Cindy arrived in an Uber. She thanked the driver, stepped onto the sidewalk with her right foot, not her left. She had inherited a new superstition. A character in a book did it once so now she had to do it too. Such was another consequence of bearing a creative soul.
She put her phone on Airplane Mode. It bothered her when guys took out their phones on dates. They were always showing her some unfunny sketch comedy video or Instagram page they said counted as a portfolio. She knew how they wanted her to react, too. They wanted the arty girl to smile, to laugh, to ask where they got their inspiration. She was exhausted.
“Hi there… Cindy…?”
It was him. He was tall, and thin, and backlit by the light of the street lamp. She clocked his tucked-in shirt, sighing with relief that it wasn’t the French tuck. Thank God. She had judged this one correctly. 34. Auditor. Lives in DUMBO. Normal tuck. Normal job. Her heart skipped seventeen beats.
“Yes! Hi!” she said. “Hi… you…!”
She forgot his name. This has happened once before. She’d likely have to go to the bathroom to turn on Airplane Mode to confirm “Noel,” which she thought was it, but it was starting to shapeshift in her head to “Noah.” A product graphic designer with self-described unfulfilled potential in typography, Cindy liked to imagine people’s names in a newly designed font. For her names were made of flourishes, not letters.
“Noel,” said Noel, “from…” and then he mimicked typing on the phone.
“No, yes, no, yes!” said Cindy. “Sorry, I mean yes. I hate when people conflate ‘no’ and ‘yes.’ The two most distinct words in language and yet here we are… always playing creative hot potato with them.”
Lord. Pull it together.
“Right, right,” said Noel, “…hot potato with words.” Then, Noel mimicked playing hot potato. His hands tossed phantom “potatoes” back and forth.
“Here… catch!” Then, he threw an imaginary potato to Cindy, who didn’t flinch. She looked at him quizzically.
What is happening? Is Noel a mime?
“Are you a mime?” asked Cindy.
“Yes! No! I mean no; by yes, I mean, no.” Noel smiled.
“You work in government or something, right?” She was lying that she didn’t know.
“I’m not a mime!” laughed Noel, taken aback by Cindy’s sudden onset consternation. “I’m sorry. That was a bold foot for me to start on. Would you like to shuck oysters and forget about this bad bit?”
“Sure,” said Cindy.
She took a moment to admire Noel’s blue button-up shirt, his watch, and his hair cut (which, simply put, was hair cut — so weird that this had to become her new standard).
As Noel walked, Cindy started to notice his effortless energy. His shirt was pressed but not at all restrictive. His joints moved smoothly, almost dancer-like. Noel had the gait of a guy she regretted once before — a guitarist with a sublet. Her palms began to sweat.
They entered through a heavy red curtain. The space was dark and not yet filled. They were playing Bon Iver, upon which realizing, Noel pointed to the speaker and mouthed, “Wow.”
Wait, was Noel a hipster in sheep’s clothing? People who do everything-the-same sheep, not regular sheep.
They lowered onto bar stools.
“So… Cindy… tell me. What was your day like?” asked Noel.
“Oh, I just worked!”
“Cool cool,” he said before sipping his water. “Would you tell me a bit about your job?”
Cindy hated this part. But Noel’s voice had such a smooth, dark, almost mahogany timbre to it. He didn’t sound like an auditor; he sounded more like a podcast host. Cindy imagined the letters N-O-E-L written in BBQ sauce. She would have to respond to him.
“Um… yes! Of course. My job… um… it’s silly. I’m a graphic designer. It’s mostly just product design though — designing cereal boxes and whatnot. I basically doodle all day. It is what it is.”
“Cereal definitely is what it is. Cereal, man, it shapes your worldview. You remember reading the backs of boxes as kids?”
“Ha! Of course. Anyway, remind me of your job. Auditor, I think it said? Sounds intense.”
“Yes, yes. I like to say I’m a CIA agent of righteousness — out to disarm local businesses who evade city incorporation fees, mostly because they’re good people who have no idea the fees exist and they’re just tryna live their truth.”
