Margaret licked tzatziki sauce off her fingers. “You talked about racquetball?” Illy could tell she was trying not to laugh. At least Illy’s embarrassing life provided Margaret’s own respectable life with comic relief.
“Well, he did at least. Pretty much the whole evening.” Illy and Margaret were sitting in their favourite booth at the Greek place. Illy had intended to spend the day writing since she had the day off work, but all morning she’d just been replaying the events from the night before in her mind and wasn’t getting any writing done anyway. Margaret, of course, was thrilled for the excuse to escape the office for her lunch hour.
“What about the poetry?”
“That’s the worst part. Someone would be up there reading a really profound or personal poem and Jay would suddenly lean in like there was some emergency situation unfolding on the sidewalk and he’d tell me about the four day tournament he and his college buddy once played in.” Illy bit into her falafel. “It really was painful. And embarrassing. He’s not exactly a quiet whisperer.”
“Oh Illy, I’m sorry. So are you done with Jay forever?”
Illy stalled and chewed a while. She had once heard that you should chew every bite a hundred times for ultimate digestive benefit, but she’d never understood how that was physically possible. Whenever she was trying to avoid conversation, she’d start counting her bites. Her personal best was fifty-three.
Margaret waited patiently. She knew about the chewing thing and that it meant Illy was stalling, but she didn’t take it personally. Margaret really was the best listener Illy had ever met.
“Well, no. We’re going out again this weekend.” Illy peered over her pita with a grimace, bracing herself for Margaret’s reaction.
“What? You just didn’t get enough of all that stimulating conversation?”
“I know it sounds ridiculous. It’s just that as we walked home, he put his arm around me like we were so comfortable and connected, and he said how much he’d enjoyed the evening and wondered if I wanted to go to a movie this weekend, so I said yes.” Illy closed her eyes. She knew what was coming.
“A movie?” Margaret nearly shouted through her mouthful of pita, then looked around the restaurant and dropped her voice. “A movie? May I remind you that one of the first things I ever learned about you was that you thought movies were the most unromantic dates ever and you would rather live a life of dreary isolation with a household of chinchillas than spend it with a man who thought movies were a romantic date option?”
Illy set her falafel on her plate and propped her chin in her hands, feeling defeated. “I know, I know. You’re right. I hate movie dates. But the general population finds them normal and enjoyable, so I figured it would be polite to go for now and share my weird opinions later. It’s not like he can jump straight to mocha deliveries when we hardly know each other.”
Now Margaret put down her pita and crossed her arms. Illy braced herself again. “So that’s what this is all about. You’re holding out for Jay to bring mochas to your door, and you’re willing to endure movie dates and plumbing conversations to get there. Oh Illy.” She unfolded her arms and leaned in with a pained look on her face, like her daughter had just informed her she was dropping out of school. “I thought he didn’t even like coffee.”
“I don’t know that for sure. I just know that he ordered a Coke last night. Obviously he must like coffee because of the mochas, right?” Illy still had her chin cupped in her hands and was fiddling with her ear lobes. “It’s just that I know he has all that romance in him somewhere and I’m trying to give him the opportunity to let it out. It doesn’t have to be mochas, exactly.” The unspoken irony of it all was that Illy didn’t even like mochas herself. They were always too sweet and left a powdery feeling on her tongue. She didn’t think now was a good time to inform Margaret of that little glitch. “It’s the idea of the mochas, all that thoughtful spontaneity and charm. It’s got to come out sometime, right?”
Margaret didn’t look hopeful. She had picked her pita up again and was trying to slurp up a stray onion.
“Look, the point of OGJAC was to give Jay a chance. That’s all I’m doing. If after a couple weeks we’re still replaying glorious racquetball moments or watching double features at the cheap seats, I’ll give up. I promise.”
Margaret rolled her eyes, but smiled. “I really should get going.” She stuffed the last bite of soggy pita into her mouth. “Louise awaits.”
“But wait, we talked about me and my pathetic romance the whole time again. What about you?”
“Nothing to report, believe me. Louise asked for double cream in her coffee today, which was unusual. Some rejected wannabe writer asked me to read his manuscript for him. I’m experimenting with a more square shape for my fingernails.” Margaret was pulling on her cardigan. “The joys and sorrows of life as a receptionist. Thrilling, hey?”
“Are you going to read the manuscript?” Illy had a personal fondness for rejected wannabe writers.
“I doubt it. He left it on my desk even though I expressly asked him not to. I’ll probably use it as scrap paper and then have to concoct an elaborate lie when he returns to receive my profound editorial advice.”
Illy grinned. Margaret was a lot more insightful than she gave herself credit for. Illy hoped some day she’d realize it.
“Oh, I almost forgot!” Margaret’s eyes lit up. “That Leonard story—I loved it. It was touching and funny and so, so believable. I’ve been reading it over and over.” Margaret dropped a few bills on the table and was walking backwards out of the restaurant while she talked. “Can I read another one sometime? It definitely beats the outdated Home and Garden magazines I usually read. See you soon!” She stepped through the door and blew a kiss through the glass.
Illy reached across the table to pick up the leftover lettuce on Margaret’s plate. She had written something that somebody actually enjoyed. It felt even better than she’d imagined.
Continue Reading: Chapter Twenty-Nine