Standing in line at Potbelly Sandwich Shop is my Friday tradition after work. This past Friday, I browsed the menu for several minutes even though I already knew what I would order. When it was time for me to order I asked, “How are you?” She didn’t answer. She knew my question was for the sole purpose of escaping silence. I was hoping she would at least compliment my dress, but she was too focused on the art of making sandwiches.
As I metaphorically twiddled my thumbs and actually scratched behind my right ear, I turned to the sound of someone walking into the shop. It was Rudy. He didn’t see me, but I bet he could feel my presence.
We were married once. Well, sort of. I don’t remember if I cheated on him, or if he cheated on me. I’m not quite sure, and I don’t really care. But I’ve missed him for quite some time.
I looked at his eyes as he looked at the potbelly pig on the wall. He looked the same, but his eyes looked different. They looked like they hadn’t seen love in a while but didn’t mind it.
The eyes moved from the pig to the menu on the wall. He scanned the menu, but I knew he wanted the roast beef. People change, but not that much. Before it was his turn to order, he looked at the people in front to size up the other hungry sandwich eaters. Finally, his precious eyes landed on me. “Hey, Syrup,” he said softly. He never liked honey.
I walked over to him but didn’t say a word. I think a worker asked me something, but I’m not sure. You shouldn’t need to ask if I want avocado on my sandwich.
We looked into each other’s eyes. It was like we recognized each other but didn’t know why. We didn’t care. Neither one of us smiled, but it felt sort of pleasant. Our faces were an inch or two apart. I thought about leaning in slightly to kiss him, but it didn’t seem right. I wanted to hold his clammy hands. I saw his hand move as if to initiate a handshake, but he knew that was wrong. We stared for a while. I wished our blinks would sync up, but we were rarely in sync. I never noticed his eyes were hazel. I always thought they were brown. I had lost the memory of the way he used to look at me, but it didn’t matter because he was looking at me right then.
Then he wrapped his arms around me, and without thinking, I wrapped my arms around him. I squeezed him tight. We rocked side to side, holding each other as if someone was desperately attempting to pull us apart. The hug felt like it lasted thirty minutes. We didn’t want to let go. We didn’t care that people were staring at us. We didn’t even care about our sandwiches getting cold. We just cared for each other. It was this weird feeling like we couldn’t leave each other because we were never actually together.
The next thing I knew, he was walking away. I don’t know how it ended, but that hug will last forever. “I’ll see ya,” he said as the door closed behind him. We won’t see each other again. He knew that. But saying goodbye didn’t feel right.
I watched him walk away. The woman next to me had tears in her eyes. “That is why life sucks,” she said.
I smiled and thought to myself, That is why life is great.
©2023 Jake Schick