Eileen Cook Author, Writing Consultant, Editor

Unpredictable, Chapter One

Unpredictable, Chapter One

Capricorn: Today will bring new adventures—be willing to step outside your more quiet nature. Don’t be risk adverse—it’s time to seize what you want. Others may be nervous with this new you, but stay the course and they will come to appreciate you more.

I want to go on the record as saying that I have a perfectly good reason for breaking into my boyfriend’s condo building. Okay, technically according to the law it wouldn’t be considered a good reason. It’s not like the place is on fire with children or puppies trapped inside, however my life is teetering on the edge of disaster which clearly constitutes some kind of emergency. I would also point out that technically:

  • I’m not breaking into his condo but only the building’s laundry room, which, as anyone would tell you, hardly counts as a crime at all.
  • Since we lived together for six years before he moved out, in many ways any place of his is a place of mine as well.
  • Not to mention I haven’t broken anything to gain entry so it’s more like just entering.

Doug would point out that technically he is not my boyfriend since he broke up with me, but that’s a situation I plan to remedy. He seems to be under the impression that I’m going to walk away from a six year relationship with a smile, a kiss on the cheek and a promise to be friends. Obviously, I’m not the crazy one here. If I’m caught I can’t imagine there’s a court in the world that would convict me.

Of course part of the plan is to not get caught, which is why I’m currently crouching under the utility sink in the laundry room, clutching Doug’s socks. Not all of his socks, just one from each pair that was in the dryer. This is my plan – steal his socks in an effort to drive him slowly insane or, better yet, drive him back home. He’s the kind of guy that values familiar routines. When he realizes how out of sync his life is without me, as demonstrated by his woeful lack of matching socks, he will recognize my value. I’m counting on that. However, I hadn’t counted on him coming down to the laundry room. At home, when I could get him to put in a load of laundry, an event about as regular as a solar eclipse, he would put everything into the dryer and leave it there knowing that the laundry fairy would eventually fold them and return everything to its proper place. Not that I minded doing the laundry. He has a stressful job; I don’t mind taking care of things. But the point is, in the six years we lived together he never once emptied the dryer. So why is it that here, in his new home, he’s become so timely?

When Doug told me he was leaving, it was in our laundry room, which, if you knew Doug, is just so typical. He likes to check things off his to do list. Since he’s not the kind to wait for the right moment, I should consider myself lucky I wasn’t in the bathroom when the break up urge struck him.

Anyway, Doug likes his underwear folded into this tight origami shape that his mother used to make for him. Leg, leg, crotch, fold over, leg, leg, crotch, fold over. I’ve done this for so long I could do it in my sleep, and it’s gotten to where I do it to my own panties without even thinking about it. On the day we broke up I was standing there creating my one millionth underwear nugget and thinking about what I needed to get from the store, when he came in and told me he was leaving. I thought he meant leaving to go to the store so I asked him to pick up some milk and laundry detergent. I didn’t get it.

I never saw it coming. That makes me sound pathetic, doesn’t it? Honestly, I knew we had our issues. What long term relationship doesn’t? But I still thought we were happy. I was happy. After six years I’d been lulled into a false sense of safety. I thought we were destined to be together. I felt like the person who won the relationship lottery. We’d just had a big talk about how it was time to move our relationship to “the next level.” I actually believed this might mean it was the year he was going to give me a ring. Apparently, what he meant by “next level” was his own apartment.

It’s all about expectations, I guess. One thing I definitely expected is that if our relationship was going down the tubes we would have talked about it once or twice before it was all over. As it was, there was no argument, no big crying jag where I could lie dramatically across the sofa, beg him not to leave and end up screaming that he was a bastard. He never mentioned a thing until that morning when he came to the laundry room, said he was leaving, took his clean underwear from my hands and walked out the door.

