Love in the Time of Bedbugs

It’s your typical one-night stand…except the fact that it is two in the afternoon.

We are sprawled out on her bed making something that has nothing to do with love.  She lives in a dingy basement apartment in Brooklyn.  I’m not sure what town; they are all the same to me, safe during the day—mug you at night.  That might explain the one-afternoon stand.

I start to look around the room and notice she has one end table cluttered with store receipts and facial cleansers.

“Oh baby,” she exhales from beneath me.

The end table has nothing particularly interesting on it.  No books or even an e-reader. The most interesting thing about her room is that she sleeps on a queen sized bed.  An awfully big mattress for one person.

“Keep going,” she says a bit louder than before.

Curious, a queen sized bed.  No picture of a Beau anywhere and the apartment looks too cheap for a roommate.

“Harder”

I look at the head board.  Plain wood, if it is actual wood.

Thump

It is wood, fake wood makes more of a Wock sound when it hits the wall.

Thump

Thump

Thump Thump Thump

THUMP!

“That’s it baby.”

The room grows more dull as time progresses and I find myself thinking about more transcendental topics.  Such as: Why do I wait to look at my surroundings during sex?

It helps make me last longer, I suppose.  Stamina was never really a problem for me, though.  Except for Samantha.  Love will do that to a person. Love is a disgusting emotion that makes everything feel ten times stronger and distracts me from becoming distracted.

“I’m almost there! Faster!”

There I go again, getting off topic.

Th-Th-Th-Th-Th-THUMP!

“Yes!”

I really think that I scan my surroundings because it distracts me from the moral indecency of…well I’m sure I don’t have to explain this to anyone.  Morality is a distraction that can affect my stiff resolve.

“I’m Coming!”

Coming? What an odd phrase. We are already here.

“OH! DON’T STOP!”

Oh Cumming! Ha ha.

I suppose I should finish up as well.  I look down at her…typical type for me.  Beautiful, but the opposite kind of beauty as Samantha.  She has short hair, average height, perhaps a little short, tan, and an athletic build, which unfortunately results in smaller breasts.  Her eyes are shut and her face is contorting and changing shape with every howl from her shivering mouth.

A few minutes later, I am heading out the door toward the F train.  I need to go back to Queens and get the smell of Brooklyn off of my skin.  I use the borough as names for the girls I fool around with.  I’ve slept with at least one girl from every borough but Queens.  I have no Queens partners because in this city you are bound to run into the person you don’t want to see and I like to keep my affairs far from home.

On the subway I find the perfect seat.  Right along the railing close to a door and no one is sitting on my half of the long blue seat.  I don’t like to be touched by people on the subway and I would rather stand than sit next to someone.

At this time of the day, the subway is usually empty.  There are absolutely no lookers on this train, and I’m pretty sure there is a homeless person sleeping at the far end of the car.

As the train passes into Queens I start to feel itchy.  I scratch my right ankle for what feels like hours.  The scratching continues after I leave the train and get back to my apartment.

Once inside, my scratching is interrupted by the ring of my cell phone.

“Hello?” I say, even though the caller id showed it to be my mom calling.

“Hey Mitch,” my mom says with enthusiasm.

“Hi mom, what’s up?”

“Don’t forget,” amazing how many of our conversations start this way; “Your brother’s engagement party is this weekend at the house.”

“I didn’t forget.”

“Are you coming?”

“Will she be there?”

“She’s the maid of honor, Mitch. Of course she’s going to be there.”

The itch returns to my leg and I start to scratch, which moves my mouth away from the phone.

“I really don’t want to go, mom, I’m not looking forward to seeing these people.”

“That’s good to hear, Mitchy. I’ll see you Saturday.” Her voice comes through with some interference, but I’m sure that I heard her right.

“Wait, but that’s not what I said…” She hangs up the phone before I can finish.  Apparently she did not hear me correctly when I bent down to scratch.  I can call back and correct myself, but I know the conversation will end up with me going to the stupid party anyway.  So I decide to save my energy for scratch-tober fest going on in my right pant leg.

The itchiness does not stop, but gets worse and spreads. I came home to take a shower anyway, so hopefully that will get rid of this annoying itch.  I throw my shirt and underwear in the hamper (which is just a generous word for the corner of the room) and throw my jeans on the bed.

