Chapter Sixty-One: “Well in that case, sorry about your underwear troubles”

Noel asked Jemima on a date. Sort of. She wasn’t actually sure it was supposed to be a date. As all things with the pair of them, it was cloaked in uncertainty and vagueness. She was wary because of the last time she thought he had asked her out. The last time, he had actually invited her to spend the evening getting hammered at a drag show with his friends. The last time she had eaten a burrito in her bed in an effort to be a burrito while she ate a burrito. The last time she’d had glitter embedded in her skin for weeks, despite all the vigorous exfoliating she had done in the shower. This time, she was pretty sure it was just going to be the two of them, but she was also prepared to be completely blindsided by more of his friends or some drag queens or a troop of French mimes. With Noel, almost anything was possible.

“What if he brings his friends again?” Jemima asked Priscilla and Sybil the night Noel was coming to pick her up for their possible date. Oscar was also there as they were at Priscilla’s apartment, but he was lying on the floor and seemed to be ignoring them as he had been for the past thirty minutes at least.

“The fact that you had to add the ‘again’ onto that sentence is so sad to me,” Sybil said, not holding back. She was eating ice cream directly from the tub. Oscar had brought it with him in what Jemima assumed was an effort to be appreciative, but it could’ve also been just because he needed more freezer space at his own apartment. He had brought several containers and most of them were at least partially consumed.

“He said it was going to be a surprise,” Jemima continued.

“In more ways than one, it seems,” Priscilla agreed.

“I feel like I’m missing a lot of important context for this,” Oscar chimed in from the floor. “Tell me about this guy. Who is he? What does he like? Why would he bring friends to a date?”

“He’s my co-worker,” Jemima began. “He’s super cool, but I can’t tell if he likes me that way, you know? Last time we went out, it turned out not to be a date, but I had thought it was a date and then I ended up drunk at a burlesque drag show.”

“As one does,” Oscar nodded.

“He looks like Liza Minelli,” Sybil interjected.

“In a masculine way,” Jemima added.

“Well…,” Sybil shrugged and tilted her head to the side.

“He does!” Jemima protested, smacking Sybil in the upper arm with the back of her hand.

“I mean, he’s going to see him when he gets here,” Sybil said, gesturing to Oscar. “He’s going to be able to tell for himself.”

When Noel showed up in his black feather coat and myriad of jewelry, Oscar’s eyebrows shot high up on his forehead.

“Exactly like Liza Minelli,” Jemima overheard Oscar whisper to Sybil. “The woman.”

Jemima shot them all a dark look before she left.

As it turned out, none of Noel’s friends were invited. Jemima was still unclear about the nature of the outing though. He didn’t do anything particularly date-like. They made casual conversation on the subway on route to the surprise destination, which turned out to be an upscale spa in the rich part of the city. Noel, it seemed, had won a spa package for two. Jemima got the sense that it was intended as a couple’s package, but again it was unclear if it was a date because Noel introduced them to the receptionist as “Noel and Lady Friend”.

Their spa package included access to the steam room, tandem facials, tandem massages, and a brief stint in what the staff were pretentiously calling the “hot springs”. It was three hot tubs squished into one wood-panelled room. Noel and Jemima were directed to changerooms first, where they were told to “undress to their comfort level” and put on some fluffy, white robes. Jemima considered not getting undressed at all. To be quite frank, her comfort level at that point might’ve actually been to put on more clothes. She didn’t particularly want to get mostly naked on a first date. She wasn’t even sure it was a date. She definitely didn’t want to get mostly naked with a co-worker just because.

