Stories from the Hart: The Player

The Player by Shannon Hart

I should have listened to myself when my brain told me this would be a bad idea. There was an alarm ringing in my head, begging me to say no when Casey came up with the idea, but I ignored it. Ugh. I really should have said no, but I just couldn’t bear the thought of seeing Casey and her puppy-dog like begging face.
She was always so good at getting me to do stuff I didn’t really want to do. Like that time when we had just graduated high school and she got me to backpack across Europe with her, which turned out to be a disaster waiting to happen. We got robbed in Paris and were literally penniless for a little over a week until her brother flew down and bailed us out of poverty and stink (we didn’t bathe for like a week). Then, there was that other time when we were about fifteen. She was on her hands and knees and nearly in tears asking me to go to the state carnival with her so she could hang out with Teddy McIntosh. I didn’t really want to, but she swore that we’d have a great time. Actually, she just ended up puking all over my dress, so I had to call my mom from a pay phone. She picked us up and we dropped Casey off at her house, and then sat there watching while her mother lectured her for half an hour.
And now, thanks to her pleading and begging, I found myself at a dark Indian restaurant, sitting next to a complete stranger – who by the way looked kind of like Carrot Top – and opposite Casey, who was all snuggled up with her new guy.
Oh, did I mention that her new guy was a guy I had been flirting with for weeks?
Casey didn’t know that though and Dan, the guy, didn’t seem to want her to know either. He held out his hand and introduced himself as Daniel Woodson and said that it was a pleasure to meet me. He acted all calm and polite when he shook my hand, but boy did I see panic flash through his eyes.
I could have blown his cover and said, “Dan! What a pleasure to see you again! I haven’t seen you since… hmm… I don’t know, since this afternoon when you asked me if we could get coffee sometime?” but I didn’t. I gracefully shook his hand back and smiled, saying it was a pleasure to meet him – the guy Casey had been talking nonstop about for the past week.
If only I had known that the guy she was gushing about was, in fact, the guy I was talking about too, I would have never agreed to go on this stupid double date. Wait, that’s not right. If I had known, I would have probably skipped all the flirting and went straight to the slapping.
It was so weird. Last week when Casey and I had dinner at our favorite hang out place on 52nd Street, we were both so excited to swap stories about how things were going with our “potential” boyfriends. It was rare that we were both at the same stage, you know, that stage when you’re flirting with the guy, hinting that you like each other, and feeling butterflies in your stomach every time you meet.
Casey and I had been friends since we were in diapers but we were usually never on the same page. She would be single when I had a boyfriend, I’d be going through a break-up when she was just going on the first few dates, and she’d be breaking up by the time I found a new guy. It was always like that, and in a way it was why we coexisted so perfectly.
This was the first time she and I had ever been in the beginning stage of a relationship, and just when we thought things were so good, I found out we were actually after the same guy.
Wasn’t life just peachy?
“Hey, you’re awfully quiet,” Carrot Top – I mean, Jerry, asked me.
Not kidding, he did look like Carrot Top.
“Sorry, I’m a little preoccupied,” I answered, looking straight at Dan, hoping he’d understand what I was talking about. Even if he did, he completely ignored it.
“With what?” Jerry asked, sliding his hand on top of mine. I slid my hand back, then pretended to reach for by purse.
“Nothing, just work. I had a pretty busy day today,” I answered. I didn’t actually lie; I did have a pretty busy day. But that wasn’t what I was preoccupied with.
“Stop thinking of work. It’s Friday for God’s sake!” Casey said, finally looking in my direction after having stared in Dan’s for the past twenty-five minutes.
“Yeah, Nat, lighten up a bit,” Dan said as he smiled his usually charming smile. That night, his smile was actually rather sickening to me. I glared at him, shooting him a “how dare you” look, which I knew he caught.
He turned to Casey, gave her a quick peck on the forehead and excused himself to go to the bathroom. Jerry excused himself from the table too, saying he had to make a quick phone call. As soon as they were out of sight, I quickly moved over and sat next to Casey.
