There is something extremely skanky about having one boyfriend move out one day, and then have a new one move in the very next day. There had to be some marker, something the signify a change. At the very least, I should change the sheets. But that still felt too skanky.

So, on Monday I told Jared I needed to run errands at lunchtime. I headed straight to Stroud's, and bought a new comforter, sheets, duvet, and towels. Then, I passed by a natural foods store and picked up some candles and white sage incense. Over $500 later, I felt I had what I needed to purify my home and de-skank myself.

One of my friends, who was some-part Cherokee, told me the Native Americans use white sage to purify themselves and their homes of any negative spirits. So I lit the incense - which actually looked like a poorly-rolled cigar - crushed the burnt end slightly, and walked through my house, letting the smoke roll and turn around me. When I was done, the sheets were ready to go in the dryer, and the towels could go through the wash. I took off the ugly peach drapes in my bedroom, drapes that coordinated with nothing, and threw them in my closet. I stripped the bed, and sacked the linen closet. By bedtime, I was in a new room. I laid down in my "new" bed, completely satisfied, and thought about Jared as I drifted to sleep.

I'll do it right with this guy, I thought. I'll be really truthful and blunt with him, and not put on that nice act all girlfriends do and later regret. I need to make sure he's what I want, and that he really wants me.

And I'll take it really slow.

After work the next day, Jared followed me home in his car. It wasn't his first time over, but it was the first time that he parked in the garage, and the first time he could come in and feel like he belonged there. We climbed the stairs and I led him into the kitchen. I was about to open the fridge and make dinner when he grabbed me and spun me around.

"Hey cutie," he grinned. I hugged him tight around the waist and kissed his scratchy face. This felt so good.

We woke up the hext morning to the beautiful buzzing of my new alarm clock - I knew Jared would need it. He groaned and slapped around for the Snooze button. I glanced over his shoulder at the time. 6:45. He'd probably be late, but could still make it in by eight. I pressed up against his back and tickled his ear.

"C'mon, we gotta get up," I said, smoothing his hair with my fingers.

"Uh-uh," he protested, burrowing further into the blankets. 6:47. Oh, and I'm a stickler for punctuality.

"OK, well I'm getting up, and I'll even start the shower for you." I climb over Jared, pausing as I straddled him, then moved on to the bathroom. I could feel him watching me, so I turned and smiled. "And look, a toothbrush just for you!"

He grinned back at me. "You know, you're really cute." He stretched luxuriously before sitting up, then finally trudged blindly to the bathroom. God, he can barely function in the morning, I smiled. No wonder he's always late for work. When he reached me, he held me tight for a long time. His body was so warm - so comforting. He kissed the top of my head before pulling away slightly. Casually, he said, "Hey, if I'm going to be here sometimes, I should probably bring over some toiletries. You know, nothing fancy, but like deodorant, gel, that kind of thing."

"Yeah, you're probably right."

Soon, I became "babe".

"Hey babe, since I'll be over here sometimes, I should probably bring over some clothes, too. Not a whole closet, but you know, just a change or two, so I don't feel so disgusting going to work in the same thing as the day before. Right?"

"Yeah, that makes sense."

"Babe, I'm here all the time. I should move my computer over here. I haven't seen it in over a week and I miss it."

"Ok sure, whatever you need. You can put it in the spare room."

Thus, in the course of one week, I got a new live-in boyfriend. So much for taking it slow.

One afternoon, Jared came into my office. He looked a little hurried, which was very unusual.

"Hey babe, can I get your housekeys?"

"Uh, yeah," I answered, digging into my purse. "What are you doing?"

"I want to do something special for you - I want to make you dinner. And I'll need to get there early so it'll be ready by the time you get home."

"Oh!" I smiled, and handed him the key. "OK then, if it's for my benefit," I blew a kiss, and he pretended to catch it in his fist.

As I walked upstairs, I could smell the marinara sauce and extra garlic. I smiled broadly, imagining sexy, tough-guy Jared mincing garlic for me. I peeked around the kitchen before announcing myself, and saw a huge pile of dirty pans in the sink. He must have used every appliance in my kitchen.

"Helloooo?" I called, and Jared looked over his shoulder from the range. I started to walk up to him.

