Nathan said he didn't want company and Pauline knew that meant including her, but she preferred to read it as he didn't want to be around anyone other than her. She just had to be sure.
So she had a vegetable curry, a saag paneer, saffron rice, one garlic and one regular naan sent to his apartment from the place around the corner they used to stop on the way home, where he had first mooned over her, told her her eyes were the color of cilantro and just as refreshing, where she knew at last and after all this was someone worth her weekends and as many nights a week as he would ask.
It was this place that sent the Indian pizza they ate while baking cookies for Valentine's Day. And it was this place, the next month, where she had tried, in vain, over samosas and papadam to catch his eyes and where she'd left him sitting, sipping the cheap house red, waiting for the chana masala he'd ordered too spicy for her taste anyway—as if he'd wanted her to leave all along. He'd been dropped these signs for two weeks and she had finally noticed them and followed, that was all, and now she was backtracking, wondering if perhaps she'd been mistaken, misread in the warnings in the dim light and exited love's highway too soon. Perhaps he had been sending signal flares—men had trouble expressing need, Nathan had said so.
Pauline sat in the stark light of the restaurant, gripping her cellphone, fully believing that ny second it would buzz her hand and Nathan would laugh in her ear, tell what a surprise, the card was great, come over and help me eat this food. She kept her hand in her pocket so no one could see what she was doing, even though no one could possibly know what she was waiting for, they surely figured she was waiting for her takeout order.
But she felt obvious anyway, felt as exposed as she had that first night Nathan had stared at her. She felt as exposed and not nearly as confident that the evening would end so well. She nodded at the waitress who recognized her, just smiled and shrugged her shoulders when the woman asked her where her friend was tonight. She shifted her weight on the red vinyl seat cushion, sipped a chai until the delivery man came back with his hand full of receipts he passed to the cashier.
She stood up and reached him in three steps.
"So he took the food?" She reached out her hand as if to grasp the delivery man's sleeve, but just curled her fingers into her palm. "Did he say anything?"
The man didn't seem to understand her and she realized he'd delivered three orders on his trip.
"The first one—the one around the corner, on Page."
The delivery man's face lit up. "Oh, no, he didn't want to take it, but the lady said why not—free food." He disappeared into the kitchen.
It seemed to take Pauline forever to turn herself around and find her way to the door. She was several blocks past Nathan's street and halfway home before thinking she might have ordered something for herself.
From the Covers series