Wednesday, March 1, 2017

The Necklace

“Thailand was fantastic.” Phil gushed and Kate perked up to listen. He had talked so much already, it was amazing her ears hadn’t fallen off.
“You went to Thailand? Where?” It was hard to imagine him travelling anywhere outside the United States. Canada was even a stretch.
“BANG-kok, I saw so many beautiful places, beautiful women.”
“Um, ok.” Kate paused, playing with her silver necklace. “What did you eat while you were there?”
“Eat?” He looked stumped.
“Massaman Curry?” He shook his head. “Coconut rice?”
“I-I don’t know.” His brows met in one ridiculous line.
“Um, have you ever had Thai?”
“Of course, I have!”
Kate leaned back in her chair; he was lying and she didn’t like it, “I don’t believe you.”
“I don’t believe you.”
“But I have!”
She caught her breath, “No, you read on my profile that I wanted to go. Do you think I’d sleep with you or something?” She pursed her lips, “I think you should leave.”
He guffawed, “So much work to get laid.”
Kate gripped the table until her knuckles turned white. Before she could say a word, poof, he disappeared.
Kate looked around at the people in the café, no one had noticed. No one ever did. It only happened in fight or flight situations, when she was emotionally charged, nervous, or angry. And only when she wore her necklace. Plus, no one ever got hurt; they ended up a couple miles away from where they disappeared, safe, but struck with a short-term amnesia.
Kate played with her necklace and realized Phil’s last words were similar to what her old prom date had said 10 years ago. She never forgot how Daniel had groped her butt; when she told him to stop, he had sneered, “It’s prom, isn’t it?” She had trusted him so much, she hadn’t brought her necklace with her, but after how cheap he made her feel, she swore to never take it off again. Since then, wearing the necklace was like an addiction. She knew it enabled her, but she couldn’t stop wearing it. She liked having an escape route.
She leaned back in her chair in a huff and checked her phone; 10:35. The guy said he’d be there at 10:30am. He was already five minutes late…
It was Kate’s friend Sam who concocted the idea of speed dating; she suggested to enforce a 30-minute time limit for each guy. Kate didn’t like it, but it was better than suffering through a full evening of awkward silences. And Kate didn’t have a lot of time to spend; she was a busy woman.
Sam helped her create an online profile and advised Kate to remain calm by visualizing each man as a food, instead of imagining naked, which would have only made Kate more nervous. Kate tried it out.
Phil reminded her of a grocery store donut. One that you scarf down as you drive to work and end up with a stomach ache shortly after consumption.
Kate tapped her nails on the table, what will Mr. 10:30 remind me of? She looked around the café; it bustled with clanging dishes, people talking, and chairs scraping on the cement floor. It smelled like coffee, baked bread, and warm bodies. In one of the glass cases, she spied a raspberry scone crusted with turbinado sugar. She licked her lips, but resisted. She didn’t need to eat her feelings right now.
She fiddled with her necklace and checked her phone again; when she looked up, she spied him outside, leaning against the brick wall, a rose in one hand, a cigarette in the other. He had used younger, thinner pictures of himself on his dating profile.
He looked to be in his forties, overweight with his belly hanging past his Def Leppard t-shirt. At first, she thought it couldn’t be him, but then he looked right at her and started walking into the café.
She looked down at her phone, pretending to text. Her neck prickled; she smelled him before she saw him.
“Kate Finn?” She looked up was muted by horror; he looked like a sloppy joe, old chewed up beef and mystery sauce between a hamburger bun; a sloppy joe that smelled of stale sweat and weed. He reached to give her a “first date hug,” while Kate leaned as far away from him as possible. Just before he encircled her shoulders, he disappeared, leaving her with an aftertaste of his body odor.
She decided she would have the scone after all, and maybe scour her hands, face, possibly her whole body in the bathroom. She debated whether to just get up and leave; it was 10:55 and she had time to bail.
But before she could get up, Mr. 11:00 waltzed in five minutes too early. She couldn’t catch a break, but then she saw that his photos on his profile did not give him justice.
