There are some days when I don't even remember that my world has ended. I can watch the leaves blowing in the wind and listen to the birds chirping while the sun warms my soul and I'm quite content. Happy, even. My only worry is how best to spend the day. He doesn't even cross my mind on those days, and I'm not thinking about what I could have done differently.
And then, there are the days like today, when I'm just walking through a store and I see a card with a funny message, it says "To my favorite brother" or something similar and I feel my world stop suddenly. It's as if someone has sucker-punched me, and I stand there unseeing for what seems like hours. It takes everything in me to stop the whirlwind of emotions threatening to bring me down.
I don't know if the grief or the guilt is worse. The grief never goes away, but sometimes it hides out waiting to be found. Grief is tricky like that. It likes to play games. It likes you to think that it’s gone. But then when it's found, and the guilt hits you once again, it is even harsher, and even more unforgiving, because it makes you think: how could I have forgotten? For even one second? How could I live my life and enjoy myself when he would never be able to?
I sat at the table with the business card in my hands, trying not to let my guilt consume me. I twirled it in my fingers, staring at the numbers. I looked from the card to my phone and waited. It was as if I thought the phone would magically dial the numbers itself. And if any business card were to have those powers it would be this one. It was so sturdy and impressive looking. This was no flimsy card made of cheap cardboard. Not at all. The man who had given it to me after the funeral had also looked very dignified and confident as he had tried to convince me to call him. He said that his name was Special Agent Waldron and that he had reason to believe that there was more to Noah's death than a mere suicide. He told me that it was of vital importance that I call him. At the time, I had been too angry and upset to listen, but now I wanted answers. I wanted to know what had really happened. And if there was someone to blame for Noah's death, I wanted revenge. I was going to make it my mission to avenge Noah’s death, and nothing was going to get in my way. This was my life now.
I was annoyed and impatient as I walked into the diner. It was too tacky for my taste. The silver exterior screamed of days gone by and the green and black booths reminded me of Happy Days, and I was certainly no Richie Cunningham. I watched as Emily applied her lipstick outside the diner and stood for a moment, waiting for someone to greet me. I counted to three and looked around to see what was taking so long. Didn’t they know this was an important night for me? I looked at my watch in annoyance, and it was the sound of her laugh that first caught my attention. It was a light, happy and cheerful sound and I looked up to see where it was coming from. Without quite knowing what I was doing, I felt myself walking toward the laughing waitress and the other lady she appeared to be dancing with.
“One, two, three, one, two, three.” She continued laughing as she followed the other waitress’s footsteps. I stood for a second and just watched her attempt to salsa in the somewhat tacky burger joint I found myself in. She had a pretty smile, one of those smiles that was engaging and genuine. Her hair was long and chestnut brown in a ponytail, and there were wisps of hair that had escaped her hairband and framed her face. As I stood there and watched her dancing, I felt myself smiling and if it wasn’t for my date, I would have stood there waiting for a few more minutes as well. I felt my annoyance and impatience fade away as I watched her carefully trying to master the dance steps.
“Excuse me, I’m sorry to bother you two dancing queens, but do you think we can get a table?” I regretfully interrupted her careful dance moves and I felt a jolt of electricity dart through me as she looked up and her eyes met mine. Her face flushed red and she gave me an awkward smile.
“Hi, sorry about that,” she laughed. “Let me get some menus.”
“I see you’re quite a dancer, you girls going out tonight?” I wasn’t sure why I asked the question and ignored the image that flashed in my mind; an image of dancing with this unknown girl in a sweaty club.
“No, no.” She shook her head. “We work pretty late.”
“That’s a shame.” I was about to ask her another question but she grabbed the menus and looked away from me quickly.
“I’m sorry sir, this way please.” She walked quickly and I followed behind her closely.
“I thought I had walked into a dance class and not a diner.” I teased her and laughed to myself as I saw her blush again.
“Sorry about that.” She looked up at me and shook her head. “Maria and I get a little carried away at times.”
