Chapter III:

Vision in a Sushi Restaurant

Heather O’Connor turned many heads on her walk to the BART station from her apartment building. She walked with energy. She swung her arms and stared intently, Leon’s infuriating face bouncing in her mind. They hadn’t seen each other in eleven days. Too long, too long. Because of that, she’d resolved, this might be the last time they saw each other again.

For some reason though she had dressed to the nines: ample cleavage tightly clasped in a yellow dress cut off above the knee, long legs perfectly molded by the thin cloth, dark, freshly shampooed hair flowing to shoulder length. She wore sunglasses and a smile. He thought she was young and immature. She wasn’t anything more than a trophy for him, and yet Heather couldn’t come up with anyone better. That was the problem. Leon, like it or not, was quite a catch: he had money, looks and sophistication. There was something about him she couldn’t quite see, something he kept hidden. Even when they had sex, sometimes she knew he wasn’t in the room with her, that his thoughts were lost with all that he perceived that he wasn’t. Not like he was mentally cheating on her, but like she wasn’t enough for him but he wouldn’t admit it. The sex was good though. There was that, and Leon clearly enjoyed it, and would surely try to fuck her today, but it wasn’t going to happen. She believed that this was the last time he would see her. Maybe she’d dressed like this just to say goodbye.

She arrived in Oakland. It was a beautiful day, but you could be forgiven for not noticing it, surrounded as she suddenly was by panhandlers, groups of teenagers and angry-faced single moms pushing strollers or circled by unruly four-year-olds. As she always did on this side of the Bay, she lowered her eyes and walked quickly. Leon lived on Alice Street a few blocks from the BART station. When she reached that street she took a left, and, a few moments later, couldn’t believe her eyes, found Leon waiting for her in front of his building.

“What are you doing out here?” she called out when within shouting distance.

“What do you think?” he answered. “I’m waiting for you.”

“Yeah, but… really?”

“Really and truly. I wanted to see you walking down the street.”

She was closer to him now, trying to stare him down. There was an awkward smile on his face. She’d never seen him smile like that, boyishly, like he actually cared what she thought of him.

“Did you do something to your hair?” he asked.

“Just washed it.”

“Looks great.”

“Thanks.”

You don’t care that I stood you up? Of course you don’t.

“Sorry about last night,” she said, forcing the subject, some four or five feet away from him, approaching warily. “I thought about it but I really didn’t want to walk through downtown Oakland at night.”

“I could have picked you up,” Leon answered.

“From the BART station? I wouldn’t want to inconvenience you.”

“What do you mean? I wanted to see you.”

“I wouldn’t want you to get carjacked.”

“I wouldn’t want you to think I wouldn’t want you.”

“Oh yeah? Then why didn’t you call me for a whole fucking week?”

Leon’s smile lilted. He dropped his eyes to the pavement.

“I don’t know,” he said.

“I know,” she lied.

“Heather…”

“No, you standing out here like this, smiling at me? You know I only came over here to tell you off, don’t you?”

“I’m sorry I didn’t call you.”

“Really, Leon. Do you even want to see me any more?”

The stupid smile disappeared altogether.

“Do you really think that?” he asked.

“I don’t know what to think. It’s obvious I’m not that important to you.”

“You’re starting to wonder if you’re wasting your time?”

“Oh my God yes. I’m wondering if I’m important to you at all.”

“Well, you’re not,” he said.

“What the fuck?! How could you say that?”

“I’m sorry. I’m using you for sex.”

“Jesus Christ.”

“You’re just so damn beautiful I can’t help myself.”

“Where the fuck is this coming from?”

Leon grinned again. His left hand brushed his pant leg, his pocket, Heather noticed.

“You’re different,” she said.

“I’m glad to see you.”

“Where have you been hiding?”

“I haven’t been hiding. I’ve made a decision.”

“You have?”

“I sure have.”

“What’s your decision.”

He paused a moment, then extended his hand.

“Come here,” he said.

She looked at his hand, then back at him. He was looking at her face, as if he hadn’t even noticed that she’d dressed up for him.

“You’re bizarre,” she said.

“I had bad parents,” Leon answered.

“So did everyone.”

“Mine were worse.”

“How do you know?”

“I’m turning over a new leaf.”

“Since when?”

“Heather, come here already,” open palm still extended.

