A Short Story About Two People

By gblancag

My head is cool as I lean it against the window, webbed branches casting spidery shadows over the table. The glass fogs gently as I exhale, feeling my pulse through the cold on my forehead. It’s raining outside and the surfaces of all the puddles are jumping little waves. Kate takes a drag off her cigarette. Technically she isn’t supposed to smoke in here, but everyone turns a blind eye. Her hand rests lightly around the Styrofoam cup she’s holding, she hasn’t touched the coffee yet and its steam gently rises to mingle with her smoky exhales. I can smell the sharp fragrance of her perfume, and I know that I’ll smell like cigarettes and that cheap fragrance, some celebrity sponsored rite aid scent, for the rest of the day.

“So what’s new?” Kate asks languidly. She has a way of speaking, this low drawl, that makes everything she says sound mocking and cynical. Her hair is tied back and I can see that her sandy roots are showing under the dark brown. Her skin is smooth and white; she’s like Snow White with her dark hair and white skin. Except her lips are pale, there’s hardly any tonal delineation from the rest of her face. This always makes her look very cold. The fingers that gingerly support her cigarette are splotchy white and purple, emphasizing this impression. Her skinny fingers with her poor circulation.

“Joey got busted last night.” I offer. She raises an eyebrow but otherwise shows little sign of surprise. Someone is always getting busted.

“What’d they get him on?” She asks, taking another slow drag and finally raising her coffee for a sip.

“Just some pot, nothing serious.” I tell her. I follow her lead and take a sip of my coffee, we both drink it black, the craving for that bitter bite won’t tolerate dilution. My tongue burns with the heat as I sip and I wince before setting the cup down again. The rain is falling harder outside and little sprinkles are trickling down the window in gray trails.

“Poor Joey. Well other than that how was your night?” Kate’s voice is hoarse and low and she clears her throat furtively before continuing. “I wish I didn’t have work or I would have been there.” She says, even though we both know she hasn’t hung out with our group in a while. The table is jittering slightly as she bounces her leg to some unheard tune. The jittery movements cause little ripples to course across my coffee as her heel taps nervously over and over against the ground.

“You didn’t miss much.” I reach over and rest my hand gently but firmly on her knee. She looks back at me with an annoyed expression but stops moving. “It was just the usual crowd. Played some pong, Donny and Will played video games all night, Nikita got belligerently drunk. Same old, same old.” Kate nods her head knowingly and looks out the window through the smoke of her cigarette. Through the peeling letters on the window I can see the cars zipping past, spraying waves onto the sidewalk.

“Why does she always do that?” Kate sighs. “Everywhere she goes she ends up making a spectacle of herself.” She sips thoughtfully from her cup, clutched in her hands with their purple painted nails. “Remember that time after DJ’s birthday?” Kate smirks, flashing a hint of her crooked teeth and red gums that she’s so self conscious about.

“When we went to Jack in the Box and she flipped out on the cashier for hitting on her?” I smile.

“Yeah, she was all ‘don’t call me baby you chauvinistic son of a bitch!’” Kate laughs and slurs her words in an exaggerated imitation of Nikita’s voice.

“When we came in Donny and I saw how he was checking her out, we tried to send him telepathic signals like it’s not worth it dude, but I guess he didn’t catch on.” I smirk as Kate laughs out loud.

