.”

I sigh. “And now I usually buy cereal based on the fiber content.”

“Fiber One actually has Metamucil in it so that’s the best one,” he adds.  And now the red in his ears has invaded his cheeks.  “I didn’t just say that.”

I giggle again. God, he’s sexy when he’s blushing.  And that scar above his left eyebrow really gets me.  I wonder where he lives that he just wandered into the drug store down the block from my building.  He must be local.  I should ask him which building is his. 

“I think I’m going to buy Froot Loops,” I say.

“Yeah, that’s got everything,” he says.  “Lots of sugar, artificial flavors, artificial color…”

“Don’t say that,” I scold him.  “Froot Loops have fruit in them.  They’re practically healthy.”

“Um, they don’t have fruit.  They have ‘froot.’  With two O’s.”

“But they have a lovable mascot,” I point out.

“Toucan Sam,” he says.

“Just follow your nose…”

“For the fruity taste that shows.”

I can’t stop giggling at that one.  I haven’t giggled even once in the last… I don’t know, five years.  But there’s something about this guy that’s making me giddy.  Also, he looks really proud of himself for making me laugh, which is sort of adorable, even though all he’s done is remember the slogan for Froot Loops.  I don’t even care that he’s almost definitely noticed the package of tampons I’m still clutching.  I mean, is that really such a big deal?  Everyone knows women use them.  It’s not like I’m buying antifungal cream.

“Thank you,” I say to him when I manage to get my giggles back under control.  “I don’t get to laugh like that very often.”

“Yeah.”  The smile on his face slips slightly.  “Same here.”

I avoid looking at his right arm or the crutch he’s gripping with his left hand, but I have to wonder.  I can’t help but wonder what happened to him.  But it’s not the sort of thing you can ask.

“Anyway,” he says.  He glances at his watch.  “I’ve got to get my… um… I need to go. So… enjoy your Froot Loops with two O’s.”

“Oh, I will.”

He looks at his watch again—clearly he wasn’t lying when he said there’s somewhere he needs to be, but he isn’t budging.  He just stands there, an unreadable expression on his face.  What does that mean?

“Listen, Noelle,” he says.  “I, uh…”

I raise my eyebrows at him.  “Yes?”

He smiles crookedly. “So I was just… I was sort of wondering…”

Wondering what?  What were you wondering?  Say it! Because I’m pretty sure the answer is yes, even if the question is whether I want to go halfsies on a box of Froot Loops.

“FROOT LOOPS, MOMMY!” Before Jeremy can spit out what he wants to ask me, a little girl launches herself between us, making a beeline for the box of cereal I’d been eyeing.  “I WANT IT!”

The girl’s mother comes hurrying after her, a harried look on her face.  “All right, Maddie.  Whatever you want.”

The girl plucks the colorful box of Froot Loops from the shelf and hugs it to her chest.  It makes my heart ache a little for when Henry was so little.  I always wanted to have a second child, but Greg was against it. And now that I’m single with no prospects in sight and closer to forty than to thirty, I suspect my chances of having another baby are next to nil.

As the girl lifts her face from the cereal, her eyes settle on Jeremy.  Her eyelids fly open and her little pink lips turn into a circle.

“Mommy!” the girl says as she points at him.  “What’s wrong with that man?”

The woman’s face turns bright red as she flashes Jeremy an apologetic look.  “Maddie!  Please!”

“But there’s something wrong with his arm!” the girl insists. “It’s all weird!”

Jeremy has lowered his eyes, staring down at his sneakers.  He smiles tolerantly, but it’s obvious how uncomfortable this is making him.

“Maddie, come on!” the woman said, as she pulls her daughter down the aisle as the little girl continues to point at Jeremy and comment on his arm.  We can hear them for at least another sixty seconds—that kid’s voice can really travel.

When they’re finally gone, any sexual tension that was between us has completely vanished.  Jeremy is still staring down at his feet, a vein standing out in his neck.  I want to tell him I don’t care about his arm or any of that, but I’m not sure if that would make things better or worse. 

So I just snort and say, “Kids.”

He smiles crookedly.  “Yeah,” he mutters.  He sighs. “Anyway, enjoy your Froot Loops, Noelle.  I’ll see you around, I guess.”

And then he shuffles out of the aisle, and I’m left alone to buy a box of tampons and a box of Fiber One with Metamucil.

 
Jeremy

I can’t stop thinking about Noelle.

It’s stupid.  I know it’s stupid—I just met the woman.  But I’m infatuated with her.  I loved talking to her about cereal commercials.  I loved teasing her about Froot Loops.  I loved the way she chewed on her thumbnail when she was thinking.  I loved the way she giggled into her fist.  I loved that I made her laugh like that. I haven’t made a woman laugh in so long.

I haven’t felt this way in a longer than I want to admit.  I don’t go to a job and hardly leave my apartment, so where would I even meet women?  Even the delivery people aren’t women.  I talk to a woman maybe once a month.  On a good month. 

I’ve been on dates since my divorce.  A few dates.  A few awful dates.  I don’t think about it.  But eventually, I decided it wasn’t worth it anymore.  Except now…

I know where Noelle works.  I could go over there and ask her out on a date. I could say something like, Hey, do you want to grab some coffee?