He was gorgeous like a French macaron. Or more accurately, a glass case full of French macarons all lined up and organized by color. She rarely could bring herself to buy macarons; she never wanted to bite into them and be responsible for ruining something beautiful.
“Kate?” She looked up into his clean-shaven face. She stood up suddenly, knocking her latte all over the table. “Oh, here.” He grappled the coffee mug before it fell.
“Oh, geez-um-sorry!” She fumbled and almost tripped over her chair and she felt like she lost something.
“Uh, here.” He caught her arm and helped her right herself. Just then, a barista came around with a wet cloth and mopped the spill up.
Mitchell complimented the barista, “Thanks that was a quick.”
Kate turned to Mitchell, “Um, I-I’m so sorry.”
“Not a problem, I’m just glad you missed my face.”
Kate laughed nervously.
“Now we can officially meet. Mitchell Ganter.” He extended his hand and Kate shook it, his fingers and palm were rough and callused.
He leaned forward, “You like mochas?”
“Alright, let me get you a new one.”
“Oh, you don’t have—”
“Nah, it’s a date, right? I’m honored. And it’s not every day you make a woman nervous enough to spill her coffee.” Kate felt her cheeks turn red.
He walked over to the counter while she stood by their table awkwardly, she decided to push herself and stand with him while they waited for the coffee. “Thank you, I appreciate it.”
“My pleasure.”
“So, you don’t make women spill their coffee often, just me?”
He smiled, “Only you so far, but one woman caught her heel in a grate and broke her shoe within five minutes of a date.” He pointed down at her shoes. “I like a practical woman.” Kate wore black flats with memory foam.
“Mitchell, large mocha and Americano.” The barista shouted out. They grabbed their coffees and made it over to their table.
He settled into his chair looking both nervous and comfortable. Everything about him was a beautiful contradiction. “So, what made you decide to go on a dating site?”
“Uh,” Kate decided the truth was the best option; she was too nervous to think of anything creative anyway. “My friend Sam forced me to make a profile. I don’t go out much, I-I work a lot and my weekends are today and Tuesday; I miss out on a lot of things.”
“No Friday night escapades around Portland?” Kate shook her head. “That’s too bad. Did you know that bad karaoke is essential to start a good weekend?” He took a sip of his coffee and looked at her in all seriousness.
“Uh, I didn’t know that. I’ve never been to a karaoke bar, it’s not really my thing.”
“You can’t know until you go.” He thought a while. “What about rock climbing? Have you ever done that?”
“Actually, yes, I have, but a really long time ago. I liked it.” She paused, “Is that what you do? Your hands are callused.”
“Yeah, I try to go every day. It’s a lot of fun and it keeps me focused. Um, you know, would you like to go with me some time?”
Kate got more nervous, Is he asking me on a second date? He likes me? “Oh, that sounds super cool, I would love to!” Kate got ahead of herself. Who says super cool except a thirteen-year-old from the 90s?
“So, you work a lot, only have Mondays and Tuesdays off, could never consider karaoke, but rock climbing is super cool. Now I’m curious, what job is worth giving up Fridays and Saturdays?”
Kate laughed, “You definitely cut to the point.” She fiddled with her necklace. “I’m a chef and I own my restaurant with my best friend Sam. She’s the head pastry chef and I’m the head cook. Technically, I work every day.”
“A chef? Wow! You wear practical shoes and you cook? I like you already.” Kate realized that he was the first man to ask her questions instead of talk about himself. She suddenly felt self-conscious, Am I talking about myself too much? She didn’t want to be that person.
“And you? What do you do?”
“I’m definitely not as cool as you. I push paper, organize paper, buy paper, and then I calculate numbers.”
“So…you—what would you call that, exactly?”
“Hmm, you really want to know?” Kate nodded. “They call me-well-an administrative assistant. Yes, before you say anything, I know what you’re thinking, I’m just as rare as a male nurse or a unicorn, right?”
Kate laughed. “That’s a coincidence.”
“What?” He lifted an eyebrow.
