Helen had been seeing Walt, the British man she’d met through tinder, for a while now. She thought it was going pretty well, though they did seem to spend most of their time together at least a little drunk. This was due primarily to the fact that Walt partied nearly all of the time. Walt’s real named was George Alfred Maurice Tippington-Walter III. His friends at boarding school had given him the nickname Walt. According to Walt, the lot of them had fun nicknames like that, such as Jez, Brigsby, Roman Holiday, and Nutsack. Walt came from money, and lots of it. He lived in a beautiful condo, where he hosted a great many parties with his many friends. Sometimes, Helen invited her own friends. More often than not, the parties ended in fights. Someone would inevitably get out of hand and either do something or say something utterly offensive to someone else and then somebody would get punched in the face. A lot of the time, Walt was the instigator.
“He is always starting brawls,” Priscilla commented as they wandered home after one such party. Helen had consumed more gin that evening than she had in her entire life. She was more than a little afraid she wouldn’t make it home unless she gave the sidewalk her utmost attention.
“Uh huh,” she merely agreed.
“And yet, I don’t think I’ve ever actually seen him hit anybody,” Priscilla continued thoughtfully. It was true. Walt was often the cause of many fights, but he was never directly involved. It was a quality that he maintained would make him good at Big Brother. Helen was concerned it was a quality that made him a sociopath, but she was choosing not to focus on that.
Helen had people over to her place one night when her grandfather was out at the symphony with his lady friend Agnes. It was just a small thing. People ate cheese and chatted, listening to softly playing records that Tallulah chose from Helen’s grandfather’s record collection. It involved a lot of Duke Ellington. Helen noticed that Walt was being much quieter than usual, but she assumed he was just warming up to her friends. But then the same thing happened the next time they were all together. They had gone to Melly and David’s for dinner and Walt was solemn. It happened for a third time at Priscilla and Tallulah’s apartment, where some of them had gathered for a nice night in.
“I’ve just realized that you’re dating Fun Bobby, you know, like the Friends character,” Priscilla told Helen casually in the kitchen while they were getting more snacks. Iggy was leaning against the sink, eating chips from the bowl they were supposed to be bringing out. Suze was making more virgin Shirley Temples.
“What?” Helen returned, despite having noticed the same thing.
“He is literally the most boring human being in the world unless he’s off his face and then he starts brawls and kidnaps pigeons,” Priscilla explained.
“He has the personality of lettuce when sober,” Iggy cut in through a mouthful of tortilla chips. “Jacklyn first suggested toast, but I personally think that’s too dynamic.”
Helen thought it over. She did have to admit that Walt was definitely more enthused while drunk. He had spent over two hours the previous day telling her about stock investments, which had been a special kind of hell.
“I had noticed that, yeah,” she replied, nodding.
“When you said ‘kidnaps pigeons’,” Suze cut in, looking at Priscilla. “Was that a hypothetical or…?”
“Pigeon shit on the inside of the bathroom window,” Priscilla answered succinctly.
“Good Christ,” Suze returned, looking genuinely startled.
Helen met Nicholas at an independent bookstore three blocks from her grandfather’s apartment. She had stopped in mostly because she had run out of things to do. In her unemployment, she had an abundance of free time and not a lot of cash flow, which made filling her days rather difficult. Fairly convinced she had finished the internet, she had turned to reading books in bookstores so that she wouldn’t actually have to buy anything.
“Libraries,” Priscilla had replied dryly to that. But having been a librarian, Helen was well aware of what kind of person frequented a public library in the middle of a weekday. There were some mothers and their young children attending reading groups, but mostly it was unemployed, vaguely unsavoury older gentlemen in sweatpants. Helen wasn’t ready to join their ranks just yet.
Nicholas was giving a reading of a book he’d written. It was a fictional thriller for history buffs.
“Oh, like The Da Vinci Code,” Helen said when he explained it, but he hadn’t taken too kindly to that. Despite a rocky start, they hit it off. Helen hung around until he was done signing copies of his book for the mostly middle-aged women waiting in line and then they went for coffee. She felt a little bad about Walt, but they were far from exclusive and she felt Nicholas was a nice change of pace from the man who was dead boring while sober and too interesting while drunk. Nicholas was fascinating. He knew so much and he was very pleasant to talk to. She thought he was wise, which was how she explained him to her friends.
“When you said wise, I didn’t think you actually meant old,” Priscilla remarked the first time she met Nicholas. They’d gone to a bar with their friends and Helen had brought Nicholas under the, admittedly, mostly false assumption that he would have a good time. He didn’t seem to be getting on with her friends very well, which, as Priscilla said, could very well have been because he was forty-five years old.
“He’s not that old,” she protested dismissively. They were waiting at the bar for new drinks, looking over at the table that all of their friends had crammed themselves into. Nicholas was on the end, squished beside Tallulah, which was undoubtedly the wrong place for him to be. Tallulah had already tried to get him to do tequila shots four separate times.
“He’s old enough,” was Priscilla’s response. “What happened to Walt?”
“I’m playing the field now that I’m single,” Helen shrugged.
“Sure, but with Walt and Nicholas?” Priscilla asked. “Walk looks like a mule that’s run into a wall and Nicholas is Jeff Goldblum.”
It was the kind of thing that couldn’t be unseen once it had been seen. The next time Helen looked over at their table, all she could see was Jeff Goldblum sitting with a rowdy bunch of twenty-somethings in a grungy bar. It didn’t help that Nicholas was wearing a turtleneck and a suit jacket.
“Jeff Goldblum is handsome,” Helen retorted.
“No one said he wasn’t,” Priscilla said, holding her hands up in defense. But it felt a lot like she was saying differently.