Bear was still into Willa, despite his best efforts not to be. His friends still thought he was crazy, a sentiment that had spread throughout multiple of his social circles. On Monday of one week, Bill told him he was embarrassing himself for mooning over Willa from a distance as she watered the ficus at the end of the hall, but this came as Bill was crouching behind his cubicle partition to avoid Marlena so Bear wasn’t sure his opinion held much stock. On Tuesday, Ward told him to either “nut up and ask her out” or “stop weenying about like a weeny”. On Wednesday night, while having dinner with his friend Oscar from university, Bear was told to just leave it entirely.
“Don’t even bother,” Oscar told him after Bear had explained his romantic dilemma.
“You don’t even know her,” Bear pointed out mildly. Bear had spent a great deal of time peeling Oscar off of various floors following his horrendous break-up with his university girlfriend. Now Oscar had moved on and was finally happy again. Bear felt he was owed perhaps a tiny bit of understanding.
“I don’t need to know her,” Oscar replied. “She’s not right for you. I know she’s not right for you because you have literally the worst taste in women ever. You always choose really confusing women to date and then never know where you stand and then you inevitably break up and life is terrible.”
Bear felt like that was maybe an over-exaggeration, especially from a man who had once laid down in the closet of a stranger at a house party out of pure sadness. Bear questioned his credibility. And then Ward said essentially the same thing on Friday evening as they gathered at Bill’s for a night out. Bill had had a long week of avoiding their boss and, presumably, living with his ex-girlfriend in the most ill-advised living situation Bear had ever encountered and wanted some time to unwind. Roughly, that translated to him getting shitfaced and then crying in a bar. That was pretty much set in stone plan-wise. The only as yet undetermined aspect of the evening was which bar he would be crying in. Bear hoped it was Julio’s because the bartenders made very good old fashioneds.
“You have the worst taste in women,” Ward told Bear, seemingly out of the blue. They hadn’t even been discussing Bear. They’d been talking about Griffin’s abysmal love life, but since nothing had developed, nor would it ever, Ward had grown tired of that topic of conversation and moved on.
“My friend Oscar said the same thing about Willa on Wednesday,” Bear admitted thoughtfully. Perhaps there was more weight in it than he’d originally thought.
“I’m very reassured by the fact that you have a whole other friend group who also thinks that,” Dylan told Bear, shoving chips in his mouth like he thought they were going to run out. Luke shot him a disgusted look, but handed him one of the paper plates Bill had put out anyway. They were New Year’s themed, clearly left over from some party.
“Where do you even find these women?” Griffin asked Bear.
“Oh, the irony,” Bill said dryly, rolling his eyes. “The only one of us capable of finding someone who isn’t crazy, mean, or driven to madness by our own stupidity is Godfrey.”
Godfrey winked and pointed his finger at Bill like a gun. Bear would like to have protested, but he couldn’t actually find the words to form an argument. It was true. Godfrey’s past relationships had all been with perfectly normal, lovely women, all of whom were clever, pretty, and kind. His relationships tended to end for very acceptable reasons, such as the time his ex-girlfriend Kirsty had moved to Northern Manitoba to follow her dreams of working at a polar bear conservation area. The rest of them, on the other hand, were terrible at relationships. Luke had managed to find Rachel, which had been a small miracle, considering how great she was. But then, of course, she had ended things with him because he was emotionally distant always with everybody who wasn’t his dog.
“I think we’re bad adults,” Dylan offered, more chips in his mouth. Luke’s disgust grew.
“Well, you certainly are,” Ward retorted.
Bear thought a lot about what his friends had said over the weekend. They were probably right. He just needed to either go for it with Willa or give it up entirely. He resolved to ask her out on Monday the very first time he saw her. That turned out to be while she was once again watering the big ficus at the end of the hall. Bear loped over to her, mentally preparing what he was going to say. He started by asking her how her weekend had been. They chatted about the movie she’d watched, eventually tapering off to the perfect moment for him to invite her out.
“Hey, Willa, would you like to have dinner with me sometime?” Bear asked her casually.
“Oh, Bear, that’s so sweet,” she said, which wasn’t the good sign he’d been hoping for. “You know I have a boyfriend, though?”
He wondered why she’d said it like that. Clearly he hadn’t known or he wouldn’t have asked her out.
“Oh, uh, no, but that’s alright,” Bear said awkwardly. “That’s great.”
He didn’t think it was great at all, but he couldn’t think of anything else to say. Telling her how not-great he really thought it was seemed like a bad idea. He didn’t want to hurt her; it wasn’t her fault she had a boyfriend when he liked her.
“He’s the worship leader at my church,” Willa explained. Bear tried to recall her mentioning being heavily involved in church before. He hadn’t thought she was the church-going type.
“What church do you go to?” Bear asked, mostly to be polite. He didn’t want to be rude. He didn’t want to leave the conversation the minute after he didn’t get what he wanted. That was childish and selfish.
“The Church of Eternal Light,” Willa answered. They made some more smalltalk for what Bear considered an appropriate length of time and then he headed back to his desk. He googled The Church of Eternal Light because he couldn’t help himself. There was a website, which featured quite a few photos of one particular man dressed entirely in white linen and ropes of beads, mostly raising his hands to the sky in front of groups of similarly dressed people. The website claimed The Church of Eternal Light guided its faithful followers to the City of Light. There was a lot about the medicinal purposes of wildflowers and the importance of grouplove. The main man in the linen, presumably Willa’s boyfriend, claimed to be the High Priest of Light.
“Willa’s definite in a cult,” Bear informed Bill and Ward later in the morning, showing them the website he still had pulled up on his computer screen. The two of them read over the mission statement of The Church of Eternal Light for a few minutes.
“She legit drank the Kool-Aid, man,” Ward observed, clapping Bear on the shoulder. “Way to dodge a fucking bullet.”
But Bear wasn’t so sure he had dodged a bullet. He had asked her out after all. He thought about his life as it was. He made a resolution not to ask out any other women who were part of cults. He’d set the bar really low, but it was a hurtle he’d already failed to jump.