Chapter One: 1:00 am
You have 1 new friend request.
I stare at the thick blue bar on the top of my phone screen.
Fuck friends. Fuck phones. Fuck everybody.
I slide my fingers over the phones oily surface and stare at the poor bastard who would dare be my friend.
Jimmy that guy who I met at the Gym. We have three mutual friends. I accept his friend request, aware that despite doing so I will probably never speak to him again.
I stare at the news feed, see a friend complaining about her city commute and her desire to strangle this Chinese dude blasting Chinese music on the train beside her. My friend in France showcases a lovely picture of herself in a black floral dress with white fluffy wings. Facebook suggests that I should get into adorable decorative baskets, and the side bar keeps showing me sites for singles.
And I stare, I stare until my eyes water, until my pulse begins to quicken dangerously because the physical exertion of holding myself in this transfixed sedentary position, is threatening to bring on a family history of asthma attacks, high blood pressure, hernias, strokes, and untested mental instability.
Hi, my name is Dan.
You might think that most 21-year old girls are having the time of their life, but you’re wrong. I watched my 21st year slide to the half mark before I finished my first glass of Moscato. And there ain’t nothing funny ‘bout 22.
I scroll through my news feed. Rosie and Lana updated their profile pictures. They embody beauty before picturesque landscapes, their faces smiling and the sun just low enough to dazzle. Their expressions are easy. They appear effortless, naturally gorgeous like male peacocks in the wild. I don’t know why I torture myself this way. I shouldn’t measure my attractiveness by profile picture likes. This is why I don’t go on facebook.
I log out and lie on my bed.
Did I mention I’m a waitress? And that my bed’s a mattress on the floor? That my mattress is fortified by a discarded book and clothes enclosure, or that I would rather die than take any man into this 8 by 10 cry for help?
I touch my phone again. It’s past one and I have work at 11:30 tomorrow. My deep philosophical thoughts are interrupted by the sound of some idiot drag racing. The tires squeal like slaughtered pigs as he forces his hoopty to withstand his best attempt at drifting. I would give a special fuck you to this ghetto Fast and Furious bitch, but at least he’s trying to accomplish something.
I sigh and stare into the black desires of my soul.
Did I mention I’m a writer?
Chapter Two: 12:45 pm
“Hi, I’m Danielle and I’ll be taking care of you today. Would you like a sample of our newest white wine? It’s light and crisp, one of our best signatures.”
A smile stains my grimace. As I bounce around smiling I start to imagine that I run on batteries. I’m at the mercy of Duracell and sooner or later I’m going to need to plug in.
I scratch down their drink order and run towards the back. Two people want tap water.
“Water with lemon,” they chirp, as though lemon has the power to mask the taste of abject poverty.
“Coming right up!”
All hail the tangy taste of denial.
I see Jacob standing by the bar, arranging his drinks for what must be at least an eight person table. I try not to stare as I make my own drinks, hoping he won’t do that thing where he abruptly invades my personal—
My body freezes when his chest hits my back as he reaches for a fistful of straws.
“No problem,” I say calmly.
He’s already on his way. Seconds, I couldn’t breathe for seconds. My wrist has been killing me from the writing, the typing, the tray carrying. The fear of losing my livelihood to arthritis or tendonitis lay in the back of my mind, right beside thoughts that Jacob would be a nice outlet.
I watch these shows sometimes that show you how to flirt. I don’t think I could keep a straight face when all I can think about is that I was thinking about him, specifically last night. I want him for no apparent reason. I don’t know if he’s in school, or how old he is, or what he wants out of life. I just know he’s one hell of a server, and he calls me sweetheart.
As the night gets hectic I see him again around the bend, and he looks at my face.
“Breathe,” he chuckles and I force a smile to reassure him that I’m breathing. My eyes are trained on his every detail. I’ll forget his faults, his tired eyes and slightly crooked nose. I’ll color him rose, make him the prince of this fairytale I’ve been thinking of where this ghost waitress falls for this server, and tries to kill him out of love. How’s that for romantic?
Hey babe, I’m a writer. Wanna die?
