Tick tock, tick tock, tick tock…
Do you hear that ticking noise? I swear to God, it’s like I’m going crazy, but I hear something ticking. And no, it’s not my biological clock, thank you very much. Yes, my biological clock is ticking (I know, Mom), but it’s not audibly ticking. Like, I don’t walk down the street and hear it. Nobody says, “Hey, what’s that noise? Is that your ovaries?”
So no, the source of the ticking is something less abstract than my thirty-six-year-old eggs.
Tick tock, tick tock, tick tock …
I look around the entrance to my boyfriend Adam’s brownstone, located on the Upper West Side in Manhattan. Yes, it’s a great location, and no, I’m not dating him for that reason. There are five steps to the main doorway, and the stairs have that appearance of dirt having been ground into them over a period of decades. I can’t help but notice that some thoughtless person has stuck a wad of gum on the railing—if Adam sees it, he’ll be pissed. But it’s unlikely he’ll notice it. He lives on the ground level, which has a separate entrance, and he rents out the upper levels to tenants that he has little to no interaction with.
Adam is not much for small talk with the neighbors.
In any case, I am absolutely certain something around here is ticking and I’ll be damned if I don’t figure out what it is. You can’t be too careful these days, what with terrorism and all. Although I’ve heard that modern bombs actually don’t tick. They vibrate. So it’s easy to get them confused with … well, do I really need to complete that sentence? We all know what vibrates.
I do a three-hundred-and-sixty-degree turn, keeping my eyes focused on finding anything unusual, and I don’t see anything, until… yes!
I almost missed it because it’s huddled in some shrubbery. Mrs. Jessup on the second level thinks she has a green thumb and Adam has indulged her by allowing her to plant a miniscule garden just adjacent to the steps. Ordinarily, the garden is just grass, tulips and azaleas, but today there’s something else in the little garden. Something alive.
It’s a rabbit.
A rabbit. Okay, that’s weird.
Let me be clear about something here. We’re not in suburbia. We’re not in some forest where rabbits frolic freely and play with their friends the deer and the antelope. You don’t generally see rabbits wandering around the Upper West Side. Especially a rabbit like this one, which is white as snow aside from a tiny little black patch on its back and has a ticking timepiece hanging around his neck. No, this definitely isn’t a wild rabbit. And I’ll bet anything that its presence has something to do with Adam.
Tick tock, tick tock, tick tock …
I bend down near the little trembling rabbit, holding out my hand. See, Adam? I can be maternal. The rabbit looks at me curiously, sniffs with its little adorable nose, and then cowers in the corner like I’m the hunter in Bambi.
Okay, I’m not great with animals.
I straighten up, cocking my head at Adam’s window to see if he’s watching me. Maybe this is some kind of psychological experiment he’s doing and the whole thing is being filmed and will probably end up published in the Journal of Complicated Science. Knowing Adam, it’s got to be some kind of experiment. I just can’t imagine what.
Question: Why is there a white rabbit with a clock around its neck outside my mad scientist boyfriend’s house?
a) Rabbit is looking for Alice and is very, very late.
b) Adam tossed the rabbit out the window to see if time flies.
c) Rabbit is some kind of cyborg created to destroy humanity before we destroy the planet.
I turn back to get a closer look at the rabbit and now it’s gone. Apparently, the little bugger ran off the second I turned my head. He isn’t even close anymore because the ticking has completely stopped. And as for me, I’m left staring at the steps of the brownstone, wondering if I’ve completely lost my mind.
Adam denies the whole thing. There was no rabbit, he claims. I just plain imagined it.
I am apparently that crazy.
“A white rabbit,” I say again through gritted teeth. I put down my fork into my plate of spaghetti and meatballs, and I fold my arms across my chest to emphasize the seriousness of the situation.
Adam pushes his metal-rimmed glasses up his nose and shakes his head at me across the dining table. He’s really managed to perfect the disheveled scientist look over the years. Aside from the spectacles, his short, light brown hair perpetually has that “just rolled out of bed” look, no matter what the time of day is. And I’ve never actually managed to catch him with his shirt buttoned properly. Right now, his checkered polyester shirt is off by about two buttons. I have to sit on my hands to suppress my urge to fix it.
I’m kind of the opposite. I feel uncomfortable if I have even one strand of hair out of place. The neat cotton dress shirts and fitted skirts I wear to work are what I generally wear all the time these days. If I go more than a week without a professional manicure, I start getting antsy. I swear I haven’t always been such a square.
“You saw a white rabbit outside my house …” Adam repeats, a mildly amused look in his soft brown eyes.
“With a timepiece around its neck,” I add.
“And you think this is some sort of experiment I’m doing?” Now Adam is outright smirking at me.
When you say it like that, anything sounds stupid, doesn’t it?
“Come on, Claudia,” he says. “It probably belongs to my neighbor’s kid or something. A pet rabbit.”
