Learning To Listen
By: Paula Jones
*More stories are available at my website: www.yourvervemagazineonline.info
He looked at me and there it was… a smile of approval aimed in my direction,
“Anna, you’re really funny.”
Distracted by the upward curving of his lips, I barely heard a word he said.
Sure, the restaurant’s food and atmosphere were perfect; that was nice.
Sure, Karolina, my favorite cousin, had just announced her decision to accept my offer and move in with me; that was great.
But the simplicity of Kane’s smile aimed in my direction topped it all.
It was like walking in the rain on one of those gray Louisiana days and suddenly as the rain slows to a light drizzle, you feel warmth on your skin, so you look up, and there it is… a perfect ray of sunshine beaming directly on you.
In that sunlit moment, you’re so filled with hope that you don’t even realize when the rain comes back.
Well, just as a passing split second of sunshine manages to chase away the reality of rain, so my euphoric bliss momentarily changed the scape of what was real.
For a fraction of a wonderful second, I didn’t feel like Anna Winston, the girl who was different from everyone else.
Instead, I felt like Cameron Diaz’s lovable character in that chick flick I’d bought two weeks ago…no, actually I felt even better than that!
I felt like a prone-to-monologuing heroine in a Jane Austin classic who catches her breath as she suddenly realizes that it’s happening… it being the moment of clarity when she understands that the dreamy guy she’s secretly fallen in love with…just might kind of like her too.
With all of this going through my head, I unabashedly stared at Kane like a love sick puppy.
He cleared his throat and blushing, glanced down at his half eaten plate of food.
My brain was still floating somewhere with sunbeams and puffy white clouds as I watched him focus on using his fork to push a verdant pile of string beans into his mashed potatoes.
“Thanks.” I finally replied.
Karolina, sitting beside me, gently nudged my shoulder.
I glanced at her and we shared a smile.
She discreetly arched an eyebrow and nodded towards our, still blushing, dinner companion.
“Seriously, you should do stand up. They have an open mike night at the comedy club on North and Highland.” He said before shoveling a forkful of string beans and mashed potatoes into his perfect mouth.
“Right. If the audience is made up of Alzheimer’s patients and their visiting grandchildren, sure.” I took a bite of my apple cobbler.
Finally looking up from his captivating plate of food, instead of meeting my gaze, he glanced somewhere over my shoulder as he replied,
“Nah, you’re funny. Getting an angry seventy-eight year old man to laugh until he falls out of his wheelchair is talent.”
“Or crack.” I shrugged.
“So that’s your secret?”
Grinning at her, I nodded,
“Yes. Great comedy is borne of crack.”
“I’ll have to rethink moving in with you. I’d hate having to arrest my own cousin. It wouldn’t look good on my record, you know. ” Taking a sip of her margarita, Karolina pretended to be serious.
“Don’t worry.” I patted her shoulder, “If you don’t tell them I’m your cousin, I have a hunch they won’t suspect we’re related.”
I glanced at him and he quickly turned to Karolina,
“So, if you don’t mind my asking- I’m curious, what drew you to a career with the Police Force?”
“She has a superhero complex.” I quickly said, taking another bite of my cobbler, which by the way, was baked perfectly.
I may not know a thing about baking, but I knew I’d never tasted a better apple cobbler.
The only thing more heavenly than the taste of what I was busily shoveling into my mouth was the possibility of another smile from Kane because who knew what that might lead to? I imagined Kane walking the two of us outside, Karolina would see that he wanted to say something to me and discreetly give us our distance as he nervously asked me to dinner…except this dinner wouldn’t be like any of the times we just went to lunch together- it would be a real date!
Taking a deep breath, I tried to reign in my excitement by focusing on the yummy goodness of cinnamon and apple that was currently in my mouth.
I watched Kane fix his gaze on my cousin as she answered his question,
“Anna’s right. Ever since I was a kid I wanted to be a superhero, save the world and-”
“But her options were limited because instead of x-ray vision, Karolina just had really big boobs.” I quickly interrupted.
There was a moment of silence.
“Um, well-”She started.
“Sorry-” I spoke at the same time.
We glanced at each other and out of the corner of my eye; I could see Kane watching us with amusement.
Karolina rolled her eyes at me,
“Go ahead Anna.”
“No, I was just going to say sorry because I keep interrupting you.” Feeling ridiculous, I watched Karolina sink back in her booth, and take a sip of her margarita before saying,
“Actually, it’s appropriate for you to joke about my boobs in front of someone I’ve just met. Nice icebreaker. Where’d you learn that? The Kathy Griffin Etiquette Class? ”
I knew she wasn’t really upset.
