“Hi. Anjali?” A lopsided grin and uncomfortable eyes.
“Yes,” she says, her own eyes downcast, but taking him in all the same. “You must be Ryland.”
A pause, both of them waiting for the other to speak. They both start at the same time and stop together, wincing.
“Shall we?” Ryland says, gesturing and gulping for air.
Anjali nods and leads the way to the nearest table. They sit across from each other, taking the measure of the situation. A buzz of conversation settles over them, reminding each of them of their own silence. They look away at others, trying to ignore the awkwardness.
A waitress flits by and smiles conspiratorially. “How are you guys tonight? Can I get you started with some drinks?”
Relief. They order. He gets a beer and she has a mojito. The waitress nods, pleased by their choices and disappears. Ryland watches her go, before reminding himself not to and turns his attention back to Anjali.
“So, how was your day?” he says with an attempt at joviality. He winces at the sound and hopes she doesn’t notice.
Anjali suppresses her own grimace. These same damn questions. “I’m just glad it’s the end of the week.”
“Any big plans?” Ryland says, not wanting to lose the momentum he feels he has started.
Anjali shrugs, knowing she can’t say she will most likely spend the day on the couch in her pajamas watching Criminal Minds reruns. “I’m just getting together with some friends.” A safe, non-specific lie. “What about you?”
“Not too much planned,” Ryland says, considering and rejecting several possible answers, none of which involve him staying up until two in the morning playing video games and drinking beer with his roommate. “I was thinking of going on a bike ride on Sunday.”
The waitress arrives with their drinks and asks if they would like food. The both decline and she leaves them alone. Anjali asks about where he likes to go biking and he provides an overly long, detailed answer that he knows is utterly boring her and yet he cannot stop himself from seeing through to its end. He asks her what she likes to do for fun and she tells him something.
God this awkward, she thinks. This isn’t going as badly as I thought, he thinks.
The waitress returns when they are both near the bottom of their drinks. Ryland orders another and Anjali declines and asks for a water. The conversation slowly dwindles until they lapse into silence, staring past each other at the rest of the bar.
“What do you think is going on over there?” Anjal says, as Ryland frantically tries to think of something, anything to say to spark the conversation again.
Ryland turns around to look upon his saviors and sees an old woman sitting alone at a table with a half empty pint of beer and a leopard print purse upon it. Their waitress stops by her table and they chat for a bit, the old woman saying something that makes the server laugh.
“She does seem a bit old for this crowd,” Ryland says. “But then I do too.”
“God, I know, right. I keep thinking I should tell our waitress to card the kids at the next table. There’s no way they’re nineteen.”
“I’ve been coming here since I was in university,” Ryland says, “and I feel like Matthew McConaghey in Dazed and Confused. I keep getting older and everyone else is staying the same age.”
“I know what you mean,” Anjali says. “I hope I can be as badass as she is and still go into places like this when I’m her age.”
They both look at the woman again. The waitress comes by to check on them, and follows their gaze. “You guys like Deborah? She’s quite the lady.”
“Does she come here often?” Anjali says.
“Once or twice a week. She has a pint or two and then goes out for supper. Tonight she told me she has a gentleman caller.”
“Oh my god,” Ryland says laughing. “Did she actually say gentleman caller?”
“She did,” the waitress says.
“Yeah,” Anjali says. “You know what, I think I will have another mojito.”
Ryland smiles. “And her second pint is on me,” he says.
Both their gazes linger on the woman a moment longer as the waitress leaves, before they turn back. Their eyes meet and they start again.
In A Flash: read a new story every Thursday…
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