A friend I hadn’t spoken to in months called me up out of the blue and said, “Hey, let’s grab some lunch.”
She didn’t know any of what was going on with me. Not everybody knows. Word about the split is moving out in a circular ripple. Like sitting on the edge of a pond, I’m watching the news travel and waiting to see if the ripple bounces off the edge and returns.
So far, nothing, but there may not be a return. Everyone tends to believe their happiness and well-being is more important to other people than it actually is. We are all stars in our own dramas, our own stories. The rest of the cast, the people we know, our friends, our family, are only recurring characters –supporting and bit players whose contracts are constantly up for renewal.
Plans were made for lunch. Conditions were decided: no seafood, no curry. It needed to be close by. I had a big story to write, an interview and photo shoot with a local band, and needed to get to my second job. She needed to get back to work in sixty minutes or less. I wanted a salad, but wanted to stay open to the possibility of dessert.
By process of elimination, a place was chosen.
Inside the Blossom Deli, the Catholic school kids were crowded in a rough approximation of a line, waiting to get back to school. Everybody was in uniform. Nobody had money in their hands. They weren’t in a particular hurry and blocked the front entrance like a half-assembled beaver dam.
I felt slightly and inexcusably annoyed. Dining out is a treat for me. I don’t do it that much and can really only afford a 10 dollar lunch about once or maybe twice a month. The rest of the time, I eat beans, soup or chili, occasionally a sweet potato, a couple of apples. I eat good but I eat cheap.
I envied them their privilege, a petty feeling. Everybody has to eat; even the children of the upper middle class.
While a bus boy cleared tables and tried to prepare for the crunch of the impending noon day lunch rush, the young hostess waved me forward.
“Two?” She asked.
Behind me stood a slender brunette: mid-20s, straight-hair and very pretty. She wore a short, green dress that clung enticingly to her modest curves. Obviously, she was meeting someone. Nobody dresses like that just for a day at the office --well, most people don't. I don't.
I smiled at the hostess as if to say, “Well, thanks for the vote of confidence,” but I shook my head.
“No, um, I’m meeting a friend. I need table for two, but she’s not here yet.”
The hostess nodded. The statuesque brunette maintained her pose by the door. Her date would be there soon enough. He better be, I thought.
The hostess grabbed two rumpled menus from the counter then led me to a table in the center of the dining room with a clear view of the front door.
“Perfect,” I said and pulled back a chair.
At the booth across me, my soon-to-be ex sat with her boyfriend. The two of them leaned across the table, holding hands and looking at each other meaningfully. Her eyes looked warm and filled with an almost desperate affection. I tried not to look at him, tried not to commit anything about him to memory. It was like gazing into a Kleig lamp.
I pushed the chair back.
“Fuck this,” I spat and fled, practically ran to the door.
The woman in green stepped aside to let me pass. I hope she got my table.
Outside, away from the front door, I drifted toward the corner. I stood and tried to shake it off. I felt cold, baffled, and talked to myself.
A couple of people stepped around me.
“Please don’t do this to me,” I said. “Don’t make me wait. Don’t let them come out. Don’t let them have seen me. Not like this. Not here. I’m not ready.”
Minutes rolled by at a grueling pace: one minute, five minutes, ten minutes. My friend was running late. It would still be another two minutes before her car finally pulled up.
“Get me out of here,” I begged her when she did. “Just get me somewhere else.”
Nobody ever came outside. I wasn’t followed. They hadn’t seen me. Standing there, five feet away, I’d been invisible.