The night ends in a whirlwind of crumpled singles and I don’t bother counting my tips. I postpone it as long as possible. I wave goodbye to everyone, wonder if he has a girlfriend, and hop into my car. The SRS light has been on for 6 months and the paint on the back fender has been scratched off. It’s a 1997 Honda Accord passed down to me from dear old Dad. We both know I need a new one, but I’m in no hurry and that scares him. I’ll drive it until she breaks down. Judy, (my car) has refused to start on me several times already, mostly when I’m backing out. I never panic, just turn the ignition off and slide the stick thing into park. I restart the car and back out a little more before she stops. Turn off, park. Turn on, put it in drive and it surges forward fine. I kind of admire Judy for resisting me when I try to force her backward. I wish I had her courage, that’d I’d rather die than go back.
When I get home I get naked at the door and head to the kitchen. Food in the microwave, I stand in my mismatched underthings and count my money.
5…10…20…52…no. Start again. Now 5…10…
I made 82 dollars. I try not to cry as I shove it into the jar and grab my nuked leftovers from work.
I need to make 1800 dollars in four weeks. I’m going to Japan if I have to swim.
Chapter Three: 8:00 pm
I don’t like talents. Talent, the singular is something I always wanted.
I’d like to be good at one thing. If I was good at just one thing I would have devoted all of my time towards it. If I was just into music I’d be that 13 year-old in Julliard, getting shown up by some 5 year-old Asian kid. If I was a writing girl I’d probably have a book out.
I’m an arts girl. I live and breathe the arts. So I wrote, acted, painted, drew, played instruments, played sports, did Honors classes, and said I’d be a lawyer. My parents liked the idea. They liked it better than my plan to become a violinist. Law was supposed to be a backup plan. I can’t remember how it made its way to the forefront. Was it Leslie, the first chair who I knew I’d never beat? Who had at least 10 years on me, despite us both being 14? Was it my parents in my ear? Orchestra room politics that wouldn’t give me the second chair when I deserved it? Jennifer, who said she’d rather die than give up her chair, leading to numerous fantasies of pushing her off a cliff?
Maybe I just didn’t want it anymore. Turns out I didn’t want law either. My father pretended to be okay with it for a day before he exploded. Our family exploded. I’m rather certain that all of us still have shrapnel somewhere in our bodies, and we don’t have the resources or the time to deal with it like Tony Stark.
Still, deciding to be an English major wasn’t easy. My mother’s a teacher and I’ve taught all my life via association. I have no desire to teach children. The humanities are a humble disease. My little sister is all about science and math.
“We need more bread for table 30!”
I run to the intercom, salad tongs in my hand.
“Mas pan por favor!”
The Spanish woman frying up rice looks at me with irritation. She can’t say she didn’t understand me now.
I’m a good student. In college I excel in everything. After I dropped the screw law bomb, my parents moved me back to a local college. It was a state school, one that was supposedly hard to get in to, not that I’d ever know. I was a black girl with a 4.0 GPA. They wouldn’t have wanted me more if I was half Chippewa. In one year I was in the Honors Program, studied a semester in a graduate program with 6 other misfits, won a scholarship, and was accepted into a student exchange program. It was two weeks in Fukuoka, Japan. My dream was to go to Tokyo. Fukuoka is closer to Seoul, Korea than Tokyo, but they offered to pay for my accommodations, most of my meals, and entertain me. Choosy beggars starve.
“Mas pan rapidamente!”
The plane ticket was a point of contention. I had just gotten this job and my folks didn’t have squat to give me. They had already shelled out study abroad money for me in high school, back when I was their golden girl, back when I was going to give my uncle free-reign to commit crime.
Now, no matter my successes, I couldn’t help but feel like a failure. Like I would never be worth anything until I finished college, got a job and supported myself. Maybe I am a loser. There are 18-year olds who live alone.
I grab a bread basket and dump it on my tray beside a cheese grater and purple dishes.
But those little independent fuckers will plateau without an education. One day I’m going to be an (insert).
I drop down the bread and smile, asking if they need anything else and pray that they don’t. They stare at me like I’ve just asked for their hand in marriage.
Oh I can’t do this shit for the rest of my life. I’m not prepared to fail. Worst comes to worst I’m prepared to strip.
“Could we get a refill?”
I’ll call myself Tasty Delicious.
“Sure! I’ll be right back.”
I start to panic just thinking about what table 12, 15, and 19 need and Jacob appears out of nowhere.
