It’s amazing how powerful words are and how they can turn your life completely upside down. I’ve heard a lot of them in my life and many are not memorable but there are a few that I’ll never be able to forget. Words like, ”The thing is, Meg, I don’t love you.” My college boyfriend told me that after almost two years of dating and after I’d suggested we move in together for our senior year. I should have known what was coming because whenever someone starts a sentence with, “The thing is…” there’s rarely anything good that follows. In fact, those words usually make me flinch. Maybe that’s because when I was in high school my mom said, “The thing is, Meggie, I just don’t love your father anymore and I can’t be here.” And because when I was ten years old she said, “The thing is, sweetheart, grandpa died this morning.” Until very recently you could not have convinced me that anything good could happen after starting a sentence with, “The thing is…”
Fast forward to a year and a half ago when I was sitting in a conference room with my boss and he said, “The thing is, Megan, yours is one of the positions we have to cut.” And yes, I flinched. “It’s nothing to do with your skills or your dedication,” he continued. “It’s just that you haven’t been here that long and others have seniority.” That’s the work equivalent of, “It’s not you, it’s me,” another stellar phrase that never leads to anything good. And by the way, whether you here that at work or in your personal life it feels pretty much the same, crummy. He was still talking as I mentally thought back on all the other “The thing is” moments in my life and I heard something about severance and recommendations but all I knew was, I was out of work.
As it turned out, I got a six-month severance package, which was more generous than I would have imagined. It gave me more time to really look for something good and not just take the first thing that came along.
On day one of my unemployment I took my laptop and walked to my favorite coffee shop, approximately 13 feet outside of my front door. Okay, maybe it was a few more feet than that but the point is, it was close. And I’d been going there for years, though not at 10:30 in the morning. My visits were around 6:32 a.m., just after they opened. The 6:32 crowd is very different from the 10:30 crowd. For example, the 6:32 crowd is in a hurry. Everyone smiles or nods but mostly they just want their coffee so they can start the day. The baristas are friendly but move quickly and don’t have time for a lot of chitchat. At 10:30 however, the baristas take it a little slower and the customers are more relaxed, happier somehow. There are more people sitting in chairs reading or working on a laptop or just sitting and enjoying the moment. I honestly wasn’t sure I could handle it but knew I had to give it a try.
"Hey, aren’t you late today?" the barista I’d seen on countless mornings asked.
"I suppose I am," I said, still sheepish about the fact that I had lost my job.
"Your usual?" he asked and I was honestly surprised he remembered.
"Actually, no. I think I’ll stay awhile today." He smiled and I couldn’t help but smile back as I ordered a fancy coffee and a blueberry scone.
"I’ll bring it out when it’s ready." I was pretty sure that wasn’t the norm but decided to just go with it since I was new to the 10:30 a.m. coffee shop scene. I nodded and smiled again then turned to find a place to settle in for an hour or two.
I found a table by the window and was just opening my laptop when my coffee and scone were delivered. “Thanks.”
He was cute. And young. Too young.
"Can I sit for a minute?" he asked and I was so stunned that I just nodded my head. "I’m Aaron, by the way."
"Megan," I said though I was pretty sure he already knew.
"Right," he grinned. "So listen, the thing is…"
I flinched. Was he going to ban me from the shop? Had someone in my family died and a random relative had called there to find me? Was he breaking up with me before even asking me out or whatever he was really doing at my table?
"Are you all right?" he asked before finishing his statement.
"I suppose that depends on what you were planning to say after saying, ‘The thing is…’"
"It’s just…well…never mind…"
"Maybe I should come back later."
"No, I’m sorry. It’s just that anytime someone says those words, ‘The thing is’, something horrible comes next." I then proceeded to launch into my history with the words and by the time I’d told him my life story he was leaning back in his chair and smiling. "I’m so glad I could entertain you," I sighed.
"No, it’s just…" He leaned forward. "I knew I was right about you."
"Right about what?"
