It was a night to celebrate.
What was she celebrating? It didn’t really matter. The freedom took over Patricia. It seeped into her veins. Friday night was an aroma in the air. It enveloped her in a cloud of liberty and independence. Jobs were scarce, jobs sucked, but they were a requirement of life. The necessity of it didn’t mean she had to like it. Once the clock struck six, this woman shed the shackles of the wage slave and headed out into the wide world of being herself.
In her apartment, she prepared for the evening. A glass beaded necklace she made, a silky dress that would stretch during dancing, black boots with wide heels—an outfit both stunning and practical. Her mother and father approved of a more conservative dressing style, but she had the feeling if her brother could see her, he would approve. She kissed her fingers and touched them to a picture of her family, a ritual she performed several times a day. Grabbing her coat, she left her apartment to join the rest of the happy masses at the bars.
Patricia had come from a family of traditionalists. They were old-school in a boring way, not the fun thrift shop way. Church was mandatory every Sunday, rain or shine. Her father was retired military, and her brother had followed in his footsteps. Her mother wore pearls to cook dinner. Despite their conventional ways, they taught Patricia to follow her heart and her passions. So after twelve years of homeschooling in the suburbs, Patricia hugged her parents goodbye and moved to a one bedroom apartment in a nearby city.
Like most people starting out in the world, she was required to get a job. It didn’t crush her spirit. Eventually, she planned to open her own funky creative café, complete with great experimental food and a festive atmosphere. But for now, the weekend was her only chance for self discovery. She worked on her paintings, she worked on her poems, and she created culinary master pieces. The weekends were snapshots of what her childhood was, and what the rest of her life would look like, once she could afford her dream.
Saturdays and Sundays were for creativity, that was for sure, but Fridays were for dancing. After the daily call to her parents to tell them she loved them, she would enter the realm for the joyful, the carefree, and the ones just looking to score. Patricia knew she deserved this blissful feeling. The past year was a blur of pain and ruin. It was surprising how wonderful it felt just to live normally.
Jacey and Marissa met up with her at the tavern. They didn’t have clubs in the city where Patricia lived. Just bars where the second floor was devoted to dancing. It didn’t matter to Patricia. All you need to have a good time is some loud music. The three girls took full advantage of the night. They danced. They chatted. When it was required, she joked and giggled. Other people she knew came to talk. It was an ordinary night.
In other words, she was not prepared for meeting him.
His name was Chad. Judging by appearances alone, he was what she always dreamed of. He waved at her from across the room. She returned his greeting, but didn’t approach him. Men in bars didn’t interest her. If a guy sent her a drink, she would refuse it. Patricia liked soft, soulful men with intelligence and creativity. She had learned, from experience, bars were not the way to go meeting that kind of man.
But he didn’t send a drink. He came to talk to her. She found out quickly he wasn’t drunk, which made him even more appealing. He complimented her necklace. It was the right thing to say to her. She had worked so hard on this piece of jewelry. The colored glass beads glistened in the dim light of the bar.
Patricia felt warm inside.
It was a simple case of attraction. Chad made her feel special. Nobody had made Patricia feel that way in a long time. After the horrors of last year, this was a state of mind she could get used to being in.
They talked. And at 2 AM, when the bars closed, he walked her from the hot pulsating dancing room to her one bedroom and no-cable apartment. They took the long route, weaving in and out of the sidewalks. He held her hand and kissed her cheek goodnight. Like a gentlemen, he promised he would call. He watched her open the entry way and go inside. For a moment, he gazed at the closed door. When he was sure she had really gone in for the night, he turned and started to walk home. He didn’t even feel the cold.
Safe inside her house, Patricia gloated with happiness. She made one final text to her parents, letting them know she was alright. Tossing the cell aside, she collapsed in a tired heap on her futon. Patricia dreamed of candy hearts and rose petals. She forgot to take off her necklace.
The alarm went off; it was time to get up. She never removed her party dress from the night before. It stunk of anticipation and excitement. She stood on the edge of a cliff, ready to fall into the feeling of infatuation. New love was an obsession.
At the moment, there wasn’t time for love, it was time for breakfast. She had a standing Saturday morning date with a few friends at the diner down the street. Mia, Stanley, Jerry, Liza: their names stood out in her mind like yellow roses in a vase. Mia was left over from her homeschool co-op days. Jerry and Liza were met at previous jobs. She couldn’t remember how or why Stanley had started joining them to eat.