Regardless, she left on her underwear, pulled on the robe, and left the changeroom to meet up with Noel. They went for their facial together. The entire time, he chatted about how his friend Finn, who was in a band, had accidentally sat on his ukulele while he was trying to seduce a redheaded Portuguese woman named Sandy. Sandy, who didn’t speak a word of English, had been unclear on whether or not the ukulele crushing had been intentional or not. She thought it was some kind of prolonged bit and laughed hysterically to the point of tears. However, Sandy’s laugh apparently sounded like horrendously aggrieved sobs and, with the language barrier, Finn had thought she was genuinely upset about the loss of his ukulele. As impassioned weeping was a startlingly strong reaction to the decimation of a virtual stranger’s musical instrument, Finn had held a wake for his ukulele, which Noel had attended. Sandy had been astoundingly confused the entire time, which wasn’t unreasonable all things considered. Everything had come to light afterword with some very extensive Google translating.

After the facial, during which time Jemima was exfoliated to within an inch of her life, they went for massage. Jemima opted for a whole-body massage at the literal hands of a pale, bald man in a Hawaiian shirt. It was painful and awkward and not the least bit romantic. She was glad to be done with the whole thing until they were directed to the “hot springs” and she discovered that it was a room full of naked people in hot tubs. If she didn’t want to be naked with Noel on what was possibly their first date, she really didn’t want to be naked with Noel and several other strangers on what was possibly their first date.

Before she really had a chance to think it over, Noel was flinging off his robe and striding toward an open hot tub with purpose. He had such a pale bum. Jemima panicked about what to do. She felt like she needed to follow him, but she was extremely torn. Plus she didn’t know what to do with her underwear. Noel was getting further away and strangers were looking at her. In the heat of the moment, she decided that they only way for her to limit the amount of nudity exposed to Noel was for her to take her underwear off in the middle of the room, tuck it in the pocket of her robe, which was mortifying, and then sprint to the hot tub ahead of him so that she could strip and jump in. For roughly seconds of planning time, it was a fairly brilliant plan.

But then she tripped over her underwear as she was trying to pull it off and face-planted into one of the wood-panelled walls. With her face pressed into the tiled floor, she couldn’t really tell what happened next, but Noel was by her side in all his naked glory along with a wet, middle-aged man with exceptionally hairy toes. She had to go to the medical quarters to get checked out and then was sent home in her robe with her clothes a bundle under her arm. Noel walked her to her apartment to make sure she got home alright, gave her a hug, and then left. She walked across the hall immediately. Priscilla, Sybil, and Oscar were still hanging out in the living room together, drinking wine and playing board games. She assumed they’d been at it for a while because Priscilla was flushed and giggly and Oscar was letting Sybil braid his hair into tiny, individual short braids.

“How was it?” Priscilla asked. “Why are you wearing a robe?”

“Was it in fact a date?” Oscar interjected.

“I still don’t know,” Jemima answered, joining them around the coffee table. “I do know that it was a disaster.”

“What? What happened?” Sybil asked, turning her attention away from Oscar’s hair for a moment.

“Well, to start with, we went to a spa. I got a massage from a bald man,” Jemima began to explain. “To massage my legs, he tucked the sheet into my underwear, which was mildly embarrassing because I was wearing cat underwear.”

“What the hell does that mean?” Oscar asked.

“That my underwear has cats on it,” Jemima shrugged. “What else would that mean?”

“I’ll admit that I was slightly concerned you were wearing underwear for cats,” Oscar replied.

“Is that all?” Priscilla asked, cutting off Oscar.

“No. Then I tripped over my underwear in the hot tub room and face-planted into a wall,” Jemima answered. “A naked man with hairy toes had to help me to my feet.”

The other three stared at her in silence for a moment.

“Okay, sure, but is it better or worse than an accidental group date to a burlesque drag show at a family Thai restaurant?” Sybil asked, breaking the silence.

“Jesus Christ, is Liza Minelli really worth all this?” Oscar chimed in. Jemima thought it over.

“Yeah, I think so,” she answered eventually.

“Well in that case, sorry about your underwear troubles,” Oscar nodded at her. Sybil went back to braiding his hair, Priscilla spun again at Life, and Jemima got a bag of frozen peas to ice the bruise forming on her chin.

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