"Now, don’t freak out, but the thing is…" I tilted my head and raised my eyebrows. He laughed. "The thing is, I think you’d be perfect for my brother."
"My brother. That’s why I wanted to talk to you. I wanted you to meet my brother. My older brother." I blushed and couldn’t help but smile a little.
"That’s very sweet, Aaron, but I’m not really keen on being set up. I’m sure your brother’s very nice but I really need to focus on this job thing and figure out what I’m going to do with my life."
"Did you say keen?"
"That’s all you heard?"
"It’s just funny because Keith says that all the time." I just assumed Keith was his brother. "See? You’re perfect for him!"
"A lot of people say keen."
"No they don’t," he laughed. "In fact you’re the only other person I’ve heard say it other than actors in old television shows and movies."
"Hey!" I teased, pretending to be offended.
"You know what I mean."
"I think you mean I’m old."
"I think you better let the grown ups continue this on their own." I lifted my eyes to see another man standing behind Aaron with his hand on his shoulder. The resemblance was uncanny and I could only assume he was Keith.
"Dude," Aaron said as he turned to look at his brother. "I was just…" His face was red and I could tell this was all his doing, not his brother’s.
"I know what you were just," Keith smiled. "And you better get back to work before you get fired."
"Sorry," Aaron said to me as he stood up.
"It’s fine," I smiled then reached for his hand and gave it a little squeeze. He blushed as he smiled then turned and went back behind the counter.
"Well," Keith said and ran his hand through his hair, seemingly embarrassed about what had just transpired. I could tell he wasn’t my type - at first blush I actually wondered if any woman was his type - but decided to go with it for a minute.
"Sit," I smiled.
"Keith Ellington," he smiled as he put his hand out to me and slid into the chair his brother had vacated.
"Megan Young." I smiled and shook his hand.
"I’m sorry about my brother. He’s forever trying to set me up with someone."
"And how’s that been going for you?"
"Honestly? You’re the first one I’ve actually met."
"And?" I grinned as I raised my eyebrows and sipped the last of my now-lukewarm coffee.
"And I think he’s got pretty good taste." I blushed. "But the thing is…"
I flinched even though I felt no spark and wasn’t in the least bit interested. Across the room I heard someone groan and turned to see Aaron shaking his head. I smiled appreciatively. He actually was the cuter of the two brothers but still too young.
"The thing is," he continued and leaned closer toward me, clearly not noticing my flinch. "I’m actually in a relationship that my family knows nothing about."
"Ah," I sighed and leaned back.
"I’m sorry," he said and put his hand on mine. "Aaron means well and it’s not his fault that I haven’t told him or anyone else in my family but…"
"It’s fine," I sighed and thought my first inclination about him might be right. "It’s not like I came here today hoping to find the love of my life."
"What?!" He put his hand on his chest, exaggerating and acting a little silly. "You mean you’re not crushed that I’m not going to ask you out? I’m hurt."
"Ha ha, very funny."
"Well, I really just stopped in to grab a coffee on my way to work so I should probably go." I wanted to ask him what sort of job he had that started in the middle of the day but figured it wasn’t really my place. “Hey, if you’re not busy tonight,” he continued and reached into his pocket and handed me a ticket for a Broadway show I’d been thinking about seeing. “You should come to the show.”
"This is your job?" He nodded. "Are you in it or did you produce it or…?"
"Come find out," he winked then walked to the counter to get his coffee. I quickly googled the show and realized he wasn’t just in it but was actually one of the headliners. I smiled as I glanced toward the counter then watched him walk back toward me. I couldn’t help but smile. "You googled it, didn’t you?"
"So you’ll come?"
"I guess I could fit you into my schedule," I teased.
"Gee, thanks," he winked. "Oh," he said and reached into his pocket again. "After the show come back and say hi. Just give this to the usher." He handed me a card with his name on it and I thanked him and said goodbye.
It seemed pretty clear to me that he was gay, and not because of the Broadway thing, but just because I could tell. My brother’s gay and it’s never been hard for me to figure it out. The fact that he was keeping his relationship a secret from his family was also a big clue but I honestly couldn’t believe they didn’t know.
