This week my prompt comes from Tobie, who writes here. The prompt is, "Sitting in a restaurant bar, waiting."
Here we go...
Erika stirred her drink with the little plastic straw, mesmerized by the light playing on the ice cubes. There had been a time when she didn't touch alcohol. Those were her long ago dancing days, back when she thought she had a shot at being the next Martha Graham. She still had the moves, well, sort of. At least she still put herself through the moves every day. It was her daily workout routine, first the stretching, then the five foot positions, followed by a series of pliés, relevés, jetés and whatever else took her feet by surprise as Wagner drowned out the noises in her head. Dancing was the only time that she felt complete freedom, the only time that she felt like she owned herself. Everything else was a simple matter of getting through the day with some kind of grace.
Erika sighed and took a sip of her drink. She grimaced. There was something about a whiskey sour that she both loved and loathed, and that was what kept her coming back to them. She caught a glimpse of herself amid the bottles that lined the mirror behind the bar. Even from here, even with the low lighting, she could see the wrinkles at the corners of her eyes and the edges of her mouth. Even from here she could see the resignation in her eyes and she hated it. She would never forgive her life for turning out the way it had, would never forgive herself her mistakes, would never forgive the one night that changed everything.
Twenty four years ago she had been the shining star of her dance troupe. Whispers on the street said that she was the one to watch. The ballet world was her oyster and she'd been poised in a perfect arabesque on its shimmering pearl. Then her mother had cajoled her into going to the senior class beach party. Erika hadn't wanted to go, she barely knew her classmates, but her mother had all but insisted. At some point in the evening around the bonfire, the beer was brought out. Two beers into it and feeling giddy and still mildly resentful toward her mother, she took the joint that was passed to her, choked on the first toke, and then took a second and held it in before she passed it along. She stood up from the log she'd been sitting on and wandered off down the beach. Lost in the whispering sound of the waves she had no idea how far she'd walked or how long she'd been gone. In fact, she'd almost forgotten about the gathering around the bonfire until she heard someone running up behind her. She turned to see Rob Gesko, one of the handsomest boys in her class.
"Hey," he said. "We were starting to worry that you'd gotten lost."
In return, Erika laughed a little shyly, trying not to notice how white his teeth were against the dark night, trying not to notice how the wind blew his curls around his head against the starlit sky.
"So... uh... you're a dancer, huh?"
"I am!" She declared with great inebriated confidence. She arced her right arm over her head, crossed her belly with the left, and attempted a pirouette that her drunken feet didn't quite remember. She stumbled slightly and Rob caught her in his arms.
Nine months later she'd given birth to Bobby. Nine months later she'd become Mrs. Robert Gesko. Nine months later her life as a promising ballet dancer had turned into a series of mistakes, regrets, and resentments. The guilt at resenting a helpless baby, her baby, had made her devote herself entirely to her son. Rob had almost immediately revealed himself to be the shithead version of dashing good looks, belittling her at any chance he got when he wasn't busy chasing other women. After ten years the trappings of an emotionally abusive marriage had ended in acrimony on both sides. Rob had taken everything and moved to Georgia with some bimbo who seemed to think the sun rose and set on his beer belly, leaving Erika to raise Bobby on her own. Erika had had to fight him for the child support payments that never came on time. Erika had had to soothe a son who'd been abandoned by his father. Everything had been, and still was, up to her. Early on, after the divorce, she had scrimped and saved her way through a grocery store job that was barely above minimum wage, and after two years, had opened a dance studio.
Erika sighed and signaled the bartender for a refill. The studio was on the third floor of a long defunct cannery in Everett. She had worked hard to make it the mild success that it was, all but begging children with dreams to come in and dance. She had regained some sense of her own definition, her own self-worth in working with them. She would hide smiles as she watched their awkward, gangly limbs try to mimic her own graceful moves. And always, she would save an hour for herself, an hour to be alone, an hour to dance. Then reality would set in when she went home and inevitably found Bobby, now twenty three years old, flopped on the sofa, surrounded by a litter of Mountain Dew cans and junk food wrappers, frantically clicking away at the controls for some over the top violent video game. She'd set her teeth in a false smile as he grunted a near hello in acknowledgment of her presence. She'd feel the resentment kick in again and hate herself for it. To compensate she would do his laundry and make him one of his favorites for dinner.
Her sister Ann had no idea how lucky she was - no children, no trail of wretched relationships, just the freedom to do what she wanted, travel wherever and whenever she felt like, take the time to write two fairly successful novels, and now she seemed to have landed in some fairytale romance. That last was the reason for them meeting up for dinner tonight. Erika wanted to hear all the details, wanted in on some vicarious pleasure. Speaking of which, where the hell was Ann anyway? Erika looked at her watch. Ah well, she was only fifteen minutes late and Rte. 2 could be a real bitch to navigate sometimes.
Uncharacteristically, