Rosalie Evers hated restaurants like this. Everyone knows the type; white tablecloth, red carpet, yellow candles, and a golden chandelier glistening slightly too high for proper appreciation. Sitting at her own uncomfortably crisp table, she sighed and pulled out her phone.
7:02. He wasn’t late; she had been early, but it still annoyed her for some reason. She clicked Instagram and scrolled through ten photos without looking at any of them, then closed her eyes tightly and stowed her phone again in her purse. The last thing she wanted was for him to think she couldn’t sit alone for five minutes without her phone. Well, maybe not the last thing.
Her eyes fell, instead, to the other diners. Too preoccupied with her own nerves, she hadn’t noticed them before, but it was the dinner hour on a weekend, and the restaurant was far from empty. Closest to her was a group of three women, each quite pretty, but none particularly dressed up. They had obviously shared a bottle of something already and were slightly more giggly than the typical customer a restaurant like this usually served, but Rosalie didn’t mind. Their laughter made her feel slightly more at ease.
Close to them were two more women, though these two were nowhere near the same age. Rosalie supposed they might be mother and daughter. They were sharing an entrée and an appetizer and talking in the low, comfortable tone of old friends. It was the same tone Rosalie and her mother used when they hadn’t seen each other in quite some time; filled with relief and familiarity.
Behind them sat a couple. A woman and a man, each dressed up beyond what the average dinner date warranted. The man wore a crisp, black suit with a gray dress shirt beneath. Only small accents of gold at the lapels and cuffs detracted from his dark, almost edgy outfit. His shoes were sleek and black, and reminded Rosalie of a black snake she had once seen in a garden at her elementary school. It hadn’t been dangerous, she knew, but had made her shiver all the same. In the same way as the snake, the man’s shoes seemed too smooth and flawless to be real. The woman wore a glittery, gray dress which clung to her torso and hips, then relaxing as the fabric swept towards her legs. It matched her dark gray heels, and the sparkles all over the dress emphasized the shiny necklace and earrings she wore. Her wrists and fingers were bare. Rosalie wondered if this was intentional.
The couple leaned towards each other as though the table were too wide for their taste. Her hand in his, they spoke in slow, hushed tones meant only for one another. One of them laughed, soft and gentle, and it echoed around the room, mingling with the others, but still distinct; sweeter and quieter.
Rosalie looked away, suddenly feeling dull and dreary in appearance. She hadn’t felt underdressed when she left, but looking at herself now, she wished she’d done something more. She could have done her nails or worn a little more makeup. She’d barely done her hair, simply pulling it back into a bun. She preferred wearing it down, as buns gave her a slight headache after an hour or two, but she hadn’t had the energy to do anything more elaborate. Still, she wore a dress she liked and comfortable shoes. Who knew if the gray-dressed woman was comfortable?
Rosalie sighed, the tension in her shoulders growing. When, at 7:12, the waiter came to ask if Rosalie needed anything, she ordered a single glass of wine.
“Any particular variety?”
“Whatever’s not too expensive. Or too sweet. Um...red--a merlot?”
The waiter brought one quickly, offering an appetizer or some bread, but Rosalie refused, promising to order something soon, and the waiter left.
Alone again, she swirled the wine in her glass, watching the deep red leave a slight film on the sides. Saying she liked wine more than other alcohol made her feel like a snob, but it was still true. She took a small sip, holding it in her mouth for a moment before swallowing. It tasted of blackberry and cloves, but was dry enough. There was something in it she didn’t like, but she couldn’t place it...graphite, perhaps? It was small enough to ignore. She took another sip, closing her eyes, and sighed again.
When she opened them, he was there. Not the man she was waiting for, but the one she knew before. They sat outside a café in the evening, splitting a simple dinner. She could see it all again, his pale eyes glittering like cold crystals in the dying light, his smile open and inviting. She felt his fingertips brush her hand, felt the longing for her heart to skip a beat, but it went on, steady as the tide. He was speaking now, reviving a subject she’d hoped was forgotten.
“Why don’t you want to come to Colorado? It would be so great.” He kept his voice controlled, but she could hear the plea beneath the surface.
“I’ve already told you,” she said, trying to sound firm, but knowing she was failing, “I don’t want to leave this job, I’ve never felt more like--”
“You can request a transfer, can’t you? There are branches near Denver.”
“It’s not what I want. I don’t--”
“Rosie. Please take a little more time to consider it.” He smiled at her again, that sweet, charismatic smile that somehow always seemed endearing, even when he annoyed her. She wanted to put an end to this, but it was no use. She nodded. He took her hand in his again and gave it a gentle squeeze, refilling her wine glass with his other hand. She reached for it and took a larger sip than usual, allowing the gentle burn against the back of her throat to wash away her irritation.
