The THC was hitting his brain incredibly hard. Eric hadn’t realized how stressed he had been. Was it the long week that had just ended or the stressful conversation he had with Lina? Perhaps a mix of both situations. So, instead of stressing further, he took a puff, his fourth, inhaled every ounce of smoke with passion, threw his head back and exhaled slowly. The feeling was almost orgasmic. He opened his eyes and Lina was smiling, amazed at his enjoyment. As tradition has it, Eric passed the joint to Lina, who politely declined. She was working on her third cigarette and they hadn’t even started their conversation. They had been standing outside the restaurant for almost 10 minutes and they had barely talked. They were simply smoking, laughing and smiling at each other.
“So, you wanted to talk…”
Lina spoke first. Eric was still a bit dizzy and high from his long puffs. He turned his head and looked at his date.
“Well…”, he simply replied, trying to find his words.
“What? You don’t wanna talk?”
“I wanna talk but mostly I want you to listen”. Lina scoffed with derision and she crossed her arms, in a defensive way.
“That’s very commanding of you. That’s so patronizing…Spoken like a true patriarch”.
Eric scoffed and shook his head but the smile never left his face.
“I was wondering when that term was gonna make an appearance”.
“Oh, you think you know it all, huh? You are so smug, I swear”.
“I simply know, for a fact, because it has happened quite often, whenever toxic masculinity is mentioned, the patriarchy follows almost immediately or vice versa”.
“Have you ever wondered why those two themes are always together?”
“Well, they are close cousins, aren’t they? It’s like the chicken and the egg; you can never know which came first but they are both there, ever so present. You mentioned toxic masculinity earlier and patriarchy just made an entrance”.
“Nothing. I was simply expecting it, that’s all”.
“There is no toxic masculinity or patriarchy without men”.
“That’s for damn sure! There are no women without men either. We need each other last time I checked”.
“You always have an answer, don’t you?”, she asked me with a small dose of disdain in her voice.
“I wish…I know I don’t”.
Lina took a long drag on her cigarette and he took another drag on his Mary Jane. He started being giddy and within seconds, he was chuckling freely, which didn’t do anything to appease his date, since they were talking about serious matters.
“My apologies, the marijuana makes me giddy. I do not mean any offense”.
“What do you mean?”
“Here we are talking about serious subjects and I am chuckling and laughing like a kid. That’s why I said that I didn’t mean any offense”.
“Wonderful! Now, I must confess something”.
“Please, feel free to do so”.
“I am sure I will slur my words at some point. You might have heard of the effects of marijuana on young dudes like myself, so, please, remember I mean no offense”.
“Well, for someone who isn’t answering questions about toxic masculinity, you sure apologize a lot. You are definitely not the alpha male Maude described you to be”.
“Ah…You have me all figured out now, haven’t you?”
“Well, not all, but enough, I would say”.
“Oh! It’s that simple now, is it?”
“Yes, it is that simple”.
“So, please, share your findings! I am ready to be judged!”
He couldn’t help but smile. He didn’t know if it was the weed or the assurance Lina was exhibiting.
“Hold on!”, said Eric, with a rush of someone who was about to miss his flight to a tropical island, “did our friend Maude give you any information about me?”
“As a matter of fact, she didn’t. If you must know, she didn’t say anything except that she would highly recommend you”.
“She did the same for you! Maude is the best”.
“Yes, she is”.
“So, come on! Shoot!”
As she was about to do her exposé, Eric screamed again.
“WAIT! Did you google me?”
“Ok. Fair enough. So did I. Please proceed”.
Lina put out her cigarette and gently put it into a cigarette disposal next to the restaurant’s entrance. She lit up another one, slowly, theatrically, while ignoring him, as if he wasn’t there. Eric was mesmerized yet again by his date. She had a certain grace, a strength, a confidence that emanated from her and all those assets gave her an incredible vibe. She took a drag from a cigarette, exhaled and made smoke circles with her lips. Finally, she looked at Eric and she spoke.
“You are 33. You work in the restaurant business and you have done so for the past 10 years. A few of your restaurants didn’t last long because I believe you hadn’t understood the restaurant game yet. However, you seem to have found a winning formula this time. You are neat and on time. You are fiercely loyal, as shown by how you quickly pointed out your friends are the ones running the business and you are a silent partner. You are quite intelligent but you often think you are the smartest person in the room. You are a people person, otherwise you wouldn’t have made that young server smile within seconds. Most people in your position, the boss, might have admonished the poor kid and reminded them of who they were and they would have ordered them around. You didn’t do that; you asked them politely and calmly to bring us another bottle while telling them the chef won’t mind. It shows humility, which I personally like. You have a swag about you, a mix of street swag and educated swag. I am sure you are well connected, from politicians to artists and since you own a restaurant, it is very likely. I picked on your unresolved father issues, which might explain the problems with authority and the therapy you mentioned earlier. You have Instagram and Snapchat accounts, but you don’t post anything, you never have and yet you have 35k followers on IG. I can tell you are religious since you have a cross hanging on your gold chain and a cross tattoo on your wrist, plus you whispered a brief prayer before we ate”.
