Meg is resting her head on Jim's shoulder, while Jim nips at his can of Coke like he's kissing it goodbye.
"She called me a jackass," he says, pointing to the tall blond leaning onto him. "Christmas Eve, she calls me jackass. That's grounds for instant dumping in some countries."
"Well, you were being a jackass," she defends, her head lifting and her neck straightening to a ninety degree angle with her lean shoulders. "Calls 'em like I sees 'em." She snatches his soda when it's only an inch or so from his mouth and takes a massive gulp.
"That's for being a jackass," she says, wiping the cola from her cheshire grin.
"See that?" Jim says, gesturing in mock indignation. "Thirteen years of love and kindness, and what do I get?"
"Stolen Coke," she says.
"Stolen Coke," he chuckles. "You know, you could've had some if you would've just asked."
"I know," she says, "but it's always more fun when you don't have permission."
Jim's head of hair is the stuff of both legend and envy. His hairline appears to start only slightly above his eyebrows and cascades into a mess of spiked points above. He's got little eyes--I wonder if he's part Asian or if he's just, you know...squinting--but they're alert and taking in everything around him. He's got his right arm draped over Meg, whose right hand is resting on his chest in a way that would probably look inappropriately affectionate if these two weren't so obviously one of those Big Deal Couples (which I've met before). Her bangs are covering her green eyes so mysteriously that I can't decide if she'd be more likely to seduce James Bond or kill him (or both?).
"How did you two meet?" I ask. They both open their mouths simultaneously in a move that almost looks choreographed, but neither speaks. They peek out of the corners of their eyes at each other and burst into hearty laughter. The mutual outburst is so loud that the other five or six people in this place all turn to look, and I notice a similar reaction in all of them: at first they're annoyed by the audible disruption, but when they see the two people making it, they all--without a single exception that I can see--smile. Big smiles, too, like they're opening wide to intake as much of this vicarious adoration as these two are giving off like radiation.
"Seventh grade science class," he says.
"Mr. Barker," she adds.
"That dude was weird. But I'll always owe him for that assigned seating."
"Worked out well for us," she says. "Don't make any jokes about 'chemistry.'"
"Or 'biology,'" he inserts. "We really have heard them all before." He knocks back the can and slams it down empty.
"Scoot out," he says, nudging her out of the booth. "I'm gonna grab us another soda."
"I'll get it, babe," Meg says, waltzing to the vending machine, whistling an old Johnny Cash song like she was one of the seven dwarves. Jim watches her walk away and his eyes drift behind her like she's dropping fairy dust in her wake.
"Damn, I love that girl." He makes a nearly-indescribable noise that sounds like a hybrid between a contented sigh and a surprised giggle. "And the best part? I know exactly what she sees in me."
"We met when we were twelve. And everyone else, all of other friends, everyone in our family, they all changed. Some for the better, some for the worse. But me? Twenty-five-year-old me is just a more concentrated version of thirteen-year-old me. I'm chipped away at the shit and become more me than I though I could be. And she's gone through life goals and hairstyles and first names--when she graduated college, she wanted everyone to call her 'Megan' all of the sudden, but of course no one did, because that's not her name, you know?--but I've always been there. I've always been something she can count on."
"How'd you manage that?" I ask. "How'd you get her to trust you like that?"
"Three things." He begins to count on his fingers. "One, I gave it time. Two, I tell her the truth. Three, I gave it time. And yeah, there's a reason I said that one twice."
"If that's what she sees in you, that reliability--"
"Oh, and I always know exactly where she wants to be touched," he interrupts. "I somehow seem to know whatever she wants as soon as she wants it."
"That's pretty impressive."
"It's a gift."
"Then what," I ask, "do you see in her?"
Jim smiles again. Actually, that's not accurate; that implies that he has once stopped smiling in the twenty minutes I've been chatting with them. It's that he smiles brighter, like his smile discovered something to smile about and the dimmer switch on an already bright light went to full blast.
"Because every time she looks at me, it's like the morning. No matter what happens, no matter how I do on a final, how awful my boss is some day, I know that I get to fall asleep next to her. And she chooses to spend those, what, six to ten hours a night in silence next to me. And I get to wake up next to her. My daily 7:00 AM alarms get to be equal parts sunshine through the curtains and 'good morning's in my ear." He breathes deeply.
"That sounds perfect," I say.
"It is, man. She is. She's everything I always wanted, everything I never knew I wanted, and probably all of the stuff I'll want later. It's like that song. I'm a rich man because I've got a satisfied mind."
Meg floats back to the booth and stands at its side.
"A buck for a can of soda," she says. "What the hell kinda ripoff is that?"
"Cheaper than beer," I offer.
"Don't sit down yet, darlin'," he says, sliding across the vinyl cushion. "I'm about to pee my pants."