I get the Brooklyn smell off of me in the shower and the itching has gone away leaving a small red rash on my shin.  I put on underwear and sit on my sofa, getting ready to watch a late afternoon Yankee game, very happy that they are on a long road trip.

I manage a small part of the concessions at Yankee Stadium, and these long road trips mean that I can have a life for a few days.  I have to go back to work on Wednesday, which reminds me that I should probably look at a calendar to check what day it is.  Of course I don’t actually have a calendar hanging up anywhere in my apartment, so I pick up my phone and look at that calendar.

As I look at the phone I see that I have a missed call.  I don’t recognize the number, but whoever they are, left a message.  I check my voicemail by using my super secure password; 1,2,3,4.

“You have one new voice message, you have seventeen old voice messages—first voice message:”

“Hey Jimmy,” Immediately I am concerned.  Jimmy Queens is the name I give to my “borough” ladies.

“It’s Cassandra,” Of course I have no idea who that is.  “We hooked-up two nights ago in the Bronx.”  That really doesn’t help my memory all that much.  “I just found out something recently and I would like it if you could call me back as soon as possible.”

“End of new voice messages.  If you would like to—“

I put my phone down and stare blankly at the empty television in front of me.  The itching returns to my leg, but I hardly notice it.

“I’m going to die…” I gasp to the emptiness of my TV.

Not really sure how much time has passed since I listened to that voicemail, but I decide I should call this girl back and find out if my life is over.

It doesn’t make sense, I think.  I always used the proper protection.  I never wanted any little “Jimmys” running around.

I call the number back, and after two rings, Bronx answers the phone.

“Hello?” she asks in a calm and sweet voice.

“Hi, this is Mi—Jimmy,” almost slipped my real name.  “You left me a message and said that there was something important you needed to tell me.” My leg is really itchy now and I look down at it for a moment and see a short line of red dots.  I pay no attention to the line after that, as Bronx is about to talk.

“Jimmy, I’m glad you called.  I found out something very disturbing today, and I realized that I should call anyone who I’ve shared my bed with recently.”

The tone of her voice, all of the sudden, reminds me who this girl is.  I met her after a Yankee game at a bar called The Dugout.  Her apartment was probably just as filthy as mine, except she had a lot of phone wires near her bed, which might explain how she got my number.

I wait for her to finish what she has to say, but her pause starts to get me anxious.  My mind is running through every sexually transmitted disease I ever heard.  In fact I am pretty sure I am making up a few in my mind that remind me of Ebola.

“What news is that?” I say as calmly as I can, but it definitely sounded angry to her, because her next word stutters in her mouth.

“I…I have…”

“What!” I yell into the phone.  She gasps, but thankfully she doesn’t hang up on me.

“I have bed bugs.”  The itchiness of my leg comes back to my senses ten-fold.

“You have bed bugs!  What the hell, how long have you had them?”

“I don’t know,” her voice cracks.  I know that if I want any kind of sensible conversation with her right now, I’m gonna have to calm down.

“Well remember!” I was never good at calming down.  “I wanna know if I have to burn my clothes.”

“Stop yelling at me,” her voice sounds more firm.  “I have the number for a good exterminator.  He comes in with a beagle and they kill the bugs.”

“How am I supposed to pay for this?”

“It’s not that expensive.  If you want to give me your address I can send you a check.”  That sends up a red flag immediately.  There is no way I’m giving my address to one of my one-night stands, especially one who is covered in parasites.

I take a deep breath before I answer, “No, that’s ok.  I can afford an exterminator.”  That’s all I say for the rest of the conversation.  She tells me the number for the exterminator, I write it down, and hang up.

I completely forget about the Yankee game and just begin to pace in and out of my bedroom, expecting to find a line of bugs marching toward my bed.  A quick Google search does nothing, but make me feel even more paranoid about bed bugs.  Now, all of those exterminator commercials start to run in my brain.

A good hour goes by before I realize that I never put on any clothes after the shower.  So I put on some clothes and call the exterminator.  He said that he’ll be here on Monday, which would normally be a problem because it’s only Thursday, but I am going back to my home town for the engagement party.

“Oh crap!” I yell as I remember the party.  “Damn bed bugs,” I scratch my neck.  “Damn itchiness.”  Now more things about the engagement party start to come to mind.  Of course she will be there; my brother’s fiancée had to pick her to be the maid-of-honor.  What clothes can I wear?  None of them are clean and I’m sure most are covered in bugs.

