She tied her hair into a ponytail, buttoned her leather coat, and thought of a polite way to put it. The issue was his friend’s Halloween party, an annual tradition, with a barbecue, joke prizes, and a midnight showing of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show”. He called it campy and she nodded, without adding the adjectives that came to her mind.
In past years he’d gone as athletes, either famous ones, like Babe Ruth, for which he strapped a pillow around his torso and carried a bat in one hand and a liquor bottle in the other, or generic models, such as the toothless hockey player last year. “I said ‘eh’ a lot.” He grinned and looked for a response. “Like, ‘You havin’ a good time, eh? Get you some dessert, eh?'”
With a polite smile, she said no thanks and they continued by the window of the pastry shop that was two doors from the restaurant they had just left. The night was cool and the wind blustered, stinging skin, and rustling up leaves and cloaks.
“So, will you come? It really is a lot of fun.” His grin remained, his voice was joyful.
She locked her arm around his elbow, forming a link that felt secure and necessary. A strong gust whistled and smacked the side of her face. The cold burned and caused her to sniffle. To shield herself, she ducked into his wall of a shoulder and waited for the warmth to return to her cheeks. They headed for the subway, passing familiar bars noisy with activity and full of women desperate to look sexy. His mouth scraped against the side of her head as he pressed himself against her earlobe.
“Did you hear me?” he whispered. The sharpness of his chin felt like a nudge.
“Yes, I did.” With a fluid motion, she unlooped her arm from his and placed her hands in her coat pockets.
She bunched her shoulders and turned away, thinking she was better off with the cold. This relationship of theirs teetered between commitment and division, a tenuous state that could tilt on one true act of love or the slightest betrayal.
Rock music played in a bar and she peered into the window as if the notes would sound clearer or more resonant if she could identify the musicians from whom they came. The bar was dark and any figures she could see were faceless, shapeless blobs. The starkest image, in fact, was a reflection of them. She frowned and the old, unfortunate trinity of wrinkles formed on her forehead above the bridge of her nose. His face was stern, his eyes hard and focused on her.
He spoke again, this time with a hint of disappointment, a childish whine. “I’d really like you to come and I thought we could dress up together.”
A laugh spurted from her throat and in the window she watched her mouth spread into a wide smile. “I’m sorry.” She put a hand over her lips to stifle the laughter.
He frowned and his jaw bones jutted out as the skin around them went taut. Even as she apologized again, snickers continued to escape from the sides of her mouth. Rejection — even the perception of it — will cause anger and fear to swell, and at that moment his urge was to shake her and command her not to laugh like that again. Instead, he turned his eyes to the headlights of oncoming cars. He aimed to name the makes and models of each when it drove by. The mind game was a distraction meant to invoke patience, but after only a few cars, almost all Japenese coupes, the exercise grew tedious and the expungent glare of a set of lights and another ripple of wind caused him to droop his head.
Although she had apologized twice, he could tell there was only a touch of remorse in her words, so he decided to test her sincerity. Speaking into the wind and staring at the gray sidewalk, he reiterated his hope for the party. “I thought we could go as like a team. I’d be a quarterback and you could be a cheerleader. A lot of my friends’ girlfriends go along with that kind of thing. Last year, someone went as a hot dog and his fiancee went as a bun.”
Her eyebrows raised and her head shook the way heads shake when people can’t believe someone is being serious.
“No, really, it was a good costume. You know, the innuendo.”