Who: Wayne Hopkins, Louisa Macnair
Where: Wayne’s place
When: 9 February 2002, evening
Louisa liked watching Wayne cook. She liked watching him doing a lot of things, but there was something nice about a man who could cook. Louisa was paranoid enough that anybody she dated was going expect her to be a housewife that someone who actually enjoyed cooking was… if not actually a turn on, a damn close thing.
Wayne looked up from seasoning the sauce to see Louisa watching him closely, and smiled a bit crookedly. He liked having company while he cooked, and was flattered by her interest, but as usual being the focus of anyone’s attention made him feel a bit uncomfortable. He was always more relaxed if Louisa had something she wanted to talk about, or if she was also occupied with a task. So he gave her one. “Do me a favour? Taste this—” he said, lifting the spoon from the sauce, “And then grab me the cookbook, the red one? I think I left it on my desk.”
Louisa leaned over the counter to taste the sauce, knowing even before she tasted it that it was going to be good, and it was.
“Mmm,” she said. “You don’t need a cookbook, you know. You seem to just have an instinct.” Still, she jumped up and headed out of the kitchen anyway. One should never argue with an artist.
Louisa made her way to Wayne’s room and opened the door. A cursory glance told her that the desk had no cookbooks on it, red or otherwise. She was going to have to fish around for it. First she looked on the bookcase, which held cookbooks, but none red. Then she looked on Wayne’s bedside table, in case he had been reading in bed. Nope. She considered going to tell Wayne she couldn’t find it, but she didn’t really want to drag him away from what he was doing. She’d just have a quick look in the desk drawers. It might be in there, and she could ignore anything that wasn’t a book. Okay, top drawer, stationery, second drawer — aha! There were a couple of books in there. She took them out to see if one of them was the red cookbook, but was distracted from the task from the title of the top book.
Eight and a Half Days to Self-Confidence.
Louisa froze. He had actually gotten a book about it. She stared at it for a minute. It was such a Ravenclaw thing to do that she could hardly believe it, but then of course Wayne would choose reading a book over something embarrassing like talking to someone. Without really wanting to, she picked up the book and flicked through it, just in case she was mistaken. She wasn’t mistaken. The sound of a pan from the kitchen being placed on the hob roused her and she hurriedly pushed the books back into the drawer haphazardly and shut it quickly. She had been gone too long. As though running from something, she hurried back into the kitchen and then realised, as Wayne looked up at her, that she didn’t have the cookbook.
“I couldn’t find it,” she said apologetically. Her face was flushed and it was obvious something was wrong.
Wayne had been absorbed in the pleasant routines of cooking (and basking in Louisa’s compliment) and hadn’t noticed how long she had been gone. “That’s alright—” he began, then broke off as he noticed the look on her face. He immediately felt uneasy, and he paused in his chopping, just sort of freezing with the knife still poised over the peppers. She’d only been down the hall, and only for a minute… why was she looking like that? “Are you OK?”
“Yeah, I’m fine,” Louisa replied guiltily. She hadn’t really done anything wrong — it wasn’t as though she had been snooping about, she just was looking for his book like he had asked — but she felt as though she had done something awful. She realised she wasn’t convincing anyone, and he was still looking at her, and she crumpled slightly as the tension in her spine finally gave way.
“I just… sorry. I found something private. I’m sorry. I didn’t read it.”
“Something private?” Wayne repeated, his brows drawing together as he tried to guess what she might be referring to. His journal? That was all under wards. His porn? But ‘read’ wasn’t really the term he’d use for that… Then he winced as he realized what it could have been: his new books, or — what would be worse, much worse — the stupid written exercises the books had told him to do. “Make a list of everything you like about yourself.” “Write down every compliment someone gives you this week.” He’d made some half-hearted attempts to complete them and then stuffed them between the pages of the books, and if that was what she had found…
He wanted to ask what she’d actually seen, but at the same time he also really, really didn’t want to.
“Well, thanks for not reading it,” he finally said, and looked down to keep chopping the peppers, though at a slower pace than before. He wanted to say something else to just sort of… smooth it all over… but no words came to him.
Louisa watched him chopping peppers, feeling awful. Maybe she shouldn’t have said anything, and just let him think she was having some sort of fit. No, she was sure that whatever he would imagine was wrong with her would be worse than the truth. He had that sort of mind.
She wondered instead if he would have been happier just having low self esteem if she hadn’t said anything, if realising that he thought badly of himself might actually just make him feel bad about thinking badly of himself, and not actually change anything. No, she couldn’t think like that. He couldn’t just go on like that.
Louisa walked over to Wayne, took the knife out of his hand (she wasn’t a complete idiot), and gave him a hug.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “I’m glad you — I mean, I appreciate you trying to — I hope you’ll come to understand what a wonderful man you are.”
