Safeword:Quinacridone(4)

By: Candace Blevins


“Are you in school?”

She shook her head. “No. I took the college classes I thought I needed, and a few my instructors recommended, but I can’t see spending the money for a degree. People don’t buy your art based on your education but on whether the piece speaks to them. I occasionally find another class or workshop I think I should take, but for the most part it’s just me trying to make a living with my art now.”

“What do you do for fun?”

She smiled shyly. “I paint.”

“No video games? Do you dance? Cook?”

“I like to play Scrabble, but...” She shrugged, caught herself looking at the table, and forced herself to meet his gaze. “Probably not what you mean by video games. I only dance when I’m too drunk to realize I have no business dancing, and my housemates would prefer I stay out of the kitchen.”

He raised his eyebrows in question, “And why is that?”

She smiled and looked down, realized she was being bashful, and pushed herself to answer. After working so hard to get beyond her shyness, Travis brought it all back. “I’m kind of a scatterbrain, which doesn’t work with cooking. I put things in the oven and forget them. I miss key ingredients.”

She shook her head and shrugged self-consciously. “I don’t have the attention span for it. I’m good with quick things, like making scrambled eggs, but my housemates are usually close to make sure I remember to turn off the stove. If they need a fruit platter arranged, I’m the girl for the job, but they don’t exactly let me go into the kitchen alone anymore.”

“Housemates?”

She explained her living arrangements and then there was silence. She could tell he was trying to think of something else to say and was coming up blank. She searched her own brain and finally said, “You’re not the only one doing the slightly stalkerish stuff. I looked you up.”

He appeared both relieved she’d thought of something to talk about, and anxious it’d be about him.

A waiter settled a beautiful saucepan onto the cooktop between them and added the various herbs to the liquid inside. A waitress brought their food as he was finishing his spiel, gave instructions for how long the meat should cook, and they were left alone.

Discussion was easier for a few minutes as they chatted about the food presentation and settled several items into the pot.

When conversation lulled again, Travis said, “Okay, so you looked me up. What’d you learn?”

“Surely you’ve googled yourself and know what’s out there. I expected you to show up in a Ferrari trying to impress me but I have no idea what you drove.”

He shrugged, obviously uncomfortable. “I like you and was kind of hoping you’d like me for me, and not the public face of Travis Winslow, so I drove the most normal car I own. It’s a Lexus and I mainly chose it because the dealer offered to install a wireless router, so I can get wi-fi on any of my gadgets with one cellular modem. I’ve had them installed on most of my cars now, but it was the first.”

“According to the web, you’ve never been known to have a girlfriend. Is that true, or just what you want everyone to think?

He raised his shoulders and let them fall. His demeanor was both uncomfortable and self-confident, and she wondered at the dichotomy. He held eye contact, as if wanting to see her reaction to his answer. “They don’t get everything right, but that one’s true.”

This was the part she didn’t get — if he’d never had a girlfriend, why not? And why had he asked her out if he wasn’t interested in dating? She wrinkled her brow, not sure how to ask, or even if she should, but cognizant she needed to say something before the silence engulfed them. Speaking quickly, she only managed, “Why me?”

He didn’t respond, and she clarified. “Why’d you ask me out?”

He looked at the table a moment before lifting his gaze to hers. “I don’t know. You caught my eye and I wanted to get to know you.”

The conversation stalled again and Cara speared a potato and settled it into the broth to cook, a little irritated. He had to know she’d asked more than he’d answered. Glancing up, she saw he was busy with his food, so she forked a piece of steak and a carrot and set them in the pot, too. She refused to start the dialogue back this time — he’d have to do it. She checked the onion and steak she’d put in earlier, decided they were done, and drew them out to put on her plate.

He pulled a phone from his shirt pocket and looked at it briefly, slid it back, and plucked a forked mushroom from the broth.