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Like Holly, but Different
I show up at the coffee shop 10 minutes late, to find Holly sitting at a table already. She barely looks like the girl I used to know at all, with her hair pulled into a high ponytail and her bangs pinned to the top of her head. She's wearing this deep red t-shirt dress that sort of falls over her body, with navy tights that disappear into brown leather boots. It's exactly the way she never would have dressed in high school, which for some reason, really bothers me.
She smiles when our eyes meet, her perfect teeth finally unhindered by metal brackets. It makes my stomach turn a little.
"You're late," she teases.
"I figured you would be late, so I tried to be here 5 minutes before you so I wouldn't have to wait long."
"Why would I be late?" she asks as some motions for me to sit down across from her.
"You're always late. In high school, I always told you to be everywhere half an hour earlier than everyone else so you'd be on time. And you were still late."
She narrows her eyes. "I also frequently wore the same pair of pants every day for a week in high school. People change, Max."
"Okay. My mistake," I say uneasily. At the moment, that's exactly what this feels like-a mistake.
"You've changed too, I see. Not wearing Big & Tall jeans anymore."
Embarrassed and annoyed, I retaliate. "I shopped at American Eagle. Always. Still do, on occasion. I just buy smaller sizes now."
"Oh. Sorry. Fat jokes not funny anymore. Duly noted."
We sit in silence for a moment. Not the comfortable silence I remember, in which there was never want of small talk or worthless anecdotes, but the kind which makes me feel strangely obligated to do or say something, before the silence takes my speech from me entirely.
I stand up so quickly that my chair tips backward, and I barely catch it before it crashes to the ground.
"I'm going to get something to drink," she says amiably.
"Get the Brazilian Blend. It's nice and thick."
I'm already beginning to tire of this. "Since when do you drink black coffee?"
She glances up at me, as if I should already know. "Since college."
"Oh. I'm getting a frap."
"They're called freezes here."
I order, slide my card through the machine and tell the girl behind the counter to hold the whipped cream. She smiles at me shyly, and nods, then ducks her head below the counter. I blush. I'm never going to get used to being attractive.
From behind me, I hear Holly's cell ring-Rascal Flatts? What?-followed by the click of the phone sliding open.
I nod my thank-you to the girl behind the counter as she hands me my drink, and start my slow walk over to the table with the bubble lids. No sense in getting back to the table quickly, only to have her ignore me.
I stand at the table and stir my frap/freeze slowly as I listen to the conversation behind me.
"Yes. I'm glad you called, actually. I was trying to get a hold of you yesterday' Yeah, that sounds right. I'm needing an extension on the political apathy piece. My main source fell through. I was supposed to interview the leader of that non-prof, Promote the Vote, right? ' Yeah. She won't talk to me. Well, I don't know really. Supposedly she's out of town. Family funeral or something. She completely bailed on me."
Business call. Not even an interesting one. I pop on a bubble lid and go back to the table.
"Well, I'm in Weston for the weekend, visiting family, and I'm with a friend now so I'll have to let you go-Oh, wait. I've got another call coming in."
"So I'll talk to you about the extension Monday. Fantastic. Good-bye." She presses a button to switch lines, giving me an apologetic smile as she moves it back to her ear. "Hey, you. I was wondering if you were ever going to call me."
A weird numbing feeling runs down my spine. Gone is the adult, cordial, monotonous tone of the first call. There's a certain warmth to her voice, and her words play in the higher keys of her range. The uncomfortable smile she gave me has relaxed into a smitten grin.
She has a boyfriend.
"I couldn't remember if I gave you my number or not. I had a few other things on my mind."
Scratch that. She just gets around.
"I'd love to, but I'm out for the weekend'Weston. Maybe next week?' Sure. Well, you know where to find me."
She hangs up the phone.
"I'm really sorry about that. Doesn't it seem like you always get important calls at the worst times?"
"Yeah, that's rough."
Again with the silence.
"So, uh, are you seeing anyone?" she asks.
She laughs. "I was just making conversation, Max."
"Well. Yes." My mind is like a lie detector, beeping with every untruth.
"I have been for a while now. Her name is Sarah." Beep. Beep.
"How nice. That makes me happy. I always worried about you in school' You never had many girlfriends. This is good." She seems honestly pleased by this.
"In fact, we're getting married. Next month." What? Where did that come from? My mind disapproves of this latest development. Beep. Beep. Beep. Beep.
It was difficult to understand what I saw on Holly's face, simultaneously happy and sad.
"I'm really nervous, but excited. I'm thrilled, actually. I can't wait." Beep beep beep beep beep.
"Well, that's fantastic. Congratulations."
Lying so much is starting to make me sweat. I change the subject. "What about you? Are you seeing someone? It sounded like-"
"No, not really. He's kind of on and off. I don't really like him much anyway."
"I'm really glad you came today," I say, just to fill space.
"Me too. I mean, I'm glad you came, and I'm glad I came. Heh."
"You know, I really should get going, I have a meeting in an hour-"
"Yeah, I'm supposed to have dinner with my parents at 7, and I have to get ready-"
"So it was nice seeing you."
"I have your number, I'll call you sometime."
By this time we're standing, gathering our things, tossing our coffee cups and donning our coats. We find ourselves at the door, staring at each other, and I'm wondering if we should hug, or shake hands, or not touch at all.
"Bye, Max," she says with finality.
She gets half-way out the door, but I'm still standing there, feeling displaced.
She turns. "What?"
I don't say anything for a moment, but she waits patiently. "Nothing," I say at last.
"What changed?" I ask softly. But she can't hear me now.