“So you’ll call on Monday?” she says. “Call the county and find out?”
I nod. It’s clear she’s assuming we got married in los angeles County and I don’t have it in me to correct her. part of me wants to. part of me wants to revel in the truth with her. tell her everything. But I know it’s not that simple. I know that our newfound connection is still too tenuous for the whole truth.
“Should I ask for the check?” she asks me.
I laugh. “I think I need to wait out that last margarita,” I say, and she smiles.
She orders us fried ice cream and “dessert” nachos. We sit there, spoons in the ice cream, licking the chocolate around the bowls. It’s what I imagined sisters did with their mothers when their fathers were away on business. When I get in the car, I think of a few things I forgot to say and I find myself looking forward to seeing susan again to tell her.
Ana has been patient with my recovery, expecting nothing, supporting everything, but I can tell that I am starting to wear on her. Being my friend means she is pulled into this even though it has nothing to do with her. I can only assume that, after a while, even the most understanding and empathetic of people would start to wonder just how long it will be before we can have honest to God fun again. Fun that doesn’t end in a sorrowful look from me, fun that isn’t laced with what I have lost. she knew me before Ben, she knew me during Ben, and now she knows me after Ben. she’s never said it, but I would imagine the me she knew before Ben was probably her favorite. ana says she’ll be at my place at eight to pick me up, but she calls at seven asking if I mind if she brings this guy she has been seeing.
“Who have you been seeing?” I say. I didn’t know she was seeing anyone.
“Just this guy, kevin.” she laughs, and I suspect he’s right there next to her.
“I’m just some guy?” I hear in the background, confirming my suspicion. I can hear her shush him.
“Anyway, is that okay? I want him to meet you,” she says.
“uh, sure,” I say, taken aback. you can’t say no in a situation like this. It’s rude and weird, but I wonder, if the rules of propriety allowed it, what I would have said.
“Cool,” she says. “Be there at eight to pick you up. you still want to go to that ramen house?”
“Sure!” I overcompensate for my apprehension by being outwardly perky and excited. It feels obvious to me, but she doesn’t seem to notice. Maybe I’ve been getting really good at hiding my emotions, or maybe she’s not paying attention.
ben and I were waiting in the front of the movie theater for ana. she was twenty minutes late and the tickets were on her credit card. the movie was starting in seven minutes. Ben was one of the only people I knew that looked forward to the previews more than the actual movie.
“Can you call her again?” he asked me.
“I just called her! and texted. she’s probably just parking.” “ten bucks she hasn’t left the house yet.”
I slapped him lightly across the chest. “she’s left the house!
C’mon. We won’t be late for the movie.”
“We’re already late for the movie.”
He said this would happen. I said it wouldn’t happen, but
here we were, just like he said we would be. He was right. “you’re right.”
“There she is!” Ben pointed toward a woman running
Through the food court to the movie theater. there was a man behind her.
“Who is that?” I asked.
“How would I know?”
Ana slowed herself as she reached us. “I’m sorry! I’m sorry!”
“I’m sure you had a good reason,” Ben said to her. you could hear in his voice that he had no expectation of a good reason. ana jokingly glared at him.
“Marshall, this is elsie and Ben.” the man behind her extended his hand to us, and we each shook it. “Marshall is going to join us.”
“All right, well, let’s get to it, shall we? We’re already missing previews!” Ben said.
“Well, I still need to print the tickets. Will you guys go get us some popcorn?”
Ben looked at me incredulously and rolled his eyes. I laughed at him. “I want a diet Coke,” I said.
Ben and Marshall ran ahead to the concession as ana and I picked up the tickets from the kiosk.
“Who is this guy?” I said to her. she shrugged. “I don’t know. He keeps asking me out and I finally just relented and invited him here to get it over with.”
“So it’s true love, I guess,” I said. she picked up the tickets and started walking toward Ben and Marshall.
“True love, schmoo love,” she said. “I’m just trying to find someone that doesn’t bore me to tears for a little while.”
“You depress me,” I said, but I wasn’t paying attention to her when I said it. I was looking at Ben, who was asking the cashier for more butter on his already buttered popcorn. I was smiling. I was grinning. I was in love with the weirdo.
“No, you depress me,” she said.
I turned to her and laughed. “you don’t think that one day you’ll meet ‘the one’?”
“love has made you sappy and gross,” she said to me. We had almost met up with Ben and Marshall when I decided to tell her the news.
“Ben’s moving in,” I said. she stopped dead in her tracks and dropped her purse.
Ben saw her face and caught my eye. He knew what was going on, and he smiled at me mischievously as he put a handful of popcorn into his mouth. I smiled back at him. I picked up ana’s purse. she pulled me aside by my shoulders as Ben watched, standing next to a very confused Marshall.
“You are crazy! you’re basically sending yourself to a prison. you wake up, he’s there. you go to sleep, he’s there. He’s going to always be there! He’s a great guy, elsie. I like him a lot. I’m happy that you two found each other, but c’mon! this is a death sentence.”
I just looked her and smiled. For the first time, I felt like I had something over her. sure, she was stunning and gorgeous and lively and bright. Men wanted her so badly they’d hound her for dates. But this man wanted me, and unlike ana, I had felt what it was like to be wanted by someone you wanted just as badly. I wanted that for her, but there was a small part of me that felt victorious in that I had it and she didn’t even know enough to want it.
Ana and kevin are only three minutes late. she opens my door with her own key. ana looks hot. really hot, sparedno-expense, pull-all-the-punches hot. I am dressed like I’m going to the grocery store. kevin is right behind her, and while I am expecting some overly tailored douche bag with hair better than mine, I find a much different person.
kevin is short, at least shorter than ana. He’s about my height. He’s wearing jeans and a t-shirt; looks like he got the grocery store memo too. His face is nondescript.. His skin is mostly clear but somewhat muddled; his hair is a shade of brown best described as “meh,” and he looks like he neither works out nor is a slovenly couch potato.
He leans toward me, around ana. “kevin,” he says, shaking my hand. It’s not a bold handshake, but it’s not a dead fish. It’s polite and nice. He smiles and I smile back. I see him take in his surroundings, and I start to look around my house as well, as an impulse. I see my living room through his eyes. He no doubt knows about me, knows that my husband is dead, knows that ana is my best friend; maybe he knows that I feel like he is trying to take her away from me. as he looks, I feel self-conscious about all of Ben’s things around us. I want to say, “I’m not some crazy woman. It’s just too hard to put these away yet.” But I don’t, because saying you’re not crazy makes you seem crazy.
“Shall we?” ana says. kevin and I nod. Within a few seconds we are out the door. We cram into kevin’s Honda. I offer to take the backseat, and I squeeze myself into it by ducking and crunching behind the passenger-side door. Why do twodoor cars exist? It is the most cumbersome of all tasks to try to wedge yourself into the backseat of one.