“Yeah,” I mumble, although it’s really hard to push away the feeling that there was something very different about that rabbit, and that Adam isn’t entirely telling the truth. But he won’t ’fess up to me, and I’m beginning to sound crazy to my own ears.
Of course, it’s pretty hard to sound crazy when you’re dating a guy who calls himself an inventor.
I’m sure in the olden days, being an inventor was a real career. It was something you could put on your business cards. For example, Thomas Edison and Leonardo da Vinci were inventors, and nobody thought they were antisocial weirdos, as far as I can tell. But in the twenty-first century, if you go around telling people you’re an inventor, people start to think you’re a little off.
Not that Adam isn’t a sweet guy and all. He’s even invented a few things for me—he rigged up a button on my wall that I could press that would make my remote control start beeping because I complained that I was always losing it. (I called him in a panic once and made him help me comb the whole apartment until we found the remote. Do you know where it was? In the refrigerator. Honestly, I think sometimes I’m losing my mind.)
“So it’s not some kind of computer robot rabbit?” I ask Adam, because I still just don’t believe him.
He grins adorably at me. “A robot rabbit?”
I shrug. “Maybe it’s for kids who want a pet but not have to feed them or clean up their crap.”
“Oh, I see,” Adam says, still grinning. “As a kid, you always wanted a rabbit, but you were worried it was going to crap all over the place and you’d have to clean it up.”
I sense he’s not taking me seriously here. “No, that’s not what I’m saying.”
“No, I completely get it,” Adam says. “For your next birthday, you want a robot rabbit. I’m on it, Claudia. You don’t need to keep hinting.”
Okay, that’s enough of that. I swat at him with my hand, and he grabs my wrist. Our eyes meet and I get that “butterflies in the stomach” feeling. It’s almost overpowering. We’ve been together over a year, yet I still find Adam unbearably sexy. It’s weird because Adam isn’t the kind of man I would have dated in my younger years—I was so immature that I probably would have seen him at a party and made fun of him behind his back. But my concept of “sexy” has evolved considerably over time.
Smart, sweet, nice-looking, well-off guy who adores me = sexy
Devastatingly handsome starving artist who chases anyone in a skirt = unsexy
“Come here,” Adam says softly as we continue to gaze into each other eyes.
I get up from my seat and settle into Adam’s lap, feeling the tight muscles in his chest and arms against my body. He pulls me toward him and starts to kiss me in that gentle, tender way he always does, running his fingers through my ash blond hair. You wouldn’t think it to look at him, nerdy science guy and all, but Adam is a really good kisser. Of all the men I’ve ever kissed, the kisses with him are the most intense, the ones that make my whole body tingle. Even more so than with Kyle, who had the tongue stud.
On a scale of one to ten, I would give Adam’s kisses a nine. Maybe a nine point five on a good day.
After several minutes of making out, Adam lifts his hands off me and puts them on the wheels of his chair so he can push away from the dining table. That’s another thing about Adam that’s different than any other guy I’ve ever dated—he’s disabled. And not just a little limp or something. He needs a wheelchair. All the time. He cannot walk at all.
“I’m going to make you the best robot rabbit you’ve ever seen,” Adam whispers as his breath tickles my neck. Okay, now I’m starting to worry he’s not kidding.
“I don’t want a robot rabbit,” I say, pulling away from him. I try to sound stern. “I mean it, Adam. Don’t make me a robot rabbit.”
He laughs and tugs at a lock of my hair. “Relax, Claudia. I was just teasing you.” I let out a little sigh of relief, but I shouldn’t have worried. Even though he’s a bit of a clueless scientist guy, he’s generally surprisingly perceptive when it comes to me and what I like or want. “I’ve still got a few months before your birthday, and trust me, I’m going to get you something amazing.”
I have absolutely no doubt in my mind that Adam will get me something amazing for my birthday. It will probably be some combination of really thoughtful and painfully expensive, if his previous gifts are any indication. Adam always gets me the best gifts.
Too bad it won’t be the one thing I really want.
Since Adam cooked dinner, I clear the table. I take the plates and glasses, and load up the dishwasher for him. I notice one of the plates has a little chip in it and I hesitate, trying to decide whether or not to throw it out. Adam could use some new plates as of, like, five years ago, but I sense it might not be appropriate to take the initiative to buy him some. You have to be careful in a relationship about crossing certain lines.
The dishes, for example. He really didn’t want me to start doing them for him—he fought me tooth and nail on that one. “They’re my dishes, Claudia,” he insisted. I pointed out that I was practically living at his house now and he was taking out the trash. So it only seemed fair that I’d pitch in and help with the chores.
I love spending time at Adam’s brownstone. Despite his eccentricities, it’s a very normal house, if a little messy and uninspired. His living room has a widescreen TV, a couch that’s ripped and stained and far too old (like everything non-technological that Adam owns), but very comfortable, and a coffee table that’s covered in rings because Adam’s never heard of a coaster. The inventing is confined to one room of the house and never overflows into the main living area. Adam’s study is the one room I’ve never yet entered.