“Last time I sleep with someone from the Bronx.” Even as I say that I know it’s a lie.

The rest of my day is spent doing laundry and taking showers.  After the most uncomfortable night’s sleep in the history of man, I wake up and head to Grand Central.  The train ride is long and uncomfortable.  The itchiness is worse and has spread to most of my back and neck.  Of course, my overly concerned mother is picking me up at the Beacon train station.  Who else would pick me up when I have a problem I’d like to hide?

I get out of the train and take a whiff of air, “Ah, good ol’ unpolluted, and bed bug free air.”  The crisp air brightens my spirits for about two seconds before my mother’s car pulls up to the platform.

My mother gets out of the car, and apparently I was scratching a lot when she saw me get off the train.

“Mitchy,” she says, but not in the warm motherly way.  No, her voice sounds more concerned, with more than a hint of criticism.  She spreads her arms upwards and says to me, “What’s wrong with your neck?”

“Nothing,” I lie.  “Just a little rash.”  Her face calms and resembles that warm motherly Irish look I am more used to.  She comes in for a hug, until I stop her: “I still wouldn’t hug me, though.”

“Oh” she says with optimistic disappointment.  “Well, come on we still have a lot of stuff to do tonight before the party.”

The car ride is filled with a million questions, all of which stemmed from the question, “How is the great big city?” Did I say question? I meant to say, condemnation.  In between every other answer I gave, she would say how dirty the city was.  I did not fight her, because that is a losing battle.  I just reassured her that not all of the city is dirty, just the Bronx.

Friday night dragged along as me, my dad and my sister’s boyfriend set up all the tables in our New Windsor backyard.  My parents live in a typical suburban house.  They own a relatively large Victorian with a big enough backyard to fit all fifty friends, family and the maid-of-honor, for the surprise party.

The party is a “surprise” in the way that a pay raise is a surprise.  You may not get it, but you expect it, and when you don’t get it, you throw a fit.  Also, my mom sucks at keeping secrets.

The day and hour of the party arrives on a sunny and warm day.  I keep from touching anyone so that the plague of New York City does not infect these simple folk.  I keep my right hand clean so that I can still handshake, but not hug.

“Hey Mitch!” one of my brother’s friends recognizes me.  “Congrats on becoming best man!” He slaps my shoulder with his coarse mechanic hand.  This is Johnny, typical high school jock that now works for some nerd he picked on in school.

“Well I am his only brother,” I say.

“Yeah you are!”  Not really sure how that applies to the conversation.  But it doesn’t matter, since he sees someone else he knows and walks away.  That is basically how the other four groomsmen conversations go, with each one just as mentally stimulating as the last.

An hour goes by and most of the party has arrived and we are expecting the guests of honor to arrive soon.  After a few minutes, the fence door to the backyard is kicked open by my brother, Steve.

“Boom!” he shouts.  “We have arrived!”  He picks up his fiancée, Angie, in a cradle and walks her over the threshold of our backyard.

The shout of “surprise!” that follows is pathetic and nearly drowned out by Angie’s best friend, and maid-of-honor, Julie.  She shrieks like a rabbit being eaten, and the way she carries on, you would think that this party is for her.

With a beer in one hand, I walk over to my brother as he sets Angie down and I congratulate them (this would probably be the tenth time I’ve had to do this).  I manage to avoid Julie for the time being, as she ran off toward the other bridesmaids just after the yell of surprise.

Angie’s an attractive Italian-American woman who is probably way too good for Steve.  Steve, is just like his groomsmen, loud, stupid, tall and broad.

“Hey bro,” he says.  “How’s the city treatin ya?”

“Well—“ I of course cannot finish my sentence before Steve is nearly tackled by the other four groomsmen.  So I turn to Angie, who is just standing there being coy.  “Nice to see you again, Angie.”

“You, too” sounds fake.  “How’ve you been?”

“Can’t complain.” I imagine that sounds just as fake.  “How’s your sister?”

“Sam?” She only has one sister.

“Yes, Angie, how is Samantha?”

“Ask her yourself,” please tell me she did not just say that. “She’s parking the car now.”

AAAAAAH! I scream in my head.  But I gotta stay calm, I’m in public.  “Holy crap!” Again, I’m not good at that.  “What’s she doing here?  I thought she moved to South Carolina?”