“What do you need?”
“A refill of coke and sprite, and bread for 15.”
“Cool. Make me a salad and I’ll drop it off for you.”
Salad, sandwich, anything for you baby.
I run into the kitchen. I bet he has a girlfriend. I bet they’re long-term. I bet he’s just being nice to me.
“Here’s your salad.”
“Thank you.” He grabs his tray and runs off.
At the end of the night I have 71 dollars in tips. I’m starting to think I can’t do this, but I have to prove that I can do this one thing on my own. I have to earn my father’s love, or I need to escape from it. The burden of his caring, the responsibility of his hopes, blackened with the burden of years of self-doubt and wisdom are too heavy and cruel for my tiny 21-year old heart. I’m going gray. Mother stands idly by, mutely distraught as I am schooled by his Vulcanesque logic. I refuse them both. She can be a bleeding heart, but I am a rising sun.
Chapter Four: Saturday
I knew my first Saturday night had taken more than it had given, as I sat in the McDonalds drive thru scratching my ankle with a credit card. My wrist, which had been making crunchy noises for two hours, suddenly stopped hurting, and I did things with a mechanical efficiency befitting any colorful 80’s automaton, with a grin. Clocking in, I caught Jacob looking at me and was too dumbfounded to smile as he ran through to the other side. So he was on shift. It felt like I hadn’t seen him in an eternity. Five shifts is an eternity. I had the pleasure of being in the back when he started to lose his temper with the kitchen staff, their gazes vacant as he asked for his chicken alfredo. A cook had just explained to me into complete Spanish that I should keep the bread tin down below when we were out of bread. Part of me wondered if she knew I understood her, or if she was past the point of caring. My clunky high school Spanish did wonders for me now, despite how mediocre it made me feel in the presence of their dissonant runs, dribbling from their mouths like rare exotic spittle.
Keisha was nice to me today. She allowed me to crack and joke and found out I’m actually funny. Still, I don’t know why she thought it was hilarious that I defended picking up the cheese for the grater in front of a manager.
“You touched it with your hands.”
I imagine I sounded quite wounded. “I wash my hands frequently.”
It probably had high wavering notes like, “But sir…I would like some more.” Or “We always give to the children sir…”
And I do wash my hand frequently. The only other person who I’ve seen washing their hands as much as me is Jacob. That’s another reason why he’s the only guy in this restaurant that I want touching me.
I had my grin firmly attached as the district manager buzzed in and out without so much as acknowledging my existence. I took it as a compliment. I’m pretty sure he only said hi to people fucking up.
“Hey Liz, can you do me a favor? Make me three minestrone soups and bring it to table nine? Thanks a bunch.”
You never waited for a response. No one said no. We needed one another to say yes. A no could start a nasty chain of revenge driven events. She wasn’t “making” the soup so much as scooping it into a bowl but you get the idea. As I rolled up bread and ran past, Jacob shouted to me.
The stress of the night was starting to get to me, and I started to despise the fact that he was here. How dare he tell me to slow down? Why the fuck would I slow down? So I could be even more behind? So my ten dollar tip could gradually decline until I was left with a crumbled up note that said “IOU” and was signed “nothing?”
I fumed underneath my sparky veneer as other servers openly bitched to me.
“I’m not actually happy,” I admitted. “I staple the corners of my mouth up before every shift.”
“But I saw you laughing.”
“I laugh when I’m nervous. I can feel myself cracking on the inside.”
I laughed and they laughed as I ran away to table 9.
I wonder if they knew I was serious.
“Here you are. Would you like any refills? More bread?”
The shake their heads, mouths full of soup. All according to plan.
“Okay great. Lemme know if you need anything.”
As I run back I try to catch a glimpse of Jacob, whom I now hate and see he’s as stressed as I am. I start to see an invisible vein pulsing on his beautiful forehead. I’m too busy to do anything about it, not that I could. Some of the rage leaves me. Maybe he was just trying to help. As the night winds down I see him again, this time by the bar. He’s talking to Hannah, a bartender who seems drunk even when she’s sober. I like her because she kept me company and made me an iced coffee when I got stuck working the bar on a Thursday at lunch. She’s blonde and possibly pretty. You can never tell in these unisex clothes they stuff us in. I bet management planned that.
