Legitimacy Statement: I was born and raised in no where, southeast Tennessee, where more men went to fight for the union (including my great great great great whatever pappy) than any other southern state during the Civil War, went to school in middle Tennessee, then up north in ye olde New England for a spell, and returned to Knoxville. I’ll likely leave again. And come back. Then leave.
What more or less ruined the night was Alden, who wasn’t even there but used to work at that particular Olive Garden. And Beave could not deal.
“Why couldn’t we go literally anywhere else?” he said.
“Because I know too many people at the other places.” That was because I had worked at the other places—the Calhoun’s, the Applebee’s, the Cheddar’s—and apostrophes didn’t agree with me.
Burns were on my forearms from having spent a summer carrying plates to other people’s tables, trying to be a nice person, trying not to think about the bachelor’s degree and how I wasn’t doing anything with it but scribble to myself in a room, and so, I wanted to enjoy at least one decent evening being waited on by people I didn’t know. Alden and Beave were never great together. He was lanky and lazy. She was compact and determined. Their relationship lasted (against these odds) until she cheated on him with a Mega-Christian, which I had warned him about when she started encouraging him to go to the Mega-Church.
So the Olive Garden turned into one of those special moments wherein just enough margaritas were drunk that Beave felt the need to share with me about the sex, how he’d never understood if they were doing it right. And outside the sex, she didn’t believe in PDA, not even handholding, much less a cute nip on the cheek. Which I thought explained what happened pretty well, but he either couldn’t figure it out, or didn’t want to, so he instead replayed their love aloud.
And there were only so many times I could say, “Huh,” and “That blows,” and sip my drink before the gesture became disingenuous.
Thankfully, our waitress checked in every three or four minutes. She was cute, dark hair tied back, mysterious tattoos near her wrists, fading eyeliner, and she kept looking at my lips, especially when I ordered the pasta. Or, one of the pastas. “86 the mushrooms,” I said, and she nodded without writing anything down. You made more money if you didn’t write stuff down. Under the dim lights, the toasty presence of the gas fireplace, I watched her do the same to table after table with the sad knowledge of how we all looked better in these low-lit restaurants.
“And her mother, that was what really did it…” Beave was saying.
Minutes later, a guy brought our food to the table. She remembered about the mushrooms. Along the guy’s jawline spread a fresh splotch of acne, which made me think of Darren, who was prone to such breakouts. At the end of the summer, he would marry Ariel.
I had been sleeping with Ariel for about a month. Darren, she said, wasn’t any good at sex. He cared too much about what was going on, which she connected to an old-fashioned chivalry, a reflex to sacrifice one’s own pleasure for another’s. When I asked why are you marrying him then, she frowned and said that I wouldn’t understand. So I didn’t understand.
Now we were midway through August, and I was Darren’s best man. And since the only person I had been fucking that summer was Ariel, I wouldn’t have a date, which meant I would have to call Ambivalent (which was how my ex appeared in my phone).
By the time we’d finished eating and our waitress dropped off the check, Beave was in the middle of telling me about this new girl at the McDonald’s where he worked, how she was kind of emo or short or not very good with customers, but I couldn’t keep up, I was already so lost.