Carlynn Winters is majoring in Biology and minoring in Neuroscience and English at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Her work has been featured previously in Down in the Dirt. Typically, coffee and inquiries about life and stars accompany her newfound love for writing.
I am sitting at the bar looking at my leg bouncing off of the stool.
This is what I tell her.
It was a Saturday night that we had planned for weeks in advance.
When I first ask Eric about the dinner, he starts biting his nails, something he does when he gets anxious. Twenty seconds into my explanation on the importance of meeting his parents, I can tell I lose him. Even with those round, bulging ears of his, he doesn’t seem to hear a word of what I am saying. Eric has tried pushing it off for as long as possible. Finally, I convince him to set the date– the 26th of November we are going to meet them over dinner.
I mean, Nancy, Eric and I have lived together for almost a year and I had never met his parents.
He keeps busy at the office and I at the restaurant, but his parents only live about an hour and a half north. And of course he’s never met mine before, but that doesn’t mean I can’t meet his. You know my parents. I thought it would be nice to meet his parents who seemed normal.
We get dressed silently as he fidgets with the tie around his blue-striped collar and I with the zipper in the lower back of my dress. We walked to that energy-efficient car– you know the one he traded for a couple of weeks ago? Anyways, I shiver as we slip through the front yard. Its small doors are hard for me to even get into, let alone Eric whose long legs brought him to the door of the car in nearly three strides. At the restaurant I help myself to the door and Eric follows behind.
I first notice a man with long legs and broad shoulders sitting next to a dainty woman in one of the booths in my station. Everything about him reeks Eric. His whole body resembles Eric’s. His legs are so long that they almost hit the underside of the booth, so he has to stretch them out into the aisle. His arms suggest he works out regularly, and his thick, dark hair indicates no sign of aging. His wife’s brown hair falls in small curls on her collar bone. I suddenly became aware of my own hair and its loose waves falling below my chest.
Darren was working my station that night. He walks over, smiles at me, and introduces himself to his customers as he pours water in their cups.
Nancy, the father looked just like Eric, just alike.
After finishing topping off our glasses and laying fresh bread on the table, Darren laughs and says, this must be the parents?
Eric blushes immediately as I look to them and nod. Yes, this is them, I say.
About half way into the appetizers, I realize I am staring at his father for so long that I have to shake my head to regain control. I start talking a lot, and his mother seems to reciprocate the conversation well. Her eyes light up when I ask her about her work, and she begins almost too excitedly about her alma mater and the gift-card making business she currently works for.
She seemed so excited to have me as her audience.
Meanwhile, the father is just turning his straw around his cup, gazing off at those pictures of the inspirational quotes hanging on the wall.
Darren brings out the wine, which Eric nearly finishes before the appetizers are picked up from our table. Anyway, I’m so fidgety or something, my legs accidentally hit the father in the shin. He jerks but does not look at me.
I’m sorry, I say. My legs tend to shake when I am excited. I’m so sorry, I say. Is your leg okay? I ask.
After a few seconds, he blots the wine dripping from his mouth with his napkin and peels his eyes off the picture hanging from the wall and says, it’s all right. I couldn’t help notice the size of his ears when he addressed me. His wife smiles and continues her story about the time one of the quotes in her gift cards was published in some small, literary magazine.
He seems like a pleasant man, Nancy adds with a chuckle.
Darren refills our glasses with wine as our entrees are served. After his next trip to our table, Darren gives me a look as if to indicate something is wrong. I look at Eric, who I realize has not said much the whole conversation, and see sweat beading on his now-yellow forehead and cheeks. The mom finishes her story of her favorite college tailgate, so I take advantage of this break in conversation.
Are you alright? You don’t look well, I say.
It must have been the fish I ate, he says. I don’t eat fish very often, he says.
He gets up to go to the restroom and I am left with the parents. I look over at the father’s plate and see the half-eaten turkey club sandwich, which is one of the cheapest entrees on our dinner menu. I trace my eyes up his big arms up to his neck then ears. Those ears, they must have been the same size, if not slightly larger, than Eric’s. And his mother had the most endearing eyes, Nancy, but I don’t think the father looked into them once as she started another story about a customer that came into her store on Tuesday. Eventually, she finishes, and silence hangs in the air.
What job was it that you said you had again? The father asks.
Darren interrupts me as he pours more wine into the father’s glass. She works in this restaurant with me sir, he says. I am taking over her shift right now actually, he says.
Seems like you have some nice friends, the father says. He picks up his wine glass and takes a swig as I gawk at the raw nubs that are his fingernails.
Eric comes back some time later, I don’t know how much later, and sits down. Feel better? I say. Eric is looking at the eyes of the fish sitting on his plate. I guess so, he says.
We finish eating a couple of orders of that one dessert– the apple crumble cake with the whole apple on the side– and Eric and I talk about how we met. I tell them that cute part of the story where we put a lock on that bridge in the middle of the highway like in Paris. You should’ve seen his mother’s eyes light up. She nudges Eric and giggles at his sentimental side, and the father smiles behind the thumb he is nibbling on. Eric forgot that I already mentioned the part where he wrote our names on the lock, so he repeats this to his now smiling parents.
I know something felt off. I just wasn’t sure what.
Darren comes by to pick up the dessert plates and accidentally knocks the unfinished apple off of the father’s plate and it rolls on the ground past those long legs. Eric leans down, picks it up, and hands it to Darren. Darren comes back with the check and I see Eric and his father give each other a look.
Was there something wrong? Nancy says, holding her glass and crossing one leg over the other. It seems like something is wrong, Nancy says.
Nothing is wrong. The father picks up the check, pays for it, and we all walk out.
I am feeling a bit groggy, but I see Eric and his father walk ahead to the cars while the mother and I wait near the restaurant door.
It was so nice talking to you, she says. Did I tell you what lovely eyes you have? she asks.
Thank you. I’ve never been told that before, I say. And I loved hearing all of your stories, I say. Her eyes look almost wet but, like I said, I am a bit groggy.
We stand there with chill bumps on our arms. Our dresses were both probably inappropriate to wear that night; it was cold. I look at Eric and his father walk away. In the dark I can barely distinguish between the two silhouettes of their sport coats.
I thought I could hear the battery of the car running more loudly on the drive back. I speak to Eric, reminding him about the birthday celebration I was going to throw for Darren later that week. Did you remember to buy that wine that I asked for the other night, I ask. He looks at me when we stop at an intersection and raises his eyebrows, which subsequently raises his big, fat ears. I don’t remember you asking, he says. We stop on the way back at Kroger and pick it up.
That sounds like an anticlimactic night, Nancy says, but I can tell she doesn’t understand why I just told her.
That’s interesting that they look so similar, she adds.
I remember glaring at the bruised apples in the aisle at Kroger as Eric thumbs through a magazine in line holding the wine.
It is December now. My life is going to change. I can feel it, almost as much as I could feel the cold breeze that night walking back to the car.