She pulled on her orange sweat shirt, pulled her waist length hair up in a ponytail, and tied on a dirty blue pair of Chuck Taylors. She left her necklace on. It reminded her of Chad. Patricia was ready to take on the world.
If it would have been a movie, the weather would have been sunny and mild. It was not a movie. It was a foggy, dark morning. She walked through the haze to the corner diner, humming the entire way.
As she pushed the door open, the smell of fried eggs and coffee attacked her nostrils. Patricia’s stomach felt squished. It was empty and needed to be filled up with the kind of comfort only a greasy spoon can provide. Her group was already there, sitting in the booth. Night owls can never catch a break—she was always last. The table was already a sea of nondescript coffee mugs and bowls of creamer.
“Hey guys,” she said. Five sets of overtired, red eyes looked up at her, while one hooded head stared down at the table. It was unusual for someone else to join them; most other early 20-somethings they knew preferred to sleep in. “Who is our guest?”
It was Chad. He lifted his eyes and pushed back the hood. “Hello, Patricia,” he said. “I saved you a spot.”
She felt her face getting red. She shimmied out of her sweatshirt and scrambled into the booth next to Chad. Under the table, he squeezed her knee. They made eye contact. Winning the lottery could never feel this good.
Stanley spoke directly to Patricia, breaking her love incrusted daze. “When Chad came home last night, he was talking about this wonderful girl he met. When he described her, I knew it had to be you. So I invited him to breakfast. I didn’t think you would mind.”
Patricia shook her head. “Nope, I don’t mind.”
Liza waved her hand in the air over the coffees. “So what do you guys think of the latest republican debate?” Liza was interested in things that were bigger individuals. She carried around her voter registration card like some people carried pictures of their children.
“Ugh, is it that time again?” Jerry was making a little log cabin, using the provided coffee stirrers. Now he was attempting to put a roof on it with sugar packets.
“We watched it,” Stanly said, nodding to Chad.
Mia wrinkled her nose. “God, I hate politics. Do we always have to talk about this crap over breakfast? If this will be the conversation, I would rather be home.”
Jerry stuck out his tongue. “You sound so uneducated. Go back to sleep here at the table. At least it looks like you put in an effort to care. Personally,” Jerry continued, “I would like to see Ron Paul will the nomination.”
Stanley pointed his fork at him. “That’s because you’re a pot smoking hippie.”
“And what’s wrong with that?” Jerry asked.
Liza rummaged around in her bag. She tossed several brochures and flyers on the table. “I collect these from the different republican groups that organize on Main Street. It’s kinda fun watching their party all fractured right now. Usually they’re like a gang.”
Liza had circled different quotes on the flyers. She had scribbled comments and phone numbers in red pen all over them. When it came to politicians, Liza put more effort into selecting her favorite then most brides did choosing their dresses. Patricia glanced down at them. Several different head shots smiled back up at her. Patricia was not in the mood for politics. She was watching the flutter of Chad’s eyelashes. Though he was sipping on coffee, he was also studying her. He didn’t seem interested in the conversation either.
Mia picked up a brochure. “Liza, I thought you were a democrat.”
Liza sniffed. “I judge all parties equally. If you run for office, you are under my scrutiny. Remember that, Jerry.”
“Me?” Jerry replied. “I didn’t know pot smoking hippies could run for office.”
Stanley chuckled. “Wasn’t there a mayor that was found doing cocaine and was re-elected for another term?”
Liza nodded. “Marion Barry. That happened in the 90s.”
“Yeah, but people liked that guy. I don’t think Jerry’s that likeable,” Mia said.
They laughed. The waitress set steaming piles of pancakes and eggs in front of them. Chad squeezed Patricia’s knee for the second time. This time, he didn’t remove his hand. Patricia silently put her lips together in the shape of a kiss. Liza, seeing their interactions, rolled her eyes.
For a few moments, they ate in silence. Patricia got a good morning text from her mother. She responded, and then stuck her phone back in her pocket.
Mia, who had known Patricia the longest, was the only one to notice. “Your mom?” Mia asked.
“Yeah,” Patricia said. “She likes to stay in touch.”
“Understandable,” Mia said.
Chad looked at Patricia, but she only gave him a sad smile and a small shake of her head. There was plenty of time for knowing the devastating details of her life.
Liza, who had absolutely no interest in any kind of human interaction, turned the conversation back to the candidates. She picked up a picture of an exceptionally well coifed man.
“What do you guys think of his chances?” she asked.
