I looked back and forth between the two of them. Neither of them was looking at the other. Jeff was looking over the kitsch and memorabilia nailed to the restaurant walls while Mallory traced swirling patterns in the sauce left on her plate. Jeff coughed. Mallory’s fork clinked. “I’m sorry,” I said, though I didn’t know what for.

“You’re fine,” Mallory said, licking some sauce off her fork and setting it aside. Her cheeks were flushing red.

Jeff was smiling. “I’m the one who should be sorry,” he said. “Crashing girls night.”

“Oh,” I waved, “it’s not—”

“Don’t worry about it,” Mallory interjected, turning to look out the window, or maybe at a reflection.

“You can stay if you want,” I offered. “We were thinking of having dessert?” I tried to catch Mallory’s eye, but she just shrugged and turned her attention back to her empty plate.

“I’ll get going,” Jeff said.

“Okay…” I said, confused.

For the first time they made eye contact. I was aware that I couldn’t fully grasp what was transpiring, but now I felt the depth of it. “If you want,” Mallory said.

Jeff nodded, drummed his fingers on the table. Then he was gone.

* * *

Story by Gregory M. Fox


“Derik …”


Her mouth opened, but no noise came.  She swirled around the last few noodles of her fettuccini, hoping they would provide the answer she needed, just like the tea leaves her grandma used to read before apostatizing.

In another part of the restaurant, a pitchy variation of the birthday song had started up.  His head turned in the direction of the music where a cluster of balloons bobbed a little too closely to the ceiling fan.

But she was trying to talk to him.

“Derik, I’ve been thinking …”

A bright red apron materialized abruptly beside them.  “Can I get you a refill?”  The overly chipper voice was a shock to her system, so entrenched as she was in her solemn contemplation.

“Thank you,” Derik chimed in reply.

A clear pitcher of water suddenly hovered between them, filling their glasses.  There was the familiar “plop, plop, plop” of ice cubes falling into the cups as well.  She hated having too much ice, but she managed a feeble “Thanks.”

“And let me get those plates for you.”  Then apron and plate and fettuccini had vanished.

“What was it you were about to say?”

“It was … nothing,” she said.  “Never mind.”

* * *

Story by Gregory M. Fox
from A Breath of Fiction’s archives