Jenny runs her polished fingers over his hair, smoothing it down to contour his head in just the right places. She smoothes and smoothes, licks her fingers then smoothes. Auden eventually swats her hands away.
“Can you not groom me like a monkey in the middle of the restaurant?” he bites, ruffling his overgrown hair just to spite her.
“Force of habit,” she states, unapologetic as she picks up a laminated menu. He does the same, catching glimpses of his hair in the ghost of his reflection.
It looks unbearably stupid.
He sets it down with a sigh, imagining his sister’s face contorting behind the pictures of pressed paninis. He starts a sentence but she immediately puts a finger up to silence him, the paninis demanding her full attention. An impatient sip of coffee burns his throat. He thinks about the lukewarm instant coffee from last week. He thinks about being rejected on the metal steps of June’s glass sanctuary. Her eyes were Deep and Endlessly Blue. All blue and no spaces. BlueBlueBlueBlueBlue.
Jenny puts the menu down. Auden takes the cue to start talking.
“He’s a bastard. As per usual.” That’s as much as she elaborates on the subject.
“She’s getting to that point in ballet lessons where she’s realizing she sucks.”
“Does she really suck?”
“Absolutely,” Jenny breaks the foam leaf of her latte, “but everybody needs to suck at something when they’re a kid. It’s more for socializing than skill. And anyway we already put down the deposit for the whole year.”
“So she’s made a lot of friends at least?”
“No. She just hangs around one other girl with some stigmatism in her right eye. I hear the other girls call her Twitchy behind her back.” Something in Auden recoils at something in Jenny. She adds before he can respond, “Are you growing out a beard?”
“I guess. I don’t know.”
She winces, “It’s…”
He rolls his eyes, “Thanks, Jen.”
“No you’re not.”
“No, I’m not. Why don’t you just keep it clean-shaven like you did in college?”
“Because I’m not a teenage boy.”
“You were so tidy before the crash.”
Auden’s skin goes pale. He turns into porcelain, fragile and glossy, but his blood is hot. He’s repierced by all those vindictive little pieces of glass, all at once. He hates pre-crash Auden. He loathes him, that cocky, put-together tool with his life in order and his brain unbroken and all of his memories intact.
He grabs his jacket to leave.
“Auden, wait. Please sit down.”
He leaves three dollars on the table to pay for his coffee.
“Auden, I’m sorry. I won’t bring it up again. Please sit back down.”
He pauses. He lets go of a breath he was going to save for the bathroom on the train, where he could scream at his reflection and his patchy facial hair. Something in him surrenders and pulls him back down to the chair.
Jenny tries again, “How’s work going?”
Auden plays with a spoon, “It’s alright. I took up a freelance project on the side.”
“I’m sorry, where?”
“You wouldn’t know it,” he states. Because she wouldn’t. Nobody would.
“Oh. Are you working with other people?”
“Yeah. Two women. They’re not astrometrists.”
“So what do they have to do with astrometry?”
“Nothing. I’m not sure. They’re obsessed with finding this specific star.”
“Aren’t you obsessed with finding specific stars?”
“Well yeah, but, you know, I’m weird,” he glances out the window. “And untidy.”
She decides to ignore his comment, “Are you seeing anyone?” The question makes his mind flash to BlueBlueBlueBlueBlue. He gets the urge to answer with June’s name even though it would be a lie. His mouth twitches. It feels like the natural answer.
Instead he says, “Nobody.” He watches the steam swirling out of his mug. Jenny laughs. “What?”
“But you have somebody in mind.”
Auden smiles even though he doesn’t want to, “Why do you say that?”
“Your lip twitched.”
“Did it? No it didn’t.”
She cups her face in her hands, elbows leaning on the table with newfound interest, “You also have a look like you know something I don’t. A dreamy kind of look.”
“I do not.”
“You do so. What’s her name?”
“I…” he looks around, waiting for someone to save him. When nobody does he mutters beneath his breath, “June.”
Jenny shoves his hand as an attempt at affection, “Auden! This is great! You haven’t really dated since after the cra…since the you know what. I’m happy to see you getting out there again. I was starting to think you’d end up Alone.” She says Alone like it’s an incurable disease. Alone.
“Woah, hey. I never said we were dating.”
“But you like her. Have you asked her out yet?” He frowns, and when he frowns Jenny frowns. “Oh no. What did you do?”
“I tried asking her out. I got rejected. I think.” The memory of the cold metal stairs begins to numb his legs again.
“You think? What did she say?”
“No Auden. Not something like. Exactly. What exactly did she say?” His face heats up.
“Well, I asked her if she wanted to get together sometime.”
“And not talk about data points.”
“And she said no at first. And then she thought about something for a really long time. And then she asked me not to ask her out yet.”
“So what did you say after that?”
“I said okay.”
“That’s it? Just okay?”
“Yeah…was that wrong?”
“Oh Jesus, Auden.” Jenny takes a long drag of her latte and fans herself as if post-marathon. “You didn’t even apologize?”
He returns to porcelain, “No…was I supposed to?”
“Yes. That’s what you do after someone rejects your offer to fuck.” He chokes on his spit.
“I…I wasn’t trying to—”
She mimics his voice, “And not talk about data points? Auden what do you think not talking implies? She’s probably heard that a thousand times.”
“I really just wanted to talk more to her. Honest.”
“Whatever you meant, you should apologize.”
He puts his head in his hands, “God, you’re right. I bet she thought I was trying to get down her pants or something.”
“Yeah. Do it as soon as possible.”
“I was supposed to collect more numbers with her tonight. Do I do it tonight?”
“Duh.” Jenny picks up the menu again, feeling satisfied with her profound guidance. She tells Auden before the waiter comes, “God. You’re so lucky you have me.”