A few minutes later Aaron came back over and I could tell he was eager to know what I thought.
"You know he’s gay, right?" The words fell out of my mouth before I even had time to think.
"Did he tell you that?"
"He didn’t have to." Aaron leaned back in his chair and smiled. "You knew, didn’t you?"
"We all know," he said and leaned forward and clasped his hands. "We’re just waiting for him to tell us. I keep trying to set him up to push the issue, which probably isn’t the best thing to do, but it’s so crazy that he feels like he can’t tell us. Sorry for dragging you into it."
I didn’t mention the relationship because I didn’t want to violate his confidence but I had a feeling he probably already knew about that too.
"It’s fine and hey, maybe I can talk to him," I smiled. "He did invite me to his show tonight and gave me this to get backstage afterward."
"Lucky girl," he grinned. "I saw it opening night and I know he’s my brother but he’s pretty awesome." I could see how proud he was and it was really sweet. "Well, I’ll let you get back to whatever you really came to do here today," he continued and pushed his chair back and stood up. "You want some more coffee?"
"Sure," I smiled. "Thanks."
I spent the next hour surfing the web, half searching for jobs and half reading about the latest celebrity dramas. When I realized I wasn’t actually accomplishing anything I closed my laptop, slid it back in my bag and stood to get ready to leave. I picked up my dishes and carried them to the cleanup area then grabbed my bag and looked around for Aaron to say goodbye. When I checked at the counter to see if he was still there they told me he’d left about 30 minutes earlier. I felt slightly annoyed that he hadn’t said goodbye, and then I felt weird that I was annoyed. I shook it off then headed home and smiled as I thought about how good my morning had been.
I lost myself in Say Anything when I got home then took a quick nap before getting ready for the evening. I hadn’t been out in a while and took the opportunity to get dressed up even though I knew I could go more casual to a show about rock and roll. After I looked in the mirror I decided the little black dress was too much and changed into jeans, a silk tank and a leather jacket then topped the outfit off with my favorite Prada boots. “Better,” I smiled then flipped my hair, grabbed my tiny purse and headed toward the street.
Once I was in the theatre I found my seat right up front and felt excited about not only seeing the show but actually seeing Keith. The lights were just going down when someone slipped into the seat next to me and I was pleasantly surprised when I turned and saw Aaron.
"Hey," he smiled.
"Hi," I beamed and felt something surge in my heart. "Why didn’t you tell me you were coming?"
"I didn’t know I was until I got home and Keith said he had an extra ticket," he whispered as the music started. "You look great by the way."
I blushed and was thankful it was dark so he couldn’t see. I still didn’t know what was going on with my feelings and was glad the show was in progress so I could focus on something else.
"That was amazing!" I yelled to Aaron as the lights went up and everyone stood and cheered. He smiled and I felt that feeling again then quickly looked back at the stage. Keith winked at me when he took his bow and I rather loved that I knew the star of the show. "Keith was so good!" I said to Aaron after the lights came up and people started filing out.
"I know," he laughed. "And I’m not biased at all."
"No, not at all," I grinned.
"Come on, let’s go say hi." I nodded and followed him to the side of the stage. He talked to the usher and a couple of minutes later we were walking down a narrow hallway to a dressing area.
"Hey!" Keith said when he saw us walk in. He stood up and wrapped his arms around both of us. "So, what did you think?" he asked me as he pulled away.
"Keith, you were fantastic! Thank you so much for inviting me."
"I’m glad you came," he smiled. "Hopefully my brother didn’t bother you too much."
"No, he was fine." I glanced toward Aaron and couldn’t help the smile on my face.
We chatted for a bit, met a few of his cast members then followed them all to a nearby bar for drinks. It wasn’t really my scene but I figured it was one of those once in a lifetime situations and since I didn’t have to be anywhere the next morning it wasn’t a big deal if I was out late. I sipped a glass of wine while Keith mingled with his cast mates and others who had joined the party. Aaron seemed nervous as he quickly threw down a couple of whiskeys. I didn’t know him well but it didn’t seem like his normal style.