“She flew up for the party, and to see the family.”

I regain my composure (for real this time). “So killing two birds with one stone?”

“I guess,” Angie looks distracted.  “Well it was nice seeing you again.”

“Yeah, you too.”  I know for a fact, we both sounded fake there.

I try to walk away before Julie can see me, but that turns out to be impossible.

“Mitchy!”  comes the loud noise from her squirrely voice.  “I haven’t seen you in ages!”  She comes running in for a patented Julie super hug.  My natural instinct pushes me away from her at first.

“Julie, stop” I put my hand up.  I feel an itch on the back of my neck, which reminds me of the bed bugs.  “Don’t hug me today, I…” my voice trails off as I begin to think.  “Wait, what am I sayin?” I put on the corniest act of my life, knowing there is no way that Julie will see through the ruse.  “This is a time for celebration.”  I open my arms, “Come ‘ere.”  She smiles as I wrap her in the tightest hug of my life.

When our arms untangle, she has such a huge smile on her face, that I almost feel bad.  Then I see her give a slight scratch on her wrist and all the bad feelings go away.

“Oh Mitchy, that was such a great hug!”

“Well I just felt like you deserved a nice big one.  Remind me to give you one before I leave tonight.”

“Okay!” she says like a giddy school girl.

I walk away from her to grab another beer, and thanks to my dad’s stupid party planning, the drinks are near the entrance to the backyard.  As I open the cooler and reach into the icy water, Samantha walks into the backyard.

The disgusting emotion rises in my heart again.

She walks in, looking more beautiful than ever.  Her thick red hair is spiraling down to her shoulders in loose curls, just tickling her porcelain skin that is augmented by her bright red dress.  The dress ends at mid-thigh to show off those absolutely perfect long legs.  Her sexy red lips don’t hurt either.

But what always had me (and apparently still has me) fascinated, are those blue eyes.  Not a normal piercing blue, but a soft, innocent blue that doesn’t see through you, but just simply at you.  They seem to read only the moment for what it is, without any kind of treachery or searching for something more.

I must have been staring at her for awhile with my hand in the cooler, because those eyes look very amused.

“Mitch?” her voice cuts me.  “You look cold.”

I feel cold, particularly my hand.  I pull out my hand, which is a whole different shade of blue.  “Samantha!”  The shock in my voice surprises even me.  “Wh—what are you doing in these parts?”

“I’m here for my step-sister’s engagement party.”  She smiles at me the way she used to when she thought I was doing something cute.  My legs feel like they will turn to butter under the gaze of those eyes.  I scratch my neck again, but this time I’m not sure if it is because of the rash or a nervous twitch.

“It’s been a long time, Sam,” I say.  Her face becomes a bit more serious, but still looks happy.

“It has, Mitch.  What have you been up to?”

I explain to her about my job for the Yankees and living in Queens.  The Queens thing intrigues her.

“Mitch,” her voice sounds almost proud.  “I never thought you would have moved from New Windsor.  That’s really cool.”

“I guess I have you to thank for that.”  The next thing I am about to say is something that has mulled in my mind ever since she left me and New Windsor behind.  “Our last night together, really opened my eyes.”

“How so?”

“The whole stuck in a small town thing.  I didn’t want to admit it when we were fighting, but after a year of seeing the same people everyday and realizing how limited my choices were, I moved to the big city.” Big city? Idiot, you sound like mom.

“Well, I’m gonna be in town for the next two weeks.  I would love to come see your apartment.”

“That’d be nice.” I of course don’t tell her about the bed bugs, in fact at this moment I have completely forgotten about them.  I can tell Samantha still has feelings for me and the news about me moving out of “this suffocating town” (as she once called it) piques her interest.

Aside from the pleasantries with the other guests, neither of us talk to anyone else for the entire party.  I avoid Julie at all costs, except for her good-bye hug.  Another extra tight one, to give these annoying critters one more chance to get in her clothes.

As the party winds down, Samantha invites me to go for a ride with her.  I almost say yes, but then I remember the friggin bed bugs and I don’t want to get any in her car.

“The town hasn’t changed since you left,” I say, trying to change the plans.  “My room, on the other hand, has changed.”

“Always the charmer,” Samantha laughs.  “Well, I’m too tired for a drive anyway.  I haven’t seen your room in three years.  It’ll bring back good memories.”

