Realism is minute; it is the drama of a broken teacup, the tragedy of a walk down the block, the excitement of an afternoon call, the adventure of an invitation to dinner.
-Frank Norris, A Plea for Romantic Fiction (1901)
“Can I sit here?” she asked, blue eyes batting.
He looked up, “of course.”
“Thanks,” she said. “Everywhere else was full.”
He smiled and nodded.
“I don’t usually sit with strangers,” she said.
“I like strangers,” he said.
She pulled out a book, thumbed through to where she’d last left off, and with one heavy sigh sunk into her wooden chair. They sat there for five minutes, until she felt a buzzing sensation that told her she was being watched. She looked up and he quickly looked down. She noticed he didn’t have anything with him. No books, magazines, phone. He was just sitting and sipping.
“What are you doing?”
“Why not? Should I be doing something else?”
“No, it’s just a strange thing to do” she shrugged.
“Feels normal to me,” Paul took another sip.
Rosie looked down at her book again, curling her fingers over the back of the cardboard. They sat there, in the busyness of the downtown cafe at noon. She scanned to find the paragraph she’d last read. She peered over her book. Paul just sat there, dark eyes darting back and forth, following footsteps, eyebrows raising and lowering, like he was reading each passersby. He shot a glance at her, she looked down, too scared to look back up again. She read the same sentence over and over until it was an echo. At one she heard the chime from the nearby Catholic church. She jumped in her seat.
“Woah, hold on there!” Paul said.
Rosie chuckled. “Sorry.”
“I have to get back to work.”
“Another time, perhaps?” he said.
She smiled and grabbed her bag, heading to the streetlight.
“Good talk!” He shouted.
Rosie whipped her head around, grinned and saluted.
From the street she could see him. Sitting there, hands clasped in his lap. Today he wore a ball cap.
“You don’t look like a Paul,” she declared, walking up and sitting herself down across from him.
“Guilty as charged. What do I look like then?”
“How ironic,” he sighed. “I was named after Paul McCartney, but that was always my favorite song.”
“Whaddayaknow!” he smiled, throwing his hands up in the air. “You look like a Rosie,” he said.
“How so?” she asked. He tilted his head and said “You just do.” She smiled back at him and they sat, watching the people pass.
“What’s your favorite color?” he asked.
“Well that doesn’t make any sense.”
“Why not? My favorite color is whatever I want it to be.”
“But it should be red. Roses are red, so Rosies should like red.”
“Yes, but I like blue.”
“It’s alluring. Red is too ostentatious. Too bold. It commands attention. Blue sparkles without trying,” she said. “Like the sea,” she added with a nod.
“How romantic of you.”
“I’m not a romantic.”
“Yes, you are.”
“No, I’m not. You don’t even know me!” She crossed her arms and huffed. “I’m quite practical.”
“Those heels are practical? And that copy of Pride and Prejudice? And the very fact that your name is inspired by flowers?”
She blushed. “I am I swear!” she answered indignantly. “And I don’t even like flowers…. they wilt and die and are depressing after just a short week.”
“So what is such a practically romantic girl—who renounces the femininity of her name and its allusions—doing at the one coffee shop in this small town?”
“Andrew’s job moved him here.”
“Ah,” he picked up his glass, winked and pointed at her.
“And do you like it?”
“I’d rather be in the city. The big city,” she said, eyes widening. “Like New York,” she sighed, looking into the distance.
“Terrible place,” Paul said, waving his hand.
“How would you know?”
“I lived there.”
“And what brought you here?”
“Um,” Paul paused, “Family,” he finished, looking down.
“So how long have you and Andrew been together?”
“Seven years. Since high school, really.”
“But no ring I see?”
“He wanted to wait until the timing was right.”
“Right. And when is that?”
She shrugged. “Hopefully soon.”
“That’s an awfully long time to get the timing right, especially for someone as ‘efficient’ as you.”
