Today was Embarrassing Enough
Lori Ann Bloomfield
Rachel sat on the red sofa and considered the blue sofa. Then she moved to the blue sofa and considered the red sofa. She tried, but failed, to imagine either of them in her living room, in the empty space where, until two weeks ago, the white sofa had been. Andy had taken the white sofa with him when he’d moved out. This hadn’t bothered Rachel as much as it should have. She’d worried so much about keeping it clean she had never been able to relax on it. She wanted a sofa she could sink in to. One she could drink tea on, or red wine, if she became the sort of person who drank red wine.
It was Saturday afternoon and Rachel was alone at Ikea. When she and Andy had first moved in together they had come to Ikea almost every weekend. Andy had jokingly described Rachel’s decorating style as, “Zen, except without the calm or the style.”
It was true that Rachel’s apartment had been pretty empty when Andy moved in. She could never decide what to buy. One thing that had impressed her about Andy was how he could gaze out over a showroom filled with fifty armchairs, his blue eyes narrowed like a gunslinger’s, and know instantly which would look best in the corner beside the window.
Frustrated and filled with indecision, Rachel stood up and limped away. The heel of her right foot felt hot and sore. It was these new black leather boots she’d let Angela talk her into buying when they went therapy shopping after Andy left.
The usual crowd of Saturday shoppers was at Ikea: the young couples, the frazzled mothers, the reluctant men allowing themselves to be dragged along in order to keep the peace. And Andy.
Rachel spotted him as he was staring intently at a throw cushion on a black leather sofa. He had a look on his face Rachel recognized. It meant that Andy almost, but not quite, liked the object he was crushing with his gaze. This particular cushion had a fault. It would be perfect to Andy if only it were a different colour, or material, or plumpness. As Rachel watched, Andy dismissed the cushion and turned to a slim blonde man in an expensive overcoat. The look Andy gave him was as warm and gooey as a caramel left in the summer sun. Rachel did not recognize this look.
Rachel ducked down and sat on the nearest sofa. How could she have not known Andy was gay? They had lived together for almost three years. All she could think about was how many pastel-coloured shirts he owned. She’d even bought him a few.
Rachel scrunched down even further. She wanted to call Angela but was afraid Andy would hear her voice. She had to get out of here before he saw her. She’d wait for him to thread his way through the living room department then when he was safely in the kitchen section she’d backtrack and make a dash for the parking lot.
“Look at that print! It looks like something Elton John would vomit,” she heard Andy say.
Rachel wanted to close her eyes the way she’d done when she was a child playing hide and seek, but they were still open when Andy and his boyfriend came around the edge of the sofa she was sitting on and stood with their backs to her. They were laughing at a sofa with a neon pink flower print. It reminded Rachel of a pair of rubber boots she’d had as a child. She’d loved those boots.
Just as she was about to sneak away, Andy turned.
“Rachel!” His voice went high with surprise.
“Hi, Andy.” She tried to sound casual as if it were the most natural thing in the world to meet your ex-boyfriend at Ikea with his new boyfriend.
“You’re not thinking of buying that sofa, are you? It would look hideous in the apartment,” Andy said.
Rachel looked down. She was not even aware of what the sofa she was sitting on looked like. It was burgundy leather.
“No. Definitely not.” Rachel sprang to her feet. “I’m thinking of going vegan.”
She had no idea where that idea had come from. But if Andy could go gay, she could go vegan, she figured.
The man with Andy said, “Don’t tell her what she can and can’t buy. It’s her apartment. She can get whatever sofa she wants. She could even buy that one.” He turned to point at the Elton John vomit over his shoulder. “Though I wouldn’t advise it. I’m Sully, by the way,” he said, extending his hand.
Andy squirmed as they shook hands. Sully, however, seemed to be enjoying himself.
“We were just on our way to the cafeteria for a coffee. Care to join us?” Sully said.
Andy looked so aghast that Rachel said yes.
Sully positioned Rachel in the middle and together the three of them walked to the cafeteria. Rachel and Andy had never gone to the cafeteria when they were together. Andy had always made fun of the cheap breakfasts and meatball specials. They’d sounded good to Rachel, but she’d never admitted that.
But here he was, dutifully following her and Sully through the cafeteria line-up. She glanced back, wondering if he wore the same look as the men who were trailing along behind their wives. Andy met her gaze with a look somewhere between fury and fear. It reminded her of the time she’d gotten up during the night to pee and had surprised him masturbating in the bathroom.
Sully filled a paper cup with coffee and added a splash of milk. His hand wavered over the sugar then fell back to his side. “I prefer honey,” she said to Rachel.
At the cash registrar they each paid for their own coffee. Rachel wondered how gay men decided who paid. Maybe they always just paid for their own. Then she wondered why she was thinking about such stupid stuff.
They sat at a table beside the window. Sully and Andy on one side, Rachel on the other, across from Sully. There was an awkward silence after the scraping of chairs and the settling down into their seats. Rachel had a history of saying embarrassing things to fill silences like this one so she forced herself to stare quietly out the window at the parking lot below. Today was embarrassing enough without adding words to it.
The sky was grey overcast, the cars mostly black or white. But inside, Ikea was a riot of colour. Rachel knew that whatever most people bought here today they would take home and squash the vibrancy out of it. Rachel knew she did it too, but didn’t want to. She wanted to learn the trick of keeping the vibrancy in things.
“Andy told me you work in advertising,” Sully was the first to break the silence, unsurprisingly.
“Insurance, actually,” Rachel said.
