“The Date”, a shorty story by Sarah Galyean Jones
In less than three days, thanks to a rave review in the New York Times, Café Luca had gone from hole-in-the-wall to line-out-the-door. It had taken me over an hour just to get a table, but that was okay, because Henry was late and I had gotten there early. This had been our place, our favorite little spot in Manhattan. Now, it was everyone’s favorite little spot in Manhattan.
They finally seated me at a table next to the bathrooms, a downgrade from the booth near the front window we used to occupy. I took a minute to flip open my compact mirror and examine myself. I hadn’t seen Henry in a year, and I couldn’t have him sitting across from me after twelve months had passed with lipstick on my teeth. But, I looked okay. I looked the same.
“Amy?” I glanced up to see him standing there, and it took me a second to recognize him. He’d swapped his lumberjack flannel for a blazer, had on glasses and a legitimate haircut. He looked like a real writer now. He looked like an adult.
“Henry! It’s good to see you!” I stood up to greet him. I sounded a lot more excited than I had intended.
He clapped an arm around me, the way you hug your aunt. “It’s good to see you too, Amy.” We sat down, Henry unrolling his silverware and shaking out his napkin.
“Man, this place is packed now! It was never like this before. Can you believe it?”
“Yeah, I know, it’s crazy!” I said. “The Times bats an eye at you and all of New York comes a’flockin’!” I cringed. Why had I just said “a-flockin’”?
“Very true,” he nodded.
“Amy and Henry! It’s been a while!” The waiter, who had told me his name maybe a hundred times during the year that Henry and I frequented Café Luca, but I’d always been too drunk to remember it, appeared at our table. “It’s so good to see you two! It’s been a while!”
“Chuck, how are you, my man?” Henry said, shaking his hand like they were actually good buddies and not just server and patron. Chuck! That was it. “Business seems to be doing well. There’s a line out the door!”
They chatted for a minute before he took our drink orders. It got a martini, a gin one. I was going to need it. The last time Chuck had seen us, we’d been so in love that we sat on the same side of the booth. We were that couple you hate. The one you look at and then whisper ‘get a room’ under your breath.
“So, how’ve you been, Amy?”
“I’ve, um, well I’ve been good,” I said. “I’m really surprised that I actually got you to come here tonight.”
“I mean, I’ll be honest, I was really surprised to get your call.”
“Well, I’m glad you showed up,” I said. “You look really good.” I tried not to put too much emphasis on the ‘really’, but it was hard.
“Thanks,” he blushed. “You do too.”
“Have you been doing well?”
He nodded. “I’ve been okay, can’t complain.”
“I’ll say.” I reached in my purse to take out the book. It was as good a time as any to get to the point. “I bought this.”
Henry’s face flushed. “Ah. Well, thank you.”
“Henry, it’s amazing. I can’t believe you finally did it. And it’s a bestseller, too? I mean, that’s insane! I remember when you were starting to work on the manuscript, and look at it now! It’s in hardback and everything.”
He smiled. “I can’t believe it either. I keep waiting to wake up, you know? Like, someone pinch me.”
I nodded. “I am so proud of you.”
We finally made eye contact. “Thank you, Amy.”
Chuck appeared again to take our orders and Henry and I both got what we always got. We didn’t even need to look at the menus. I ordered a second drink.
“Well, so, I guess I’ll just get right to it,” I continued. “I read it in, like, a day. I mean, it’s really good. It totally grabs you, Henry. I couldn’t put it down.”
“That’s good to hear.”
“But, I, uh, well, I noticed something.”
His face flushed again. “You did, huh?”
“The character you call Avery, the girl who keeps interfering with your main character,” I flipped open the book to the page I had dog-eared and read aloud, “‘She was a drunken mess, a belligerent fool charging through the Union Square farmer’s market at ten A.M. on a Saturday morning. She knocked over a card table of produce, and dashed away in the opposite direction before the vendor turned around to see. I stood there watching as she tore down Broadway, jogging in her heels to god knows where, her crimson hair flying behind her. She was a loon, and I had to claim her as mine.’” I looked up at him. He was staring at the napkin in his lap. “Henry, this is me.”
He didn’t say anything.
I flipped through the book, looking for the other passages I had bookmarked. “I mean, this Avery character, she does all the things I’ve ever wanted to do. Like, she lives in that building in Nolita that I tried to lease but couldn’t afford, she’s a photographer that actually makes money, she’s got a pilot’s license…” I glanced back up at him. “She cheats on the main character like I did.”
He rubbed his eyes with his thumb and index finger. “Yes, okay? Yes. She’s you.”
“Henry,” I shut the book. “Is this even legal? I mean, I’m pretty sure I could sue you for libel. Obviously, I’m not going to, but I’m pretty sure that I have a case here.”
