Friday afternoon, Brad met me after class and casually mentioned that he wanted to drive into Avondale that night. Would I like to come along? Of course I did.
At 6:15, I still hadn’t decided what to wear. I wanted to look my best for him. I applied a little white eye shadow and slightly tinted lip gloss. I swept back my mass of hair into a half ponytail. Some days I lost the battle of the frizz to the Ohio humidity, but tonight I was rather pleased by the effect of dark loose curls cascading over my narrow shoulders and small tendrils framing my face. Just like Christine in Phantom of the Opera. That is, if Christine wore glasses.
As I stood outside the German House, I pushed up the sleeves of the olive v-neck top I’d chosen to bring out the green in my hazel eyes, then tugged them down again. I peered down Lakeside Drive, looking for Brad’s gray Nissan Sentra to crest the hill. He said he would pick me up at 6:30, and it was already 6:32.
There he was. I tracked the car as it rose over the hill and curved down around the campus lake, but looked away as it chugged closer. I didn’t want to seem impatient.
It seemed an eon before Brad pulled the car up to the curb. He leaned across the seat and pushed the door open. After a brief exchange of greetings, we drove in silence through campus toward Interstate 70.
Near the on-ramp, a white-haired old gentleman in a battered pick-up truck moseyed along in front of us at 35 miles an hour. Brad swerved around the truck and floored the gas, muttering “Lousy blue hair drivers. They shouldn’t even be allowed on the road.”
“That’s a little harsh, isn’t it? Old people deserve to be on the road as much as we do. That guy could have had a very good reason for driving so slow. Besides, we aren’t in a hurry, are we?”
“Wow, I didn’t know I’d be getting my own personal sermon,” he said.
I stammered, not knowing how to respond.
“That was supposed to be a joke, by the way. All kidding aside, what you just did right there was so cool. That’s what I like about you, Giselle. You inspire me to be a better man. You and your cock-eyed optimism keep me in line.”
“Um, well … You’re welcome?”
Minutes passed without further conversation. I squirmed in the seat, adjusting the shoulder belt away from my neck. Brad glanced over, but he didn’t say anything. His jaw was clenched. Should I apologize for being so critical? I mentally rehearsed, trying to find just the right words.
Before I settled on my lines, Brad apologized. “Hey, listen, I really am sorry I got so worked up back there. Let’s just change the subject, okay?”
About twenty minutes after leaving campus, the car pulled up in front of a long squat building. Glass panels with hand-painted logos punctuated the brick façade. The last window read “El Maguey” in green, white and red. Behind the strip center stretched the cracked parking lot of the Avondale Mall.
El Maguey was the kind of place where guests just walked in and picked an open table, and that night there were many tables and few guests. I stopped at a table in the center of the room, and started to pull out a chair facing the window.
“Not there,” he said.
Rather than answer, Brad led us to a table in the corner. Again I started to pull out the chair facing the window. “Actually, can I have that seat?” he asked.
“Okay, what’s going on? Why does it matter so much where we sit?”
“I need to be able to see the door, and know that there is no one sitting behind me. What if someone just happened to come in tonight to rob this joint? I want to be able to protect you. If I can see the door, I can jump in front of you and throw you down out of the line of fire. If I have my back to the wall, I know no one’s sneaking up behind me.”
“My hero!” I teased.
“That’s me.” He smile back. “Read your menu and decide what you want before the waiter comes to ask us what we want to drink. Maybe if we put in our order right away, we’ll have time to catch a movie too.”
While I perused the menu, Brad stopped me frequently to ask questions about my classes and family. When the waiter came, I asked for a glass of water.
Brad said, “I’ll take a root beer, and then the number thr—”
I interrupted. “Oh, gee, I’m so sorry, I’ve been so busy talking that I haven’t decided what to order yet.” I turned to the waiter. “Can you just bring the drinks and give us a few more minutes?”
The waiter nodded and walked away. Brad sighed deeply. “I guess we won’t be catching a movie after all.”
“Oh no! I really am sorry to have ruined your plan. I guess I just lost track of time. Maybe we can go to a later show?”
“No, it’s all right. So you’re a little flighty, no big deal.”
“What do you mean?”
“Hey, I was just giving you a hard time, don’t take it so seriously. I mean, you do seem to get distracted easily, but what girl doesn’t right?”
I looked down, not sure what to say.
“Never mind, I shouldn’t have said anything. Let’s just enjoy dinner.”
The drinks arrived and we put in our order. We sat just grinning at each other for a moment before both beginning to speak at once. I said he could go first. He told me about his photography class and what he and his fraternity brothers had been up to. I didn’t have much to say, but was just so happy to be back together with him that I smiled and nodded and let him do all the talking.
All too soon, it was nine o’clock. The restaurant closed and Brad paid the check. He took my hand as we walked to the car.