"You know why I like him?" she asks me as Jim rises to his feet. "He's so romantic." He drops a kiss on her cheek like a cropduster and flies off to the bathroom. She sits back down.
"You two seem like you have it all figured out," I say. "It's really inspiring to watch."
"I know, right? I never thought I'd be in one of those couples that everyone else is jealous of. I never thought I'd be half of an example couple." She looks back to the closed bathroom doors and smiles.
"What brought you two to that point?" I ask. "What can the rest of us aim for to get what you two have?"
"Foolish mortal," she snorts, "it's not that easy. It's all circumstantial." She pops open the fresh can of soda and I can smell it from across the table. She takes a deep draw from it and does her best to hide a small burp that still eeks its way through her lips.
"What do you mean, circumstantial?"
"I can tell you the exact moment I fell in love with him."
I motion for her to go on.
"I got a job and was living in Boston for a few years while he was still going to school back here."
"Did you guys stay together while you were gone?" I ask.
"No," she says, "we were sorta one of those on-again, off-again type of things. Long-distance stuff is hard."
"Short-distance stuff is pretty hard sometimes, too."
"True. So you can imagine how things were with me on the other side of the country. Anyway, I was trying to date around, trying to meet new people in this big scary city, you know, give myself options. And every time I went on a date with some goon who gave me crap because I didn't drink or I met some jackass who tried to round second base halfway through dinner, the first person I wanted to call to laugh about these morons with was Jim. I shouldn't even say 'first' person, because he was the only person. I wanted to give him all of my stories. I wanted them to be our stories. And when I realized that, I knew I had to move back because the entire city of Boston couldn't possibly provide even the illusion of what that boy means to me."
I don't really know what to say.
"Shit, you guys are good at that," I say.
"Good? Good at what?" She takes another sip from the can and offers it to me.
"No thanks," I say. "Those little speeches, these monologues you two give about what you see in each other. It's sort of breathtaking, I guess, listening to each of you talk about the other while they're gone. It would be melodramatic if it wasn't so earnest."
"Speeches? Did he use the 'equal parts sunshine and good mornings' line?" she asks.
"Yeah," I say. "How'd you know?"
"Because that's my line," she clarifies. She looks down at the table. "I can also tell you exactly when he fell in love with me."
"That's the other thing," I interject. "You two seem to know everything about each other, this stuff that most people wouldn't even realize about themselves or their own histories. How do you do that?"
"Sometimes you just know, I guess."
"Is it really that simple?" I ask. She looks at me with almost maternally caring eyes, like she was telling a five-year-old about Relationshipland, a mythical world where people let themselves be vulnerable to other people and are met with neither scorn or suspicion.
"There was one night a few years ago where he got a nasty cold--full disclosure, I was the one that got it first and gave it to him--that was so bad that he couldn't really sleep because he was coughing so much. It sounded so painful, the wheezing and the deep breaths he had to take for more coughs, and I just held him while he slept, and whenever he coughed, he'd wake right up and see that I was awake and apologize like he had done it on purpose, and he was so sweet and so tender and I'd hand him a water bottle and say 'Baby, do you need anything else?' and then he'd take a huge gulp and shake his head 'no' and hug me and put his head right back down and I knew right then that we were going to make it."
"'In sickness and in health,' right?" I smile.
"Just don't get me started on 'for richer or poorer.'" Meg turns her head to see him coming back from the bathroom, wiping his hands on his shirt.
"He thinks paper towels are wasteful," she says. "He's big on pragmatism." Walking closer, he hears this last part.
"Pragmatism? You telling him about the paper towels?" he asks. She nods with a smirk. "Why would I waste tree fiber when I've got a perfectly good shirt? It's just water. It'll dry out."
He sits back in the booth and she drapes her arms around his neck like Mardi Gras beads. He kisses the top of her head and beams.
"Do you hear that?" she says, again sitting up ultrastraight--she's really good at that--and cupping a hand to her ear. "The music?"
"Is that," I stop to listen more closely, "Sly and the Family Stone?"
"Yeah, 'I Want To Take You Higher'" she confirms. "It's our song!"
"You know what that means?" Jim says, again rising back to his feet. "Dancin' time."
He takes her by the hand, she offers a curtsy, and they waft away from the booth and toward the middle of the unoccupied floor. They move in close and his left and her right hand intertwine and rise together, hanging in the air like the beam from a lighthouse, and they somehow manage to find an appropriate slow rhythm to the upbeat funk pumping through the overheads. They step this way, that way, staying directly on rhythm while tiptoeing back and forth, swaying like a stalk of corn on a windy morning. They shortstep in circles, making Venn diagrams with their feet and reciting poetry with their steps.
I watch them and wish that you were there.
So stand on your tiptoes, sweetheart. The world needs more dancing.