Kristine Atterbury, Contributor
Rodrigo was not a cruel man by nature. He was more of a people-pleaser, the kind of person who got gratification out of helping others. He contemplated this as he sat at a back booth in a New Kingston sports bar, paying little attention to the football game on the multiple screens around the room.
He tapped his fingers on the table. She wasn't due for another 10 minutes. Maybe he should leave. Being stood up would hurt her at first, sure, but a clean getaway sounded like the least painful solution for everyone.
His cellphone trilled and he pulled it out of his pocket, quickly sliding it open.
It was Duane, the root of this whole mess. "Yuh reach?"
"Yeh, but she not here, I don't think she coming," he replied.
He heard the rasp of Duane's particularly annoying laugh.
"Don't bodda try duck out. You owe me, memba?
"Fine." Rodrigo slid the phone shut while Duane was still talking and shook his head. What kind of man sent another man to break up with his girlfriend? And what kind of man took part in it?
He should have known better than to accept a favour from Duane two months ago when his brother got arrested and he needed bond. He should have found some other way to pay for it. But Duane was one of those 'friends' who were conspicuously absent from your life until they saw an opportunity to get something from you. Now, he had collected on the favour.
"She jus a likkle too much on the heavy side, yuh know?" Duane had said at a party one night, his breath rank of stale beer as he leaned towards Rodrigo conspiratorially.
"She nice, she smart, she funny and ting, but yuh know how it go."
As Rodrigo tried to sidle away, Duane had slung a careless arm over his shoulder and leaned closer.
"Yuh see that girl over there?" he pointed a wobbly finger as Rodrigo held his breath in distaste. "See how she slim and sexy? Is somting like dat I need to have on my arm, right?"
He chortled, smoothing a hand over the curls on top of his head. "Yuh know dem cyan resist a pretty, light-skin bwoy." And off he went to pursue the lithe, long-legged beauty who stood by the door.
Now, Rodrigo sat up straight as he saw a girl approaching his table, slowly. Well, she certainly knows how to dress the part of one of Duane's girlfriends, he thought, as he looked her over. She was wearing a white, cotton, off-the-shoulder jersey dress that camouflaged her large bosom, and contrasted well with her caramel skin.
Large gold hoops hung from her ears and a chunky, gold charm bracelet dangled from her right wrist. She was wearing black capri tights with gold gladiator sandals. Her hair was similar to Rihanna's pixie haircut, a style that suited her round face and pert mouth. Her eyes were almond-shaped, dusted with bronze shadow, and unfriendly.
She came to a stop in front of the table.
Rodrigo decided to go for charming and stretched his mouth into what many women had called a 'sexy grin'.
"Hi," he said, rising and extending his hand.
She looked at it. "You're not Duane." Her voice was flat.
"Good eye," Rodrigo laughed. No response.
He cleared his throat.
"Duane asked me to come in his place. He got caught up."
She folded her lips and her eyes began to shift towards the door.
"But you look so nice, why not just stay and have some food?"
She stared at him. Lord, it was like talking to a statue. The silence stretched out for several uncomfortable seconds.
Finally, she yanked the other chair towards her and sat down.
He studied her, thinking she looked better than Duane had described. Her hands were surprisingly small and delicate, her nails long and shiny, clear with those white tips that women called a Dutch manicure or something like that. Her lips were full and glossy and her face was ... slowly turning to stone under his scrutiny.
"Sorry," he said as she raised an eyebrow at him. "I was just thinking you look really nice."
"Really," she replied. She speaks!
"That's the second compliment in less than three minutes. Either you're a compulsive liar or you have some really bad news for me."
He was taken aback for a moment.
"All I said was that you look nice."
She crossed her arms and fixed him with a glare. "I'm 25 pounds overweight."
"Okay," Rodrigo said, an edge creeping into his voice. "That was random, but whatever."
They sat there for a few more minutes, a mutinous silence between them.
Finally she leaned forward.
"Why, are you here?" she asked, her charm bracelet clinking as she gestured at him. "Duane could have just called me and cancelled."
Not yet, not yet, Rodrigo thought, panicked. He picked up his menu casually and began to survey the appetizers.
"No reason, really. I'm just here to entertain you."
"Fantastic job so far," she commented, her smile wide and unfriendly.
"Arite," Rodrigo snapped. "What's yuh problem?"
Her eyes flashed and she leaned forward, the neckline of her blouse dipping towards the table. Rodrigo's eyes followed the movement before he even knew what he was doing. "My problem is you. You and the rest of Duane's friends. I know what you think of me. You think he can do better, right? All of you are pathetic."
She bit off this last word and crossed her arms again, her glossy lips tightening into a pout, her generous chest heaving as she narrowed her eyes at him. Rodrigo was beginning to have trouble focusing on what she was saying.
"Wateva to all of unuh, ok? Duane likes me, Duane made his decision, get a life and get over it. Look at you!"
He was startled out of his contemplation by the hint of cleavage that was revealed every time she leaned towards him in attack. He thought he had caught a glimpse of red lace, but he wasn't sure. He shook his head and tried to focus on her rant.
"Just look at you." The sarcasm was so heavy, Rodrigo blinked.
She gestured at his feet. "Immaculate white shoes, trendy jeans, pretentious jacket. It is 90 degrees outside. All of you are the exact same, I swear."
Indignation rose in him, as he tried to make sense of her hostility. "You're judging me from what I'm wearing? You don't even know me."
"And I don't want to," she replied.
"Fine," he said simply. He dropped the menu on the table and stood. "Nice meeting you, have a wonderful evening. By the way, Duane don't want you anymore. Have a nice life."
He walked away confidently, feeling good that he got the last word. No wonder Duane had dumped her.
At the doorway he took a last glance back at the table, and ... stopped. She was sitting very still, her shoulders slightly slumped. Was she crying? He stepped away from the door and craned his head to see while a waitress nearby gave him a strange look. As he watched, she brushed a hand across her eyes. She was crying.
He walked back over to her, feeling like a world-class idiot. Pulling the chair roughly aside, he sat back down and cursed to himself again.
She looked at him, startled. Her eyes were only slightly red.
"Sorry," he said. "Don't cry."
"I'm not crying." She gave one tiny sniff.
"You'll get over him eventually."
"Please." Then she did start crying, in very soft gasps that made him feel even worse.
"No man, it going be ok." He reached across to pat her hand, and her perfumed wafted up to tickle his nose with the scent of vanilla and cinnamon. Her face was flushed, and her eyes were bright with tears; she looked really, really good. Stop that, he told himself.
"You don't understand," she wailed. "I didn't even like him that much!"
"Right," Rodrigo said, still patting, definitely not understanding.
She shrugged his hand away. "Just for one second I actually felt pretty. Guys like him never look at girls like me."
Rodrigo was looking at her.
"That's not true. They just prefer a trophy girlfriend."
She stopped crying and stared at him.
"Sorry. Not helping." He slid his hand closer to pat her again, as a brilliant solution to this whole mess began to creep into his head.
"I have an idea," he said.
She looked at him. The gloss was gone from her lips now and they looked slightly puffy as if she had just been kissed, and her eyes were brown and deep and lovely and damp, and he didn't know her that well but he hated that she felt less than what she was, which was beautiful.
"Let's go see a movie."
"A movie?" she asked in surprise.
She looked at him warily.
"And then what?"
"And then," he said as he stood and reached out to her. "Who knows?"
She bit her lip and considered.
Then, she took his hand.