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Contemporary Romance Teens & Young Adult

Michelle’s Bistro was busting to the brim with hungry customers, as I watched them swarm around me like flies on a rotting carcass. The table to my left was a couple blatantly ignoring each other on their phones- the man, an older, grey haired fox, was scrolling through pictures of models on his instagram feed. How did I know? I held back a laugh as the obvious reflections of naked flesh flickered across the reflections of his ray ban glasses. His beloved was far too busy taking photos of herself at different angles to care, puckering her hot pink pout for the last picture. 

A temper tantrum from the table to my left erupted over the bass to Frank Sinatra’s “Fly Me to the Moon”. The shrill noise pierced my ears, making me wince. His frazzled, exhausted mother tucked the toddler under her arm like a football, throwing a diaper bag over her shoulder with the other. She shoved herself off the booth with a low thud. Three younger kids made a ruckus in the seat across from her. The eldest boy sat beside her, blissfully unaware of her stress by the light of his nintendo game. 

“Guys! Guys.” she begged, “Please stay here. Mommy will be right back. Dustin, you're in charge. I- Brayden, do not hit your brother!” 

Brayden let out a loud cackle as he hit his brother with a plastic truck. 

I took a sip from my second glass of chardonnay and rolled my eyes. 

“Jesus Christ, I’m never having kids.” I muttered to myself. 

Chardonnay is my medicine. Its tart sting burned down my throat, settling to heat within my breast. On an empty stomach, I was playing a too-familiar dangerous game. Notes of green apple and happy grapes danced across my tongue, bringing me a pocket of peace as a clumsy waitress dropped glasses onto the tile behind me. As her fragrant perfume seeped into my nostrils, I felt nostalgic for the quiet of Napa, walking between the groves of my father’s vineyard “Casa De Las Vides”. 

As a plate of linguine was set before the wife beside me, she smiled gleefully like a child- such a simple pleasure to be happy over, aside from the brocade of her pearl string. As she took a photo with latest iPhone. She smacked a piece of gum between her teeth, while the flash flickered over her husband. The man jolted, grumpy, with a garden salad. 

“Do you really have to do that for every meal?” 

His neck craned forward to her, motioning with a nod to the staff and other patrons. Her smile faltered quickly, as his coarse judgment threw a shroud over her joy. For twenty years of my life, my parents exchanged turns of that behavior until I graduated high school, ending their marriage in a bitter divorce. My eyes glanced around the room at vintage posters gilded with delusions of grandeur among mayhem. To the left was a marriage of misery, and to my right was a mother struggling to scrape by. Either choice would not be the cause of my downfall. I scowled aggressively and began scratching down notes in my pad beside some earlier lecture notes. 

A delicate hand with blue acrylics set down another full glass of chardonnay before me.

“Thank you so much.” I said, looking up at my waiter. 

“You’re welcome!” He beamed, “Laura had to leave for an emergency, so I’m going to be taking care of you tonight!” 

I looked around for my friend, “Oh no, I hope she’s okay.” 

“Me too.” He said, handing me a menu, “My name’s Craig. By any chance, are you ready to order?” 

I checked the time. It was currently 7:30. He was supposed to be here at five. I knew something was off, especially in these past few weeks. 

“No, I just need a bit more time.” I admitted, “I'm still waiting for someone.” 

Craig frowned, “I’m really sorry to hear that, hon. But I can do that! You take your time.” 

As he walked away, I grabbed my phone and called Tyler. I looked at the photo for his contact and pursed my lips. The scrubs he was posing in brought out the blue in his gentle eyes, a sharp contrast against his bright red hair. The dial tone rang several times, before the call finally went through. 

     How could a girl look so beautiful, even when she’s angry? For two hours now, I’ve etched each detail of her in the back of my brain. As I rested my chin in my palm, I savored how the light caught her raven hair, how small tendrils of curtain bangs fell into her black eyes. Gold candlelight bounced off her brown arms, as her elegant back curved forward. Her presence commanded the respect of an army, and I was the fool ready to die in her honor. She was expensive champagne, and I was a can of flat beer. If she even looked my way, at least once, maybe I could die a happy man. I stood up from my booth for a moment, contemplating the nearest exit from these overwhelming thoughts. Humiliation was already in my corner this evening, and I was afraid of repeating that feeling once more. But a light dwindled within her, as someone answered on the line. By her scowl, I concluded, it was not who she wanted. Her chest rose and fell quickly, asking fervent questions that would go unanswered. I knew her pain all too well. 

“Who is she?!” her voice grew an octave higher with rage, “Tyler? Hello?!” 

She slowly sank back into her seat with glassy eyes. My heart sank. A true fool would have left and forgotten about her. I narrowed my eyes to the bread basket at my table, and knew what I had to do…. Go to war. 

    My suspicions about Tyler were right all along, and for once I wish I hadn’t been correct. I laughed bitterly into my third glass, silently vowing all the ways I could stay single forever and never let another fool hurt me again. I wasn’t sad, or hurt. At least not yet. If I wasn’t mistaken, a wave of relief came over me. Maybe now I could focus on my studies without interruption. 

