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I Can Share Raisin Bran
On the drive home from Cliff’s office I ask my mom if she thinks asking Tiffany on a date is the best way to get rid of her once and for all, and Mom says, “You shouldn’t be trying to get rid of anyone. You need friends, Pat. Everyone does.”
I don’t say anything in response. I’m afraid Mom is rooting for me to fall in love with Tiffany, because whenever she calls Tiffany my “friend,” she says the word with a smile on her face and a hopeful look in her eye, which bothers me tremendously because Mom is the only person in my family who does not hate Nikki. Also, I know Mom looks out the window when I go on my runs, because she will tease me, saying “I see your friend showed up again” when I return from a jog.
Mom pulls into the driveway, shuts off the car engine, and says, “I can loan you money should you ever want to take your friend to dinner,” and again, the way she says “friend” makes me feel tingly in a bad way. I say nothing in response, and my mother does the strangest thing – she giggles.
I finish my weight training for the day and put on a trash bag, and as I begin stretching on the front lawn, I see that Tiffany is jogging up and down the length of my parents’ block, waiting for me to begin running. I tell myself to ask her out to dinner so I can end this madness and get back to being alone on my runs, but instead I simply start running, and Tiffany follows.
I go past the high school, down Collings Avenue to the Black Horse Pike, make a left and then another left into Oaklyn, run down Kendall Boulevard to the Oaklyn Public School, up past the Manor Bar to the White Horse Pike, make a right and then a left onto Cuthbert, and I run into Westmont. When I get to the Crystal Lake Diner, I turn and jog in place. Tiffany jogs in place and stares at her feet.
“Hey,” I say to her. “You want to have dinner with me at this diner?”
“Tonight?” she says without looking up at me.
“We have to walk here because I’m not allowed to drive.”
“I’ll be in front of your house at seven-thirty.”
Next, the most amazing thing happens: Tiffany simply jogs away from me, and I cannot believe I finally got her to leave me alone. I am so happy I alter my route and run at least fifteen miles instead of ten, and when the sun sets, the clouds in the west are all lined with electricity, which I know is a good omen.
At home, I tell my mother I need some money so I can take Tiffany out to dinner. My mother tries to hide her smile as she retrieves her purse from the kitchen table. “Where are you taking her?”
“The Crystal Lake Diner.”
“You shouldn’t need more than forty dollars then, right?”
“It’ll be on the counter when you come down.”
I shower, apply underarm deodorant, use my father’s cologne, and put on my khakis and the dark green button-down shirt Mom bought me at the Gap just yesterday. For some reason, my mother is systematically buying an entire wardrobe for me – and every piece is from the Gap. When I go downstairs, my mom tells me I need to tuck in my shirt and wear a belt.
“Why?” I ask, because I do not really care if I look respectable or not. I only want to get rid of Tiffany once and for all.
But when Mom says, “Please,” I remember that I am trying to be kind instead of right – and I also owe Mom because she rescued me from the bad place – so I go upstairs and put on the brown leather belt she purchased for me earlier in the week.
Mom comes into my room with a shoe box and says, “Put on some dress socks and try these on.” I open the box, and these swanky-looking brown leather loafers are inside. “Jake said these are what men your age wear casually,” Mom says. When I slip the loafers on and look in the mirror, I see how thin my waistline appears, and I think I look almost as swanky as my little brother.
With forty bucks in my pocket, I walk across Knight’s Park to Tiffany’s parents’ house. She is outside, waiting for me on the sidewalk, but I see her mother peeking out the window. Mrs. Webster ducks behind the blinds when we make eye contact. Tiffany does not say hello, but begins walking before I can stop. She is wearing a pink knee-length skirt and a black summer sweater. Her platform sandals make her look taller, and her hair is sort of puffed out around the ears, hanging down to her shoulders. Her eyeliner is a little heavy, and her lips are so pink, but I have to admit she looks great, which I tell her, saying, “Wow, you look really nice tonight.”
“I like your shoes,” she says in response, and then we walk for thirty minutes without saying another word.
We get a booth at the diner, and the server gives us glasses of water. Tiffany orders tea, and I say that water is fine for me. As I read the menu, I worry that I won’t have enough money, which is silly, I know, because I have two twenties on me and most of the entrees are under ten bucks, but I do not know what Tiffany will order, and maybe she will want dessert, and then there’s the tip.
Nikki taught me to overtip; she says waitresses work too hard for such a little bit of money. Nikki knows this because she was a waitress all through college – when we were at La Salle – so I always overtip when I go out to eat now, just to make up for the times in the past when I fought with Nikki over a few dollars, saying fifteen percent was more than enough, because no one tipped me regardless of whether I did my job well or not. Now I am a believer in overtipping, because I am practicing being kind rather than right – and as I am reading the diner menu, I think, What if I do not have enough money left over for a generous tip?
I am worrying about all of this so much that I must have missed Tiffany’s order, because suddenly the waitress is saying, “Sir?”
When I put my menu down, both Tiffany and the waitress are staring at me, as if they are concerned. So I say, “Raisin bran,” because I remember reading that cereal is only $2.25.
“How much is milk?”
I figure I can afford it, so I say, “Please,” and then hand my menu back to the waitress.
I nod, and the waitress sighs audibly before leaving us alone.
“What did you order? I didn’t catch it,” I say to Tiffany, trying to sound polite but secretly worrying that I will not have enough money left over for a good tip.
“Just tea,” she says, and then we both look out the window at the cars in the parking lot.
When the raisin bran comes, I open the little single-serving box and pour the cereal into the bowl the diner provides free of charge. The milk comes in a miniature pitcher; I pour it over the brown flakes and sugared raisins. I push the bowl to the middle of the table and ask Tiffany if she would like to help me eat the cereal. “Are you sure?” she says, and when I nod, she picks up her spoon and we eat.
When we get the bill, it is for $4.59. I hand our waitress the two twenties, and the woman laughs, shakes her head, and says, “Change?” When I say, “No, thank you” – thinking Nikki would want me to overtip – the waitress says to Tiffany, “Honey, I had him all wrong. You two come back real soon. Okay?” And I can tell the woman is satisfied with her tip because she sort of skips her way to the register.
Tiffany doesn’t say anything on the walk home, so I don’t either. When we get to her house, I tell her I had a great time. “Thanks,” I say, and then offer a handshake, just so Tiffany will not get the wrong idea.
She looks at my hand and then up at me, but she doesn’t shake. For a second I think she is going to start crying again, but instead she says, “Remember when I said you could fuck me?”
I nod slowly because I wish I did not remember it so vividly.
“I don’t want you to fuck me, Pat. Okay?”
“Okay,” I say.
She walks around her parents’ house, and then I am alone again.
When I arrive home, my mom excitedly asks me what we had for dinner, and when I tell her raisin bran, she laughs and says, “Really, what did you have?” I ignore her, go to my room, and lock the door.
Lying down on my bed, I pick up the picture of Nikki and tell her all about my date and how I gave the waitress a nice tip and how sad Tiffany seems and how much I can’t wait for apart time to end so Nikki and I can share raisin bran at some diner and walk through the cool early September air – and then I am crying again.
I bury my face and sob into my pillow so my parents will not hear.
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READY TO PLACE AN ORDER