This story discusses cancer and has quite a few swear words used to capture the familiarity experienced between two friends enjoying lunch.
“Caroline’s lover has cancer,” the words left Maragaret’s red lipped mouth plainly.
“Adian has cancer?” clarified Suzanne, a piece of green lettuce fell on her chin.
“Aidan has cancer,” Margaret repeated her bosom buddy’s question as a statement.
“Shit,” Suzanne took a sip of her white wine and bit into a chunk of grilled chicken breast.
“Shit,” echoed Margaret calmly.
Diners around them clucked like hens. This was the Saturday lunch crowd at L’amour Cafe, a little downtown spot with four big, black umbrellas standing guard on their patio. It was arguably busier than usual since it was the Saturday after Christmas. Suzanne and Margaret ate their meals calmly beneath one of these guardians because it was an unseasonably warm day and L’amour owned four little space heaters which were placed along the edge of the wall of the restaurant. And because they both were enjoying a glass of wine, which warmed their stomachs and hearts. “So what will she do?” inquired Suzanne as she scooped a red tomato onto her fork. The tomato slipped off the prongs and back onto the plate, like a diver in the olympics. Suzanne proceeded to stab at it as Margaret shrugged her shoulders, clothed in a deep royal, purple velvet.
“What can you do?” asked Margaret.
“I don’t know, but I guess, I don’t know. I don’t know…” Suzanne trailed off and reached for her glass. Her hand stopped two thirds of the way because the glass was empty. It changed course uncomfortably, headed for the sweating glass of ice water. She took a huge gulp, letting the water shock her teeth and cleanse her pallet. The waiter with arms that hung down past his knees ran to them like a baby calf. Suzanne tapped the top of her glass and shoved a bread roll into her mouth. Margaret smiled with a slight tinge of embarrassment. She raised her wine glass elegantly, “Thank you.” The waiter scurried off.
“Did you have a good holiday?” Margaret was desperate to change the conversation, despite the fact that she is the one who brought it up.
“So is the affair over, then?” Suzanne responded to the question with a question.
“I suppose it is,” mused Maragaret.
“Fuck me,” Suzanne seemed genuinely dejected. Like it was her affair that ended due to the big “C” word. Suzanne gulped a mouthful of water down and then cleared her throat, “Wait, how did you know? About the cancer, I mean.”
“Well, Adian had to tell HR. Then, he told his boss. Then, he told his team. And I am on his team, remember?” Margaret ended her explanation with a self righteous question. “Oh, God,” she lamented, “It was, like, a who fuckin’ production, you know. They called us all into a conference room.” She grabbed her wine glass dramatically and finished her last sip before the waiter could return, “The conference room with, like, no windows, and the big, heavy wooden door. So you know it’s serious. They had all of us just sit around the big oak table with Tyler at the head.” Noting her friend’s furrowed brow she added, “Tyler…my boss!?” Margaret huffed with frustration at Suzanne’s clear ah ha! moment. “So we’re like, just sitting there awkwardly and in strolls Aidan, all debonair of course. And he looks at us,” Margaret’s face gets serious-her smile leaves and she purses her lips slightly while gazing at Suzette over invisible glasses, “And he goes, ‘Guys, I need to share this part of my journey with you. Because you are a part of it.’ How pretentious.” Margaret turned her arms so her cream colored forearms face towards the sky with her palms open, like she’s presenting a Christmas feast. “And then, he just told us, ‘I have cancer,’” Margaret began tearing into her salad, stabbing it with ferocity.
“Oh,” said Suzanne. “I’m so sorry,” her words faded into the crowd of diners and Maragaret merely nodded confirmation that she heard anything. The waiter returned for their wine which both women reached for gratefully. Suzanne held her sip in her mouth, letting it burn her tongue slightly and pictured Caroline, whom she had never met, but always imagined as a bombshell with the figure of a pin up girl and the blonde curls to match, laid up in a hotel bed. They’d be surrounded by crisp, white, hotel linen. Caroline would be taking a deep drag of her post sex cigarette as she flipped through a magazine or a book, absentmindedly because the kind of woman who can balance a lover and a husband doesn’t have a care in the world. Suzanne imagined that Aidan, while stepping out of the bathroom, surrounded by the perfect touch of steam, wrapped a towel around his Adonis waist and said, “Baby, I gotta talk to you.”
“‘Bout what?” Caroline asked in Suzanne’s imagination, not bothering to look up.
“Somethin’ serious,” Aidan told her as he crossed the room to the bed and sat on the edge, taking her Barbie Dollesque feet into his hands. He’d raise her cherry colored toes and dot little kisses on each of them, not in a creepy way, just a gentle way. “Baby,” he began…
“Suzanne! Susie! Hello!?” Margaret was waving her hand rapidly in front of her friend’s glazed over eyes.
“Sorry, what were you saying?” Suzanne blinked rapidly, wiping the image of Caroline and Aidan away.
“I was asking you if you had a good holiday before you ran off into dreamland and obsessively asked about Aidan and Caroline,” chastised Margaret. “But you know what? Now that you bring it up, let me tell you it was fuckin’ obnoxious because it’s like, it’s not enough to have the fuckin’ affair in our office. No, you gotta fuckin’ tell everyone at the same time. Ugh, whatever,” she huffed and passed her plate to their waiter who looked expectantly as Suzanne. Although she could eat more, she handed over her plate containing half of her chicken caesar salad. The waiter mumbled out a question about boxes. “No, no. But, we will be splitting the cheesecake,” answered Margaret; her Christmas gold index fingernail jabbed at the desert menu desperately. Then, it paired with her middle finger as she reminded the waiter, “Two forks, one plate!”