Karolina was a member of an endangered species known as the “down-to-earth-blonde-female”.
This rare form of human, unusually thick skinned and modest, makes for a great best friend.
Karolina’s thick skin also made her an excellent cop and even better, it assured me of the fact that I would always have at least one relative willing to put up with my sarcastic sense of humor.
But, I didn’t want to look like a jerk in front of Kane.
“You’re welcome and no, it was a Dane Cook class.” I replied before returning to my apple cobbler.
Oh well. A jerk I was to look like.
“Before I was so rudely interrupted, I was trying to answer your question wasn’t I? Kane, I hope you’ll forgive us both. My cousin lacks any sort of etiquette and I should have had a conversation with her before agreeing to accompany her in public.” Karolina said bringing her glass down to the table with a slight thud.
I took the opportunity to smile at them both, with my mouth full.
It wasn’t until Kane made a face and quickly looked away that I considered how unattractive the sight of my post-masticated apple cobbler might have been.
“Yeah, it’s alright, I’m used to it.” He said to Karolina, “I work with Anna every day, so between her and my favorite patient, a sixty-two year old ex-prize fighter, I’m used to abuse, physical and psychological.”
The two of them laughed.
“We’re doing you a favor, it builds character.”
Kane, apparently taking a cue from my cousin, rolled his eyes at me before turning his attention back to her,
“So, it all started with a superhero complex? Have you always been like that or did something happen to bring out your inner super?”
Karolina cleared her throat and glanced at me,
“Well…actually…there was a specific incident that was sort of, a turning point for me. It was in elementary school.”
Taking a deep breath, she turned to look directly at Kane as she went on,
“When I was about nine years old, I um, I – noticed some of the kids I’d grown up with picking on… other kids. I couldn’t understand why the adults wouldn’t do anything to stop them and it made me want to be the exact opposite of those authority figures who refused to make a difference. If you want things to change, you have to take action. So, when I got older I realized that by becoming a Police Officer I’d have the opportunity to make some sort of a difference.”
Losing a bit of my appetite, I put my fork on top of what was left of my cobbler and quietly pushed the plate away.
I knew exactly what incident Karolina was referring to.
I also knew why she’d suddenly begun to stammer.
She wanted to tell Kane exactly what happened, but she was afraid of embarrassing me.
That was the one thing about everyone in my family; they were constantly protecting me from the parts of their world to which I would never belong.
In a way, their protection hurt even more than the angry words that occasionally escaped from the ignorant lips of some drunken country hick.
“I wish more of us were like you.” Kane suddenly said.
I watched him smile as he gazed right into my cousin’s eyes.
Ice blue eyes connecting with, making waves, and crashing into, another pair of ice blue eyes.
It looked right.
I cursed myself for forgetting what I looked like to Kane and for forgetting who I really was.
Karolina, Kane, and nearly everyone else in the restaurant were an “us” and I was …different.
Even if we were all the same on the inside, my appearance would never allow me entrance into their world. Sure, I’d scored a guest past by being adopted, but that’s all I was, a guest.
Since the day they’d brought me home from wherever it was I’d come from, I’d been nothing but a guest.
Gritting my teeth, I flipped my hair over my shoulder and did what I tend to do best.
I interrupted their moment.
“Karolina is amazing. When we were kids, she was always the one defending me, even more than my adopted sisters. It all came to a head when we were nine years old. There was this one kid in our school, Alex Chappell, and Alex was the “it boy”, he was pretty much 1998′s Justin Bieber. One day, I, with my retarded self, told some of the popular girls that I thought he was cute. They were beginning to tease me about being different and I wanted to say something to fit in. So I told them about my crush and before I knew what was happening, the gossipy little Housewives of Briarpatch Elementary had passed it on to Alex. They were idiots. But I was an even bigger idiot for telling them.” Turning to my cousin, I nudged her, just as she’d nudged me a few happier moments ago, “Remember what happened Karolina? Tell Kane what happened and what you did. He’ll love this story.”
“Um, yeah.” Licking her lips, Karolina glanced at me questioningly and finally replied, “Alex was apparently the only boy in our school who didn’t like attention from girls and I um…gave him the opportunity to point out the fact that uh, he… didn’t like girls.”
Arching an eyebrow, Kane laughed,
“Uh-oh, what did you do?”
Relaxing just a bit, she smiled,
“I beat him up on the playground, made him cry in front of all his friends and I made him say he didn’t like girls. I was suspended for two weeks, but it was so worth it.”
“No Karolina!” I shook my head and turned to Kane, “She’s making herself sound like a bully. She’s not telling you everything!”
