She sits across from me as Ariana Grande music videos plays on the wall beside our table. How many songs does this girl have? And why? And how? “I’m used some sort of game going on,” I say. “But it’s Monday afternoon. Not a lot of sports going on at this time.” When one video ends, “Bulletproof” by La Roux plays. Not too long after it begins, it begins to fade into another Ariana Grande song. I actually like La Roux. I’m not a fan of Ariana Grande whose whole career it seems is built on her brown-facing. And didn’t she lick a doughnut or something? None of that matters, but I start sputtering off the movie references made in the “Thank U, Next” music videos.

“Is it kind of a Christmas song?” she asks.

“No. They’re all pop culture references. That’s borrowed from Mean Girls. That’s that cheerleader movie. I can’t remember the name.”

“Bring It On?”

“Yeah. That’s the one with Mary Jane, right? Kirsten Dunst?”

“Yeah. And Eliza Dushku.”

“That’s from–and I hate that I know this–13 Going on 30. I know it mostly because it’s Elektra in love with the Incredible Hulk.”

“Which Hulk?”

“Banner,” I shake my head. “The current guy, um…”

“Mark Ruffalo.”

“Yes, him.”

“And that’s Legally Blonde.”

“All pink with a small dog. Checks out.”

Ariana Grande is replaced with Gorillaz. Something more enjoyable.

We eat our food. Talk about Star Wars and comic books and media based on comic books. And how I sometimes forget that ending to Watchmen the graphic novel isn’t the same as the movie adaptation.

“Giant squid monster in the comic book.”

“Yeah.”

“And Doctor Manhattan in the movie. Well, made to look like he did it.”

I nod.

Before I entered college, I read a book. I read several, but only one convinced me to go to college. I had already seen the movie because the premise had interested me. The book centered around a creative writing professor, his editor, and one of his students. The writer’s marriage had failed. He failed to complete his follow up novel, which put a strain on his relationship with his editor. And he takes his lost student under his damaged wing.

It wasn’t difficult for me to relate to these characters. Each represented one of my fears. The fear of not being able to hold a relationship together. The fear of not knowing what lay ahead for me. And the fear that I’d never be taken seriously by my peers.

Each year, I would pick up my copy of the book and take something new from it. It’s the old adage: You never read the same book twice. (Or some shit like that.)

I picked up the book again after having gone five years without reading it. I’d given my dog eared copy to Jenny and replaced it with a newer copy. Something I regret to this day. I’ve long grown out of my James Leer stage. These days, the Grady Tripp and Terry Crabtree parts feel like they’ve intensified. After all, I have slept with another man’s wife and came near to sleeping with Jenny, who was also married at the time. And i still haven’t figured out what the future holds in store.

You’re not Grady Trip, I remind myself as our lunch continues. You’re not even Terry Crabtree at this point. Besides, they both get happy endings. Don’t you deserve one?

I study her face. Her lips. Her eyes. It’s easy around her. Things should always be easy. It shouldn’t be hard. It shouldn’t be complicated. It should always be easy. And with her the voices quiet. The negative thoughts just evaporate. And that honestly scares me, because I don’t know what the future has in store. And we’re not meant to.