Hailey entered the restaurant and approached their usual table. She knew which one it would be – which table he would be sitting at – of course she did. She even knew how many steps it would take in her heeled boots to reach: 49. It would have been 45 in ballet flats; she knew that, too.
Everyone in the restaurant, a romantic Italian place that was designed to appear much older than it actually was, went on with their meals as though she hadn’t even arrived, though Hailey was confident they had noticed. The exposed brick in the walls was quaint and put the patrons in mind of wood fired pizzas and crunchy breadsticks, the candles dripped with wax at exactly the same level per table, the tile floor – rustic in appearance only – made a satisfactory tapping sound when Hailey’s boots made contact each time. Heel, toe, heel toe, in two part harmony across the room.
The restaurant goers were an eclectic bunch, all races and sizes and sexes – though no children – but even so, they were vague and nondescript; like wallpaper to Hailey. The feeling seemed mutual; even when she wobbled slightly on her feet in her new boots and nearly brushed against an old man’s chair, no one paid any heed. Hailey was unused to being ignored for the most part, so the fact stung her ego. She regretted the stiletto boots: a last minute wardrobe change that was obviously a mistake.
The back of Zane’s head was clearly visible; growing more in focus in her blue eyes as she approached him, like a camera clicking and zooming in, frame by frame.
Click: here was his perfectly shaped head.
Click: now she could see that his perfectly shaped head was made even more perfect by a flawless haircut that must have cost him a small fortune.
Hailey remembered him before he could afford such haircuts, when his wavy locks stuck out at odd angles, especially after wearing a baseball cap or when he was sweaty after a game of hoops with his buddies. She wondered if he ever played anymore, and then wondered at herself for not knowing the answer. Other people would know, countless other people would know, but she didn’t. Wasn’t that strange, she mused.
Zane didn’t look up when she arrived, which probably boded ill to anyone who might be watching. He knew she was coming, would have heard the click of her heels approaching. She was a beautiful woman and he a beautiful man who should have raised his soulful eyes to her as she sat down in the chair opposite him, but it seemed to take forever. A pregnant pause that seemed overdone and deliberate to Hailey. Finally, when he did meet her gaze, Zane gave a smile and greeted her with a gentle hello. His teeth were whitened to the point of blinding. She remembered when he got them done: she’d teased him about losing her sight in the glare of his smile, lowered her expensive sunglasses, and then she drank glass after glass of red wine in front of him all night because it was his favorite and he wasn’t allowed to have any until after his toothpaste commercial had wrapped. Or was it a gum commercial? Hailey didn’t recall exactly. But she knew it had been a fun night, as nights of drinking and recklessness go, and the pounding headache she’d had the next morning had been worth it. Remembering, she wanted to smile, but she held it in. This was no time and no place for memories and nostalgia.
Besides, that memory was from a long time ago. Time moved fast in L.A. You aged faster and drove faster and spent more money and were surrounded by crowds of people. Then you panicked and spent even more time and money to slow everything down. Everything was a gimmick, an angle, a scheme, a fortune.
Not that Hailey minded all that much: if she had wanted boring she would have stayed in Nebraska. Married a blue collar man, had some kids, joined the PTA. Sometimes she wondered if she had some sort of double, a doppelganger, still back home in Nebraska, leading another life – the one she would have had if she hadn’t been a neurotic teenager determined to leave on a bus and never come back. Maybe her Nebraska self was weeding a garden right now, or rocking a baby to sleep. Maybe someday they’d meet.
Zane had food in front of him already and Hailey sighed and apologized for being late. She sat down, keeping her posture perfectly straight. A waiter glided in, as though in the corps of a well choreographed ballet, and had a tall glass of water placed in front of Hailey before she had even fully settled into the chair.
“I think you’re always late on purpose,” he said, but it was without rancor. Without bitterness. That made it worse, because he had every right to be bitter and upset. “Your time is so much more precious than anyone else’s time. I never understood that about you before. Love is blind, isn’t it?” Love is blind. He gave those words a special sort of emphasis; a hardening around the edges that hung in the air alongside the faint scent of garlic bread and tomato sauce.
“That seems harsh,” Hailey answered. Her eyes had widened a fraction with his words, and she had carefully suspended the moment before speaking. “I can’t control the traffic.”
“You can’t control anything,” he replied. On his plate, Zane pushed the food around with his fork. She could tell it was cold. It looked pretty unless you peered closely at it: then you could tell the creamy polenta had congealed on the edges where the juice from the roast chicken had pooled. And were those carrots even real? Hailey stared at them. They looked like glossy plastic. Here in L.A. the people weren’t real, and it seemed the vegetables were following suit.
Hailey shook her head to clear her thoughts. Her brain was going a mile a minute and none of it was focused on anything important. She took a sip of water from the frosty glass in front of her. It was cold, and it hurt her throat. She actually preferred her drinking water tepid. That way she could drink copious amounts of it more quickly and achieve her ten glasses a day goal. It helped with her weight of course – a perfect size two – but it also kept her skin relatively glowing, which for a Nebraska girl with a history of acne, was worth its weight in gold.
There she went again, filling her head with nonsense. She smiled brightly at Zane, that girl next door smile that she had perfected over the years.
“We need to talk—” but Zane was cut off by the waiter. He was a short, young man with spiky hair. He reminded Hailey of an actor from the early nineties named Jonathan Taylor Thomas. She used to use up all her free weekend time daydreaming about him. She even had had a poster of JTT on her wall as a teenager; it had been carefully cut from the pages of Tiger Beat with her pink, plastic, safety scissors. Whatever happened to him? She wondered. Would he still be working? She hadn’t heard of him in years, but maybe he was doing Indie films or something nobler like that. How fun would it be to look him up, now that she schmoozed with actors and Hollywood bigwigs? But then again maybe she hadn’t heard of him in so long because he was down on his luck. A washed up child star. She didn’t think she wanted to know if that was the case. She smiled at the waiter and his ears turned a bit pink at the attention. How cute.
“I’ll just have a salad,” Hailey said, demurely. The words were rote. They would have escaped her lips in spite of herself; she’d said them so many times in her life. The waiter left. “We need to talk about what exactly?” Her tone altered into something more aggressive as she turned her attention back to Zane, this man she called her husband.
To be continued…
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