Sunday, May 8, 2011

"here comes a regular."

"You've just got to get out of your shell," Kate would tell her, but Victoria had a hard time trusting her sister. She had always been pretty, she'd always been friendly, and she took to social situations like a duck to water. So it was difficult to take her seriously, but Victoria knew that she wasn't really wrong. Just misinformed.

So Victoria tried. She made extra-long eye contact with strangers across the way. She'd smile at other drivers when she'd pull up to stoplights with her window down. But these were seemingly all for naught. Turned faces would face forward and strangers' heads would pivot at the ocular insistence of a cute girl who didn't feel like she had much to smile about lately.

But it hadn't always been like this.

One night, in a burst of independence that shot her through her shell and landed her on her feet and alone in the middle of a crowded restaurant on a Friday night, she was seated by a hasty hostess.

"Just one?" the hostess had said, looking Victoria up and down for whatever obvious defect she was hoping to find in the pretty girl who had the audacity to come to such a romantic destination with a book and enough self-confidence get her through the doors and on the list.

"Yeah," Victoria said, straightening her back and flexing her toes inside of those nice boots she never wore when she left the house alone. "Just one."

"Okay," the hostess said, arching skeptical eyebrows and grabbing a single menu before guiding her to a small table for two, an island amongst the booths. "Your server will be with you in a second."

"Thanks." She pulled out her own chair and crossed a defined left calf over her right leg, brushing apostate strands of dark brown hair behind nervous ears. She opened the menu and pretended to look it over--she'd been here often enough in the past to know that she wanted the sweet potato cannelloni --and she wondered how her order would affect the way the waitress would judge her.

A pasta dish? She figured that another woman, even a working girl like whomever would bring her the meal that onlookers would think a man should be buying for her, would think of the heavy carbs and judge her for her indulgence. Or maybe she'd respect her for it? Perhaps she'd look on the full plate in front of her and the empty chair looming across the table from her and be in awe of her, supportively envious of this bold woman, this single outlier who braved the outer social world for reasons of her own, who sacrificed her shame at the altar of dignity and made her way into a forum as publicly romantic as this for a fine meal and a grand statement.

Or maybe, as she soon found to be the case, it'd be a man so beautiful he looked as though he had been chiseled from Grecian marble and set to live eternally in the Parthenon. And he lent over her, only an inch or two closer than most other waiters (waitresses?) would've been but noticeably enough for that much more of him to form an over-the-shoulder human tipping point.

"You look like someone who knows what she wants." She leapt at his utterance, wondering where he came from and what that fantastic cloud of smell was, lingering over her shoulder like tear gas. "I know it sounds like a pickup line, but do you come here often?"

Victoria nodded quietly and smiled. "Used to. Sweet potato cannelloni, please."

"Can do. Anything to drink?"

"Water."

"No wine? Not even soda?"

"No thanks."

"Don't feel like living it up?"

"I already am," Victoria said. "Just the water, thanks."

And her meal went well from there. Her server--"Jason," his nametag reported--kept her water glass full and her check punctual, never once making more than the most surface-level "Anything else you need?"s and "How's everything tasting?"s, but that was enough.

So when she signed the check (and left a generous 25%-ish tip), she also scrawled her phone number in the margins, complete with a "-Victoria [smiley face]" to indicate that she left it there for more than just in case there was problem with her debit card. She left before he saw it, but answered a phone call from an unknown number before she fell asleep.

"Is this Victoria?" the voice asked.

"Yes?" she said.

"This is Jason, the guy that served you dinner tonight." She smiled in recognition but said nothing. "Would you like to go get dinner sometime? Preferably somewhere I don't work?"

"I'd love to," she said, banishing the remainder of their conversation into the clouds and ephemera of small talk.

A few days later, when it had been decided, they met for dinner. And he was everything she hoped he would be: charming, handsome, gracious, etc. And so, at the end of the night, when they left the restaurant and he began the pins-and-needles drive to take her home, she put her hand on his arm when they passed the grocery store.

"Do you wanna go get a half gallon of ice cream and watch a movie or something?" She across the console, looking peripherally at a man she barely knew. Someone she had just eaten a meal with, someone she barely knew, someone who could possibly be more.

"Sure," he said, the whites of his teeth gleaming against passing streetlights. He pulled into the parking lot, put his truck in gear, and checked his back packet for a wallet. "What kind do you like?"

She smiled, reported "butter pecan," and waited the four minutes it took him to run inside and acquire one, and then the subsequent eleven minutes (she was watching the clock) it took to get to her house.

"I don't have a couch, only a bed," she said, keys jangling as she unlocked the door to her tiny little place, "so don't get the wrong idea."

"No such thing as wrong ideas," he said, grinning, "but don't worry."

"Good." They walked in and plopped themselves onto her springy twin-sized, making armchairs out of pillows and molehills out of mountains.

At some point during Win a Date With Tad Hamilton, the only movie upon which they could agree, he slid a thick arm behind her warm shoulders, and she tilted a tired head onto his solid collarbone, somehow finding it simultaneously both softer and firmer than she had expected.

After the movie, after one bowl each of some generic brand of butter pecan ice cream, she walked him to the door, they said their goodnights, and he dropped a quick kiss on the tip of her tongue like a stop sign before hesitantly trudging back to his car. He winked as he drove away, weakening her knees and her resolve.

Two days later--precisely when her sister said to--she sent a "Hey, how's it going?" text. No response.

One day later--a day before her sister said to--she sent a "Hope you had a good night!" text. No response.

The next night--two days before her sister said to--she sent a "Do you want to go get sushi this week?" text. No response.

Two hours later--she didn't even bother asking her sister--she sent a "Did I do something wrong?" text. No response.

Several hours into the evening (morning, at this point), she realized that she wasn't going to get a reply, so she submerged her regret in a bowl of butter pecan. Which was, of course, followed by another bowl of butter pecan, and another, until it reached the point where there was only enough ice cream left for two more bowls.

And she saved them. She bought more ice cream, other flavors, other brands, other sizes, so that, when Jason finally got the time to call her back and ask her for a second date, and when he dropped her off from a nice dinner at that Italian place they had talked about mutually liking, she would be able to say, mid-him-walking-her-back-to-her-front-porch, "Hey," laughing, "I still have some of that ice cream left!" and then, when days had become weeks had become months had become years, they could laugh about that butter pecan, the remaining four scoops (two per bowl) a signifier as to their original bond, romance writ large by shared confection and off-brand dairy.

So, for the next few weeks, she didn't eat them, because you never know when that phone's gonna ring.

After two months, Victoria opened up the carton to find freezer-burnt whole milk and chunks of frost themselves the size of spoonfuls. She threw away the carton and immediately replaced it with the one she had bought only an hour before.

That second carton only lasted the week. Victoria loved her butter pecan.

2 comments:

Meg said...

Victoria needs more friends. Romance is overrated.

Anonymous said...

I second that.