I look around for my girls and there they are. Queenie seems to saunter away with Plaid and Big Goon lumbering behind her, nowhere as graceful as the milky white swan in the center. Ignoring the young married lady screaming with her children about “candy they should’ve received but didn’t” near the powder-blue Falcon station wagon door, I feel my feet speeding up, heading towards the beauty and the beasts. Queenie’s bare feet slap on the hot pavement with a consistent thwap-thwap-thwap that gives me a rush of adrenaline like no other.
“God, what a hassle for a bag of herring snacks!” I yell impulsively. Almost instantaneously, Plaid swings around, her tan soft-looking bosom glistening with perspiration from the hot sun. She squints for a second, inspecting my ironed-white shirt and sweaty complexion with a kind of disgust, resulting in an incredulous, “And who are you?” Startled by her blunt deep voice, I stammer before replying with a quick murmur, “Sammy”. Suddenly, Big Goon halts her step, her frizzy black hair blowing in front of that unusual chubby facade, examining who would even dare to talk to her group. At last, Queenie glances back, her oaky bleached bun bouncing as she swivels around slowly on those prima-donna legs that make me feel oh so faint. She smirks as she sees me savoring this moment, the arrogance reaching her eyes and the tautness remaining in her neck. Once again, her voice startles me. It wasn’t as flat as before, but just as dumb and tony with a curt, “Oh, you were that cashier.” This time, I slid right down her voice into her actual living room. Her father wearing that same boring old navy suit with that bow tie from his birthday ten years ago, chatting with his colleagues about “how much the stocks have changed”. Her mother in a stiff plain dress, surrounded by “her best friends”, although she actually despises all of them (but is required to like them because of connections). The ornate glass plate of herring snacks remains untouched because the ladies are watching their figures for the upcoming wedding season and can’t have all that extra sodium. Their glasses are quickly drained and refilled with vodka mint spritzers, the conversations growing rowdy as faces flush and all is forgotten for a second.
Suddenly my parents’ lemonade and Schlitz in tall glasses with cartoons stenciled on them don’t seem that shabby anymore.
Lengel’s words ring in my ears as I ramble, “Well you see it’s a Thursday afternoon, which was my favorite shift, but my job was annoying because of my boss, so I quit. Now I can’t really remember why.” They stand in a huddle, surprised by my sudden outburst. Queenie begins giggling, a delicate yet rough snort that brings the joy back into my heart; her shoulders bounce as the sunlight hits her like a goddess in the limelight. My throat dries up and my heart races with excitement. Plaid and Big Goon are no longer relevant. All I see is her. Her pure shoulders, her blank canvas of a chest, just her.
Plaid and Big Goon reply with unheard phrases as their words blend into the background. Queenie pauses for a moment and erupts with laughter, the wind blowing her bleached hair back, bringing her ivory face into a look of peaceful serenity. My love shouts with a quick, “Why’d you quit again?”, her pearly whites shining in the sunlight. My mind races and words come flowing out, “Well, because of you. Nobody deserves to be treated badly, especially when you look like that.” Queenie’s smile quickly diminishes and is replaced with a grimace as her cherry-red lips turn down, “Oh.”
Struggling to understand the sudden change in mood, I wonder what she’s thinking. Is it along the lines of “oh wow, what a grand romantic gesture” or more like “oh wow, this stranger just followed me”. Implied by her dainty subtle shuffle away from me, I’m guessing it’s the latter. “I’m not trying to be creepy or anything, but it just wasn’t alright,” I stammer, trying to convey the clarity that she so desperately needs to understand. Big Goon juts in with a purposeful, “We aren’t those types of girls. Sorry, try again next time.” Her eyes glint with smug satisfaction as she sees my expression fall (to be fair, it’s probably her first time rejecting someone), and I am reminded yet again that I never quite know how girls’ minds work.
Queenie no longer acknowledges my presence as she slides the straps of her beige bathing suit back onto those perfect pure shoulders and begins walking away abruptly. The rest of the encounter is brief and my girls speed away briskly. So much for following through with the grand romantic gesture. Queenie’s mile-long milky legs saunter away from me in slow motion as though she knows I can’t bear to glance away. And she’s right, I can’t. Like I’m frozen in time, I watch my efforts vanish and the sting of rejection arrive. The sun burns my eyes as Lengel’s words ring in my ears; yet the backs of Queenie’s gorgeous legs never seem to hesitate, moving hastily along with purpose. Her bare feet slap on the steamy dark pavement with a steady thwap-thwap-thwap, bringing with it a sense of wistfulness that now overcomes me.
Something tells me those shoulders weren’t worth it.