Eric’s mouth had dropped to the floor by the time Lina was at her second or third sentence, he wasn’t sure. Lina’s assessment of him was quite accurate. He couldn’t believe she got all that by watching him. He was sure Lina had spoken to Maude who was quite loquacious when she wanted. Lina stood there, smiling, satisfied and a tad arrogant, which slightly annoyed him.
“How did I do?”, and her smile became even wider.
“You did…great actually. I got nothing to say, really. I will let you enjoy this moment because it’s yours”.
“Oh, I am enjoying it”.
“I can tell…You are just not great at gloating, you know”.
“What do you mean?”
“I assume the inability to properly gloat or the lack of gloating skills stem from your upper class upbringing. People from that specific class tend to be more uptight”.
“Oh, you are doing me now?”
“Woman…I would need your consent to do you!”
“Joking again, are we?”
“Absolutely not! I totally need your consent to do you. But I don’t need your consent to do my version of what you just did”.
“You got jokes, dude”.
“I do. Have you noticed you and I have a different sense of humour? Again, you are a bit more uptight. Now that could be the result of your upbringing or the trauma that created your control issues. I don’t wanna go too deep into this delicate subject because I don’t have enough information. I know you are well off. I could assume it’s from family money which it must be, partially at least. However, the money you have comes from your work. Your dress, shoes and watch are expensive but not flashy. You got style and your own brand swagger. You are feminine but I can tell you are physically strong. My guess? Crossfit. You drive a 2021 Audi A7 which is an expensive car. You don’t flaunt your possessions or your status, meaning you are comfortable with who you are. You must be a high-powered accountant working for one of the big four. I am thinking you must be a senior VP or something. You get men’s and women’s attention effortlessly because you are beautiful and confident. Yet, your confidence is a deterrent for men somehow, at least men with low self-esteem. Oh! And allow me to quote you here and say “you are quite intelligent but you often think you are the smartest person in the room”. Your Omega watch is a gift from your dad most likely and you must know more powerful people than I do. And one last thing; I can tell you are not happy right now since I read you the way you read me a few minutes ago”.
Eric smiled as widely as he could, showing all his teeth at once. He could see a mix of anger, annoyance and disbelief in Lina’s eyes.
“Well, let’s call it a draw”, she said while taking a drag from her cigarette.
“Let’s. You were impressive though, Lina. Kudos on your reading skills”.
“One cannot be a woman senior VP of fraud at PricewaterhouseCoopers, a male dominated world, without having some detective skills. You gotta read people quickly and efficiently. You must know who to befriend, who to avoid, who to scare a little and be a shark in the end”.
“PricewaterhouseCoopers! Wow! That’s truly impressive”.
“Parents must be proud”.
“They are. How about you? Is your mom proud? You have accomplished quite a lot at your age.”
“She is. She would never say it, but I know she is”.
“I am sorry”.
“No worries darling. My mom was never chatty or overly emotional. I assume your parents were and are puppies to this day”.
Lina smiled while thinking of her parents, which was extremely cute.
“Yes, they are. They have always been and they will always be. My dad texts me every morning and night to wish me a good morning and a good night”.
“Well, consistent and healthy upbringing is extremely underrated”.
After that last remark, they simply stood there, 2 meters apart, looking into the street. It was a moonless night, a bit chilly but standing outside was worth it since the lights on Saint-Denis gave the evening a certain charm, a beauty only Montreal knew how to provide in the beginning of spring.
“So, I wanted to address our last exchange in the restaurant, before we got out here”.
“I had almost forgotten about that, since we just figuratively undressed each other”.
Eric smiled. Lina was truly unlike any woman he had ever met before. Their back and forth was exciting, and he wanted nothing more than to keep it going. Yet, he had to speak his mind.
“First of all, you said you were disappointed in me, which I somehow get. Nonetheless, that was an unfair assessment”.
“What do you mean?”, retorted Lina right away.
“Well, how could I ever guess you had some issues of your own?”
“I am a woman”.
“That isn’t an answer”.
“Yes, it is. Do you know what women go through every day?”
“Yes and no”.
“What the hell does that mean?”. Her voice had gone up. Eric could tell Lina was being ticked off by this conversation.
