Jessie, end

07 Aug

After dinner and at Jessie’s insistence, we threw the boxed pizza into my car. I had offered to allow her to take the remainder since she’d never had Dewey’s before, but as I had paid for half the bill, it seemed important to her to declare her independence from even the saddest of patriarchal leftovers. I didn’t argue. Mushroom pizza is amazing.

Jessie’s conversation came in monosyllables, and I naturally assumed that our date had by this point burned down to wet ashes. We walked down Ludlow in the direction of her car. The evening begged to be allowed to die gracefully and with dignity. I guessed that perhaps a foot and a half of empty space had grown between us, a gulf that screamed “don’t touch me.” It also caused us to take up the whole of the sidewalk, obliging us to step even further apart to allow space for lampposts, mailboxes, and other people.

“So, what are your plans for the rest of the tonight?” The question startled me, although I had been silently considering that very topic. I thought she’d leave soon, and it hadn’t seemed probable that she would care.

“Well, there’s a coffee shop about a block that way,” I said, gesturing in the direction of the theater. “I like it, and they have drinks. Care to join me?” She did care.

The coffee shop was eclectically furnished with mismatched tables and wrought iron chairs. Toward the back, the staff had provided one of the tables with row chairs ripped from some luckless movie theater. All this provided atmosphere, but Jessie seemed eager to avoid it. We chose the table closest to the door, a high top with tall stools. I ordered a milkshake, chai-flavored. (Some of you may already be flinging accusations of douchebaggery in my direction, but in my defense, it might be the tastiest thing ever made by a person).

Jessie ordered a water and nothing else. Silence yawned between us.

Trying not to audibly sigh, I shifted the conversation into reverse, moving back through topics we’d already covered that evening. We discussed publishing and peer review. We discussed departmental politics. We discussed whether or not she’d like to taste my milkshake. To my surprise, she did. Although this might seem like a potential opportunity for Lady-and-the-Trampish cuteness, there were physical obstacles to anything like that. The shop served the milkshake in two glasses, a small one for the main shake with the rest of it in the larger mixing cup. She dipped a spoon into the one I hadn’t touched and tasted, afterward placing her spoon, destined to remain untouched until she left, next to her on the table. Desperate for some relief, I excused myself to the restroom.

There is nowhere on earth where you can be yourself so much as in a bathroom. Enthroned in solitude, I squeezed absently at a recalcitrant zit and wondered whether she’d be gone if I sat there long enough. Somehow, she seemed too polite for that. I read over the excessive and colorful wall graffiti as I sat, wishing for a book and hoping to find some inspiration for something to talk about. I reached for toilet paper and jerked my hand back, sucking at my thumb. Someone had broken the toilet paper holder. No one had fixed it. A small streak of my blood colored the jagged plastic. Sucking on the cut made it worse, so I wrapped it in toilet paper, squeezing the cut with my fingers in hopes that the bleeding would stop.

Jessie looked at the bloody paper in my hand. “What happened?” Sheepishly, I told her. She took it as a cue. She stood, offering me her hand in a tyrannosaur pose, keeping her elbow close to her chest. With my unwounded hand, I shook it. “Well, thank you for meeting me for dinner. I had a nice time.” I doubted that very much, but I smiled and told her the same thing. She stood for a moment. “I think I’m heading out.”

I wasn’t sure what she wanted from me. I still had a bit of my milkshake left, and on my way from the bathroom, I’d noticed my friend Alex in the back of the cafe. “Okay,” I replied. “I think I’m going to stay here.” We looked at each other for a second longer, assessing the situation to see whether there was anything else to say. As it turned out, there wasn’t. Jessie left, and I let out a breath that I hadn’t realized I’d been holding. I waited for her to turn the corner past the display windows and out of sight, and then I walked to the back of the cafe to talk to Alex.


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