“Is he cute?” Amanda had asked me on the phone.
“Well, yeah,” I said, zipping up my dress.
“Is he nice?”
“Yes,” I said.
“Is he paying for dinner?”
“He better be,” I answered, rubbing lipstick off my front teeth.
“Then what’s the big deal?”
“I haven’t dated a guy in nine months!” I shouted. I didn’t mean to shout, but my nerves were taking over.
“Okay, calm down,” Amanda said. “I’m sure he’s delightful and you have nothing to worry about.”
“You don’t know that,” I sighed. “But thank you.”
“What’s your favorite thing about him?” Amanda asked, gracefully changing the subject.
I wish I had thought to invite her over to help me get ready.
I stifled a giggle, “His forearms.”
“Yeah. I’m a sucker for a man that wears a dress shirt and rolls up the sleeves just to his elbows. You know what I mean?”
“When Jack and I met, he was in a heated discussion over why Wile E. Coyote was never meant to catch the Road Runner. He had taken his jacket off and was gesturing wildly with his sleeves rolled up… Forearms are so sexy,” I added, not really meaning to say it out loud.
“Looney Tunes fan, huh?”
“Well if the date is going horribly wrong, just ask him to roll up his sleeves,” Amanda suggested.
“I will not!”
We both laughed, and my nerves had settled as I hung up with her.
Jack’s meeting me at the fanciest seafood restaurant I have ever seen.
And he’s late.
Sitting here, I can feel my hands and armpits slowly getting sticky with sweat. I should have worn a darker colored shirt.
I hate when people are late.
Finally, my heart does a little backflip as I see Jack come in. He hands his coat over to the hostess, and I see him tell her that he’s meeting someone. He starts to look around the dining room, and my hand shoots up in a wave before I know what it’s doing.
When Jack laughs, I realize my mouth has also made a move without my knowing, and I have a goofy grin plastered across my face.
I bashfully put my hand back in my lap and try to get my cheeks to cool down as Jack follows the hostess to our table.
“Here you are sir,” the hostess says, gesturing to the empty chair across from me. “Enjoy your dinner. Your waitress will be with you shortly.”
“Thank you,” Jack and I say in unison.
We look at each other and smile, and I find that his gaze is a bit too searing so I run my hands over my already flat skirt and slightly adjust my silverware.
When I look up, Jack is staring at me.
“Hi,” he says.
“Hi,” I whisper as I feel heat rush back into my cheeks.
Jack extends his hand across the table to me.
My hands are so clammy that I cringe as I place my hand in his. He doesn’t seem to notice. Thank God.
“Are you having a good day?” Jack asks me.
“Yes, I am,” I say, and smile in spite of myself.
“That’s good,” he says as his smile deepens. My cheeks are this close to erupting into flame. “I guarantee you’re in for an even better evening,” Jack adds with a wink and lets go of my hand to grab the wine list.
The heat melts from my face. What is that supposed to mean?
The waitress comes over and, before she can even introduce herself, Jack gestures to a page in the wine menu.
“We will take this bottle of white. Taylor, do you know what you’d like to eat?” he asks without looking at me.
“No. I haven’t even looked at the menu,” I say grabbing for the booklet in front of me. “I was waiting for you to arrive,” I try to add softly enough that he won’t hear.
“Well, I know what I’d like. I’ll just give you my order now,” he says to the waitress. “Come back in a few minutes for hers.”
The waitress shoots me a questioning eyebrow raise.
“I’ll have the broiled chicken breast…” (my head whips up and I freeze) “but with no skin. And instead of mashed potatoes, I’d like french fries (have to spoil yourself sometimes, right Taylor?) and the vegetable medley will be fine.”
“You want chicken?” I whisper to him. “At a seafood restaurant?”
“Oh sweetheart,” he says patting the back of my hand, “you never know with seafood.”
I start to feel a gag well up in my throat.
I can smell wet dirt, fresh-cut grass, the faint scent of manure, and the strong cologne that my grandfather always wore.
I’m six, and my Papa had invited me and my older brother, Thomas, to the farm to watch him slaughter his chickens. My mother had made a big deal of it, but I didn’t know why at the time.
“Dad, are you crazy? You’re going to scar my kids for life,” she had said.
“Oh hun, lighten up. It’s good for kids to see things like this. Keeps ‘em from going soft,” Papa replied.
I had been excited to go. Papa was a big believer in “guy time”, so it was always special when he invited me along to things.
But at the moment that the ax swung through the air and severed the first chicken’s head, I knew my life would never be the same. I wanted to look away, but Thomas wasn’t scared or sick so I stayed put. I watched like an observant stone as my grandfather finished them off, and I managed to wait until I was back inside the farmhouse before throwing up in the bathroom.
Later, I asked my mother if other animals died like Papa’s chickens. As it turns out, they all do.
I look up from my lap and across the table at Jack and swallow hard.
“Taylor,” Jack says frowning. “You look pale. Are you feeling okay?”
“Actually, I feel like I’m going to be sick,” I say, putting a hand on my stomach.
“No,” he says putting his hand up in a “stop” gesture. “Would you mind keeping that to yourself? I can’t handle puke. I just can’t.”
I don’t look at him and simply shake my head. But, as the wave of nausea passes, I remember something and a smile widens on my lips.
“Jack?” I say, “Would you mind rolling up your sleeves?”
“You just look hot is all,” I say shrugging my shoulders.
“Oh do I?” Jack grins.
I blush. I didn’t mean it that way, but Jack stands to take his jacket off and slings it over the back of his chair. Then he makes a big show of unbuttoning his cuffs and rolling up his sleeves.
I started to feel a different kind of ache in my stomach.
Then, just as he finishes evening out the second sleeve, I see it.
A tattoo of the biggest chicken that ever lived – Foghorn Leghorn.
It’s all I could do to make it to the bathroom.