Counting Sentences

The snow that had started in the middle of the night had not slowed by the time Annabelle bundled up to meet her mom at Giovanni’s Italian Restaurant that evening. Annabelle looked down at herself to make sure she was up to pass the inspection her mom was sure to give her.  She was wearing the medium length velvet red dress her mom bought her last winter with her black boots and black tights.  Her long straight brunette hair was out of her face, as requested, with the help of an old banana clip she found in her closet.  After double-checking, she grabbed her black coat and ran out the door to walk down the street to the restaurant.  She thrust her hands into her coat pockets and bowed her head down slightly as she walked down the street.  The snow swirled around her as she walked past different groups of people, her ears always open to hearing what they are saying.  It was an old pastime, listening to stranger’s conversations.

When she reached the restaurant, she pulled her phone out of her pocket and checked the time.  With about fifteen minutes to spare, she stood in front of the restaurant.   She leaned against the brick front and watched the snow as it fell onto the concrete.  Through the snow, she watched different groups enter and leave the restaurant.  Some older couples enjoying a night out together, others were younger and on dates.  Annabelle could not help but remember the last time she went on a date.  It was not in a place like this, but some pizza joint nearby her college.  The pizza date with Jack Cooper and his ability to transfix her mind is not something she easily forgot over the years. Little did she know then, he was transfixing most of the female freshman too.  Annabelle was shaken out of her thoughts when her phone vibrated in her hand.  Nothing it was Elizabeth calling she answered quickly.

“There are more cookies behind the carrot sticks,” Annabelle answered with a smile.  There was a gasp on the other end of the phone.

“How do you know what I’m calling about?”  Elizabeth asked amazed.  Annabelle just shrugged and chuckled into the phone.

“You just got out of your environmental class and want cookies and beer.  I remember I wanted that combo when I got out of that class last year.  You know, the amount of time you spend at my place, you might as well just become my roommate.” Annabelle said.  She could hear Elizabeth bite into a cookie.

“That would require me to pay rent which can’t happen until I get a job which will only happen after I get into the perfect graduate school!” Elizabeth told Annabelle, her voice getting a bit hysterical at the end.

“You know you don’t have to pay rent.  I don’t even pay the rent on the place.  Just consider it. You get to know where all the junk food is hidden if you move in.” Annabelle teased.  She could hear Elizabeth laugh.

“Believe it or not that offer sounds really good to me. Are you there yet?”

“Yes.” Annabelle offered looking down at her black boots. They had some salt runoff on the sides. Shit.

“Are you planning to go in or just talk to me?” Elizabeth asked as she bit into another cookie.  Annabelle huffed and looked up.

“I still have ten minutes left to enjoy before I have to go in there and go through hell.” Annabelle could hear Elizabeth crunching away on another cookie when she saw a tall but lean guy walk up to the restaurant.  He gave a quick look at the door and turned back around.  He started to pace.  Annabelle watched him for a few moments before hearing Elizabeth’s voice again.

“You know she doesn’t usually let you meet her boyfriends.  Let alone their kids.  She tends to skew younger these days or at least she used to.”

“I’m sure this is just an odd experiment on her part.” Annabelle retorted back.  She was still watching the person in front of her.  He had stopped pacing and was now just staring out onto the street.  He sighed as he looked down at his watch.

“Are you there? Annabelle?” Elizabeth asked. She did not answer right away.  She saw him shake his arm and look again at his watch.  He raised the watch to his ear and swore aloud.  He dropped his arm and turned back towards the restaurant. That was when his green eyes met Annabelle’s brown. He smiled at her as Annabelle gasped softly and looked down at her feet.

“What? Did you see her?  Are you hiding from your mother?  What did we discuss?  You are a twenty-three years old. You are an adult. Your mom doesn’t control you.” Elizabeth said.

Annabelle took a breath and tried to act as normal as possible. “Just a gust of wind. Wearing a dress wasn’t my best idea.”   Annabelle said, trying to be as casual as possible.  She could hear his footsteps as he approached her.

“Excuse me. Do you have the time?”

Annabelle looked up at the deep male voice. She let her eyes travel over his body taking note of his easy smile and manly stubble on his chin. He raised one eyebrow as she stared. Annabelle couldn’t help but think he was handsome and he knew it.

Annabelle raised her naked wrist in response. “It’s about 7:50,” Annabelle told him.   He glanced down at her arm in amusement. Oh, he knew he was handsome, Annabelle thought.   He nodded a thank you and leaned against the brick wall, close to Annabelle.

“He sounded cute. Is he cute?” Elizabeth asked with delight.

“I should go inside. Right?” Annabelle said into the phone ignoring her question. She kept one eye on the falling snow and one on the man next to her.

“You should. One of us must be an adult, and I declare you the adult. Congrats. Checks in the mail.”

“Thanks. Send it to my loan officer. Don’t overdose on cookies and beer.  I might need them later.” Annabelle told Elizabeth. She heard a huff in response and hit ‘end’ on her phone. She stood here holding onto her phone, noting the time was now 7:55. Annabelle sighed as she slipped her phone back into her pocket.  She stood there for a few minutes debating her next move.

“You are going to run, aren’t you?” a male voice asked breaking into her thoughts. She turned her head towards the man standing next to her.

“No,” Annabelle said moving to face him fully.

“I mean, you didn’t sound all that excited to go in. Is it a boyfriend? Afraid to commit?” He suggested, his tone light and airy.

“Uh. No.” Annabelle offered as an answer. He huffed in response.

She watched him give her the once over before speaking again. “My goal is to get at least a sentence out of you before my friend meets me.” He said confidently.