He leans in to talk to her and I start to wonder if they’re together because he’s smiling and he’s doing that high arm thing that guys do when they’re being suave. I can’t see her react and I run off with napkins before I can.
I am jealous.
Maybe he’s just a big flirt, maybe there can be nothing between us. Between us? Girl are you insane? You of all people should know you don’t date your coworkers. How many pieces have you picked up of your scatterbrained friends? When they had to change living arrangements because they shacked up with their roommate? When they quit jobs because rumors got around? You need this job and he’s a better server than you. If they have to choose, you don’t have a snowball’s chance in hell.
God I hate you Jacob.
I booked my flight today, using my mother’s credit card. I have a piggy bank that my parents bought me when I was 6 that I’m stuffing with money to pay her back. When I was 11 one of my family members emptied it out. My parents and I had saved over 200 dollars in it. They think it was a kid because they left me with some of the singles and all the coins.
Change, I had a pig full of change.
Now he was bursting with dollar bills.
“With all these singles I’m starting to wonder if I’m a waitress or a stripper,” I mumbled under my breath.
I stare at the dessert in my hand and realize it needs a doily. Where the hell…
Looking around for help I see…Jacob.
F, my life.
He whips around, light brown hair hitting the arch of his neck.
“Where do we keep the doilies?”
“Over there babe.”
A little version of me does a weird shivery dance.
“Also, I think you’re dropping your dessert.”
He runs off and I look to it. He must have not seen the fact that I kept it in the case. Foolish boy, Dan is a girl who can hold it down.
I sigh. Oh Jacob, why do I need you?
The night winds down and I begin to feel aches in my feet which concerns me. These are the most comfortable shoes I’ve ever owned. I look forward to counting my tips at home, expecting to be 100 dollars closer to earning my Fukuoka trip.
Keisha sidles beside me sighing. “I am so fucking done with this job,” she grumbles. “I just want to go home.”
“Girl I feel you.”
Part of me is putting on some extra black because Keisha has an urban accent. Then again, with my multicultural background, and the way that fatigue brings it out, God knows what I sound like. My dad is Guyanese, my mother is a Long Islander who was partially raised in the South, I live on the nicest street of what was once a ghetto, and I’m an educated college student.
I sound like a drive-by.
Hannah sidles up, taking an out of bar stroll. She gives us a lopsided grin and glides off.
“A lot of people who do this job drink,” Keisha says, tossing a menu to my left.
“Yeah, I can see why.”
Keisha finishes her last table and I’m running on adrenaline and the little chocolates we’re supposed to give to the guests. I hear Hannah telling some kind of story that induces giggling and I want to throw her over the bar. She catches eyes with me.
“Love you Dani.”
You cannot fathom the amount of fucks I don’t give.
“Aw, love you too!”
Sigh…girls are terrible creatures.
Soon I’m at home, freshly showered and praying I don’t have an early shift. I check.
I have an early shift. Well, money is money.
I count my tips once. Then I count them again. Then I check my purse, my book, my apron.
Not a stray dollar, not a hidden twenty or a crumpled five anywhere. I made 96 dollars. All the hype about the miracles of Saturdays and I make the same as any Sunday or Friday night. I could make the same on a Wednesday lunch if I bend over and walk slow enough for those male bonding lunch dates. There’s something about food and testosterone that makes men want to out tip each other.
“Give her a 10.”
“No twenty. I’ll give you a ten.”
“No, no I got it.”
Some people are easy to push, but times are hard. I don’t even know why I dare to complain. My entire life is in need of repair and I decide the best thing to do is run off to a country where I half speak the language. A semester of intense Japanese was forgotten the first week I got to sleep past 12pm. I’ll need to remember it.
I remember stupid things, like watching Jacob cashing out, standing impatiently behind Liz, an inch from intimacy with yet another woman. I remember the stupid freckles on his face, how unique he is for what he is, how I’ve never seen anything like him. I pretend I’m too coarse to be smitten. We’re always running past each other so we never talk. One day I’ll massage his shoulders. I don’t know if I’d ever be that bold, but I massaged some of the coworkers who were bitching and they liked it.
I stare at the stack of singles. Never have I felt such resentment towards George Washington.
No matter how hard I pushed them, people don’t tip like they used to.
