I was waiting to cross the street when I contemplated leaving you. Standing at the crosswalk, I could feel your presence. I clasped my right hand, felt my fingers fold into your palm. The wind picked up as the light switched to yellow, and I could smell your cologne and Chap Stick. I licked my lips and tasted Burt’s Bees. Idling at the red light was a black sports car that’s engine growled. The driver, who wore a blue striped button-down and tinted shades, lit a cigarette, inhaled a heap of nicotine, and lowered his arm out the window to dust the tar with ashes.
You and I used to have a spark, used to have a flame. The connection between us glowed like the sun dipping into the ocean like the back of a humpback whale, as we snuggled beneath the sheets. Our spark was hauled by matches to the wicks of candlesticks. The flame would remain; melt the wax till the candle cried, until it was blown out to cease the moment. Now our flame was that of a weak lighter. The driver struggled to light the butt. I struggle to make myself laugh at your jokes. Once lit, the driver inhaled the nicotine until the flame slipped back into the lighter. I always want to talk; you always walk the other way.
I could hear my key chain jingle in my pocket. The parking lot was just across the street. I walked past the windows of the restaurant and continued for the entrance. In the corner of my eye, I could see couples cuddling in booths and honeymooners thigh-caressing at the bar. We never would share the same seat at a booth, and we are too young to drink.
All the women in the booths or at the bar wore high-heels and strapless dresses. I just got off my shift. I was wearing belt-dependent loose jeans, Sketchers and a black hoodie over my tank top. You always hated when I purposely exposed my cleavage. I pocketed my hands and walked into the restaurant. The hostess – redhead wearing a lime green strapless top that exposed her midriff – continued to look down at her podium as I walked over. She glanced up at me and asked “how many” before glancing back down. Her right eyebrow’s piercing was spiked and matched her eyes: blue. I told her I was meeting someone. She glanced back up at me and glared, scaling my figure, and I prayed to God you were already waiting for me.
Hands still pocketed, I walked past the thigh-caressing honeymooners at the bar and entered the dining room. I went over to the table in the corner, following the trail of cologne-congested air. You stood up and pulled a chair out for me. You were wearing your favorite shirt: white button-down with red collar and cuffs. I never liked it. I always felt like the red exaggerated two stereotypes: red neck and emo. You told me you already ordered for us. I glanced at my empty glass; you poured with the pitcher of water. I forced a grin and take a sip. We remained silent. You reached over the table for my hands; I kept them in my lap. You tossed me a few compliments and I boomeranged back a “thank you” or smile without teeth. I was too afraid to talk about my day at work. You’d been collecting unemployment benefits since February. It was almost August.
A few minutes later, a man with tattoos that spiraled down his arms put a basket of bread in the center of our table, accompanied with our meals: chicken parmesan. The waiter slid his hands into his back pockets and left our table after asking if anything else was needed.
“Would you like some chicken with your cheese?” I thought to myself. The Parmesan covered the chicken like a sleeve. Surrounding the chicken like a collar was a circle of marinara sauce. I imagined taking a couple bites. I saw myself taking a couple bites, pulling down on my belt bucket, and then leaning back in my chair as I wondered: where is the bathroom? I knew I had to pass the redhead at her podium who was probably texting her past psychology professor who she blew the week before finals.
You placed your wallet and cellphone on the table before cutting into your chicken. The cheese remained on the top of the chicken – thick and stable – like batter. You took a few bites and then take a swig of water. My plate stayed untouched. You glanced down at your phone, grin slightly, and then rise from the table. You murmured, “be right back,” and dropped your wrinkled napkin in your seat. Using the fork, I impaled the chicken. I leaned back in my chair and stared at your phone that started to vibrate.
I swiveled in my chair to looked behind me. There sat a young couple conversing with closed menus. The woman was smiling and running her fingers through her hair. The man kept bouncing his left knee as he repeatedly clasped his hands. On the table – between the couple – were a dozen roses. The man’s tick were triggered by nerves that usually come during a first date; but when I saw the diamond ring on the woman’s finger, I knew it was something more and she meant much more to him than she could possibly imagine. Your phone vibrated again.
I leaned over the table and picked up your wallet. Two years previous, I had bought you this wallet, and just recently had you started using it. I opened the wallet and found a picture of us: our prom picture. You stood behind me, wearing a black suit and tie that matched my dress: baby blue. I peeled back the photo to find another one that had been turned around. There was writing on the back. I could never read cursive. Your phone vibrated again. I slowly pulled out the signed picture and turned it around. The photograph was a headshot of a brunette. At the bottom of the photo I could see the peak of her cleavage that was packed into a bikini top that’s straps went up and to the back of her neck.
Her eyes were blue. Her right eyebrow pierced.
I removed the fork from my chicken, laid the picture on the sleeve of cheese, and then impaled the picture with my knife.
I walked toward the door. The hostess scurried over to her podium, but I had already left. The smell of freshly lit cigarettes followed me as I ran to the parking lot. The growl of an engine was heard. I looked up and saw the black sports car idling in the parking spot next to my car. I wiped my eyes, pocketed my hands and walked over.
The driver leaned against the passenger-side door and removed his shades. His eyes were light brown, matching his leather seats. He pulled a pack out of his jean pocket and offered me a smoke. Cigarette in mouth, he brought the lighter to the butt and inhaled, blinking his eyes at the same time. I placed one in my mouth; he stepped forward to light mine. I felt my phone vibrate in my back pocket and took it out. You were calling me. I hit ignore and placed my phone on the hood of my car. He offered his hand for a shake and his name for an exchange. My phone vibrated once more. I tapped my cigarette over my phone and let the ashes sprinkle the screen. I gave him my name and removed my hood, revealing my blonde hair that fell in front of my eyes like a curtain.
He took another hit, lowered his arm and exhaled. “Ya know,” he said as he dropped the cigarette and put it out. “I’ve always had a thing for natural blondes.”