He straightened his jacket and coughed. He exhaled slowly and closed his eyes. Then he rang the bell. He heard shuffling inside, and then the turning of the lock. The door opened. There she was.
"Hey, Jen," he said with a smile he hoped wasn't too obviously forced.
"Hey, Kyle, come in," she said with a smile he thought was genuine.
He nodded and walked past her into the hallway.
He was nervous. He'd met her at a party of a mutual friend recently and they'd hit it off. They'd actually met multiple times before, but they'd never really connected, never really talked. But now they had ended up in a conversation with multiple people, and eventually they had started to just talk amongst the two of them.
He felt he hadn't been nervous at the time because he didn't realize yet he liked her, that he was able to be talk freely without nerves, but now that they were meeting up for an actual date, he was super nervous. She was pretty, but most of all she was smart and funny. That was what had made him ask her out. He'd been surprised when she suggested just hanging out at her place. The benefit of being a known quantity, he guessed. Knowing the same people made it feel safe. He wouldn't have suggested it, but he wasn't going to say no either.
He walked into the living room and saw that it was nice and cozy. Mood lighting, throw pillows on the couch. Obviously not a dude's apartment like his, which had, well, a couch. And lighting.
Also, unlike him, she didn't have Ikea lights. They were designer jobs, little ceramic monkeys holding up lightbulbs as if offering them up to a god he didn't know monkeys had. They looked up towards the light bulb, signifying looking up to that god, he thought. He looked around, and saw that over the dinner table a hanging lampshade had two similar ceramic monkeys seemingly climbing down the cord.
Okay, he thought, little bit odd but there's no accounting for taste, right?
"Take a seat," Jen said as she walked into the living room as well. "I remember you said you liked pilsner at the party?"
"I may have said that, yeah. It's correct, I just don't remember everything from that evening," he said with a grin.
She grinned back.
"That's okay, not everything is worth remembering, right?"
"Wouldn't say that, but the brain decides for itself, it seems."
"I'll be just a sec, gotta open a bottle of wine for myself," she said as she turned the corner into the kitchen.
He smiled to himself and sat down on the couch. Tasteful paintings on the wall, and an old-looking desk in the corner. It was one of those desks with the roll-up cover, one he'd only really seen in movies and old-timey photos of work places. Another interesting choice, but it did add some character to the room, he guessed.
He sat back down.
"We don't like you," a soft voice said.
"Sorry, Jen, did you say something?" he said, turning his head towards the kitchen.
"No, why?" she said back, her voice reminding him what it sounded like, and that it sounded nothing like the soft voice.
"Nothing, sorry, thought I heard something," he said back.
"Okay!" she replied happily.
He turned his head back around and wondered why he'd thought she'd said something.
"Get out, Kyle," the soft voice said, coming from a different direction.
Now he was sure it wasn't her. He looked around but didn't see anything out of the ordinary.
"Jen's too good for you," the soft voice said, again from a different direction. This time it came from the right of him, and when he looked he did notice something odd.
The monkey lamp. Its face was turned to him and looked angry. He moved back a little, surprised. He looked at the other monkey lamp, and it too was looking at him, teeth bared.
"Jen? You almost done there?" he said with a waver in his voice.
"Yeah," she said as she reappeared in the room with a beer and a glass of wine. She was smiling and walked towards him.
"Hi," he said awkwardly, shifting in his seat to face her.
"Hi?" she said, raising an eyebrow but otherwise still smiling.
She sat down next to him and offered the glass of beer to him. He took it and they cheered.
Over the next hour or so, they talked and Kyle's feeling of dread passed. Eventually he mostly forgot about the monkeys, and when he did remember, he checked them again and they were looking up to their bulbs again. It was probably his nerves, he thought. Mind playing tricks, that's all.
"So that's why I decided to go into administration. I just really like numbers, I guess," she said, still with that same smile. "But enough about work, I'm sure that's really boring to you."
"Normally it would be, but for some reason I'm fine hearing about it from you," he said, trying very hard not to smile too smugly afterwards.
"Smooth talker," she said.
She got up.
"Be right back," she said with a wink. She walked towards the hallway. Probably going to the toilet.
"We still don't like you, Kyle. Jen deserves someone better," the soft voice immediately returned.
He looked back at the monkey lamps and both had their teeth bared now. One had let go of his bulb with one hand and was pointing it at him.
He then remembered the two monkeys climbing down from the hanging lamp over the dinner table and looked to see if they too were looking at him as well. He saw immediately that they weren't.
Because they were no longer there. The lamp hung, monkey-less, swinging slightly.
He got up resolutely, inhaled strongly and walked towards the hallway. He stopped at what he assumed was the toilet.
"Jen, I've gotta go, something came up," he said quickly. He could see the two lamp monkeys that had been missing now, standing still but in a way like they had been moving towards him when he hadn't been looking.
"What, why?" a muffled voice returned from a different door than he was speaking at.
He turned towards the correct door, and when he looked back at the monkeys, they were closer now. And it was all 4 of them.
"Work, work came up, I'll call you later, okay?" he said even more quickly.
"Oh, okay? Take care?" Jen said, obviously not sure what was going on.
He never called Jen.
When their mutual friends asked him what had happened, he didn't answer them.
Some battles just aren't worth fighting.