"We shouldn't do this," he says.
"Why not," she says and pulls back a little, adjusts her dress, touches her lower lip with the middle finger and thumb of her right hand.
"Why do you say that," he says. "I say it because it's true. I'm going to be bad. I'm going to cause you damage."
"How can you know that," she says, "we're only just kissing, you know, not a huge deal, nothing cataclysmic."
"I don't know," he says, and he can't look at her at all now, "I just know how I am, things have gone too well, so far everything's been working out."
"I know it has, so that's why I'm saying you shouldn't think the worst."
"I don't think the worst," he says. "I am the worst."
"You're being way too hard on yourself," she says and puts her arm around him.
She looks him in the eyes.
Her eyes are brown. They're quite pretty, really.
This scene is vivid before him. He can see everything behind her: the street damp, the cabs speeding past. It's dark on the street, lights previously on in apartment windows now off, some stores still open, a café, a liquor store, an all night deli. He has this song running through his head too: but it doesn't mean girl you ain't been on my mind.
"What are you thinking about?" she asks.
"I just want to keep this like it is."
"I can't. It's too late already. Don't you see what's happened?"
"I guess I don't see it the same way you do. So no, I don't. Not really."
"You'll see. We've done irreparable damage already."
"I just don't agree with you," she says and pulls herself close to him, kisses him again. This works. It silences him, for now. For the moment.
Adults and Children
They sit at a table overlooking the river, having lunch. It's July, but not hot, not uncomfortable. He has a blue polo shirt on. She wears a small black top and small black capris. She has a Caesar salad, he a ham sandwich on white bread--an accident--and a container of expensive mashed potatoes. Having exhausted the Six Feet Under discussion the day before, he decides to ask her a question he's wanted to ask since he met her.
"What do you think about me?"
She doesn't answer right away. Instead, she looks into his eyes, at his face, as though she senses there's more to the question and wants to get it out this way. Carefully she responds, "What do you mean?"
"I mean, what do you think about me, because I know you think about me. At least I hope you do."
"I do--" she interrupts. "I think."
He gets lost in her eyes for a second, almost pulled so far in that he can't pull himself back out, back to where there's air and he can breathe.
"Do you like me?" He fidgets, moves the empty potato carton from side to side, unsuccessfully attempts to close the lid, secure the tabs. "Do you at all?"
"I do. I mean, yeah, of course. Why would you even have to ask?"
"Because I don't know that you do," he says. All at once he feels like it
was the wrong thing to say entirely.
"Well, it's not exactly the kind of thing I can come right out and say. For one thing, we work together. Another, I have a boyfriend. There's Bob to think about. I can't just suddenly throw him overboard just because you decide you want me."
"Yeah, true," he says, feeling somewhat more confident, bolstered a bit by her candor. It makes him feel less anxious, less as though he were sinking into the river. "You're right. I shouldn't just beset you with all of this. But I kind of just wanted you to, you know, feel like it's okay."
"But I don't feel okay. I feel like I can't eat any more of this salad."
"So it's fair to say you like me too."
"Fair in some people's eyes. But, yeah, I do. I think."
"You don't know."
"No, not really. I haven't really been impulsive in a long time. I've been with Bob for ten years." She shudders, almost imperceptibly, as though the very sound of the number was formidable. She repeated it. "Ten years. When we met, I couldn't even vote yet."
"Maybe it's run its course," he suggests.
"Say you're right, say we've been together way too long, too long to not be married--not like I'm proposing to you--" she laughs. "Say you're right. Have you known this thing about me to be true, all this time, and you haven't said anything about it?"
"It appears that way."
"Why haven't you?"
"I don't know. Laura maybe. I really wanted things to work out with her. Maybe I didn't want to scare you off."
"Because you need someone to have lunch with."
He grins an exaggerated frown. "I have to think there's something more."
"Someone to go over Six Feet Under with Because you know I'm the only person you have to discuss the show with on Mondays."
"Mostly it's that, yes. I just enjoy talking about plot lines. Very excellent plot lines, I might add." He pauses. Swirls around the remaining contents of his Snapple.
She takes the lull as a small opportunity to break away, close the lid on her salad container, and steal a view of the panorama. A tour boat lumbers beneath them, filled to capacity with people--children and adults--in orange t-shirts and khaki shorts. When she returns her eyes to him, he resumes.
"I like seeing you. I feel as though I am improved, tangibly, palpably, after I've spent even five minutes with you. I've felt like that for a while now." She scrunches up her mouth in an exaggerated, horrible gesture, one meant to convey incredulity. "More so in recent weeks, sure, but that's just because we've been spending more time together."
"So what if I were to go away," she starts. "What if one day you came to work and tried to send me an email, only to discover they'd done away with me. Closed my account and disconnected my phone. Gone without a trace. No forwarding address. Like Chandra Levy or something."
He considers this for a moment before replying, "I'd be shocked and disappointed first, then angry, confused, and hurt. Hurt they'd let you go so easily and casually. Any good breakup should be dramatic."
"Then ... I don't know," he says, though this, as he knows, has known for almost six months, is completely untrue.
They had dinner that night at the Medici. She came with her friend, Amanda. Joey didn't really mind because Amanda didn't seem all that intimidating, despite resembling a girl he hates from Lab, some wannabe slut named Michelle who graduated the year before he did. Melissa had a grilled ham and cheese and a milkshake, Joey smoked cigarettes and drank coffee and slouched in his chair. Later, he thought about how he should have ordered food because he wanted to drink a lot that night. As though sensing his dilemma, she offered him fries. She was looking way more than decent, a black dress, at first he could only make out the edges, but once she took off the jean jacket she was wearing, he could see the whole thing, and it looked really nice. Maybe it was just because of the dim lights of the Medici, he thought. No, it was her. She really was beautiful. She paid the check with twenties she took out of her purse. He bought cigarettes and then they walked back to her Jeep where she parked it like three blocks away. She took him back to his car and he drove up north to Chris's, where the throng had broken up but the keg was still kicking, and they stood together for a cigarette, but then she and her little latch-on walked away, and Joey decided not to start following them around, not give her reason to suspect that he thought like they'd bonded over one dinner. At one point later on he thought she was walking toward him, when he was sitting on the edge of the porch railing, smoking a cigarette. She stopped like one foot away and started talking to someone else, but he reached out, and she turned around, and he apologized as if he had hit her accidentally. She smiled and he thinks it was then he made the decision, sitting there smoking, watching her introducing herself to Trey, how much he really wanted her, despite realizing earlier that night, maybe at the table, maybe in the Jeep, maybe alone on the porch filling a plastic cup with beer-colored foam, that he could never really have her.