They said curiosity killed the cat but I had never witnessed any cats die. However, I knew curiosity could lead someone to semi-stalk somebody on Facebook. I said semi-stalk because I didn’t click the “Add Friend” button. The cursor of my mouse only hovered over it before trailing away.
Ever since Gina dropped her wedding invitation in my life a few nights ago, I’d been viewing her Facebook profile every hour: during my breakfast of three eggs and toast, while I took a dump before scrubbing myself in the shower; on the bus ride en route to work, right after I turned on my desktop computer at the office; during lunch break, right after I returned to my desk from lunch; on my way to the gym, while running on the treadmill; on the bus ride home, while catching some late night news before going to bed; and, well, bedtime’s next so that’s impossible. The only exception was during our small reunion at Pietro Giardino because I dared not open her Facebook profile in fear of our friends seeing.
However, away from friends and any spying eyes, I viewed her profile with a tad of guilt. Like a kid infatuated with a cookie jar, I kept coming back but, but unlike the kid, my return wasn’t fueled by the desire for more. Rather, the bitter truth that I really knew nothing drove my semi-voyeuristic act.
I knew Gina was getting married to a douchebag named Danny Fackelmeyer. I also knew she didn’t buy clothes from Victoria’s Secret. I suspected that her eyes rolled upward during orgasm as I observed from every spoon of cheesecake she ate. Beyond those, I knew nothing more and I needed to know more so I could find more reasons to have glee over her current state of life. “Private” cock-blocked me, though. Her Twitter, Instagram and Facebook profiles were all set to private. I supposed if you did not have a six-pack or did not look acceptable in a bikini, you’d make your social media accounts private too. My only consolation was her one public profile photo, a semi-duck-faced selfie and one public cover photo, a row of rose bushes.
My cursor had flown above the Log Out link when I decided to look at her cover photo again. The rose bushes looked oddly familiar. I pushed my nose closer to the computer screen and made a thorough inspection of the floral pixels. The cover photo came from a scanned photograph of the Watsons’ garden in Verona. What an odd photo to choose for a cover photo. I brought my face nearer to the screen to make sure it was indeed a scanned photograph when a scent of lemon disturbed my private moment.
“I don’t see it,” a woman spoke right next to my ear.
I dragged the cursor to the close button of the browser and let out a yelp.
“Hey!” the woman said.
I turned my swiveling chair around and faced the intruder.
My coworker Madeleine Appleseed, graphic designer, fashionista, manicurosseur (manicure + connoisseur) and hopeless romantic (her self-descriptions, not mine) towered over me with her hands on her hips. “Why did you close it? I was looking at it too,” she said.
“Looking for what?”
Madeleine flicked one hand, purple fingernails drawing a circle in the air. “The hidden face among the roses? A ghost? A witch? Jesus Christ?”
“They’re just roses. There’s nothing there,” I said, annoyed.
“You were rubbing your face against the screen. It wasn’t just a photo of roses.”
Madeleine slid around me and took control of my mouse. In a split second, my web browser popped back on screen and started restoring the tabs from my previous session. Gina Watson’s Facebook profile returned to view.
“Ooh! You’re looking at another profile,” she remarked. “You’re not friends yet. Let me help you with that.” She clicked the Add Friend button.
I let loose a loud, “No” and stole the mouse from Madeleine’s hand. I cancelled the friend request, logged out from Facebook, and locked my computer. “What’s wrong with you? Why did you do that?” I asked her.
“You were viewing her profile and you weren’t friends. I’m sure you are interested in her so I took the initiative for you.”
I stood from the chair. “I have no intention of adding her to my friends list, Gina.”
Madeleine glared at me after hearing the last word. Her full name was Gina Madeleine Appleseed but she preferred men calling her Madeleine. Only women were allowed to call her by her first name, something about the lesser not having the right to call her by her prettier name. Of course, I called her Gina out of my annoyance.
“I’m so super glad I friend-zoned you, Herbert.”
“Let’s not revise history here. I put you in the friend-zone, not the other way around, Gina.”
We went on a date once, sometime during our first three months together at work. The dinner ended up as a monumental disappointment. She talked too much about fingernails and I about the calories of our food. She dated other guys afterward and I became her confidant and advisor. Madeleine didn’t mesh well with other women (and men too, considering her dating record) but my new non-romantic role in her life made us friends. My role later on expanded to pimp, setting her up on dates with my male friends including Francis. For Madeleine, I was Herbert Novelli, friend, co-worker, soundboard, Doctor Love, Cupid and Tinder.