Wayne was surprised by the hug, and hugged her back a bit stiffly. But he didn’t let her go, partly because it was easier than having to make eye contact. He wasn’t sure what to say to that. He just… he couldn’t imagine himself suddenly becoming someone who went around thinking how wonderful he was, and was that what Louisa wanted? But it wasn’t like he went around thinking he was totally worthless either. Not always, anyway. He hoped she knew that.
“Yeah,” he finally said, mostly into her hair. Then he cleared his throat, and tried to lighten the mood as he finally met her eyes again. “So far the books are kind of pants, though,” he added. “One of them actually told me to floss my teeth and cut my nails. Like oh, you have poor self-esteem, probably because you’re a filth monster and your breath stinks.”
Louisa took the cue for light-heartedness.
“Well…,” she said with a teasing smile. “I was trying not to say….”
She didn’t really think Wayne was going to start thinking he was wonderful, or even hope for it, honestly. But you couldn’t really say, ‘I hope you’ll start believing yourself to be adequate.’ That made it sound like she only thought he was adequate. Why did this have to all be so hard?
“Very funny,” Wayne retorted, giving her a pinch in the side and then turning it into a tickle. Then marveling, as he often did, that a girl as sweet and smart and beautiful as Louisa was standing here in his kitchen, letting him put his hands on her. His stomach flipped and he suddenly grew more serious, resting his forehead against hers.
“It might not work, you know,” he informed her. “I don’t know if it’s just something I can fix.” He closed his eyes but there, he’d said it. He just didn’t want her to get her hopes up. So far, it wasn’t exactly promising.
“Yeah, I know,” she replied, although she didn’t, really. She didn’t really know what she was doing, or what she was thinking. She didn’t know what Wayne would look like with better self-esteem. She just thought he might be happier. “You’re great as you are, really. It’s just sort of sad that you don’t see it.”
“No, I do,” Wayne assured her quickly, then felt flustered. “I mean, sometimes. I mean…” Dammit, he didn’t know what he wanted to say, except that it felt like there was some important distinction to make here.
And he thought of the chapter he’d been reading yesterday, and how it had said you had to speak up for your own feelings and what you wanted. Because maybe you couldn’t control how the other person would react, but you had to tell yourself you’d survive it, whatever it was.
“I just don’t like feeling like you’re sorry for me, or think there’s something wrong with me,” he said. “You keep saying I’m so great and you just wish I could see that, and that doesn’t make me feel so great. And I know you’re not doing it on purpose, but that’s how it makes me feel.”
That was not what Louisa wanted at all. She was just trying to help.
“Sorry,” she said tightly. It felt weird, standing so near to him now, so she took a step back. She had no idea what to say, and felt inexplicably angry. She wanted him to talk about his feelings, didn’t she? So why was it that him talking about his feelings did this to her?
She had wanted different feelings, that was why. She felt like she kept doing everything wrong when she was just trying to make him happy. He wasn’t happy. He wasn’t happy on his birthday and he wasn’t happy now. Louisa was starting to doubt she could make him happy at all.
“I need some space,” she said, frustrated, and turned to leave the room, but a few steps away she span back.
“I don’t feel sorry for you, and I’m not trying to change you, but you are trying to change me. You can dress it up in your ‘feelings’ but what it comes down to is I’m not girlfriending you properly and you want me to change. I’m sorry my attempts to make you happy are backfiring so catastrophically, but you know what? If you can’t just take things in the spirit they’re meant, you should find someone who can cater to your needs better. Try Eloise.”
There were tears pricking at her eyelids, but she wouldn’t let herself cry.
Fuuuuck. A pot started bubbling over on the stove but Wayne ignored it, because all that mattered right now was trying to fix whatever was happening with Louisa. “I’m sorry,” he said woefully, taking a step toward her and then making himself stop before he infringed any closer on her space. “I’m not — You do make me happy,” he said, sounding more bewildered than anything. And that horrible voice in his head, that one that all the books said was his “low self-esteem” started in again, pointing out, “See, this is what happens when you try to ask for what you want. You always say the wrong thing. You ruin everything.” And he tried to ignore it but it was right, wasn’t it? And he’d never be able to “fix” his self-esteem because it was just the truth. That’s what Louisa couldn’t understand.
“I’m sorry,” he repeated again, because he couldn’t think of anything else to say that wouldn’t just make things even worse.
“I don’t make you happy, though, do I?” Louisa replied, biting her lip. “I embarrass you and make you feel badly about yourself. I make you feel like there’s something wrong with you.”
She paused. “I don’t mean to do that,” she said in a small voice.