Rosie nodded. “Touché.”
“So what’s wrong with you then?”
“Oh, come on… timing? You believe him? What is it? Are you a schizophrenic? Secretly awaiting divorce papers from a previous marriage? An outlaw on the run!? Married to a foreigner? Are you a foreigner? You could only pass for Canadian, you know. What is it?”
“I don’t know.”
“Well, why you still with him?”
“He’s nice!” Paul looked at Rosie disapprovingly. “And he’s finishing his law degree and he wants to save up to have enough money for the wedding and ring and I don’t know something about his parents divorce.”
“Ah, yes, nice is what we all want. A real Mr. Darcy he seems,” he said, pointing to her book. “And you’re happy?”
“He is, and yeah sure why not? I mean yeah. I… I’m sure it’s coming soon. And what’s wrong with a Mr. Darcy? He’s great.”
“That book is bullshit.”
“It is not!”
“Yeah it is. It makes girls think that it’s perfectly okay to marry a guy that’s a jerk to you for ages and then he can totally make it up by being a billionaire and professing an eloquent monologue. Does this Andrew have interests? Dreams? Does he even like the Beatles?”
“I don’t know.”
“What do you mean you don’t know? That’s an obvious deal breaker. Anyone who doesn’t like the Beatles doesn’t have a soul.”
“Okay, I’m gonna go,” said Rosie, rising from her chair.
“No, stay!” Paul said, grabbing her hand.
“I’ve gotta get back to work.”
“Look, I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay. I’ll see you another day.”
“Let me walk you back.”
“I don’t think so.”
“Okay, to the corner.”
They walked silently to the corner and waited for the white skeleton to blink on the monitor.
“I always thought those white guys on the street signs looked like the Beatles on the cover of Abbey Road.”
Rosie smiled as the light changed.
“Tomorrow I’ll go easy on you Rosie. I promise.”
“Okay,” she said, not even looking at him, wiping a sniffle off her nose.
Rosie held one hand on her floppy hat in the springtime breeze, her blonde hair whipping in front of her face. She wasn’t even sure why she was going back. She should’ve just stayed in the office today, she had a lot to catch up on anyway. Routine probably. Maybe Paul was right, as much as she hated to admit it. She asked Andrew what his favorite Beatles song was last night, before they went to bed. He didn’t have one, he shrugged. And then he kissed her goodnight. She sat awake in the dark, nestled in his side. She remembered that first night, the summer after senior year, when he held her, and she was so in love and he said he would marry her—marry her that instant. And then instants passed. Has it really been seven years?
“Andrew, do you remember that first night?”
“What night, honey?”
“You know that first night. Can you believe it was seven years ago?”
“I guess…. yeah… a huh..” he rolled over, his back now facing her.
She laid there, clenching the covers.
“Do you remember what you said?”
“You know about us and the big city.”
“Oh, you know how that goes. I thought you liked it here. We can talk about it later.”
“Are you happy, Andrew?”
“Yeah, sure. Honey, go to sleep.”
Maybe she was early today, though Paul was usually there waiting for her. She pulled out a book and began to read, but kept reading that same paragraph over and over again, peeping over the pages every five seconds.
Five minutes. Fifteen minutes. Thirty minutes. Where was he?
She heard the church bell ring and looked around again. Nothing. She walked back to the streetlight, lingering at the crosswalk. Maybe he thought she was mad at him still. But she said she’d see him tomorrow, and tomorrow was today. This was stupid anyhow. She’s dating Andrew. “Andrew is kind, and nice, and normal,” she thought. “He wants to do big things like like . . . Well, he kisses her goodnight and that’s gentlemanly, so he must be a keeper. And sure he doesn’t like music but he likes . . . well they watch movies together so he likes movies, right? Yeah. Movies. They’re such a waste of time. I’d rather be outside. But Andrew’s great, Andrew’s great,” she said to herself. Why was she even questioning that?
