After practice one night, Nick followed me to the bus stop. “I’ve figured out how to pay you back,” he said.
“You really don’t have to,” I told him, but he wouldn’t hear it.
“You don’t have a girlfriend, right?” he asked.
The answer was “No.” I’d left my love life alone since the Grappling Club gave me something more rewarding to do with my time. Still, I didn’t appreciate Nick pointing it out.
“Come out with me and Sig some time,” Nick said. “I’ll hook you up with someone. I’m good with women.”
My bus came before I had to give him a straight answer. I laughed to myself—wasn’t I supposed to be the one bailing him out? But I spent the ride through University Way in a familiar trance, my head on the window, watching girls pass. They went by in pairs and in herds, in sweaters and tights and scarves and peacoats. By the time I got home I felt intensely single. I’d been kidding myself, thinking I was too good to take Nick’s help.
So that Friday night found me at a U District bar of Nick’s choosing. The music and atmosphere seemed calibrated so patrons could suggest continuing their conversations somewhere quieter. Past a wall of neon beer logos and a sign reminding guests to never, ever leave their drinks unattended, Nick and Sig were at the bar, drinking soda.
“What’s the plan?” I asked.
“We’re going to introduce you to someone,” Sig answered.
“Like a date?” I asked. It sounded better to me than picking up random girls.
Nick shrugged. “I told her to bring some friends. If you see anything you like, we can go after that instead.”
“No,” I said, “I don’t want to disappoint your friends.”
We went to the back where Nick’s friend, Chelsea, had a table with two other girls. I thought: a blonde, a brunette, an Asian—had Nick set out to offer me an assortment? Chelsea was pale, dark-haired, thin. She gave Nick a smile that made me think, weirdly, of a fear-frozen rabbit. Or maybe that was just me, projecting my own nerves onto her.
“This is Matt,” Nick said. “He’s a good friend of mine.”
Nick and Sig brought pitchers of beer to the table and kept them coming. I drowned my nerves until the conversation came naturally. I learned that Chelsea was doing something bohemian; her friends were students. Miranda, Chelsea’s Asian friend, did most of the talking for Chelsea and herself. Sig and Nick did some of the talking for me; they brought up the Grappling Club and tried to make me sound like Steven Seagal. In a pleasant, amber-colored haze, I forgot the whole outing was for my benefit.
Eventually Nick made an excuse to pull me aside. “You like any of them?” he asked me.
“Miranda’s nice,” I said. Over the last hour everyone else had dropped off my radar. I was considering the possibility that she was the prettiest and most interesting girl in the world.
Nick turned back to the table. “It’s getting pretty late,” he said. He brushed Miranda’s shoulder so that she looked up at him. He said, casually, “The rest of us can split off. Matt will take you home.”
Miranda nodded, vaguely. Something hit me, a nut-punch of recognition. The pitch of Nick’s voice, a small change in the focus of Miranda’s eyes, brought back the weird mental unbalancing I’d felt when Nick first asked for my help. But that wasn’t what my memory was straining for. This wasn’t the first time I’d seen it, or the second…
“She’s all yours,” Nick whispered to me.
Submitted by Corodon Fuller