We're sitting outside an old French cafe under wide-brimmed umbrellas. We aren't in France but in Tampa, staring out at the parking lot and listening to the traffic from the congested street only a few feet away from us. The old French couple, who had moved to Florida many years ago, put extra sugar in our fruit salads. The sun is bright and burns our eyes. The umbrellas paint our skin pastel colors and make our food look contaminated by confetti cake mix. I push cut strawberries around with my fork and squint at him; he's smiling at me, but not looking at me - instead, he's busy wiping the sweat off his glass of water.
"What are you thinking?" I ask him.
He shrugs. "I'm imagining you're not here right now."
He laughs. "What I mean is that you don't seem to really be here. You're mind is somewhere else."
I smirk. "Okay. Maybe you're right. But if I'm daydreaming about us right now, and you think that I'm somewhere else, then what does it all mean? Am I daydreaming within a daydream?"
"I don't think so," he says. I can tell he's thinking hard about this because he bites his lip.
"Where do you think my mind is?"
"Let's start from the beginning," he says, grinning. "In reality, you're actually in bed with your eyes squeezed tight. You've kicked off the sheets because even with the ceiling fan on, you're still sweating. Your head aches from a stress cold and, even though your dog has woken you up three times this morning, you're still fighting to stay in bed. So you're daydreaming about me because you think I can make you feel better. And you do feel better."
I chew on a chunk of apple and sigh. "Ooh. You're good."
"Of course I am. You're the one putting words in my mouth."
"So, even though you're in this imaginary day with me, trying to avoid really waking up, you can't help but remember what you have to do for your last week of school. Right now, you're thinking about the pile of papers sitting in your office. You're trying to figure out how long it will take you to grade them."
He's beautiful as he says this. Really. If I wasn't plugging in the words, I'd probably be lost in the way his lips form the words, how his bangs brush against his forehead. His hand is soaked with glass-water sweat. He's wearing a faded blue t-shirt that looks purple under the umbrella light.
And I know he's right. Or I know I'm right. Even in my imagination, I can't completely escape reality. I haven't thought of personifying responsibility, but I'm sure it looks like a cranky old librarian. Gold-rimmed glasses. Grim smile. A stack full of work and silence. Responsibility.
From far away, I can hear my mother at the sink. She hums a tune as she washes away the breakfast crumbs from her glass and plate. Fiber cereal and grapes, I guess. That's what she's been eating for the past few days. She'll probably peek into my room in a few minutes and nag me for having kicked my covers and sheets to the floor. I can feel morning seep into my bones.
He sips his water and looks at me steadily. "So you're going?" he asks.
He's still drinking.
I frown and say, "Aren't you going to kiss me?"
He smiles boyishly and shakes his head. "No way. You're got work to do."
Photo from We Heart It