Jerry shrugged. “He’s out of touch with people.”
Liza focused on his statement. “What do you mean? Back that up!”
“He’s a jerk.”
Liza waited for Jerry to add to his statement, but he was munching on his hash browns. “Doesn’t anyone want to talk today?” she pouted.
Patricia felt rude. She humored her friend. “I agree with Jerry. I like Ron Paul.”
Liza waved the brochure she was holding. “That’s because you were homeschooled. All homeschoolers are libertarians—like Ron Paul. It’s a fact of life.”
Mia laughed. “You’ve got to be kidding. I was homeschooled and my parents are registered democrats. They’ll vote for Obama in the next election.”
“Then your parents are idiots,” Liza shot back.
Patricia stirred her coffee. “I just like Ron Paul’s foreign policy.”
Chad spoke up. “You’ve got to be kidding. Ron Paul is out of his mind. It’s a dangerous idea to pull out of other countries. That guy is going to make America look like a bunch of wussies.”
Patricia felt cold inside.
“Our image? I think the more important issue is all the Americans losing their lives overseas,” she said.
“Well, sometimes a few Americans have to sacrifice their lives to protect certain values,” Chad said. “A few people dying for our way of life is a time honored tradition.” All eyes were on him. He squirmed under the attention. “If you go to war, you gotta expect a few heads will get blown off,” he finished lamely.
Mia choked on the bite she was eating. Liza hit her coffee mug on the side of her plate causing some to splash out. A puddle of coffee had fallen on the pamphlets and flyers. The table fell silent. Nobody moved. Nobody talked.
“What?” Chad spoke, his voice a few octaves higher than normal. “What did I say?”
Patricia broke the silence. “My brother was killed in Iraq.”
Chad went white. “I didn’t know. I’m so sorry.”
“You shouldn’t be sorry for your beliefs. My brother felt the same way—before he burned alive.” Her voice was even.
The silence around the table was painful. Nobody wanted to speak or move. Patricia looked at the picture of Ron Paul. Little drops of coffee had landed on his face. It looked like he had been crying. Patricia was determined not to shed a tear.
“It happened almost a year ago. I’m healing. It was a mistake. Let’s talk about something else.” Patricia took a sip of coffee. “Please.”
The conversation continued. They avoided politics. Even Liza started talking about frivolous subjects she usually avoided, like movies and TV shows. Patricia listened, but she wasn’t really there. Chad’s heavy hand still grasped her knee.
Patricia stood up. His hand fell away. “I have to go to the bathroom. I’ll be right back.”
Mia studied her. “You ok?”
Patricia had a habit of sobbing in the bathroom months after her brother was announced dead. Public bathrooms, in Patricia’s opinion, are the best places to cry. Their bleak setting is a perfect backdrop for a person wallowing misery. But she wasn’t wallowing in misery. In fact, Patricia felt ok.
“I’m ok. I just gotta pee.”
When Patricia returned, she sat with her legs pointed out of the booth. She didn’t let Chad touch her knee.
When breakfast was finished, one by one her friends left the restaurant. Jerry had to help his cousin move. Mia had to work at noon. Liza was off to some political rally.
“Well, I have a full day of playing video games ahead of me.” Stanley looked at Chad and jiggled his car keys. “You wanna catch a ride back?”
Chad stared at Patricia. “Nah, I have something to finish up here.”
Chad stared at Patricia. “Nah, I have something to finish up here.”
When they were all gone, Chad’s eyes pleaded with her, but he didn’t touch her.
Patricia broke the silence. “You didn’t know. How could you have?”
Chad spoke. “I am so, so sorry.”
“It’s fine.” Patricia got out of the booth. She freed her sweatshirt, which had been stuck under Chad. She struggled to put it on. It caught on her beads. She heard a snap. Her necklace broke. A waterfall of glass beads hit the floor with a deafening crash.
“Oh, I’m sorry.” Chad jumped at the floor and started grabbing the beads.
“Chad,” Patricia said. “Don’t bother.”
He handed her the fragments he gathered. “Can I see you again?” he asked.
“I don’t think so.” She shrugged again. “Good bye, Chad.”
If it would have been a movie, she would have kissed him. Instead, she got out of the booth and left the diner. The fog had disappeared, the rain had started. Her face was wet, but it wasn’t because she cried. Like the poster of Ron Paul and his coffee tears, Patricia looked sad. It concealed her inner feelings. She had never been so hopeful for the future.
Besides, it was still early. She still had the entire day ahead of her.