There are fresh tears on my waterproof lashes. I am doing that thing where you blink really really fast because, despite all evidence to the contrary, in the moment it seems like that actually works.
It does not.
But I am a black girl recently left sitting alone at a crowded bar and I DO NOT need the predatory instincts of the throngs of men around me to start beeping like a smoke detector.
Slyly, I use my black fingernails to move the tears away, hoping it’s looking like I’m scratching my eyelid. I am like the fucking Le Femme Nikita of emotion hiding.
“I would have come sooner if I’d known you were gonna get all misty at my arrival.”
I know it is Peter Parker before I turn around, his cadence and his cologne tattooed on my sense memory. I take a deep breath, determined to be better than I was the last time the Universe unceremoniously threw him at me.
“I am not crying.”
“You are a very bad liar,” he replies, as he wipes a tear I missed from my lower lash line.
“Hi, Peter,” I say on a sharp exhale, probably an instinctive response to the butterflies in my stomach.
“I don’t have freckles. I’m-“
“A black girl. I know.”
We give each other mirror images of the same wry smile in the silence that follows, lingering a bit longer than it should. We both try to break it at the same time.
“How have you-“
We laugh at ourselves, at how absolutely foolish we are being, and the air in our little bubble starts to thaw.
“So,” he says as he claims the empty stool next to me that my girl vacated a few moments before. “What makes pretty girls cry in bars?”
I want so badly to make fun of him for being so corny, but I just don’t have it in me.
“I have a friend. Well, had a friend. Well, I dunno if I could call him my friend. But my friend- she just left,” I say, pointing at the door, “He was her boyfriend. We met him in May. At Mansion. You know they do the Sunday thing? It’s really nice out on the patio and-”
I notice he has raised one eyebrow at me curiously. I am babbling. Like a monkey. But not nearly as cute.
“My friend, well, her boyfriend. Well, he was her boyfriend. He died. A couple months ago.”
His hand is on mine before I even have time to realize that I stopped nervously stirring the remnants of my margarita.
“He was shot. Out of the blue. And the thing is,” I tell him, gesturing to my Black.berry like its poison, “he left me a message. He called me. Like, that day. And I can’t listen to the message. But I can’t erase it. And I keep forgetting that I have it. And when I finally check all the tons of messages I have, I hear the message and I forget that I have it and it just catches me off guard and I just let my friend hear them before she left and then she got all teary eyed and I got all teary eyed and I dunno why I am even crying because he wasn’t my boyfriend and I dunno if I should even call him a friend so I shouldn’t even be upset. I just, forget.”
I look up from what has to be the world’s worst My So Called Life moment this side of 1994 and to my surprise he is not looking at me like my emotional smuttiness is contagious. He has the same kind eyes he’s always had, his beautiful mouth now turned down at the corners. He takes that deep breath you take after something heavy has been laid on you and you want to say the right thing.
“I’m sorry, La.”
Of course he said the right thing.
“And I know it is killing you to have to watch a friend be hurt and you can’t fix it.”
*sigh* He is so fucking good at this.
“It is. She’s a mess. And I can’t fix it. So I just try to be here.” I half shrug while he wraps his fingers tighter around mine. We sit in companionable silence for awhile just long enough to it to sidle close to uncomfortable.
“Who but us has this conversation in a crowded bar in front of a guy in a lilac ass bowtie?” He asks with a self depreciating smile and I burst out laughing.
Ugh. I do love a man with good timing.
We talk a little while, hitting all the casual highlights you are supposed to hit when you haven’t seen someone you have a rather bittersweet history with: job (both of us feeling restless), friends (his are doing great, mine he’s never met), relationships (his, not mine, obviously).
“That’s why I’m here.”
“She’s meeting me here after work but she’s running a bit late.”
I am suddenly consumed with the need to flee. I can’t see this beautiful bitch when I am all puffy fish faced and teary and half drunk on happy hour margaritas. My ego simply can’t take it. I start to gather my things, blurting out a hasty goodbye, and simultaneously trying to dislocate my ankle while unhooking my boots from the bar stool. He grabs my arm and swings me around.
“I keep wondering why we keep running into each other.”
I open and close my mouth with no words, like a fish, trying to figure out something to say. Something clever. And smart. And funny. And then this can be like a TV show where I am all graceful and witty and leave him missing me rather than, you know, being the drunk bitch who stumbles to the door after mumbling something about feeding the dog.
I’ve got nothing.
“I just wonder, is all.” He pulls me a bit closer to him, not as close as he wants but as close as I will allow him knowing better than to be in his personal space. “It’s like, you’re kinda like these freckles,” he says, rubbing the makeup off the bridge of my nose. “If you rub the surface just a little, they’re still there.” I refuse to say anything that might betray me. I just can’t.
He drops my wrist.
“Have a good night, Peter. Bye.” He pins me to the spot, his eyes on mine, the corners of his mouth sneaking towards his cheekbones.
“I’ll see you soon.”
It’s not until I am in my car that I exhale, and finally let myself wonder why we keep running into each other, too.