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The Perfect Guy

Yes, it is spring. Yes, this does feel hormonal. But until I meet Thomas, the new owner of the Cookie Café, it is easy to ignore those urges because I find all the single men I come across fundamentally unattractive: egotistical, loud-mouthed macho slobs. Other women’s cast-offs.

The first time I order coffee from Thomas he smiles so broadly I think he is going to break his face. He is tall and gangly, has white streaks in his black hair. His haircut is a little odd, short back and sides with something like a small shelf on top of his head. It makes him resemble Kramer on Seinfeld. He is soft-spoken, whispering “a dollar seventy-five, please” almost apologetically.

I am divorced with two children in elementary school, and I am suddenly interested in dating again.

I come in a few times a week to observe him. A snappy dresser, a different retro cardigan and pair of pleated chinos every time, such a contrast with his partner, blond, conventionally handsome Cory, who sports the simpleton look: a cookie monster t-shirt, faded jeans. Cory knows he is good-looking and acts cool. Thomas, on the other hand, gives his customers genuinely sweet smiles. Something about the way Thomas tilts his head when he smiles, though, sends me to my gay hairdresser, who happens to be around the corner, to find out what is known about Thomas’s sexuality. Oh, they know. He is straight. They’ve tried. And tried and tried. He is definitely straight — and single.

I am delighted. I go back to the café, and boldly hold his gaze until he comes over and talks to me.

“I love your dress,” he tells me. “Is it linen?”

I return the compliment. He tells me we should go shopping together. I keep thinking, oh, this is great, I can’t believe he is straight. What a coup! A nice man with an obvious feminine side, who isn’t gay, and who is available! I think of my ex-husband Jerry, how bored and belittling he could be about the clothes I liked to wear. The only clothes Jerry appreciated were tops which revealed my breasts when I bent forward, or pants that were so tight I couldn’t breathe.

I invite Thomas to a party at my house. We live in a run-down rented farmhouse furnished with second-hand Ikea junk. Thomas tells me my house is fabulous. My ex, Jerry, is there, and he rolls his eyes. I introduce Thomas to my kids.

“You people are awfully small. Are you really people? Or are you bugs? I don’t mind bugs, as long as they don’t bite. Do you bite? You kind of look like butterflies. But you sound like bees. Should I be scared?”

They are shy, but friendly, and giggle a little at his awkward attempts at humour. Thomas looks at me and tells me he approves of my eyeliner. I blush. I only put on a touch of make-up and didn’t expect it to be noticeable. Who cares, I scold myself. Linen, liner, what’s the difference? It’s good that he notices!

The next day my kids tell me that Thomas is a lot like one of the teachers at their school, Patrick Allard. Patrick Allard is the kind of person my hairdresser would call a raging fruit loop. “I think it’s his neck,” my daughter said. “Or something about the way he moves it,” my son said. “And his voice. It sounds like the tinkly high notes on a piano.” I decide I am pleased: they both like Patrick very much; his computer class is what they live for at school.

Later, my friends ask me where my new guy was, wasn’t he supposed to come to the party? Yes, the guy you’d never met before, that was the new guy. They think and think. Finally: “You mean the gay guy? You’re dating a gay guy?”

Thomas calls to invite me, in his tinkly voice, to go camping with him the following weekend. How very rugged of him, I think. None of my gay friends (well, okay, I have one at the moment, the guy who does my hair, but I have had others, at other points in my life) have ever enjoyed the great outdoors. Wait, why am I thinking that? He isn’t gay. And anyway, I don’t like camping either. None of this proves anything. As my other gay friend Phil used to say, “We’re all different. Like snowflakes.” Anyway, why would I have to prove anything? I tell him I don’t really like camping, have only ever done it for the kids, and the kids will be away at their dad’s this weekend, so camping really wouldn’t be — and he interrupts me, in a manly sort of way, except for the voice, and tells me he is going to change all that. He will treat me like a princess (did I imagine the lisp?) – I will be comfortable; in fact, I will be in the lap of luxury. I am not sure what he means by that; he is nervous and saying odd things, but I am nervous too. In fact, the word lap makes me blush. We haven’t gotten close to the subject of laps; just one quick peck on the check after the party, that’s all that has happened.

As I drop my kids off at Jerry’s, he asks me who I am going with. He looks puzzled. I feel triumphant. Hah! Yes, Thomas is interested in me, and yes, in that way! He mentioned laps!

