Terri and Tess
“So, congratulations girl!”
Facing Tess under the soft glow of the lampshade, Terri took a breath and made the best of the moment. She ran her fingers over the nicks and grooves worn into the smooth surface of the cherry wood table. Booths lined the exposed brick walls, jammed with families out on the town and friends kicking off the night with dinner, ordering wood stove pizzas with toppings such as goat cheese, feta cheese, olives, or even goat cheese stuffed olives. The wait staff hustled to keep up, a combination of guys in ill-fitting t-shirts and horrendous haircuts along bored girls who smiled for tips.
Agreeing to meet Tess, She knew that from the moment she walked into the downtown bistro—in the basement of what was once a textile mill but now served micro brews and specialty pies, she was on her sister’s turf.
“So tell me all about it, how did he propose? Wait!” She grabbed at Terri’s hand as though she had caught a child stealing. “Let me see the ring!”
Terri reclaimed her hand, a poised smile playing on her lips as she brought her eyelids down and then back open. A long blink of the eyes as though she had pressed a reset button in her mind.
“There is no ring.”
She waited for the scoffing; the bang the table, over-dramatic reaction that her sister found in the most minuscule situations. Thankfully, they were interrupted by the waiter’s arrival, casual and apathetic.
“What’s up? I’m Cliff, what can I get you to drink?”
Terri watched her sister perk up, craning her head towards the waiter with a playful smile.
“Cliff…” She glanced at Terri with arched eyebrows. “Which do you prefer between the Sunpine ale and the Afton Mountain ?
“Sunpine for sure.” Cliff leaned down, his long arm supporting his skinny frame on the back of the bench.
“You know what Cliff, I think I’ll have a cosmopolitan.”
Cliff turned to Terri, his eyes widening as though he had just received a gift.
“And for you?”
“I’ll have a Guinness.”
“Guinness huh? Alright. I’ll be back.”
He shuffled towards the bar, glancing back once more on his way. Tess gushed.
“Oh my God! He was all over me. How funny was that?”
“Pretty funny, I gotta say.”
Tess went back to her phone, her thumb instinctively scrolling the screen..
Terri observed her sister as though she were behind a one-way mirror. The designer glasses, colorful jewelry, and leather blazer over a blouse that was a perfect match for the wallpaper in their grandmother’s colonial. She must have spent two, perhaps three hundred dollars on the ensemble in an effort to look as though she had found it in a second hand boutique shop. Add that to whatever she was wearing under the table.
“How are things with…Aaron?” She asked, attempting to revive the dying conversation.
“Oh, he’s trying to work it out with his wife.” Tess answered without looking up.
She recalled how she had once admired her sister. Beautiful and knowing, performing graceful cartwheels under the drops from the sprinkler in the front lawn. She would watch her in awe, hoping that one day she would be able flip her body with such ease and grace.
“It’s probably for the best.” She knew her sister was paying little attention. After a while Tess set the phone on the table.
“Oh, so no ring? What’s up with that?”
“I don’t know, it wasn't something that came up. We were at the park, he got down on one knee. It was really sweet."
“Wow, he sure has you trained.”
She parted her lips to speak but decided against it. Chip returned with their drinks.
“One Cosmopolitan and one Guinness.” He glanced at the unopened menus on the table, and then at Terri, lingering. Tess's phone lit up, shaking violently across the table. Cliff moved on.
She sipped her Guinness, savoring the taste while taking in the atmosphere. The dinner crowd was buzzing, bewitched by the lure and possibilities of a Friday night. The patrons were festive and lively as stories of the week unraveled in the chatter.
“So seriously, like, is he going to get you a ring?”
Another sip. She eyed the dark concoction. The deep, coffee colored stout, its tan frothy bubbles clung to the side of the pint glass. She thought how the few ounces in the glass were far deeper than the extent of her sister’s shallow thoughts.
“I’m sure he is, it’s not something I’ve worried about with his deployment and all.
“That sucks, what if he gets mangled or loses a limb or something?
A thin smile crept from the corner of her sister’s mouth. The hazel eyes twinkled as though there was humor hidden in her question.
The Guinness hurled through the air. Glistening under the glow of the hanging lampshade, the twirling stream of brown and amber climbed to its apex and began its descent, crashing onto her face before she could blink. It drenched her. Terri could hear the splash as it ricocheted off of those hideous glasses and ran down her cheeks, soaking the wallpaper blouse.
“Terri? What are you doing?”
Terri reeled in her thoughts, taking a sip of her still intact stout and rummaging through the depths of her being for self-control.
“Why would you say….”
“Hang on, I’ll be right back.”
Her sister waltzed over towards a group of similarly dressed girls—or women rather, drink in one hand and phone in the other as they hugged and laughed.
It was a noble effort, Terri thought. Although one with the expected results. She laid a ten on the table, grabbed her purse and walked quietly out into the street. She never turned to see if Tess saw her. She figured that she hadn't.
The evening was cool and save for the occasional passing car, quiet and calm. She loved the nighttime in the spring. The chill of the fading winter giving the air just enough bite, the promise of summer just a morning away.
She wiped her eyes and tightened her coat. Her breath shook as she walked under the bloom of the cherry trees that lined the sidewalk, the ill-fated dinner an afterthought as she pulled the modest silver ring from her pocket.
Her finger fit perfectly, the oval ruby sparkled under the street lamp, just as it had when her grandfather had proposed so to her grandmother those many years ago. She had felt guilty about her father giving it to her fiancé, when he asked for her hand, but her father had wanted her to have it. Tess wouldn't want it, he had said.