28: “Listen to this man chew!”

Oscar asked Priscilla to dinner and she assumed it was just a regular, everyday friendship-type event until she turned up at the restaurant to find him dressed nicely and sweating. Then she began to worry that he was going to ask her something serious. She had no idea what, perhaps for relationship advice. Maybe he was going to ask her how best to propose to Erin. Or, alternatively, maybe he was about to ask her for a kidney. She couldn’t give him a kidney; she’d already promised one of them to Tallulah in case something ever happened to hers. These were the kinds of promises she made with her younger sister that other people had reliably informed her were weird.

“You look…damp,” Priscilla said, taking her seat opposite Oscar. She hadn’t quite decided whether she was going to comment on his nice-looking sweater or his nervousness before she’d sat down. Apparently calling him damp had been the compromise her mind had come up with.

“Oh good, thanks,” Oscar returned, grimacing. She laughed at him, which didn’t look it helped much either.

“How’s Erin?” She asked, trying to be sly and work out what exactly he wanted from her. By the way his scowl worsened, she assumed he was not looking for advice on the perfect proposal.

“Uh, we broke up actually,” Oscar answered, shifting nervously in his seat.

“Did you? Oh, I’m sorry,” Priscilla replied, feeling instantly quite awkward. She really hoped he didn’t cry or that she wouldn’t have to help him work through any serious emotional trauma. She didn’t even know where she would start. She wondered who had broken up with who. She assumed Erin had dumped him. That seemed most like the kind of direction his life would take.

“Yeah. Well, I don’t think we were very well suited,” he began to explain. “I guess it’s kind of like what Katy did to me, but, I mean, Erin and I had only been going out four months.”

“Oh,” Priscilla said, more than a little surprised that it was sounding more and more like Oscar had broken up with Erin. Yet, he still looked so sad and very nervous.

“I also think I may have been interested in someone else for the entire time Erin and I were together,” he added sheepishly.

“Oh,” Priscilla repeated. She didn’t know what else to say and she was afraid to ask who because she was almost certain it was Katy. That was another can of worms she didn’t want to touch.

“This has been a terrible start to this, by the way,” Oscar said, laughing slightly. “I didn’t really want to talk about any of this.”

“Sorry,” Priscilla cut in, immediately feeling bad for accidentally bringing it up.

“No! That’s not what I meant either. Jesus, this has been not—” Oscar babbled before stopping, taking a deep breath, and trying again. “What I’m trying to say is that I like you. I’ve liked you for a long time. I was hoping that maybe you felt the same way about me.”

Priscilla panicked. She didn’t even really think over her answer because she was having trouble thinking of anything. It was just white noise inside her head to accompany a vast, white blankness. It was endless. She couldn’t process anything. She didn’t know what to say or what to do. The only thought she could form fully was that she needed to get the hell out and as quickly as possible.

“Keith!” She ended half-shouting at Oscar in a strangled cry and then leapt from her chair and sped-walked out of the restaurant like a crazy person. She could only imagine how he looked, sitting there all by himself after pouring his heart out to her and being fled from.

The following morning, Priscilla gathered her friends for brunch and demanded help.

“I mean, I feel like a jackass,” she said once she had told everyone what had happened. “Obviously. But he caught me off guard! I think he broke up with his girlfriend for me! Why would he do that? It just seems like an enormous risk to take for someone who hasn’t expressed any similar kind of feeling, you know? He was already so sad before, I’m sure this hasn’t helped.”

Jemima nodded, a wise look on her face. Altogether, it wasn’t helpful. She turned to Sybil and Bernie, expecting something more from them. Suze was her third resort. She was in a real relationship; Priscilla assumed she would know what to do.

“I have a boyfriend!” Priscilla added with a sense of urgency she hoped would spur her friends into action.

“Yes, that’s true,” Sybil agreed. “But have you considered not having that boyfriend?”

“What?” Priscilla returned.

“Keith is just very…I don’t want to say boring per se, but it does come to mind,” Sybil continued.

“Also, and I don’t think I can stress this enough, he chews so loudly,” Bernie added. “Louder than any other person I’ve ever met.”

“Well, I had noticed that,” Priscilla admitted. “I mean, I’m not saying I’m in love with Keith or anything, but it just seems awfully bold of Oscar to put himself out there when I haven’t expressed any sign of reciprocation.”

“Sure, also true, but maybe he thinks you guys will be very happy together,” Iggy offered.

“Mom and Dad will hate it,” Tallulah cut in. “So naturally I think you should go for it.”

“Am I only questioning things because suddenly Oscar’s given me another option, though?” Priscilla worried.

