I hope you enjoy today’s no-frills story.
by Jon Stark
by Jon Stark
“Just us?” Stephanie smiled. His voice had that power. It did other things too. If she was fourteen she’d be up until midnight listening to his radio show. That she hadn’t been fourteen in twenty years and he wasn’t a DJ didn’t diminish the fantasy in the least.
He always dressed well, one of the many traits she admired. She took fact that he was wearing the tie she’d bought him for his birthday as a good omen. She said, “You look good in that tie.”
He looked down at it. “Thank you. I think my kids got it for me a couple of Father’s days ago.” She frowned, almost corrected him, was distracted by his eyes. Oh, those eyes. He said something about the restaurant being a nice place.
It was a nice place. She didn’t remember it being so expensive. She’d wanted nice, but the prices. How did they stay in business? There was hardly anyone even there. When the waiter came she ordered soup. Not even with a sandwich or salad.
He ordered the Beef au Jus without hesitation. It made her shiver. He was a hunter, a strong meat eating man, confident with what he wanted and rich enough to get it. He hadn’t even looked at the menu. This was his kind of world.
They made small talk. Mostly he talked. And smiled. He could be reciting the Oxford Dictionary for all she cared. As long as it was the unabridged version so that it would take longer. Watching the big words roll off his tongue, between lips that had been sculpted by some divine agent.
He paused when the food arrived. She made her move. Asked how he was getting on with his family out of town. Through a mouthful, slow trickle of au Jus on his chin, he said, “I’m not going hungry.”
Her turn. A nod. Then, “You sure? I’ve got the afternoon off.” She hadn’t practiced the words, exactly, but she’d been working on the tone. And the look. Combined with the outfit she’d bought on Tuesday he got the message. Knife and fork stopped moving. She could barely hear him over the rush of blood through her ears.
“Steph, I hope I didn’t give you the wrong idea.” That wasn’t his line. He was saying it wrong. She missed most of the rest of what he said. The crackers were stale. $30 for a bowl of soup and the crackers were stale. It made her so angry. “… what you’re offering. I’m flattered, truly, but it isn’t what I want.”
“What about what I want?” she said. It sounded harsh, even childish. She hadn’t practiced this at all. How could he be saying that?
He shook his head. “What about what Leslie wants?” Our kids?” So he’d thought about it. She tried to get back to before, to when she had him. “I’m not like that. Never have been. Never even thought about it.”
That couldn’t be true. She didn’t want it to be true. Those eyes. They said it was true. And the crackers. Could it get any worse? She needed something. Tears were dangerously close. He had to give her something. “What if you didn’t have Leslie? What if there were no kids? What then?”
He did her the courtesy of thinking about it. She thought he might even be appraising her, appreciating the effort she’d put into her hair.
“If I hadn’t found Leslie? Was unattached?” She nodded, encouraging him. “I think I would probably be very interested. You’re a remarkable woman.” The words washed over her, cleansed her, warmed her. She forgot about the crackers. Move the conversation on. Worked on getting back to normal. He played along. Nothing had happened.
She thought about what he said, nodding as he spoke now but not really paying attention. If there was no Leslie he’d be interested. She didn’t remember slipping the knife into her purse when the check came, but fishing for her keys back at the car, wondering where to go now that she had a free afternoon, it was there.