Pickup Line 21

The quiet opened up in her gush of tears. He stood there, not quite knowing what to do.

You should know better than to ask too many questions about parents. He only had dead ones himself, years dead, so he wasn’t just put of practice when it came to being sensitive. He was out of practice when it came to grieving. Hell, he was probably out of practice when it came to feeling much of anything at all. His own kitchen, den, bedroom felt so empty now.

What he now felt came over him like a strange mix of tenderness and shame; the same feeling he had had, years ago, when he gave a small bouquet to a woman he had no business buying flowers for.

He tried the familiar route. “Well, so very good. They are alive. Divorced, not dead. No sense sitting Shiva here in my office.”

She cried harder.

While he enjoyed his reputation for being catty, he knew that it wouldn’t do for this one. It was usually only plagiarists he demanded come to his office: the little shits who just peeled papers off of some website, usually in first year writing class, but this girl–she seemed troubled.

Not in the way you usually heard about. The “troubled” ones who become campus snipers. No, she had a deep hurt. She would be alright, and become the MBA she probably dreamed of becoming, hungry and ambitious with a nice house, a chiseled lacrosse playing husband. But–and he rarely saw this, even among his so called “creative writing minors,” there was something special. He loved being the professor who pushed the good ones. It was a rare treat, especially when every kid seemed to want to become a doctor, lawyer, or venture capitalist.

He hadn’t expected tears. Maybe “What the hell happened to your parents? Who acts that way?” wasn’t the best cold open.

“Stupid old queen,” he thought to himself. “You remember how hard it was to pretend to be happy, don’t you?”

“Dear,” he said. She looked up. “Forgive me. I haven’t been a priest for a long damn time, and I’ve been trying my hand as a provocateur for far too long. Shall we begin again?”

She nodded, even as she looked down.

“Let’s talk about how good this damn essay was. And how much better it could be.”

Strangely enough, this section began here in Belgrade. While walking home a couple of nights ago, I saw an old man giving a younger woman some flowers. He looked sheepish, and I wanted to do something with the image. I went out to dinner tonight, and while I was finishing up and waiting for the bill, it came to me–I should revisit this piece, and since the first phase had two voices, I should create a second voice to keep the story somewhat parallel.

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