The sounds and smells of Broad Street fall away as the door to the restaurant closes behind me. The pre-dinner rush silence permeates everything. I can hear the clink–clink–clink of glasses as the bus boy carries a tray of them from the kitchen. I can smell onions frying on a griddle. As my eyes adjust to the candle-lit room a waiter approaches me.
“Two for tonight sir?” he asks as he pulls out two menus
“Yes please, maybe a booth in the back.”
“Of course sir. Follow me. When your companion arrives I’ll show her to your table.”
I cringe inside. We come here too much. When the waiters start to know your habit’s the secret might be out of the bag. We’ve know each other all of our lives, but we were never, well, intimate, until we started to work together. The waiter seats me and I start to fidget, playing with the salt shaker, and folding my napkin. I can’t help it. I know my Jenny’s on her way. It’s Friday night, and I have a great weekend plans for us. I’ve come up with a couple of cover stories. No one will know that either of us has gone away, much less together. We can get away to my friend’s house in the Poconos and just be together. It’s frustrating spending all day 20 maybe 30 feet from her, but not touching her, kissing her, or loving her. I can’t show any real emotion, or others may suspect. Sometimes when we’re in a crowded elevator together I blow gently in her ear. I may not be able to touch her, but I can get close.
Out of the corner of my eye I see the waiter leading Jenny towards me. I start to get up out of habit, but she keeps me in the booth with a glare. The waiter smiles and she thanks him as she slides into the booth opposite me.
As the waiter leaves, she says through grit teeth “You wouldn’t get up for anyone else, so don’t get up for me.”
“Sorry Honey – er, Jenny, Jen – sorry.” She rolls her eyes and looks back at the menu.
“What are you getting? I was thinking of a salad.” Jenny says.
“Get whatever you want. Just get it to go. I have got the best weekend planned. You’ll love it.” I’m ready to burst with excitement, but she sighs and closes her menu.
“We need to talk” she says. Simple and to the point, but I stop breathing.
“We can talk all you want this weekend.” I say
“There won’t be a this weekend Doug. I’m sorry, but I can’t do this anymore.”
“Do what? This is just dinner. You have to eat dinner.”
“No Doug, I can’t do us anymore. I can’t keep sneaking around.” Jen grabs her purse and starts to climb out of the booth. “I’m sorry Doug, but it’s over.”
“No wait!” I clutch at her from across the table and the people at the other end of the restaurant look our way to check out the commotion. She glares at me, but I don’t’ let go. “Why don’t’ we run away together? We can forget this place and move somewhere that nobody knows us and we can start over.”
“And never speak to our family and friends again? I can’t do that.”
“Fine!” I snip. My mind grasps for some plan to make her change her mind. “We’ll just –we’ll go public. We’ll tell everyone how were in love and they’ll understand. They’ll understand that we’re in love and everything will be fine. I mean it’ll be rocky for a while, but we can get through that because we have each other.”
“No Doug!” she snaps “We will not tell anyone about us, not ever. Do you understand?”
“Why?” I plead “We’re meant for each other.”
“Because were cousins. That’s why.” She says it flat and cold.
For the first time since this affair began I felt ashamed of my love. We pull back to our respective sides of the booth and wait for the other one to say something. Jenny breaks the silence.
“I’m not saying you did anything wrong. We were both lonely and looking for something. For a little while we found it in each other, but this can’t go on. I mean, can you imagine telling Mom-Mom about this? It would kill her.”
“But – I love you.”
“You don’t love me Doug. You’re just comfortable. Besides, you shouldn’t love me.”
“No. You should love someone who can love you back. You should love someone that can love you all the time, not just on stolen weekends, or random nights during the week. You owe it to yourself.”
“I owe it to myself?”
“Absolutely.” I feel her staring at me, as I stare down at my hands; the sounds of the restaurant seeping into my ears. Forks tinkling against plates, men at the bar arguing about the Phillies pitching, and Jenny sliding out of the booth.
“Where are you going?”
“I have to leave. I’m meeting some friends for drinks.”
My head pops up “Friends? Oh my God, you have a date don’t you?”
“It’s not a big deal. It’s the healthy thing Doug. You need to get out, meet some people, maybe you could…”
“I don’t want to meet people. I want to be with you.”
Jenny huffs out a sigh as she zips her jacket. I know her decision is made, and I know she is right.
“Well that’s not going to happen.” Jenny says “I’d like to never talk about this again. I’m not comfortable with what we did, so I’d appreciate it if we could just drop this and forget it ever happened.”
She starts to walk away, turns on her heel and comes back to the table. “Listen, I know this is asking a lot, but could you skip going to Mom-Mom’s for Sunday dinner for the next couple of weeks? I’m confused about all of this and I could really use some time with her. It would be kind of, well, weird if your there too.”
My mouth just hangs open as I mumble an “Okay.”
“Thanks, I knew you’d understand. You know, you’ll make somebody a great husband one day.” She gives me one last smile and breezes out of the restaurant.