A/N: I wrote this about a year ago and it was posted to LJ, but having resolved to utilize this site for organization's sake, I am reposting.
It wasn't that he was attracted to Leslie.
In fact, strangely, he had never been attracted to Leslie. Usually all it took was a marginally appealing physique, moderate youth, and a fair set of teeth. His dream girl would of course include the ability to support him in his many entrepreneurial endeavors, the ability to dance well, and, most importantly, she would be in love with him. But in terms of specifics, no, he was never attracted to Leslie.
Of course, he hadn't known she was into Ben when he made his profile.
Online dating was particularly tricky. Women tended to use pictures of themselves in their twenties, wearing date-ambiguous clothing, holding fruity cocktails that never quite belie the era. "A young thirty" usually meant early fifties. "Athletic build" usually meant the body of a twelve year old boy. And any woman who liked long walks on the beach? Count on her to be a clinger. Just push delete. Really.
It had taken at least eleven outings with overweight, emotionally malnourished women for him to figure these things out. Rick the bouncer for the Snakehole was most often enlisted in helping said women to a taxi after they gorged themselves on three plates of buffalo wings and raspberry-pomegranite daiquiris on his tab, leaving him to wallow over a line of ironically named shots. His particular favorite was Sex on the Beach, followed closely by a Slippery Nipple. Sometimes he imagined the perfect woman tasted like pineapple.
And then Wendy started dating Ron. And then Lucy broke up with him. And then he was sexually abused by Tammy. Which should really say something about his love life. Which really should have turned him off women for awhile.
He made eight new profiles.
And went on twenty more dates. Each time thinking, maybe this time, maybe this one. Maybe she'll say thank you for the wonderful evening. Maybe she'll call in the morning.
And then there was Ben. Ben who was intentionally, pointedly anti-fashion. Ben who was Urkel without a personality. Ben who was disgustingly, endearingly awkward. Ben who was everything Tom never wanted to be.
He made the profile as a joke. Every time he logged in to see "No New Messages" he felt just a little bit better about himself. He thought here is a man who is more desperate than I am. Here is a man who couldn't land a date if he tried. He would look at his other mailboxes full of responses from women he wanted nothing to do with and it felt good. A hollow, empty kind of good that never really reached his soul. But it was crisp and satisfying even though it was rooted in unsavory feelings.
It didn't help that he took the time to get to know Ben. He tried his hardest to keep up the level of abhorrence to his style and his shoes and his bargain-bin gelled hair, but somewhere between picking out a decent-looking suit and dumping a bottle of Tommy Fresh into Dennis Feinstein's SUV, Ben turned into a pretty okay kind of guy. He couldn't check Tom N. without a pang of guilt that made him angrier than it should have.
The Harvest Festival came and went. And Ben was still there, still showing up. He was tried of looking at him, tired of starting to see potential in his dress, in his non-confrontational posture, in his inability to form complete sentences without a blundering pause. He was tired of the way Ben followed Leslie around like a puppy, to events that weren't completely within the purview of city budget reform. He was tired of the way he looked at Leslie, at the way their handshake tuned out the world until it was just the two of them. He was tired of the fact that Ben obviously liked her, and she would never see it unless someone dropped the bomb on her. He was tired of everything to do with love.
And then Andy and April just had to get married.
He started to delete his profiles that night.
Andy-bungling, obtuse, short-sighted, Andy. Andy who had once lived in a pit. Andy who shined shoes for a living and sold Mouse Rat CDs from the back of his friend's van. Andy who wouldn't shower for three days because he was trying to conserve water and who thought deodorant was a viable stand-in for cologne. Andy who had used his pocket square as a handkerchief. Andy was married.
And it wasn't because he was attracted to April. Because he wasn't. Oh, he was not attracted to April. April was the sort of girl who would cut off his balls just because she was bored, and, as much action as they saw, he would still miss them.
It was because he was more stereotypically charming in every way than Andy. Andy may have had the height, but he had no class. He took two hours a day to groom himself. He had more beauty products than a Sephora superstore. He went for manicures and eyebrow waxes. He changed his sheets every night and he could even cook a little. He practiced his conversation in the mirror like a Sim. He knew all the right things to say and no woman even looked his way.
