Don’t wear fuck-me pumps to brunch, you said. Too late. No time to go home before coming here, this fancy place on the waterfront. Skaters on a rink by the resto. In the summer it’s a splash pad. Table next to us set up real nice. Rose petals. Bucket of champagne. You consider stealing it, to top up our mimosas cuz I’m coasting on last night’s booze and my foot’s been on the gas since I got here. You eye the table.
Don’t like the look of this, you say. Looks like some bullshit.
Gotta problem, I say.
You fuck him?
Nope, I say. Worse.
Was his birthday, right, happy birthday, we’re all shitcanned at the Sov and some dickhead decides: round of polar bears. No balls on these boys but hey I’m not paying, so. We chuck ‘em back, chuck ‘em back. And he gets funny. Shoulda known, cuz he wore his nice band shirt. Death From Above, elephant trunks. Cologne, maybe. Corners me and goes, nobody knows what they want—
Real champagne, you say, eye still on the other table. French, from France.
–And I go, I want scotch. Cuz polar bear shots feel kinda soft but hey I’m not paying, so. And he goes, get this, he goes, I want—I mean—I like redheads—
Is that, you say. Is that a fucking scrapbook?
–And I go, is this a mermaid thing? Because they all say oh red hair, redheads, I’ve got this thing. Okay, well. I’ve got a theory about their thing—listen, listen to me—cartoons, right? Got ‘em all fucked up on shell bras. Or else they start banging on about boobs on cartoon rabbit wives—
Your eyes track something over my head, something outside the restaurant. Sweet couple strolling past the big glass windows. Holding hands. Cloudy breath on cold air. But they’re going the wrong direction. Not toward the doors. Away.
Tell me this isn’t what I think it is, you say. This better not be what I think it is.
–Anyway, what I’m saying is, what happened didn’t happen without warning. And okay, in fairness. Closing time, lights up. Van cab, seven seats for eight people so I sat on his lap. So what? And you see this jacket? Not warm enough. Not even close. So I sat on his lap and cuddled up inside his jacket next to the elephant trunks so fucking what—
The couple’s gone all the way past us, around the corner. More big glass windows. Floor to ceiling. Everyone can see. The skaters behind them stop and point. Buddy grabs her elbow, turns her toward him.
Nonononono, you mutter. He’s not, tell me he’s not—
—Like, of course. How didn’t I see it coming? He’s all fucked up on shell bras with a mouth full of creme de menthe. Of course he’s gonna try something when we get back to the house—
Brunchers catch wise to the couple, too. Gasps and murmurs. Buddy bends on a knee.
You dumb motherfucker, you say. Is he really gonna—
—Right, exactly, that’s what I thought! Like we’re just friends, aren’t we? We’re just friends—
Not the splash pad, you hiss. Who proposes on the splash pad?
—But he leans in and I can’t go breaking this poor kid’s heart! He’s like a brother to me. He’s my bro, like you, you’re my bro, except he’s actually a bro, like a man bro—
Don’t do it, you whisper, watching the girlfriend. Girl, don’t—
—I didn’t! Grabbed his jaw and said, wait we’re just friends! And he goes BUT I LO— and I squished his cheeks with my fingers before he could get it out, he’s standing there all fish-lipped while I’m panicking like wait, wait—am I?—do I?—
Girlfriend says yes and the room erupts. Brunchers, wait staff, bartenders. We’re the only two still seated because you’re dumbfounded she said yes on the splash pad and I’m bolted to the ground with the gravity of it. My problem. It will grow teeth, eat me alive. Haunt me the rest of my life. Even now I’m scrambling for it, making myth of memory. Scrape of his beard, shirt worn and soft, smelling of cedarwood and cardamom. Some manly thing sprayed with a sweet hope I’d get close enough to notice. And I missed it. Now I’m brunch drunk in fuck-me pumps and people keep clapping, there’s too much noise, so all I can manage is,
I think I’m gonna hurl.
Right? You say, making a stink face at the couple. Splash pad, Jesus Christ.
The couple makes their way across the restaurant, waving to everyone like the king and queen. Somebody at a family table is crying. They take their place next to us and girlfriend squeals at the scrapbook. You roll your eyes and drain your mimosa.
You’re not listening, I say. I’ve got a problem. I think I lo—I think I’m in lo—
You do, you say. You are.
You raise your glass at a passing waitress. There isn’t enough booze in the world to stop it, the ache. My first. This is what it must feel like. The way it blooms and breaks in my chest. The waitress ignores us for the engaged couple and you scowl, then squint at me.
Shell bras, you say.
So was it?
Was it what.
Mermaid thing, you say.
This is what I didn’t factor in: it’s my cliche, as much as his. Man with dark hair, jaw cut a certain way. Man with kind eyes that grow wide when they see me. Man who’d love me even when I’ve lost my voice. But I pinched his lips shut. And I missed him.
Fuck me, I say. Isn’t it always.