This was far more animated a conversation than they’d had in a long time. Her heart was beating. There really was something different, more decisive about him today.

Deciding to trust this new impression of hers, she stepped forward and let him take her hand, and he immediately pulled her in and folded his arms around her. She was stiff in them. He kissed the top of her head, then she pushed him away, sick with herself.

“I’m glad to see you,” he said.

They stayed like that on the sidewalk, a step or two apart. It was warm, they were in the sunlight, and no one passed them by; for a little while Heather even forgot that they were in public, displaying affection. Quite unlike the man she used to know.

“Who are you and what have you done with Leon?” she asked.

The dopey smile came back. He had combed his hair for her, and was even dressed nice in pressed gray slacks and a button up T-shirt.

“You want to get lunch?” he asked.

“Where?”

“Sushi.”

“High roller,” she muttered.

“Come on,” he said. “I’ll hold your hand.”

He took a step towards her and took her hand. She was disgusted with herself.

They started walking down the sidewalk in the opposite direction of where she’d come from, towards Lake Merritt, through a neighborhood of tall art-deco apartment buildings.

“How have you been?” he asked.

“Alright.”

“How’s business at the wine shop?”

“Busy.”

“I’m sorry I haven’t called you.”

Heather didn’t know what to say.

“I haven’t called you either,” she finally responded.

They’d reached the end of Alice Street, which terminates at 19th Street and becomes Snow Park and slopes down towards Lake Merritt, an attractive but polluted urban lake with a footpath circling it.

“We both know who started it,” Leon answered her after a while.

“Yeah. You did. You don’t fucking want to see me.”

“I do.”

“No you don’t. Not that much at least. Eleven days, Leon. Eleven days we haven’t seen each other. And you even work in the city.”

“I’m sorry.”

“I can’t believe you,” she took her hand out of his grasp but still walked beside him.

“I’m turning over a new leaf.”

“Why?”

Leon fell silent. Birds twittered in the trees. They were walking in the sunlight and they passed another couple, an older couple, mature, in command of themselves, their faculties, aware of who they were. The eight years of age difference between she and Leon shouldn’t matter, but it intimidated her because he could seem so uninterested in what she had to say.

“Are you being honest with me?” she finally rejoined.

“I am.”

“Yes, but why?”

“I can’t tell you,” he said at last.

“You can’t tell me.”

“Really, just… trust me. It doesn’t make any sense. Just forget about it.”

“Forget about it.”

“I’ll show you how charming I can be.”

They crossed the street and joined the joggers, walkers and bicyclists on the footpath surrounding the lake. The thick, inky waters lapped its cement concrete shores.

He was wrong, he couldn’t just become charming, make her forget how distant they’d become; still, despite herself he was intriguing her. Before the day was out she would find out what had happened to him. There was something deeply suspicious about that dopey smile.

“I was promoted,” she said to break the silence.

“Oh yeah? I’m glad to hear it.”

“You sound very sincere today.”

“Thanks, Heather. I’m glad you don’t think I’m a liar.”

“I’m floor manager now. I beat out the three other customer service reps.”

A bicyclist came bearing down on them and Leon moved to make room for him to pass and his right arm brushed her left; he was walking close to her.

They reached Grand Avenue, which edged the park on the lake’s north shore. 

Tokyo Sushi was a pleasant Japanese restaurant made out with bamboo walls, soft yellow lighting, booths and a sake bar, and was not busy when they arrived. The hostess directed them to a booth, gave them menus and took their drink orders. Heather asked for water. Leon asked for a beer. The hostess left their table. Leon and Heather looked into each other’s eyes, and Heather noticed that Leon’s were a bit bloodshot as if from lack of sleep.

She smiled brightly in order to throw him off guard, brushed her hair behind her shoulders and leaned back against the wall of the booth.

“I like that we’ve cleared the air,” Heather joked.

Leon nodded.

“Maybe I should have stood you up a long time ago.”

“I don’t know.”

“You know what I think? I think you met somebody else.”

“I didn’t meet anybody else.”

“Then why are you acting so… honest?”

“Cause I feel honest. I feel on top of the world. I want my feeling to be infectious.”

“You’ve failed miserably.”

“Just because you’ve decided against it,” he said.