How could he decide to leave? This is the guy who stands in front of an open refrigerator yelling that there’s no mustard until I get up and show him where it is. He looks at it like he’s never seen a squeeze bottle of mustard before and accuses me of not putting it in the “right” spot. This is a man who can’t find a condiment in a four cubic foot refrigerator. How is he going to live on his own? More importantly, why does he want to live on his own? Every time I bring it up he keeps saying that he needs his space, and that he really loves me, but he isn’t sure he’s in love with me anymore. What the heck does that mean? That’s the kind of line that usually ends up with someone choking on a steak knife. He’s never been a guy to really talk about his feelings. That’s when I started to wonder if he were just having the pre-marriage jitters. I don’t want him to throw away our entire relationship because of nerves.

Okay, I’m willing to admit that when he first left, I wasn’t sure I was going to make it. He left two days before Valentine’s Day. February is the worse month in Vancouver, with nothing but non-stop rain. It’s the kind of rain where you start thinking about taking up ark building as a hobby just in case. The only bright spot in February is Valentine’s Day, and this year even that consolation was taken from me. Continuing to breathe in and out seemed to be too much effort. I couldn’t just walk away without knowing more, so I started spying on him. Check that. Spying sounds really negative. It sounds better to say I was looking out for him, sort of like a social experiment. He moved out three weeks ago, and watching him has become my newest hobby. I’ve invested six years in this relationship and spent my whole life dreaming of happily ever the after. I’m not leaving without an explanation. He’ll thank me for my dedication once we’re back together.

This is only the second time that I’ve actually been in his new building. Mostly I park out front and off to the side so I can watch the building. So far I’ve seen him have two pizzas delivered and one package from Fed Ex. He looks good, but he needs a haircut. What he really needs is to realize how much he needs me, how he can’t live without me. When he didn’t seem to be coming to this realization on his own, I knew I’d have to up the ante, so I began “Operation Drive Him Home.” The title’s quite appropriate really because it started with the car. I found the extra set of keys to his Mercedes. When he picked it up at the dealership, they gave him two sets. When he moved out, he left one set buried in the junk drawer. He’d forgotten all about it. I started going down to his office and moving his car over a few parking spaces. I’ve done this five times, cumulating in moving it a full level down in the parking garage. Now when I have one of those nights where I start feeling sorry for myself, I picture him in my mind. He’s standing there with his briefcase, looking at where he left the car, just starting to panic, and then he sees it three or four spaces over. It’s in that moment he’ll realize that his life is falling apart and how much he needs me. It’s a small thing, but it really does make me feel better.

My best friend Jane, who can be counted on to bring ice cream over in times of emotional turmoil—and not the cheap store brand but the full cream fat laden designer brands—thinks I’m brilliant. To be precise she said something along the lines of “You’re insane,” but I know what she meant was crazy like a fox, which really means clever.

Doug moved downtown into a modern chrome and glass high rise. The first time I got into the building, someone was walking ahead of me and I just followed them through the front door. I checked out the lobby that first time: pretty typical, a wall of gun metal gray mailboxes, a few dusty spider plants (fake) and art that looks like it was painted by a kindergartener, big splotches of primary colors that looks angry and slightly pornographic. I found a flyer for the building. They target themselves to the “urban single” which I know means a pick ‘em up place. Basically, it’s a giant glass phallic symbol, full of men with receding hairlines and young women pumped full of silicone who are each looking for a man with a stable job. Doug fits in. He’s losing his hair—not that it’s receding or he has a bald spot—but it’s sort of thinning all over. His head looks like a dandelion, like if you gave it a big puff, his hair would go spinning off his head and blow around. I shouldn’t say that, because it makes him sound dorky when he’s actually a very attractive guy and a good catch. Whenever he goes somewhere he’s one of those people you find in the centre of the action.

He keeps himself in great shape. He plays in baseball, basketball, and hockey leagues, and when he can’t get a group of guys together, he goes to the gym to work out. He has a great smile. As a kid he stood too close behind a friend at bat who ended up whacking him right in the face. His tooth cut his mouth open and he still has this tiny white scar that runs through his upper lip. It makes his smile slightly crooked and utterly charming.