“There you are!” a voice grunted, as a masculine form plopped in the seat before me, “Sorry I’m late! Traffic was awful.” 

The glasses on the bridge of my nose slid forward as I looked up at the man who invited himself to my table. 

It was his hair that I had first noticed, a bounty of dark brown curls parted to the side, framing his broad olive face. His warm dark eyes and bushy brow paired to a sweet smile that crinkled at the edges of their olive shape. The off white button down on his body had the sleeves rolled up to his elbows, to reveal layers of gold necklaces around his long neck. He flicked his brows upward, smiling at me as if we had known each other for years. He set down a half eaten basket of bread sticks, soon pulling one out by the music of a gold bracelet jingling on his wrist. Flashes of red psoriasis framed his knuckles and long fingertips, as he took a bread stick and bit the burned end. 

“Mmm.” He sighed in relief, “I don’t know about you, but I am starving!” 

“I’m sorry….” I looked around, “I think you have the wrong person-” 

He squinted carefully at the menu, “Now, I know last time you killed me because I stunk up your car from the ice cream sundae.”

“I-” I couldn’t help but to laugh, “What the hell?” 

He held back laughter, smiling at the menu, “Yeah, you said that last week as well. I promise I won’t do that.” 

“Who are you?” I asked again, trying to be more serious. 

“I’m no knight in shining armor for you, but…”He leaned in, taking my sweating water cup, “Just go with it. I was stood up tonight also, and I figured you needed help too.” 

I scowled, “Thanks, but I can take care of myself.” 

He smirked at me and scoffed, “What planet are you from? I’ve never met a girl who’s blatantly turned down a free meal.” 

I blinked several times, “You never said anything about a free meal.” 

“I know.” He said, “That’s the key to making good deals come through…. Craig! My buddy!” 

The young man fist bumped Craig, who returned with a fresh replacement of bread. 

“Hey man, I didn’t know you were going to be here tonight!” Craig smiled. 

He laid back confidently in his chair, “Oh, you know. I’m just full of surprises tonight.” 

“I’ll say.” I muttered, sipping halfway through my third glass. 

“Well, can I get you guys started on anything now?” 

“Yes.” He said confidently, “For starters, I want one of your Italian cream sodas… I like the orange one, but if you don’t have it, surprise me and I’ll drink it. And, can I get a house salad and some fried mozzarella for the lady here?” He motioned to me, “As I can’t have any. I may steal one though.” 

Craig nodded, “Okay, what about you?”

I played along, “I’ll have the Caesar salad. And for an entree, I’ll have your chicken piccata.” 

“Shut up!” He exclaimed in awe, “Are you kidding me? That’s my favorite too! I want that as well, Craig.” 

 There was an air to the man that had me questioning all my claims of wanting to stay single for the rest of my life, as he held his head high before me. The light caught his jawline, followed by the small bump on the bridge of it. A nervous energy lingered beneath the table, as it began to shake from one of his bouncing legs. Hints of orange peel cologne wafted my way from his exposed skin, as I took note of faint chest hairs peeking out beneath his button down… 

“I’ll have those orders out in a few.” Craig said, swiftly heading back to the kitchen. 

I caught my reflection in the back screen of my cell phone. In comparison to the handsome stranger, I felt worse for wear with the growing purple circles beneath my eyes. My finger plucked a thread from the wrinkled bust of my black midi dress.

“You’re doing great.” He said playfully, “No one suspects a thing.” 

I rolled my eyes, “I don’t even know your name.” 

He rested his elbows on the table, “Nor do I know yours, but that’s the beauty of it. Do you have a ring?” 

“What?” I asked, “No, why?” 

He clicked his tongue, “Proposals earn free dessert around here. We’ll have to pretend it’s your birthday or something.” 

I chuckled, “You don’t even know my name and already you’re talking fake proposals.” 

“But I want to.” He said, extending his hand once more, “I’m Basil Garcia, not like the greens you grow in the kitchen.”

“That’s easy to remember.” I took his hand in mine, “I’m Amor Fuentes. It’s nice to meet you.” 

A soft light permeated his dark eyes at the sound of my name, “Wow, that’s a beautiful name.” 

I shrugged, “Thanks. It was my dad’s idea, because I was a symbol of their love. They’ve been divorced for about six years now, so it didn’t age that well.” 

“What?!” Basil asked, “You're lying. How did that happen?” 

“My parents got married way too young.” I replied, “They thought they’d be better off than their parents. Unfortunately they had very different ideas about what’s considered better, you know?” 

“Was it just you?” he asked. 

“One kid was enough to push it over the edge.”

He laughed heartily, “Damn, that’s rough.” 

I shrugged my shoulders, “Instead of two Christmases, I get one therapist. Maybe if they did it sooner things would be different,” 

“Hey, at least it’s something cute. My mom named me after a fictional character.” 

“Does she hate you?” I snorted. 

“She might as well!” He guffawed, “I was named after the stupid artist who was murdered by a blonde narcissist! What’s that supposed to mean for me?” 