“Anna-” Karolina started.
Ignoring my cousin, I dove headfirst into the painful memory,
“During recess Alex walked up to me with a group of his friends and graciously shared with me his secret to success as playboy of the fourth grade class. The secret was that he stayed away from girls who looked like and I quote, “Retarded Asian Monkey’s”. After poetically describing my appearance, he had one of his friends push me. So I’m on the ground with all these kids standing above me, laughing, and I just want to cry. But instead I stand up and I shout the first thing that comes to my head which is that his mother’s fat, which she was. His little friends start yelling, “fight, fight” and by now we’re drawing a huge crowd. Alex dares me to punch him, so I do. I punch him and he goes down. A teacher runs over, I get in trouble. Everyone says I started it, Alex doesn’t say any different of course, and by the way he’s sobbing, so he can’t even talk. That’s when Karolina comes over, she tries to tell the teacher she punched Alex, but the teacher knows she’s lying.” Pausing to take a breath and a sip of my water, I glanced at Karolina.
The pained expression face on her face suddenly filled me with guilt.
This was her question and here I was, with my tales of a culturally-challenged youth, stealing her spotlight.
“That’s really so-” Kane began.
I held up my hand,
“Wait there’s more.”
Oh well. Actually, she’d unintentionally stolen the spotlight from me.
And, in all honesty, it didn’t matter if Karolina was stone silent or if every word she said was a babbling of Germanic Pig Latin, Kane would still be attracted to her instead of me.
“So, the next day I wasn’t at school because I was suspended. But Karolina promised me she’d take care of business and did she ever. During recess my cousin took it upon herself to gather her friends in the middle of the playground to watch as she beat Alex up and made him say he did all of that to me because he didn’t like girls. She got in way more trouble than I did. And…she’ll always be my hero for that.”
Silence filled our table.
I folded my arms and sat back in my seat.
Kane cleared his throat.
“I’m not proud of that… I was a kid and I didn’t know how to deal with, um, injustice.” Karolina mumbled.
“Yeah… well…wow, that’s something. Sounds like Alex got what he deserved.” Kane nodded reassuringly in her direction, “Well played Karolina.”
“Alex always avoided me in the halls after that, even in High School, we kept our distance from each other. I’ve heard he’s been working at Hal’s Diner in the next county over. He’s a busboy there. Perfect job for him… ” My voice trailed off and I shot a peek at my cousin because somehow, I felt like I’d embarrassed her.
She glanced down at her margarita.
A second wave of silence overtook our table.
“Sorry about the depressing story. Way to kill the mood Anna.” I made an apologetic face.
“No, it’s fine. The mood’s here, we’re good.” Kane grinned without really looking at me, “And I liked the story, I mean it was horrible! That happening to you…but you know, it was resolved and that’s…good.”
Ok, time to change the subject.
“Wouldn’t it be funny if you two dated.” I heard myself say, “A female cop and a male nurse. That’s so two thousand and twelve.”
They both blushed and I felt my heart take a nose dive.
Opening the battered refrigerator, I prayed that it wasn’t broken again. If so, the yogurt I’d stored there on Monday would surely be uneatable.
“No thanks Kane.” I mumbled, reaching in to pull out a slightly cooler than warm container of strawberry-banana yogurt.
It was probably still good.
“Anna, come on.”
Feeling Kane’s hand on my shoulder, my heart skipped a beat and I gulped before slowly closing the refrigerator and turning to him.
He looked into my eyes and said,
“Introducing me to your cousin was the best thing anyone’s ever done for me. I’ll always owe you for that…like, for the rest of my life. Let me at least buy you lunch.”
‘I could just cry.’ I thought as I blinked back the wetness that threatened to spill over.
“Whoa, you are really sick, aren’t you?” Before I could protest, his hand was on my forehead, “But you don’t have a fever yet, so come on, just come to lunch with me. I’ll buy you soup and you’ll feel better. It’ll be better for your throat than yogurt.”
Earlier that week, he’d managed to sneak up on me while I was staring blankly out of Ms. Hildebrand’s window whilst crying as I thought of him, and he’d been so concerned that I’d lied and told him my throat hurt really bad and I felt like I was coming down with the flu.
“Is that a yes?” He asked, his eyes brightening with hope.
I nodded and cleared my throat,
“Good. Come on lets go and you know you’re never going to get better if you keep eating that stuff while you’re sick. You should stick to tea and soup instead of those nasty chocolate bars for women and spoiled yogurt. I don’t know how you live off of that garbage.”
Lately I’d turned to eating Mumphrey’s Chocolate Bars For Women.
