This story was inspired by the following prompts given to me on instagram by @kelly_vervaet: jeep, light blue, pizza vs. salad, speeding, confusion
The light has been red for much too long.
Or maybe time just feels like it is slipping away more slowly. That’s how time works, after all: going too fast when you want the moment to last, yet stretching out when you only want it to pass by.
Finally, finally the red circle flicks off, changes to green. Amelia hits the gas in the millisecond between the two colors, forgetting to look left and right.
During a night like this, so many things can go wrong. Being hit by a car isn’t the worst thing.
Amelia runs over the details again like a baker rolling out bread dough.
Get to Horacio’s five minutes past 8 o’clock; ask for the table in the corner, the one closest to the restrooms for an easy escape; take a phone call at 8:25 and don’t return for exactly 15 minutes.
But the last part is the most important. The last part is exactly what the mission rests on.
Salad or pizza. Depending on her order, the butler will know whether Amelia’s date is Laurence Sutcliffe, The East Coast Killer. Whether ten men in bulletproof vests and guns will burst through the doors as Amelia herself holds the killer at gunpoint.
Horacio’s straddles the border of land and sea, half pier, half restaurant. Amelia feels her age deeply as she pulls into the parking lot and is greeted by a valet in a dark suit.
He takes her keys and points her in the direction of the restaurant, accompanied by a debonair smile that makes Amelia uneasy. In her line of work, the most charismatic men are also the deadliest.
It’s a shame this is a work assignment; restaurants like this are made to marvel at. She attempts to take in the wooden-plaited pier that leads to the front doors, the ocean whispering on the horizon and bobbing in time with the fairy lights. Men in suits cut into lobster thermidor and steaks as their female counterparts steer the conversation.
A waiter walks up to Amelia, his hair parted down the middle and his shirt so white it almost glows in the fading sunlight. His smile is half-hearted as if he’s ready to be done with work for the day.
“Good evening, ma’am.”
Amelia fumbles with her purse. Will she never feel prepared for an assignment? Will she never have as much confidence as the women here ordering Caesar salads?
“Good evening! I am meeting Marc Blois here, has he arrived yet?”
“I can ask the head waiter. One moment.”
Amelia checks her watch; the numbers swirl together. Focus, focus . . . what time is it?
Five minutes past eight. Perfect. Just enough time for Bernard, a spy from Amelia’s unit currently disguised as a waiter, to bug the table so the conversation can be monitored.
“He is here; follow me, please.” Who knows how the waiter was convinced to place Marc Blois in the corner; the plan has been executed flawlessly. Amelia follows the waiter through what she sees as a flower garden: people wearing every color of the rainbow dig into meals of equally diverse colors, dotting each side of the aisle. They bob back and forth as if in a spring breeze. Waiters copiously fill their drinks, like kindly gardeners watering their prize lilies.
“Mister Blois,” the waiter says. Amelia locks eyes with the man at the table before she can become nervous and stall—
“Amelia?” He asks. Amelia’s head spins. Anton? From sixth grade? The one that chased her classmates around with boogers and buried them in the dirt at recess?
“A—” She catches herself from saying his name, then realizes perhaps she’s biased. She can’t do this job. She has history with Anton. She doesn’t want to blow his cover or—oh, surely he isn’t the East Coast Killer!
“I haven’t seen you since high school!” She’s whisked into a hug before she can process, before she can observe as she’s been taught to do. All her training flies out the window, along with sea breezes and napkins.
“I can’t believe it’s you!” He smells expensive; his suit feels expensive. Amelia pulls away, desperate to begin deducing. The chub of childhood has melted away, revealing in Anton an exquisite face that would never have even glanced her way if not for their common history.
Abort, abort, Amelia thinks. But she must go on. This is her job. This is her duty.
The waiter appears, his voice a buzz.
“Water, two lemons,” Anton says, eyes still trained on Amelia.
“I remember you and your juice boxes,” Anton laughs as the waiter scurries away. “You shared them with me at recess.”
“Ha ha.” The laugh is obviously forced.
“What’s wrong? You seem really anxious.”
The next five minutes are a blur. The waiter brings waters, and Amelia counts down the seconds until the waiter will appear to ask for their order.
Pizza vs. salad. Pizza vs. salad.
Yes or no. Yes or no.
Anton’s mouth moves, but it’s as if he’s in a silent film. Amelia hears nothing, understands nothing. Her mind just races: how could it be Anton? Really?
The waiter comes back. Amelia holds her arms tighter to her body to hide the sweat stains surely blossoming on her new white cocktail dress. She could really use another layer of deodorant about now.
“Who would like to start off?” The waiter asks.
Anton gestures to Amelia, but she shakes her head no. Anton laughs. “Fine, fine. I’ll go. But don’t tell your friends I’m not a gentleman!”
It doesn’t matter what Anton ordered what mattered was what Amelia would order.
She folded up the menu, breaths racking up and down her lungs.
“And for you, ma’am?”
Don’t look in his eyes. It’s not personal. Years of training have prepared you for this moment, Amelia! Do your job!
Amelia snaps her gaze upward, looking the man across the table. The man who shared juice boxes with her and chased her around the park and drew on her with chalk and proposed marriage at the ripe age of six.Amelia shakes her head. Then, firmly, with chin lifted, she says calmly: “Chicken tenders, please. And do you happen to have ranch?”