Thomas picks me up in his van. I am relieved that it is quite the battered looking vehicle, and that there are empty pop bottles rolling around. Wait, why should that be such a relief? We drive to Horseshoe Bay, take a ferry to Vancouver Island, arrive at the beach at eight in the evening. It is only April; it is raining and cold. Thomas is well-equipped, though, with Mountain Co-op sweaters and jackets. I want to know if the clothes he is lending me once belonged to another woman, but can’t bring myself to ask.

“Isn’t this great? The air is just so fresh and invigorating!” he says, turning to me hopefully.

“Are we allowed to camp here? I thought I saw a sign that said no camping until June.”

“We’re trespassing,” he explains.

That’s interesting. Now why would I find that interesting, exactly?

“But, you know,” he continues, “nobody checks. Nobody checks because nobody does this. Except me. And now you.”

He tells me that his friends aren’t interested in camping at this time of year, and he hasn’t had a girlfriend in ten years.

Ten years!

I feel him feeling me stare at him.

“It’s been six since I even slept with a woman.”

He says this as if this is commonplace. He is thirty-eight years old, not ninety-seven! I tell him I am going for a walk and he smiles happily as if I have said something completely delightful. I order myself to live in the moment. Concentrate on this place, completely desolate, yes, at first glance, a place of different shades of brown and grey: sand, driftwood, seaweed, pebbles, rocks, rainy sky. But then there is the polished peachy pink of the seashells, the gold of a starfish, the brilliant black of mussels clinging to the gleaming wet rocks, the blue and silver of the water. And now he has run up behind me and is hugging me from behind. He turns me around and kisses me. There is nothing tentative about this gesture. But this rough, rocky landscape seems to contrast with and highlight his lack of masculinity: the air is rank and salty, but he smells pretty. He is very clean-shaven; kissing him is like kissing a girl. Maybe tomorrow he will be less clean-shaven and I will feel something. Maybe I am still in sexual mourning for Jerry, after all. Jerry smelled clean but also somehow organic. He had a body smell.

In a wild windstorm, we collect and then eat mussels. The wind dies down, the sky clears and then there are a trillion twinkling stars. He deftly sets up the tent, a large, luxurious one equipped with a fancy air mattress, expensive down-filled comforters, colourful cushions worthy of a harem. He invites me to lie down, then crawls in himself and suddenly pins my arms down and smiles into my face. I smile back, feel myself relax.

“Did you think I was gay?” he asks in his gay voice.

“What?” I feel my smile go away.

“Oh nothing; lots of people think I am gay when they first meet me.”

With that he competently undresses both of us under the comforters. I am not exactly aroused, but I am curious, and offer no resistance. I also fail to feel anything at all. What happened to those hormones?

In the morning he wakes me up by reaching a hand inside the flap of the tent from outside, stroking my hair, withdrawing the hand, and, a few seconds later, putting a cup of coffee next to my head. Then the hand comes back and there is a wild rose next to my cup.

Later, we walk along the beach. It is drizzling.

“You know,” Thomas begins hesitantly, his shy voice hard to hear over the screaming seagulls. “Cory couldn’t believe that a pretty woman like you would be interested in me.”

“And not him,” we say at the same time.

“What a jerk,” I say carelessly.

“Hey, he’s my friend!”

“He looks like a Nazi.”


“That’s okay. You’re too nice for this world, Thomas.” I say, and give him a hug.

We drive home that afternoon. In the evening he leaves while I pick up the kids and put them to bed at home. At midnight, he sneaks in. We lay in bed in my attic bedroom and he asks me what I want to do. I shrug. The fact is, I really don’t want to make love. Can I say that? Incredibly, he says:

“Are you reading a novel or a book of short stories right now? Would you like to take turns reading aloud?”

I am so lucky. A sensitive man who enjoys literature.

But after several pages of hearing him lisp through Wuthering Heights, I think: tomorrow, before the kids wake up, I must dump him.

“Oh well,” he trills. He smiles. Then his smile disappears, and then he does. And that is all.

Two months later I run into him at the supermarket. He averts his eyes. When I say hello, he barely answers. I am pushing my children in the shopping cart, even though they are too big for this; they are too heavy for me to push. The wheels keep getting stuck. I am just so tired. What I really need is someone who will push.


Anita Anand lives in Montreal, Canada.  Her stories and essays have appeared in, the Louisiana Review and  the Toronto Globe and Mail.

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