Chapter five: 3 weeks
Somewhere down the line this story stopped being fiction. Though the names were changed and the situations satirized, they became fact, and the more real they become, the more I feel like a character in a story. Jacob was like a monster. It didn’t take much for him to surface, swimming in the corners of my mind like a Jaw reject, or the Predator. No, not like, he was the predator monster. Same built arms, same dreads, and though much shorter, he had the same animal magnetism.
I couldn’t take it anymore. I confronted Eloise and prayed he had a girlfriend.
Dragging her in the farther corner possible, I ignored the chatters of Spanish and suspicious looks as I word vomited.
“Listen, I’m only telling you this because I trust you. I mean, I’m asking you. I-I um…does Jacob have a girlfriend?”
I had pulled her to the corner like I was admitting that I was pregnant with her baby, and I watched her give birth to a sigh of palpable relief.
“Oh is that it? No, I don’t think he does.”
“He’s a really nice guy. You’ll see how he does everyone’s side work.”
“I think you should go talk to him. I mean, if you want.”
I thank her and walk back into the fray. I see him bent over a stupid computer, and I wonder why the hell I find this stupid boy so attractive. He’s just a stupid boy. There are tons of stars more attractive. And he smokes and I deplore that. He looks up at me and smiles.
Ah. That’s why.
“So…you working a lot next week?” I ask casually. It’s a Sunday.
“You’ll be seeing a lot of me for the next three weeks,” he hums. “Then never again.”
“I’m going back to Florida.”
I’m stunned. I’m emotionally ravaged. I’m quit before I began, stopped before I’m started, stabbed before I breathe my first breath. Before I could even think to get ahead. In the seconds in between our dialogue I think of how I had planned to court him. How I’d find him on facebook platonically and become friends. I’d get his number and we’d become closer friends, and I’d lie in wait to make my attraction known. Then we’d go on a date, and then three, and then we’d be hand in hand watching some TV show on a shitty couch in the dark because we were past the point of impressing one another. We’d be together. And I’d lie on his shoulder and fall asleep. My foolproof one year plan has been flashcooked to three weeks. I started having Eric (the last day of the semester confessor) flashbacks and my basest instincts set in.
“So you’re from Florida huh?”
“Yeah. I was just here during break.”
“Well, now that you’ve said that…”
I snatch a coupon beside him and scribble down my number. I pass it to him with military snap.
“Here. We should hang out before you go.”
I avoided his eyes and most of his face in general so I don’t know how he took the news, but he said, “Yeah, totally. Sounds good.”
“Okay. Cool. Bye.”
I run away before I can…I don’t know. Before anything can.
I see him out of the corner of my eye and pointedly ignore him, pretending to be deeply involved in closing my drawer.
Bitch I already said goodbye to you. Be gone.
I leave, celebrating my boldness in the car. Stare at my phone. No messages. It’s 4:00pm. He just started work. This is okay. I take a deep breath. I made good money today. I have hope.
That night he doesn’t text me, or call me, or send up a smoke signal or a flare.
I made good money today.
The next day I have work and I pray he’s not in.
He’s not. I wonder if he can sense that my desire for him wavers like a yoyo. What am I afraid of?
I don’t know. Then I do.
I am afraid of the three days that pass without a word.
Chapter six: Wednesday, Dinner Shift
I’m wearing glasses. Jacob has never seen me in glasses but today I woke up, said screw you world, and put them on. I balance it out with a perfect complexion, half mine, half a bottles’. The Wednesday lunch shift is busier than I expect, and I’m a lot calmer. I read a book called “He’s Just Not That into you.” I’ve consulted friends male and female. The guy tells me not to worry, but what does he know? His girlfriend tricked him into a relationship and I have not the experience nor tolerance for the hunt. I’ve come to terms. Jacob does not like me that much, if at all. Or he would have communicated in some insignificant way. Not a long winding convo, not a memoir written based on meeting me. Just a “Hi, its Jacob,” to store the bastard into my phone. I hate technology sometimes.
But it’s alright. I am fortunate to have lots of eye candy at my job, and I will flirt with the jail bait busser Bobby, knowing that I would never in a million years go for a younger guy. I’ve been down that messy, messy path.
“When do you work?”