Annabelle couldn’t help but stare at him in disbelief. “I’m sorry. Do we know each other?” she asked.

“Don’t think so.”

“Then don’t worry about how many sentences I say to you. Ok?” Annabelle heard herself say to him, her voice sounding tight. She didn’t even know where that outburst came from.

“Ok. Except you said four sentences to me. Goal accomplished.” He said back. She shot him a look. He laughed in response.

Annabelle turned back towards the street as his laughter died down. Determined to ignore him she reached into her pocket to check the time. 7:58.

“I can’t believe it is snowing in November.  It felt like spring last week.” The guy said to her.  She stared at her phone, not responding.

“I love snow.  It is just another way for the world to clean itself again.  In the process, it leaves behind something so beautiful…”  He responded, his voice trailing off as Annabelle looked up and over at him. Annabelle felt uncomfortable at the silence and struggled not to express her opinion.

“Not really.  Snow just causes accidents, closures, and destruction.  Sure, it’s pretty but is it worth the price?” Annabelle told him, cursing at herself for not holding back.

“I’ve never met anyone that was so vocal and adamant about snow. Most girls love snow and that line I just fed you.”  He told her.

“I’m not every girl.  I can smell bullshit from a mile away. I was thinking of adding it to my resume under special skills.” Annabelle told him.  He laughed in response.

“You should put it there. Companies will appreciate the honesty.” He told her as he popped his coat collar.  Annabelle felt herself smile at his comment, her annoyance melting a bit.

“By the way, we are officially up to ten sentences. I say that is a win for me.” He told her giving her a wink. That easiness Annabelle felt before seemed to dissipate at the comment.

“With that, I’m going inside. Have a great night, whoever you are.” Annabelle said, trying to keep her voice light.  She pushed herself off the brick wall of the restaurant and walked towards the door. She could feel his eyes on her.

“It was great talking to you. My name is…”

“I don’t care.” Annabelle interrupted as she opened the door and walked in.

****

She unbuttoned her jacket and shrugged it off her shoulders as she followed the host towards the table.  She gave a quick look at her cell phone clock and saw that she was almost five minutes late now.  She brushed off some imaginary lint off the coat in her arms and prepared herself for the onslaught of questions from her mother.  The host ended up leading her to a table near the back of the restaurant.  She saw her mom first.  Her signature eighties hair had been deflated for a more modern look, a straight and dyed a chestnut brown.  She wore a long light blue dress that made her look elegant, and it brought out her blue-gray eyes.  Annabelle self-consciously smoothed out her dress before heading over to the table.

“Hi, mom!” Annabelle said brightly trying to get her mother’s attention.  She stopped talking and looked over at her daughter.  A large familiar smile grew on her mom’s face as she got up to hug Annabelle.  She held her close and pulled back to get a better look at her.

“You look beautiful honey! I told you that dress works on you. Come now, you have to meet Eli!” Annabelle’s mom told her grabbing her hand and pushing her closer to the table.  Annabelle took a deep breath.

“Eli, this is my daughter, Annabelle.  Annabelle this is Eli Cooper.” Her mom introduced.  The older gentleman, Eli, stood up from the table with his hand out towards Annabelle. She smiled as she reached to shake his hand. She noticed his hand was clammy and warm.

“It is truly an honor to meet Sarah’s daughter. I’ve heard so many great things about you.” He said as he pumped her hand twice before letting go. “You don’t have to worry about being late; we are waiting for Jack and Ethan too.”

Eli told Annabelle pulling out a chair for her.  Annabelle placed her jacket on the back of her chair and sat down, thanking Eli. He ran a quick hand over his bald head before sitting back down at the table.

“Jack and Ethan? I thought you only had one son.” Annabelle asked as soon as everyone was settled. Eli was quick to give an explanation.

“Jack is my son. Ethan is his best friend from way back.  He is staying with us for the next month, so we invited him along.” Eli said adjusting his glasses as he picked up his menu.  Annabelle nodded in understanding as she followed his lead. It was a quiet moment before she heard it. That voice.

“I’m so sorry I was late. I told Ethan to go inside, but he waited for me.”

Annabelle slowly put her menu down and turned her head towards the voice. She couldn’t believe it. “Jack?”

He turned his attention from his dad towards Annabelle, his eyes lighting up in response. “Annabelle! I haven’t seen you in a long time. Come here!” Jack said to her, his arms open for a hug. Almost on autopilot, Annabelle stood up and let Jack hug her like he used to back then. His arms enveloped her as she closed her eyes and was instantly brought back to freshman year.  She opened them mid-hug to a familiar face.

The man from before stood there, a smirk on his face as he wrote ‘11’ into the air with his pointer finger. Annabelle pulled back from the hug.

“I guess you two know each other already,” Sarah asked, her voice questioning what was happening in front of her.

“Yeah! We hung out a lot during freshman year before I transfered.” Jack said with a big smile. “Oh. Let me introduce you two. Annabelle, this is Ethan Parker. Ethan, this is Annabelle Jones.” Jack introduced the two of them as he stepped out of the way to give Sarah a kiss hello.

Annabelle looked over at the man from outside. “Nice to meet you, Ethan.” She said to him as she gave him her hand to shake.

Ethan met her hand with his own and shook it. “Nice to meet you, Annabelle.” He glanced at the table noticing they were busy saying their hellos. He gently gripped her hand and pulled her closer. “Twelve.” He murmured, his eyes dancing.

She pulled her hand away and stared at him in disbelief.

“Oh. This should be fun!” Ethan proclaimed as he pushed past Annabelle to take a seat.

“Tons of fun,” Annabelle whispered to herself. “Tons and tons of fun.”

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