“My memory is precise, Herbert. I friend-zoned you first. Now stop calling me Gina. It gives me goosebumps.”
I opened my mouth to make a rebuttal but Madeleine put a finger to my lips and grabbed my arm.
“I’m hungry. It’s lunch time.” She dragged me away from the desk and led me to the reception area. We went through the double glass doors to the elevator. The cafeteria was five floors above us.
It was five minutes before twelve. Lots of people in the building would be heading to the cafeteria, too. Madeleine and I let out a sigh, knowing we might not get to the cafeteria as soon as we’d like.
“Who’s Gina Watson, by the way?” Madeleine pressed the up button.
“Some high school friend,” I replied.
“Oh. She’s a friend of your best friend too,” she said with no enthusiasm.
Talking about Francis with Madeleine was a delicate matter. Unlike me, Francis went on a date with Madeleine multiple times. She and I thought they’d end up in a serious romance, but things turned volatile between them, causing their separation. I heard two different stories from each of them about what happened but still didn’t know the real deal. Mentioning his name (or even just a suggestion of him) always made the conversation tense. “Yeah,” was the only word I could reply.
“She’s pretty, by the way, even if she’s a little chubby,” said Madeleine. “Only real beauties can pull off the fat look and still be attractive. I’m surprised you don’t want her on your friends list.”
Fat. I guess Madeleine’s trying to be a little modest.
“I’m not attracted to her,” I said.
“You stared at her profile picture for minutes. I was standing behind you far longer than you think. I knew you weren’t just looking at the roses.”
“I was mocking her duck face. It was annoying.”
“You’re a terrible liar, Herbert. Annoyed was the last thing your face looked like.”
I pressed the up button again even if the light was still lit. “These damn elevators are so freaking slow.”
“They will not arrive until…” Madeleine drawled. She stopped and grinned.
“Fine.” I rolled my eyes. “She was my ex-girlfriend in high school and she just resurfaced in our lives a couple of nights ago.”
Madeleine tapped her feet in twos and clapped. “Lost love reunited. This is exciting! True love finds its way to a happy ending eventually.”
“No.” I put an end to her celebration right away.
“She reappeared to invite me to her wedding.”
Madeleine’s mouth formed an O.
“To her fiancé, not me.”
Her lips turned into an inverted U. “I’m sorry. I got overexcited. You’ve been helping me find love instead of finding yours. Sometimes, I feel a little guilty about it. I got happy when I thought the woman of your life had finally arrived.”
“Apology not needed. Besides, I enjoy matching you with my guy friends.”
“Promise? Pinky swear?” Madeleine offered her pinky finger.
“No pinky swear.” I held up my hands as a shield against her purple fingernail. “But, I promise. I enjoy it. And speaking of finally arriving, here’s our elevator.”
We managed to squeeze our bodies into the packed elevator. Neither Francis nor Gina was brought up during any of our conversation for the rest of the day, relief for us both. There was zero chance of Francis and Madeleine reconciling as far as I was concerned. There was zero chance of Gina being the woman of my life as well.
That night at home, a few minutes after I arrived from the gym, somebody knocked at my door. I hadn’t changed from my gym clothes yet since the gym was about to close after my workout. If it was the woman of my life on the other side of the door, she’d be greeted by my pheromones and fall in love. I grabbed the knob, twisted it and pulled the door with grace. Gina Watson stood in front of me, alone.
“Hello, Herbert,” she said.
Herbert Novelli lives an ordinary life. Breakfast. Work. Lunch. Work. Gym. Dinner. Sleep. Plus the occasional get together with his long-time friends who entered adulthood together with him in Cinnabar City.
An unannounced visit to his apartment one ordinary night brings his ex-girlfriend Gina Watson. After leaving him with a vague letter and a broken heart in their old home town Verona, Gina’s unexpected appearance is the last thing Herbert expects to happen.
Gina hands Herbert an invitation to her wedding with another man as a strange peace offering. Herbert accepts it, a show of his willingness to bury the hatchet.
But Death has a funny way of doing his job in the city. Sometimes he makes a grand fanfare of his arrival. Other times, he comes unannounced with a wedding invitation on hand.