"Hey, are you all right?" I asked and put my hand on his shoulder.
"Hey!" he grinned as he turned toward me and put his arm around me.
"Come on, let’s go sit." I put my arm around his back so he didn’t fall over. He was in that happy drunk stage where he was telling everyone he loved them, me included, and I just shook my head.
"You’re so great," he said as he downed the whisky that was still in his hand.
"Uh huh," I smiled. "And you’re drunk."
"But I didn’t even drink much."
"Lightweight," Keith teased as he slid into the booth across from us.
"Hey!" Aaron yelled at his brother. "Look, it’s my brother, the star!"
"Uh huh, we’ve met," I smiled then yawned as the hour was approaching one o’clock.
"Uh oh," Keith grinned. "Is my little brother boring you?"
"Hardly. It’s just later than I’m usually up."
"Maybe I should take you home," Aaron said and put his hand on mine.
"Uh no, I’m good," I said and removed his hand from mine. "Maybe I should be the one taking you home."
"Is there something going on here?" Keith asked and waved his finger back and forth at us.
"Why, are you jealous?" Aaron pressed.
"If I’m not mistaken you were going to set me up with her earlier today."
"And as usual, you passed. Why is that, Keith? Why don’t you ever let me set you up?"
"And if I’m not mistaken you’re already dating someone," Aaron said and my eyes got wide and I turned toward him. Keith’s did the same and for a moment it was as if time had stopped. We’d clearly moved to the honest drunk part of the evening. Keith then looked at me and I shook my head.
"I swear I didn’t say anything."
"Did you really think we didn’t know?" Aaron continued.
"That you’ve got a boyfriend?!" His voice cut through the music and background noise and multiple people turned around to look.
"Oh god," Keith sighed and I didn’t know what to do.
"Don’t even try to deny it. I saw you months ago, and mom saw you in high school. Why can’t you just be honest?"
"Not here," Keith said, lowering his voice and his head.
"Oh come on! They all know!" Aaron swung his arm to indicate the crowd around us and while I assumed they probably did know I realized the conversation needed to be held elsewhere.
"Why don’t we go?" I offered.
"I think my brother and I need to have this conversation in private," Keith said and I nodded and slid out of the booth. It seemed like he was mad at me, as if he didn’t believe that I hadn’t spilled the beans to Aaron, but then he stood and stepped toward me. "They can call you a cab at the front," he said and put his hand on my arm. "Will you be okay?"
"I’ll be fine," I smiled. "Will you?"
"Yeah," he smiled then leaned in and kissed my cheek. "It’s probably best that it’s out in the open but I’ve never seen my brother like this."
"Will you call and let me know that he’s okay?"
"Sure." He pulled his phone from his pocket. I gave him my number and he kissed my cheek again then stepped back.
"I’ll see you later, Aaron," I said.
"I love you, Megan," he smiled and leaned over in the booth and Keith just shook his head.
"Okay," I smiled and laughed a bit. "Goodnight."
They both said goodnight and I made my way to the door, got in a cab and headed home. It was one of the most enjoyable and also one of the most interesting nights I’d had in a long time. I fell asleep quickly but woke up just a few hours later when my phone rang.
"Hello?" I yawned.
"Sorry, did I wake you?"
"Maybe. Who is this?"
"Oh, sorry. It’s Keith. I just wanted to let you know that Aaron’s okay. He’s sleeping it off on my couch."
"Oh good," I sighed and sat up in bed. "And the two of you? Is everything all right there?"
"It will be." It seemed like there was more he wanted to say but I wasn’t sure if I should push the issue. "Thanks for being so cool about all of this."
"Sure, of course."
"Aaron said something last night that I think you should know."
"Okay." I couldn’t imagine what he needed to tell me but his voice sounded weird. I was tired though so I just chalked it up to my lack of sleep.
