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With a Cherry On Top
An hour and thirty four minutes passed between when he slammed the door behind my back and when we entered the ice-cream parlor hand-in-hand.
The first fifteen minutes were spent driving to the hospital. I steered with my left hand. My right was limp in my lap as I tried to relax every individual finger. The throb pounded harder than before, and the black and blue was oozing around my wrist. As I walked through the corridors to the ICU, I ignored the pain of my finger tips curling over the cuff of my sleeve, stretching it over what was starting to swell. I stood outside the handless doors for two minutes. It made me uncomfortable, waiting. If it took the nurses more than a minute to open the door, I would start to prickle with panic about what was happening on the other side. Was someone dying? Was it my grandfather? No, the nurses were only busy having a conversation with a young man about his grandmother who occupied the room next to my grandfather’s.
Thirteen minutes later I left his bedside. I never talk about what we would say to each other when I visited him, but I will tell you that we weren’t close. I only visited so often while he was decaying in the hospital because I hadn’t when he had been healthy. As irony would have it, the visit changed my life for the better.
A half hour had passed when I sat down in the cafeteria to unwrap my turkey club, careful not to expose my wrist to the world. Ryan’s screams were filling my head, completely distracting me from the older man who sat down across from me. It was only after he had pulled in his chair, after he uncovered his soup, and after he said, “Mind if I sit with you?” did I get a good-looking at him. Good look, I mean, though he was rather handsome. He had dark hair, just long enough to brush over the edge of his ears, and his eyes had a mix of green and brown inside them. I had only noticed this because he held compelling eye contact, so magnetic I felt embarrassed looking back at him.
“Not at all,” I said, wiping my mouth with my napkin.
“I’m Scott,” he said.
“Nice to meet you Lauren.”
I almost said that it was nice to meet him too, but bit my tongue instead. Honestly, I wasn’t sure if it was nice to meet him. Although something about an older man sitting down across from me was intriguing, it certainly wasn’t common. Instead, I asked, “Are you here visiting someone?”
“Good old Granny,” he said through a sigh. Then I realized it. He was the man in the ICU who the nurses had been talking to.
“Oh, well, I hope she gets better soon,” I said, and watched as he stabbed his fork into a piece of chicken.
“Yeah, well, we’re hoping for the best.”
For the next hour we sat across from one another, managing a conversation that ranged from my own grandfather to the prank he played his senior year of high school, to the Bachelors in writing I lied about working towards, although it was certainly a goal of mine one day. A few other lies escaped between my lips in those sixty minutes we were together. I told him I was nineteen, because he was twenty-two and I was worried that sixteen sounded immature. I told him that I had been to South America, because he had been to Africa and his stories were as fascinating as I hoped mine would one day be.
Some truths flowed between my lips, too. I confessed my hatred towards coming to the hospital every day, but forced myself to do so because of my grandfather’s limited time. I admitted to being in a relationship that had turned abusive two months ago. I told him I was a virgin, and had never been in love, and he told me some of his secrets as well. After the hour I had laughed more than I had this past week combined, and had flirted more than Ryan and I had in a month. As I finished my bottle of ginger ale, my phone vibrated in my pocket. The text made my heart twist.
Ryan was sorry. He hadn’t meant to get so angry, and he felt horrible for yelling. He loved me, and wanted me to come over so that he could apologize in person. I looked up at Scott, who pretended to be distracted by the traffic out the window. In an hour Scott and I had learned more about each other than Ryan knew about me after four months. I may have told a few lies, but nothing was completely made up either. Still, he was twenty two, and I was sixteen, with a boyfriend waiting for me.
“Scott, I have-” I started.
“How old are you really?” he asked me. The question caught me off guard.
I suppose I never considered my own appearance when I fibbed my age. My make-up wasn’t blended as well as a college girl may have made hers, and my body was clearly still maturing. Even the way I dressed, in a pastel pink sweater, seemed childish now that his words exposed me.
“Sixteen,” I said, “but I-”
“I know this deliciously-awesome ice-cream place a few blocks down the road that I loved to hang out at in high school,” he said. “Do you have any room for dessert?”