“It means I know what some women have told me, what I have read and what I have witnessed but I could never say I truly know since I am not a woman. How’s that sound?”
Lina took a drag off her cigarette.
“Ok, I kinda see what you mean”.
“Ok, you wanna talk openly and calmly?”
“Listen, do me a favour and stop patronizing me, ok?”
“I am trying my best to remain calm as well and stay respectful while high, which isn’t a small feat. I don’t know you and you don’t know me. If you want us to talk like adults, you will have to be patient, the same way I was patient with you”.
“How were you patient with me?”
“Did I interrupt you? Did I say anything? I let you talk and I didn’t even answer right away. I actually came out here to talk to you. Yes, I came towards you to try and understand you better and also so you could understand me better. Hopefully we can do that. But in order to get there, we both need to be patient with each other. Deal?”
Lina said that reluctantly. Eric felt like he was being tested but he felt compelled to answer her questions and ease her mind especially. He wanted her to feel safe around him. As if he wanted her to like him. Yes, he admitted to himself he was smitten with this young, sexy, confident woman. He wanted to get her approval somehow and he couldn’t understand that need or where it came from. His therapist had told him a few days before that he needed to get approval from every woman he liked so he could compensate for the attention, approval and affection he never got from his own mother. Caroline had never recovered from the heartbreak she went through with Eric’s father. Their relationship, which Eric only knew from Stan, his mother’s younger brother, was rocky, verbally, psychologically and physically abusive. Eric never heard his mother mention any of his father’s qualities, as if the man didn’t have anything positive to offer. Eric would ask for information about his father, like any boy would and his mother would ignore, dismiss or avoid all the questions. Consequently, Caroline never trusted another man again and she stayed single. Perhaps that last part, the absence of that romantic love, had made Caroline harder.
Perhaps Eric’s therapist was right; he was looking for attention, approval and affection. He was already engaged in this conversation and he wasn’t gonna let it go before he had made his point.
“You said you might have had something in the past directly linked to a toxic male. If that’s the case, how could I ever know that?”, and he paused.
“You could assume”.
“So, you want me to assume that every woman I meet has had some sort of sexual or psychological violent past? Is that what you are saying?”
“Yes, because most women have terrible stories to tell about the nature of their daily encounters with men”.
“I understand that. Only women know how hard it is to be a woman. But I refuse to see women as victims because I…”.
“Wait? What? What the hell do you mean?”, she said while interrupting him. Eric chose to cross his arms and to remain as calm as possible. The restaurant business had told him to deal with rich assholes who were mean and irritating. Being interrupted by someone who is passionate about a subject wasn’t even a nuisance but he chose to stay silent. Since Lina wasn’t getting an answer to her questions, Eric spoke.
“Lina…you didn’t even give me the slightest chance to make my point”.
“What possible point were you trying to make?”
“How the hell will you find out if you interrupt me?”
Only silence followed and they simply stood there. Finally, after an eternity, Lina used her hand to give Eric the floor so he could continue his explanation.
“I refuse to see anybody but especially women as victims because I believe I would be taking away their ability to heal, to get better, to overcome the horrible things that happened to them. Yes, when someone does something terrible to someone else, then the person being abused is a victim. But, they don’t have to be victims forever nor do they need to be defined by what happened to them. Listen, most of the women I know, hate being painted as victims only. They do not deny their pain but they want nothing more than to overcome their pain and thankfully, some of them do. This is how I see the world and I refuse to see every woman I meet as a victim. I’d rather see someone who is whole, not broken. If they turn out to be broken, we’ll deal with that but my default position is to see them as a whole. So, based on my own worldview, I couldn’t see you as a victim, because as far as I am concerned, I don’t know you and you could be one of the few women who had never had a bad experience with a man. It is quite improbable but it is not impossible”.
Silence fell again. Lina got a cigarette out and Eric got his own lighter out. He made a small and slow step towards her with the lighter up, showing his intent to simply light her cigarette. She graciously accepted and she offered him a cigarette. He took it and lit it up. They stood there smoking, not saying anything, simply watching the moonless night. As they were about to finish their cigarettes, a light rain started falling. Suddenly, the night became even more gorgeous, almost romantic but the subject matter they were talking about didn’t leave much room for romance.
“Thank you for the explanation”, said Lina, with a voice that sounded quite sincere.
“You are welcome. It was my pleasure actually. It felt good to get it out”.
“I’ll bet. You should have seen yourself speaking. I saw passion in that speech”.