The hostess returned with Heather’s water and Leon’s Sapporo. Leon took a long drought, knocking his head back. Heather watched his adam’s apple toggle up and down. When he finished he let out a long “Ahhhh”, and wiped his mouth and chin with a napkin. A different person indeed. A person who knows what he wants.

“What aren’t you telling me, Leon?” she prodded. “I want to get it out of you, you know? You’ve never been so up front about what you’re hiding. I’ve always thought it’s something.”

“I wasn’t,” he said.

“Oh come on.”

“What? No, I didn’t hide anything from you.”

“But you are now.”

“No.”

“Then what? Why did you tell me there was something you were keeping from me?”

“I just wanted to give you the upper hand,” he said.

Heather laughed.

“I never have the upper hand with you,” she said.

“Tell me more about your promotion.”

“Why? Because you’re interested?”

“That’s right.”

“You’re a liar. Because you want to fuck me? Of course it is. Your parents really did put a number on you, didn’t they?”

“I guess they did. They’re both dead now.”

Leon took another drink of beer. Heather toyed with her water glass, running her fingers up and down the condensation.

“And yet,” she said, “there’s still something you aren’t telling me.”

He nodded his head.

“And I won’t tell you,” he said.

“I guess that’s your prerogative.”

“Do you regret coming from San Francisco?”

“No. If this is the last time we see each other at least I’m getting treated to sushi before it’s over. I’m not even that sad about it. Not all wine shop girls get to date a businessman from the Financial District.”

“We’ve had a good run, haven’t we.”

“Don’t count your chickens yet, Leon. I let you hold my hand, didn’t I?”

“You sure did.”

“Not so young any more, am I?”

“Let’s pick our dishes out, Heather. You can get whatever you want.”

“Thanks Pops.”

The waitress came to their table a few minutes later. Heather had been hiding her face in the menu, but she looked up and pointed out the Eel Tempura.Leon ordered the California rolls and a side of lox. The waitress took their menus from them, bowed slightly and left their table.

Leon looked over Heather’s shoulder at something, then looked back at her, sighed and placed his right hand palm down on the table. He had big, smooth hands, Heather found them attractive.

“Well, as floor manager I have direct say over displays and inventory,” she began. “That is, based on what we’re selling. It’s up to me in part to order and discontinue brands.”

“Fascinating.”

“You said you wanted to hear about it, didn’t you?”

“I guess I did.”

“Well, I also am going to put up a ‘Help Wanted’ sign in the window out front, and I’m to directly interview and hire the next girl, or boy, we decide to hire.”

“Do boys ever work there?”

“Sure they do.”

“Always looked like a store run by pretty young things to me.”

“And that’s what I am?”

“Yes indeed.”

“Well, thanks Leon. I actually believe that you really think that. That’s why you’re not getting any this afternoon.”

Leon’s mouth twisted slightly, then he took another drink of beer. He looked over her shoulder again, longer this time. She watched his eyes. For some reason they began to look worried. He kept looking over her shoulder.

“I beat out a girl who was hired six months before me.”

“Good job.”

“It really is now,” she said. “Maybe that’ll help my prospects, help me meet some nice, handsome fella who isn’t emotionally stunted.”

Leon didn’t respond. He was still looking at something behind her.

“Leon, what are you looking at?”

She looked behind her past around the wall of the booth, but there was nothing there except a pair of patrons eating and talking at a table by the window.

“You don’t see it?” he asked.

“What, do you know those people?”

She turned back towards him and watched him blink his eyes and shake his head. He looked at her with worry in his eyes. Heather decided to move on.

“I don’t know anything about you. And we’ve been dating for a year and a half and you simply forgot to call me.”

“It isn’t just that.”

“Then tell me, Leon. Tell me please. What else was it?”

“Okay, I’ll tell you. But you won’t believe me.”

“Oooo, sounds spicy.”

“It… It’s just a feeling.”

Heather felt satisfaction at his discomfort.

“I can’t tell you exactly where this feeling came from,” Leon continued, “and I can’t tell you what it means. Today, yesterday, all this week really, I’ve felt a little bit afraid, like something inside me is getting thrown out of whack. Either that or something in everybody else. When you’re afraid you want to know that you have people you can trust.”

“And you think you can trust me?”

“I think I’ve known you long enough that to jump ship at this point would be foolish. I want you, Heather. I want to make it work with you.”

