Saturday, March 28, 2009
The quiet hum of the restaurant echoed off the bare walls and floors growing louder as it moved towards the front, but softer as it moved t the back. Jennifer and Mark Cooper knew this. They always sat in the back.
They always ordered the same meals as well. Jennifer going heavy with steak, potatoes, mixed green salad and cake or mousse for dessert. Mark going light with the potato leak soup and salad combo, wrapping it all up with a tawny port.
They were known by name.
They ate at Cha Chili every Sunday. the small restaurant and bar was filled with locals on Sundays and it made for a cozy and safe place to eat.
They were not married.
Jennifer sipped her water and stared at the men at the bar like always. Her skin itched and she grew more and more uncomfortable as the evening wore on. She thought to herself, like she always did, and wondered if this would be her life from here on out. Alone and eating dinner with her brother.
He was equally agitated and sat with his back to the front of Cha Chili, choosing to ignore the masses as the ate. He had no desire to find someone else at this stage of his life. He’d give it time. That’s what he needed. Steve was gone, but still painfully there in his life like a ghost. He’d need to exorcise that spirit before finding another heavenly body to share his life with. He grinned to himself as he watched his sister. He knew what was on her mind. Ever the drama queen.
He blurted the words out before he had a chance to think them through. “Drama queen.”
“What?” She broke the stare and locked eyes with Mark. “Did you just call me a drama queen, you queen.”
“God, how smart.” Mark sipped his port. “You’re twenty-five and have managed to wall yourself up and out of life and into that school of yours. You’re smart and sweet and good looking...so I’ve been told.” He smiled. “Yet, you stare at all those guys every week and practically vomit if one happens to stare back, let along TALK to you.”
Jennifer narrowed her eyes. “Whatever.”
The din grew louder as a small group of people poured into the front doors.
“I need more friends my age is all.” She slid her fort into her cake, sighed then brought the delicious chocolate to her lips.
“You need to shake it off and get back in the game. You’re a doll and have nothing to fear from the likes of that crowd.” He dropped his head backwards slightly.
His sister blushed, though no one in the place had noticed the gesture. She rolled her eyes and took another fork full of cake. “Speaking of getting back in the game - how’s work going?”
Jennifer knew that would sting. She wanted it to.
“I mean, it didn’t seem like things went as planned?” She took another bite of cake. “Sorry I was right.”
Mark ignored her. “You go to the gym, work your little tush to the bone, then fork-feed cake, ice cream and cookies in like some strange child's toy. Work Out Jennifer.” He smirked.
Jennifer watched as a tall man at the bar removed his coat and slid it over the back of his chair. She licked frosting from the corner of her mouth, her dark eyes drifting over his shoulders and over his strong jaw as they made their way to his blue eyes.
Mark assumed she was pining away for someone, but she wasn’t. She wasn’t really looking at anything. She was thinking about wether she should say what was on her mind or not.
She placed her fork on the corner of the plate as she dabbed her lip with the end of her napkin.
She’d try it yet again.
“I talked to mom today.” Jennifer looked at Mark and locked eyes. She felt her stomach drop as his smile faded away. She wanted to take the words back as she watched him turn his head towards the kitchen and away from her.
“She said hello. I told her I’d tell you.”
Mark nodded. “Ok.”
Silence flooded in around the two of them. The three year difference in their ages seemed to flip - Mark seeming younger and more fragile than she could ever be.
“You’re really never talking to her again?”
“I doubt it.”
“It seems silly at this point. I mean, she....”
“Jenn.” Mark looked back in her direction and held a hand up. He sipped his port and finished it, placed the glass on the table and slid the glass over the table cloth.
Jennifer dragged her fork over the small spot of frosting on her plate.
Mark’s eyes found hers again and he mustered a smile.
Jennifer dragged her hand over her forehead.
Time raced through Mark’s mind as he drifted back to when Jennifer was twelve and he was fifteen. She desperately tried to make things right. To keep everyone happy. She made Herculean efforts to keep the piece and keep the family together. Strike that. She was more like Sisiphus.
