Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Star Crossed

Lucia looked at the rainbow reflection of her water glass on the white tablecloth and realized that she was star-crossed, she just didn't know with whom.  It certainly wasn’t with Bear, sitting across from her, stolidly munching on a crust of bread.  Bear’s real name was Julius, but he had been born a ten pound, eight ounce baby covered in hair and grinning with gums as sharp as teeth.  By the time Lucia met him, he had been known only as Bear for more than 25 years and had grown to fit the nickname even more than could be expected.

He looked up from his food and smiled at her, crumbs tumbling from his mouth and catching in his beard.  Lucia smiled back and thought of the security guard in her building, who had dark skin and a shaved head and teased her about not stopping to talk to him on her way in and out of the building.  She saw him once in the Walgreens down the street from her office, buying a bag of chips and a fancy bottled juice.  They talked in line about the self-help book he was reading and about visiting his children, who lived with their mother, over the holidays.  He was charming and handsome and altogether too approachable to be her star-crossed lover.  

Bear worked as a receptionist in a dental clinic, hunkered down behind a semi-circular wall and entered patient information on the black and green screen of his computer.  He read the same copy of People Magazine over and over, listened to talk radio shows about hockey and straightened his brown knit necktie anytime anyone came up to the desk.  Lucia brought him lunch on her days off, and they sat outside on the wall in the parking lot when it was warm.  In the winter they chose the smallest table in the back corner of the employee break room and chatted about the low temperatures for the upcoming week.

There was a man Lucia saw at the gym most days that she went, who signed up for the cross-trainer next to hers and asked her once about what she was watching on the television.  He was short-ish and portly and hadn’t gotten any more slender in the months she had seen him at the gym.  Other than the interchange over the television, Lucia had never spoken to him, but she saw him at least twice a week, sweating through his gray t-shirt and carrying around a cream plastic water bottle with a maroon top.  Once, they left the gym at the same time and headed in the same direction, and she had to walk an uncomfortable middle distance behind him so he would not think she was following him and she could still go a reasonable walking speed.  He had turned off a couple blocks before her apartment, and she wondered how close he lived.

Bear was paying the restaurant bill now, slowly writing out the check in his crabbed left-handed writing, although Lucia still had two ravioli left on her plate.  She scooped one into her mouth, mashed it and swallowed, then followed it quickly with the last.  Two ravioli were too few to take home and too many to leave on her plate, she reasoned as she chewed, following Bear out into the snow falling heavily on the darkening street.  She wondered about the Hispanic grocer named Luis who always nodded to her from the cheese aisle and the slim young bus driver who wore his glasses on a chain around his neck.  Bear grabbed her hand to stabilize her as she slipped in the slushy snow and then led her to the bus stop where they sat down on the empty bench, hand in hand.  

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