His tone was comical, loud enough for us to get a few glances over. I shushed him and took a sip of my water. 

“Sorry, I tend to do that sometimes.” Basil rubbed the back of his neck. 

“It’s okay.” I reassured him, “It’s kind of cute, actually.” 

Hints of red blush ran across his cheeks, “Are you alright though? Before I go on and talk about myself the entire time.” 

I looked down at my phone and sighed, “Not really. But it helps to have some company. My boyfriend…. My ex boyfriend… Is a cheater. I kind of knew that already.”

Basil clicked his tongue, “I’m really sorry that happened to you. That isn’t your fault.” 

He spoke softly now, as I swallowed back some tears. 

“It’s whatever.” I said, “I feel pretty free from him. I’ve been meaning to… You know? We were getting father and farther apart career wise, and some conflict in the bedroom,...” 

Craig set down a platter of fried mozzarella before me, followed by the orange soda Basil asked for. The first quarter of the glass was filled beyond its brim with whipped cream, two cherries on top for decoration. Foaming bubbles of chilled orange soda glittered beneath. A small squeak of excitement curdled in the back of his throat. 

“You are so weird.” Craig muttered, trudging back to the kitchen. 

I giggled as Basil pulled away with a whipped cream mustache covering his red lips. He licked his top lip quickly, the sight making butterflies flutter in my core. 

“I promise I’m listening.” he said, “I just really like these. What were you saying?”

I shook my head and took a cheese stick, “Never mind, it doesn’t matter anymore. What were you here for?” 

“Oh!” He picked up the maraschino cherry and bit off the fruit, “I had a date. Really nice girl from my English 20-C class. Really cute, leggy girl with brown hair.  We talked at the gym when I asked her out! But she’s been posting pictures of a party in the next town over. She forgot about me too.” 

“Wow.” I said, “I’m sorry.” 

“Eh, no biggie.” Basil said, “In my friend group there’s about three of us- the good, the bad, and the ugly.” He pointed to himself, at the mention of the ugly, “And let me just tell you, I’m no Clint Eastwood.”  

“Aww, no.” I said, “I bet you have a sparkling personality.”

Basil popped the second pink cherry into his mouth, “You’re just trying to be nice now because I’m paying for your food.” 

“No, I mean it. I’m sure you have the brains to match your brawn.” I said, “How’s that 20-C class treating you? Are you an English major?”

“Nope! Film, and a minor in creative writing.” He said humorously, “I can write a script, but essays are like pulling teeth. I just like making things hard for myself.”  

“Let me guess, you’re with Professor Holden?” I asked.

His lips parted slightly, “I’m the reason why the average has gone down. My first midterm grade was the lowest in the class.” 

I held back a laugh. 

“Professor Holden was like ‘The lowest grade here was twenty five percent!’ I was like ‘Heheh, who’s the idiot who got a twenty five?’” Basil paused, “And then my essay got handed back face down.” 

I wheezed and covered my mouth in reaction to his contagious, braying laughter. A small bit of water got caught at the back of my throat, making me cough into my napkin over our cheese sticks. My sinus cavity burned, causing my eyes to tear and smudge my eyeliner. My reaction only made him laugh louder, his bray resembling a donkey’s. My head fell to the table , as he hid his face in shame. I hadn’t laughed this hard in what felt like months. 

“Anyways…. I don’t know where the hell that came from but…” He sniffled, “In short, I’m dying.” 

I cleared my throat, “Don’t worry, I had Holden last quarter. I can help you out if you like.” 

“I’ll take any tips you’ve got.” He said, “What about you?” 

“Journalism.” I said, “But I like to write in my free time.” 

“Ooh, I like it.” Basil nodded, “You definitely have a face for the news. If you were on television I’d sure be up early in the morning to catch you.” 

“No,” I laughed nervously, “I’m more of a behind the scenes kind of person. I like investigative writing. The cameras hate me.” 

Basil pulled the cherry stem from beneath his tongue, setting the perfect double knots onto his napkin, “Well, lucky for you, they’re my best friends. There’s good angles, and bad ones. But the way you look tonight, there’s no such thing as a bad angle. Maybe someday I can change your mind…” 

I felt my cheeks getting hotter by the second as adoration filled his eyes. My heart began pounding faster in my chest as I said, “I’ll have to think about it.” 

Basil smirked, leaning back in his seat. His presence made me tune out the obnoxious children and miserable couples.  All it took was one person to turn my evening around, as Tyler was a distant memory. Basil’s gaze felt warmer than the morning sun, as he offered me a sip of his soda, tasting just as sweet. This would be the first evening of many together, spending each Friday at Michelle’s breaking bread, like it was our first.

July 01, 2021 08:03

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1 comment

Graham Kinross
05:56 Nov 25, 2021

“Chardonnay is my medicine.” To alcohol, the cause of, and solution to, all of life’s problems - Homer. “ orange peel cologne” is that a thing? I agree with cats about the smell of oranges. The name Basil makes me think of Basil Fawlty from Fawlty Towers. Good story.

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