Jennifer’s eyes welled with tears.
Jennifer blinked the tears away and gulped out, “What?”
“Still like those silly little....toy box things?”
“Sure.” He smirked.
“Yeah.” Jennifer could tell that he was done with the mother talk. He was always done with it before it even started.
“I still remember that day you got me busted. When I brought you into the City to that store to get them. Like a hour long bus ride.” He laughed. “How Mom and Dad said that I shouldn’t have let you buy all of those things.” He stammered slightly when he mentioned his mother and father in the same breath. “How much did you spend?”
Jennifer grinned and hung her head for a moment before raising it and giggling out, “One hundred plus bucks or something.” She laughed. “It was all of my babysitting money.”
“It was over a hundred. Like one-twenty.” Mark laughed and shook his head. “All these little boxes with toys inside. Jesus, it was a show. And your little ritual for opening them and showing them. You were so cute.”
“And, you gave me fifty dollars.”
“Mom did.” Mark grinned.
“I knew it was you.” She laughed. “You were so guilty over the whole thing.”
Mark shrugged the comment off with a smile.
“I still have all those, you know. All the little chairs and the figures. The little stands you built me for the special ones. Remember those?” She beamed.
“Out of Moms thread thingys - I remember.”
“Yeah, those spools. I have all that shit.” She smiled wide. “I have some of it out at the dorm. Mom’s holding the rest for me.” She scrapped at the cake bits in her plate.
The silence was broken by words that Jennifer longed to hear.
“Mom sounds good?”
Jennifer’s heart skipped a beat. She kept her head lowered as not to disrupt the thought. “Yeah, she sounds pretty good. She stopped smoking a while back. Did you know that?”
“Yeah, I think so.”
“So...yeah, she sounds happy. I mean, you know, like she is in good spirits right now.”
Jennifer didn’t want to say any more. This was the first time Mark had talked about their mother like this is years. Ever since the thing with their Father and her. She’d let it lay right where it was.
“I don’t know. Maybe I’m being an asshole...” Mark sighed and lifted his empty glass towards the waitress as she walked by.
“Please.” Mark smiled a wide smile and handed her the glass.
“She’s never going to forgive herself for the whole thing with Dad, Mark.” Jennifer reached for Mark’s hand and gave it a squeeze.
Mark fought the urge to pull away.
“She’d love to hear from you.” Jennifer winced as the words slid from her mouth. This line had sent Mark into a fury three months ago at this very table. “And Dad would have LOVED to her from HER as he was dying, Jenn.” She wanted to take the words back.
“Yeah.” Mark sighed and looked into his sister’s eyes. A slow smile crawled over his face. “Hey, that place is still open - the Japanese shop down the street.”
Jennifer pursed her lips.
The port was placed before Mark and the waitress held the bill between them as usual. “We ready for the bill?” She held it between two fingers and Mark snatched it before Jennifer had gotten her hand off the table. Another ritual that started when Mark and Jennifer each thought themselves the faster sibling. “Winner.” the waitress walked off laughing.
“I’ll buy you some more of those box toys and some candy if you feel like hanging out a little longer.” Mark slipped his card out of his wallet and dropped it onto the table with the bill. “I need this port to wear off before I start driving.” He sipped and winked.
“Sure, I’ll hang out a little longer.” Jennifer smiled and nodded. “Let you drop some more cash on me.”
“The perpetual student. And, a sucker for toys and candy. Guys should line up to date you!”
“Fuck off.” Jennifer giggled. “The GENIUS who knew you’d hate that job.”
“The job that paid for dinner, Cheap Date.”
“Whatever.” She rolled her eyes and sat up straight. “Oop...just your type walked in.”
Mark resisted turning around. “Not interested.”
“He’s gorgeous. Just peek.”
“No thanks,” Mark said as he sipped. “Hey.”
“What?” Jennifer’s eyebrows raised.
“I love you, Sis.” He shrugged and sipped, then whispered, “Even if you are a bit dim.”
The banter lead to laughter.