“Eh, I don’t have anything til Sunday,” I sigh. “I’ll have to sabotage some other servers. Just start coughing in their direction.”
I demonstrate. “Oh sorry, how are you feeling? Need to call in sick?”
He laughs, amused by my silliness. I like him, he’s easy to be around and nice to look at. And to me, he’s as viable as option as a Mickey Mouse lamp. Gotta love Bobby.
Keenan and I swap stories about getting hit on by old people. I got the “Did it hurt” today from a man with his wife. He seemed irritated I didn’t let him finish his joke and explained to me how it was supposed to work.
“I’m supposed to say, “Did it hurt?” Then you’re supposed to say, “What hurt?” and I’m supposed to say, “When you fell from heaven.”
I smile and fake a laugh, looking at the wife who seems devoid of a reaction, like after 30 plus years of marriage, his antics just bounce off her like bullets on Superman’s chest.
“Well thank you for the compliment sir.”
He frowns, obviously not receiving the reaction he had hoped. My tip reflects his disappointment.
“Five lousy dollars.” I’d hope that the old bat trips on his cane, but at his age it might mean wishing for him to die. I can’t muster up that much anger and I just shake my head.
“Oh well, could be wor—”
I see him out of the corner of my eye. He’s here. Jacob is here.
I don’t know how in my rational mind I somehow believed I could avoid him for his remaining three weeks, but I thought I could. I didn’t look in his direction, too busy to do so anyway. I looked like a girl on a mission. Besides, I was so over him.
Twenty minutes later I saw him in the kitchen and about faced. My tables desperately needed napkins. After doling out napkins and drinks, I peered and saw him exiting. Perfect.
I ran inside the kitchen to get what I needed.
I’m back out in a flash. Just one more table and I’m done with my shift. I can sneak out before he even sees me. Concentrated, I run back into the Jacobless kitchen and prepare a bread basket. When I am done I turn and he’s right fucking there, and from the looks of it, waiting for me.
“Hey!” I parrot with frightened enthusiasm. If I was a cat I’d be on the ceiling.
Suddenly I’m enveloped in a hug I know nothing to do with. It is not quick, it is long, borderline intimate. It lingers. Then it is done. His mouth moves and I respond but I don’t know to what he’s saying. Words, faintly sure of that. I smile and walk out with my bread, inches from throwing myself to the floor.
With the bread secure I run to the backroom and push my head against a crate.
Why is God punishing me? Or is he rewarding me? Am I being a yoyo? Does he sense that and it confuses him? Makes him pull away? Makes him want to reassure me with long lingering hugs?
Then why didn’t he call?
My eyes narrow. What if the hug is some kind of power play made to assuage his guilt, to smooth down any wrinkled feathers, to put me right where he wants me. What if he’s a player? I try to imagine Jacob playing me and I can’t see it.
He’s such a player.
Renewed with positive “I can do bad all by myself” energy, I run back with cone cups that I called triangle cups and watched as a group of girl coworkers looked at me like I was a baby chick.
“…Triangle cups?” My eyes widen.
“Oh, she means cone cups!”
Oh says the chorus. They give me super detailed instructions and I try not to be offended. I might be two years younger than you silly girls.
As I load the cups Jacob stops by the door.
“Need any help?”
“No, I got it.”
As I slide them in he puts his hand underneath and I stare at it as he pushes up the cones.
“The first time I put them in, they slid right out the bottom and went everywhere.”
I laugh. “Thanks.”
He walks on and I wish I knew what to say.
Oh…I can’t stay mad at you Jacob. Why didn’t you call?
“Did you ever think that maybe he’s just busy?”
The Independent woman sits on my left. “Too busy to talk to you?”
Ouch. That sucks.
I pull Eloise to the side. “He probably doesn’t even get that you like him. He probably thinks hang out like a friend. Boys can be dull like that. I mean I have his number for work and he never answers.”
“You have his number?”
“For work purposes.”
Maybe I sounded territorial. Eloise has a boyfriend and she’s moving in a month. I’m going to miss her too.
I sigh. “This is hopeless.”
“No it’s not. Talk to him.”
I don’t know when she became my mentor.
My head is itchy. I walk back into the kitchen and he’s talking to this older woman who won’t stop talking. I give up and walk outside to drink from the lemonade tap that hisses at me like a dragon.
