Chapter 23

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"The bottom line is that we never fall for the person we're supposed to." - Jodi Picoult, My Sister's Keeper

I couldn't sleep well, but I stayed in bed anyway. Just fading in and out of consciousness. At times, I would sit completely comatose and stare at the painting across the wall. I'd hung it up the first week I moved in, found it at a staring artists convention. It was one of those special painting that changed every time you looked at it. When I bought it, I remembered seeing a little blue bird and thinking it was cute, simple. After I hung it up, I never much tried to find something else. Years later, I saw dragons breathing fire that ballerinas danced in, a pair of eyes always watching me, and red waterfalls. But I couldn't find the little blue bird. It was frustrating me, something so simple to find yet I couldn't see it. I gave up, eventually, got out of bed and got on with my life. But every time I passed it, I couldn't stop my free-thinking eyes from wandering.

The day was dull, cleaning up the shards that could hurt me, confirming dinner reservations, avoiding the computer and the phone. By mid afternoon, I started to prepare for the night ahead, being sure that I would look perfect. My ratty hair was washed, straightened, and curled into perfect twirls. The dress I had picked out days before was finally taken off the hook, admired, then taken off again to finish preparing.

My fingernails were white with newspaper lettering imprinted on them- a technique I took extra time to do. They were badly chipping, but there's something comforting about having words at your fingertips, literally. They were stripped off and replaced with a pastel pink, clean and nice, even my toenails would match. My makeup fixed all imperfections and made my Caribbean blue eyes light up.

I searched through my unorganized closet and around the apartment for shoes, picking up pairs of tennis shoes, moccasins, Vans, and Converses. I tossed them aside until I found a pair of red wedges, worn once at a Little Black Book formal party. They matched my dress perfectly, a patterned number that hit me just above the knee. I looked at my full-length mirror, twirled a little and finally smiled. I couldn't wait to blow Elliot away.

Henry was waiting at Le Petit like I ordered. His lanky figure in a simple button-up polo shirt and dark, straight leg jeans. His thin brown hair hung down over his eyes like always, and he wasn't wearing the woven beanie I'd nearly always seen him with. Henry tried really hard not to look impressed when he saw me, but his face gave it away. The way his eyebrows raised just a little, pupils got just a little bit bigger, mouth slacked, and his eyes tried to find anywhere but me to look, and miserably failed.

I smiled, and in true first date fashion, Henry muttered "You, uh. . . you look good." He scratched the back of his head, trying to look casual, but just appearing more jumpy than before.

"Let's hope Elliot thinks so." I mentioned, and then watched Henry deflate just a little bit more.

As we stood on the sidewalk and waited for our scheduled taxi to arrive, a very awkward silence settled like the first snow in winter, fluffy and easy to brush off- with the right equipment, of course.

"So," I dragged out, shifting my weight from wedge to wedge, "Thanks for doing this."

He fidgeted a bit before answering "Yeah, well, friends and everything." he gestured between us both, only making it more awkward. 'Friend' is such a careful word, I thought, so tentative and yet it can be the nail in a coffin. And then, I could almost hear the hammer pounding away.

At least in the taxi ride we had a radio to hide some of the awkward. I don't know how those people do it everyday, just being in that quiet cab was almost too uncomfortable to bear. I would have walked the last few blocks if my shoes were more conservative. I felt like tipping him for not saying anything, though. All I needed was a chatty driver, questioning everything from our birthdays to how long we had been dating. What a story that would have been.

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