An opening in her weekend schedule was about as rare as a news site devoid of clickbait titles. She was booked, weeks in advance, for things she couldn’t get out of, but swore she would if she could. Weekend after weekend, one rejection after another, I persisted, in case she found the time, but her answer and the apologies that followed remained the same, until today.
We were on the phone, talking about the movie she saw with her friends last night, when an ad for this breakfast fusion place interrupted the video I was watching. It followed an enthusiastic waiter who was delivering an order to an equally enthusiastic family. The camera zoomed in as the youngest kid dived into his meal—a plate of red velvet pancakes smothered in hot fudge with a side of cheesecake ice-cream—according to the subtitles at the bottom of the screen.
My initial thought was one of disgust followed by concern for the kid’s teeth. My next, was motivated by my short-lived career in marketing, and had me curious about the restaurant’s target demographic.
As a joke, I said, “Can you believe there’s a place selling pancakes and ice cream together?” I laughed. “I wanna see the faces of these first graders they’re catering to when the bill comes.”
But then when she said, “Oooh! For real?” With just as much enthusiasm as the kid in the commercial, a memory of the time she ordered chocolate milk to wash down her ranch dressing drenched, barbeque chicken pizza, reminded me that her palate was right on par with those aforementioned first graders’.
“I could go for some ice-cream right now,” she added. “Pancakes too.”
Was that a hint to ask her out again? I pondered the details of her current situation. She was home, in bed, and since she called instead of texting, I could assume, alone and available too. This rare moment of down-time in her life could be my chance to finally get some time with her—off the phone and away from work—so I could tell her what I’ve been thinking… feeling…
“Yeah…” I decided to take my chances. “You wanna go get some?”
“Right now?” she asked.
I laughed. “It’s breakfast time, right?”
“Uh, right,” she said, through sounds of shuffling and other quiet movements. “Pick me up in 30 minutes?”
An hour later, we were seated on the restaurant’s patio with half-a-table full of food that should never be eaten together. My little section was safe, consisting of eggs benedict and a side of hashbrowns; but hers was another story. There were waffles with ice cream, fudge, bananas, and whipped cream; and for her drink, a kiwi banana smoothie.
She twirled a forkful of ice-cream dipped waffles in my face. “It’s sooooooo good, Salim.” She taunted. “One bite. You’ll like it. I promise.”
“Hell no!” I laughed, directing her hand back across the table. “You couldn’t pay me to eat that.”
She popped the tainted waffle piece into her mouth. “That’s because you don’t know good food.”
“I’m concerned you actually believe that.”
“Whatever.” She rolled her eyes. “Eat your boring ass eggs.”
I was prepared to dispute that good food comment, but she got a text that wiped the smugness off her face before I could.
“Ugh!” She slammed her phone facedown onto the table. “Can I change the locks and pretend like I don’t know her when she tries to open the door?”
This mood-ruining message must’ve been from her roommate.
I took a bite of my boring ass eggs. “I’m pretty sure that’s illegal.”
“What’s illegal,” she said, “is being so annoying all the damn time.”
This issue with her and Pandora was way simpler than she wanted to believe and had an easy solution that she didn’t want to hear.
“So, I take it you haven’t talked to her about it yet?”
She sighed. Her eyes diverting away from me and off into the distance. “No, ‘cause she’s gonna get all weird and sad,” she said, “and I don’t feel like all that.”
She’d rather it be her who feels weird and sad than deal with the temporary discomfort of her roommate’s feelings. It’s like for her, confrontation was punishment for making someone unhappy; and the threat of that was enough to make her do crazy things. This fear has to come from somewhere. Maybe her childhood? Growing up as an only kid or something.
I stuck with that thought. “Man, I can tell you didn’t grow up with siblings.”
She brought her attention back to me, a frown on her face. “Um, aren’t you an only child too?”
“Yeah, but I had cousins who were more like siblings,” I explained. “So I still had to do the arguing, sharing, telling them not to touch my stuff. You know, all the things you don’t wanna do.”
“Wait.” She raised an eyebrow. “How come you’ve never mentioned these cousin-siblings before? We’ve talked about literally everything. I mean, you’ve told me things from middle school summer camp— I even know the story behind your one and only attempt at playing the clarinet, but these sorta-kinda-siblings never come up?” Her suspicious expression grew serious. “I need some answers.”
I drew in a deep breath, and as she stared me down like I was hiding something huge, contemplated how to condense a story that was way more complicated than it should be.
“Alright…” I clasped my hands together, my throat a little dry all of a sudden. Things with my mom’s side of the family aren’t… great. There’s a lot of tension, resentment for things I don’t really understand, but still find myself caught in the middle of anyway. “Remember how I told you my mom went through some things after my dad died?”
She nodded, lowering her voice. “Depression and stuff, right?”
“Yeah.” I cleared my throat. “So, we moved in with her sister— my aunt and her two kids for a while.”
“Okay?” She leaned into the table, her face rested on the back of her hands, like she thought there was some deep-dark secret on the way.
“And that’s it.” I shrugged, as if my relationship with my cousins—one more than the other—wasn’t a direct source of contention in my life. “We grew up. Went our separate ways. Did our own things.”
She rested in her chair. “So, y’all don’t talk, ever?”
“When we need to.”
Her eyes narrowed, reverting to that stare she gave me a few minutes ago. “I feel like you’re being intentionally cryptic.”
“And I feel like you should just talk to your roommate.”
“You know what?” She rose from her seat. “I’m going to the bathroom.” And pushed my head as she walked past me. “I hope you have some better advice by the time I get back.”
I looked over my shoulder and watched as she entered the restaurant. She looked back at me and smiled, before disappearing into the dining room. This advice she claimed she wanted would stay the same no matter how often she asks, but I hoped to change other things like… our friendship status. There was chemistry between us that was present from the day we met. And not to sound like the love interest in a bad romance novel, but the smile she gave me when I found her employee badge told me she was worth getting to know.
She was quiet and let me lead our conversations, but witty and entertaining with her responses. She was cagey about the things she shared at first, but I know now that it’s just baggage from her old life. She wasn’t ready to date again—at least that’s what I got from her stories about her last relationship—so we became friends until the right time came around. Like today. I think today’s the right time.
I knew exactly what to say and was ready to put it all out there, but when she slid back into her seat, the cocky little smile she left with was gone, and the sides of her shirt were balled up tightly in her fists. Which only meant one thing.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
Her telltale sign. Arms folded so tight, I questioned whether or not she could breathe. It was the first thing I noticed about her, too. Even with a hand full of mail, way across the room, her nervous energy landed right on my desk.
She slumped into her seat. Her breathing much more shallow than before. “My parents’ll be here tomorrow.”
That explains the mini-freak out she’s having.
My relationship with my cousin was bad, but it was nothing compared to hers with her mom. And even with their history, this visit wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world, but to her, there wasn’t much that could top it.
I rubbed her elbow under the table to remind her of that fact. A trick I learned when I was younger with my mom. “It’s not that bad, Camilla.”
She loosened her grip and pushed her plate away; a little pout on her face. “Says the person who hasn’t had the misfortune of meeting Bridgette.”
She was upset and knowing her, likely to stay this way for the rest of the day.
Maybe today isn’t the day after all.
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