“Casey, honey, about Dan…” I began to say.
 “He’s so adorable, isn’t he? I mean, he’s so charming and funny,” she gushed, completely ignoring the worried look I had on my face.
“Yeah, he’s a hoot. Look, there’s something you need to know about Dan…” I tried to say again.
“Oh, Nat, I am falling hard for this guy. I mean, he could be the one!” she exclaimed. Her hands were on her chest, and it was almost like I could visually see her heart thumping.
For a few brief moments, I was in awe. In all the years she and I had been friends, never once did I see her glow and fall so head over heels for a guy. Sure, there were times when it seemed like she was madly in love with a guy (e.g. Chad Westwick four years ago, Jason Edgar two years ago and Phil Philips just earlier this year), but she never looked this happy before. Never.
Do I tell her and break her heart? Or do I keep this tiny little secret and just let her be happy?
Of course, letting her be happy meant lying to her. Some would argue that technically, it was more of a non-disclosure thing as opposed to actually telling a lie, but it was the same thing to me. It meant not letting my best friend know that the guy she was “falling hard” for was actually a potential two-timing jerk because he was flirting with two girls over the past two weeks.
I looked at Casey and watched her smile, blush and saw her eyes twinkle repeatedly. Even though she was dressed in an uber-tight dress, she actually had the glow of a blushing bride.
Do I have the heart to tell her? Can I keep this damn secret for the rest of my life? And another thing – can I actually live with the fact that Dan would end up with Casey instead of me?
After all, a few hours ago when I was batting eyelashes at him in our building’s elevator, I thought I was going to be the one dating him, not her. Never in a million years did I even think Casey would be a candidate for competition!
“Natalie, you wanted to say something?” Casey asked, finally awakening from her Dan-filled daze.
“Huh?” I answered.
“You wanted to say something… about Dan?” She had that puppy-dog look on her face again, as if she was begging me not to ruin this for her. Her eyes looked as if they were telling me that this was such a great thing going on for her – that she just wanted to enjoy it.
So then, reluctantly, I just shrugged. Instead of warning her about Dan, instead of telling her that he asked me out earlier and told me he wanted to “get to know me better,” I just shrugged. I shrugged like it didn’t matter, like it wasn’t important at all. I told myself I’d tell her tomorrow.
Dan came back from his so-called bathroom trip – and I said so-called because I had a hard time believing anything he said now – and sat back down in his seat.
“Sorry I took so long. Now, where were we?” he asked, gazing lovingly into Casey’s eyes.
For a short minute, I actually believed he felt the same way about Casey as she did for him. It looked like he was looking at her so lovingly, until I realized he was looking straight past her… at the girl in the red dress at the table next to us.
I felt my blood boil and instantly decided, no matter how happy Casey looked, she was just too good for this guy. She deserved better.
Just as I was about to open my mouth, I felt a rush of wind pass by me. Before I knew it, a woman in a pale pink tube dress was pouring a cup of hot tea down Dan’s pants, cursing, swearing, and calling him names that would make my grandmother cringe.
“What is going on?” Casey asked, panic-stricken and nearly in tears.
“What’s going on? You want to know what’s going on?” Pink dress lady cried. “This is what’s going on!” she screamed, as she threw a ring at Dan’s face before storming out of the restaurant.
“Dude, was that Elsa?” Jerry asked, smirking, obviously finding the whole thing hilarious.
Dan nodded and shrugged.
“So, I guess I’m getting a divorce then,” he said, wiping his wet pants with his khaki colored handkerchief.
“You’re married!” Casey shrieked.
“Well, probably not anymore after tonight…” Dan answered lightly.
If it wasn’t for the fact that we were in a restaurant full of people, I would have lunged forward and grabbed him by the neck. The fact that he spoke so lightly of his soon-to-be dissolved marriage just made me sick.