"No! Go sit on the couch!" he commanded. I jumped back, startled at his response. "Uh, I'm not ready yet." I silently backed away.

"OK, just going upstairs to change, then," I said slowly, as if calming a rabid animal. I kicked off my shoes and they landed on the pile of peach curtains still on my closet floor. I laid on our bed for a while, eyes closed. I wasn't going to come down until Jared said it was OK, I decided. A few more minutes passed. I considered going to dinner naked just to surprise him, but somehow that felt unhygienic. Finally he yelled upstairs.

"OK, I'M READY." I grinned in anticipation. If he used every pan and bowl in my kitchen, then there must be a feast waiting for me. At least there would be dessert, I hoped.

Our kitchen table was illuminated with a pair of white candles. Next to that was a vase holding a single red rose. For dinner was - Contadina ravioli and Barilla pasta sauce, with a side of packaged caesar salad. I wasn't disappointed, I just wondered how he used so many pans for such a simple meal. I smiled anyway. This was so sweet. No one had ever put out so much effort to make me happy before. Jared was such a good guy.

"Wow, babe," I kissed him, "this looks great! Thanks for making me dinner, this is the first tiem, ever." He kissed me back.

"You deserve it, babe."

Note to self: Give Jared a key.

Then, one day, the inevitable freak-out occurred.

"Hey babe," I yelled up the stairs, "you got anything you need washed?"

No answer.

"Babe?"

Still no answer.

So I trotted up the stairs. Jared was in the spare room, eyes fixed on the screen.

"Did you hear me? I'm doing the wash," I said.

"Yeah," he said distantly, "I heard you."

"Well? Anything you need washed?" I asked, a little impatiently. I really didn' want to repeat myself one more time.

"No."

I scowled, eyeing the rumpled jeans in the corner. "OK, then," I replied as I left the room.

Later that night, I laid in bed while Jared was on the computer. This was strange behavior for Jared, hauntingly familiar behavior for Scott. Oh God, do I drive men to love their computers? I thought with horror.

"Hey babe," I called, "you coming to bed?"

"In a minute," he said tersely. You'd think he was Batman, upset that I disturbed him in the Cave.

Maybe an hour later, he climbed into bed. I had already fallen asleep. I rolled toward him, and laid my hand on his shoulder, but he was cold - there was no response from him. Slowly, I withdrew my hand and rolled over - to my side of the bed. Maybe Jared is a split personality, I thought. This is the guy you met when you first started at TDM. Either way, I hope "hot sex" Jared resurfaces soon.

A couple days later, "hot sex" Jared hadn't returned. I was getting worried,

"Uh, babe can we talk?" I asked uncertainly. He looked up at me, as if perturbed.

I took that to mean "yes".

"Well, you've been acting pretty wierd these last few days. It feels like you're avoiding me, maybe you're mad at me for something? Anyway I need to know what happened." I stood there in front of him, waiting for the firing squad.

"Yeah, I've been avoiding you," he said quietly. His eyes looked stormy - it worried me. "This last month living here with you has been great, but-"

Is he breaking up with me? Is this how it feels? Like your world is falling apart?

"-but maybe it's because I'm a pessimist, or a realist, whatever you want to call it - because I feel like I'm waiting for the other shoe to drop." I cocked my head.

"What do you mean? What do you think will happen?"

"You know, when things are going so well, you know it can't last forever," he explained. "I'm getting really into you, Iris, and part of me wants to be prepared for the time when you tell me you don't want me around anymore. I want to be prepared for the time when my heartbreaks, and everything goes to shit." He finished, looking at the floor between his feet.

I really didn't know what to say. Sure, I could give the thoughtlessly trite "oh honey everything will be OK" line, but 1. he wouldn't buy it, and 2.I could never be so certain of anything ever again, after the Scott disaster. I looked at him for a moment, then took his hands.

"So when you're feeling like this - I don't know what would make you feel better," I said softly. "Do you want more space to sort things out, or do you want me to get in closer?" Somehow, the offer of coming closer felt almost too scary to offer.

"I need you closer," he whispered. I took a step nearer and held his head to my stomach. He wrapped his arms around my waist and wouldn't let go.