In the restaurant, she stared into the glass again, noticing the way the lights from the chandelier above glanced off the surface of the wine. They twinkled like stars in a burgundy sky. And now she looked up and saw the real sky above her, and felt his hand on her shoulder. As he spoke, his hand drifted ever so slightly closer to her neck. She gripped the balcony tightly beneath her fingers, wishing she’d left her hair down. The city was bright and vibrant below them, and Rosalie fixed her eye on one car, seeing how long she could keep it in view before it rounded a corner and disappeared behind one of the many buildings.
He was talking about the future again, about the house they would have and the car he wanted to buy for them and the short drive to the mountains. Rosalie liked the mountains, but she liked the sea more. When the sky was clear and no fogbank hovered over the horizon, she could see it from the living room window. She strained her neck now, leaning away from him to the right to see if she could see it now. But no, there was too much in the way.
“Rosie?” he asked, reaching his arm out for her again and slinking it around her waist, “you okay?
“Yes,” she replied, still looking west, “I’m fine.” He smiled and chuckled at her, amused, then pulled her to him and wrapped his other arm around her waist, clasping his hands over her like a seatbelt.
“Good,” he said, “I love talking about this stuff with you. We’re so lucky.” Rosalie nodded, and looked back up to the barely-visible stars above her.
The reflections in the wine were brighter than those stars. Too much light pollution, she thought, and took another sip. The cloves tasted stronger this time, slightly overpowering the blackberry. She wrinkled her nose, wondering, for the first time, whether she even liked the taste of clove. It reminded her of Christmas, and of making pomander balls with her mother and sisters. They would put them all over the house, on the mantel, above the stove, and on the table for the car keys by the door. Anywhere she walked, Rosalie would take a deep breath and allow the scent of orange and clove to fill her nose and brain, and she would smile before running off to whatever was next.
But this reminded her of something else. Candles, that was it, the candles they’d used to keep in the apartment in the winter. She had missed the pomander balls, but the clove-and-orange candles were a poor substitute. They filled her lungs more than her head and made her feel heavy and claustrophobic. The scent was too sweet and too strong for comfort. It didn’t remind her of home in any way.
She sat on the couch beside one of the candles, listening to his voice echo from the other room. It pounded against her eardrums as the thick scent of the candle wafted down her throat. She stared into the small, flickering flame and blinked back the tears fighting to slip down her cheeks.
He strode out of the bedroom now, keys and wallet held tight in one fist, the other clenched around his duffel strap. His words sounded muffled and far away, but she had nodded, absentmindedly pulling her jacket closer around her, though the room was warm and bright. She heard the door slam behind her and the first tear escaped. She swiped it violently from her face, feeling her face grow hot and her heartbeat quicken. She glanced at the candle again, despising it. It blinked innocently back at her, small and fragile and almost curious. Without a second thought, she grabbed the glass in her hand and hurled it against the wall, where it shattered and fell to the floor, the hot wax leaving quickly-solidifying droplets on the wood. The cool part of the candle lay on the floor in two pieces held together by the wick, surrounded by the broken glass. The fake scent of clove still filled the air, so she stormed over to the window and wrenched it open, letting the cold winter wind fill the room. The scent began to fade.
As did the taste in her mouth. For good measure, she took a sip from her water glass, the ice knocking against her teeth. The wineglass half empty now, she looked at her phone again. 7:27. At this point, it felt safe to say he wasn’t coming. Rosalie sighed once more, feeling her shoulders slump forward slightly. She reached a hand back and pulled the hair tie and few pins from her hair, letting her curls cascade freely behind her head. She sipped the wine again.
Suddenly she heard gasps and applause from around her, punctuated by a whistle and one or two cheers. She looked up at the gray-dressed couple again. The man was kneeling, holding out a small, black box to the woman, who had her hands pressed over her mouth. All around them, the onlookers took photos and clapped as the gray-dressed woman cried and nodded vigorously at the man, laughing her delighted laugh as he slipped the ring onto her previously bare hands. The couple stood together and kissed, his hands slinking around her waist, hers floating up to behind his neck. The laughter and applause began to die down as the onlookers returned to their meals. Rosalie laughed too and smiled for the first time since leaving her apartment. She reached behind her and grabbed her coat from her chair, leisurely pulling it on. She rifled through her wallet until she found a twenty, then folded it and took her would-be-date’s empty cup, placing it on top of the bill to weigh it down. Then she stood, and walked out of the restaurant, leaving the remaining wine behind along with the other things she was in dire need of forgetting.