With two fingers Lee tapped at the rim of his coffee cup and stared across the table at the young man standing next to Kari. It was a turf thing, he could tell, the way the young man narrowed his eyes as he glanced over, trying to tell Kari what was on his mind without actually saying it. Lee’s returned presence tonight made the situation uncomfortable, and that was okay. In fact, it was better than okay.
Her voiced lowered, Kari said, “Please, Jim. We’ll only be another five minutes, ten at the most.” Turning to Lee now, she said, “We’re almost done, right?”
Lee looked at the young man and thought about The Waltons, the show he used to watch as a kid—had to watch with his mom, really—sitting cross-legged on the floor in front of the black-and-white, and he almost smiled now, seeing this young buck slowly chewing on a stalk of hay, incisors as big a couple of Peppermint Chiclets. And the funny thing was, in spite of the massive teeth, the kid probably imagined himself as some sort of ladies’ man, a regular James Bond. Lee only saw him as another Jim Bob.
Lee pushed his thoughts aside long enough to give Kari a nod. He looked at the young man and said, “Yes, we’re almost done.”
Jim stared for a moment longer, his mouth open like he had something else to say. Except nothing came out. Then, he looked back at Kari. “Sure, okay. I’ll just be over at the bar. Maybe I’ll have an espresso and strike up a conversation with someone over there.” Meaning, of course, some young lady besides Kari. And with that, the punk stalked off, shaking his head in an I-don’t-believe-this way. Kari looked after him.
Watching it all, Lee bit at the side of his lip. Comical or not, if Kari turned around too quickly, he didn’t want her to see the smile on his face. Their little “study time” wouldn’t last five seconds longer then.
As Kari turned around, the look on her face sent a thrilling current through Lee’s body. In those eyes and mouth, he saw embarrassment, and that was something he could work with, turn to his advantage.
“I’m sorry about that,” she said. “Jim’s really a nice guy. Sometimes, he just gets—I don’t know— a little impatient or something.”
Lee nodded and said he understood, though in his mind he saw it a little differently. Whether Jim was a nice guy or not was up for debate, one which Lee didn’t see the point in arguing. The bigger issue though—and right now, Lee was working up how he would actually say it—is what would she get in return? Gauging from the way the boy dressed, his total lack of hygiene and attitude, a future with him would hold less hope than a cockroach clinging to the inside of a toilet bowl. One good flush, maybe even a minor hiccup in the finances, and that would be it, right? And looking at her, Lee knew the only thing Kari needed, the best thing to swing the pendulum his way, was to see how her life would turn out if she played the wrong hand.
What guys like Jim Bob failed to understand is that some people will refuse to settle once they’ve already acquired a taste for the best. Jewelers like Lee understood that better than anyone, though; it’s why he always showed the young hopeful ladies the full carat first, laughing inside at the young men who only wanted to buy in as cheap as they could. Because, boiled down, for some people love took second place, standing in line behind a more important need—of wanting an image, of being seen as relevant. After all, ask anyone who has regularly shopped at Neiman Marcus, or Bloomingdales or Nordstrom for that matter, if they would rather die or be seen in a Wal-Mart and see what kind of answer they give. Which was why, when given the choice, a young woman would rather be married to an older man with money than to saddle herself down to a race horse stud that would eventually become worthless. And it was also why that same older man enjoyed walking around with the young lady hanging on his arm.
Lee looked down at his textbook. “Where were we?”
Kari paused, her eyes unfocused, the expression on her face telling how hard she was working to regain control. And Lee couldn’t blame her for that. Jim Bob had just stopped short of saying what was really on his mind, and everyone knew it.
After a moment, she said, “I think we were talking about Jake and how he really loves her, but he can’t.”
Lee nodded again, though in truth he never forgot their place in the story. Having read The Sun Also Rises at least a dozen times, and probably more, he knew the novel’s landscape better than anyone in the class. But then, taking the night course to learn more about American literature hadn’t been the point.
After five minutes turned into twenty, Lee controlling every bit of the conversation, he looked up and noticed young Jim Bob throwing down a couple of bills and storming out of the coffee shop. Kari hadn’t picked up on it yet, but eventually she would. And when that happened, Lee would be ready to take her home, let her ride in a car that actually said something. Maybe they would have a few more things to talk about, too.
S.B.: As a side note, my previous #FridayFlash posting from two weeks ago, "Dr. Zanthur's Journal," has been published with Flashes in the Dark. For those of you who did not have the chance to read it here, you can read it there.