It was almost the afternoon, and my neighbor and I found ourselves sitting in a café just around the corner from our apartment building. Settling down with our post-coital coffees, I noted that they were both black with one sugar. “How’s work?” I asked by way of small talk.
“You know: making copies, distributing copies, filing copies, shredding copies, reprinting copies, and copying them again. Pushing a boulder up a hill.”
“Wow,” I said, “they make you push boulders up hills?”
She wasn’t sure if I was kidding. “How about your work?”
“Boring,” I replied. “Endless fluff pieces.”
“You got thrown in jail last night for writing a fluff piece?” she asked.
“That was something different,” I replied. “We call it ‘ninja journalism.'”
She shook her head with a smile.
“It’s my job,” I explained, “to get to celebrities who are notoriously tight-lipped. To do that, I have to sneak past or talk my way through armies of publicists, bodyguards, and agents. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve have a long history of breaking and entering and running cons, so that makes me a natural.”
“So you’re paparazzi.”
“Not quite. The targets…”
“You’re not really a ninja, you know,” she told me.
“They know I’m a journalist. It’s just a matter of getting alone with them and making them like me. To do that, you need to be able to profile them on the spot and become exactly the kind of person they feel comfortable opening up to. Also, you have to be prepared to do a lot of drugs and alcohol.”
“Sounds lonely,” she said.
How did she know that? Most people at this point expressed only envy. “It’s–”
My phone went off, changing the subject. I dug it out, looked at the caller ID, and groaned, “I have to take this.” Immediately it began berating me.
As it did, Emma squirmed in her chair. The nails on one of her hands traced a pattern on the tabletop in front of her, and the rest of her fingers massaged her coffee cup.
My mouth went dry. I would much rather have been that cup, that tabletop, or that chair right now, instead of listening to my phone rant. “I know,” I sighed, letting it continue for another minute.
Emma’s fingers drifted over and began stroking mine.
When the phone went silent, I realized I’d better rejoin the conversation. “I know, I’ve been busy.” It asked me a question. “No!” I replied. “Okay, maybe a little bit.” I added, “Okay, maybe a lot.”
It lectured me some more while Emma quietly lifted my hand to her face and began sucking on my pinkie.
The phone chose at that moment to reveal something that hadn’t occurred to me, and I was forced to liberate myself from her grasp. “Seriously?” I buried my face in my now free hand. “Oh my god, I am so sorry.” The phone laid on a thick guilt trip.
Emma watched me curiously.
“I know,” I sighed, “I should have called.” Another, shorter guilt trip followed.
She started to get bored again.
“I said I was sorry.” The next guilt trip was more of a guilt sprint, but it still stung.
Emma began to play with her cinnamon-colored hair.
I so wished I could just hang up and help her, but instead, I had to ask my phone, “What are you doing later?” It told me. “Why don’t we go have a drink?” It asked me where. “Let’s go to Byrne’s. They have that classy sparkling water you like, right? See you in an hour?”
Sighing, I hung up and said to Emma, “Sorry. That was my friend, Sean. I haven’t talked to him in over a month. I was supposed to go with him to a cocktail party where I could meet Maggie Gross.”
“Who the hell is Maggie Gross?” she asked.
“She owns and runs a restaurant that’s a hotspot for celebrities.”
“Your ‘ninja targets,'” she said with air quotes.
“Most of the reason they love the place is because she keeps the press at bay.” I added, “Unless she really likes the reporter.”
“And what makes you think she’ll like you?”
“Come on, Em…”
“My name’s not Em.”
“Everybody likes me.”
“I don’t like you.”
“So I’d once mentioned in passing to him that I would give my right arm to meet Maggie Gross, and he got me on an invite list to her latest party.”
“And you blew him off.”
“My cousin died,” I whined. “And I got distracted.”
“And you haven’t called him.”
“Distracted,” I reminded her.
“You really are an asshole.” She meant it.
“I know, right?” She grinned. “I’ve got a half-finished comic sitting on my dining room table.”
“I know we’re pretty voracious,” I said, “but you seriously can’t come up with ten minutes to read one comic book?”
At first she seemed pissed, but after a moment of thought, she softened a bit. “Not read,” she told me; “draw.”
“You draw comics?”
“You don’t think I moved to New York to be a temp, do you?”
“There’s a lot about you I don’t know,” I admitted, “like your full name.”
“You don’t know that, do you?”
“Dayton,” she told me. “Yours?”
“Maximillian Alejandro Fuentes.”
“My middle name is Diane.”
“I don’t know your age, either,” I continued.
“You should know better than to ask that.”
“Based on your response,” I said, “I’m guessing thirty-eight.”
“Twenty-four,” I guessed honestly.
“Now you’re just trying to fix the damage you just caused.”
“No,” I said, “there’s no way you’re older than me.”
“You’re right, then, because I’m thirty-one.”
“How old do you think I am?”
“Thirty-five,” she replied.
“That makes me a cradle robber,” she giggled. “I am so hot!”