He kept his eyes down. “I didn’t use your real name.”
“Why did you do this?”
He shrugged again. “I guess I didn’t think you would ever read it. Hell, I didn’t think I could ever get it published.”
“I mean, Henry, you say things about me in here that I would never want anyone to read about. All of the bad stuff that happened to me that year, it’s all there.”
“Why did you do that?”
“Well, why did you do those things?”
I didn’t know how to reply. Our food appeared at the table.
“Oh, wow, they’ve really stepped up their game since we used to come here,” Henry said, eyeing his chicken and picking up his fork.
“Don’t change the subject.”
He shot me a look. “Well, alright, I’m sorry, Amy. Is that what you want me to say? I’m sorry that I wrote about you in my book. I’m sorry I was mean. But I’m a writer, and those things happened to me, and I can use them if I want.”
“Those things didn’t happen to you, they happened to me.”
“Well, I got to enjoy the side effects,” he said, stabbing at his food.
“Henry, you’re the literary darling of New York City and everyone and their uncle is reading about ‘Crazy Avery’. Do you have any idea what that feels like? This is mortifying.”
He put down his fork and leaned in to whisper. “Do you know what it felt like to sit outside of our building and watch that guy leave? That guy who you said was just a work friend? Tell me how you think that feels, Amy.”
I looked away.
“Tell me how it feels when I get a call from a stranger at three o’clock in the morning, and you have to go pick up your girlfriend from some apartment in Williamsburg because she’s too drunk to go home by herself when she told you she was just grabbing dinner with her girlfriends. Tell me what that feels like.”
I didn’t speak. He kept going.
“Tell me what it feels like to use almost all the money I had in savings to pay your bail. Tell me what that feels like.”
“That was a bad time in my life, okay? I know that I was difficult.”
“Yeah, difficult,” he said, and I knew the word didn’t even begin to cover it.
“I don’t know what to tell you. I can’t change what I did.”
“Well, I’m sorry that you don’t like what you read. But, you know, it’s true. So, if you don’t like the Amy that’s in print, maybe you should examine the Amy you are in person.”
I didn’t say anything. He waited for me to answer. We sat there for a while, him glaring at me, me staring at my plate of pasta, without a word.
“Is that why you asked me here tonight?” he asked me finally.
I shook my head. “No. Well, yes and no. I asked you here because, well, because I had a question.”
“Okay. Let’s hear it.”
“In the end of the book, we find out that the main character is still in love with Avery. We find out that he wants to get back together with her. He wants to give her another chance.”
I took a breath. “Well, so, I guess I wanted to know if that’s true. I wanted to know if you want to give me another chance. If you’re still in love with me.”
He sat back in his chair, crossed his arms across his chest, and let out a sigh. “God, Amy, really?”
“How can I not ask, Henry? I mean, it’s right there in the last chapter! The main character says he’s still in love with Avery, even though she’s a mess, even though she cheated on him. He says that he loves her enough to work with her through their issues. I mean, how can I not ask if that’s true?”
“It’s been over a year, Amy.”
“So, I guess, when I wrote it, yeah, I was still in love with you. But that was a year ago. And a lot has happened in that year.”
“And, well, I have a suspicion that you still haven’t gotten real help.” He glanced at my empty martini glass. “Have you?”
I swallowed before I answered. “No, not yet.”
“Amy,” he reached out and took my hand in his. “I’m always going to love you, okay? But I can’t go through all that again. I just can’t. I owe it to myself not to.”
“But, but, in your book you said—”
“I know what I said.” He squeezed my hand tight, and then let it go. “But that’s a book. It’s fiction.”
I pushed the martini glass away from me with my free hand.
“Look, I’m not really very hungry anymore,” he said. “And I think that maybe it would be best if I go now.” He let go, and started to lift himself up from his chair.
“Please, let’s finish our dinner. Don’t leave.”
“No, Amy, I really think I should.” He stood up and pulled two twenty-dollar bills from his wallet to leave by his uneaten plate of food. “I’m sorry you didn’t hear what you wanted to tonight. I really am.”
He paused for a second, crossing his arms over his blazer again, tapping his foot the way he always did when he was thinking. “Do me a favor?”
He pursed his lips before he spoke. “Take care of yourself this time, okay? Can you do that, please? For me?” I was reminded of the old Henry. The Henry in the flannel, pacing around our apartment on a rant while I sat on our bed, going on and on about how he couldn’t love me enough for the both of us. Because I had to put in some effort too.
I squeezed my eyes shut. “Okay.”
With that, he pushed in his chair, turned, and left me sitting there, alone with his book.
Chuck reappeared to scoop up my empty glass. “Do you want another drink, Amy?”
I shook my head. “No, thank you. I’m done.”