After I get the dishwasher going, I find Adam in the living room, hunched over his desktop computer. The screen is completely filled with some coding language—just looking at it makes my head ache. When I get closer, he minimizes the window on his screen. “Hey,” he says. “Thanks for getting the dishes started.”
“You should be relaxing,” I scold him. “You’ve been working way too hard lately.” Of the nights I’ve spent here in the last two weeks, he’s stayed up hours past when I went to bed.
“You know I’m a workaholic,” he says, winking at me. “That’s why you’d hate living with me.”
I wince. This is a little game Adam has been playing very recently called You Don’t Really Want to Live With Me. He takes it very seriously. It’s all part of larger game called You Don’t Really Want to Marry Me. I’m not very fond of this game.
Here’s the deal with me and Adam: we’ve been dating over a year. Granted, that’s not a huge amount of time. But I’m not twenty years old here. I’m thirty-six and, as he noted, I’ve got a birthday coming up in a few months. If I had a baby now, I’d already be advanced maternal age. And I’m not having a baby now. I’m not even married. I’m not even engaged.
Adam is even older than I am. He’s thirty-eight. And he’s not a young thirty-eight, either. I like to think I could pass for thirty or even younger, but Adam can’t. He looks thirty-eight. Hell, he looks forty, even forty-five, easy. Not because he’s fat or out of shape or balding, because he isn’t any of those things. He’s slim and muscular in his upper body, and he’s got all his hair, but he’s got almost as much gray in his hair as he’s got brown, and he’s got more lines on his face than he ought to, especially around his eyes. Not that it’s a bad thing in terms of his looks. He’s one of those guys like Sean Connery who is just going to get more attractive as he gets older. When he’s seventy, he’s probably going to have hot young forty-year-olds chasing him down, while I’ll be a little old lady with a hump on my back.
His looks initially seemed like a sign of maturity to me, a sign that he was the sort of guy who was ready for a commitment. And we fit so well together, me and Adam. More than I thought we would when I first met him at a mutual friend’s dinner party. He treated me like a queen, and I mistakenly got the idea in my head that if I brought up marriage, he’d jump at the idea (figuratively). But he didn’t. He got quiet, just like every other freaking guy did. And that’s why he fights me every time I want to wash a goddamn plate.
And it stinks because Adam is the first guy that I’ve really seen myself growing old with. I can just see us at seventy years old, me still bringing him my futuristic computer when I’ve got a virus and he needs to get rid of it. And then I fix the buttons on his shirt with one of my arthritic hands, and bat away the hot young forty-year-olds with the other.
“I wouldn’t hate living with you,” I insist, for what feels like the trillionth time. “I’m practically living here already. Why don’t we make it official so I don’t have to feel like a nomad?”
He raises his eyebrows at me. “You feel like a nomad?”
“I’m carrying around panties in my purse, Adam,” I say. I’m half tempted to dig them out and shake them in his face. “You think I enjoy that?”
“I gave you a drawer to use,” he mumbles, his eyes lowered.
Yes, he gave me a drawer. One drawer. And he lets me keep a travel bottle of shampoo and one of conditioner in his shower, because I told him his combo shampoo plus conditioner makes my hair feel like straw. And he used to let me keep a toothbrush on his sink until he insisted that I start using his electric toothbrush (with my own head), explaining it was better for my teeth.
But I don’t want a freaking drawer or a toothbrush on his sink. I want a ring. Of course, I’m not going to say that to him now. We’ve had this conversation before and I know where it’s headed, and it’s not in the direction of the nearest jewelry store. There’s no point in pushing him when he’s clearly not ready. “I love you,” I say instead. “I just want to be with you.”
“I love you too, Claudia,” he says. “But …”
Adam leans forward in his wheelchair, rubbing his knees, looking really uncomfortable. He told me once before the reason why he had trouble settling down, but I can’t accept it. We’re right for each other. I don’t want to be one of those awful “ultimatum women” so I won’t do that to him. But how long am I supposed to wait patiently for him to be ready?
“Don’t be mad,” Adam pleads with me.
“I’m not,” I say. Well, I am. But I’m trying not to be. When I was in my twenties, I always pitied those women who made relationships all about pushing for commitment, yet here I am, close to doing it myself. It’s something I vowed I’d never do. And I won’t.
“Sit down on the couch,” Adam says. “I’ll go get you in the foot massager and give you a back rub.”
The foot massager. It’s another thing Adam invented for me. It used to be a foot bath, but he rigged it up with mechanical brushes to give me an actual foot massage that’s better than anything I’ve ever experienced in a spa. He made it in less than a week, after I told him how much I love foot massages. Then he rubs my neck and back when my feet sit in the bath. His hands are so strong—he gives great massages that basically drain all the tension out of my body.
I just wish I had met him before The Bitch ruined him for good.