Tabatha Rodriguez is and has always been a writer, but it has taken her forty-seven years to build up the courage to share her work with the world. Now that she has made the leap of faith, she is “chomping at the bit” to live her truth. You can find her on Facebook and on Twitter (@trodriguez1970).
Emma checked her appearance in the mirror one last time. She was unsure about the outfit she had chosen, but it was too late to change for the umpteenth time. Damn, she thought, looking at the large pile of discarded clothes on the bed before turning back to the mirror, is this too casual? Fashion was definitely not her forte.
Actually, anything that involved interacting with other people was not her forte. Painfully introverted since childhood, it was a wonder that she had even been asked out on a date. More like a fluke, actually. If she hadn’t literally crashed into Rick, she would have never met him. Hurrying around a corner, avoiding eye contact with other people, neither of them had seen the other in time to stop. They had both ended up on the ground, books and papers scattered around them.
They had both also immediately apologized to one another, profusely, in unison. It was pretty funny, really, and both of them had laughed as Rick offered his hand to help Emma up. It made Emma smile even now, just thinking about it. Rick was quirky, but cute, and she was both terrified and excited that he had asked to hang out with her after their initial and literal “bumping into each other.”
Emma left the apartment, praying that the old heap she drove would start this time. It was pretty much hit or miss on whether she would be walking or driving on any given day. Crossing her fingers, she turned the key. The old car complained for a few heart-stopping moments before giving in and starting. Yes! Emma thought as she put the car into gear. This is a good sign! She smiled at her reflection in the rear-view mirror, taking one last moment to check for stuff between her teeth.
She was immensely relieved that the car had started, as she was already running late for her date with Rick. It was the first time Emma had been asked out since she started college. Sad, considering she was a Junior.
It wasn’t as if Emma wasn’t attractive. In fact, she was actually pretty. But she was also awkward and painfully shy. Emma was like one of those girls from the teen movies who ends up being like Cinderella or something. Awkward and not noticed by the people around her until some sort of catalyst pushes the girl to come into her own, causing everyone to realize just how beautiful she is. Except that Emma had not had that “push” yet.
Emma smiled as she drove, her imagination running wild with images of her fledgling relationship with Rick. She was picturing quiet dinners at quaint little bistros, as well as double dates with Emma’s only friend Nancy, and Todd, Nancy’s boyfriend. This is the beginning of something beautiful, I can feel it, Emma thought as she hummed off-key to a pop song on the radio.
Emma parked about a block away from the café and began walking toward the entrance. Her nerves were starting to get the better of her. Her stomach reeled as if she were on the steep downhill descent of a tall roller coaster. Get it together, Emma! It’s just a boy! she admonished herself. Yeah, but it’s the only one who has shown an interest in you since you started college! Oh, the pressure!
Emma entered the café and glanced around, instinctively avoiding eye contact with the other patrons. There was no sign of the mop of shoulder-length curly black hair that had first attracted her to Rick after her initial shock of being knocked to the ground by their collision. Maybe he’s running late, she thought as she took a seat with a clear view of the door. She glanced down at the Mickey Mouse watch that had been her favorite accessory for the past several years. I’m five minutes late. Surely he did not leave already. No . . . he’s just running late.
Emma ordered an iced tea from the waitress, whose name tag read “Rosa,” and let her know she was meeting someone. As she pretended to study the menu, she kept a steady but inconspicuous eye on the café door. Each time it opened, her heart would leap up into her throat, only to plunk straight back down into her stomach when it wasn’t Rick. This went on for a good thirty minutes before Emma began to doubt that Rick was going to show up.
Great! Emma thought. How embarrassing! Emma was sure that everyone in the café was staring at her, aware that she was being stood up. They probably think I’m a big loser!
Rosa came around again and asked if she wanted to go ahead and order. The sympathetic look that the middle-aged woman gave Emma was almost too much. Great! Even the waitress thinks I’m a loser!
“Not just yet. I’ll wait just a few more minutes,” Emma smiled apologetically, making only momentary eye contact and blushing profusely. She had never been so embarrassed in her life. Well, maybe that one time in middle school when her period had started unexpectedly during science lab, right in front of the captain of the football team. Emma shuddered just remembering it.
“No rush,” Rosa replied, “I’m here all day, hon.” The woman refilled Emma’s tea glass and went about checking on her other customers.
Thirty minutes and two tea refills later, there was still no Rick. Emma had had enough. Embarrassed, hurt, and disappointed, she silently willed Rosa to come back. Please don’t make me wave you over, please don’t make me wave you over. The last thing Emma wanted to do was to start waving her hand around. If everyone wasn’t already staring at her, they definitely would then.
Apparently, Emma’s mind messaging skills needed some work, because Rosa did not even look her way. After a few moments, Emma sighed with resignation and waved Rosa over to her. “I guess I’ll go ahead and order,” Emma said, attempting to hide the utter defeat and disappointment that she felt.