When I reenter he suddenly asks, “Where are you from Dani? Originally.”
I reply. “Here.”
“Born and raised?”
“Oh. That sucks.”
I raise an eyebrow. “Why? The city’s right around the corner and I have plenty of family there.”
Who cut people for talking smack about New York.
He tells me some reason I can’t recall and I watch him drop a basket of bread. He scoops it up quickly as he rambles. Somehow that endears him to me. He says something about New York being more diverse, but I’m too involved wondering if I made him drop that bread.
Hm. Fulfilling any naughty librarian fantasies?
When I speak again I not only stutter, I unconsciously divulge that I…may have been gathering Intel.
“You’re from T-tampa right? That’s like…um, the New York of Florida right?”
He gives me a funny look. “Yeah, but Miami is more like the New York of Florida.”
I’m about to say that I thought Miami was in California but I stop myself at the last minute. I’m supposed to be the smart one.
That pow wow ends awkwardly. I sigh, my mind racing. I close out, my tables gone and say into the air.
“Okay, I’m leaving.”
He doesn’t respond and I don’t want to declare it again like I needed to be wished off like a pretentious princess.
“Kay…bye,” I say in a soft voice. Someone hears me and says goodbye. I run away again. I think I clocked out…no, I did.
I clock out, and I walk into my car, ever so confused.
Maybe it does suck to live in New York. It’s not the nicest place in the world. Would I move for him? Though my dream is to live in the city? Do black people even live in Tampa?
I rub my head, let my hair down, listen to The Postal Code start in the middle of “Natural Anthem.”
It’s not like I love him or anything.
My eyes widen. Could I?
Not a snowball’s chance in hell, says practical Dan. It’s been like three weeks.
What about love at first sight? Says impractical Dan. Weirder shit has happened.
Isn’t it supposed to be mutual? I ask impractical Dan.
She shrugs her shoulders. “Want to grab a pint?”
“Since when are you British?”
I’m snapped back to reality by my mother arguing over using her towel. She’s been in a terrible mood all evening. I wonder if they realize that all the things I borrow, all the things I do that annoy them, one day they’re going to stop.
I’ll be moving out soon enough.
Maybe, to Tampa.
I friend him on facebook. I don’t know what it means. I had to do something. If he doesn’t friend me, then that’s that.
I wonder if I could make him love me. If I want him to love me. I wonder if I’m difficult to love.
I wonder if I’m in love.
I check to see if he’s accepted it. Not yet. But Jenny gives up her lunch for tomorrow, and I suddenly have a shift.
I hope he’s not there.
I look back. She says Britt already took it.
Chapter 7: An hour later
He accepted my friend request.
I felt myself cackling on the inside.
Oh foolish foolish Jacob, you know not what you do…
After doing extensive research through his about page, his timeline, photos, friends, and relatives I came to one definite conclusion.
Jacob is a moron. I saw girls flirting with him openly and he had absolutely no reaction.
“Is it hot in here?” said girl 1 when he had a picture of his plain ridiculous abs.
Genius responds: “I was sparring for an hour. It got hot!”
She then explains she meant attractive, and he’s like “Ohh…”
So I guess giving him my number meant nothing. I’m not a forward person so I don’t know what to do now.
I guess I could say:
Hey, let’s go to this place.
I walk into my room and sigh. Hm…that’s not an awful idea. Not an awful idea at all.
Chapter 8: A text with Lynn
Danielle: “He hugged me today and he was so warm….and he has tattoos…i don’t stand a snowball’s chance.
And he rides motorcycles and smokes. I went to Christian school. All that repression manifested into a person.”
Lynn: “Omg and his name is Jacob.
I’m so sorry.”
Danielle: So am I.
Chapter 9: Skipped stories
I didn’t think I had the courage to write more. My feelings grew inside me like a maelstrom, and I did everything to keep the storm from swallowing him, to keep him safe from me and I let it ravage me, desecrate me, destroy me, out of love. Because that’s what it is at its core. But this is not a fairytale and I am not a Princess. And Jacob, bless him, is not a Prince.
It makes me laugh. Did you know you would have to tell me to breathe in your presence? Like, did you know you would take my breath away?