It satisfied two of my daily cravings; chocolate and a quick death. The fat free chocolate bars tasted good and as they contained no percentage of actual chocolate I figured it’d only be a matter of time before I was found dead on my living room floor with a shiny Mumphrey’s Chocolate Bar For Women wrapper not too far from the scene of the crime.
I glanced back at the half-functioning break room fridge, wondering whether or not to put my yogurt back or just throw it away.
I stood there for a good twenty seconds looking back and forth between the refrigerator and trash can, as Kane patiently waited in the doorway.
“Anna? You ready?”
Stuffing the yogurt into the pocket of my uniform’s jacket, I looked at him and nodded,
We headed out of the break room, past Bruno, the senile ex-prize fighter who hated Kane’s guts and sweet Ms. Minchin who’d recently lost her husband to a heart attack.
“You gone Anna?” Bruno called after me.
“No, not without you.” I turned back to him and smiled.
He blew me a kiss.
I smiled and blew one back,
“I’ll be back after lunch.”
“It’s weird how he remembers your name. I think it has something to do with the way you get him to laugh. It makes you memorable to him.” Kane quietly said as we approached the back doors of Sweet Haven Retirement and Rehabilitation Center.
“I was thinking it was my looks.” I replied.
“Well that goes without saying.”
He held the door open and I walked through.
The air was unexpectedly cooler than it had been that morning.
“Wow, the temperature must’ve dropped.” I remarked.
“Yeah, it’s supposed to be cold for the rest of the week.” He replied, “Do you want to go back and grab a real jacket?”
“Nah.” I shook my head and looked at the gray sky above our heads. The choppy clouds, heavy and low, looked as though they’d release on us any second, “I think the sky’s about to pee, when is someone going to potty train that thing. I mean, how old is it? Like five billion?”
Kane glanced up, “Oh, I have an umbrella in the truck.”
It annoyed me that he called his SUV a truck.
It annoyed me even more that he hadn’t acknowledged my stupid joke.
But, what annoyed me the most was that despite my annoyance with Kane I couldn’t say no to eating lunch with him because all I wanted was to be with him, listen to him talk endlessly about things I didn’t even care to hear, watch him smile and….I felt so pathetic.
In truth, Kane was the only reason I’d taken the nursing assistant job at Sweet Haven… and then, of course, there was the fact that I needed a job.
You see, the day after I’d ridden with my parents to bring my two sisters to the airport and waved goodbye as they headed to a college out of state, I’d looked at my parents and said,
“Well you guys, looks like its just us.”
And that’s when I first became acquainted with my dad’s look of fear/disappointment.
For the next couple of months as I’d lounged around the house, watching soaps, munching on snacks, making sock puppets, and “cooking” “gourmet” meals (the quotation marks infer that by the word “cooking” I refer to the act of transforming my mom’s kitchen into a giant chemistry set and by “gourmet” I imply my creation of inedible matter that makes for great mulch and/or potpourri for the anosmiatic homeowner ) that same look of fear/disappointment gripped my father’s face a little too often.
So, I decided to get a job and move out.
My dad (he’s a doctor) had a Doctor friend recommend me for a Nurse’s Assistant job at Sweet Haven.
The second I’d entered the doors of the lemony fresh/bleached-beyond-belief scented facility I’d wanted to turn and run in the opposite direction…but I froze and had an “um-huh?” moment as Sweet Haven’s on-staff Physical Therapist, Kane Robinson, walked by.
With one glance into those bluer than blue eyes, I was hooked…
As we approached the SUV, I heard the click of his unlocking doors and I headed to open the passenger’s side when Kane suddenly exclaimed,
“Anna, let me get that for you!”
He dashed up beside me and as he beamed an out-of-this-world watt smile at me, for some reason, a layer of extra nerves lay hidden in his grin.
‘Maybe he didn’t even notice my joke about the sky peeing.’ I thought to myself and then reconsidered, ‘No, he had to have heard it…it just wasn’t worth acknowledgment.’
“Thanks.” I stepped into the vehicle and watched as he began to close the door.
For a moment, he caught my eye and I finally returned his nervous smile.
He gulped and the door closed.
Glancing around the SUV’s plush yet sensible interior, I sighed and leaned back into the comfortable seat.
It had been a long time since I’d gone anywhere with Kane.
He and Karolina had been dating for a good five months and, quite naturally; I’d all but gone into hiding during that period of time.
Of course I saw Kane at work and I lived with Karolina so I was forced to be around each of the blondes on a daily basis.
Though I tried my best to be pleasant, I avoided them as much as humanly possible.