He’s definitely got the stable job bit down too. He works in the finance district as some type of personal investment advisor. His dad owns the company and someday he’ll take over. As one of those people who don’t even balance their checking accounts, I find his job very impressive. In short, he’s the kind of person I’d be crazy to let go of so easily.

That’s why I snuck into Doug’s building tonight with the goal of stealing his socks. It was time to step up from just moving the car. I planned the mission, packed several Holt Renfrew and Coach shopping bags full of crumpled up tissue paper, and then I stood next to the front door and waited. When I saw someone come out of the elevator I juggled the bags and searched my handbag as if trying to find my key. I smiled, tossed my hair and generally used my high school theater talents to make myself into a harried, overburdened, expensive-shopping-bag-carrying urban single. I gave a few deep sighs and wrinkled my brow as if in deep concentration like a world leader pondering the decision to launch a missile. When a woman in an acid green Lycra yoga outfit came through the door, she held it open for me. I whispered thanks and slid inside.

I slipped down to the bowels of the building into the clearly marked laundry room. There was a fitness room next door that had hip hop music blaring. It was so loud I could practically see the sound waves as they passed through the wall into the laundry room. How could Doug stand to live in a place like this? I had to save him.

I dumped the shopping bags into a large trash can and started checking out the bank of washers and dryers. I knew Doug would do his laundry tonight, because it’s Sunday, and on the last Monday of every month, his office has a big project review meeting that Doug likes to be all decked out for. He actually lays out his clothes for the week, making an outfit on a hanger for each day, including underwear and socks. See? Living with someone for so long means I know more about him than he might expect, and I plan to use every bit of this knowledge to my advantage.

The room is white: white walls, white tile floor, white washers and dryers. And clean! So clean you could perform surgery on the folding tables. It made me wonder what happened to all the dust bunnies that should be lurking in the corners. They must have all immigrated to my house. I counted eight washers and eight dryers, all but one going full speed. Apparently Sunday is a big laundry night for the urban single. I opened up each dryer and groped about, looking for familiar laundry, khakis and cotton dress shirts. No, leopard print thong and matching bra. No, a rainbow assortment of panties with the days of the week stitched on the back. No, white boxers with dark socks. Ah-ha! Bingo. Colors with whites, I should have known. His underwear was already starting to take on a gray pallor. Bleach would fix that, but I’m not going to tell him. If he gets into an accident and is caught with “bad meat” colored shorts it won’t be on my head. When we lived together I bleached, color sorted, and added fabric softener, not that I’m bragging. I started pulling socks out the dryer, fighting the urge to make sock balls. Instead, I found pairs and tossed one of each back in and stuffed the other ones in my handbag. I shut the dryer door in time to hear Doug’s laughter in the hallway.

Until I heard him laughing, I hadn’t really given any thought to what I would do if I saw him. The image of Doug in a laundry room was so foreign that I hadn’t been capable of picturing it.

Now what? I consider trying to stuff myself into the one empty dryer, but decide against it. Damn, but this place is lit up brightly. Who needs this much light to do laundry? I consider standing next to the wall and trying to blend into the surroundings, but even Doug, who appears to have perfected the art of ignoring me, is likely to notice me here. Suddenly I see it. On the back wall there is a large (white of course) industrial sink, and below it is a shelf stacked with white cotton muslin laundry bags. I dive to the floor, pull the bags out and tuck myself in, then pull the bags back over me.

The door opens and Doug comes into the laundry room. He’s talking to some blond woman who looks as if she’s a model for a catalog targeted to impossibly tall Swedish women with melon-sized breasts. She laughs, shrieks really, at something Doug must have just said, and her teeth look like evenly spaced white Chicklet gum. I hate her.

“Oh Douglas, you have such a wicked sense of humor.” She punches him playfully on the arm and I consider punching her, playfully of course, right in those perfect teeth. Who calls him Douglas? He hates to be called Douglas, except apparently, by tall, blond, melon-breasted models.

