For lunch her boyfriend took her to a restaurant new to her.
The length of the drive from the office surprised her, as did the turn into the old decaying strip mall. Her boyfriend angled across the asphalt with no regard for the lines. The number of stranded shopping carts from the Kroger's at the far end easily outnumbered the number of parked cars. They seemed headed for a large empty storefront. "4000 sq ft for lease" proclaimed the red hand lettered banners in its windows. Between the vacant store and a Discount Liquors huddled the "Hunan Heavan".
Her boyfriend parked in the space closest to the restaurant, covering a handicapped icon so faded by time and tires that no misdemeanor could conceivably be enforced.
As she climbed out of the car, the cold breeze lifted a multicolored page of shopping specials off the asphalt and wrapped it about her calf.
Her boyfriend took her arm. "Is it good?" she asked, but got no answer.
He opened the glass door of the restaurant and warm moist air enveloped her. Her glasses fogged. Her vision became a dazed confusion of misted shapes with indistinct dark blurs outside the sharp oval outlines of the frames. She felt breathless and helpless and self-conscious.
Her boyfriend touched her arm, "I'll take your coat." She shrugged out of it. "And your glasses." She pulled them off. The world ceased to be a fog and became a blur of indistinct lines and shapes, light and dark. She stood still, unwilling to move. "And your bag." He took its strap. She had been about to lift it back onto its familiar shoulder. She was intensely aware of the touch of his fingers.
Her boyfriend stepped away. She watched his form mingle with the shapes, lose its coherence, vanish.
She stood awkward and nervous. She imagined herself the object of curiosity, dressed in a floral patterned skirt, red flowers on a black background, knee length, black pumps with low heels and a form hugging dark red sweater, its neckline displaying a v of white skin. A wisp of brown hair hung before her left eye, she brushed it back, her white hand shifted from blur to distinct then back to blur. She rocked nervously from one foot to the other.
A shape coalesced, a pale olive patch of face with longish black hair over a white cloud of blouse. Its voice said, "Party of two?"
She started to nod, but her boyfriend, taking sudden shape from the indistinct jumble of her peripheral vision, said, "Of three."
She looked up at him in surprise, she couldn't make out his features and his voice told her nothing. "Who?" she asked tentatively.
"This way please," the hostess said, then she turned and her form evaporated into the background clutter.
Her boyfriend took her arm and moved her through space. On their left they passed close to a bar, its counter an expanse of brown, its bottles and glasses gleaming baubles. Her foot brushed one of the stools and she stepped closer to him. His hand gave her cues to veer left or right. They entered an open dining area, tables in the middle, the blurred red of booths along either side. Her senses told her she stood exposed in a vast limitless space, her mind told her there must be mirrors behind the booths and that the space was narrow and confined and humid.
They came to a table, a square of white with shapes she resolved by guess into placemats, silverware and a metal tea pot.
Her boyfriend left her standing behind a chair and sat. Gripping the chair, she pulled it back and seated herself. She crossed her legs. The tablecloth brushed her knees then rested on her lap. Menus appeared. The place-setting across from her remained empty. The tables around them were vacant. She couldn't tell if there was anyone else there.
"This is like their lunch rush?" she asked.
"I'll have a beer," her boyfriend told the waiter, "A Tsingtao."
Conscious of the pause, she said, "Just water, thanks. Who is joining us?"
Her boyfriend said nothing.
She looked down at her plate. In its shine a shadow of pale vague reflection gazed up at her, her mind supplied the details: face tense, hair streaming on either side, lips thin with uncertainty, eyes cautious and downturned, cheeks blushed from the cold of the parking lot and the humidity of the restaurant.
"We should break-up," she thought, "I should break-up with you."
That morning on awakening her boyfriend'd told her to dress specially. She sat on the edge of the bed still bleary with sleep. She turned to look at him, "What's up, honey?" she'd asked.
He yawned, "Maybe I just like to see you look nice, Kat," was all he said.
The momentary pleasure vanished. Of late she'd been unhappy, they hadn't gone anywhere together and he was often out. When he traveled for work, he didn't call. They hadn't made love in weeks.
She didn't like what she'd become.
She felt him watch her as she stood, moved to the closet and chose from the hanging dresses, choosing as much by feel as anything. When she went into the shower he followed and watched her through the wet translucent door. She hoped he'd join her.
Out, she applied her makeup, just lipstick and a little eye shadow. She had to lean over the sink to get her face close to the mirror. He ran his hand down her bare back and bottom, then holding her hips with a hand on either side, he slid into her from behind.
She made a murmuring sound of welcome, though the lack of preparation made it a little uncomfortable. She looked up at the mirror, at their misted reflection. His face and broad shoulders and darkly haired chest were a misted blur to her. After a long moment during which she remained still, pushed forward, the counter cutting into her stomach, breathless, skewered, uncertain whether he wanted her to move her rear upon him or to continue with her makeup even, he withdrew, hard and waiting.