Karolina and I never actually sat down for “the big discussion” about her dating the one guy I‘d inadvertently fallen in love with and thought I’d had a chance with… but I’d implied that it was OK and she knew better than to push the issue. So, she never invited him over to our place and it wasn’t like I was holed up in my room listening to them talk and laugh whilst sobbing and furiously Googling, “ quick and painless ways to go”
I had plenty of time to Google my troubling concerns in the open space of the living room while she was out on one of their infamous eight million hour long dates.
Kane jumped into the driver’s seat and started the engine,
“Thanks again for coming with me. I really need to talk to you and it seems like we haven’t just… talked in a long time.”
“You’ve been busy.”
“Yeah.” He laughed.
‘What’s so funny? Now, I’m suddenly funny? With three stupid words- I get a laugh? That wasn’t even funny…’ I angrily thought.
“What about you? I miss hanging out. It’s like you fell off the planet.” He asked as we pulled out of the parking lot.
“Nope, still here. But I’m hoping, just ten more Mumphrey’s Chocolate Bars For Women and maybe I’ll be elsewhere.” I quietly replied.
There was a pause during which he didn’t say anything, and I assumed he was trying to understand what I meant.
“So- uh, everything OK with you and my cousin?” I asked.
“Oh yeah!” He perked up, “She’s amazing. She’s- Karolina is the most amazing woman I’ve ever met and like I was telling you in the break room, I’m so grateful to you for introducing us. She’s just…”
The longer he went on the closer I came to becoming a villain in a Lifetime movie.
My horribly murderous thoughts were suddenly interrupted with his unexpected statement,
“…so that’s why I want to spend the rest of my life with her and I’m going to need your help.”
Turning to Kane, I felt my mouth go dry and I could barely speak, so I just stared at him until we came to a red light at which he, finally, stopped and met my gaze.
His face fell,
“You think it’s too soon.”
“You want to marry Karolina?” I asked.
“I do. I knew it on our first date…that sounds weird, doesn’t it? I’ve never told her that because it sounds crazy but I swear I knew. She’s the one. But I don’t want to scare her off and- it is too soon, isn’t it?”
I’d never heard him sound so unsure of himself.
Kane was the cool-headed, dependable guy who always got it right.
But at the moment he was so flustered that he almost reminded me of myself.
“I can wait, but I can’t. You know what I mean Anna?” He asked.
The light turned green and we took off. His eyes were back on the road but his question hung in the air between us.
Even though I hated that I’d lost my chance with him, I still loved the guy and I loved my cousin even more.
“Yeah, I understand.” Nodding, I swallowed my last bit of pride, “What do you need me to do?”
He took a deep breath and turned into the parking lot of the same restaurant we’d gone to last year, when I’d first introduced the two of them.
“A lot actually. But first, can you kind of feel her out and see where she is in how she feels about me?”
As he searched for a parking spot, the ramifications of his question ran through my mind,
“Um…you don’t know where you guys are in your relationship? It sounds like it’d be healthier for you to talk to her about this.”
“It sounds bad, I know.” He expertly whipped the large vehicle into a parking spot, “But your cousin is relaxed in the most intense way a relaxed person can be intense.”
He turned off the engine and turned to me.
“Relaxed in the most intense…what? I don’t understand, speak English please. Contrary to what I look like, English is my first language.” I requested.
He licked his lips and sighed as he glanced up.
Watching him glance up, I wondered what would happen if I leaned over and really quick, just once, experienced what it would feel like to give him a quick, twenty…no, thirty second kiss.
He started to speak but I was so busy imagining the perfect kiss that I didn’t hear a word he said.
“Sorry, say that again.” I cleared my throat and gave myself a mental slap in the face.
“I mean, Karolina is laid back, right?” He asked, watching me closely as I replied.
“Yeah, definitely.” I shrugged.
“Yes! That’s what I thought when we first met. She was different from the women I’d gone out with before. She didn’t seem so worried about…typical chick stuff, no offense. She’s just cool. But…. there’s this extra layer of intensity with her that you don’t notice until you start to get really close to her and the more you open up to her the more you slowly realize that she’s purposely keeping you at a distance. That act of being laid back, it’s a cover.”
The look of desperation in Kane’s eyes was starting to get to me, I don’t mean “getting to me” in the romantic, wanting to kiss him way, but I was beginning to see that he really loved my cousin and he felt like she was pushing him away.
But all that talk about a facade or a cover masking her true feelings, I didn’t get that part of what he meant.
“OK.” I nodded, “I’ll ask her without letting on we had this conversation. I’ll try and get back to you tomorrow.”
Appearing relieved, he smiled,
“Thank you Anna, you mean the world to me.”
With that, he leaned over and gave me a giant hug.
