“Nice pants.” Kam smirks, with an amused lift in her right brow.
I look down at the tight brown shiny leather that's hugging my thighs, as it bunches uncomfortably at the knees.
“That bad?” I ask.
Blood rushes to my cheeks. I feel the heat rise into a thick red blush.
“Not at all!” She giggles, sarcasm is radiating. “I'm quite sure brown leather would be my first choice for a blind date, too.”
When it comes to picking out clothing, I find it easier just to stick with basic, simple, and plain. If it were not for my sister, I’d surely be the laughing stock of South Brooke, Florida. Brushing off her sarcasm has become easier throughout our lives. I’ve come to accept the fact that she will always have quicker wit than me. Although, I do try keeping up with her jokes, I still find myself coming up short in the playful banter department. For the most part, I have learned to blow off snide comments, and take them with a grain of salt. At least she keeps my life interesting. I’ve never had to worry about dull quiet moments, or that ‘awkward silence’ as she calls it.
“Well then, fashion princess, what exactly would you suggest?”
It's hard to understand her through her muffled giggle.
“No really, Markie, you should totally stick with what you have on! I would love to see this man try to take you seriously... you know... his sexy date in a pair of cheap rocker chic, vintage leather pants.”
She no longer tries to muffle the humor rising in her chest. Its now full on rolling laughter, bubbling and rising out of her full, perfectly glossed lips. The skin around her baby blues bunches adorably in the corners. Water forms inside her eyes, threatening to spill over.
"Wait!" She shouts. Her face hardens, and mouth drops. "Oh my God, Markie.”
"What?" I stare at her, my belly is filled with suspense, as I wait for an explanation for her dramatics.
"You have to take a look at your camel toe!" Again, laughter pours out.
My response is flat, "you’re a dick."
I scowl and sulk, standing still, with my shoulders slumped, just waiting for her outburst to die down.
"You’re trying to embarrass me and it’s not going to work."
Not only is the slick leather sticking to my legs, but it makes an unavoidable swishing noise as I shift on my feet. Kam stands up from her seated position, on the corner of my bed with grace and ease. She moves with a smooth, superb athletic motion. Walking tall with confidence across my bedroom floor, she disappears into the closet. My whole life, I have been jealous of her grace. Tall and tan with an hourglass shape, is the perfect description for Kam.
All the while I've spent a lifetime cursed with a pale pasty skin tone, aside from the occasional sunburn that is, when I change to the purple-red shade of a boiled beet. My hair is unmanageable, thick and frizzy, my feet are big, and my legs are short and squat. Kam is right, these pants do absolutely no justice for my distinct shape. I stare down at the ridiculous attire hugging all the wrong curves. I thought they were appropriate for the occasion when I had picked them out. Shit, was I wrong.
Upon emerging from the closet, Kam shoves a pair of fitted black slacks into my arms, along with a tasteful floral print top and a light jean jacket. She grins proudly.
“Here, sweet pea. I'm sure you can find some shoes on your own. Or do you need me to help you with that too?”
I scan every inch of her smug face, straining my thoughts for some equally smart remark. After a few short moments of waiting in silence, Kam lifts an eyebrow and cocks her head to the side sarcastically. Her waiting ear turns ever so slowly, inching its way in my direction. More so disappointed at my own lack of a better response, I grunt.
“I think I'll be fine, thanks!”
“You know that annoyed, blank, 'I'm in deep thought' expression you have? It's one of my favorites.”
“Yeah, you've pointed that out before... isn't there somewhere else you're supposed to be right now?” I ask, only sort of teasing.
“Nope.” She grins, sitting on top of the world.
I retreat, back into the closet to change. I'm not about to let her watch me struggle out of the brown leather. Thinking about the night ahead holds no comfort for me. It isn't exactly a blind date. I have met this guy before and wasn’t impressed. When my best friend was killed last summer, I’d let myself slip into the role of her parent’s newfound daughter. Of course, they set up this whole date, and I was too nice to say no.
I've always been close to Beth's family, especially her parents. Beth's mother, Trish, is sweet and her father, Spence, is a comfortable man to be around. Never in the thirty-two years of friendship I had with Beth were they ever rude or unwelcoming to me.
