In Company

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Darkness carried fuzzy silhouettes and a stale smell to the square as the night wore on. A short, clean shaven man leaned against the edge of a crusty brick building, looking down at a sewer and checking his watch. He noted a bus rounding the corner, sending water splashing onto the sidewalk as it dipped down into a pothole. He knew Amy would show up to meet him, but he decided to retire to the steps anyway.
The man sat down and the driver pulled up to the curb. He brought the bus to a stop, pushing his black lever forward. Earl made a beeline for the man after floating down the metal steps. Hands resting on his kneecaps, Earl gingerly scooted across the black steps to sit next to him.
“Don’t even ask,” the man fidgeted, loosening his grip on his phone and rubbing his slender fingers against his temples.
Earl stopped in front of the concrete statue where the man waits for a virtually a different lady every Friday. It was a rare occasion if she came back for more of the man’s uncomfortable flirtations. Earl’s chats with the man as he waited for his dates filled time and his emptiness. Patiently, the two made small talk about politics, sports, money, and movies. The man looked down at his watch every few seconds, and repeatedly glanced over his shoulder back at his office building, his mind wandering.
“Don’t ask me how I feel, just don’t even ask,” the man repeated.
“All right, I won’t,” Earl accepted his request, and let his head hang forward in the silence. “But you might want to try calling her.”
“I’m not calling Amy’s godd*mn cell phone.”
“Didn’t you wait for a girl named Brittney last week?”
“Whatever,”
The man looked at his cell phone again, his shoulders drooping.
“I’ve already tried three times, and they tell you that after the first two, you start looking desperate.” The man stared at woman down the block, reaching for her bag out of a taxicab.
“Well then I guess you’re desperate.”
“I guess I am.”

“You know-my wife used to tell me that women like when men wear sweaters on dates. Something about the texture, I don’t know.”
“Thanks,” the man checked his phone with glazed eyes that suddenly lit up. “Hey, I think she’s here.”
The man abruptly straightened his back out of its usual curl and jogged to the edge of the sidewalk, waiting for Amy to weave through the busy traffic.
Earl slowly retreated back to his bus, pretending to read the classifieds.
“I thought you’d gotten lost,” Earl heard the man call out as he spotted Amy cross the boulevard. She tucked her fluorescent scarf into her jacket.
“Nice to see you too.” She stood on her tiptoes to embrace him, even after her sarcasm poured in.
“Well you’re not exactly stellar with directions. Remember the last time…”
“Please, do yourself a favor and don’t bring that up.”
“What? I thought it was cute, you trying to navigate, me mistakenly trusting you enough to follow you, us ending up on a scavenger hunt for a cab.”
Amy’s eyes sagged a little and the faint wrinkles around her brow line deepened. She took the man by the hand and began to walk slowly, ignoring his comment.
“So, did you make dinner reservations?” She asked, tracing the outline of the gold band around his finger.
***
Earl just likes to sit next to the man so that he’s in company. He never imagined this mediocre affair of a stranger to make him think about the sickness, her departure, his loneliness.
He quietly took his seat on the industrial blue bus and imagined his wife embracing him like Amy does.
“Maybe,” Earl thought, as he watched the couple stroll down the sidewalk, “I don’t deserve it.”





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