By Dawn DeBraal
David Cooper sat across the table watching Cadence McCaffrey order from the Pizza Shack menu. He winced inwardly with each new item Cadence added to the order. He had a twenty-dollar bill in his wallet.
“I’ll take a sweet tea, the salad bar, a medium pizza, with extra cheese.” Cadence didn’t look at the waitress, nor did she thank the waitress for taking her order. She sneezed. Her ponytail whipped around her head.
The waitress said, “Bless you!” Cadence did not respond. David continued to watch his date. How could Cadence disregard another human being? Was she rude, or was she clueless as to how she made other people feel around her by ignoring their existence?
“I’ll have a personal size pizza and water. Thank you.” David handed the menus back to the waitress.
“I have a cold,” Cadence offered. “My head feels like it’s about to explode.” She barely covered her mouth as she coughed again.
“I’m so sorry,” David responded. “We could have postponed tonight.”
“Oh no, I don’t know when I could fit you in again.” Cadence blew her nose, adding the dirty napkin to the ever-growing pile on the table.
David looked for something to say, and thinking, did she say she’d fit him in as if he was an appointment? He and Cadence were Mathletes on the same team. Cadence was very smart, impressively solving mathematical calculations in the air with her finger. David admired that about her. She was also pretty. He liked everything about her. The way she looked and talked. That was when he worked up the courage to ask her out. He couldn’t afford much, but he figured he could afford a meal at the Pizza Shack. That was before Cadence ordered all the extras. Mentally, David was adding up the cost of the meal in his head. He found it hard to concentrate on what Cadence was talking about at that moment. When she stopped talking, David found himself moving in the direction of panic, trying to find something to say to her.
“So, you wear glasses for real, it’s not just a prop to make you look smart on the Math team?” What a stupid thing to say, he was embarrassed at his awkward attempt at making conversation.
Cadence took the glasses off, “I don’t really need them.” She handed them over. David tried them on, reacting strongly. She needed them. He laughed and handed the glasses back to her.
Cadence coughed. David didn’t mind. Being with Cadence was something he had hoped to do for a long time. Even if he got what she had, it was worth it to spend this time with her.
Their meals arrived. Cadence didn’t thank the waitress for the food. Instead, she grabbed a slice of pizza. Cadence took a big bite blowing in and out, waving her hand in front of her mouth.
“It’s so hot,” Cadence said as she tried to eat quickly. She told David all about Nancy Schuzzle, and how Nancy was embarrassed today in front of everyone. She was quite excited by this gossip thinking it funny, David felt bad for Nancy. As she told the story, Cadence talked with her mouth full of food. David tried not to look at Cadence’s mouth. Her pizza cycled round and round like a front-load clothes dryer with a windowed door. He started to see Cadence in a different light. She was not so pretty on the inside as she looked on the outside. For some reason, this made him sad.
The waitress came by with the bill, putting it on the table. The conversation ceased, and the evening became more uncomfortable. David realized that Cadence could be shallow and mean. He also realized their first date would be the last. He took the twenty out of his wallet, picking up the bill. There was barely enough to pay for the tip. It was all he had.
The ride to Cadence’s house was silent in between her coughs. When David pulled up in front of her house, Cadence said,
“See ya!” she bounced out of his truck. She never thanked him for the meal, or asked David anything about himself. It was funny how in the short time he spent with her under different circumstances, Cadence had knocked herself off the pedestal David had placed her on. He waited for Cadence to reach the front door. She never turned or waved.
A week later, David had nothing to show for his date with Cadence but an empty wallet and a cold making his head feel like “it was about to explode.”