Sinking into his hug was sweet and …painful because I knew it didn’t mean anything to him.
Gently pushing him away, I faked a sniff,
“Don’t want you to catch what I have.”
He patted my arm,
“Doesn’t matter, I’d be honored to catch your germs.”
His cool blue eyes, smiling into mine, were as warm as ever.
Gulping, I put my hand on the door and nodded towards the fat raindrops that were all of a sudden falling from the sky,
He laughed… and for once, I wished he hadn’t.
If he’d actually been listening to me earlier, instead of daydreaming about my cousin, he would have noticed that I’d simply repeated an old joke.
“Hey, it’s you two! You’re back! How long has it been? ” A familiar looking waitress whose name I couldn’t remember gave us a big grin and ushered us inside.
I returned her smile and applied my skill of talking way too fast about nothing in an attempt to cover the fact that I have no idea who I was talking to,
“Too long that’s for sure! Did you miss us? We’ll make up for our estrangement by ordering as much as possible today, and he,” I nodded towards Kane, “is planning on giving you a HUGE tip. So, no worries here.”
The waitress laughed,
“Wow, you haven’t changed at all Anna! It’s great to see you two again! Come on back to your old table.”
I felt terrible.
Well…not that terrible, when you compared it to the feeling that came with realizing that the love of your life was planning to propose to your cousin.
We followed “Friendly Waitress” to the old, pre-Karolina table we used to eat at nearly every day of the week last year.
Kane made himself comfortable and I, watching him make himself comfortable, pretended to do the same.
“What can I get you two to drink?” Asked Friendly Waitress.
Before I could open my mouth, Kane smiled and said,
“I’m pretty sure she’ll have the unsweetened iced tea no ice, right?”
Warmed, I nodded.
“And I’ll have sweet iced tea.” He continued.
You know what’s weird about women?
We let a man’s most minute and almost imperceptible iota of implied kindness get to us.
No matter how bad a man may be or how overtly he lets on that he has no interest in us, the second we see the tiniest hint of good in him, we’re tripping over our feet for a better look at his ring finger so we can make sure he’s not already taken.
I’ll bet that even after Christine found out her Phantom had killed a couple of innocent Opera-goers, she’d still taken a moment to weigh her options and her thought process probably began with something like, “True, he is a sadistic murderer but that one time he accidentally stepped on my toe, he was so apologetic. Surely that says something about his heart… ”
It’s the little things…they’re the beginning of our undoing.
“I’ll be right back with your drinks.” Friendly Waitress nodded and handed us our menus.
Kane grinned at me over the top of his menu.
I smiled back.
The little things…like remembering what kind of drink I liked.
Tearing my eyes away from him, I looked down at the menu and acted like I was studying it.
In truth, I knew exactly what I wanted.
I always ordered the same thing at this place.
“She pretends to study the menu. But we both know what she’s going to order.”
Surprised, I glanced up at Kane.
Suddenly feeling a bit shy, I shrugged and mumbled a half-formed sentence that didn’t quite make any sense…at all,
“That’s ha…yeah me. Right.”
He gave me a funny look,
“What was that?”
“I ah- can’t talk, speak, I mean, I can’t speak properly …guess I’m just hungry.”
Putting down his menu, Kane arched an eyebrow at me and smiled again,
“If you’re not too sick to just get soup, which I’m going to assume you’re not, I bet I know exactly what you’re going to order.”
Once again flattered, I pushed aside my flattery and cursed my girlish estrogen for making me get all flustered over such ridiculousness.
“Of course you know what I’m going to order, we used to come here, like, everyday and I ordered the exact same meal every time we came here.”
My response came across a little colder than I’d intended and Kane seemed surprised.
Embarrassed, I glanced down at the menu that I didn’t even need, and looked for something in it to joke about, there had to be something…
“You’d think they would’ve changed the menu’s since we’d last been here. These things are so…orange.”
My voice trailed off and as I glanced up, I caught Kane’s gaze.
“You don’t think I should ask her…do you?”
His voice was quiet, and I picked up on the pain behind his words.
With a gulp, I shook my head,
“It’s not that.”
Sitting absolutely still and refusing to break eye contact with me, Kane asked,
“Then tell me what it is.”
Panic began in my stomach and quickly made it’s way into my chest before creeping towards my face.
From the warmth of my cheeks, I suspected that my face was beat red.
“Anna, I need you to be honest about this.” He said simply.
Honesty was exactly what he didn’t need.
I mean, he didn’t need or probably even want to hear about my feelings for him.
Not to mention, how would Karolina feel about me professing a near-obsessive, undying love for her boyfriend?
