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  • juliastratton25

A Portrait of an Unavailable Man (Short Story)

Wes is tall, dark, handsome and kind, but my favourite part about being around him is when he shows me odd things he finds when we go shopping: “hey Lucy, look at this weird cheese I found”, “hey Lucy, should I get these socks with aliens on them?”, “hey Lucy, I found a calendar with book recommendations for each month on it. I think you should get it.”

I’ve been to his apartment many times but only as a friend. Like any typical single man’s apartment, there are no decorations. In the kitchen, there are pots arranged in the windowsill where houseplants would normally be (except pots don’t need to be watered and putting them in the windowsill means he doesn’t have to put them away after doing the dishes). The living room couch has brown throw pillows. I don’t know what kind of store sells pillows that ugly but he either doesn’t care that they’re ugly or doesn’t realize they’re ugly.

We’re on the way our meet our friends at a bar. He lives on my way, so I stop at his place so we can walk together.

He doesn’t have people over much and when he does, he tries to be hospitable, but doesn’t seem to really know what to do. When I come over, he always offers me a drink while I stand in the front entrance. The normal thing to do would be to ask someone if they want to sit down and take their coat off while they consume their drink, but he just leaves me standing there.

“I have coke, orange juice, coffee, tea…” he lists as he putters around the apartment.

“Just water is good,” I say.

“Alright,” he says and puts some tap water in a mug. “This is my favourite mug, I’ve had it since university.” The mug says ‘Best Dad Ever’ and I laugh.


“I should only be a minute, I just need to grab my shirt from the laundry and clean up my stuff from work, sorry,” he starts gathering papers on the kitchen table and stacks them on top of his laptop before carrying the pile to his room. “Sorry,” he says again and gestures for me to move aside so he can get his shirt out of the dryer in the closet next to the door. He continues to complete miscellaneous chores around the apartment while I stand there with my coat and shoes on drinking water.

After fifteen minutes he says he’s finally ready. By now I’ve taken my coat off and draped it over my arm because I got very warm wearing it in the apartment.

We’ve been friends for over three years and been to his apartment many times, but have never really been beyond the front door. From the front door, I’ve peered into the kitchen and living room and once I used the bathroom. The bathroom was very clean. He keeps his deodorant next to the hand soap which was slightly unusual, but I suppose there’s really nothing wrong with that.

He doesn’t like to have people over. I’ve never seen his bedroom. I know he has girls over sometimes, but he’s never had a serious girlfriend.

“Have you ever been in love?” I asked him while we were walking.

“No, I don’t think so,” he says. “Why?”

“I don’t know, I was just wondering.”

“Have you been in love?” he asks.

“I don’t know, maybe.”


“Um, my first boyfriend, I guess. Maybe.”

We keep walking beside each other and I look at Wes’s face in the streetlight. Do I want to kiss him? If I try to kiss him, will I end up like all the other insignificant girls he sleeps with and then doesn’t care about anymore? I should be with someone who wants to be in a relationship.

“Even if you do end up falling in love, most relationships fail,” he says after we walk a bit in silence.

I don’t respond, but then a few minutes later I say: “yeah, I have been in love before. I didn’t know it then, but I did love my ex.”

We pass a billboard for a new movie coming out with two people passionately gripping each other’s faces. It’s a grip that contains passionate love combined with the rush potentially saying goodbye to someone you love for the last time because the mutant lizard recently got into the skyscraper you were hiding in and is getting dangerously close to your hiding place, and you need to split up. You can only be together and realize your love for each other if you both survive the mutant lizard attack—needless to say, this is a very intense grip.

“Love was quieter than I expected it to be,” I continue.


When we get to the bar, everyone else is there. By everyone else, I mean Wes’s two friends from university, Chris and Will, my friend Jamie from work and Jamie invited her friend Marley who happens to be one of Wes’s good friends from childhood.

They’re talking about a club that just opened downtown. Jamie and Marley went last weekend and said they had a lot of fun and we should all go together sometime. Marley met a guy when they were out, and they’ve been messaging all week.

“We’re going out for drinks tomorrow night,” she tells the group.

Suddenly I feel extremely inadequate for not being involved with anyone at the moment and not having any prospects. (Unless you count hanging out with Wes but I’m really not sure what he thinks about me and I don’t think he would count that.)

He’s sitting beside me, and I look over at him. He’s picking at the side of the table and has barely said anything since we got here which was almost twenty minutes ago.

“Wes, are you seeing anyone these days,” asks Will a few moments later.

“No, not really at the moment,” he says.

“What about that girl you met at the festival that you were seeing a few weeks ago?” asks Marley.

My heartbeat starts to pick up and my brain tries to picture what she might look like. All the girls in my imagination are prettier than me.

I’m seething.

“No, no,” he says. “That’s over. She texted me a few days ago but I never responded.”

I don’t contribute to the conversation; I just sit there and wait for it to be over. Wes and I hang out a lot but never discuss our love lives.

“What do you even do to pick up girls when you go out?” asks Marley. “Like do you have a thing?”

“Um, no, not really,” says Wes.

“Get drunk and go dance behind someone,” says Chris and Will and Jamie laugh.

I can feel my face flush and try to produce a normal laugh.

Marley rolls her eyes. “I seriously don’t know how you ever hook up with anyone,” she says.

Wes looks down and starts picking at the table again with a sheepish smile, and the group moves onto a new topic.


On Sunday I meet Wes for coffee just the two of us. On Friday I saw him as an enigma who didn’t need anyone and slept with beautiful girls who he had no intention of getting to know. Today, I can’t get the image of him picking the bar table while Marley degrades him out of my mind. I look at him sipping his latte and my feelings of jealousy and inadequacy soften and turn into something more like sadness.

Not wanting to be with me may have nothing to do with me at all.

We never talk about our love lives but now that his thing with the girl at the festival is over and he apparently ghosted her, I want to know what happened.

“Why didn’t you like her?” I ask.

“I don’t know,” he says. “I guess I just felt like she didn’t like me. I mean she thought she liked me, but she doesn’t even know me.”

“Does anyone know you?” I ask.

He takes another sip of his latte. “No,” he says finally. “Not really.”

I think (stupidly) that maybe I know him better than anyone. Then I think about the trope where the patient and noble girl best friend waits around while the guy dates a bunch of other girls only to realize he’s completely in love with his best friend who’s been there for him all along. Then I consider whether he’s really worth waiting for—not to mention that he may never want me. I would probably be better off to find someone with less emotional problems who is ready for a relationship now. It’s not my responsibility to try to fix him and he might not even want to change.

Why is my entire life supposed to revolve around trying to find a partner and be happy? I don’t want to leave him along.

It would make me so mad to see him with other girls even if they eventually break up.

Then I remember him looking sad and picking at the bar table. Our relationship is difficult for me sometimes, but I really care about him. I know him well enough to know that a lot of people have left him.

“Lucy, did you see they have cheese flavoured peanuts at the register?” he says.

“That’s disgusting,” I say.

His disposition is similar to that of a grumpy old man but if you can make him smile, his entire face contorts, and it looks like sun shining through the clouds.

“Would you still be friends with me if I ate them?” he asks. The corners of his mouth start to twitch, and he smiles in spite of himself.

“Probably,” I say and roll my eyes. “I’m not planning on letting you go anytime soon.”


Epilogue: Lucy and Wes never got together, and she found another boyfriend who tells her that he loves her. His name is Ryan. Lucy and Wes are still friends.

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