“What’ll it be, kiddo?” Rosa asked. Emma could tell the woman felt bad for her. Rosa’s expression reminded Emma of how her mother had looked at her when she had been sent home in her blood-stained pants in middle school.
Emma, still working on not falling to pieces over the sudden death of all her future plans, looked up at the woman. “On second thought, I think I’ll just take the check.” The truth was that Emma was not even close to being hungry anymore. The last thing she wanted to do was eat. In fact, she was fighting the urge to just run out of the café and hide away in her room for the rest of her life.
Rosa smiled at her. “Just have a little something before you go, kiddo. You gotta eat, right?”
“Um, okay . . . what do you recommend?” Emma asked, a bit shocked that the woman was insisting she order something. Emma felt bad, though, for spending so much time at the woman’s table and not ordering anything. I can always take it to go, she thought.
Rosa looked at the young woman. “You know, kiddo? I think you look like you could use some pie. And I could definitely use some pie. Do you mind if I join you? I’m due to go on break.”
“Um . . . okay . . . sure,” Emma replied, not quite sure how to respond, but feeling a bit relieved that at least the other people in the restaurant maybe wouldn’t think she was such a loser now. Maybe they’ll think I was visiting her all along, just waiting for her to go on break.
“Be right back!” Rosa said, smiling widely.
A few minutes later, Rosa was back with the two biggest pieces of apple pie that Emma had ever seen. And topping each one was a generous scoop of vanilla ice cream. The pie was still hot, too, steam coming from the edges.
“Fresh from the oven!” Rosa said proudly as she took the seat opposite Emma.
“Thanks,” Emma said. She looked at Rosa, blushing. “I guess you figured out I got stood up, huh?” Emma was surprised that the words had even come out of her mouth. But something about this woman made her feel less awkward.
“Oh? Stood up, were you?” Rosa said, taking a big bite of equal pie and ice cream. Emma watched Rosa savor the mixture for a few seconds before swallowing. “Damn, that’s good!” She winked at Emma. “Go ahead, hon, eat up! I’m telling you, this right here, along with some good company, is the best medicine for all that ails you.”
Emma, whose appetite was nowhere to be found, but did not want to be rude, took a small bite of the pie, along with some melted ice cream from the plate. She forced it into her mouth, surprised to find her appetite returning. “Wow,” she said after she swallowed the mixture, “that’s really good!” She wasn’t sure if it was the pie, the ice cream, or the comfort of not eating alone. Whatever the reason, Emma was beginning to feel a little better.
“I know, right?” Rosa replied, taking another bite of her own pie.
“No,” Emma said, “I don’t mean like regular good. I mean REALLY good!” Emma couldn’t remember ever having tasted apple pie that good, and she had had plenty of apple pie in her life. “What’s the secret?” she asked.
Rosa looked at her, a twinkle in her eye. “No secret, hon. Pie always tastes better when you share it with someone,” she said.
Emma had to stop herself from rolling her eyes. “No, really. What’s the secret?” she asked, not able to completely mask the cynicism in her voice. Great, she’s a loon, she thought.
Rosa laughed. “I know you think I’m a loon, but I’m telling you, that is really the only thing that makes this pie special.”
Emma blanched. Oh my God! Did I say that out loud?
“Relax, hon,” Rosa said. She had seen Emma’s horrified expression. “I raised two daughters of my own and have an idea of how girls your age think. Plus, I can see in your eyes that you think I’m cuckoo for coco puffs!” She laughed again, and took another bite, motioning her fork towards Emma’s plate, encouraging her to do the same.
Emma took another bite, finding herself relaxing even more in Rosa’s company. “So good!” Emma mumbled halfway through the second bite, her mouth still full. It was nice, sitting here with Rosa eating apple pie. It caused Emma to forget to feel bad about being stood up by Rick. In fact, she was so distracted by how much she was enjoying Rosa’s company that she did not even see Rick come in the door a few minutes later.
Rosa, seeing the young man looking over at Emma, stood up, “Well, my break’s over, kiddo. Thanks for the good company!”
Emma, still unaware of Rick’s presence, replied, “Thank you . . . so much. It sucks being stood up, but you made my day so much better.” She smiled up at the woman, then noticed a mop of shoulder length curly black hair near the café door.
Rosa winked at her. “Looks like you weren’t stood up, after all, kiddo. Tell him to have the pie,” she said as she made her way back to the kitchen.
Rick walked up to Emma’s table. “Hey,” he said, sitting opposite of her. “I am so sorry I’m late. My car wouldn’t start and I had to walk the four miles to get here . . . I dropped my phone and broke it and couldn’t call you. I’m really glad you didn’t leave . . . wow, I am really sorry.”
Emma looked at him with even more appreciation than when he had first asked her out. If I hadn’t stayed for the pie, I would have missed him. Thank you Rosa! “Better late than never!” she smiled at him, only blushing a little as her eyes met his. “How do you feel about apple pie?”