He stretched back on the bed and watched as she pulled on her panties, cupped her breasts into her bra, stepped into her slip, slid her sweater over her head, smoothing it to her skin, stepped into her skirt, black silk patterned with embroidered red and gold carnations, and tightened its cloth belt. She swung herself around to make the skirt billow and hang smoothly. She felt so aware of his eyes as she brushed her hair, attached her earrings and slipped the delicate gold cross on its thin gold chain over her head, centering it just under her throat. The cross glittered on the v of exposed white skin.
He leaned her forward against the dresser, raised and flipped her skirt and slip over her back, pulled down her panties, patted one ankle so she raised her foot, he spread her legs and stood again behind her. He pulled her onto her tiptoes and slid back into her. He pressed hard against her bottom. She could feel the cool air on either side of him. He watched her eyes in the mirror. She so wanted him to fuck her. She pushed back against him but he gripped her waist and slid out.
"Honey, we have time," she said.
He just watched her silently, leaving her nothing to do but slip her panties back on and straighten her skirt.
He watched, leaning against the bedroom door jam, as she got on all fours and poked around in the bottom of the closet, hunting for her black pumps. He said, "Shit Kat! Hurry it up!"
She looked back over her shoulder at him, "You aren't even dressed."
By the time she'd slipped on her shoes, found her laptop, packed it and her work in its bag, he was of course dressed and waiting by the front door.
"You have no trouble finding things," she'd said.
After they'd climbed out of his car in the office parking lot he'd handed her her glasses.
Now, he surprised her by producing a laptop. He took her hand, then her forefinger and ran it across the fingerprint reader. She realized the laptop was hers.
She watched the blur of his fingers as he typed quickly for a second, paused, then his hand shifted and he slid his finger over the mouse pad and tapped. She heard the sending mail ding.
"Honey?" she asked.
He closed the laptop and it vanished beside him.
"What did you send?" she asked.
"You asked for the afternoon off," he said irritably.
"Who's joining us?" she asked.
His phone rang and he answered it and began to chat. "You see the game last night man? That facemask call! What a fight!"
She of course remembered the game, at least the sound of it. She'd been sitting on the floor in the living room, knitting, something she could do automatically by feel, a sweater for her brother for Christmas. Her boyfriend lay stretched on the couch. Her head rested against his thigh. Sometimes one of his hands rested on her bare shoulder and played and tugged idly at her hair, sometimes his hand under her arm and cupped and fondled her left breast. When the fight broke out he'd pinched her nipple. "Will you look at that! Kat, I'll have another beer!"
She'd gone into the kitchen, opened the refrigerator door, shivered from the draft of cold air, and looked at the colored shapes. She'd pulled a Sam Adams from its cardboard pocket, opened it, and after handing it to him and had retreated into the bedroom. She'd lain on the bed and looked at the ceiling and felt empty. He'd come in and paused in the doorway and looked down at her.
For a moment she'd felt sexy lying there in just her blue jeans. Then he'd gone into the bathroom and she'd heard the shower run and when he'd come out in his pajamas, he'd said, "Time for bed, Kat."
When she herself'd come out of the bathroom, he was already snoring softly. She'd lain awake a long time, eyes open, seeing only blurred black and gray, thinking, "Goodbye" over and over.
The waiter condensed by the table. She felt him looking at her. She could see the shape of his pad held expectantly. "Aren't we going to wait?" she asked her boyfriend, when he said nothing she said, "Just hot and sour soup."
Her boyfriend ordered General Tso's Chicken, fried wontons and wonton soup.
The night she'd first seen her boyfriend, she'd been part of a crew going for a drink after work. She and her friends, two women, one from QA, the other MaryLou, her manager, they'd pushed into the bar, the Miles and Miles. Immediately her glasses'd fogged. She'd run into something or someone then tripped on a bench? a chair? a something. Her friends'd caught her and'd taken either arm and led her through the loud humid crush. MaryLou, with her left arm, had suddenly laughed and whispered in her ear, "Poor blind Kat, Poor blind Kat, see how she falls, see how she falls, she tripped all over her two fat feet, did you ever see such a sight in your life, as poor blind Kat..."
When they got to the table where their fellows from work were gathered, her glasses'd started to clear. Their shrinking oval of mist framed the face of the man who would become her boyfriend.
He'd glanced at her and looked away, uninterested, back to the fogged person on his right.
She wanted someone to take him aside and assure him that she didn't usually wear such glasses. That her hay fever had like kicked in after the warm weather of the week before and her eyes itched and that's why her stupid contacts were sitting on the shelf in her bathroom.
