Mike’s blue-grey eyes are growing distant as each day passes. A slight, but detectable, shift manifests in the space between them.
He stares at the television in the back of the diner, averting his gaze from hers. While the Yankees are warming up their bullpen, her lips are moving. They’ve been moving ever since lunch began, hoping to release words that he’ll find interesting. Hoping he’ll actually peer at her without a sense of listlessness. Or vacancy.
Mike is somewhere else; he’s anything but present. They briefly speak of work, of his deadlines, of her supervisor’s attitude, and then acknowledge the weather.
It’s so hot today. I can’t stop sweating.
Last Monday, Riley told Mike that she loved him. They’re not together. They’re not even sharing saliva, but she feels how she feels, and she thought that life’s too short not to say the things that you feel. School shootings are still happening. People are being diagnosed with terminal cancers. They’re dying in freakishly tragic accidents.
Other inconsequential chatter ensues; chatter that’s typically harmless, but today it is not. She half-expected this to happen; she wondered if he might pull away. The other part of her sincerely thought that maybe he’d respond, maybe the door would open, maybe his heart would expand. And if that didn’t occur, maybe their dynamic could still be preserved as it was. Anything but this bizarre decline into becoming acquaintances who don’t have much to say to each other — a not so subtle contrast to conversations that were once raw and emotionally intimate.
She’s picking at her fries. She usually comes to this place for the fries, for the usual golden brown crispness. But now, they’re soggy from the caesar dressing that soaked the rest of her plate.
His plate is wiped clean — he devoured the golden brown fries, only leaving tiny puddles of ketchup behind.
How can he have an appetite when we can’t even recognize this relationship anymore?
You’re not eating, he says.
I don’t feel too hungry.
Sadness supersedes anger or frustration. Sadness because Mike is across the table from her, and yet, she still senses absence. Sadness because someone who impacted her on various levels, culminating in a friendship that was highly valued and revered, is beginning to vanish.
She starts to cry, but not in a soft, delicate way. Her mascara smears down her face, and she’s now sobbing. Sobbing onto her fries that are soggy from the caesar dressing.
Mike looks at her, bewildered and unsure of how to navigate this scene at the local diner in the middle of a sunday afternoon.
Riley, let’s walk.
The sun beats down on them outside; the New York sun is relentless. Children are running through fountain sprinklers in the park nearby. A mother is buying her young daughter a chocolate ice cream cone from the truck. It’s the one with the multi-colored sprinkles, the one that’s really sloppy to eat. It immediately drips down her chin, but it probably cools her off and that’s what counts. Couples are sprawled out on the grass, under the shade, under their shield. They all want relief from the heat.
Listen. I love you too. Im sorry that I’ve been acting strange with you lately. I don’t even know what those words really mean. But I do feel it.
She studies his face for a few minutes. His contour lines crease into a grin that’s reticent, but genuine.
Of course I do.
Mike brings her into an embrace; they’re positioned like that for a long while. The hug is nourishing. Gratifying. Healing.
The alarm clock buzzes loudly in her ear. Riley wakes up, heavy-hearted. Last Monday, she told Mike that she loved him, not anticipating anything back. She knows that they’re different people.
Disappointment begins to transcend into a trace of comfort. She lies back down.
The dream was supposed to give her the words that he did not say.