On Thursday I run into Jeff at the coffee shop.
“Hello Delilah,” he mumbles unenthusiastically, from a stool behind the door. Which he didn’t have to do, because I would never have noticed him there.
I take it as a reluctant sign that I am supposed to greet him back. Being polite, I do what is expected of me.
“Jeff,” I smile, approaching him, resting a hand on his shoulder. “How are you?”
I’m not sure why I do that. Jeff doesn’t like to be touched.
Well, actually, that’s probably why I do it.
Jeff is my backyard neighbor. He’s tall, well-built, awkward in this quirky, intelligent way. He’s always reminded me of Jeff Goldblum, actually. And I’m not just saying that because they’re the only Jeffs I know, as you’ll come to find out.
I like Jeff. I do. I even think we have something special at times. I think we recognize something slightly off-kilter in each other.
Kindred spirits and all that.
Nonetheless, there’s been a little tension between us of late.
It started this past winter, when I sent him a 2 a.m. text letting him know how much I appreciate his sexual proclivity.
Okay, correction. I sent another Jeff that text.
Or I thought I did. I really should have.
But modern life being the crapshoot it is, the text somehow went to him.
Sexual proclivity Jeff called about an hour later, checking to make sure I’d made it home safely.
“Didn’t you get my text?” I asked him.
I know where neighbor Jeff keeps his spare key, and once I’d realized my mistake I contemplated a midnight maraud on his house, the main objective being his cell phone.
Well, the only objective, really. But midnight marauds being what they are, I didn’t want to put any restrictions on myself.
Plan B was to pound on his door right then and there, and use his grogginess to my advantage. Ask to borrow sugar and get the message deleted.
And Plan C was to pretend I hadn’t done anything wrong.
Sexual proclivity Jeff convinced me to go with Plan C.
“Unless there’s something you’re not telling me, the text falls into the PG category,” he said. “Were there pictures attached?”
“Oh God. No.”
“Okay, then, you’re freaking out over nothing. No harm, no foul.”
Just out of curiosity, how many times am I going to have to listen to a man telling me I’m freaking out over nothing?
I slept fitfully that night, but had completely forgotten about the text by mid-morning when neighbor Jeff responded.
I decided it best to face the thing head-on.
I pulled on my combat boots, jumped the fence into his yard, and rapped on his back door.
Jeff answered, still in his pajama bottoms.
“Come on in,” he said.
“No, that’s okay. This will just take a minute.”
“You’re letting all of the heat out.”
“What? Oh. Okay.”
I stepped into his house and closed the door by backing my butt into it. The snow from my boots melted on his stone floor, but I didn’t want to take them off. They were helping me feel tough.
“You’re here about my proclivities?” he asked.
“Ha ha! No! I mean, well, yes, but…”
“Huh? No, thank you. No.”
I looked at Jeff.
“Are you serious?”
“Are you?” he asked back.
Would it look bad for me to say yes?
“Well, I mean, if you were making one anyway…”
Jeff started gathering the ingredients. I plopped myself onto a stool.
“I didn’t mean to send that text to you, Jeff, and I’m so embarrassed…”
“Text?” he asked, pulling his head out of the refrigerator.
“Oh! You mean this one…”
He stretched an arm to fetch his phone from the counter, started scrolling.
“No, please don’t…”
“Mon homme séduisant,” he began.
So I like french. So what?
“Really, Jeff. Don’t,” I said, getting louder, crossing the room to put my palm over his cellphone’s screen.
Jeff looked at me.
“He wears his hat at a rakish angle, doesn’t he?”
“Your new man.”
I hadn’t the slightest clue what Jeff was getting at, but I knew for certain I didn’t want to be in that conversation. I needed to change the subject.
So I used a tactic that my brother calls “the sandstorm”.
“There’s something I should probably tell you, Jeff.”
“We’ve been pirating your internet.”
That wasn’t true, actually.
Excepting that one night when Django and Lovey were bored. And made a game of seeing how well they knew the neighbors. By trying to break the passwords to their networks.
Turns out they know Jeff pretty well.
But I’ve got to give the guy credit.
I had Django check, and Jeff didn’t change his password after that.
So damn neighborly.
Still, I’ve been consistently uncomfortable living the lie that we are freeloading off of him.
He probably curses us every time his internet is slow.
So today in the café I try to come clean.
“Look, Jeff, remember when I told you we were stealing your internet?” I ask.
“Well, that wasn’t true. We have our own network, actually. It’s Boris. You know, our cat?”
What I meant was that the name of our network is Boris, which is also the name of our cat. I thought if I offered that up he could search for nearby networks on his computer when he got home. And when he saw ours pop up, the slate would be clean.
But the coffeeshop is loud.
And I was probably talking fast. Nerves, you know?
Because when I finish, Jeff just shakes his head, and says, “Are you honestly trying to tell me it’s your cat that’s stealing my internet?”
And that’s not what I was trying to tell him at all. You know it wasn’t.
But I can’t help it: I like that version better.
I mean, who wouldn’t? That’s hilarious.
Right away I picture my little Boris in a black beanie, living a life of feline crime.
“That’s exactly what I’m trying to tell you, Jeff,” I answer, in all seriousness.
We both stare at each other. He smiles first.
“He’s such a misfit,” Jeff concedes.
“I really can’t promise that he’ll ever mend his ways,” I admit. “The most I can do is just be up front about who he is, and hope that everyone will understand.”
I can only assume he agrees.
* * *