By Francine Senderovich
He stayed up all night thinking of the right words to say. It needed to be said, but in a way that wouldn’t sting. He didn’t want the words to hurt her. And he didn’t want to feel like shit after he said them.
Their first date was pretty wonderful as far as first dates go. He told her it was wonderful. He wasn’t lying. It felt good. She felt good. But on the second date, he started to wonder. And when it was time to make his move for date three, he dragged his feet. At first, he figured it was timing. He was in transition—a man in between—jobs, homes, and cities. Not the best place to start a new thing. But he realized it was something else—something was missing.
He told her he wanted to meet up. It was early June, but felt like deep August. The forecast predicted intermittent and heavy downpours. On the phone, she told him she’d be all muggy. She suggested meeting the day after, but he wanted to do this now. Say what needs to be said. He told her he’d be sweaty, too, and that everybody would be. Later, he realized she was telling him something else—that she’d rather do this when she was primped, fresh, and perfumed. But he wasn’t good at reading between the lines like her. Sometimes, he thought she was too smart for him.
On the train to meet her, he remembered how much he missed this landscape. It didn’t matter that everything was soaked in gray. He had been out of the country for more than a year and had forgotten the way the buildings hug the tracks as the train winds around certain corners. He always counted on the grating of metal against metal to dull the pain. But it was more soothing than he remembered. Paris was his number one. That’s what he said when people asked him. But his city felt good now. Damp. Clean. New. He thought about why he had left this place—why he always left. Then he started thinking about her. Intense, crazy thoughts jumped around in his head—but he quickly pushed them out. He ran through his lines again. He needed to tell her how he’d been feeling. He trusted his heart to say the words gently. He would tell her he liked her a lot—a lot—but that he didn’t think there was romance between them. He didn’t see Paris in her eyes. He didn’t feel the tug.
He arrived at the tea shop early. His strategy was to grab a cool drink, sit down, and compose himself. But his plans got shot to hell. He spotted her at a small table with her back to him. At first, he didn’t recognize her. One of the things that had caught his eye when they first met was her mop of wild black hair. But now it was pinned up in a messy knot of curls. Her fingers kept tugging at some wild strands, trying to wind them back into the little swirl. He paused for a moment and watched. She finally gave up and went back to writing—crossing out words and replacing them with others. She was good at revision, at making things better. He liked that about her.
He headed to the table, brushing off the wet from his clothes. As he got closer, he noticed a few loose strands on her neck. They were still damp. She glanced up and smiled.
“It’s good to see you,” she said.
“Good to see you.”
He kissed her on the cheek. Her skin was moist and fragrant. He remembered the bouquet of flowers he offered on their second date. Lilacs were her favorite, but he gave her irises. He told her lilacs were out of season. She said irises were her new favorite. He asked what she was drinking. It looked cool and refreshing. He noticed the stain of lipstick on the straw. He hadn’t seen her lips naked before. She told him it was a mojito iced tea and that he’d probably like it. They had known each other only a few months, but she seemed to always know what he liked. She seemed to know him. He wasn’t sure about this, but he ordered one for himself. As he walked back from the counter, he thought how pretty she looked today. She looked good un-primped. He couldn’t stop staring at her mouth.
He started to tell her what he came there to tell her, but she started asking questions. She wanted to know how he’d been, what he’d been doing, the kinds of queries that come from someone who cares. Someone who waits for the answers. They talked about all kinds of stuff. Baseball. North Side vs. South Side. He told her about his high school buddy who died. He listened to her stories about her parrot. They laughed. She laughed so hard she snorted. He forgot his mantra: I’m not a pet person. She read part of her essay to him. He watched her mouth and the way it pouted around certain words. He wanted her to say “joie de vivre” one more time.
Hours passed. It rained again, and then cleared up again. The scent of mint floated around them, in between them. He told her what happened overseas. When she rested her hand on his, he let her.
“What?” She looked at him. He was staring at her.
He took a long, slow sip of his mojito tea.
“Your hair’s different,” he said.