“Well, I wouldn’t call it passion. My therapist told me I should share my opinions more so they don’t eat me from inside. I must let them out. I am trying to do better on that front. It feels good though, I won’t lie!”, and he clapped with enthusiasm which made Lina smile. She lit up another cigarette and she offered Eric one. He took it and as soon as he was done lighting his cigarette up, he turned to Lina.
“As to your question about toxic masculinity which started all this, I ain’t got no problem with masculinity. I have a problem with men hurting other people, that is all. Perhaps we can talk about it some other time because that is a vast subject. Anyway, these days, anything can be interpreted as toxic masculinity. A few days ago, I told someone that, generally speaking, men are physically bigger and stronger than women, which is a biological fact. I was called out for toxic masculinity. Go figure”.
“No hmms please! If you have problems with facts, perhaps your next problem is gonna be with gravity or death”.
Lina laughed and he started laughing himself.
“You know what? I believe you to be one of the good guys”.
“Should I say thank you?”
“It depends. Do you see my statement as a compliment?”
“I see it as a fact. I know I am a good guy”.
“Fair enough, Mr. Arrogant”.
“Now, I can say it; thank you for the compliment” and he winked at her. She reciprocated and got closer to him. He stood there, looking at her and waiting because he wasn’t sure if he should make a slow move to try and kiss her. As she got closer, he saw her eyes closer than ever before. She had gorgeous, energetic eyes. She had a look that could melt anyone. Seeing his hesitation, Lina leaned in and she kissed him. As soon as their lips touched, lust was ignited and they started kissing passionately, slowly, the way lovers do. She put her arms around his neck and he put his arms around her waist. Suddenly, she pulled away and looked him right in the eye. He didn’t know what to do. He opened his mouth to say something but then she smiled and kissed him again, with even more passion than before. The magical kiss was interrupted by the vibrations of Lina’s phone, which was in her front right pocket so it vibrated against Eric’s left thigh. The vibrations startled Eric and he slightly jumped up. It made Lina laugh and he gave her a mean yet playful look. She picked up the phone.
“Yes. I am on my way. No, it won’t be a problem. I am sure he is in. You will be able to ask him yourself soon. Ok. Bye”, and Lina hung up. She turned to Eric who had heard the conversation without really paying attention.
“So, I gotta go somewhere and I would like you to come with me”.
“That’s all you’re giving me?”
“I am sure you will like the place. Let’s go. We’ll spend 2 hours there max and I will have you home in no time”.
Eric was curious so he decided to give it a chance. Maude had told him Lina was a bit adventurous and unpredictable in her ways of having fun.
“What the hell…Ok, let’s go. I will follow you”.
“No, let’s take my car”.
“No, it’s fine. Two more cars on the road won’t add much to the climate change crisis. Let me go get my car”.
“No, I mean it. If you wanna come, you’ll have to leave your car here”.
“I have to?”
Eric didn’t understand. He opened his mouth to say something but Lina spoke before.
“And your phone”.
“What?”, he said while looking at Lina in an incredulous way, “what do you mean?”
“If you wanna come with me, you’ll have to leave your phone and your car here and I will drive”.
“What is this? You really expect me to say yes to your requests?”
“I don’t expect you to but I would love for you to say yes”.
Eric didn’t understand what was going on. Yet, Lina was standing there, confidently and waiting for him to accept her terms.
“Listen, I am not taking you anywhere to have you killed or something, relax”.
“Oh, now, you’re the one making the jokes?”
“Ok, look up behind you”. He did as he was bid and he saw the camera.
“My car is in plain sight of that camera. They will see that we are leaving together. If something happens, I will be the police’s number one suspect”.
“The fact that you mentioned killing and the police isn’t really easing my mind, you know”.
“Oh, come on! Let’s go! Let’s go have fun! Are you in or not?”
Eric looked at Lina, weighing his options, thinking, trying to find something that could give him a hint as to what she wanted.
“Come on…let’s continue this fun night. I promise, it will be worth it!”
“What the hell! Ok. Let me put my phone in the car”.
He went into the alley behind the restaurant, where he had parked his car. He opened the door, and he put his phone in the glove compartment. He returned to the front of the establishment and he saw Lina was already in her car. He looked at the camera one last time, almost making sure he was in the camera’s angle shot. Finally, he took a deep breath and he walked towards Lina’s car. As soon as he had finished buckling his seatbelt, he turned to his left and looked at Lina.
“So, where are we going?”
“You’ll find out soon enough”, she said with a smile. Slowly, she raised her hand, and in it, she was holding a small object that looked like an asthma inhaler. She pressed on it and something came out of it. Eric couldn’t tell what it was.
He simply heard Lina say, “sweet dreams, Eric’‘ and then, slowly, everything went black.
TO BE CONTINUED…