We decided to go to The Spring Chicken for lunch to celebrate Alicia’s promotion, Jasmine’s engagement, Celeste’s move out of her mother’s house, and my ongoing search for the perfect state job and my newfound peace with The Walking Dead after Glen’s death.
“You can’t still be upset,” Jasmine laughed.
“He didn’t have to die,” I defended. “They always kill the good characters.”
“Let it go,” Alicia yelled.
There was a twenty minute wait, so we stood outside under the awning, talking and watching people eat. Alicia reminded us of her duties at work, the people who now took orders from her and hated her for it. Jasmine showed us her ring again, letting her hand hang in the air long after we had stopped looking. Celeste talked proudly about her studio apartment, the new furniture being delivered, the color schemes for her kitchen and bathroom. And I talked about the upcoming test I’d be taking in hopes of getting a state job where I’d do the same thing I was already doing but get paid more.
The server, a short and cheery girl we surmised was our age, called our number and led us to a table in the back, two tables away from a couple in the middle of a fight they tried to disguise as a loving conversation until one exploded and the shrapnel triggered the other. We sat with our menus covering our faces, mouthing questions, concerns. And just as they dug in, silence strangled them. They tilted their bodies away from each other, focused their attention on their phones, the window, giving the appearance that they stared out when really they stared into the flames burning behind their eyes.
We placed our order but couldn’t stop looking, listening to their relationship shift, stall. They played a game of cat and mouse, one looking at the other and then turning away before making eye contact. They started sentences with accusations and then jumped ship. They baited each other with comments about exes, brought up flaws to awaken the other’s insecurity.
Maybe it was when the server brought our food, or when she bumped into their table that they realized they were balancing on a tightrope, their next move critical.
“It’s just…I mean…” she started, running her hand through her hair. “I don’t know…”
“I don’t either,” he said, squeezing his forehead.
We looked down at our plates, stuffed fries into our mouths, slurped soup, sipped sweet tea. They were falling apart, not us, but somehow the moment resonated. We were each navigating our way across life’s tightrope and knew that in the process of exploring new territory, merging lives through marriage, cutting cords for the first time, and seeking stability, we could lose our balance and fall into the unknown.