Besides all of that; what about me?
True, I don’t have much pride as it is, but this…? Telling a guy who had zero interest in me that I had feelings for him was downright disgraceful.
It would send my last unsullied bit of dignity flying, actually tossed by the wind, towards the middle of a busy intersection where it would be run over by a mac truck driven by a bearded hillbilly named Billy Bob.
“What did Karolina say to make you doubt us?” He quietly asked.
His eyes, widened with worry, helplessly looked into mine.
“She didn’t say anything.” I replied.
“Kane.” I interrupted him, and in so doing I winced because I had a feeling that I was on the verge of saying something I’d regret, “Have you ever wondered why we haven’t hung out since you started dating my cousin?”
“Yes.” He said in a low voice.
“What conclusion did you come to?” I asked.
A chill ran down my spine and I shuddered.
“Are you okay?” He asked.
‘Aw, that’s kind of sweet to be worried, such a cutie-’ Catching my estrogen-induced thought before it went any further, I grit my teeth and replied,
“I’m fine, thanks.”
Clearing his throat, he took a deep breath and huskily replied,
“I honestly have no idea. You were the one who introduced us, you got us together and now it seems like you wish we’d never…I don’t know.”
“Here are your teas!” Friendly Waitress, appearing out of nowhere, set our drinks on the table.
We both tensed and I, thankful and yet somehow annoyed by the interruption, wasn’t quite sure where to look.
“Are you ready to order?” She went on.
“Um…” Kane, appearing just as confused as I felt, glanced at me and asked, “Should we talk about this first?”
Somehow, I managed to simultaneously shake my head, nod, and top it off with a complacent shrug.
“I can give you guys more time.” Friendly Waitress pleasantly offered.
“Actually, we’re ready. She’ll have the homemade cheeseburger, sweet potato fries, and a slice of apple cobbler. I’ll take the baked salmon, with mashed potatoes, and green beans and another slice of apple cobbler.” Speaking decidedly, he handed her his menu, reached for mine and handed it to her as well.
She said some words that I didn’t quite hear and left our table.
Then it was back to the two of us, staring plaintively into each others eyes…me, wishing he could read my mind, and him…probably wishing the same thing.
“Kane, I didn’t mean to introduce you guys, I never…” Pausing, I closed my eyes and found comfort in the blackness.
With my eyes tightly shut, I finally spit out the words that had been jailed, screaming to get out of my head for a very long time,
“It’s hard for me to see you two together because I’m jealous.”
Anna’s voice changed.
It was much softer than I’d ever heard it.
Even softer than when she was speaking to Bruno, telling him she’d be “his girl” if he ate his asparagus.
Anna … jealous?
I must have misheard.
The soft vulnerability faded and her edges came back into focus as she opened her eyes and I watched them roll in annoyance,
“Kane, I can’t say it again.”
“Okay.” I had to process what she meant.
Was she jealous of losing my friendship or was she…
…Anna? With me…?
I annoyed her.
When we’d first met, I’d felt compelled to win her over, not only because there was something that I inexplicably liked about the mouthy little clown, but because even as she’d made it a point to correct and poke fun at my every move there was a sweetness hidden behind her words, it fueled all of her jokes and even her need to make everyone laugh. So I’d worked hard at showing her that I didn’t mind being made fun of, I did it because I wanted to win her over.
Maybe I’d won.
He stared at what seemed to be my right ear and his mouth was slightly opened as he gazed into space, thinking whatever it was that he was …thinking.
Gulping, I realized that I was thirsty but afraid to reach for my glass because surely my nervous hands would lead me to drop the glass of unsweetened iced tea, so I placed my hands in my lap and forced myself not to cry.
Finally looking at me, he gulped and said,
‘Do NOT cry!’ I thought to myself.
Kane’s voice suddenly echoed the words of my inner- Drill Sergeant,
“Please don’t cry.”
“I’m not.” I sputtered.
Kane slowly moved his hand to the edge of the table and reached for a napkin.
Leaning towards me with the napkin, he gently wiped the tears from my cheeks.
This made me cry even more.
It just wasn’t fair.
“I’m sorry.” He quietly said.
“Me too….I’ll still ask her, like you asked me to.”
Taking a deep breath, I attempted to pull myself together.
The pitying look he gave me was one I knew I’d never forget, it would always haunt me,
“You don’t have to-”
“No.” I interrupted him, “I’m not one of those villains in the movies who’s like, ‘if I can’t have him then no one can!’ That’s so unrealistic anyway, who says stuff like that? It’s fine. I’ll just ask her and-and I won’t mention this again.”
He nodded silently.
