You Were Always More Than A Trick To Me, Ray
“I’ll walk you home!” he blurted with too much enthusiasm.“Oh, okay, that would be great,” Sandray responded with a small smile.
Gary patted him on the back and gave him a creepy squeeze on the shoulder. He knew that this was Chuck’s big moment. Chuck had a serious thing for Sandray, but she was still with Jason - the dreaded Jason. No one could understand why she was with him. He was annoyingly self righteous and always a downer.
“Be safe out there,” Amanda added as she stepped out of the room. She was done, like that, for the night.
All of the goodbyes had been said and he was now alone with her for the first time. He could feel himself tense up, not just from oncoming nerves, but from the cold wind that blew in through the lobby from outside.
The night had gone better than he could’ve ever imagined. Not only did Sandray show up, but Jason had bailed early. Oh, he was a prize. He showed up after everyone had built up into a festive mood. Christmas lights hung from the frame of the window and around the tiny little tree standing near the front door. Candles, otherwise, lit the room. Gary’s sister had brought along loads of spirits with her and some of Gary and Chuck’s workmates had dropped by for the party. All Jason could muster upon his arrival was putting his skateboard in everyone’s way and going on a diatribe against those who drink alcohol and the hypocrisy of the Christmas holiday season. He ranted and raved about how there had been a low turnout at the rally he had attended that night, before he finally left early because he didn’t want to expose himself anymore to our party. Sandray made a small appeal to him to stay and they disappeared in the hallway for a few minutes, but she eventually returned without him. We were all glad to see him go. Jason had strong beliefs, which was fine with all of us, but it was more the way he went about sharing them that always managed to clear rooms.
“Tell me about your name,” Chuck urged.
“Sandray?” Oh, it’s an Americanized Gaelic name, or so I’m told. I never liked it. I don’t know what it means, if anything and I was always called a ‘Sand Ray’ in school growing up,” she laughed nervously, as the wind chill dropped from a sudden gust. “You know, like a Manta Ray? That’s why I go by ‘Ray’ – which is also what everyone called me growing up. It sucks, because it’s a man’s name, but I just gave up. I don’t know what my parents were thinking. My sister’s name is Carrie. I could never win.”
“I like it,” he found himself responding with tears lining his eyes. It must’ve been because of the wind. “How about I call you ‘Sandy’?”
“Thanks, that’s very nice, but that version has never stuck,” she allowed, before they fell into silence again on the empty downtown streets at 3 or so in the morning.
Though he hadn’t known what the night would entail on his way over, he could sense that Gary and Amanda had been building him up for ‘Ray.’ They knew how much he liked her, but he had given up on her the moment he found out that she was with Jason. Not only were they dating, but they were living together. Yet, there he had been, sitting on the floor cross-legged by the Christmas tree distracted between the work conversation of Rick, Gary and Chris to his left and the one between Amanda, Cindy and Ray to his right. This both thrilled him and made him extremely paranoid. He was doing his best to slack it off and be his general silly self-deprecating self and relaxed and to pretend that he was involved with the crazy work story nonsense going on, but Ray kept looking at him every time his name was mentioned in a story from the women to his right.
“How long have you known Gary?” she asked him with her shoulders hiked up and her hands buried deep in her coat pockets.
“Oh, forever. Since grade school,” Chuck shrugged with a roll of the eyes. He caught her for a moment out of the corner of his eye and marveled at how pretty she looked all bundled up in her dark navy blue coat and the big yarn hat pulled over her ears with her rosy cheeks peaking out over the matching hand-woven scarf wrapped over the bottom half of her face. It was then that he realized that he felt really comfortable with this girl. This was a rarity indeed, but there was something about her that put him at ease. He actually felt a rare twinge of confidence.
“That’s really cool,” she acknowledged and took a deep breath as she shivered from another breeze. “I’ve never been friends with anyone for that long. Amanda was telling me how loyal you are. I admire that.”
Amanda had too. In a strange moment, Chuck had heard her telling Ray about him and his loyalty and how genuine and nice he was, before leaning in from across the floor and patting a kiss on his unsuspecting lips. This caught him off guard and drew him reluctantly into the ladies’ conversation, though the work stories had suddenly taken on a renewed interest for him.
“Guess I’m like a dog,” he responded sheepishly. He wanted to tell her how he had been feeling about her over the last couple of months, since first meeting her. How does one encourage someone to dump their significant other?
They reached the outside entrance to her building a few blocks from where they had started their journey and he froze up, not sure what to do or say in this situation. This was the first time he had been alone with her and all he could manage was small talk. He had a dislike of small talk.
“Do you mind coming in with me? This place scares me,” she asked. She was right to be scared. He had never stepped foot into that building because it was so sketchy. He had known someone who also lived there and they would always meet up someplace neutral in order to avoid being inside that place.
She led the way as they walked swiftly through the dingy hallway, up a few stairs and to her apartment door.
“Well, here you are…” he drifted off, still hating small talk, but extremely guilty of it.
“Yeah, thank you for escorting me.” She smiled to him and then fumbled with a set of keys in her gloved hand.
The doorknob rattled from the other side of her apartment door and opened quickly. It was Jason and his grating voice greeting them before Chuck had had a chance to steel himself against his irritating racket.
“Hey, you’re finally home!” he grinned at her. She stood up on her toes and put her arms around his shoulders and gave Jason a kiss on the cheek. She took her place inside the doorway next to him so that they were both facing Chuck from inside their apartment. Chuck was still standing sideways. Ray was glowing. Her eyes were lit up, which was one of those things that he liked about her so much. She looked electric.
“I’ve always liked you Chuck; thanks for bringing her home safely,” Jason said and reached out to shake his hand like a father talking to his teenage daughter’s latest suitor. Chuck suddenly remembered the remnants of one of Jason’s previous rants about how the tradition of shaking hands is somehow tied with fascism.
“Fantastic!” Chuck mumbled sarcastically, while backing away down the hall and ignoring the outreached hand. He added a “Merry Christmas” for Jason’s benefit. He noticed Sandy mouth a Christmas greeting silently in return as the door closed.
Chuck turned and braced himself for the long walk to his car, hoping that it would still be where he’d parked it early that evening. The lingering vision of Sandy’s smile stuck in his mind. He wished he could see it more often and directed his way, but what was the point? He had been down this road before. It was time to try to forget.
This is the first of three parts. Stay tuned for the continuing adventures....
Part II can be read here
Part III can be read here