Emerging Writers: A Short Story by Ann Pogue.
Claude promised me dinner at an Ethiopian restaurant for my 57th birthday. A year behind me in college, he claims to have lusted for me from afar back then, and to still lust for me now. We’re talking in circles about trying a “friends with benefits” relationship, and this dinner is part of his persuasion campaign.
Claude walks like a good jazz pianist plays – rhythmically, melodically, commandingly. He is six feet tall with skin the color of the inside of a roasted cashew. His thick brown eyebrows, set slightly wider apart than his eyes, trumpet his welcoming nature. He holds his shoulders in ease, his chest wide open. His hands are relaxed, his elbows slightly bent. Like a tennis player waiting for a serve, his body is ready to reach out, touch, move close to test your personal space and intuit what pleases you.
We sit in the window of the small restaurant. Claude nuzzles my neck, kisses my cheek, and tries to put his hand down the back of my pants.
“No,” I say, grabbing his wrist, returning his hand to his lap, and giving him a stern look.
“Good evening,” a honeyed voice interrupts. “I’m Rahel.”
Claude and I break our gaze to look at the young, lithe waitress at the end of our table.
He switches his full attention seamlessly to her. “Rahel. That’s a beautiful name and you are a beautiful woman.”
She looks at me. I smile at her with a slight nod and a “that’s just the way he is” shoulder shrug. “Thank you sir,” she says after receiving my permission.
“Do you have any questions about the dinner menu?” asks Rahel.
Claude assumes she wants attention from him. “I don’t know much about Ethiopian food Rahel,” replies Claude mischievously, placing his elbows on the table and leaning towards her. “But I want to have something authentic, something someone who lives in Addis Ababa might eat for dinner. Can you help me with that?” Claude’s playful tone includes a hint of challenge.
“I think so,” replies Rahel as she leans in and straightens her back with pride. “I’m from Addis.”
“Great!” Claude exclaims, and then commands “recommend something for me.”
“My favorite is Awaze Tibs, which is…”
“Well, there it is,” Claude decides, making a staccato slap on the table. “That’s what I’ll have.”
He gazes directly at Rahul, his light brown eyes drawing her attention and requesting a lingering response from her. He takes in her face – her dark brown eyes, regal nose, her high forehead and cheekbones, her black curly long hair, her pendant earrings. His appreciation does not stray, as if he wants only to drink in her mind and her senses, as if he is not aware of the slammin’ body below the neck. He steals a gaze at the rest of her once she turns and makes a lithe walk back to the kitchen.
I, with begrudging acknowledgment of his talent, just watched him recycle the moves he used on me.