My back popped and cracked as I bent over, trying to work out some of the stiffness I’d put there by sleeping on an old sofa in my study, rather than the soft bed in the next room. I managed to put myself upright again and stumbled towards the stairs that led down to the kitchen. After all, anything stretching didn’t fix, coffee would.
I opened up the door and light hit my eyes like a battering ram, forcing a temporary retreat into the comfortable dimness of my stairwell.
“Oy,” I said, in what I thought was a pretty good imitation of human communication, given the time of day and my condition. “That you?”
My houseguest popped her head into the stairwell with a perky “Yup! Coffee?” and ducked back into the kitchen before I could finish grunting my affirmative response.
I followed her into the kitchen, shielding my eyes from the bright, judgemental sun, and sat down with a thump that was embarrassing until I remembered that this stool was just lopsided. I wasn’t getting fat. Not me. Not at all.
“How do you like your coffee?” Jeanie asked, pouring thick, black liquid into a mug reading ‘You Get What You Pay For’ over a picture of a large, yellow lemon. I had no idea what it was supposed to mean, I’d bought it at the 100 yen shop a couple of months ago when I’d bought the house. It got a cheap laugh from some of my friends who had lived here long enough to find the Engrish amusing before being stuck in the back of a cupboard and forgotten about. Until now, when the coffee was in and Jeanie was holding a large spoon loaded down with sugar in one hand and looking at me expectantly.
“Uh, yeah,” I said, still working on that whole ‘human communication’ thing. “Just black, thanks.”
“Oooh,” she said, grinning, “You’re one of them guys, huh, likes his coffee black and strong!”
I smiled back at her, trying to gage how casually I could phrase the next question. Jeanie was a nice girl, originally from New Zealand, then Australia, lately of Japan and two towns away from where I lived. We worked for the same company, but in different branches and had met a few weeks ago at a company sales meeting. Jeanie and I had been partnered up in one of those team building exercises that corporate trainers love because it gets them out of having to actually have anything to say. We found out quite quickly that we both had a healthy disrespect for our employer and sarcastic senses of humor. And then I hadn’t seen her for a few weeks until I last night, where we had been pleasantly surprised to run into each other at…was it a party for someone’s birthday or something? There were a lot of us out singing and drinking for a long time and then things got a little, well, you know. Fuzzy. The point was, I liked Jeanie, but I didn’t know her, so I was trying to be delicate.
“So, uh, last night, uh, what happened?” Sophisticated, walking upright, well-spoken modern man – 0. Grunting, no-talk-good monkey man – 1.
“You don’t remember?” Her face fell, and her voice quavered. “And, after you promised that you’d never forget and we, oh, we…”
“No we didn’t.” I sipped my coffee, wincing as the bitterness said hello to my tongue with no friendliness what-so-ever. “Still, nice try.”
She grinned, “No, a nice try would have had you begging for forgiveness.”
“If that’s only a nice try, I’d hate to see a well-done!”
“Yeah, that would have you begging for forgiveness for weeks.” She smiled again. I was starting to really like that smile. “No, last night, we were all out late doing karaoke and I missed my train. I was going to crash at a hotel, but you said you had an extra room that I was welcome to use. I took you up on the offer and when we got here, you decided to be really gallant and let me use your bed.”
“I didn’t try to climb in with you or anything, did I?” I said, with what I hoped was a nonchalant expression on my face.
“No, not at all. You even got out clean sheets.” She put her coffee cup in the sink, after giving it a quick rinse and swipe with a dishcloth. “I’ve got to go. Can’t be late to work or everyone will gossip about us!” She disappeared back upstairs and came back down, moments later, with her hair tied back and her suit brushed down. “Thanks for letting me crash.” And she was at the door, one hand pulling it open, the other brushing a loose strand of hair from her face. She paused and turned back from the door. “Can I call you tonight? I wanna go on a date with you and I think you’re too hungover to ask. So, can I call you?”
“Uhm, yeah,” I said, standing up from my barstool and wincing at the thump it made as it came crashing back to the floor behind me. “Yeah, call me. Please. I mean, sure. Uhm. I mean, yeah. Call me.”
“Great!” She smiled once more and was out the door.
I sat back on my barstool, or at least tried to, but missed and ended up falling flat on my butt. I managed to smack my tailbone so hard in the process that, for a moment, I thought Coach Peterson had come out of my nightmares to boot his boot up my ass sideways, just like he’d always promised.