Willow Tied Her Scarlet Hair...

March 15, 2008
By Jim Sullivan, Owings Mills, MD

Willow tied her scarlet hair back from her face and looked at herself in the full-frame mirror. She wore a red dress that reached her knees, with matching high heels. Her clean but pale face darkened. “I look awful,” she said simply.

“Keep telling yourself that, I’ll take the man myself,” her friend, Julie, replied, entering the room swiftly with a cigarette in her mouth.

“I wish you wouldn’t smoke in the house.”

“And I wish you would stop worrying.” She placed her arms on each of Willow’s shoulders. “You’re going to be fine,” she said firmly.

For a moment, something in Willow’s eyes flickered that indicated she believed what her friend was saying. But then it left like a candle being blown out, gone as quickly as it had arrived. “What if he has bad breath?” she asked. “What if he’s bald, or hates children, or is an axe murderer?”

Julie laughed as well as one can do with a cigarette in their mouth. “We’ll cross that bridge when we get there.” She directed Willow’s attention back to the mirror. “For now, though, admire what you see there.”

Without warning, she took the tie that held back Willow’s hair, letting it fall freely down her shoulders. “Hey!” she said.

“No man’s going to date you unless they see how beautiful you are. Now let me curl it.” Although her voice was insistent, in it contained a soothing quality that Willow found she simply could not disagree with.

She watched as Julie ran the curling iron through her hair, each strand twisting into waves of red. After a few minutes, Julie at last said, “Voila. You look beautiful, m’dear.”

Willow wore little makeup; she did not need to. With her newly done hair and dress, and only a slight trace of anxiety present in her features, she had all the loveliness and vitality of her youth still upon her.

Streetlights were reflected in the otherwise oily black water of the Baltimore harbor. A large ship was docked just beyond the window. On occasion, a few people roamed the cobblestone streets that met the water’s edge. The moon was not visible from where they sat, and city lights obscured the stars.

The restaurant itself was moderately noisy; not to the extent that it grew bothersome, but enough to fill in the silence at the table when the time arose. Spanish memorabilia and photos donned the large orange walls of the narrow room.

Willow was inspecting the mild, red stain on Brian’s collar when he said, “So I hear you’re a teacher.” She swallowed the water in her mouth before replying, “Yes.”

A few seconds passed where they both stared at each other wordlessly. “That must be interesting,” Brian said, to both of their relief. “Yes,” she said stupidly.

Then, “Do you like kids?” to which he replied brightly, “Yes, I do. Very much so.”

Again Willow looked at the stain on his collar. Maybe her fears about her blind date being an axe murderer were not so far-fetched. “So what do you do?” (italics) Have a little too much fun with ketchup bottles? (unitalicize)

“I’m a chef,” he answered, saying after a few moments, “Which helps explain why I’m a little round-shaped, doesn’t it?” He chortled loudly at his own joke, but stopped and coughed abruptly when he saw Willow’s face. “Anyway…”

Willow didn’t know about that, but it sure explained why he had a stain on his shirt. Okay, so he wasn’t an axe murderer, but still. “What do you like to do?” she asked.

“Actually,” he said excitedly, “I really like to help out with the youth ministry at my church. What church do you go to?”

“St. Frederick’s,” she said immediately, naming the childhood church her parents used to take her to.

“I haven’t heard of it. Is it around here?”

“Oh, yes, it’s a Baptist church. Closer to the county, though.”

Brian began fidgeting with his hands. He had hardly looked at Willow all night, and chose this moment to stare out the window. Willow thought he looked wan in the white light above them.

The russet-skinned waiter arrived with their dinner. “Here we are,” he said placidly, placing the food on the table. “Can I get you two anything else?”

After politely saying they were fine, Willow ran her fork over the vegetables mixed
with fried rice. Whether it was because of the food or the relief of not having to say anything, Brian lost some of the tension he’d been holding in his shoulders as he made work on the tacos and fried chicken in front of him.

They didn’t speak much after that, though the eagerness in Brian’s expression made it evident he wished otherwise. Every time Willow looked up from her plate, Brian would stare at her, poised for something to respond to. Willow noticed this eagerness and, although she was not a malicious person, avoided his gaze and didn’t speak unless spoken to first.

The night ended with Brian hurriedly opening the passenger seat of his car door for her, driving her home, and being left in the car as Willow rushed out through the door and onto the steps of her apartment. “It was a nice night!” he cried out. “Willow? Willow? I’ll call you!”

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