It started to rain, and Rosie walked briskly back to her office building.
“Ah!” Paul said, throwing down the newspaper on the table. “Just the girl I wanted to see! I know I said I would go easy on you, but I have a pending question that I must must ask you.”
“I can’t do this again, Paul. I’m just gonna get something to go.”
“No, no, no, sit down. It’s quite important!” he said, putting his hands together in a triangle, like a board executive. “Star Wars or Lord of the Rings?”
Pepsi or Coke, Ford or Chevy, morning or night, Republican or Democrat, beach or mountains, up or down, run or walk, smoke or drink, they went through the whole list, laughing and animated, like a montage in a movie, and there was a pleasant mix of “me too’s!” and “how could you!?”s
“And if your life was a movie, what would your montage scene song be?”
“Van Morrison, Into the Mystic.”
“That was her favorite!” he threw his hand out in disbelief, then looked down.
“Her? Who’s her?”
“Nothing, nothing.” He sniffed and picked at his coffee cup.
“Paul, why weren’t you here yesterday?”
He looked up, teary eyed.
“It was her birthday.”
“You’re dating someone! Not that I—I mean—I assumed. Well of course you would be—we’re friends so—sorry I don’t know what I’m saying,” Rosie stammered. “It’s just you don’t have a wedding band either. And I, well. I’m with Andrew, and I . . . ”
“My wife’s. It was her birthday. She died last June. I was at her graveside yesterday.”
They stared at the swirls in lattes, the black changing to a milky brown.
“Paul,” said Rosie, reaching out to touch his hand, but then placing it back in her lap. “I… I’m sorry,” Rosie said.
“Me, too,” whispered Paul.
“Do you miss her?”
“Yes, but not as bad as I used to. You remind me of her.”
“Do you think you’ll remarry?”
“I don’t know,” Paul said, clasping his hands. “She was a beautiful dream. She could make me believe in anything. I woke up one morning and she was gone, stone cold beside me, like she was stuck in her dream.”
For a second Rosie believed, too. Believed that she could float on like a dream, like Paul’s word in the soft spring breeze. No one had ever said that of her. Andrew didn’t talk like that.
“But I don’t know… timing.. I … I don’t know if I could ever love someone like I loved her,” Paul sighed. “I don’t know if I’ve found anyone yet.”
Rosie looked down. That bothered her. She didn’t know why, but her stomach turned.
The Catholic bells began their low booming.
“I, um, I’ll see you tomorrow, Paul.”
“I’ll walk you to your work.”
They walked in silence, each step in careful, contemplated motion upon the brick sidewalk. As she turned and said goodbye his hand brushed hers and she caught herself staring into his green eyes.
“S-sorry,” she said, and started to walk away.
He chuckled. “Quit apologizing!”
He opened the glass doors for her and stood as she walked away.
“Wait, Ro—“ he shouted, but it came out more like a quiver. She turned around.
“I … um..” She waited for him to finish his sentence, her eyes widening as she took a slow step forward.
“Um, yeah, tomorrow,” he said, and saluted her a goodbye.
Rosie pulled into the driveway. Married, she said to her self… and dead… she shook her head. In the driveway was a brand new Fiat. Andrew walked out to greet her.
“What do you think?!”
“It’s, it’s new.”
“I thought you were saving for something else….”
“No, honey, this is perfect! This is just what we need! I got it on a great deal,” he smiled proudly, hands on his hips.
Rosie’s face got hot, her palms sweaty. “But you.. I thought… After law school…. and how much was this? We can’t afford this AND a wedding.”
Andrew put his hand to his forehead.
“Honey, we’ve been over this. This is what you want, what we want, you don’t need that,” he said, holding her by the back of her arms.
“I’m going to bed.”
Rosie pushed away, walking briskly into the house. She threw on a t-shirt and climbed in bed. Andrew followed her.