“Gosh, Leon.”

“Don’t kid with me.”

“It sounds like you’re embarking on an adventure.”

“That’s actually what I’m afraid of.”

“Here comes the waitress,” she said.

The waitress appeared with her trays and set about placing the plates. She bowed again and backed away. As they ate Leon kept looking over Heather’s shoulder, his dopey smile a distant memory.

“So you could be wrong?” Heather prodded.

“Yes,” he said, and then, after a short pause, “But I don’t think I am.”

“Well, I have to say I’m intrigued. Maybe I’m game for an adventure myself.”

“That’s what I wanted to hear,” Leon said, and smiled. “I’m glad to see you.”

“I’m glad to see you too.”

She lifted her glass of water. Leon lifted his beer and they clinked glasses.

“Here’s to unexpected adventures,” she said.

They drank and fell into silence again, but this silence felt accommodating, and the way he’d answered her questions, straight forward, honest, she felt better about him. She wasn’t going to fuck him today, but maybe she’d give him a goodbye kiss. Maybe her time with him wasn’t a waste after all. And this adventure he was talking about? It actually seemed like he believed it.

They continued to eat their sushi. Heather generously applied soy sauce and wasabi, but Leon disdained it, he had such pedestrian tastes.

Together they cleared the plates, and Heather leaned back and drank her water. Leon had ordered another beer. He was still looking over her shoulder. She looked again, but nothing had changed, it was still the same patrons; two middle aged women in pant suits, business people, one of them dumpy and bloated in the face, the other a sallow Asian woman.

“You still don’t see it,” he said when she’d turned back to face him.

“See what?”

“Nothing,” he said. “It’s just a feeling.”

They finished their meal, paid and left the restaurant. Leon dropped his head and walked a wide berth around the two women at the window. He had let her in to a degree, but hadn’t elucidated his adventure.

“Do you know those women?” Heather asked, stopping short of the door to Grand Avenue.

Leon hesitated, then pushed past her. One of the women, the Asian one, was looking after him. Leon left the sushi restaurant, leaving Heather standing where she had been. She smiled at the women but they didn’t return the favor.

After a moment Heather walked out and found Leon on the sidewalk waiting for her.

“I’ll walk you back to the BART station,” Leon proffered.

“You don’t have to.”

“I know. But I want to.”

“It’s your funeral,” she said, then, “Are you going to tell me what happened in there?”

Leon did not answer.

Side by side they re-traced their footsteps, taking the footpath back to 21st Street. The streets here were empty. All the stores and restaurants were closed for the weekend.

“Leon, I wish you would tell me what’s on your mind,” Heather said.

“You don’t have to worry about it.”

“But it’s something, isn’t it?”

“It sure is.”

“Is it related to what you saw in the restaurant?”

“I’m not going to tell you.”

“Some new leaf you’re turning.”

They’d reached the 19th Street BART station on Broadway. Mostly they’d walked in silence. Heather felt something like defeat inside of her, but it did not seem insurmountable.

“Let me kiss you,” he said.

She turned her face up toward his and Leon worked his hand beneath her hair to the back of her neck and guided her face towards his and they shared a long, healing kiss. She felt his tongue on her teeth, but she did not answer with her own.

“You’ll let me see you again, won’t you?” Leon asked when they’d released.

“We’ll see.”

“I’m going to make you want to see me.”

“I want updates on your adventure.”

“I might not be able to help myself,” he said with some distress in his voice.

She backed away and shrugged her shoulders.

“Whatever it is, it sounds interesting.”

“It is. But I’m afraid that I’m going crazy.”

Heather had not been expecting him to say that. What oh what had he seen in the restaurant?

“Call me, Leon. I mean that.”

“I’m going to.”

“Don’t make me wait, please?”

“Don’t worry about it. I want to be there for you.”

He didn’t say: I also want you to be there for me, but Heather knew that he meant to.

“I’m leaving now,” she said. “Goodbye.”

With that she turned around and started down the escalator, and Leon watched her leave, shapely calves, round ass, beautiful dark hair. She hadn’t been aware, but Leon had had a boner for most of their lunch meeting in anticipation of what wasn’t to happen. It had died down though when he noticed the two Quixotes, big as people, sitting at the table by the window.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: