Jill fidgeted beneath the booth, struggling to find a comfortable spot on the cushion. Feeling her movements, I dared not ask what was wrong. She’d been straying from eye contact all night, afraid I’d see something I didn’t like.
She set her phone on the table, like a paramedic waiting to be called away at a moment’s notice. When it lit up on its own, she read the screen out of the corner of her eye, failing to hide her smirk.
This was the first time I’d seen her long locks up in a big bun. The frizzy strands stood spiked up in the back. In this light, with the dust particles falling slowly, her hair looked like a crown.
“What is it?” She caught me staring.
I motioned toward the bun. “I like what you’ve done with the topmost region of your head.”
She rolled her eyes until they landed back on her phone. “Aren’t you supposed to be a writer or something?”
I bit my thumb. “Sorry, I meant to say, the upper hemisphere of your face has many fine attributes this evening.”
She laughed, easing my tension until she picked up the phone and started typing. Peaking over the top of my menu, I watched her eyes glaze at something on the screen.
I cleared my throat. “What’s a good wine pairing for Mexican food?”
Jill shrugged, this was her area of expertise, but she couldn’t care less.
When the waiter came, I ordered the chicken enchiladas with a glass of Rioja.
“You’ll want something stronger.” Jill cut in. Offering the waiter an empty smile, she ordered, “Two Tequila Sunrises, heavy on the tequila.”
I fumbled through the drink menu. “So that’s a better pairing?”
Jill shook her head. “No, but you’ll want it.”
She waited until our food arrived to spoil my appetite.
Plucking the umbrella from her drink, and casting the straw aside, Jill downed half of her cocktail in a single gulp. Gasping, she gripped the side of the table. “The reason I called you out tonight is that I wanted to do this in person.”
I froze, an archeologist standing in the middle of a rickety old bridge, watching the ropes unravel.
Seeing my panic, Jill chuckled. “No, it’s nothing like that.”
It was exactly like that.
Jill searched for her words on the happy hour menu. “You’re such a prolific writer. I envy your artistic temperament, I really do. So many people are trying to get published, but you’re one of the few who’s going to make it. I honestly believe that.”
She swallowed. “It’s just that your life is going in a different direction. Your work requires you to lead a solitary existence, while mine keeps me social.”
Jill rubbed her hands together. “We’ve always been a few degrees off. When I’m getting warmed up to go out, your process has drained the life out of you. When I just want acknowledgment, you give advice. When I ask for advice, you play Captain Hindsight.”
I stayed frozen, fearing a nod would be an admission of guilt. Glancing away, I noticed my fork wobbling across the plate.
Jill lay her hands flat, a diplomat reaching across the table. “I think I’m speaking for both of us when I say, neither of us are very happy with this relationship.”
Ripples spread from the center of my Tequila Sunrise. The cubes in my ice water bobbed up and down.
Jill sighed. “I knew this would happen. Now you can’t even look at me.”
A droplet shot out from the center of my cocktail.
“No, it’s just that my drink is going all Jurassic Park on me.”
Feeling vibrations through my shoes, I looked over my shoulder.
A giant hardcover book barreled across the parking lot. Its angry eyebrows cut through the title. There was teeth in place of the author’s name. Its eyes glared with the smooth reflective texture of raised print. It charged toward the restaurant on tiny yellow laceless shoes, hopping from one leg to the other. I didn’t recognize the book until its cover shown red beneath the streetlight.
Crouching into the booth, I turtled up inside my suit coat. The window behind us creaked, the hardcover was leaning on it, rubbing its four fingered gloves against the glass.
Jill squint at me, “Do you know that thing?”
I couldn’t help but peak up. To find the first edition focusing its big bulging eyes on me, its breath fogging up the glass. Howling, it burst the parking lot lights, set car alarms off, and shook our silverware off the table.
The book stomped toward the entrance. Punching the handicap button, she entered sideways. When a greeter stepped into her path, the book knocked her into a bowl of peppermints. When a bus boy came to the greeter’s aid, the book grabbed him by the vest and flung him over the bar. The entire wine menu came crashing down on him.
I ducked under the table, cursing Jill. “Why did you have to look at it? You could’ve just kept texting, but you had to draw its attention. Whatever is about to happen is all your fault.”
Jill drove her stiletto into my toe. I screamed.
