A Short Story by Kate Dillon
Written using the suggestion "Flame"
Originally featured on 03-02-2009
As part of our series "Bursting Into '09"

He first saw Monique through the window of the McDonalds on 82nd. It was still dark outside, but the building glowed yellow, the only thing in sight open this early. From where he sat on the frozen metal bench at the bus stop, he could see everything inside. Two guys around his age stood behind the counter, the skinny one taking the order of a man in a suit—the only person in the building not wearing a red polo shirt and matching hat—and the other guy leaning against the drink machine, refilling the paper cups and lids, gaze fixed on the girl.

Monique sat at a booth in the back of the restaurant with her knees bent and her legs pulled up to her chest, shins pressed against the gray plastic table. Her red polo was at least three sizes too big and her blue Dockers at least a size too small, but he wasn’t complaining. Even though her arms, hugging her knees as she stared down at them, blocked the view of most of what he was interested in getting a look at, he could still tell that she had a nice ass. Her face was OK, too, from what he could see—thick dark red liner held her big lips in place and black liner circled and re-circled her eyes. She wasn’t hot but she was good-looking enough, and besides that, there was something about her face that made him want to know more. He felt like he had seen her before, if not in real life then in a dream.

He missed his bus and the next one, but by that time he had decided for sure that he would wait until she got off work so that he could try and talk to her. He had been planning on going to his friend Brendon’s house, but he called to say he wasn’t going to be able to make it. Had to look into something, he told his friend. By now the sun had risen and a soft, sunny haze burned as far as he could see. It was getting warm and he took off his oversized blue sports jacket, balling it up and holding it tight in his sweaty palms. He could hardly see into the McDonalds anymore, but kept an eye on the doors so he could catch her as she left.

After a few hours of sitting and pacing around the bus stop, trying not to look too conspicuous, he finally saw her walk out the door. She didn’t even use the back employees’ door like he was afraid she would. She just walked right out the main door, setting his plans into place. He checked for traffic and then ran right across the busy five lane road—no time to make it to the crosswalk—and towards the restaurant. He caught up to her just as she walked up to an old, red, beat-up Ford Tempo.

“Hey,” he mumbled towards her.

“Hey,” she mumbled back in his general direction, not even looking up from unlocking the car door. She started to climb in.

“Wait!” he yelled, a bit loudly. “Wait for a sec,” he tried again. “What’s your name?”

“Why?” she asked. “What do you want?”

He took a deep breath. “ I just wanted to see, uh, to see what’s up, baby,” he leaned against the car and tried to be as cool as possible. It was the only way he knew how to talk to girls, the hey baby, hey girl, what’s up hottie shit that usually got him in trouble but he did it anyway.

She rolled her eyes. “Excuse me, but fuck off.”

“Come on baby, is that how you’re gonna be? I just want to get to know you a little. You caught my eye, girl. At least tell me what your name is.”

She stared long and hard at him, her thin, arched, jet-black eyebrows furrowed. “Monique,” she said, and turned back towards her car.

“I’m Robbie, but you can call me Rob if you want. You live around here?”

“I live…around,” Monique replied. Half of her body was on its way into the car, turned away from Robbie, and the other half began to turn a bit towards him, still suspicious. But he was drawing her in, if only slightly. He could tell.

“Well, Monique, I was wondering if you wanna go get something to eat with me or something.” Robbie was getting a bit more comfortable around her and he took a small step closer. “My treat.”

“I better not,” Monique replied quickly. “I have to get back home to take care of my sister and brothers.”

“Who’s taking care of them now?” Robbie asked.

“Well, my mom, but she…she needs to go to work soon so I better get going.”

Robbie wasn’t going to take no for an answer. “Some other time, then. I’d love to get to know you lil’ bit. You’re really cute.”

Monique actually smiled and visibly relaxed her tightened, defensive body. “Maybe some other time.”

“You work tomorrow?”

“Yeah, same time.” Monique bit on her thumbnail and rolled her eyes. “Gotta make money somehow.”

“Well,” Robbie said. “I might have to come back tomorrow. You'll be free after work?”

“Maybe,” Monique smiled again and climbed into her car. “Maybe I’ll see you tomorrow,” she said through the rolled-down window as she fastened her seatbelt.

Robbie smiled back, a cool, toothless smile because he always hated his teeth. “Well I sure do hope so, babe. I’ll be back here, lookin’ for ya.”

“Okay.” Monique started the engine and noisily switched into gear. “Bye Robbie.”

“Bye, Monique,” he yelled as she sped off.

The next day Robbie did stop by, this time going right inside the McDonald’s and sitting in a corner booth. He flashed a hint of a smile at Monique as he walked past her on his way to the booth, and she couldn’t help but smile back. She was really surprised that he came, and she had to admit she was pretty happy. There was something about Robbie that intrigued her, too, but she wasn’t sure exactly what it was.

Robbie waited for over an hour for Monique’s shift to end. He didn’t mind; he liked watching her work. The way she smiled at customers when she took orders, the way she rolled her eyes at her coworkers when they made stupid jokes that even Robbie could overhear. When she finally got off of work, she simply motioned for Robbie to follow her as she walked out the door, which he did, and they both stood in the parking lot staring at each other.

"So what do you want to do? You do want to hang out, right?" Robbie asked.

"Yeah, I guess." Monique tried to play it cool.

"You want ice cream? We could get some."

"OK." Monique hadn’t eaten dinner yet and ice cream didn’t sound nearly as appetizing as a full meal did, but something inside told her not to pass up her chance with Robbie over something like that.

They went to the Dairy Queen down the street to talk and had a genuinely good time. He liked her and she decided that she liked him, too, and everything was falling into place. As Robbie got to know her a little better through their near-daily dates at various fast food restaurants in the area, he was able to stop relying on his pocketful of cheesy pickup lines and began to just plain talk to Monique. They talked about their friends and families. About their pasts and futures, about the weather, about their days, about anything. They got to know each other better with each time they got together, and eventually, after one of their post-restaurant hookups, Robbie asked Monique to be his girlfriend.

That was in June. Now, in November, a chill has settled in the air. As Robbie waits at the but stop, he zips his coat up all the way and pulls his hood tight around his ears. He can see Monique through the glowing McDonald’s window like usual, only this time he isn’t sticking around to wait for her. He wishes he could, that things were the same as they were just a few months ago, but they're nowhere near that. Monique notices him across the street waiting for the bus and offers a slight wave. Robbie waves back just as the bus approaches, then hops on, and he’s gone. Monique watches the bus pull away from the stop and sighs, then gets back to work. Everything ended that Thursday that they went to the clinic together, and there was nothing either of them could do to get it back. The flame had gone out as quickly as it was lit, leaving only a thin stream of smokey memories dancing in a light wind.

Read More By Kate Dillon

COPYRIGHT 2006-2011
Portland Fiction Project

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