by Cassandra Dunn
Like me, the minx was a ten o’clock regular at Lily’s Cafe. She wasn’t friendly, although she wasn’t rude, she just never returned my smiles or made any effort to exchange greetings. She always hid behind her oversized sunglasses, feigning absorption in the man beside her, a magenta smile on her face, a girlish giggle squeaking out of her throat.
She was Asian, slim and petite, probably early forties to judge by her hands, as my years of living in LA had taught me to do. Faces lied about age all the time, bodies, too, but hands kept you honest. She always dressed like a young girl, in short skirts, low-slung tops, with chunky jewelry and ridiculous heels she tottered on. She never came alone, was always on the arm of some older man.
Today’s guy was fairly casual, in his jeans and button-down shirt, and fairly young, with his hip shaved head, his recent tan, his confidently squared shoulders while he waited for their order.
I took my coffee, tried and failed to exchange a smile with her, had to settle for one from her latest guy, which made me like him and made the game of people-watching less fun. Now I was invested. Now I was worried about him, this complete stranger, resting his hand casually around the waist of the minx.
Her guys were usually in ill-fitting business suits, were frequently the awkward geeky type: balding, doughy, stoop-shouldered, broadcasting insecurity like a car alarm. Some wore wedding rings, some didn’t. All hung on her every giggly word, each flirty gesture, blushing dumbly at her attention.
She had long sleek black hair, the kind I’d once had, but in brown, before I’d had kids and it had thinned and grown brittle. Why having children had to cost me my beautiful hair I didn’t understand. But there it was. The minx liked to twist her hair around her finger, watching him watch her, then toss it behind her shoulder, gestures borrowed from a sixteen-year-old girl, to lure him in. She’d rest her hand on his arm as they sipped coffee together, moving her palm to his thigh under the table after a while.
The man changed every couple of months, but the look in his eyes as he took her in, the Asian beauty showering him with attention, was the same each time.
Until today. This guy liked her, you could tell by the softness in his brown eyes when he looked at her, but he wasn’t fawning over her, wasn’t blushing at her lacquered nail, tracing a streak down his muscled forearm. Maybe this one was her real boyfriend. Maybe she’d finally met her match.
I certainly hoped so. I wasn’t sure what her deal was, with the regular coffee dates for six or eight weeks, when a new man would rotate in. It was too innocuous for a prostitute, too consistently tame for a tryst. Was she after their money? They never looked wealthy, her soft businessmen in cheap suits, driving their aging Corollas and Civics. Was she simply lonely, possibly damaged, courting the affection of these harmless un-macho types she’d never have to fear? But then why toss them aside every other month for a new model, who looked exactly like the one before him? There was a game here, I was certain, I just wasn’t sure what it was.
Was it some woman like this that Clark had fallen for? The one he’d said had tricked him, into trusting her, betraying me, forsaking our family, enraging me until I simply had no choice but to leave? A lithe minx, with her thick shining hair intact, promising him, what, exactly? Not that it mattered anymore. My divorce was nearly final. In a matter of weeks my name would be mine again.
Once I’d seen the minx in the cafe with a young man she introduced as her brother. The businessman on her arm that day–balding, with dated glasses that pinched his nose, belly resting on the belt of his slacks, one she’d had for nearly a month, who’d grown quite comfortable with laying his arm around her shoulders in public–seemed uncomfortable in this young man’s presence. She kept it up, the hair tosses, the hand on his inner thigh, but he wasn’t gazing at her with adoration, he was staring at his coffee cup, his hands wrapped around it, on the small round table before him. It sounded like they were discussing money, some trouble the brother was having, how grateful they were for the man’s help. The wrinkled-suit suitor, who didn’t touch his little minx the whole time, had the look of a man being taken, who knows he’s being taken, but is powerless to stop the events unfolding before him. That was the last time I saw that man, and I hadn’t seen the brother since.
I took my usual seat, near the door, with the crossword puzzle before me to pretend I was doing something other than eavesdropping on the more interesting puzzle of her dating life. She always sat by the window, in the sun, maybe to justify her ever-present large sunglasses. What did they hide? I would not find out today. Today the tan, toned, head-shaved man took his coffee, handed hers to her, and led the way outside. They drove off, in his new Acura, taking their story with them.
I returned to my coffee, my crossword puzzle, my brief break from the hectic office down the street and my life happening all around me without my permission to do so. I touched my hair, now layered and colored and the shortest I’d ever worn it, a look the stylist promised would take years off my hair, but only made me feel like my mother.
I gave in and read the first crossword clue: Sneetches have stars upon thars. It was a Dr. Seuss-themed puzzle today, on Theodor Geisel’s birthday. I smiled, grateful for the reminder. The minx could have them, these lost men with their understroked egos. She could have the abundant hair, the mini dresses with legs to match.
Right now my children were in school, and my coffee break was just about over, but at three o’clock I’d blow out of work, race over to Dawson Elementary to meet them, their smiling faces hurrying toward me, proudly holding out a picture they’d drawn, or an A on a paper, arms open for a hug. The minx, and Clark, had nothing like that waiting for them, I was fairly certain.
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Cassandra Dunn received her MFA in creative writing from Mills College. She was a finalist in Glimmer Train’s Short Story Award for New Writers, and has appeared in or will be published in All Things Girl, Midwest Literary Magazine’s Bearing North, Read Short Fiction, Literary House Review, The Battered Suitcase, and The Scruffy Dog Review.