Who cares?! Listen to this man chew!” Bernie retorted.

“If I dump him because of how loudly he chews, doesn’t that make me a horrible person?” Priscilla checked, eyebrow raised.

“That’s never stopped you before,” Tallulah pointed out.

“And also I’ve considered murdering him because of how loudly he chews, so no worse than me at least,” Bernie offered.

Overall, Priscilla didn’t find very much of it helpful or comforting.

Priscilla’s solution was to ignore it until she came up with a brilliant solution or it solved itself, though it seemed far more likely she would ignore it until she was inevitably faced to confront it after way too awkward a length of time. This proved incredibly difficult seeing as how he was mutual friends with most of her friends, not to mention the fact that they took the subway to work together every single weekday morning. Priscilla studiously avoided eye contact and let Bernie do all the talking for the both of them, which she knew wasn’t entirely fair to Bernie and definitely not to Oscar. She did feel bad. She needed to find a way to resolve the mess he’d created for them. Bitterly, she reflected on the fact that it was his mess and that she felt he should fix it, but she didn’t really see how that was going to work out either. He wasn’t much of a go-getter. Frankly, she was amazed he had even put himself out there as much as he had. For a man who spent a lot of his life lying down in defeat, it was a shocking show of ambition.

She thought it was working reasonably well, or at least well enough to get her through for a bit longer, until Bernie pulled her aside one morning after they’d gotten off the train at the subway station a block from their office.

“You need to do something about Oscar because right now it’s up to Ramsay and I to carry on the conversation,” she told Priscilla firmly. “Do you know how difficult that is? We have approximately nothing in common and he’s silent as the grave.”

Priscilla made an honest to God pro and con list for both Keith and Oscar. Tallulah had assured her that she didn’t have to choose either of them.

“You’re fine on your own,” she said, patting Priscilla on the top of her head. She was right and Priscilla was well aware that she was right. She had always been fine on her own. Truthfully, all Priscilla thought she really needed from life were her friends and her family. Tallulah was at the center of that particular venn diagram. Priscilla loved both of her sisters dearly, but Cynthia was older and settled and making a life of her own, which was amazing. But Tallulah was so inherently part of Priscilla’s life. She wouldn’t be able to do anything without her. Priscilla definitely didn’t need a boyfriend, but she sure as hell needed her sister.

When her pro and con lists were finished, they didn’t really seem to matter much. She could think of lots of things that she liked about both Keith and Oscar and quite a few things she didn’t. Keith’s excessively loud chewing was right at the top of his con list. She knew being with neither of them was an option, even before Tallulah told her, but she really did like them both and she could see positives of being with either. In the end, it was down to how she truly felt and she suspected she’d known all along what it was always going to be.

Keith didn’t seem at all surprised when she broke up with him, which probably meant he had also known all along that it was never going to be him. Priscilla found that quite sad. She hated to think that she was doing to him what Katy had done to Oscar, but then again, even though it had been terrible for him, it was decidedly for the best. No one wanted to be with someone who only loved them half as much.

Priscilla went to Oscar’s apartment unannounced. Ramsay answered the door and let her in without a single word. Bernie would be so pleased to see the end of this saga in Priscilla’s life. Ramsay retreated to his room, leaving Priscilla alone with Oscar, who was lying on the living room floor. She went over and lied down beside him.

“I’m sorry I ran out on you,” was the first thing she said. “I’m also sorry I ignored you for, like, a week.”

“It’s okay,” Oscar replied, though it clearly wasn’t.

“I had to work some stuff out,” Priscilla continued. “I had to end things with Keith.”

“Ugh, Keith,” Oscar grunted.

“That seems harsh,” Priscilla protested mildly. “I just dumped him for you. I feel like you’ve got the upper hand now. And you already punched him in the face that one time. Maybe you should send him apology flowers.”

“You dumped Keith for me?” Oscar repeated, turning to look at her with the biggest shit-eating grin she’d ever seen. She punched him in the shoulder.

“God, you are so happy about that,” she rolled her eyes.

“Am I not allowed to be happy about that?” He returned, still grinning.

“Happy that you get to date me now? Yes,” she began. “Happy that you bested Keith? No.”

“Would you settle for both?” Oscar checked.

“I already feel the regret coming on,” Priscilla joked, rolling her eyes again. Oscar just laughed. It was kind of an amazing sound. It was so far from the guy who had lied on the floor of his friend’s wedding reception.

“You should laugh all the time,” she told him, feeling giddy, but sincere.

“Okay,” was all Oscar said before he kissed her on the slightly dirty carpet of his rented apartment, fruit flies buzzing around their heads.

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