In an instant, Suzanne’s idea of Aidan and Caroline popped like a bubble blown on a summer’s day. “You mean he told his lover when he told everyone else?” she clarified.
“I mean, I know when he told us. I suppose he could have told her at a different time. I don’t know,” Margaret dropped her chin into her palm. “Come to think of it, she was very cold to him the rest of the day which I thought was odd, ‘cause you know, I would’ve thought that you would want to soak up every last moment,” she shook her fists in the air.
The left corner of Suzanne’s mouth curled up and fell back down. She took a deep breath and swirled the last sip of her wine around in her glass. Her eyes took in their surroundings, noting the lovers curled in one corner of the restaurant. They were inside and probably didn’t care enough to notice they had been placed right next to a huge window with no blinds. The woman had her back pressed against the cold glass. His fingers, long and thin, were tangled in her chestnut hair. Suzanne noted the full plates on their table and little red straws bobbing in their soda glasses, untouched. She smiled at them-their innocence, then realized they were much too far away to see, and let the grin fade.
“Anyway,” Margaret’s voice went high pitched,
“My holiday was great, thanks for asking.” She dove into the cream colored triangle of cake, making a dramatic movement out of placing her bite into her pink mouth, wrapping her lips seductively around her fork, and pulling it out. It clattered onto the white ceramic plate and Margaret leaned back in her chair, crossing her arms across her bust. Her gold bracelets rattled with each movement. She giggled. Suzanne resisted the urge to roll her eyes, “I’m glad you had a good Christmas.” She took up her clean fork to snag a bite.
“Thank you,” replied Margaret haughtily. She scooped up her purse and threw down her plastic card with one, black eyebrow arched.
“I’m going to head to the bathroom,” sighed Suzanne, it was Margaret’s turn to pay, but it was still a big production every other month. She stood and tucked her seat into the table. It noisily scratched the concrete. Margaret waved her off and pulled out her smartphone. Suzanne caught the waiter and he offered whispered directions to the bathroom along with a few complicated gestures. She marched past the host stand and into the dining room along the windows. She saw that there was a raised ceiling at the end with a black and white sign reading RESTROOMS. Her bladder encouraged her to quicken her pace, but the two glasses of wine were catching up to her.
It was like a Hollywood movie where they add special effects so the hallways get really, really long. She vaguely noted that the table with the lovers only had the young man, his face was craned up to the ceiling, his eyes were closed. She noticed a few grey hairs around his temples. The meals and beverages were still untouched. Suzanne fell forward into the bathroom door, the way blow up displays at car lots sway in the wind. She wandered to the third stall in the bathroom, her heels clacking on the white tiled floor. The toilet beneath her shifted slightly which caused her to take a sharp inhale.
After completing her business, Suzanne stepped out in front of the sink. The girl with the chestnut curls was touching up her makeup in the mirror when her hand slipped and caused a charcoal streak to appear across her left eye. A curse escaped her Chardonnay red lips. Suzanne reached for her bag and pulled out a single makeup wipe. She passed it to the girl. “I always keep a pack in my purse,” Suzanne explained while snapping the black leather shut. The girl cast a quick smile and dabbed at the black streak.
“Thanks, wish my eyeshadow wasn’t ruined,” the girl said to her own reflection. A few funny faces were made in the mirror as she attempted to smudge some eyeshadow from her right eye and bring it over to her left.
“Can’t help you there,” chuckled Suzanne. Up close, the girl was more doe looking than in the window. Her limbs were long and elegantly positioned on a dancer’s figure. Her eyes were big and brown like a dairy cow’s. Her cheeks were dusted with a soft pink, the boldest part of her whole look was the lipstick-a deep chardonnay red. “He won’t notice,” she comforted her bathroom buddy.
“Who?” asked the girl to the trashcan while tossing Suzanne’s wipe.
“The guy you were having lunch with,” said Suzanne before she brought her hands to her lips, realizing she sounded a bit creepy; “I…I’m sorry. I, um, just noticed you from the patio. You make a really cute couple.” Suzanne made a big production of rinsing her hands, lathering up, and rinsing again. “Sorry, that was a bit…um,” she reached past the girl for a paper towel, “Intrusive.” The paper towel machine whirred loudly and Suzanne passed one to the girl.
“It’s OK,” she pardoned Suzanne. “I’m Caroline, by the by. Thank you for your help,” she stuck out her hand which Suzanne shook very slowly while questions filled her mind. Her heartbeat raced. She wondered if she could just rapid fire learn a little bit more about this mystery woman. The girl standing before her looked more naive than she imagined-her arms hung limply at her sides and Suzanne noticed their beet red color indicating the dry weather had gotten to them. There was simply no way she had met the Caroline. In her mind, Caroline had been more put together-more Marilyn Monroe less school girl. A deep blush of red filled her cheeks as the shame of being a gossip hit her like a truck. Could Caroline possibly tell that she and Aidan had been the subject of countless lunches with Margaret? Would Margaret even acknowledge her young colleague at the restaurant? How socially unacceptable would it be if Suzanne asked her if the man at the table was Aidan?
Caroline eyed the woman who had rescued her suspiciously. “Thanks again,” she began to push open the door to make her way back to the table.
Suzanne desperately searched the countertops in hopes of finding something that Caroline had left behind-a reason to pull her back into Suzanne’s orbit. But they remained as snow white as they had been when they entered. She could wish her a happy Christmas because it was past the holiday and she frankly didn’t know Caroline’s beliefs. Plus, what would she be insinuating to the mistress of a “happily married man.” Her opportunity was fading as she watched Caroline approach the door. In a last ditch attempt, she shouted, “Happy New Year!” But the door swung closed.