“You know, they say Andy Warhol died a virgin.”
Merrill and Vanessa stood in front of a series of Campbell’s Soup cans hanging brightly on an alabaster wall. Merrill wasn’t sure how he should respond: he and Vanessa had met online only a week ago, and this was their first date. It was she who’d suggested they meet at the Museum of Modern Art; Merrill would’ve preferred a bar, or even Starbucks, but he wanted to please this girl. She’d been the only one after two months on Tinder who seemed the slightest bit interested in seeing him naked.
He decided to play it safe. “Mmm.”
“Mmm-mmm good!” She punched his arm playfully. “You’re funny!”
The joke was unintentional, but if he’d just scored a point, he’d take it. “You hungry? There was a sign for a café . . .”
Vanessa nodded, and they fell in step toward Terrace 5. Merrill cocked his head. Was she . . . humming?
Yeah, she’s humming.
“MmmmmoMA. MoMA. Mow-mah.”
She’s a freak, he decided.
“Ever notice how words seem to lose all meaning if you say them over and over?” she said.
“Technically, MoMA isn’t really even a word.”
Vanessa stopped short, sneakers squeaking on the linoleum floor. “Seriously?”
He shrugged. “Um, yeah. It’s an abbreviation, not a word.”
“No, I mean, are you seriously going to be like every other nitpicky smeg out there, getting on my case, being all ‘MoMA’s not a word’—what are you, the grammar police?” She crossed her arms, frowning.
He put up his hands, palms out, the universal sign of surrender. “Hey, I didn’t mean anything by it. Just making conversation. Listen, I’m nervous. It’s our first date, I don’t want to say something stupid—too late, I know—and I’m starving. Sorry, okay?”
Her face softened into a smile. “Yeah, okay. I get it. That’s sweet.” She snaked an arm through his, resuming their stroll to the café.
It was the third time she’d taken him off guard. The first, upon meeting outside the museum doors, was when he’d inadvertently cocked an eyebrow at the sight of her fanny pack. Vanessa wasn’t bad to look at—big green eyes, snub nose, tits big enough to cause the buttons on her blouse to strain—but a fanny pack? He hadn’t seen one of those since his mom had taken him to the Grand Canyon back in 1989.
She’d seen the brow shoot up and set her shoulders back. “Say what you will—they’re handy as hell.”
“I’m not saying a thing,” he’d said, and winked. But he could tell from her stiffened neck she wasn’t pleased.
When they’d gone to get their tickets, he’d pulled out his AAA card for the $7 discount—after all, he lived outside the city, owned a car, and the damn insurance was handy as hell—she’d nearly pitched a fit. “What’re you doing?” she’d asked, as if he’d just whipped out his junk and pissed on one of the decorative plants in the lobby.
“I, uh . . .”
“I’m not worth paying full price?”
“No! I mean, you are—I just—” he’d glanced at the heavyset black woman dressed in tomato orange manning the ticket booth. She shook her head in sympathy, quirking her eyebrow. “Forget the discount,” he’d muttered, forking over his debit card.
“Sure you want to go through with this?” the ticket woman murmured, and he’d nodded resignedly. “Your funeral.” The tomato slid their admission stubs over the counter.
And then Vanessa had insisted on paying him for her ticket, not more than three seconds later. He debated asking what the hell the point of that snit fit had been. I do not get this girl. But still, if she put out at the end . . . he let it go.
~ ~ * * ~ ~
They found their way to the café, sitting at a turquoise-topped table next to a wall-length window overlooking the city. He flipped over the menu, skimmed it, and smiled.
She returned his grin. “Find something good? What’re you having?”
He paused a moment, scanning his memory to see if she’d mentioned being a vegan in any of their texts. No, he distinctly remembered her sending a selfie posing with a slice of pepperoni.
“Filet mignon and scallops.”
Storm clouds drew across her face. “Are you kidding me right now?”
“You know how I feel about Steve Irwin.”
He did—they’d had a conversation about their favorite celebrities, and she’d enthused over the Crocodile Hunter to the point of embarrassment. But—steak and scallops—he didn’t follow.
Tears pooled in her eyes. “Scallops. Most restaurants don’t serve actual scallops, you know. Of course you do—we’ve talked about this!”
They had not. She was absolutely, unequivocally, batshit crazy. He sat, waiting.
“They’re—they’re—scooped from rays, you insensitive bastard!” She was full-on sobbing now, her nose running, her cheeks blotchy and pink. She hunched forward, presumably to dig a tissue out of her belly bag, and he caught a glimpse of fleshy cleavage and . . . was that a Care Bears tattoo?
He stared at the cartoon bear peeking out from her left breast. Considered what it might be like to stroke it. “You know what? I don’t need to know,” he mused aloud.
“You do need to know. Steve Irwin was a saint, I tell you! You know he legit walked on water, right? I sent you that YouTube link—”
“No.” Merrill’s chair scraped as he pushed back hastily. “Not. One. More. Word. I’m out.” And with that, he fled, leaving Vanessa blinking at the space he’d just occupied, half-open belly bag on her lap.
He sprinted down three flights of stairs before slowing, certain she couldn’t catch up, then exited the stairwell in favor of a corridor. He thumbed up his Tinder app on the phone and blocked Vanessa’s profile, then did the same with her phone number in his contacts list. He glanced up to find he was back at the Technicolor soup cans.
“Sorry, Andy. Looks like you and me are both dying virgins.” He studied the silent silkscreen.
Did a double-take.
Tomato, the printing read on the can.
“You’re right. Thanks, buddy.” With that, Merrill resumed his sprint. He might still be able to catch the tomato at the ticket counter before her shift ended, and see how she felt about Starbucks or a local bar.