Chapter 17: Present 6

17Present #6

I returned to New York with little further information on the Enson-Mortons’ disappearance. The Sunday night train ran late, so by the time I got home, it was nearly midnight. I had told Luke I’d call when I got back, but I was tired and didn’t feel like it. Instead, I went straight to bed.

My days had become monotonous. I woke up, went to work, met up with Luke afterward, went home and slept. Lather, rinse, repeat.

True to habit, I woke up the next morning and went to work. I returned to my tiny, cozy apartment around six. Luke was meeting me at the apartment to go out around seven. I peeled off my shoes and sat down on the couch, working up the energy to fetch the bottle of wine sitting in the fridge. The prospect of meeting Luke wasn’t entirely without worry; wine beforehand might make it easier.

My cell phone rang. Luke had gotten off work early; he was waiting outside. I ran to change shoes. As I walked out, I smoothed my skirt anxiously. Hopefully he hadn’t noticed I’d never called.

We went to a sports bar a couple blocks away. Luke possessed a previously dormant desire to watch the Mets game. I didn’t mind as long as it distracted him. The hostess seated us at a small table not too far from the TV. I let Luke have the seat with the better view.

“How was the weekend at home?” He asked, his gaze fixed slightly above my left shoulder.

“It was nice, relaxing.” I tapped my fingers on my fork, staring at my lap, raising my eyes to see if he was looking at me. He seemed more interested in the television screen.

“Good, good. What did you do?” His eyes narrowed. I fiddled with my napkin.

“Hung out around town, worked at my mom’s shop.”

Just then, someone hit a home run, and Luke’s attention shifted fully to the game. This had become our routine for the past several weeks. Luke would suggest meeting at a sports bar, at a party for his friends, somewhere he was entitled to selective attention.

The waitress came by and asked what we’d like to drink. Luke ordered a beer, but all I wanted was an iced tea. My opinion of it had changed since childhood, and wine at a sports bar didn’t feel quite right. While Luke hemmed and hawed and asked the waitress which beer she preferred, a conversation I didn’t particularly care about, I looked around. The place was nearly full, mainly of men.

“Emma.” The waitress had gone, and Luke was looking straight at me, his arms crossed. I could hear the commercials blaring.

“Yes?” I twisted my hands in my lap, attempted to smooth my skirt, forgetting that I was sitting.

“Have you given any thought to what I said last week?”

That. I knew he would ask; it was the reason I hadn’t called, the reason I couldn’t stop folding and unfolding my napkin, adjusting my skirt.

“Not really.” It wasn’t entirely true. I had given it plenty of thought, I just didn’t have an answer. The week before, I had thought of his suggestion incessantly, so much so that I had reverted to my greatest tactic in high school: running away. The trip home, though, had given me a thought. If I could fix the underlying problem, everything would fall into place. I began to glance around the room, looking for something worthy of a digression. It was juvenile, but all I had. If there were any moment for Luke’s habit of selective attention, this was it. I wondered if I could flag down the waitress, then consulting with the hostess, without Luke noticing. At that moment, a group of six men in suits and ties entered noisily. They patted one another on the back, shook hands, laughed loudly. The hostess smiled as they flirted with her, unabashedly batting her eyelashes, sticking out her chest. From her behavior, they came in often, and she was more than simply friendly with a couple.

“Emma, you have to re-sign your lease next month.”

I was still staring at the door. The man at the front of the group looked familiar.  He glanced around, ignoring the hostess. While the other man laughed raucously, he joined in their conversations only occasionally. He would add a short phrase, the men would laugh louder than ever, and he’d return to his silent observation. He was tall, with perfectly combed light-brown hair and eyes that drooped slightly, perhaps because he was tired, perhaps sad. I had seen them somewhere before; a stab of loneliness came over me. I racked my overworked memory. The man didn’t work with Luke; I hadn’t met him at a party.

“I’m well aware,” I snapped before noticing Luke’s concerned face. The game was still on commercial break, and he glanced nervously at the screen. Within a couple minutes, I would lose his attention again. My attempts to stall embarrassed me; I should have cared more than I did just then.

“You can take as much time as you want.” I watched the men out of the corner of my eye as they were seated. The man at the front had a handkerchief tucked into the front pocket of his jacket. “But the thing is, if you can’t take this step, I’m not sure our relationship can make it.”

I should have been floored, my jaw should have dropped, I should have said “yes, I’ll give up my apartment!” right that second. I should not have been considering other options; Luke’s apartment was even closer to my work. My eyes fell back on the tall man with the droopy eyes. He shook the hostess’s hand formally. She cocked her head in confusion. I snapped my fingers.

“Roosevelt Andrews.” I announced rather loudly.

“What? Is that an apartment complex?”

“No, an old school friend. He’s sitting over there.”

I pointed. Roosevelt saw. Ever so subtly he narrowed his eyes, expecting them to deceive him. I blushed. He whispered to the friend next to him and got up.

“I have to go to the bathroom while we’re still on commercial break.” Luke said as Roosevelt headed over. He left in a hurry. That was what he did when he was angry—left and expected the other person to change his or her mind. He’d ignore me or make small talk for the rest of the night until I caved.

“Remma Johnson.” Roosevelt said as he stuck out his hand for me to shake. Roosevelt always shook hands. I expected him to come home from work one day in a couple years and shake hands with his wife in greeting.

“Rosie Andrews.” I replied.

“Just don’t call me that in front of my friends.” He laughed. I did too. “How have you been?”

He shuffled his feet, shifting his weight as if he felt unbalanced either way.

“Pretty good. I went home last weekend.” I dabbed my face with my napkin, my voice breaking slightly in nervousness.

“My parents moved back to the city after I graduated high school. I haven’t been back in years.” I knew this. “What were you doing there?”

“Oh, you know, seeing my parents,” I said. Halfway through waving my hand in insouciance, I didn’t feel like lying to him. He could handle the truth. “Actually, I was wondering about them.”

I didn’t need to give their names. He understood; it was just about the only thing we had in common.

“Yeah, me too.” He looked down, shuffling his feet once again. The soles of his dress shoes clacked against the floor like a frantic tap dance. “We should meet up sometime, catch up.”

He reached into his inside pocket of his jacket and pulled out a business card. Somehow, it didn’t feel like a networking opportunity.

“Absolutely,” I said as I placed it in my purse.

When I looked up, I noticed Luke returning, surprised to see Roosevelt still at our table.

“Rosie, this is Luke, my boyfriend,” I introduced. “Luke, this is Roosevelt.”

“A pleasure,” Luke said, although he hardly sounded sincere. He nodded coldly, crossing his arms.

Roosevelt offered his hand.

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