I wasn’t lying when I told her that my room has changed.  Back before we broke up, my room was cluttered with cables, posters, laundry; basically like every other recent college grad.  We walk upstairs and enter my room, which now resembles a bare guest bedroom.

“Wow,” Samantha says.  “Are you sure this is your room?  I always figured all the dirty laundry lying around would leave stains.”

“They sorta did,” I laugh.  “My mom cleaned this room for a month straight after I moved out.”  Samantha laughs, but it is a detached laugh.  Her eyes look down, so I reach forward and lift her chin.  Our eyes connect and she has that look in her eyes that made me fall in love with her.  I kiss her.

Samantha kisses me back and we start to get a little more aggressive.  I grab her hips and hold them tight against me, she holds my waist and her left hand starts to climb up my back.  My hands begin to move to the back of her hips and just before I can caress her backside, she stops kissing me.

I can feel her left hand searching my neck and then stop.  She pulls her head back and looks at the bite marks on my neck. Those beautiful eyes now show shock and a hint of anger.  She pushes me away.

“What the hell is that on your neck?”

Now my eyes sink to the floor, “It’s a rash.”

“No kidding!  What kind of rash?”

“Nothing serious, its just—“

“It’s from bed bug bites,” she answers for me.

“How do you know?” I ask a little confused.

“I’m a dermatologist, remember?” Oh yeah.   “Is that just a left over rash?  Or are they in your clothes?”

“I don’t think they’re in my clothes, but the exterminator doesn’t come to my apartment until Monday.”

“Well, that explains the big hug you gave Julie,” she mumbles.  “Mitch, you need to see a doctor for that rash.  Maybe if you didn’t live like a slob you wouldn’t have gotten bed bugs.”

“For your information the bed bugs came to me from someone else.”  As I say this I instantly regret it.

Samantha gives me a look that needs no words.  She wants me to elaborate.  But I play dumb and try to buy some time.

“Who gave you bed bugs?” she finally asks.

“A friend,” I try to remain vague.

“A friend?”  She sees right through me.  “Was this friend wearing pants when you got bed bugs?”

I look down in shame, “No, she wasn’t.”

I raise my eyes and see Samantha shaking her head.  “Good-bye Mitch,” she says and grabs her purse.

“It was just a one time fling,” I try to defend myself.  “It’s not like she’s my girlfriend or anything like that.”

As she gets to the door, she turns around and calmly says, “Somehow, that makes it worse.”  And she leaves me with the same words she left me with three years ago.

The rest of the weekend goes by in a blur of words and colors.  Monday comes and the exterminator finds a horde of bed bugs in my couch and bed and gets rid of them.  Turns out there were none on my clothes, so Julie will be fine, unfortunately.

I try to call Samantha, but she won’t answer my calls.  I return to work on Wednesday, even though the Yankees don’t come back until Friday.  After work, I take a few of my employees out for drinks at The Dugout.

We are sitting at a table just joking around.  One of the girls makes a comment about wanting to get into the Yankees’ locker room and as we are all laughing I feel a tap on my right shoulder.

I turn around and see a very attractive woman with an apologetic look on her face.  “Jimmy?”  she asks, as some of my employees snicker.

I open my mouth as if I am about to say her name, but I don’t know it.  “It’s Cassandra,” she says.  “I called you the other day.”  This was the woman responsible for killing my second chance with Samantha.

“Oh,” I say very disappointed.

“I feel like I owe you a drink,” she says.  Her eyes are so innocent, I can’t say no.

“Sure,” I say and I stand up and walk with her to another table.

We talk for a little while and I find myself becoming more and more interested in her.  Her dark brown hair swings back and forth when she laughs, and her eyes sparkle when she smiles.

I end up telling her my real name, and she isn’t offended that I lied; (I suppose the whole bug situation helped with that).  I then realize that this is not the typical look I have one-night stands with.  She is not short or athletic.  She’s a girly-girl with a face that makes me happy, as opposed to morally embarrassed.  The night goes so well that I forget about Samantha.  The disgusting emotion also feels different.  It somehow feels warm and welcoming.

Bed bugs are funny little critters.  This last weekend, I thought they had ended my last chance at a real relationship.  But they seemed to have eaten away an emotion that felt old and lost, and replaced it with something new and fresh.