I am a fool. I still want to kiss you, despite the fact that in four days I might never see you again. I still want you. I have this nagging feeling that you want me too, but you’ve pulled away because you’re doing what’s best for the long term. That’s a rosy outlook I like best. Delusions or not, you’re going back to Florida.
As I sit beside Eloise as she does my nails with her homemade gel manicure set, I can smell our hair smoky from the fire I made to roast us smores. She tells me what she thinks.
“He’s either subconsciously backing away, or doing it purposefully. He’s acting distant to protect himself because he likes you too.”
Is it wrong I am both appalled and warmed by this?
“Well then…that’s a thing.”
“Yeah! I mean…he’s a nice guy, but there will be others you know. Better guys. You’re attractive and smart and funny. You’ll find someone. Honestly, you could do better.”
I stare at her and ponder how I’ll be losing her too in her move to Texas, but I’m not sad. I think she’s the type of person to stay in touch, and I treasure this moment with her. As my hands glide over the surface of the table I wonder how Jacob and I could have coexisted without touching each other.
I wonder what would have happened if I had arrived at this restaurant 4 months ago.
I wonder, and the wonder turns to waste. Wasted effort, wasted time, garbage. And I kiss him, in my mind, and the outcome is no different. And I close my eyes and use my telepathy to beam images of kissing me into his head, and know he’s hard-headed.
I look at my clock. 11:16 PM. I have things to do tomorrow.
In some ways, Jacob was a good thing. He ruined me for guys below his caliber. He showed me how important reliability is to me. He showed me how warm a hug can be.
And he broke my heart, but broke it gently, and told me if he could make it, so could I.
Is that what he meant when he told me that?
“If I can make it, so you can you. You’re smart. You’ll be fine.”
He smiles at me, the sun in his brown hair. I can barely look at him.
Our conversation has nothing to do with love. And I wonder what it takes to break Jacob Ronson’s heart.
Chapter 10: Fukuoka
The tarmac is paved with dashed worries. That’s why the plane can fly. People are lightest when they leave home.
I just made that up. Sounds romantic right? I can’t feel my dreams coming true until I’m in the plane. Until I’m in the airport and I’m trying to get my baggage claim from a woman who knows I’m speaking English, but can’t help me. Am I wearing sunglasses? Am I in that stylish outfit I planned those days ago? No. Just a pair of jeans, a band tee-shirt and a denim blouse. A school hoodie on my waist, and my prescription glasses.
I decided to not write about my time in Fukuoka. That would take away from the beauty of this once in a lifetime experience. Ten years from now I don’t want to remember my first trip to Japan as a trip I used to get over a love I lost that blazed out of control. I don’t want to nurture old flames. I don’t want to view this as a new beginning. I am not the phoenix this day. I will not start over because it’s easier to die and wipe the slate clean, than bear the burden of flightless wings. It’s okay. I will learn to fly again on that tarmac of dashed worries.
I hope I raise the money. My parents lent it and I’m working myself to the bone to pay it back. My computer dies and I lose 175. Their birthdays come four days apart and that’s 50 each. Payless has a shoe sale and that’s 30. Mother’s Day and Father’s Day and I am curse the month of June. But my fingers tremble as I stare at the clothes in piles that I have yet to pack, and I know the moment comes soon and I stifle the desire to buy more jewelry.
When I close my eyes I can smell the sea breeze from a different land. My feet feast on foam, and the umi laps at my feet. Watashi no namae wa Danielle desu. But, you already knew that.
There’s laughter in the distance, so close but far away. I am lonely, but I am more whole than I have ever been. No, not lonely. Just whole, whole and free.
There’s no romance in reality. Often, I feel like I’ve been writing out my story with a red pen because it feels all wrong, but that’s just the devil talking. I open my eyes, my lashes fighting against the lies that I wasn’t good enough or pretty enough for him or that there was something I could have done or I’ll never get over him. I open my heart and I know what it took to get me here. And I don’t owe any of that to Jacob.
I feel the triumph of doing this impossible task on my own, and I feel humbled by love given even when there was nothing to receive. The sun doesn’t set quite yet, it lies upon the water like it’s waiting for me to say goodbye. And in Fukuoka I am nothing but a brilliant soul, baptized by a city of brilliant souls. I don’t say fuck my life, and I don’t look away. I stare.
I can’t help but stare.