Baby Talk

He hasn’t looked at her since they sat down. His gaze bounces off the booths next to them and the wall opposite. It’s like he’s watching an invisible tennis match. Neither has said a word since they ordered except the three times she told him to please stop bouncing his leg under the table because it makes her anxious.

The plump waitress drops their food in front of them. “Enjoy y’alls meals, okay?”

The girl leans closer into the table as the waitress walks away. “Did you hear that?” She shivers. “Twang makes me cringe.”

“Yeah.” The boy stares at his food, his silverware still inside the napkin cocoon.

“But I shouldn’t judge. She might have a lovely marriage to her cousin.” She tries to smile.

“Yeah. Maybe.”

“I was just joking.”

“I know.”

She sighs and then readies herself to dig into her stack of pancakes. “God, I am so…” She notices he’s now staring past the other diners and out the window. “Look, you’ve got to talk to me.”

“I am talking to you.”

“Barely. Do you want to talk about what’s going on?”

His eyes shoot back to her and his leg starts bouncing again. “No. Definitely not. I don’t even want to think about it.”

“It’s like a less than one percent chance that-“

“Okay.” He rips his fork and knife from the napkin. “Pass me the syrup. The butter pecan kind.”

She grabs one of the small bottles and hands it to him. “But I know you’re worried.”

“This is the blueberry.”

“Sorry,” she says taking back the bottle. “We’ve just got to relax. I mean, it’s good that we figured out what happened when it did.”

“Can you please pass the butter pecan syrup?”

Here. I was just – just trying to talk to you. You seem worried.” She frowns and takes another forkful of pancake.

“Well, I’m not.” He drenches his stack in syrup and slams the bottle back onto the table. “This whole thing is stupid.”

“I know. It definitely makes me anxious too.”

“Can’t you just get the medicine or whatever?”

“Too late now.”

“Well, when can you take a – you know.”

“Not for another week or so.”

He inhales deeply and holds his forehead in one hand while the other circles. “So I have to do another week of all this?”

“What do you-“

“How is everything y’all? Everything tastin’ gooood?” The waitress is standing at their table, a toothy smile stretched across her face.

“Yeah, sure.” The girl tries shooing her away and turns back to him. “What do you mean-“

“Any dessert for you two tonight?”

The girl gives her a definitive no and the waitress finally leaves the check and walks away. “What did you mean by being done with,” she mimics his hand motion, “all this?”

“I don’t know,” he takes another bite. “It’s just dumb that I have to do this.”

“I’m doing the same thing, you know.”

“No, I mean, take you out to dinner. I have to, like, pretty much take care of you for the next two weeks just because I – you know – inside of you.”

“Jesus. You can’t even say it.” She rolls her eyes and drops her fork and knife onto her plate. “And sorry that I’m such a fucking hassle.”

“It’s seriously not a big deal. I just really hope we’re all good because I really don’t want to have to do this for another month or so.”

“So after I’m all good we’re just going to be done?”

“Well, yeah. It’s going to be kind of weird to keep doing this after everything.”

“And what if I want to keep it?”

His eyes widen, it’s the first time he’s actually looked at her the whole night. “What.”

“What if I want to keep it?”

“You wouldn’t.”

“So it’s not my choice at all? It’s just yours? Fuck you.” She stands and throws her napkin onto the table.

“You’re not serious. Please don’t keep it.”

“You know what? I just might.” She raises her eyebrows, practically smiling now. She leans over the table and whispers, “Except he won’t grow up to be such a coward like his daddy,” and storms off. “By the way,” she calls to him, opening the door, “I don’t want you to be involved in,” she looks down at her stomach and touches it, “our life.”

“Wait!” He shouts after her. “You’re not serious, are you?!” But she was already gone.

Initials

When his son asks who his first love was, he tries to picture her face. But his mind remains white like an empty canvas. Then figures appear and vanish. His brain sketches upon the blankness again and again. He scrutinizes every feature of every conjured face and knows exactly what’s off with each one, but he can’t make them right.

He takes a deep breath. The many faces morph into two letters. They are the only things he’s remembering correctly. He’s not sure how he knows that, he just does.

. . .

He sat on a bench, his arm was around her. Barely. He wasn’t tall enough yet. His bony elbow was against the wood and his fingers hardly grazed the shoulder opposite of him. Blood drained from his arm. It went numb, but he kept it like this while they stared at the pond in front of them. He didn’t dare move, not even to steal a glance at her. His t-shirt distracted him. It stretched and wrinkled near his chest. He stiffened and prayed she didn’t realize how violently his heart was beating. A car horn beeped.

She kissed him. He shut his eyes. And they stayed like that for a while, in a frozen peck. Their lips and his fingers on her shoulder were the only things that touched.

When they finished, she was already up and running away. Her parents were there, picking her up. She should’ve turned around. She should’ve said goodbye. Why didn’t she say goodbye?

That was her last day of camp.

. . .

They constantly rode their bikes around the park together. They always went to the same spot at night: a dark red tunnel. It was attached to one of the jungle gyms.

Or was the tunnel dark blue? He wants it to be red. But was it? It was definitely dark. He knows that.

They would climb into it and conform their bodies to the cylinder, facing each other. Must’ve looked awkward as hell. They talked in there for hours, but, underneath the moon, inside the tunnel, she was just a silhouette.

Once they had to run away from counsellors trying to bust them for curfew. He grabbed her hand and they raced away, her behind him. Behind him! He never looked back. Dammit! Why didn’t he ever look back?

Her hand! What was her hand like? It was the first hand he held and… that’s all it is to him now: The first hand. Not her hand.

. . .

She sat next to him on the first day, plopping her chocolate ice cream next to his vanilla. He was by himself, but she still chose to sit with him. And for a while, that’s all they did: sat there. Occasionally one would jab their spoon into the ice cream, but that was few and far between.

Finally, as they stood up to be taken to their dorms, she turned to him and said her name. Both first and last.

He remembers the sounds she made, but there’s no body to them, nothing concrete. What the hell was her name?

He puts together her initials as they walked along the gravel. He giggled to himself. His brother had taught him what those letters meant just before he went off to camp.

. . .

“Dad?” His son asks from across the table again, “Do you remember your first love?”

His brain is on fire and the letters dance around it like a Native American ritual. He remembers her running away, her silhouette, even her damn bike, but not her.

“F. U.”

“Wait, what?”

He looks down at his cup of chocolate ice cream and tries to speak. Nothing comes out.