“I think…” I paused as I felt the tap on my shoulder. I looked around and saw my date, Emily, standing there. I was annoyed by the look on her face but gave her a fake smile. “Hey.”
“I thought you were going to come and get me.” She frowned, looked around the diner, and wrinkled her nose. “Is this where we’re eating?” She looked at the waitress in front of me and snapped. “Do you guys only have burgers?” There was an uncomfortable silence as we all looked at the sign directly in front of us that read Lou’s Burger Joint.
The waitress stood there with an awkward smile on her face, and I felt bad that Emily was being such a bitch. “What is this place, Zane? I thought we were going to Ruth’s Chris?”
“They didn’t have any reservations, Emily.” I sighed, annoyed, but made myself reach over to grab her hand so that she couldn’t sense how fed up I was with her. “A burger won’t kill you, just this once.” And the meat comes from the same animal as a steak, I thought to myself.
“I guess so, Zane.” She purred my name and the waitress looked up at us with a tight smile. I wanted to tell her that Emily meant nothing to me, but I didn’t know why. I didn’t even know this girl. And I didn’t want to get to know her. Not when I had so much to figure out. I squeezed Emily’s hand and allowed her to sit down in the booth before I took a seat.
“It won’t be so bad, and if it is, I promise we can go camp out at Ruth’s Chris. We’ll stay all night until they deign to give us a table.”
“Oh, Zane.” She giggled, throwing her blonde hair over her shoulders. Her blue eyes sparkled, though they still looked cold and distant, and her perfect white teeth lured me in with their pearly gloss. Everything about Emily was seemingly perfect, yet everything about her also felt fake. I tried to ignore the happy genuine brown eyes of the waitress next to me as I sat with Emily. Emily was the sort of girl that most men would kill to be with. And I needed her to provide me with information. That was the most important thing. I didn’t have time to sit here and think about some waitress.
“Do you guys know what you want to drink?” The waitress interrupted my thoughts and I glanced up at her again quickly, happy for an excuse to stare at her face. “I’ll have a Corona, please.”
“And I’ll have a glass of water, no ice, add lemons.” Emily didn’t look up from her menu, and I saw the waitress stifle a sigh.“I’ll be right back.” She walked away quickly and then stopped and came back to the table. “Hey, sorry, I forgot to tell you. My name’s Lucky and I’ll be your waitress today.”
“Nice to meet you, Lucky.” I nodded at her and she smiled before turning away again. What a name, I thought to myself. Who calls their kid Lucky?
“This place is so gross.” Emily’s voice irritated me as she interrupted my thoughts. I tried not to snap at her as she looked at the silverware in front of her with disdain. “I hope I don’t catch anything.”
“I’m sorry.” I looked at her with a sorrowful expression. “I’m sure this isn’t as nice as the place Braydon took you to.”
“No, it’s not.” She snapped. “He always took me to the Capital Grille.”
“Oh?” I cocked my head to the side. “Any particular reason?”
“We both liked steak.” Her eyes flashed at me and I resisted the urge to ask her if she ever really ate more than a salad anyways. From the looks of her, I doubted it. But I knew I had to keep my thoughts to myself.
“The Capital Grille is a pretty popular place. I think Braydon goes there a lot, huh?” I continued, hoping Emily would make this easy and just give me the information that I wanted.
“I have no clue.” She shook her head. “We only dated a few weeks.”
“Yeah, he’s a player.”
“I haven’t heard that you’re an angel.” Emily looked up at me and laughed. “You make Braydon look like a wannabe.”
“I wouldn’t say all that.” I shook my head, embarrassed, even though her words were true. I didn’t do relationships, and I made no secret of that fact either. Women only wanted one thing from guys: to settle down and get married. I shuddered just thinking of all the women who had told me they loved me and wanted to be with me forever. Women who didn’t even know me, women I didn’t know and didn’t want to know. I suppose I was a bit of a challenge, the man that had never been in love. The man who didn’t do relationships. Little did they know, that was never going to change. I was never going to let some woman come in and destroy me.
