Carly looked up from her omelet. “Why are you staring at that woman?”
“Who?” I asked, as if we both didn’t know my eyes had been glued to the dark-haired woman on the other side of the restaurant.
Carly and I were eating breakfast at The New York Diner in Greenville, North Carolina. The only thing New York about the place was the name. Even the lox and scrambled eggs on a bagel came with a side of grits. I pointed this out to Carly.
“Don’t try to change the subject. Do you know her?”
“Maybe. Someone I used to know is all. At least I think it’s her.” I tried sounding nonchalant while feeling my face flush.
“A former girlfriend?”
“No. Well, yeah.” My heart felt like it had decided to stop playing backup and go for a solo. “I think that’s Annie. The one I told you about.”
Only five years teaching elementary school and Carly had already developed the narrow-eyed, tight-lipped look that froze fifth-grade boys and twenty-eight-year-old men. We’d been married two years and dated two more before that. During that time, we told each other about our past loves. Of course, I shared the story of Annie, my college girlfriend. Fiancé, to be exact. She broke up with me just after we had set a date. The old story: she met someone else. I was devastated, especially when I later discovered she had also cheated with a friend of mine. But I graduated, moved to Greenville and met Carly. I thought all that anger and embarrassment were buried neatly in my past.
Now it was Carly who was staring. “Shit! She’s beautiful.”
I shrugged, as if I hadn’t noticed. Definitely the wrong choice.
“You don’t have to deny she’s gorgeous. It won’t make me feel better.” Then the Carly I loved returned. “I can only see her face. Tell me she has a fat ass. Please.”
I squirmed. Fat was not the word that came to mind. “Yeah. Fat and flat. Disgusting.”
“Liar.” Carly smiled. “So is it her?”
“It’s been a while. It looks like her, but I don’t know.” I fidgeted with my food. I knew. The way she held her fork left-handed, the cleft in her chin, and those deep, dark eyes. The rest of her body flashed before me, like a photomontage in an X-rated movie.
Carly put down her fork. “So let’s go say hello.”
“No.” The thought of making small talk with Annie sent me into a panic. Too many unresolved issues. Besides, I was with Carly, my wife. She wasn’t the jealous type, but I didn’t think it a good idea to test her.
Just then, Annie stood up and walked towards the ladies room.
“Fat ass, huh?” Without another word, Carly followed her.
I knew better than to try to stop her. I sipped my coffee, ate my breakfast, and waited, feeling like a condemned man. Annie saw me, for sure. Although I had gained a few pounds since college, I didn’t look all that different. And neither did she. But what was she doing in Greenville? The last time I saw her, we were both in college in New York. I followed a job South. Annie had talked of California as if it were the Promised Land.
When I saw Carly and Annie come out of the ladies room, walking towards me, smiling and talking with their hands, I puffed my cheeks and blew out the air slowly.
“False alarm,” Carly said. “Meet Susan Murrow.” She turned toward Annie. “This is my husband, Mike.”
Sheheld out her hand. I took it, surprised no fireworks shot out as we touched.
“Please join us,” Carly said, always the polite Southern girl. Up close, Annie looked better than I remembered.
“Oh, thank you, but I can’t. I’m just in town for a few days and I have a million things to do.”
“Good meeting you, Michael,” she said, raising one eyebrow in a familiar gesture. “I hear I look like someone you once knew.”
“Yeah, a little,” I said. I’m sure Noel Coward would have offered a witty double entendre. I’m just glad I didn’t stammer.
I watched the two women say goodbye, as if they were the old friends. The waiter refilled our coffee cups while Annie paid her bill and left. I took one more glance at her rear end and returned to Carly.
“So,” Carly said. “Tell me about Annie.”
I thought it wise to be honest, at least as much as I dared. “We had something for a while, but I’m glad she’s out of my life. I could never trust her the way I trust you.”
“Good answer.” Carly pushed away her omelet, which had gotten cold. “What was it like seeing her again?”
“Of course. I suspected it was her when I introduced myself in the ladies room, but I didn’t know for sure until I heard the way she said, ‘Michael’. I introduced you as Mike.” Her lips tightened again.
I took Carley’s hand, relieved she squeezed back.
Wayne Scheer has been locked in a room with his computer and turtle since his retirement (Wayne’s, not the turtle’s). To keep from going back to work, he’s published hundreds of short stories, essays and poems, including Revealing Moments, a collection of twenty-four flash stories, available at http://www.pearnoir.com/thumbscrews.htm. He’s been nominated for four Pushcart Prizes and a Best of the Net. Wayne can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.