“Honey, this will be great. It’s all good honey.” He kissed her hand, her cheek.
“I’m trying to sleep. It’s been a long day,” she said, rolling over.
“Fine! I’ll take back the car and we’ll get married or whatever. You want a marriage, fine. Hell, let’s do it! We’ll be just as happy as my parents.”
“Is that your proposal?”
“Yeah, sure. Why not? Yeah,” Andrew nodded his head and crossed his arms.
He nodded, opening his arms and pulling her in, he kissed her on the forehead. “Yeah, let’s get married.”
“Why? Why do you want to marry me.”
“Because that’s what you want, and I don’t want to fight, so yeah, sure, whatever.”
“Right.” Rosie turned to him.
“Okay,” he said, and smiled. A faint smile.
“Yeah,” she said, “great.” And kissed him back.
Rosie was impatient, the red hand at the traffic light was taking forever to turn into the walking guy. She laughed to herself. Abbey Road, she thought.
How was she going to tell Paul? “Well, excitedly, right?” she thought. “Yeah, this is exciting.” Why wouldn’t she be excited, why wouldn’t Paul be? What would he say?”
Every white line on that pavement was a heart beat ringing in her ears as she crossed. A thump, thump, thump on the hot, black asphalt.
He sat there, patiently. Behind the iron fence in the shade of the summer sun, he looked peaceful. He smiled at her.
“How goes it?”
“Um, well?” Rosie’s face was red. She could feel her eyes bulging and her heart hadn’t slowed down. Take a breath, she thought. A deep breath.
“Right!” he said, rubbing his hands together like he was making a fire. He clinched his fists and stretched them out again. He’d break it slowly. It was complicated, but the other day, he just got to thinking and he had to tell her now, before he got too scared. He leaned forward in his chair.
“So about the other day…”
Rosie’s eyes dotted back and forth. She was tearing at the napkin. She had to tell Paul about Andrew now. About last night. And now, before it burst. Oh, why was she so anxious?
“Andrew asked me to marry him.”
“Last night. Well, he kind of—he bought this car and we got into a fight because he was supposed to be saving for marriage and the wedding, but I mean like we don’t really need that. I don’t know. I—I’ve wanted this for forever, and I—well, I thought you should know, and why not, ya know? Because you’re my friend—right?—friend. Yeah. So, yeah. And you can come—to the wedding I mean!—And, yeah, it will be great.”
“You’re really doing this. Wow. Congratulations.”
“Yeah, I mean, like, you’re my friend, and you’re for this, right? This is what I’ve always wanted. So, yeah. Yeah,” she said, playing with her hands, her bobbing up and down.
Rosie stared down at her cup.
“Yeah, of course. Why not? I mean it’s been so long.”
Paul lowered his head, peeking up at her to make eye contact. She stared at her feet. He sat back in his chair. Rosie couldn’t look at him, she tried to smile. She hated him looking at her like that. Those eyes. Those green eyes.
“You want this?” He asked her.
“Yeah. I just had to, well, I had to tell you. I’m sorry to interrupt. What were you saying?”
“Um, nothing. Nothing. Forget it.”
“Really? It sounded important.”
“Nah, um. Wow, congratulations that’s . . . Yeah, good for you guys.”
They sat, both watching the passersby, neither looking up at the other, both buried in deep thought, staring out at the street, and the corner, and the flashing streetlight.
A deep bellow rang out from the church.
“I’ll walk you back.”
They walked. There was too much to be thought, too many sounds ricocheting in the silence to narrow down a last word to fill the void. Each of them searching for those words they couldn’t find. Frantically clawing through their minds, for that word—those words!—to be said. It was right before them, but what was it? Where was it? They could see it up ahead. It slipped, slipped away as they each grasped for it.
“Rosie,” Paul said, reaching out for her arm.
“Yes?” she looked up at him.
“I’m so . . . umm . . . I’m so happy for you.”