“Sam and I, we’ve been looking for an admin to come in and help us. Actually, we’re interviewing some people today.”
Mitchell tilted his head, “Really? At your restaurant or something?”
“Huh, um, I work as an admin at a brewery right now, but I have an interview today at Milagro. It’s just a mile down Alberta Street.”
Kate’s eyes widened. “Wait, what?”
Mitchell scrunched his eye brows together. “Um, are you the owner of Milagro? Really? Wow, your place is almost as famous as Salt & Straw or Voodoo Donuts.” Kate wanted to make herself small. “I heard the main chef—it must have been you—was on Iron Chef. Were you on it?”
Kate covered her face with her hands, completely humiliated. She never did well with people noticing her. “Um,” was all she could manage, she felt cornered even though he meant well, she got up all of a sudden. She knew she was getting close, so close to it happening. She didn’t want it to, not with him. “I-I’ve got to go to the bathroom.” He looked startled; his eyes widened. He appeared like he regretted mentioning anything.
“Wait—” But she bolted before he had a moment to say another word. She locked the door and leaned against the sink.
She took a deep breath. Then another and another. A lot of people had seen her on Iron Chef and she never liked the attention it had given her, it was great for the restaurant, but not good for her. She was a chef, not a celebrity. She felt bad leaving him there, but she didn’t want her emotions to get control of her and let the necklace do its thing. She didn’t want him to disappear; she wanted to keep talking to him.
She looked at herself in the mirror and then she realized her necklace wasn’t around her neck. Her hand went immediately to her throat as if it were there, but she just couldn’t see it. It wasn’t there.
She hadn’t been wearing it the whole time with him. She suddenly felt naked and exposed but also liberated. She had managed to have a decent and adult conversation without her security blanket. She was proud of herself, but then her fear started settling in. The date wasn’t over yet and she could screw it up or he could screw it up. Without her necklace, she didn’t have control, she would have to live each humiliating minute, if things took a turn for the worst. She stared at herself and could feel panic coming on.
She pointed at herself in the mirror, “You can do this.”
“You can do this.” She said with more momentum. “He’s a French macaron. You’ve made those, you’ve conquered those, beaten those egg whites. You can beat his egg whites. You kick ass in the kitchen, just make the world your kitchen.” Her voice crescendoed, “The world is my kitchen!” She took a heavy breath, rubbed her eyes, and adjusted her bra.
“Ok, yes, ok, let’s do this.” She walked out of the bathroom confident, standing tall, breasts forward. But her legs turned to rubber the closer she got to the table. He turned his gaze on her, looking worried. He looked ready to say something, but instead he stood up and must have stepped on something; he looked down to see what he had stepped on, bent down, and picked up Kate’s silver necklace. “Is this yours?”
Kate rushed forward. “Oh, that old thing? Yeah, it is.” She reached out to take it, but then she bee-lined for her purse sitting on the chair. “It must’ve fallen off, here you can put it in this.” She didn’t want to touch it, she refused to touch it. She knew her nerves would trigger it. He looked puzzled, but let the chain drop into the small pocket of her purse. “Thank you for finding it.”
“No problem,” He pursed his lips, anxious, and ran his fingers through his thick hair. “Look, I’m sorry if I upset you at all, that’s the last thing I wanted to do.”
“Oh, it’s fine! I just-I just don’t know how to react when someone says things like that; I don’t deal with attention well.”
“I get it and it’s admirable. You’re just you.”
She let go of her breath, “Thank you.”
He smiled, “Well, I have to get ready for an interview; gotta dress to impress.”
Kate laughed, still feeling nervous, she grabbed her purse and held it to her chest. It was in there, close, but she didn’t need it, not with him. “It-it’s funny how-well- you’re a male admin who likes rock climbing, Americanos, and I’m interviewing you in two hours. Mitchell, I believe you’re rarer than a unicorn.”
“But, I do exist.” He gave her a parting hug and whispered in her ear, “But don’t worry, I won’t disappear.” Kate couldn’t help but smile.

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