"The thing is…"
"You know what? Maybe you shouldn’t tell me. News that starts with ‘The thing is’ is never good and I think I’m too tired to handle anything like that this morning."
"Um, okay, but I really think this is something you should know."
"Fine," I sighed. "If you feel that strongly about it."
"The thing is," he started again and I shivered and groaned. "Aaron has a little thing for you."
"He what?" That woke me up.
"I don’t think it was just the booze talking either. He seems to genuinely like you."
I didn’t know what to think. He was definitely too young for me and I didn’t want to admit that I was feeling something too.
"I sort of got the feeling last night that maybe you liked him too," he added and I felt my cheeks start to warm.
"That’s crazy," I said. "He’s way too young for me."
"So you do like him," he said and I heard his smile through the phone.
"Shut up," I grinned.
"Look, I saw it between the two of you at the coffee shop and again last night. So what if he’s younger? So what if he’s just a barista?"
"Hey, I never said anything about his job."
"Hmm, defending him already…"
"Maybe, but promise me you’ll at least think about it."
"Yes, fine. I’ll think about it. When I’m fully awake."
"Right, okay. I’ll let you go. But thank you, Megan. Without you I don’t think I would have been able to have such an honest conversation with Aaron, and I don’t think I’d be headed to my parents for breakfast to have another one."
"Well you’re welcome. And thank you again for last night. Despite the drunken…whatever that was, I really did have fun."
"There’s probably something else I should tell you."
"You’re just full of news this morning aren’t you?"
"I may have given Aaron that ticket last night in an effort to set the two of you up."
"You may have?"
"Fine, I did. I’m sorry. I just thought…well, I thought I saw something at the coffee shop and he’s forever trying to set me up so…"
"You’re a pretty good brother, you know that? I’m going to think about all of this after I go back to sleep."
"Okay. Get some sleep, and I’ll talk to you soon."
It was cute that he thought I’d be able to sleep after he’d just dropped all of that on me. I lay back down but tossed and turned until I finally just got up and started making breakfast. After I ate I started to clean and by mid-afternoon my apartment was as shiny as it had ever been. I took a long shower then got dressed and started looking for jobs but I was completely unfocused and finally got up and went outside for a walk.
I turned in the direction of the coffee shop but realized I wasn’t quite ready to face Aaron so turned in the other direction and ended up running right into him just half a block away.
"Hey," he said and made only brief eye contact before looking down at his feet as he shuffled them.
"How are you feeling?"
"I really want to apologize for last night. I don’t know what came over me."
"It’s okay. We’ve all had those nights. It sounds like things are okay with you and Keith though."
"You talked to him?" He looked up and I smiled as I nodded. "Did he say anything else?"
"Oh god, he did." His cheeks reddened and I wasn’t sure what to say.
"Are you on your way to work?" is what I went with.
"Only to pick up my check."
"Can it wait?"
"I guess so, why?"
"Walk with me," I smiled and looped my arm through his and started back down the sidewalk.
"What did he say?"
"The thing is…" I started because I just couldn’t help myself.
"Maybe we should just stop right here," he said and pulled away and stopped walking.
"I’ve decided to reclaim that phrase for good," I said and took his hands in mine. "Because the thing is, Aaron, I feel it too, and I don’t understand it and I can’t explain it and you’re definitely too young for me but…"
"Shh," he interrupted and smiled as he pulled his right hand from mine then placed it on my cheek. "I think you’re over thinking it." I let a quiet laugh escape my lips then closed my eyes as he rubbed his thumb along my cheekbone. "Look at me," he whispered and I opened my eyes as he ran his hand along my cheek then down my arm where he took my hand again. "The thing is," he started. "I’ve wanted to ask you out for so long but I never thought you’d be interested in someone like me, and you were always in such a rush every morning, but then yesterday…maybe it’s crazy, and maybe it won’t work, but the thing is…" I smiled and he winked. "The thing is, don’t we owe it to ourselves to try?"
© Carrie M. Medders