Tryna? What the hell is happening?
“An auditor with a superhero cape,” she said. “I see.”
“That’s me,” Noel replied. And then with complete seriousness he said, “When the world is in evasion… it’s time to bring in the Noel invasion.”
Cindy readjusted backward in her seat, protecting her physical boundaries and thereby her emotional ones. Something about Noel felt a little off. The only reason she redownloaded the app was to get away from all those playful, creative types — these twist-your-words and imbue-new-meaning types. It’s not that Noel’s jokes weren’t funny (they weren’t), but she was troubled by his instinct to joke at all. All Cindy ever wanted (since last fall) was someone with a normal job. She’d done this carousel of clowns long enough to know that she needed a non-artist. Her energy filled that space enough.
While she considered all this, a pregnant pause came to term between the two of them. Noel leaned back, retreating.
“Sorry,” he said. “I feel like I lost you there.”
“Is that no ‘no’ or a ‘no, which means actually yes’?” he smiled.
“I just thought you’d be normal.”
Now it was Noel who fell back into his seat. He raised his eyebrows higher than he knew they could go.
“Normal?!” he said. Going on app dates wasn’t an everyday experience for him, but surely a statement like that wasn’t common.
“I’m sorry, I don’t mean that entirely,” said Cindy. “Obviously you contain multitudes. I just mean people like me have weird jobs. There’s no exam to pass to become a graphic designer… I mean there are those types of exams or General Assembly classes or whatever the hell, but if you’re good, who cares? I just thought you were more of a…”
Cindy mimicked butting up her shirt and fixing her tie in the mirror.
“…kind of guy.”
Noel looked downward. For a moment he looked like a disappointed puppy. It wasn’t clear to Cindy whether he was putting on or not.
“I meant it as a compliment,” said Cindy. “Like… like… I imagine you have a 401(k)!”
“But what does that mean?! What does that matter?”
“It doesn’t!” said Cindy. “But it means you’re systematic. You’ve got things together. You’re organized, forward-thinking, probably don’t live with two roommates and a lizard.”
Noel tilted his head at this. He was surprised by Cindy’s affirmations yet not entirely convinced of their grounds.
Feeling on a roll and a bit reckless, Cindy continued. “I’m just saying my lifestyle, for example, technically speaking, is just not normal. I haven’t even told you that I’m basically freelance — or, simply put I’m freelance, which itself is a huge ‘basically.’”
“And I’m not some starving artist! Please don’t think that. I’m a corporate artist, which is just not a normal arrangement of words and brings together the oddest of personalities, and believe you me I’ve shucked oysters with plenty of them. You are not like the people I’ve shucked oysters with before. You, sir, are good, and normal, and stable.”
Noel felt called to rise to a half-stand. Cindy’s categorization and compartmentalization of him based on one of the few, least telling traits about him reminded him…
“Wait,” he said. “But that’s exactly why I swiped on you.”
“Ha! Me?” Cindy laughed. “Me? Are you serious? Look at me!”
So Noel did. He stared over her, truly considering her question for what felt to Cindy like minutes.
Cindy was wearing a black denim pinafore dress over a long-sleeved white shirt. Her dark black hair was pulled into a bun atop her head. Her bag was filled with a phone on which she responded to every text he sent with poise and punctuation. He recalled how she chose their meeting spot and time. She didn’t have LinkedIn but she had a website. He’d never dated someone with work to show, let alone good, clever work. He knew she drew on cereal boxes long before she said so.
Four ear piercings, two spiritually-inspired necklaces, and three stars inked on her wrist on a forgotten night in 2004 later, Noel finished his evaluation.
“Yes, you. From all I can gather, you seem quite normal.”
Cindy smiled, albeit a bit forced. The boundary between them was uncharted. Both looked to the bar, hoping the bartender would restart this false start with some martinis. But Cindy’s cheeks were already a tad flushed.
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