The hardcover spotted me falling into the aisle. A string of drool seeped through her teeth, spilling over the words: A NOVEL. Drinks toppled with its every step. Ice crunched beneath its tiny yellow shoes. Entrees landed face first on the floor.
A wet clump of something warm plopped into my hair. Cheese streaked down my forehead, followed by a dollop of sour cream. My enchiladas landed in my lap, searing my thighs. I tried to wipe them off, but it was impossible to see in the shadow of the hardcover. The great book huffed, covering half my face in spittle.
I turned to find the hardcover pointing at Jill. When the book’s mouth opened and closed, my name flickered across her face.
“Who the hell is this?” The hardcover’s voice boomed.
Jill crossed her arms. “This was just leaving.”
The hardcover lift me up my collar. I had to cock my head to avoid getting scalped by the ceiling fan.
The book’s eyebrows crossed into an angry V. “You kept putting me off and putting me off. There was always something, wasn’t there? You had a stack of dishes weighing down your countertop. You were buried under a pile of laundry. You had to get up early for an interview. You kept telling me how important I was to you, but it took weeks before you did anything with me. Now here I find you wining and dining some bipedal bimbo.”
“First of all,” Jill placed the toothpick umbrella in her palms, “this isn’t wine it’s a cocktail,” she spun the umbrella, “and second of all, I’m not dining tonight,” she pointed to the empty table, “and third, wait, what was the third thing you said?”
The hardcover grit her teeth, towering over Jill, the girl that dare defy her.
“You’re nothing special, missy, just the latest in a long line of distractions.”
The hardcover flung me into the booth. The salt and pepper shakers spilled into my hair. Jill spun around, making sure her phone was alright.
The hardcover positioned itself to block me in. “Remember that mystery minx, that crime caper streetwalker, that noir whore you tried to run away with? What about that Sci-Fi-siren, that steampunk-strumpet, that little retro-history-hussy? Neither of them stuck in your head as long as me. None of those horror-harlots, terror-tarts, and jaw-dropping-jezebels had a premise like mine. Remember how you kept telling me how original I was?”
Jill’s phone vibrated. Looking at the caller ID, she grunt, letting it go to voicemail.
The hardcover bit its lip. “I’m not stupid. Of course I knew what you were doing. I just kept telling myself, ‘He’s just experimenting with those tragedy-trollops and fantasy-floozies, so that when he comes back, he’ll share what he’s learned with me.’”
The hardcover placed a tiny glove between its massive eyes, a gesture that looked faintly like she was rubbing her forehead.
“I kept my head down, trying to ignore all the short-skirted-short-stories you’ve been chasing, all the fan-fiction-vixens you’ve been posting, and all those Lovecraftian-Lolitas you’ve been publishing.”
Jill cocked her head. “Jesus, that’s the most alliteration I’ve ever heard come out of anyone.”
“I’ve been meaning to edit that.” I whispered out of the side of my mouth.
Jill’s phone vibrated again. Ignoring it, she covered her mouth, directing her speech at me.
“She’s list heavy too. All her examples come in threes. She sounds unnatural.”
I nodded, “I went a little crazy with the thesaurus when I started her.”
Jill picked up the phone. She muttered. “Hey… No, we’re still in the middle of it… We got interrupted… Yeah, no I’m fine… That’s not necessary… Really, I’ve got the situation under control… No… Oh, God damn it.”
The hardcover snorted back its tears. “Who is she talking too?”
Sitting up in the booth, I saw myself in the book’s big wounded eyes.
That’s a good question.” I said, shaking the salt from my hair.
Jill buried her phone in her purse. “That? That was no one. Just um…”
Before she could come up with an excuse the floor shook again. Reaching for my cocktail, the ceiling fan came crashing down onto the table. I rescued my drink in time. Guzzling it up, I found the ‘sunrise’ portions eclipsed by the tequila.
Looking over my shoulder, I saw a giant laptop computer pacing the bar. Its eyes took up the majority of its screen. Its teeth made up the center of its keyboard. Cartoon arms had sprouted out of its monitor. A pair of little legs supported its base. It waddled toward us, knocking over carts as it came.
I pointed my thumb over my shoulder. “Who the hell is that?”
Jill ducked into the booth. “I never wanted you to find out like this, but the entire time we’ve been together, there’s been a blog in the picture.”
Slamming my glass, I said. “I knew it.”