The sweat makes him itch. Under his arms. Inside the elbows. It tickles his scalp and back. His ass and neck. He pinches the front of his shirt and fluffs some air on his chest. Fawn squirms in her chair. He looks the other way and pretends he doesn’t notice.
Deep inside his chest, a twinge of guilt pulling, stretching too tight. A place like this, with cloth napkins, bright lights and poofy chairs, isn’t her kind of restaurant. The places Fawn likes have the word “pub” in their name and a wait staff that wears jeans. He knew it when he asked her to come with them, knew she’d say, “okay” in spite of her discomfort. He knew she liked him that much.
He smiles at her when they ask her questions. Normal questions.
“So, you’re Parker’s secret girlfriend. What is it that you do?”
“I, uh… I’m a comedian. Well, trying to be.” She laughs. Shrugs. Tries to be affable.
“Oh, you’re not working, then?”
Parker wants to cringe when he sees her cheeks flush with red. He fights his muscles, his nerves, when they try to curl and retract beneath the skin. His friends, all of them from Engineering school, they’re probably thinking she’s a kook.
Nobody said so, but he knows. He can see it. He hears it when Cody asks, “So, what was your name again? Fawn? Like a deer?”
He hears it in their silence when they smile at her without showing teeth, their lips tight, head tilted, unable to come up with a response when she tells them, “I’ve done a few open mic nights at that comedy club on Winchester Boulevard.”
Perspiration slides down his spine, down the crack of his ass. He twitches and drops his fork. Fawn picks it up. Makes a joke. He glances at his friends seated around the table in a restaurant she couldn’t afford to eat at with her own weird set of friends.
He removes his glasses, goes through the motions of cleaning them on his shirt. Creating an air of nonchalance. An I’m-comfortable-and-just-don’t-give-a-shit move. The condescending and amused expressions on the faces of these assholes he calls friends is a clear indicator of Fawn’s weirdness level. Her doofus quotient. When he hears Fawn ask Lindsey if she likes karaoke, he wipes his palms on his pants.
When she leans toward him and says, “Be right back,” he braces himself for their mocking, for their snide “Where’d you find that one?”
He sips his beer. Wipes the sweat on the outside of the bottle with his napkin. Wipes his forehead.
Cody gives him a light punch in the arm. “I like her. She’s fun.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
Cody blinks. “Well, you know. Just that she’s a character.”
Parker knows that’s just another way of calling her a freak. A didn’t-go-to-college, can’t-get-a-real-job freak. He cracks his knuckles and rubs the back of his neck. He longs to be sitting alone in a pub with Fawn, being served by a waiter in a t-shirt while drinking beer from the bottle and eating sloppy burgers.
He hopes he’ll be able to let her down easy, but realizes he probably can’t.
He knows he likes her that much.
Rasmenia Massoud is the author of Human Detritus and Broken Abroad. Her work has appeared in various print and online publications as well as several stained cocktail napkins. She is from Colorado but now lives in France where she spends her time confusing the natives of her adopted country by speaking French poorly and writing about what she struggles most to understand: human beings. You can visit her at www.rasmenia.com.