“Excuse me, but have you guys decided what you would like to eat?” Lucky’s words interrupted my thoughts again and as I looked up into her clear brown eyes, I felt a slight shock of some unfamiliar emotion course through my bloodstream. My whole body felt on edge, and I scowled at her in displeasure. “We’re not ready yet. I’ll let you know when we are.” I dismissed her casually, and I saw the quick flash of pain in her eyes. She looked at me uncertainly before she walked away, and I felt ashamed of myself for my cold and dismissive words. I took a gulp of beer and stared down at the menu with my heart beating rapidly. I wasn’t sure what was going on, but as I looked at the items on the menu, the words blurred and all I could see was Lucky’s face in my mind.
“Hey sexy, are you on the menu tonight?” A loud rowdy voice called out and I looked up to see some skinny punk trying to touch Lucky’s ass. My blood boiled as I saw his hand on her back, and I was about to jump out of my seat and smack his hand away when I saw her glare at him and take a step back.
“I’m not on the menu, sir, and if you touch me again, I’m afraid to tell you that nothing on the menu will be available for you.” She ended the sentence with a sweet smile and I saw the guy look at her with shock on his face. I bet no one had put him in his place like that before. I was impressed at her spunk and frustrated at the same time. What if the guy had groped her or gotten angry at her talking back to him? I looked around the diner and was upset to see that there were no men working, only Lucky and the other waitress she had called Maria. I bit my lip and looked back at my menu. It’s not your problem, Beaumont, I repeated to myself over and over again.
“I guess I’ll get the taco salad.” Emily’s whiney voice aggravated me and I wanted to tell her to just have whatever before I stopped myself. Get it together, Beaumont, I ordered myself. I needed to ensure that Emily was one of the girls who fell for my charm. I needed to concentrate on her and not let myself worry about some flimsy waitress, who was too bouncy and too open with her smiles. I vowed to myself that this was the last time I would come to this diner. I didn’t need any distractions at this time and I knew that Lucky could turn into the biggest and most unwanted distraction of my life.
“Thank you for dining with us tonight.” She avoided my eyes as she laid my change on the table, and I wanted to reach over and grab her chin. Look at me, I wanted to command her, look at me and let me see your beautiful brown eyes.
“It was our…” My voice trailed off as she walked away without letting me finish my sentence.
“Well, she’s rude.” Emily’s voice was loud. “She should get fired.”
“It’s fine.” I shrugged, not wanting her to see how annoyed I was that Lucky had dismissed me so casually. Who was she to turn around and walk out on me? She thinks you’re a jerk, the voice inside my head whispered, and who can blame her? I pulled out a $50 and placed it on the table as a tip. Let her think I’m a jerk now. “Let’s go.” I jumped up out of the booth and waited for Emily to stand up.
“Where are we going?” She smiled up into my eyes and I knew she expected to come back to my place to fuck. Shit, any other night and I would have been all about that.
“I think I have to be up early tomorrow,” I spoke with pretend remorse, trying not to watch Lucky as she picked up plates from another table. “I may just have to take you home.”
“But, I want to spend the night with you.” She whined and grabbed hold of my arm, her fingernails digging into my skin and causing an acute pain.
“Not tonight.” My voice was low and grating. Why wouldn’t she just shut up? We walked toward the door and just before we exited, I looked around and saw Lucky, standing at the booth I had just vacated, staring at me with wide eyes. I watched as she played with her ponytail, and an image of her on top of me running her hair across my face flashed in my mind. She mouthed thank you and gave me a sweet smile and I nodded before turning back around with a grin on my face. She wasn’t mad at me anymore. A sudden lightness filled me and I wanted to run down the street and pump my fists into the air.
“So, I was thinking we could go back to your place, and I could show you my latest yoga moves,” Emily whispered in my ear as I got into the car and started the engine.