– 1 night of heavy drinking
– 2 desperate people
– 3/4 remaining bottle of wine on the counter
– Add ice to a pint glass that was stolen from the bar across the street.
– Combine desperate people with mounting tensions.
– Pour wine into the glass, minus 3 ounces, which you will drink from the bottle.
– Shutter, add more ice to the drink.
– Share between the couple, and proceed with poor judgment.
“I can’t help it if I love you, Noel.”
“You don’t.” I picked at the remaining polish on my fingernails. “You’re being dramatic.”
He reached across the table, pushed my plate of scrambled eggs and wheat toast to the side, and tried to hold my hand over the tabletop. “I do, I do love you. I have since we were kids in Catechism.” He planted his elbows and squeezed at his knuckles, but I couldn’t hear them pop.
I pulled my hands off the table and placed them together in my lap. Ready to go back home, I looked around for the waitress.
He was still talking, “I know we went to prom ‘just as friends,’ but I knew it was something more. I think you did too.” I drifted off, only catching phrases. “Moved in together” and “for a reason” and “mistake.”
I tuned back in, “What?”
“It was fate,” he repeated. “Fate, Noel.”
“Mm hmm.” The waitress made eye contact and I flagged her down. I asked her for our checks, “Separate, please.”
“No, I got it,” he insisted.
“Separate, please,” I reinstated.
“It’s okay.” He motioned to me then back to himself, “We’re together.”
The waitress tilted her head. “How about I just bring out both receipts?” She was about our age, probably still a student, or recent grad. Tall, with cropped blonde hair and a touch of Rosacea on her cheeks. I’d call her pretty, maybe not beautiful.
“Great, thanks,” I sighed.
She left and I put my head in my hand and took note of the quiet aside from the fellow diners. “We don’t come here enough. It’s so close to our place.” He said, “We should get breakfast more often.”
“Please stop for a minute, Peter. I’m too hungover.”
“You should have got the biscuits and gravy.” He raised his eyebrows. “They made me feel better.”
“Nothing can make me feel better right now.”
We held a few seconds in silence, then he said, “Melanie and I are done. It’s been a long time coming.”
“Oh,” I nodded. “Does she know that?”
“Well, not exactly, but she will.”
“Look, Peter,” I talked with my eyes closed, “last night shouldn’t have happened. You have a girlfriend. I was drunk; you were drunk. I should’ve just gone to bed.” I caught myself, “My own bed.”
“It wasn’t an accident.” He straightened in his booth, “You were the one who came in my room and sat on my bed. We needed each other. We found each other.”
The waitress came back with two checks. Peter grabbed them both and put his card on top and promptly returned them to her. She smiled and walked back to the register.
He leaned forward, like the good cop in an interrogation. “I know it seems complicated, but it doesn’t have to be.”
“You’re in a relationship. I just got out of one. We’re roommates. You’re moving this summer. It is complicated.”
“You can come with me,” he said. “You’ll love Des Moines.”
I inspected the flaking paint of my fingernails, “Nobody loves Des Moines.”
“It’s the insurance capital of the world.”
“Des Moines is the next one.” He picked up his fork and mixed the gravy around his empty plate. “Remember the bonfire after homecoming junior year?”
“Justin Harvey’s uncle’s house?”
“Yeah, we we’re sitting around the bonfire.”
“I drank so much Natty Light. Why did our parents let us go there?”
“You were cold and I gave you my jacket.”
“Oh yeah,” I smiled. “You were sick from school the next week from hypothermia.”
“Influenza,” he said. “Do you remember what you said to me that night?”
“You put your hand on my leg and said, ‘It’s just you and me.’” He smirked thinking about it. “Then you called me Justin, but I knew what you meant.”
“I can’t, like, date you right now, Peter.”
The waitress slid a single check back to Peter. She smirked, “Thank you, guys.”
“Excuse me,” I reached out and touched her forearm. She turned towards me, “You’re cute. Would you consider dating my friend, here?”
“I have a boyfriend.” I couldn’t tell if she blushed through her Rosacea, but she told us, “Sorry.”
“Don’t be sorry. It’s a hypothetical.”
“Oh,” she said, pausing to formulate the phrase, “I suppose so,” slowly as though her tip rested on this question.
“See,” I told him, “there are other people who want to be with you. Hell, you already have someone who does, so why not stick with her?”
“Because I don’t want her.” He raised his voice, but not enough to make a scene, “I threw that all away last night for you. This is what I want. This is what’s real.” He sighed, raised his shoulders and breathlessly repeated, “This is what’s real, Noel.”
“Don’t pretend like you made some kind of sacrifice for me.”
He repeated my word, “Sacrifice.”
The waitress had disappeared. I envied her.
We analyzed one another, until he lowered his gaze. We sat in silence as he filled out his receipt. Then, we got up, and walked home.