by Dara Cunningham
I felt the sting of suspicion that there was someone else on his schedule when he postponed our plans, but he surprised me at the train station with his gift of a loaner; showroom shiny, electric blue, with moonroof and spoiler.
“The dealership felt bad about everything,” he said. “They gave me this for the weekend. Would you like to drive?”
It was tempting but I declined, content to sink into soft leather seats.
“I bet you could drive this for Uber all weekend and make some money,” I said, unable to restrain my working-class reflexes.
“If I hadn’t met you I probably would. Very smart,” he said, with the “r” almost missing. He seemed happy to see me, though I believed it was the wheels that spiked his confidence.
I felt no shame about my station in life with him, happy to share the joy of the unexpected luxury, however temporary, of the car beyond his means.
I scrolled through possible topics of conversation. I’d been trying to learn more about him, but he had no Facebook, and his Twitter was strictly work-related. LinkedIn led me to the small news channel he worked for years ago in a flyover state. In the archives I found him; younger and slimmer, with thicker hair. I imagined the women he met at county fairs and town hall meetings who thought him sophisticated.
I wanted to know more, and he might have told me, but he would have had to relive whatever career slights brought him back to the grubby periphery of Boston to write for what he called a second-rate tabloid. The streetlights began to glow as he took the exit ramp. I reached over and traced his smoothly shaved jaw with my fingertips and decided the questions could wait.
The next morning he said I could eat anything in the kitchen that wasn’t expired. I made a pot of coffee and settled on a couch patched with a sliver of duct tape. My instinct was always to watch the news, but I reconsidered since he was an underpaid, local reporter who hadn’t made it on television. I landed on a home improvement series with cheerful people installing a hardwood floor. In the next episode, the same couple stained a deck. Finally, I heard his movements from the bedroom. Most men would have just staggered out in their underwear, but he’d put on actual clothes; a respectable T-shirt and shorts he could wear in public.
He sat next to me on the arm of the couch. His hair stood up like a paintbrush.
“I was trying to be quiet.”
He stroked my cheek with his thumb.
“You’ve got a soft touch,” I said, but the soft touch was deceptive; it belied something primal and coarse.
“Don’t get me wrong,” I said. “You fuck like a champ, but I like the gentle side.”
He winced and looked away as he laughed.
“Are you trying to make me blush? Damn you’re something else.”
He didn’t scare easily.
“I haven’t met a woman who made me laugh like you. Maybe I’m too serious.”
“Maybe you had boring girlfriends.”
“Not anymore,” he said.
I watched him pour coffee and regretted how I’d been testing him.
“I would have fixed that for you, but I don’t know how you like it. I don’t know much about you at all.”
“It’s alright. I can tell you learn fast. I thought you might have looked at my place and left before I woke up.”
“Not while you still have that car,” I said.
“We should go somewhere while I have it,” he said.
I suggested Martha’s Vineyard.
He groaned at first, told me it was an overrated hornet’s nest of pretentious rich people.
“Besides, you need a boat for that.”
“And a nice car to drive to the ferry.”
We didn’t fit in there, with our cheap summer clothes, but a boat ride and a new place were always a thrill for me. At an outdoor market, I fixated on a chunk of sea glass suspended from a fragile silver chain. It looked special, even though it was just a tourist-trap money grab in a dockside kiosk. A quick swipe of plastic and it was mine. Women and jewelry; paid for by men and displayed to others as proof we’re worthy of love. Warmed by the brush of lips on cheek, I pretended I was a woman who got jewelry from men all the time.
He seemed younger as we walked the beach, shouting over the wind. I liked how his footprints were larger than mine, I enjoyed his considerable height and the impressive wingspan of his arms when he reached out for me. Always aware of my stature and long bones, I felt happily feminine beside him.
We found an outdoor café and sat next to people in their sixties; placid in retirement and refined in their surfside casual. They discussed how they were confident in their investments but disappointed in their children. Even if my parents had lived they wouldn’t have been anything like them.
“I worked here one summer,” he said. “I was maybe twenty. I thought it would be cool. Make money, meet girls”.
“Your boss was a prick who worked you to death and you never got laid.”
“We’re so stupid and stubborn when we’re young, always thinking we’ll be the exception to the rule. That was a long time ago. Look at me now.”
“A sweet loaner car and a girl from Bethlehem? You can’t do better than that”.
“No, I don’t think I can”.
I was kidding, but he sounded sincere.
* * *
Dara Cunningham lives year-round on the fringes of Atlantic City, New Jersey. Her non-fiction essays have been published by the Press of Atlantic City, the Philadelphia Inquirer, and works of fiction have been featured by online journals Page & Spine, Fiction 365, and Punchnels.