“I just call ‘em as I see ‘em,” Doug says, giving his aw shucks grin. He’s holding his laundry basket, our laundry basket. When did he take that? I bought it at Target. It’s a knock-off of an expensive designer laundry basket. It’s not important that it’s a faux designer. The point is, I like that laundry basket. I don’t remember it being in his pile of divided things when he moved out. The bastard must have sneaked back into the house to take it! He has been sneaking in and out of our house! I feel violated. How dare he slink in and out of our house? What else has he taken? I’ve got to remember to call a locksmith tomorrow. If he thinks he can just come and go simply because he pays for some of it, he’s got another think coming. I long to tell him off right now and snatch that basket right out of his smug little hands, but I’m hiding under his sink and I expect he would want me to explain that fact first.

“Why don’t you call me later?” Melon Tits says, as Doug pulls his laundry, minus half of his socks that are in my handbag, into the stolen laundry basket. I see him flush at the neck. Melon breasts has gone too far. Now Doug will tell her that he prefers to be called Doug, not Douglas. And that he’s just out of a very serious long term relationship. That his heart is broken, he’s not sure if he’s over me, and he’s seriously considering getting back together. That he dislikes pushy women and she needs to just back off.

“I think I’ll save myself the call and just ask you out for dinner now,” Doug says, trying to look cool by leaning against the dryer. Who is he kidding? Melon Tits laughs and gives one of those hair flips. She’s wearing a matching gym outfits that looks like it’s designed for the red carpet rather than actually sweating. You can tell she’s not wearing a bra. I’m trying to give her the benefit of the doubt, that her bra is in the wash, but I have my suspicions about this. She’s actually licking her lips now, like this is an audition for a porn film. “Of course, you probably already knew I was going to ask you that,” He adds. She gives him another playful shove and I consider how it would feel to give her a playful shove off Lions’ Gate Bridge.

“Are you making fun of me?” She flips her hair again. I’m shocked she hasn’t developed carpal tunnel with all that hair flipping. You would think her wrists would give out or would have developed weird looking bulky muscles. “I shouldn’t have told you that I see psychics. Now you think I’m crazy.” I nod to myself. Go ahead, Doug, tell her she’s crazy. Then run away. Run home, in fact.

“No, I don’t think you’re crazy. I imagine there’s a lot more to psychic phenomenon then we know about. I’ve even thought about going to a psychic before myself. If you’re going to that psychic fair this weekend, you’ll have to ask them about me and what I should do with my life.”

“You’ve got yourself a deal,” she says. Doug is smiling and I suppress the urge to throw the ant trap that is pressing into my head at him, right into his leering smile. I’m most likely breathing in deadly ant poison right now, while my boyfriend woos another woman. There are tears in my eyes, and I concentrate on trying to suck them back into my eyes by will alone. I refuse to cry over this. She pulls her laundry out of the dryer, including the leopard print thong and matching bra. I should have known. She pulls each item out of the dryer slowly, making sure Doug gets a good look. All that’s missing is some bump and grind music. Poor thing has to put up with the hip hop music leaking in from next door. Honestly, she has more fancy underwear than a Victoria’s Secret store. Where are her fat day undies with the broken elastic? She must wash those in the sink in her apartment. She saves her trashy underwear peep show for the public laundry room. Doug is practically drooling onto his clean shorts and t-shirts.

“So… back to dinner. Where do you want to go?” she asks.

“I’m open. Do you like seafood? We could go for a walk in Stanley Park and then head over to the Fish House.” I would like to point out here that when I said I wanted to go to the Fish House for our anniversary, Doug said it was too fussy and expensive. Apparently for laundry dates it’s the perfect place to go. Melon Tits pops her bits and pieces of string she uses as underwear into dainty piles in her real designer clothing basket.

“I love the food there,” MT gushes. “Have you had their crab cakes? Yum. I don’t eat red meat, you know. But I’m a nut for organic veggies, and the chef there does a super tasty veggie grill thing.” The Melon touches Doug’s arm and they walk out of the laundry room.