We grew up as neighbors and were completely inseparable since the year we were born. Up until last year, that is, when her life was brutally taken. Not a day goes by that I don't remember the petrified look on her bloody, lifeless face. She was stabbed twenty-seven times and left dead on her kitchen floor. There was so much blood I hardly recognized my dress hanging from her body in torn pieces. I found her the morning after she was attacked. The fear of her killer remaining at large sits on my shoulders, weighing me down to this day.
Kam’s loud voice rings in my ears.
“Are you okay in there?”
Crap, I’m spacing out again. I've done this a lot since Beth's murder. Everything reminds me of her, and the thought of her death makes me freeze up like a deer in headlights.
“Um, yeah,” I mumble back quietly, as I slip on the floral top.
“You could have told them no, you know. You don't have to go out with this guy if you think he’s a creep. You’re too nice to them.”
“I know, Kam.” I appreciate my sister’s concern, but my God, I'm tired of this conversation.
“Why do you let them treat you like you’re Beth? It’s not a healthy way for them to grieve, you know. And by letting them, you’re just as bad as they are.”
After stepping out of the closet, I hold up two different pairs of black heels. Maybe I really do need her help with the shoes. Kam's eyes roll slowly. She’s being far too dramatic. She points to the opened toe choice in my left hand.
“Thanks,” I mumble, “and I can’t help it. You know that. What am I supposed to say to them? ‘I'm not your dead daughter, remember?’”
Irritated, I slip on the heels. This conversation is the last thing I need. It’s a bad way to start off what’s bound to be an altogether shitty night anyway.
“No, dummy, just say it nicely. Tell them that you appreciate all the crap they buy you, and the dinners, and the phone calls, but that you need your space. Remind them you're Markie, not Beth. This is totally the kind of date they would have set her up on.”
“I can't, Kam. Not yet anyway, it’s too hard. Do we really need to talk about this?”
“I think we do, yes.”
“You are so damn stubborn. How is it that we're related again?”
“Ha. Ha. Real funny.”
The concern in her eyes doesn’t match the pushy words spewing from her lips. She’s a sweet soul. She’s honest and straightforward, no matter the cost. I'm constantly annoyed and jealous of both qualities. I never have been able to pull either of them off.
“Anyway,” the bunched-up skin on her nose smooths out as she changes the subject. “What if we have some sort of backup plan? For this whole date night? I could call you and pretend there's an emergency of some sort. Or maybe you could have a code word that secretly means come and bail me out.”
“That's not a bad idea, actually.”
At least she’s resourceful, I think, while admiring the clothing choice in the full-length mirror leaning against my wall. Not too dressy, and not too casual. It’s a good mix.
“So, what will it be?” She asks, as she holds her fingers to her chin. “What if I say we had a small kitchen fire, or I fell down the stairs and need a ride to the hospital or something?”
“Hmmm,” I can't help but chuckle at her plotting. “I like the fire idea. Then I can leave in a bit of a hurry and act irritated. It's not really an emergency he can help me with, but it’s one that I still have to leave the date for.”
“Deal!” Kam is sitting tall, holding her head high in pride and excitement at the scheme. “When did you meet this guy, anyway?”
“He was at one of those real estate sale things Beth used to drag me to all the time. She spoke to him when we first got there. I guess their parents are friends, so they knew each other as kids.”
I fall back onto my bed, letting my arms go limp at my sides, completely relaxed. Kam is so easy to talk to, even if she is a pain in the ass. She’s a natural listener, and she always cares about everyone around her.
“I thought he was cute at first, but then he followed us around the rest of the day. I caught him staring at us. I don't know. I guess he just came off as kind of strange to me.”
“Are you sure it’s the same guy?”
“Yeah, Trish showed me his picture.”
“Why didn't you just tell her no then?”
“Here we go again.”
I pull myself up and make my way toward the door, not that it does any good. Kam follows me out and keeps at it, as usual. She mumbles and nags. Her toes almost clip my heels with each step, as she crams words of unwelcome advice down the back of my neck, on the way down the hall, past the living room, and to the front door. Having my sister as a roommate has its perks and downfalls.
