Maggie was more confused than jealous. They had clicked at the bar. Then after, at the diner, the chemistry was undeniable, electric even. She found herself liking him more and more, and couldn’t stop the possibilities from spinning in her head. If only he could stop the staring at the waitress.
Whenever he could see this woman, the conversation would drift and his gaze would follow her around the room. When she took their order, he stared brazenly, engrossed, his eyes clearly noting the wedding ring, and most everything else.
Maggie, some twenty years younger and dressed to dance, didn’t see much in the waitress worth looking at. This woman had hair an unnatural shade of blonde, skin the texture of paper someone had baked to make appear older than it was, and a garish tattoo on her arm: a jagged half-heart, the left side, with the word “for” stenciled in it.
“I’m not checking her out,” he finally said. “Really.”
“I guess I was staring for a minute there. I’m sorry. It’s a…it’s a funny story.”
“Did you lose your virginity to her?”
He laughed. “Now that would be a story…Yeah, yeah that’s it,” he smiled and winked. “Did you notice the tattoo?”
“I’ve been trying to place it since we sat down, and it finally hit me. I met a guy a long time ago who had one just like it. His was the right half and said “ever” in it. Love for-ever. It was at this restaurant in Missouri. Some little town off the highway, I doubt I could find it again if I tried…”
“A funny story?”
“Yeah, my friend, Curt, the one with the glasses you met earlier,” she didn’t remember, but shrugged anyway. “He had his heart broken by this girl with a southern accent when we were in college. I thought it would cheer him up to drive him down south where he could find lots of girls with southern accents.”
“So you went to some truck stop in Missouri?”
“On the way to New Orleans. I don’t remember how, but we ended up talking to this trucker at the next table, and out of nowhere he shows us his tattoo and asks if we’d ever seen one like it. He tells us the love of his life had one that matched, showed us a picture with the two of them holding their arms together. It made this one solid heart that said ‘forever.’
“So they had a big fight and he left…like really left. Didn’t come back for three months. Didn’t call or anything. Just kept on the road. When he finally does come back, he finds their apartment building had burnt down. The landlord told him that with everything gone but bad memories, she’d moved on, probably went back to her family. But all the trucker can remember is that her family moved around a lot. He’d never met any of them.
“So now he stays on the road as much as he can, and asks everyone he meets whether they’d ever seen a tattoo like his, because there is only one other like it.”
“Is that her?”
“I don’t know. It’s been years, and I barely even looked at the photo.”
“It’s got to be, right?”
“Lots of people get tattoos. But yeah…”
“We’ll know in a minute, won’t we?”
“Oh, we’re not telling her anything,” he made a stop motion with his hands, as if he were trying to prevent her from running over him. “She’s got a wedding ring on. No good can come of that.”
“But we have to tell her.”
“It could ruin her life.”
“Wouldn’t you want to know?”
“Not if I couldn’t do anything about it.”
“She could find him on the Internet. Facebook”
“And then what? She’s married.”
“Maybe he found her and they got married.”
“Then she doesn’t need us to tell her about him.”
There was a long pause. Maggie was sober now, entirely. They ate in silence, clearing their plates, and stared conspicuously as the waitress approached them, collected their dishes, and placed the check on the table. For her part, the waitress had sensed she was interrupting an argument, or an intimacy, and left without saying a word.
“We have to tell her.”
“Don’t you at least want to know if they found each other?”
“I made it all up. I was just trying to cover for my checking her out.”
“Then it won’t matter if I ask her.”
He rose with the bill and Maggie followed him to the cash register. People must ask about the tattoo all the time, she told herself. I don’t have to tell why I’m asking.
Yet the waitress was nowhere to be seen. Maggie was nearly walking backward as she went out the door, scanning the tables, knowing there would be no casual way to come back in and ask. She’d have to tell his story.
In the parking lot, they talked briefly, he kissed her on the cheek and Maggie told him she’d call, or text. She really wanted to see him again. But she had been so preoccupied by whether or not to go back in that she never got his number. And she realized, suddenly, that she could not actually remember his name.
Daniel Schoonmaker lives and writes in West Michigan. His wife tells him he’s very good at both. He is also an environmental activist, journalist, and occasional winner of small-town writing competitions.