I chose a restaurant that was impersonal in its large size yet intimate in its noisiness, creating small walls between its customers through a background of clattered dishes, screamed orders,and tired and gossipy Saturday shoppers bent over cups and unneeded pieces of pie.
Then at least I would not have to grasp at words if we could not find anything to say to each other.
Kyle was minutes later than I, even though I had been determined that he would wait for me this time. So I had to stand by the cash register, gnawing my lower lip, turning to face the wall so I would not appear to be looking for him when he came in.
A waitress led the way to a table the farthest away from the rest of the customers. I followed, my chin lifted high, my short straight brown hair swinging around my jaw, my eyes ignoring those around me as if I were too focused to give them even a glance. My heels clicked a fast, impatient staccato on the tiled floor.
Kyle held the chair for me, and I studied him. Although he was an adult, he could pass for either a boy or a man. His expression alternated, once assured like a successful executive, then apprehensive like a child in trouble, then back again. His body was firm but tending toward stockiness, the type that would turn to fat in a few years.
As the waitress wrote down our orders (two cups of coffee, one with cream, one without), we both seized menus to avoid conversation.
Finally I set the menu aside and started the conversation. "Well, Kyle?" My voice echoed through the restaurant, and I glanced at the other customers to see if they were listening. I spoke again in a near-whisper. "Well, Kyle? It's up to you now. You know that. I can't talk anymore."
He was staring at me. He cleared his throat, but no words came out.
"Say something, anything."
"Danielle," he began. His gray-green eyes opened wide. "I've missed you. I really mean it. I know you don't believe me." I nodded my head to agree with him, thinking of the weeks during which I hadn’t seen him. An occasional text was his only contact. “I don't know what to do to convince you," he continued. "I've always thought that going with one woman wasn’t for me. I never wanted to be tied down. But, now. . ." He shrugged his shoulders.
"But, now, what?" I gripped the edge of the table with my fingertips. Waited. He did not go on. "I'm not going to fill in the blanks this time. I'm not going to finish the sentence for you. I've got my life to plan. All I want to know is whether or not to include you."
I stopped as the waitress brought our coffee, all the while chewing on a fingernail. I began again, "I've never been able to really talk to you, get through to you. You start to tell me what you want, then you jump behind your damn mental wall again."
"I've tried not to hurt you, Danielle. I thought if we kept it casual, if I didn't see you too much, we wouldn't get hot and heavy." He rubbed his palms on his thighs.
"Don't you see, Kyle, that we are involved." Determined to say my piece for once, I tensed my shoulders and neck.
"Think of the times you get drunk or depressed. Whom do you call? Me. You say I'm the only one who really cares what happens to you. Yes, I care, but I can't give and give and never get anything back. You know you can turn to me. But whom do I turn to when I need someone? You're never there."
"Danielle, if I had the money, I'd marry you right now.”
What would it take to get through to this guy? "I never mentioned marriage,” I said. “You're doing what you always do -- telling me what you think I want to hear instead of what you feel. I'm not even sure if I'd want to marry you."
He looked at my, puzzled. "If you don't want to get married, what do you want?"
I winced. "Can't you understand that women don’t see marriage as the only goal in life? I want honesty from you. Don't talk around me; talk to me. Tell me how you feel."
He threw his hands in the air, then turned on his chair sideways. He stared at the far wall. "You want me to admit it? All right. I love you."
He stopped, and in the lengthening pause that followed, looked at me from under half-closed eyelids. When he didn't speak further, I said, "You act as if it's something to be ashamed of. Either that or you don't really love me." He still didn't say anything.
"You say you love me. Yet I never see you. Are you lying to me by not telling me the truth, or are you deceiving yourself by trying to hide from your love?"
He threw his head back and gave a short laugh. "I understand. You always talk about how every love is different, how we can't catch the meaning of love with one narrow definition. Now you want to limit my love to your definition. A person can't be in love unless he sees the one he loves so many times a week. How many times?" He lifted a clenched fist. "Once? (one finger shot up to punctuate), three times (three fingers now, in the same manner)? Don't try to control me the same way you hate to be controlled." Once again the little boy, but now an angry one.
I covered his hand with mine, forcing it on the table. I blinked rapidly, hoping the dampness in my eyes escaped his notice. "You're deliberately misunderstanding me, Kyle," I said softly. "You can't love a person unless you know him, and you can't know him unless you see and talk to him." I drew back my hand, picked up my now-cold coffee and swallowed some.
The noise in the restaurant swelled around us. I spoke again. "At this point it is immaterial if I love you or you love me. I can't go on this way, seeing you when you get the urge to fuck, never really talking to you. Surface words come easily. It's the action and feelings behind them that count. By your actions, you don't love me the same way I love you. You're not ready for my kind of love."
He tried to study my face, but I’d hidden behind a brown waterfall of hair. My finger traced around and around the rim of my coffee cup. The nail had been bitten short, a habit he found irritating. I caught him checking the time on the grease-spotted clock on the wall. He shifted his weight on the chair, exhaled a short breath from his mouth. He probably had plans, was late for someone else. He straightened his back; tapped a heel on the floor.
I finally broke the silence surrounding the table. "Maybe we should stop pretending."
His expression altered from impatience to disbelief. "What are you driving at?"
"Maybe we should admit our mistake and not see each other anymore."
"No!" His voice was so loud several people turned to stare at us, but he didn't notice. For the first time he leaned across the table toward me, looked me full in the face unblinkingly.
"Danielle, I need you. You can't leave me."
"I'm sorry, Kyle. You're too bound up in yourself to consider me. It's not working out."
"You aren't serious."
I sighed and turned away from him. "I don't know. I know what I should do, but I don't know if I have the strength to do it."
He resumed his look of confidence and smiled slightly. He took my hand in his, but I drew it out. Around us, shoppers gathered together packages, children fussed, and more successful lovers lined up at the cash register. As the buzz of conversations finally registered on my consciousness, I stood, pulled my bag over my shoulder.
"Let's go," I said. I raised my chin, tossed back my hair. He led the way, still smiling to himself. I followed, hoping my face was unreadable. DSS
B.J. McCune, 67, has won many awards and prizes for her short stories. Check out her website, www.BonnieMcCune.com.
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