Monday, August 17, 2009


The fork hung suspended between the plate and Jenna's mouth, tines spearing spinach, cradling chunks of walnut and Granny Smith apple, all of it slathered in raspberry vinaigrette.

"Wait," she said, looking at me, "what did you say?"

I'd never seen that look on her face before, and it wasn't an encouraging expression. I could feel the sweat prickling around the back of my neck where my pinstriped suitcoat (specially drycleaned for this evening) crossed. I could feel it dampening the palms of my hands, too. Particularly my right hand, which was hidden under the table, clutching a small jewelry box.

"I, uh, said that you looked lovely tonight --"

Jenna motioned impatiently with the fork, rolling it toward me in tight little circles. "After that. What you said after that."

From across the dining room, our waiter hoisted a bottle of Dom, trying to get my attention, to see if it was time. Behind him crouched a huddle of restaurant staff, grinning and whispering. I gave my head a little shake.

"Well, let's see," I continued. "I told you that, um, that these five months have been the best of my life --"

The fork circled back towards her. "Before that."

I swallowed. "I said that I love you."

She gave me the look again. The kind of look you might expect if you'd just admitted that Jeffrey Dahmer was your uncle and when you were a kid he'd personally taught you how to bite the heads off kittens one summer.

"Lee, I like you. We have a lot of fun together. But --"


"But I don't really think of you like that." She laughed that laugh that always made my heart roll over in my chest, the one that caused me to smile until I thought my face would crack. Only this time it didn't. "I mean, we'd kind of make an odd couple. You do know how to pick good restaurants, though." She crunched into her final bite of salad. "Great food."

The waiter seemed to materialize beside our table, shooting me a puzzled look. "I see that the lady has finished. May I get you something else? Dessert? Coffee? Perhaps some champagne?"

"Ooh," Jenna said, "I'll take the dark chocolate soufflé."

I slid the jewelry box back into my coat pocket and cleared my throat. "I ... don't think we're thirsty."

The waiter murmured blandishments while he cleared the table. I wasn't paying attention, not even when he came back with dessert. I was watching Jenna, the curve of her jaw, the auburn sheen of her hair, the green flash of her eyes. At some point she noticed, because she stopped excavating the soufflé with a spoon, her brow crinkling in confusion.

"Lee?" she said. "Why are you looking at me like that?"


B. Nagel said...

Sounds like Lee may have lucked out. Or mayhap Jenna has a tapeworm.

Loren Eaton said...

Poor Lee. He'll probably mope around for eighteen months before he thinks, "Hey, maybe I can find another girl who won't just like me for the light, tasty, expensive fare I'll buy for her."

Phil W said...

Sigh, that's sad.

Loren Eaton said...

I had an acquaintance who had a similar experience when he proposed. Two acquaintances, come to think of it. And one of them proposed at a public sporting event. The aftermath was most unpleasant.