I think I’ll continue to lie under the sink for awhile. It’s sort of nice and quiet here. The cotton muslin laundry bags smell like Bounce dryer sheets. I love that smell. If it weren’t for the ant poison seeping directly into my brain, I could lie here all night. Suddenly, the sock mission of Operation Drive Him Home seems pointless. The reason Doug suddenly needed his own space is now crystal clear. He couldn’t fit both me and the Melon into his life. With those breasts of hers, there simply wouldn’t be room for me. He’s clearly looking for a new adventure. It’s not like I’m unattractive, I’m just sort of all-around average: average height, average brown hair, and average sized boobs. My hair is curly, which everyone says they want until they realize that curly is just a nice word for uncontrollable. As a curse from my Irish heritage, my nose and cheeks are covered with freckles. I used to try to cover them with makeup, but then I realized I would need foundation caked an inch thick to hide them. Even if I stuffed my Wonder Bra I wouldn’t be able to compete.

I sniff a few times and wipe my nose on one of Doug’s socks. I am working myself into a good, self-indulgent cry when I notice a pair of shoes, connected to a set of legs right in front of me. I hadn’t heard anyone else come in. I try to sniff quietly, but it’s too late. This guy bends over and looks in at me.

“Are you okay?” This strikes me as a stupid question, so I choose not to justify it with an answer. “Do you need me to call someone?” he asks. He’s got a slight Scottish accent that makes the words run together in a soothing way that makes me want to close my eyes and go to sleep. However, he clearly isn’t going to go away and leave me to my slow ant-poison-to-the-brain suicide plan. He’s going to just stand there until I respond, so I crawl out from under the sink and take a few deep breaths. I rub my temple and can feel that the ant trap made a perfectly round dent in my skin. Perfect. Now, in addition to my emotional scars, I’ll have a physical one.

“No thanks,” I say finally. “I’m fine.”

“You’re fine?” he repeats. Apparently he has some kind of hearing difficulty. I notice he’s cocking his head to the side like a confused dog.

“Yep, fine. I was just doing some laundry, and had all these socks that had lost their mates—you know how that happens?” He nods. “These socks have had mates for years and years. They were living their day-to-day lives, not suspecting that anything was going to change—then wham, they find themselves coming out of the dryer all alone. I mean what good is one sock? Now that they’re mateless, they’ve got nothing. You might as well dump them in the trash.” I toss a wad of Doug’s socks into the trash, but then can’t bear it and grab them back again. He hands me a pressed linen handkerchief. I don’t know anyone who carries these things anymore except old men, but he’s not old. Maybe mid-thirties. He’s a bit shorter than me and wears thick-rimmed Buddy Holly glasses. They makes his blue eyes stand out. I blow my nose in his handkerchief and start to hand it back to him, then realize he probably doesn’t want it back coated in crazy lady snot.

“Are you sure you don’t want me to call anyone? I could walk you back to your apartment if you like.”

“I don’t live here,” I say before I realize it doesn’t sound too good. Now he’s going to think I’m some crazy lady with a sock fetish who has broken into the building, which, technically speaking, I might be. “I was just visiting a friend,” I offer.

“I’m Nick McKenna. I’m on the tenth floor.”

“Sophie Kintock.” We shake hands, and it’s all very civilized except for the fact he met me while I was crying into a wad of socks. “Well, I guess I should be going.” I try to give him what I hope looks like a confident smile and head for the door. I look back and see him standing there looking back at me while he pulls his clothes into his laundry basket. I notice that he was the khakis and cotton dress shirts. At least he knows to sort his colors.

I leave the apartment building and slip down the alley to my car. It’s starting to rain, or as I should say, the rain is resuming. I drop Doug’s socks along the alley, one every few meters, a cotton trail back to the building. I hang on to the last one. I don’t know why. I tell myself that no matter how sad I get, I will not sleep with his sock like it’s some kind of sad, twisted memento of our relationship. But at the same time I want to keep it.

The night wasn’t a total waste. Tomorrow he’ll still have to go to the meeting in mismatched socks.

Unpredictable is available from booksellers everywhere.

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