by Jus Tri
The little girl stared at Justine as she walked toward the swing. Unapologetically, Justine remained seated in the swing bidding the girl take the free swing beside her. The little girl took the free swing, swinging and probably eavesdropping on Justine’s half of the conversation over the phone.
A few hours before, Justine had ordered apple tea to calm her heart though if it were any calmer it would stop altogether. She was sure she should be more nervous but only her thoughts raced–raced like an untrained marathoner. She half expected him to stand her up. She wouldn’t blame him. Regardless, she was glad she asked him to tea. She had delayed asking, forbidding the question to exit her mouth when her fingers texted the advance. She asked him to tea. She couldn’t be prouder.
Her vision focused on the disposable cup warm in her hands to match the weather outside; her make-up was fresh and light to match the chambray dress she worried was too much date, but she didn’t care. She looked good even with sweat pearling around her forehead. He didn’t need to appreciate her beauty because she already did. She smirked. She really did ask him to tea, and he had agreed.
Not a date, she reiterated. Not a hangout. Literally just a talk. Just a quick ‘What’s up?’ because there hadn’t before been a chance for even the most casual conversation. Causal, she stressed, keep it casual. You only want casual, Tine. She hadn’t rehearsed any flirty pick-up lines. She had no idea what would happen, but feeling again for her pulse she felt only a resting heartbeat. …though she’s not sure what her resting heartbeat is. She would Google it, but her phone was already neatly tucked into her new clutch, an early birthday present from her sister.
Her day had begun at 3:30 despite ending at 23:00 the previous night. She felt oddly alive at 3:30, eager to walk dead streets; to hear her footsteps echo against tunneled footpaths. Eager to start her day alone, she wondered if it would be better to spend the rest of the day alone, half her mind bent on canceling her 15.00 meeting with him, but her pride nudged her along.
You finally did it, said Pride. Go through with it.
All other times she had asked him to tea proved unfruitful. That was all right: sometimes schedules couldn’t be altered, they were both adults, after all, adulting all over the place for the most part. They obviously couldn’t find time to adult together though she did not allow herself to interpret that. Too concerned with what might escape, her tea had yet to enter her mouth and her eyes rolled up to the ceiling as if to invoke heaven’s help to SAY THE RIGHT WORDS.
She ought to practice her greeting.
No. To what purpose? Who doesn’t know how to say ‘hello’?
She wished it were again 3:30, birds barely calling and their calls she did not have to pick up. They did not expect her excuses when their calls went to voicemail, and she certainly did not expect coherence on their part. She could just listen–that’s all she wants. She considered starting her shift late just to continue listening to those few early birds.
She hoped he wouldn’t mind if all she did was listen. But with him, she would have to ask him questions in order to listen to his responses. Damnit. Her questions were too profound for casual and they would require some explanation… Does she know how to say ‘hello’?
She hadn’t said ‘hello.’ In fact, she hadn’t said anything. He had said it all. He had listened to her, and though he was willing to say everything, she couldn’t help but want to leave. Despite the mutual comfort, staying felt polite. They didn’t not want to be there. They enjoyed each other’s company enough to acknowledge it. It had taken so long to have tea that they ought to spend a polite amount of time together. Thankfully, he kept looking at his watch; she, surprised when every time he spoke wasn’t a dismissal. She hadn’t known what else to say, at least out loud.
Her friends later asked how it went, one of them accidentally calling it a date. “It was nice,” Justine had said only to add, “but awkward.” She didn’t know it, but the pedestal on which she’d placed him was inevitably crumbling. She thought she’d stood to look up at it. Maybe even down to admire panoramic views only to realize she’d been standing in the main floor lobby the entire time. She had unnecessarily crawled on the floor convinced she was actually scaling the Burj Khalifa.
She hadn’t known that having no expectations (on both sides) would translate to having no foundation. How quickly comfort had evolved into complacency, neither entirely confident in the other because, despite her brighter feelings, she clearly wanted to dim them. She would be delusive if she denied that his immediate (however spotty) blackout hurt but stubbed toes hardly require surgery. Not a bandage. She’s too old for kisses to heal anything.
The little girl jumped off the swing toward her father and brother (maybe a cousin) to play a game of monkey-in-the-middle, interrupting Justine’s phone call. The father played the monkey first pretending to be unable to catch the ball his children tossed, practically tossed to him instead of over or around him. He could easily catch the ball, but he didn’t.
Justine spent the rest of her evening as an audience to her friend’s friends bowling to keep from acting on rash decisions she playfully entertained. She hates bowling, but not as much as she hates indecision.
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