The bell dings as someone enters the coffee shop. A woman walks in, shaking the rain off her umbrella. She looks like a model, clad all in designer clothes; Kate could probably name the brand of everything she has on. The lady has a peacock feather tucked in her hair, it’s not flashy or ostentatious looking, as I would have expected, but instead pops out against the rest of her monochromatic attire, looking like it belongs nestled comfortably in the woman’s curls. She walks up to the counter and her heels click crisply against the floor. I look at Kate; she’s staring at the woman with a faraway expression on her face. I figure Kate is pretending to be the peacock lady in her head, imagining what it would be like to be so effortlessly exquisite. She looks so very, very clean. We sit in silence for a minute, listening as the Peacock lady orders an Americano, swiping a card with her French tipped nails. Kate raises the cigarette to her mouth and draws in a shaky breath, watching the woman from under her clumpy lashes. Her fingers are trembling as she lowers the cigarette and slowly exhales, looking self conscious suddenly about the smoke surrounding her. We sit there in silence, trying not to make ourselves noticeable as we subtly watch the Peacock lady wait for her drink. She stands very still, she doesn’t tap her foot or cross her arms or shift her weight, but appears immobile as a statue, peacefully looking out the window as the espresso machine hisses. Neither of us speaks as the barista hands the woman her drink and we sit passively as she passes us to exit the shop, opening her umbrella as a gust of cold air blows in. The bell dings again as the door closes behind her and I watch closely as she walks down the street. Despite the weather she looks leisurely, her coffee in one hand and her umbrella in the other. She seems to have no trouble navigating the puddles in her sky scraper heels. I turn away as the drizzles on the window swallow her image and look back at Kate. She’s watching me closely.

“9.5.” Kate states flatly. She finally takes a sip of her coffee, pursing her lips against the bitterness as she swallows.

“8.5.” I protest, unconvincingly.

“Whatever fuckface, you couldn’t stop looking.” She throws a half smile my way. I notice that her leg is shaking again. I don’t stop it this time.

“I was in awe of her balancing skills, did you see those shoes?” I grin.

“Ferragamo. Very classy.”

“Whatever you say.”

Kate starts to pick at the little mascara clumps on her lashes. She flicks the black gunk off her nails and onto the floor with a look of disgust.

“So why did you want me to come here?” I finally ask after a few more seconds watching her mutilate her makeup.

Kate sits quietly; she takes a gulp of the coffee and swallows loudly before raising her cigarette to her lips again. As she exhales she finally raises her eyes to mine, our gazes meeting through the haze of smoke.

“Sean asked me to marry him.” She says quietly. The shaking under the table has grown more rapid, her heel pounds a staccato into the air as her toes stay glued to the floor. I watch her carefully, not saying anything. She lowers her eyes again and her fingers return to her mascara, pulling and picking as her lashes start to come out between her fingers. Turning away I look out the window. There’s no one on the street, not even any cars going past, and it seems very quiet, the only noises are the soft taps of the rain on the window and some indie band playing quietly over the café speakers. “We’re gonna go downtown and sign the papers on Tuesday.” She continues after a minute.

“What do you expect me to say to that?” I finally reply. Kate’s face is strained, her expression plaintive.

“I don’t know.” She mumbles. Her eyes flick away from me, out the window, down at her coffee, and then back to mine.

“I mean, you’re not even old enough to drink, why would you get married?” My voice is monotone, betraying nothing. I watch as she stubs out the butt of her cigarette and reaches for the coffee. Her hands are shaking slightly. I don’t know if it’s the conversation, or if that’s just Kate.

“It’s not that simple, and you know it.” She talks around the new cigarette she has placed between her lips. She paws through her purse for her lighter, but her shaking hands move things around involuntarily. I grab the bic from by pocket and extend my arm towards her. She leans her lips in to my hand and I click the flame. “Thanks.” She drags in a big breath and exhales slowly.

“Are you pregnant? Is that why?” I ask, returning the lighter to my pocket.

“No of course not, then I could just get rid of it.” The sound of her heel against the floor is like rapid gunfire from far away. “You don’t get it Cody; I’m not marrying him because I have to. I’m doing it because I want to.”

“You want to spend the rest of your life with Sean?”

“Yes.” She sounds resolute, but her fingers are pulling at her mascara again. Suddenly I feel very tired. I grab some sugar packets and tear them open, pouring one by one three sweet n’ lows into my coffee. When I sip it it tastes like tepid syrup, but after a moment I can feel the jitters.

“You’ve been living with him for a while, why do you guys want to get married?” I don’t particularly want to know, but I’m not sure what else to say.

“Sean just wants to make it official you know.”

“Would I sound like a cliché if I ask what you want?” I take another gulp of my syrupy coffee.

“Would I sound like a cliché if I say I want Sean to be happy?” Kate cocks an eyebrow mockingly. “I don’t understand what’s so wrong about that.” She looks out the window and takes a pull off her cigarette. “We’re so obsessed with making ourselves happy—happy pills, comedies, instant gratification everything—I just don’t understand why making the people we care about happy makes us weaker.”