Gazing at our tables’ ketchup bottle as if it were a beautiful sunset, I knew I didn’t want to look at him and be forced to face the pity in his eyes.
After three uncomfortable minutes of distracting silence, I finally said,
“Let’s pretend we didn’t just have that awkward conversation. OK?”
Kane responded via another silent nod and I went into a veritable monologue of random observations about everything and nothing…I could tell he wasn’t listening.
The noise in the busy airport was like one giant roar comprised of a million different voices, but there was one voice that rose above it all.
“Hey! Anna! Wait!!”
The voice caused an involuntary stopping of my feet and …I froze.
As I came to a sudden halt, someone bumped into me.
“Watch it lady!”
For once, no smart reply left my lips and instead I turned in the direction of the familiar voice.
Kane, completely out of place against the backdrop of New Orleans International Airport, ran towards me.
There was a red scarf hanging off of his neck and a huge smile on his face.
“Kane?!” I breathlessly exclaimed.
Closing the gap between us, I grinned as he wrapped me in the hug I’d been craving for the last two years.
He smelled fantastic and I was glad that I’d made an effort to look nice that morning.
“Wow Anna! It’s so great to see you! You look…beautiful.” He beamed.
I blushed and found myself shyly recalling the last conversation I’d had with him,
“Thank you, it’s great to see you too.”
Sitting in that restaurant, I’d finally realized that life wasn’t going to come find me, I had to go find it.
I’d waited a long time to tell Kane how I’d felt…and eventually it’d become too late.
I realized that the same thing would happen to my life if I refused to take the bull by the horns.
Working as a Nurses Assistant wasn’t the way I wanted to spend the rest of my life, even if it was the only way I’d be close to Kane.
It simply wasn’t good enough.
The very next day, I’d quit my job and moved away to pursue a comedy career.
My parents hated it, but I knew I was perfect for it.
My difficult childhood and tendency to smooth life’s tattered edges with a healthy dose of sarcasm had been begging for a stage since the day I’d realized that the best way to get a bully to lay off was by making them laugh. (I hadn’t quite mastered that skill when Alex Chappell went off on me in fourth grade)
“I saw you on the Late Show a few weeks ago.” He said, a bit timidly.
“Really? Could you tell how nervous I was? My hands were shaking so bad.” I laughed.
“No, you-you did great, you were great-” He paused and I heard the sound I’d been hoping not to hear before reaching my gate,
“Flight 1621 to Los Angeles, California is now preparing to board.”
“-I already said that, didn’t I…” Kane chuckled, “Um…If you have a minute, maybe we can grab a coffee or maybe lunch? It’s been so long, too long.”
“Uh,” I glanced behind me, towards the gate that I needed to get to, “Actually, they just called my flight, but-”
I watched him hold his breath as he waited for me to finish my sentence.
In that moment, I did something kind of crazy…
I made myself pretend that in ten seconds I was going to die.
I told myself that if I didn’t seriously tell Kane exactly what I was thinking, then he’d never know.
“Kane,” I took a deep breath, “I can’t have coffee with you right now but I’m still very much in love with you. So, I’ll give you my number and if you want to see me again, call me. But if you don’t -”
“I do.” He interrupted.
Surprised, I felt myself blush,
“I’ve been trying to get your new number since you moved away, but your sisters …um-” He paused rather abruptly and I nodded with understanding,
“They wouldn’t give you my number because of what happened with Karolina.”
“Yeah and I don’t blame them.” He quietly replied.
“Well you should! That’s idiotic, my sisters are crazy. I mean, Karolina’s fine. She knows you two weren’t meant to be and…she’s fine.”
I nodded, for no reason in particular.
Kane followed suit with a nod of his own.
“Well, let me um, give you my number.” I said, as I reached for one of the cheesy business cards that my agent had forced me to start carrying around.
“Anna?” He touched my hand.
“Kane?” I smiled without even trying.
Looking into his eyes, I suddenly realized I’d forgotten how blue they were.
“I don’t really want your number, I just want you.”
The roaring sounds of the busy airport faded into insignificance and for the first time in a very, very long time I was too shocked to speak.
But not for long,
“Wait,” He held up his hand and spoke gently, “Please listen, I owe you an apology for the way I reacted. It’s been killing me ever since that day in the diner…I’m sorry Anna, I just, I hadn’t realized how much you meant to me and I was confused. I was …so wrong. Will you let me make it up to you?”
Taking his hand, I glanced back at my gate and inched away from it.
Kane’s nervous expression melted into relief, and after he kissed me I smiled into his eyes as I promised,
*More stories are available at my website: www.yourvervemagazineonline.info