“I think he’s beautiful.” Barb was giving me that look again. The one that said I should just keep my mouth shut and agree with her.
“Yeah, I don’t see it.” I’m not that smart. “I think I’d grow a beard or something.”
“Yes. You probably would.” She wasn’t glaring, no, not really, just looking somewhere between disappointed and frustrated. “Sometimes, you’re just such a…” she paused, searching for what I was sure was some acidic synoym for myself, and finished “…a guy.”
“I know. I’m sorry.” I wasn’t being an ass. I really was sorry. I had been trying for weeks to understand Barb’s emotional tides but I hadn’t been having much luck. I kept wondering when she was going to give up on me, but I was smart enough to keep those thoughts inside my head. Most of the time, anyway.
“It’s ok. I just mean that, he’s obviously got some great kind of pride or ego or something. I mean, it’s like you just said, you’d get a beard or something, but he hasn’t. He’s just left himself open and exposed to all kinds of crap that he must get.” Barb leaned against me as she said all this, keeping her eyes fixed on the object of our conversation.
The lined inched forward.
“Maybe.” I said. “I guess I just feel bad for him. Not because there’s anything wrong with him or anything. Just because I can imagine what it must have been like for him as a kid. Hell, I was just chubby and I took all kinds of crap. With a mark like that, well…I dunno. I just feel a bit sorry for him.”
“Sorry for him?” Barb’s voice had that icy quality that meant I had said something stupid again.
“Yeah, but not pity-sorry, sad-sorry.”
“Oh.” She turned and looked at me. “You’re either a big softie or an incredible jerk.” She smiled. “I’m giving you the benefit of the doubt, though.”
The line moved another bare space forward.
“Thanks, I think.” I said, injecting my voice with a swagger, and then dropping to a worried whisper on the second syllable. But Barb was staring at the man again.
“I wonder how he got it? I mean, do you think he was born with it? Or was it a burning accident?”
“I think it’s just make-up.” I said, “I think he puts it on every morning so that people will talk about him. Probably so pretty girls like you will ask him about himself and he can tell you some sad story that makes you want to take care of him.” She elbowed me in the ribs. “Probably works too.”
Barb stepped up to the front of the line. “I’d like a toasted blueberry bagel with low-fat cream cheese, please. And a pineapple juice.” The man behind the counter took her order and turned to holler it back to the kitchen, giving me a profile of the large red mark tracing his jaw line from ear to chin. He turned back to take Barb’s money and I found myself looking him in the eye.
He winked at me, and said, as I stepped up to the counter, “You were right you know. I do use it as a pick-up line. Only one thing,” and here he leaned in just a little bit closer, “I’m gay.”
I stood there, fumbling for the words necessary to both apologize and order and failing to come up with either set for a long minute until he grinned and said “What’ll it be?”
“Sorry,” I mumbled and continued with my order. He grinned again and I turned away to find Barb standing next to me.
“Jackass,” she said, but she was smiling as she took me by the arm and led me away to breakfast.