Wayne let out a shaky breath. “OK, I know,” he said. “I didn’t mean to make you feel bad for making me feel bad. Because that makes me feel even worse.” He managed a tiny, tentative smile at that and watched her carefully to see if she might smile in return. “But you know you make me really happy, right?” He didn’t understand how she couldn’t see that. “I mean, if I’m ever unhappy, it’s usually because I know I’ve done something to make you unhappy. And I never want to do that.” Words were starting to lose their meaning… he could only hope he was putting them together in some kind of order that made sense.
Louisa looked at him for a moment.
“I don’t know that. That is, maybe I feel like I do some of the time but then other times it doesn’t feel like that at all, like today.”
Louisa’s stomach was churning and she hated it. Louisa had always thought of herself as the rational one, the calm one, the sane one. She didn’t feel rational or calm or sane right now. She felt like a jumbled mess of emotions, and that made her feel like she wasn’t herself anymore. But this was what happens when you get into relationships, wasn’t it? You might not be the yelling, screaming type, or the physical fighting type, but arguments happened and you didn’t feel in control anymore. Was it worth it? Relationships? Maybe she should have just stuck to how it was before; nice, steady friendships.
She pressed her fingers into her eyes, wanting to force back some of the thoughts, or make them stop, or something.
“I don’t know,” she repeated.
Wayne weighed his response carefully, and then the acrid smell of something burning hit his nose. He hastily waved his wand in the direction of the stove, cutting off the burners at least, then started moving in Louisa’s direction — slowly, with no sudden movements, like you might walk up to someone standing on a ledge and threatening to jump.
“Well, that’s okay,” he pointed out. “You don’t have to make me happy all the time. I don’t think there’s any relationship where everyone makes everyone happy all of the time. But I’m sorry, I never meant to make you feel like you weren’t…” — what was that strange phrase she’d used? — “Girlfriending me properly.” He was still standing a bit behind and to the side of her, but he reached for her hand now, holding his breath as he hoped she’d let him take it. There was more he could say, more he wanted to explain, but he held back — because the more he said, the more likely he was to put his foot in mouth.
Louisa took his hand.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “I don’t know why I react like that with you. I’m not normally…”
Being unable to finish that sentence to her satisfaction, Louisa just trailed off and hugged him instead. Emotions were hard. At least Wayne was forgiving.
“I think I ruined dinner as well,” she said.
“I’ll take it as a compliment?” Wayne said, kissing her temple. “And dinner is definitely, irrevocably ruined. Maybe let’s go out for something greasy? And then if you want to just go back to yours after, that’s alright.” He’d added that last bit thinking she still might want a bit of space — and he liked to think it reflected well on him if he was the one to offer it. Not to mention it hurt less than if she was the one to suggest it.
“No, I want to stay here,” Louisa said. “I mean, we can go and get something to eat, but I want to stay here tonight. With you.” She sighed. This was all so, so weird.
“I don’t want you to change,” she said. “I just want to make you happy. I’m sorry it doesn’t always work. And I’m sorry I flipped out. I’m new to this whole relationship thing and I’m still learning.” A thought occurred to her. “Maybe I should get a book about that.”
“That’s OK,” Wayne said, stroking her hair. “I’m not exactly a relationship expert either. And I might change, a little… But I guess I just wanted you to say that it’s OK if I can’t.” There, was that so hard? Why couldn’t he have just said that twenty minutes ago instead of freaking out and making everything go off the rails? He didn’t want her to think he was inviting a rehash of the conversation though, so he kissed her forehead and then finished, “Give me five minutes to tidy up and we’ll go?”
“Sure,” Louisa said, drawing back from the hug, but retaining a hold on his hand. “I’ll help,” she added. By now she knew where most of everything belonged in the kitchen. She didn’t make a move to help, though; just kept standing there.
Wayne gave her hand a squeeze before dropping it and heading toward the stove, and starting to scrape the worst of the burnt gunk into the sink. “So what do you think, Indian maybe?” he asked, as a flick of his wand set some sponges scrubbing. He looked over his shoulder at her and couldn’t help but wonder if there was still anything worrisome on her mind. “Or there’s the falafel place, if they haven’t had any mice lately…”
With a little sigh, Louisa followed and started putting dirty implements etc. by the sink, ready for their turn being washed up.
“Yeah, alright,” she said. Then she changed her mind. “No, Indian will take too long for them to cook. Let’s just get chips and bring them back here. Then we don’t have to be out so long.”
“OK,” agreed Wayne readily. “Chips and cuddles it is.” His secret hope was that if they went out and interacted with some other people, once they came back to the flat the weird tension that still lingered in the air would be gone. Sometimes a change of location did the trick.