“You’re a bit of an idealist.” I smirk and look away. The windows are all fogged now, and I trace a star into the gray. Kate takes her splotchy, cold looking finger and draws a heart across the glass.

“So what’s your guys’ plan?” I ask. Kate keeps drawing hearts against the rain.

“What is it with you and plans? Every time I see you it’s always what’s your plan? What’s your plan? You need to learn to be spontaneous.”

“Like you?”

“Sure. I know how to have fun in life.” Kate turns away from the window, her foot returns to tapping now that she’s not distracted by her tracings. “When was the last time you had fun?”

“This is fun.”

“Don’t be a shithead.” She says. I try to count how many eyelashes she’s pulled out already, her fingers tenderly pulling. I swallow the last of my coffee, and get up to throw away the cup. Kate is watching me as I come to sit back down.

“I’m free for a couple hours; you want to go see a movie or something? The weather’s shitty enough.” I ask.

“Alright.” Kate says. She finishes her coffee and stubs out her cigarette. She pulls her coat on and as she gently lifts her hair from under the collar I can see the tiny tattoo behind her ear, so small you might not notice it unless you know it’s there, a little star, like the one I drew on the window.

Outside we huddle together under her umbrella at the bust stop. The street is unconventionally deserted, with few cars going past. We don’t talk so the sound of the rain is the dominant noise. When the bus comes we take it downtown to the little theater that shows movies after they’ve been out for a couple weeks. It’s a little hole in the wall place called The Captain. The floors are all sticky and you can feel the soles of your shoes pulling away from them as you walk. I always imagine that there should be sound effects for how that feels, but instead those sticky steps are silent. I like it because it has classic theater seats, and they may be stained and it may always be too hot, but the tickets are only three dollars. The movie is an action flick about this guy who gets revenge on these gangsters who kill his family or something like that. There are lots of explosions, which I like, and lots of crying, which Kate likes.

There’s only one other person in the theater with us, this little old man who is sitting in the last row with a big thing of popcorn on his lap. He looks like a character out of a Pixar movie. Throughout the film we can hear him eating his popcorn really loudly, he doesn’t seem to notice how violently he’s chewing and crunching. Each time we here him shovel another handful into his mouth Kate looks at me and grins, like she’s trying not to laugh. When the movie is done and the credits start to roll he claps his hands like we’re at a play.

We leave the Captain and walk around the corner to wait at the bus stop. The rain has died down some and now there’s only a slight drizzle. As we wait Kate lights herself another cigarette. I watch her clammy fingers as they cradle the lighter, and can make out the fine lines around her mouth as she sucks in the smoke like a sigh. She sits on the bench with her legs crossed and seems to stare vacantly into the window of the dry cleaners across the street.

“So why did you want to meet up today?” I finally ask. I stand next to the bench with my hands shoved into my pockets against the chill. Kate looks up at me with an unreadable expression and takes the cigarette out of her mouth for a moment.

“I just wanted to see I guess.” She says after a beat. Her voice is quiet and hoarse.

“See what?” I look at her quizzically. The rain has caused her make up to run a little and there are slight black shadows under her eyes. Her nose and forehead are dotted with little drops. She’s twisting some of her hair around her finger over and over again and she looks cold as she speaks.

“If it would make me change my mind.” She looks down. Her foot taps against the sidewalk, a little secret Kate rhythm.

I nod, and look up as my bus pulls around the corner. I get out my ipod because it’s a long ride home. The bus rolls up in front of us with a squeal and a couple people get off, looking tired and cold.

“Bye Kate.” I say, before turning away and stepping up onto the bus.

“Bye Cody.” I hear her just as the doors are closing.

As I take my seat I look out the window. Kate is staring at the dry cleaner’s again. Her cheeks are hollowed out as she takes a long drag off the cigarette and her dark hair is getting wet as the rain picks up. Her cold looking fingers tug gently at her mascara and as I look at her foot I imagine that I can hear it tapping wetly against the pavement.

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A Short Story About Two People

Created: Mar 19, 2010

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