TWO TOP • by Mary Kay Holmes

I sat, staring at the empty pleather bench on the other side of the table, washing my huevos rancheros down with crafty beer and glancing at the clock on my iPhone. It had been fifteen minutes since he went outside to make a phone call, the waiter coming by twice to ask if I’d like him to “place his plate under the warmer?”

“No thanks,” I smiled, “he just stepped out for a minute.” I didn’t even believe myself as I said it, a sinking feeling in my chest as I took my last sip of beer and ordered another.

“Can I add a shot of Jameson please?” I called out as the priss in the next booth scowled at me over her fresh pressed green juice. I hated her, and not just because she had a stupid pink straw hat and a tattoo of a yellow smiley face emoji on her inner wrist.

I told myself he’d quit using, the dark circles under his eyes were from working hard and not sleeping. When he texted he was running late I imagined him sitting at a computer, the glow of the screen illuminating the chiseled jaw and delicious lips I had fallen for years before. The warm mug of tea by his desk had the tiniest hint of real cream floating inside it, his beloved headphones filling his bopping head with Morrissey or some Portuguese punk band he’d seen while traveling.

The unfortunate reality was a studio piled with filthy dishes in foul, murky water. Unpaid rent and a stack of bills with the corners singed peppered the floor, he still loved to light his cigarettes using paper lit off the gas stove. Sure, he once burnt off his eyebrows, but since then has become the self-proclaimed “flame master.” The pride he felt in his bizarre habits should have been a tip off to the fact that he had little else to cling to, but I chose to find it charming and let the rest float away.

The waiter brought my drinks and set them down with silent compassion beneath his lashes. The way his dark skater hair hung over his left eye reminded me of the 21 Jumpstreet days and I smiled at his adorable retroness. The flame tattoo behind his ear begged to be licked but honestly I wasn’t in the mood to entertain flirting, especially with someone who assumed I was easily walked upon by assholes.

I tossed my Jameson back and followed it with a sip of beer, again checking my phone for a text or missed call. I scrolled through Instagram, played Solitaire, checked Twitter for the latest D.C. drama, and considered setting up a Tinder profile. In the distance, the waiter snuck a drag off a cigarette and glanced at me with a wink. Interesting.

Green juice girl giggled. “I know, sick right?” I imagined myself tossing something at her just to watch her dodge it and scream, “What in the actual hell, you thirsty bitch!” I snickered to myself and decided the fantasy was probably better than the reality. Plus I didn’t really want to get kicked out before I finished my beer.

I felt the waiter sneak up beside me and almost whisper, “Can I bring you any boxes, or the check?”

“Check would be great.” I smiled back, overcompensating for the sinking worry creeping into my throat. Just as he turned to walk away I called after him, “Actually, can you do me a favor? Can you peek out into the alley and see if my friend is out there? I’d hate to abandon him.” I giggled and it sounded fake but whatever. If he was spread out behind a dumpster with a bloody needle dangling from his arm I preferred not be the first to find him. Selfish? Yes. Honestly, I didn’t think I could handle it…again.

Waiter guy smiled at me kindly and brushed his hair back off his face, biting the corner of his lip as he nodded and sauntered off. If I didn’t know better I’d have thought he was finding my pathetic abandonment sexy. Maybe I just had Tapatio on my cheek.

A police car sailed though the intersection, sirens blaring and lights reflecting in Little Miss Happy’s eyes as she looked up like a possum in a flashlight. I wished I had a laser pointer so I could see if she’d chase it up a wall. Poor girl, I should have been nicer to her in my cloudy mind. Actually, nah.

I grabbed my compact to check my teeth, applied some lip gloss, and considered going through his abandoned satchel. New leather adorned with a “hopefully blissful & blind” button tucked into the corner of the flap like a message in a bottle. Somewhere in me I knew he was gone, this reunion a miserable catastrophe that somehow pushed him over the edge. It may have been my fault before, but this time I was not blindly owning it. I sat here once at eighteen, starving for attention and love, willing to be a doormat for a broken statue. I wiped the vomit, dodged the flying plates, and plucked the needles from their warm beds. That girl is long gone and the bitch who replaced her had no time for sad sack puddles of disappointment.

The waiter returned in a shiny bomber jacket holding two motorcycle helmets.

“Sorry, there’s no one out there, but can I give you a ride home?” The corner of his mouth turned up and I saw his inner scoundrel tip his hat to me. Well, nice to meet you too, sir.

I grabbed the leather messenger and tossed it over my shoulder, cramming my purse and phone inside and clicking the buckle. I never paid the bill, and his untouched burrito went straight into the trash.

Mary Kay Holmes has been writing scripts, short stories, and essays for the dark voices in her head since childhood. In 2019 she released her first novel, To Be Human, and had a pilot script, Duke City, make the top five in the Final Draft Big Break Screenwriting contest. In 2020 she released her second novel, Catherine, an alien vampire romantic thriller. As a graduate of the University of New Mexico, the landscape of the southwest has been a huge inspiration in her work, and she’s thankful for the time she spent exploring the eerily dark corners of the desert.

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