Clouds rolled away to reveal dawn. Red and orange bathed the distance in an ocean of fire. It was a sight I began growing fond of since beginning the overnight shift.
There was something surreal about heading home to sleep while your timezone all arose. It did wonders on the subconscious.
Lisa was bedridden and ready to give birth. She had to go on maternity leave which meant half our income might suffer. The overnight shift was a means to supplement such a circumstance. This particular morning had been a day off from both despite my leaving work. That is what I hated about overnight. Technically, you were working on your day off.
The Dunkin Donuts-Carvel began attracting customers by the time I reached the back of the line. Coffee was a necessity that morning; it was the first time in about two weeks I would have legitimate time to work on a novel I began when I found out Lisa had been pregnant and it felt nearly complete.
With two people in front of me the bell on the hinge of the door jingled. A woman walked in bearing two small children. A boy who was walking alongside a stroller to which he had been clutching, and a girl in the stroller who was fast asleep. The woman looked old on the outside but her eyes gleamed with youth. Her stare seemed to be searching for a past that could have been. Baby food stained the front of her shirt. She smelled of vomit, banana baby food, and cigarettes.
She got on line behind me. As the next customer placed their order she began peering over my shoulder. I gave her a quick glance then faced forward hoping she wasn’t on the line in an attempt to solicite.
“Jeremy?” The woman said. I looked towards the door but nobody had just entered. I then realized I was the only male there. Turning around I said, “yes?” With a smile she said, “it’s Daniela. Hi.”
I searched my memory for the name and almost came up blank when a flash in her eye sparked a recognition. “Hey! Wow, it’s a been a long time. How are you?” From the defeated expression on her face my guess would be not good.
Daniela and I met in elementary school. We then went to the same middle school and then finally high school. High school was a fluke. Middle school, however, was the fault of the NY school system. Everyone from my elementary school were forced to attend the same middle school unless your parents transferred you elsewhere.
Freshman year of high school we dated for a few months. She was one of the prettiest girls in our grade. I would say top 5. I silently laughed at my even grabbing her attention because we were hardly friends despite being placed in the same class three out of four years during middle school.
A month before our relationship ended she got stopped on the street by a producer who got her a part in a Colgate commercial. The fame got to her head. As the spotlight began to fade she went to great lengths to ensure keeping being noticed. She got a nose job, breast implants, and a bigger bottom. She sure caused a stir come graduation when she had been voted most likely to succeed. Why, I have no idea.
The first year after high school she had been the featured girl in several rap videos. Last I had heard of her she had starred in a reality TV show, one I didn’t care to watch. Judging by how rundown she appears, it would seem nothing became of such fame if she’s waltzing into a Dunkin Donuts with two kids in tow and no man at her side. Her once perky breasts now sagged. Her face drooped. Her rear end a bit lopsided and gone.
My turn to order; a medium hazelnut, light & sweet. A minute later the coffee was in my hand. I should have just left. But I was curious about my old flame. Not because I wanted her back. No, I was very much happy with what Lisa had brought into my life. I wanted to know how someone who was voted Most Likely to Succeed looked broke and desperate in the eyes.
Daniela ordered the same drink along with an apple juice and two glazed donuts. We took a seat at a table close to the exit. She put her son in her lap and silently watched him pick at one of the donuts.
“So,” I began not quite sure how to even do so. “How you been?”
She looked at me with a far away glance and shrugged. “Doing okay, I guess. I have a family in case you hadn’t noticed.”
“Missed it completely.”
The laughter between us felt forced.
“What about you- any kids?” Her once confident voice now gone, replaced with a humble tone.
“One on the way. Our first.”
“That’s great. Is it with Tonya?”
“What? No, we haven’t dated in years. What made you think we were still together?”
Another shrug. “You two seemed in love.”
“What does that even mean at that age?”
“Its when it is at its most innocent.”
“That’s how I thought ours was.”
“Until you got Hollywood on me. Then everything simple wasn’t good enough.”
“I learned a lot about myself after the fact.” Her gaze drifted to anywhere but to me.
“What happened to you?”
Another shrug while looking at her son who was as quiet as a mouse.
“I made some bad decisions and then when I thought other decisions would help correct those, it all just got worse.”
I suddenly didn’t care anymore and wanted to be as far away from here as possible. So, I got up. Before walking to the door I said “I’m sure things are shitty now. But keep trying to look on the bright side. Good things will happen.”
I walked out of Dunkin Donuts and headed for the Brooklyn bound N train five blocks away.
As I set foot on the sidewalk in front of the subway entrance a woman coming out of a boutique and I bumped shoulders. She had an entourage with her who had several bags in each hand. The woman’s face was unmistakable despite it being hidden behind shades.
The woman looked over her shoulder as she handed her bags off to a man in shades and an earpiece.
“Do I know you?” She said with a hint of annoyance in her tone.
“You should since we dated in high school.”
“We don’t have time for this.” Another fake secret service agent said. “You have a flight to catch.”
She removed the shades and carefully studied my face. I could tell she knew who I was but as she put the shades back over her eyes she said, “must have been in your dreams” and then filed into the Expedition.
Tonya and I dated from the spring term of sophomore year to the July just before senior year. She had been one of those pretty girls who had no idea they were pretty which meant she had been humble. Tonya was still pretty but broke through her shell yet in that flash of recognition I saw something else; she thought she was better than everyone.
Amazing what a little beauty can do to a woman’s soul.