He was late arriving. He usually isn’t late.
“They decided we needed a staff meeting to perk us up. Our sales are in the tank, the client’s probably going to replace us, which means they’ll lay most of us off and we all know it. What are they going to tell us that’s going to perk us up?”
He shrugged. He had a way of shrugging with both shoulders, kind of a time delay, a sequence. Over the years, I’d even tried on occasion to keep track—did one particular shoulder start the sequence? based on specific occasions? on specific types of emotion? We’d been through so much together…but I’d never been able to pin it down.
“What are you going to do?” I asked, idly. It wasn’t like I had anything useful to offer.
“What can I do? I’ll put out resumes.”
“I did. It wasn’t that long ago—”
“I had to find a whole new business.”
“It’s true,” he conceded, “but we’re not that young anymore. In this economy, you don’t know who’s going to want you.”
Silence. The waitress brought his coffee. We’d been meeting at the diner long enough that we didn’t order anymore. They knew us, they knew what we took. They made me my tea—they kept honey behind the counter and cut lemon slices for me even though no one else used them.
We sat comfortably in silence. I didn’t know that many people I could do that with.
“Two years today,” I said finally.
“I know—I knew it as soon as I woke up this morning. I didn’t wake up and then know it—it was already in me when I woke up.”
My turn to shrug, but I always did it the same way.
“You never know who’s going to want you, ever,” I said.
He smiled. “That’s what put us here.” He tapped the table. I nodded. I remembered the both of us in black suits with wet cheeks. You don’t think of a diner as a house of solace. A church maybe, a bar maybe. Not a diner. But it was for us.
“She would have had an idea for you,” I told him flat-out. “She would have had a plan in about three seconds.”
“She had energy to burn, that’s sure,” he said. A mischievous smile crossed his face now and every time I saw that smile, I couldn’t help but see it through her eyes. I hated it at first, seeing him that way, seeing what must have attracted her to him, those mischievous eyes. But I had to admit: if I’d been a woman, I’d have been drawn in too.
“I would never have approached you, you know that,” he said and I thought it was funny, for him to have finally told me that, after two years.
“I know,” I nodded. “I know you well enough by now. You were discreet.”
“I wanted what she had to give me. She made it clear you came first. You were her life. She just had more—”
“Let’s—leave it there,” I said, my heart in my throat all of a sudden. Two years later. I looked him in the eye so I knew he understood what I was saying. “We’re okay, you and I. We pretty much have been from the beginning. When I saw you at the funeral, I knew. It’s why I introduced myself here. Once she’s dead, what’s the difference?”
“It’s kept her alive,” he said. “We don’t have to talk about her. When we’re sitting here together—”
“Yeah,” I said, clipped. And then, “yeah” again, like it meant something different the second time.
“What about that girl you were seeing?”
“She was nice. Nothing wrong with her.” I stirred the tea, moved the honey around until the water got dark, more intense, until the lemon would bite into the honey, until the taste would make me pucker. They knew how I wanted it here. “But I think I’m better on my own. Whenever I get around another woman—”
“There’s a hole.”
“She was a great girl. You were a lucky guy.”
“We both were.”
“Yeah,” he nodded. “You buying?”
“It’s my turn,” I said. They never charged us anymore anyway. He smiled and took off. I kept stirring my tea, watching the color deepen.