“Just call me in an hour and get me out of this mess, okay?”
“Fine!” She snaps back in defeat.
Hanging by the door on a small hook are the keys to my black Tahoe. Beth helped me pick it out the week before she died. I hate it now. Not only have I had to replace one thing after another, but it’s also a total gas hog. Don’t even get me started on the size. In what world would I ever need an SUV? Kam has tried talking me into trading it in on a regular basis. As does my crazy mother, but her motives are just for show. I can’t do it though, Beth loved it. She couldn't afford a new car of her own, so she talked me into buying just the kind of vehicle she wanted.
I let her drive the damn thing everywhere we went for that whole week. She even stayed sober to drive us home the night it happened, just so she could be seen leaving the club in it. Trading it in now would feel like I'm betraying her in some way. So, I just deal with its troubles, and try to convince myself that Beth would be right at my side telling me how hot we look in it.
Kam stands in the driveway as I pull out, holding a hand on a popped-out hip with attitude. She glares at the front grill of my car. It wouldn't take a rocket scientist to tell what's on her irritated, concerned mind. Shaking off an eerie feeling, I swallow the bile rising in my throat, and then drive away. What does Kam know, anyway? The Jones’ are good people. They would never send me on a date with a weirdo.
It doesn't matter that my first impression wasn't perfect. That had to have been at least four or five years ago. Who knows what was going on with him that day, or even myself, come to think of it. I've always considered Beth's dad to be a very down to earth kind of man. Surely, he would know if there was anything wrong with this Vincent guy. It doesn't matter now, I'm going on this damn date whether I want to or not. I continue to convince myself that everything is fine for the remainder of the drive.
The first thought on my mind as I pull into the place is lower middle class. The name Frenchie’s is plastered on the front of the building in bold red paint. Its also printed on all of the windows and doors. It was clearly decorated with care and intention, as if the owners had put their entire life savings into it. Cars are lined in perfectly slanted spaces next to mine. I can't help but notice that not one of them looks to be any newer than five or six years old. The people coming in and out are dressed in the kind of clothing that screams ‘desperate date’.
Wives are wearing worn out dresses and forced smiles. Husbands in button up tops, opening doors with their heads down and mouths shut. I imagine these people have boring, average lives, and boring, average jobs. They probably need to get out of their everyday routine so badly they ache, yet they can’t afford anything more than two hours with a high school babysitter and a $10 plate of spaghetti. What better place than a small local restaurant named Frenchie’s? A pang of guilt hits me for the way I am judging these people. Just because I don't want to be here, it doesn't give me the right to break down strangers.
Killing time and spacing out in pointless observation, isn't doing anything but prolonging the inevitable. My chest rises and falls in a deep effort to de-stress. Of course, it doesn't work. I'm so nervous my bowels are churning. Perfect, just perfect, not only am I actually allowing myself to go on a blind date with a possible creep, but I may shit myself while I'm at it.
I whisper lightly under my breath, “Dammit Beth, why the hell did you have to leave me? Next time I'm definitely putting my foot down and telling your mom no.”
Finally, I shut down the engine to the hog. I roll down the windows, as usual, secretly hoping it will be stolen. I leave it behind in the surprisingly full parking lot. My shoes make a light tapping sound, as my feet slowly drag my unwilling body up the narrow sidewalk. The hinges squeak on the door as I pull it open. The bell hanging above the door sounds. I've always hated that.
Bells, honestly, what purpose do they serve except to draw unnecessary and unwanted attention? I've always felt bad for employees that work at facilities with these ridiculous bells. I think if I had to listen to that noise all day long, it would likely wind me up so tight that I'd snap.
I search the inside of the diner, looking in every direction. I was told he would be wearing a black button up top and holding a small bouquet of daisies. Trish must have told him that it’s my favorite flower; how convenient. I spot him quickly. He’s sitting two tables away from the door, with the bouquet in hand. He is much more handsome than I remember. Maybe he’s just one of those freaks who’s actually aged well. Trish told me that he’s pushing thirty five, -- which is only two years older than myself, but I’d never guess that now seeing him in person. He could easily pass for a good ten years younger.