Sully nodded, already bored. He was probably regretting inviting her to coffee. If this was going to be fun he was going to have to work harder than he’d anticipated. “I’m a massage therapist,” he volunteered. “I rent a small room in a yoga studio downtown. If you ever need a massage…” He smiled brightly at Rachel.
Andy shot Sully a look which made Sully laugh. He tilted his head way back so that Rachel could see the edge of his straight white teeth and the pink at the back of his throat. To appease Andy he slipped a hand under the table. The two men’s eyes met and they exchanged a secret smile.
Rachel looked at the tabletop. She knew she shouldn’t be here, but she didn’t know where she should be.
A stout woman with tight grey curls stopped at their table. She wore a sweatshirt with a kitten on the front. Her glasses hung on a necklace made of pink plastic beads that bounced softly against her considerable bustline.
“You’re twins, right?” She wagged a finger between Sully and Rachel. “My brother, Gus and I were fraternal twins. He died just last year. I miss him more than my husband. It’s funny, when you start looking for twins you see them everywhere.”
Sully tilted his head and considered Rachel. Then he turned to the woman and smiled brightly. “I think I would miss my sister more than my husband, too.”
A look of confusion clouded the woman’s face then cleared. It was like watching a gust of wind blow across a pond on an otherwise still day.
“You’re both gorgeous. Enjoy your day,” she said before tottering off.
“Thanks for stopping by,” Sully called after her.
Andy stared down stonily at his fingernails.
Sully ran a hand expertly down his back and said, “You should loosen up. Relax or else you’re going to give yourself one of your headaches and then you won’t be any fun.”
“I already have one.”
Mostly from habit, though from a bit of sympathy too, Rachel opened her purse and found some aspirin. She handed the small bottle across the table. Wordlessly Andy shook two, then three, pills into his palm. He washed them down with a gulp of coffee. “Thanks,” he said, handing the now empty bottle back. He didn’t meet Rachel’s eye.
“If we are going to be mistaken for brother and sister I think you should get a better haircut,” Sully said to Rachel.
“You don’t look alike,” Andy hissed.
Sully winked at Rachel as though they really did have a familial bond, as if they did share a secret language.
Rachel could see that she and Sully were both slightly built. They shared long, willowy limbs and fine features. They were both fair-haired and blue-eyed, though Sully’s eyes were brighter. They each had small ears that sat tight to their heads and Rachel imagined that inside his shoes Sully had long, thin white feet like her own. She did not let her imagination go any further. They looked alike, though the idea of twins was pushing it.
“How come you guys are at Ikea?” Rachel asked. She wished she hadn’t said guys. It sounded weird.
The two men exchanged a wary look.
“Because he doesn’t like my place and wants to change it,” Sully said.
“That’s not true,” Andy burst out. “It’s need cohesion, that’s all.” He turned to Rachel. “It’s hodge podge, but all it needs is the right few pieces to pull it together.”
Rachel looked at Sully. “He did the same thing when he moved into my place. Changed everything to suit him.”
“Maybe he should get his own place,” Sully said. Then he tried to soften it with a smile.
“Maybe he should be an interior decorator instead of a financial advisor, then he could do this all day long and get paid for it,” Rachel said.
“That’s too gay for Andy. Isn’t it Andy?” said Sully.
“If I wanted to be an interior decorator, I’d be one. I only like designing my own space. I don’t care about anyone else’s,” Andy said. Rachel could tell he was straining to keep his voice calm.
“We were arguing about this over by the sofas,” Sully said.
“We weren’t arguing,” Andy insisted.
“I think Andy is ashamed to be gay,” Sully said.
Andy massaged his left temple and stared down at his coffee. Rachel could tell the aspirins had been wasted on him. She should have kept them.
“Andy didn’t say he was leaving you for a man, did he?” Sully demanded. Rachel suspected that Sully was not as angry as he sounded. He just liked to fight.
“What Andy and I talk about is between Andy and me,” Rachel said.
Sully looked surprised, like a spoiled child that was finally reprimanded.
“Then I’ll leave you two alone to chat.” Sully stood up like he were on a stage, not in the Ikea cafeteria. He stormed off, his coat swaying dramatically behind him. Rachel had the feeling that was why he had bought it.
Andy watched Sully leave then took a sip of coffee.
“You’d better go after him,” Rachel said. She was surprised how calm her voice sounded. She was even more surprised by how calm she felt.
For the first time that day Andy smiled at Rachel. He reached into his pocket and pulled out his keys. Holding them up like they were a prize he said, “Sully has forgotten that I drove.”
They laughed but not from happiness or even malice. It was simply a release of tension. Then it was over and the awkwardness snuck back in. Rachel drained her coffee cup and stood up. “Still, you should go after him. Make sure he’s alright.”
“What are you going to do?” Andy asked.
“I’m going to buy a sofa. But don’t even ask which one because I’m not telling you. I’m buying the one I want and I refuse to be talked out of it.”
Andy raised one eyebrow and smiled wryly. Then he gave a small shrug and held up both hands.
Rachel waved good-bye. A lump was forming in her throat and she didn’t trust her voice. She could feel Andy watching her as she left the cafeteria but didn’t know what he was thinking. Probably she never had.
As she threaded her way through the Saturday shoppers she thought again of those long forgotten rubber boots from childhood. She remembered twirling in them on the sidewalk in front of her house and feeling pretty. She had not worried then how she looked, or whether anyone was watching, or what they were thinking if they were.
One thought on “Today was Embarrassing Enough”
Great story! I found three typos (must be an editing thing I’m learning to do all over again) but they did not deter me from appreciating the neat turns of perspective/staging coupling/uncoupling going on in this interesting study of self-respect. I’ll say it again. I loved it.