His cursor hovered over Tom N. Haverford. The contemptible little thrill he got just logging in seemed to dissolve his self-pity. He wasn't alone. There were other men who were still searching for a woman, and some of them were even more hopeless. He added a few Millennium Falcon pictures to the profile. And a diagram of the Enterprise's engine system. And an inspirational quote from Thomas Jefferson in Na'vi.
The most screwed up part of the whole thing was that, when Leslie came on to him, he decided to make a joke of it. Even if he never thought of Leslie as a particularly appealing potential mate, he still should have taken a second to consider it. Maybe a split second. But he didn't. He just laughed at her and proposed during lunch. He touched her hand and called her 'Les.' He talked about sleeping with his boss around the office and pretended that her disgusted looks didn't hurt the confused boy in him who only wanted to be a man.
And then she did the worst thing she'd ever done to him.
She kissed him.
She was furious and frustrated and he could feel her pulse racing under his hands. Her exasperation was tangible inside her personal space and she slammed her mouth against his like an order. And something desperate and starved inside of him reached out for her lifeline.
And then she was gone.
For a moment he almost reached back. He almost begged for one more second. One more chance to figure out what the hell just happened.
But Chris was whisking her away to his office and Tom had to go back into the meeting and endure thirty more minutes of drivel, because without Leslie there really wasn't any thing to work on. And by the end of those thirty minutes, he knew the funny feeling uncoiling in his chest didn't mean he was in love with her. He was really decidedly not in love with her. He generally didn't even think of her in any role except his slightly unhinged supervisor. The fact that she was a woman was just background noise. He realized her reaction to his teasing had been primarily embarrassment. It had been diffidence that made her distraught enough to show him.
He understood his own position well enough that when Ben approached him, he thought nothing of attempting to describe the experience in some amount of detail.
"But she didn't taste like pineapples," he said, catching up to Ben in the lobby.
"Leslie didn't taste like pineapples," he repeated. "My girl is going to taste like pineapples. With a rum chaser."
"Sorry-I, uh, I don't-"
"Nerd," he sighed. "She's all yours."
"No, I don't-she doesn't-not like that. We're just friends."
When Leslie told him later it was Tom N.'s profile she matched with, he didn't immediately think of Ben. He laughed at her and teased her and found out that Donna tasted like malted coffee and car wax.
After he recovered, he found Leslie in the process of deleting her profile. He expected her to be mournful, but he saw an optimistic little smile playing at her lips. The fact that he knew what those lips felt like deterred him for a moment.
"I don't think this kind of dating was for me," she said with a touch of irony when she saw him standing in the doorway.
"Why did you even do one of these?" he asked, gesturing to the screen.
"Ann thought it might help me meet someone," she replied wistfully. "She thought my usual dating pool was a little thin."
"Do you think that?"
She grinned with a hint of youthful exuberance. "Does it matter if it's a bit sparse? It just makes you look a little harder at the people you see."
The reason he was here flooded back to him. He was here for Ben. To pay reparations for a wrong Ben didn't even know about, and maybe a little bit for the ones he did. Because somehow, some way, Ben was his friend. And you didn't just kiss a friend's girl and do nothing about it. Even if she kissed you.
"You know, Tom N.? He likes the History Channel. He likes corn mazes and pretends to like little horses and he's beginning to like living in Pawnee. He likes nerdy movies and has just an awful fashion sense. And he loves asparagus and turkey chili."
She gave him a suspicious look, but she was not making the right connection. He got the feeling she was half afraid he was teasing her again.
"Tom N. works in city government, too. He's in finance. Isn't that terrible?"
He watched as an inkling of understanding appeared in her eyes.
"And do you want to know the best part?"
She leaned forward a little in her seat.
"I think he likes you, too."
She broke into a smile so bright it was almost blinding.
"Don't tell him I told you, though. He's still pretty shy about it."
A slight frown appeared on her face after a moment, but he could follow that particular train of thought without assistance. "Chris-"
"Listen, Leslie. Don't be like me and find out too late."
Her smile returned as she turned his words over in her mind.
"You're a good friend," she said finally. "You're a really great friend and I could just kiss you."
He took a hasty step toward the door.
"I think I'll just shut up and go, thanks."
whyagain june 2011