Two people sat at a bar table in an old barn that was nicely transformed into a restaurant. Their feet were perched lazily on the two empty seats next to them and they were debating the menu. This was a challenge because they were at the Jones Apple Farm, where the orchards were arranged with diagonal lines that lead to the horizon in a way that made them dizzy. Therefore, everything on the menu was apple-themed and neither of them felt like devouring four to five apple cinnamon buns.
“I know it sounds crazy,” Oscar said, gesturing with his hands in the air to accommodate his speech, “but you have to be in a certain mood to have apple-flavored things.”
Liv raised her eyebrows, her hands unconsciously weaving pieces of hair together to form messy braids that framed her face. “Yeah?”
“Yeah. It has to be a mood like melted butter with a wood fireplace and classy china plates.” Oscar rubbed the light dusting of a beard he had and glanced down at the menu. It was laminated with inappropriate drawings in Sharpie covering up most of the words. That might be the reason why Oscar and Liv weren’t planning to have kids.
Liv twisted her hands together and watched the door. “Jill was supposed to be here by now.”
Oscar reached across the table and knit his fingers through hers. He didn’t say anything but the words danced in the air like the sweet scent of juice trickling down chins.
The waitress came. She was a young girl with big round glasses like windows into the soul and earbuds stuffed down her ears. They could hear a little bit of the music leaking out and Liv smiled because it was an oldie but goodie.
“Can I get you anything?”
Oscar didn’t even know if she could hear him but he answered, “Two apple ciders please.”
She nodded and jotted something down on her notebook. Liv could feel her fingers snapping along under the table to the beat of the wisps of music. She wanted the waitress to leave so she didn’t suddenly break out in song, and finally she did.
Liv rolled her lips together and tasted raspberry delight, the lipstick Jill had given her last year. Where was Jill, anyway?
Oscar tapped his fingers and tennis shoes against the table to the rhythm and hummed familiar lyrics. “L, is for the way you look, at me.”
Liv sighed the stars and continued wearily, “O, is for the only one, I see.”
“V, is very, very, extraordinary—” Oscar closed his eyes and pressed his lips together.
“E, is even more than anyone that you adore, can—” Liv was cut off abruptly by a tinkling voice.
“Love, is all that I can give, to you,” Jill sang in her most mock romantic tone. “I can’t believe you guys are performing some of my brother Nat King Cole’s without me. I deserve a sincere apology.”
Liv swung her legs off the open chair beside her and squealed like a little girl. “Jill!” They slipped into a hug, one where they each grabbed handfuls of the others’ sweater and tugged on it playfully. It was kind of awkward with the giant bag Jill was carrying and the hair that kept tumbling down Liv’s face.
“You know,” Liv scolded when releasing her, “you’re the one who should be apologizing, missy. You’re, like, an hour late.”
Jill hopped into the free chair, ignored Liv’s talking-to, and waved across the table at Oscar. “Hey, Oz, how are you?”
Oscar slapped his knee and the corners of his eyes wrinkled. “Doing good. How are you?”
“Fine,” Jill said, and noticed how both Liv and Oscar’s expressions faded into colorless upside-down rainbows.
Liv exhaled steadily, “Well, we should probably go apple-picking now.”
Jill grinned and pulled two long and glossy bottles out of the tote bag that was hanging from her arm. Setting them on the table, she admitted, “No, not yet. Alright, this is the reason I’m late.”
“Champagne!” Liv exclaimed, and Jill hushed her.
“Keep it down. I had to sneak these in,” Jill whispered while unwrapping the foil. She turned the wire, kept her thumb firmly on the cork, and pushed it under the table just before the loud pop came. She poured it in the restaurant-supplied cups and passed them to Liv and Oscar.
“You literally saved the day,” Oscar stuttered in between gulps.
Liv shook her head, “This’ll be the kind of champagne we’re gonna serve at our restaurant—” Then she caught a glimpse of Jill. She hadn’t taken a sip yet and was curling her fingers together anxiously. “What is it?” Liv asked.
Jill’s face broke open with the most false smile, “Well, uh, about that. We can’t open our own restaurant.”
Liv’s face wrinkled in confusion and she looked Jill straight in the eye. “What?”
Jill bit her lip and rested her head on the table. She knew she needed to be cheerful in order to make it seem like they hadn’t wanted to open a restaurant in the beginning. But they did, and that’s why the spark of hope that felt like soapy bubbles lifting high into the sky was disappearing by the day.
“I lost my job at the marketing company,” Jill admitted with a high-pitched voice, “and so did you, Liv.”
Liv downed the last of her champagne and laughed. It was forced and slightly fuzzy, but Jill joined in. They giggled until Oscar joined and the sunset spiraled into the barn. It was a red sunset with the edges of it frayed like a carpet.
“Hey,” Oscar said, “at least I still have my job.”
All of the sudden, the first bottle was gone and everyone eyed the second greedily.
Liv licked her lips and shoved her glass in Jill’s direction. “Give me more.” Her words were slurred and chopped but Jill gave her the most wacky grin and served everyone another glass.
Jill hiccuped, “Gosh, I hoped our restaurant wasn’t going to be this bad.” She looked around the barn and noticed that some mist was clouding around the edges of her vision.
Oscar cackled and slammed his hands down on the table. “Yup. I wouldn’t eat there if it was.”
Jill’s skin felt prickly on her bare arms. “Cheers to new challenges!” she announced, and the three of their glasses collided with a bang that bounced on the walls.
“Cheers,” Liv and Oscar echoed, and they sipped champagne.
It reminded Jill of the feeling that the world was going to end the next day and all they could do was sit and wait and drink fancy mixtures that wouldn’t exist tomorrow. She was floating and she knew it, her hands stretching out to intertwine with the angels and crows high above.
“And by the way,” Jill added, belching just after, “I sold the car to buy the champagne so we’ve no way to get home.”
The three of them erupted in a chorus of laughter that soon dissolved into silver silence and regret.
“That’s a new challenge?” Oscar inquired, befuddled.
“Yup,” Jill replied, just as the sun relaxed into the orchard and outlined the apple trees with its pale yellow glow.