She flushed and sat, and stared at the table. She felt like crap.
MaryLou leaned to her and said, "Shall I read the drink list to you, my poor blind Kat?" The waitress stood behind her and she hadn't noticed.
"Shut up," she said, "You still have that Spring Strawberry Ale on draft? I'll have that."
She heard a high pitched shriek of laughter from the other side of the table. She glanced back at the guy. The woman beside him was Alice from marketing. Alice's mouth gaped with mirth, showing off some very fine white teeth and a pair of full red lips. The guy looked attentive and interested and eager. She wanted him more than anything.
"Who's he?" she asked MaryLou in a low voice.
"Kat, don't you pay attention to your new hire spam?"
"Come on MaryLou, who is he?"
"Just tell me who he is."
"You could take your laptop from your bag and check. We could watch as you grubbed through your trash."
"You're a shit, MaryLou, just tell me who he is."
"If you were more of a team player and checked out the new hire emails for cuties like I do, you'd know he's our new Director of Small Business Opportunities. His name's Mitch. Wish I was a small business. I'd so give him an opportunity."
"MaryLou, you're interested in men now?"
"Consistency is the hobgoblin of a small libido," MaryLou observed, "And since you turned me down, Kat, maybe I've gone off women."
The waitress returned with their drinks. MaryLou went on, over another high pitched shout of laughter from the other side of the table, "Just listen to that laugh, is that grating or what? Nothing small about that. And look at all the chest she's showing. She's definitely a large opportunity. He's out of his territory."
MaryLou'd laughed, "And there's nothing small about her mouth, you know Doug, she used to go with him, she took his head in her mouth and bit right it off. Now he has to go around without. I like him better in meetings now, he's quiet, being headless."
MaryLou went on, "She is a fast worker. You have to give her that. Her cube is right across from his office. We work on the other side of the building. That guy's a goner."
MaryLou sipped her vodka tonic, "Hell with them, you want to come shopping with me tomorrow? Hey! Kat!" and she poked her friend, "The hell with you," MaryLou said with a laugh and turned to her right to talk to Shirley.
Kat watched the man. She was surrounded by a roar of sound, the sports on the TVs, the shout of voices. He wasn't really handsome she thought. He rarely spoke, but whatever he said sent Alice into peels of laughter, each peel caused MaryLou to nudge her in the ribs while still facing the other way carrying on a spirited conversation about some shoes she'd seen in the mall.
Alice and the guy'd stood up to leave at the same time. Together thought Kat miserably. The guy'd tossed enough money for them both into the middle of the table. Kat'd looked down at her hardly touched beer and said "shit" in a low voice.
Now her boyfriend said, "I have taken another job. In San Diego. I start a week from Monday."
Kat felt like she had been kicked. It was the hard physical pain of loss. "What?"
"I'm giving my notice this afternoon," he said calmly, "I expect they'll escort me out the door."
"What about me?" Kat asked. She could hardly breath, hardly think. Would he want her to go? Was he done with her? She liked her job. She felt sick. "I'll have a glass of wine," she said to the shape of the waiter who was filling their water glasses.
Her boyfriend said nothing. He pushed his seat back and stood behind her. She thought perhaps he was going to hold her and reassure her, but instead he hooked his fingers in the neckline of her sweater and pulled it down, stretching it so was below her bra.
Kat was too shocked to move. "Not here please," she managed to plead.
From his pocket he took his boyscout knife, she felt the back of its blade between her shoulder blades as he cut, then he cut the shoulder straps and it fell into her lap. She looked down, her breasts, framed and lifted by her sweater, were quite in focus. She flushed. His hands when he cupped them were also in focus, then he pulled the sweater down a little further and returned to his chair.
"I'm so through with you," she thought, "I'm going to get up right now and leave." She imagined herself standing, pulling her sweater back up and making her way into the jumble of shapes towards the entrance, she imagined Mitch and the table dissolving behind her. She felt shame, anger at herself, and a a yawning chasm of abandonment and welling tears.
For some time after that night in the bar, she'd watched her boyfriend and Alice, generally from afar, sometimes she'd see them when everyone went out after work. Sometimes just before noon, she'd go to an empty conference room that overlooked the parking lot and stand and wait. Then she'd see them walking together, down the walk, across the lined asphalt to his car. She'd watch the car rock with their weight as they climbed in. She'd watch it pull out and drive off. She'd felt hopelessly empty.
Once MaryLou'd found her there and watched a moment with her. "You are such an idiot Kat," she'd said, "But he does still have his head on his shoulders. He must have a tough neck that Alice's teeth and strong jaws can't cut through."
Then MaryLou'd said, "How are you doing on the changes to the activity stream? Those need to get into QA next Monday."