by Amy L. Bethke  

Clarissa came to my nail appointment just to keep me company. I’ve never had a friend who did that, who wanted to just hang with me in a smelly, crowded shop while my nails were stripped down, filled up, filed and painted aquamarine cloudburst. I loved having her there. She showed me a video on her phone of a guy jumping over five cars on his motorcycle and another of a baby laughing his head off. All of us laughed at that, even the wrinkled and hunched nail tech, even the lady with giant boobs sitting next to us.

The night I broke up with Tommy, Clarissa scored a joint from her brother and we smoked it in the dark in my dad’s backyard. I didn’t like the way it made me feel. We watched TV and I laughed with her at New Girl because I actually couldn’t stop laughing even when I tried to, even when laughing stopped being fun. After a while she told me again all the things she didn’t like about Tommy, how I was better off. Things she’d been saying for weeks, how he should cut his hair and that he hangs out with losers like Dale and that kid who works at Batteries Plus. That he doesn’t talk very much. I had always liked most things about Tommy but I’d started seeing him differently. I’d started seeing him through Clarissa’s sharp brown eyes.

We went to McDonalds after my nails were done. I picked up each French fry like I was performing surgery, with precision and care for my nails. Clarissa texted like crazy.

‘Who are you talking to?’ I asked.

‘There’s a guy for you—Neil. I’m seeing if he wants to go out with you.’

‘Wait, no. It’s only been two weeks since Tommy.’

‘No, this guy is great. Trust me. And you got to get back on the horse,’ she said, eyes ablaze, certain.

‘What’d he say?’

‘Nothing yet. I sent him your picture.’

The door squeaked. I looked up and saw Tommy come in. He stood in the doorway and we looked at each other like idiots for a long time, long enough for him to run a hand through his hair, long enough for me to decide I wasn’t telling Clarissa yet. He took one step forward to get out of someone’s way and I said, ‘oh’ because I thought he was coming over but he didn’t. He nodded to me, just barely, but it was there. Then he went up front to order. I wanted to walk over to him, just to see his face, the shape of his lips, the very small wrinkles around his eyes.

‘What?’ Clarissa asked, following my eyes.

‘Oh, Jesus,’ she said. ‘Let’s go.’ She stood up and I did too but I didn’t move. Tommy looked sorry and tired and beautiful, wearing his insulated flannel shirt, waiting in line behind a family of four who all had the same rosy cheeks, the same thin hair. I missed him—playing Monopoly after school, watching movies on my dad’s scratchy couch. I missed his quiet way. I took a step in his direction.

‘What are you doing?’ Clarissa asked, touching my arm.

‘I don’t know,’ I said. It was dark outside and everything around me felt unreal, too bright.

‘Come on. You don’t need him.’

She grabbed my sleeve and pulled. I let her lead me out the door.

Rain had started to fall. The car was cold and quiet. Tommy was inside surrounded by artificial light and the smell of cheap food, eating what he always ordered, I was sure: a cheeseburger with a large fry and a Mountain Dew.

‘You’re going out with Neil,’ Clarissa said. ‘Saturday. It’s all set. I gave him your number. He’s going to text you,’ she said, backing out of the parking spot. ‘He said something about Pillar for Saturday night. Fucking place is expensive. You need a dress.’ She stopped the car, looked at me. ‘Mandy. You don’t need Tommy. You broke up with him, remember? Come on. You good? We’re going to get you somebody good. Somebody who treats you right.’

I nodded, trying to remember why Tommy wasn’t good for me, why I ended it, but all that came to me were his hands, rough with slender fingers, and what I’d told him that night outside his house, that the feeling had faded and we were done. My stomach churned. I wondered how old Neil was, to be able to afford a place with valet parking and a doorman. I wondered how I would afford a dress. I wondered what Neil looked like, how long he kept his hair, if he liked Monopoly. I held my tears in so Clarissa wouldn’t see.

My nails were dry. Clarissa cranked up the radio, put the car in gear and drove.

Amy L. Bethke’s writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Literary Mama, MnLIT, Murphy Square100 Word Story, Anti-Heroin Chic, MoonPark Review and Postcard Poems and Prose.  She lives in Maple Grove, Minnesota with her husband, children and a crazy dog named Cooper.