I imagine myself doing it.  I imagine walking up to her, staring into her pretty brown eyes, and inviting her to the Starbucks two doors down. 

Then I imagine her eyes filling with pity.  Oh, um.  The thing is, I’m not really interested…

Shit.  Why am I torturing myself this way?

I can’t think about Noelle anymore.  It’s pointless.  I’ve got to get some work done if I want to be able to pay my rent.

I’m about to go back to my block of code when my phone rings.  I look at the screen and see an unfamiliar local number. For one second, the thought occurs to me that maybe Noelle got my number.  Is that possible?

No, not possible.  Wishful thinking.

I pick up the phone, bracing myself for a telemarketer.  “Hello?”

“Oh, hi!”  It’s a female voice.  High and young-sounding.  “Is this Jeremy?”

I hesitate.  “Yes…”

“Hey, it’s Hayley.”  When I don’t say anything, she adds, “Fanny gave me your number.  Is that okay?”

I stare at my phone in shock.  Fanny told me she gave my number to the cute girl at Ben’s but I didn’t really believe it.  It’s even more shocking that she’s actually calling me.

“Sure,” I say.  “Um, hey, Hayley.”

“Fanny keeps going on and on about what a great guy you are,” Hayley says.  “So I figured, I’ve got to meet this great guy.”

“Great guy?” I repeat.  “You may have the wrong number.”

I’m not sure I was joking, so it’s a good thing she laughs.

“Fanny says she’s the neighborhood matchmaker,” Hayley says.  “She’s intent on my finding a boyfriend.”

“Yeah, same here.”  I clear my throat.  “Well, girlfriend, obviously…”

Christ, I sound like a moron.  But again, she laughs. “Right.  I gathered that.”

She’s pretty.  I know you can’t tell anything from a person’s voice, but it’s hard to believe the girl with this voice isn’t hot.  I’m ninety-five percent sure.  And if she’s hot, she’s picky.  This date is going to be nothing but awkward.

“So what do you say, Jeremy? Want to give this a whirl?”

“I…” My throat feels dry.  I cough a few times.  “Do you really think it’s a good idea?”

“Sure.  Why not?”

“Have you ever been on a blind date before?”

“Honestly?  No.”

“Right, so…”  How can I describe this to her?  “What if we don’t like the way each other looks?”

She lets out a little huff.  “Are you really that superficial, Jeremy?”

Me?  Am I superficial?  She doesn’t even have a clue what I’m worried about. “No, I’m not.”

“So,” she says, “are you busy tomorrow night?”

I’d rather be going out with Noelle, but let’s face it, that’s a pipe dream.  This is a female of the right approximate age and she’s interested in going on a date with me.  I should go.

I look down at my right arm, clenched tight against my chest.  Even if I’m sitting down, my forearm crutch out of sight, my arm gives me away.  It’s much more conspicuous than my weak leg—well, until I start walking.  Every three months, I get Botox shots to the muscles in my arm, which doesn’t make my arm hang straight down anymore the way it used to because the tendons have shortened by now, but at least my elbow loosens a little and my fist isn’t quite so tight.  I look better after the shots, but they only last about a month and a half, so after half the time, my arm is a tight mess.  I’m not due for my next set of injections until after New Year. 

Maybe I should warn her.  Fanny claimed she explained about my disability, but she didn’t give Hayley a realistic picture.  If this date has any chance of working, Hayley needs to know what she’s walking into. 

I should tell her.

“No,” I say.  “I’m not busy.”

“You are now,” she says.  “You’re having dinner with me.”

Well, she knows I use a cane.  How bad could it be?

To be continued....

17 comments:

  1. Ooh I love this - and I love the detail put into Jeremy's muscle tone issues! Looking forward to seeing what happens on the blind date - it's gonna be a trainwreck, of course, but I'm excited to read the details.

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    1. Yes, it will definitely be a train wreck... but in an unexpected way ;)

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  2. I couldn't wait to read the update. I really like the way you describe him in his every day situations. Both main characters are really interesting and I cannot get enough. I really hope the book will be very long.

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  3. Some spasms from the lack of Baclofen would have been nice.... Bad Dev me ;-)

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  4. Great chapter! Looking forward to Jeremy and Noelle getting together and nervous for his date with Haley! I enjoyed reading the scene with Fanny in the last chapter, great character!

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  5. Hmmm... Don't know what I think about that date, but we will see. And yikes the longer it takes for her to find out he's the scrooge! Can't wait. Update soon.
    Tc

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  6. Hmm, as a kid I LIKED Captain Crunch! Go figure . . .
    And I liked the conversation with the elderly gentleman from the last chapter of your story. It wasn't too long, at all. I found it very interesting, rounding out the atmosphere and introducing the neighborhood.

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    1. I thought Capt Crunch was the worst! ;) Thanks for the feedback!

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  7. I enjoy this story so much. Noelle and Jeremy's interactions so far have been wonderful. Can't wait for more!

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  8. I love them. .. how much from the book will be published here?

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    1. There will be about three more chapters posted here, I think. Although I've left out a bunch of scenes from what I'm posting, such as Noelle going on a crazy blind date, and the initial scene where Jeremy has his stroke while he's with his wife. It will be a full length novel.

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  9. Oh yea, cant wait ..as always you hit it just right ..love all the characters

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