“Casey, let’s go.” I walked over to Casey instead, who was already practically howling in her disappointment. I had my arm around her shoulder and I felt her bury her head below my arm. I gave Dan one last hateful look before escorting Casey out of the restaurant. I heard Jerry call out for me and ask me to call him, and it took every ounce of my self-control to not give him the finger.
As soon as we got outside, we found poor, pink-dressed Elsa standing there, shivering in the cold and crying her eyes out.
“Are you OK?” I asked her, patting her shoulder lightly.
“I’m fine…” she answered in between sobs.
“I’m so sorry this happened,” I said, truthfully sympathetic to the whole Dan situation.
Casey nodded, feeling so terrible that she was even at the table with Dan. She couldn’t believe she could be labeled the “other woman.”
“I’m so sorry. I didn’t know he was married,” she whispered.
Elsa shook her head. “No, don’t be sorry. It’s not your fault. He’s always been like this. In fact, I actually stole him from his first wife, so…”
Casey and I looked at each other. To say that we were astonished and surprised would be the understatement of the year.
“So he’s…”
“A player… One of the biggest I’ve ever met. He has two other girlfriends that he’s been seeing over the past month, and I found out about you,” she said pointing to Casey, “yesterday. There’s another one, tall brunette, but I didn’t manage to get any info on her except for her name. She’s supposedly working in his building.”
My heart almost stopped. She’s talking about me, I thought. I felt sweat break on my forehead, and immediately felt dizzy.
“Really? What… I mean, why… I mean…” I panicked. I couldn’t even speak properly, and I knew Casey was looking at me like I was a freak or something. I couldn’t blame her really because I sure sounded like one.
I took a deep breath and tried to regain my composure.
“What I mean is, it’s over now. So, why bother with the little details?” I asked as I tried to smile and look sincere at the same time while I also desperately tried to avoid Elsa blurting my name out.
“I know. I should… I should just let it go. I should let it all go. Him, our marriage, everything.” Elsa looked down and started to cry again.
 “No, no, no, don’t cry again,” I begged. I’d had enough crying for one night.
“Nat’s right, this other girl is not important,” Casey said, to which I responded with a loud sigh. Too loud perhaps, since both Casey and Elsa looked at me immediately.
“Nat?” Casey lifted an eyebrow at me questioningly. I froze.
“Is something wrong? You’ve been a little weird,” she continued, crossing her arms across her chest.
“Why… why would you say that?” I stuttered, which I hadn’t done since I was five.
“Nat, come on, I know you. You always stutter and get fidgety when you’ve got something to say!”
I shrugged. “I have no idea what you’re talking about,” I said.
“Come on, Nat. What’s going on?”
I sighed.
“Elsa, what did you say the name of the girl from Dan’s office was?” I asked.
Elsa shook her head. “I didn’t say her name yet but it’s Karen,” she answered, looking down at her now ring-less finger.
“I didn’t want to say… Wait, what? Did you say Karen?” I asked, eyes wide and heart crushed. There was another girl besides me?
I shook my head repeatedly. I couldn’t believe it. Just how many girls were there?
“I’m sorry ladies. I just have to do this,” I said, as I marched right back into the restaurant. I wasn’t even surprised when I saw Dan and Jerry still sitting at our table, laughing and enjoying the bottle of wine that Casey picked out earlier.
I stomped over to the table, grabbed the nearest plate of food and dumped it right on Dan’s shirt. In reflex, he stood up, but my aim was perfect.
Elsa and Casey had followed behind me and couldn’t stop giggling as they witnessed the whole spectacle.
“What was that for?” Jerry asked, dumbfounded.
“Let’s just say I acted on behalf of the dozen or so girls he’s been toying with the past couple of weeks.” I wiped my hands off with Dan’s napkin, straightened my skirt, and walked out a hero.
I probably should have told them the truth about being one of the women Dan was flirting with too, but I didn’t. So, sue me. Some things are just not worth mentioning.