On their eighth anniversary Vivian wore a dress Sam didn’t recognize, a swirl of blue and white that seemed to orbit around a plummeting neckline that sucked in the sideways glances of Sam and strangers alike. This happened quite a bit since the surgery.
After the waiter poured the last of the champagne, placed the bottle upside down in the ice bucket, and walked away, Sam said, “His bowtie is crooked. Really crooked.”
Vivian leaned forward and said, “Don’t say anything.” And then she said, “He does smell, though, like cigarettes.”
“A place this nice, I’m surprised the manager hasn’t corrected it.”
“Sam. Does it really matter?” Her chest, wedged against the table’s edge and straining against a steep fabric V, could burst forth any moment.
“We should have some wine,” Sam said.
“We should?” Vivian looked at her watch.
“The agent is there all day. Besides, we shouldn’t appear too anxious. The wine will help.”
He handed her the wine list and when the waiter returned to ask if there would be anything else, Sam nodded and Vivian ordered a bottle. When in her absence Sam pictured Vivian, the two squinches by her left eye always stood out. Like a mole on a model’s face, the squinches set her apart. It was tough to explain the exotic flourish of that difference. It was just there. He’d brought this up when she’d come to him about the boob job, but she argued that a squinch couldn’t compete with a rack.
“Still crooked,” Sam said after the waiter brought the wine. “There’s mirrors everywhere in here. Where’s his pride?”
“What is it with you and pride lately?”
“Nobility,” he said.
He wanted to live the dream, dammit. Any dream. He’d become obsessed with the concern that he’d not grown into the noble man he assumed he would be midway through his thirties, and this anniversary lunch followed by dream house hunting was a positive step.
“Right. Nobility,” she said. “You’re fine. We’re fine. Good people with nobility, pride, and good sense intact.” She held her glass up and said, “Cheers to all three. And us.”
“To us,” he said. “The noblest couple around.”
And the simple dry clink of their glasses touching made him feel better. Plus, the waiter had not made a comment or an odd face regarding the lunchtime booze, and for this, Sam let the bowtie go. He held his glass up and looked into her cleavage.
“It was a very good year,” he said.
“I’m so glad you think so.”
“Ok. Maybe not very. But it was good. Parts of it.”
“The beauty of the just ok year is that others will be better,” she said, her voice rising slightly.
“Like beginning a round of golf with a double bogey.”
“I don’t know what that means.”
He sipped the wine, and covered her hand with his and suggested they fuck in the bathroom.
In truth, it had been a rough year. Several, actually, but the anniversary, the thick white table cloth, the bacon-wrapped dates, the cornish game hen, the champagne, and now the sun highlighting the copper-colored wine in clean glasses inflated hope.
“Seriously?” she said.
“I didn’t mean for it to sound so crass, but why the hell not?”
“You could’ve used a bit more tact.”
“Must be the wine. And the champagne. And that dress. Jesus, that dress.”
When she stood up she winked and smiled. Ah, the squinches.
“Give me a minute before you come in,” she said over her shoulder.
He was hard immediately and worried about covering the distance from table to bathroom without much notice. To wither his erection he thought of their waiter’s crooked bowtie and cigarette scent, but before he could stand, Vivian was winding back among the tables from the bathroom, her face pale.
“You ok,” Sam said when she sat heavily and gulped from her water glass.
“Someone must have gotten sick in there,” she said.
They talked about the wine, tried to discern the notes of gun smoke and earthiness the description promised. They finished it, and when the lunch crowd dwindled, the restaurant, with its marble floors and potted plants could’ve been a hotel lobby.
“Sorry about the bathroom idea,” he said.
“Don’t be,” Vivian said, “it was a good idea. Different.”
“It’s that dress. I don’t remember you ever wearing it. Makes me dizzy.”
“It was a sweet gesture.”
About the Author: John Baum's work has been published in Blue Mesa Review, Booth, The Saint Ann's Review, The Charleston Post & Courier, The MacGuffin, and Kentucky Review. He lives in Atlanta with his wife and their two dogs, and recently completed a collection of short stories. He is working on finishing a novel. What other jobs has he held? Teacher, Paper boy, grocery bagger, busboy, waiter, bartender, and telemarketer. Say hello at www.johnpbaum.com and @johnpbaum.
Story Song: "A Kiss To Build A Dream On" by Louis Armstrong.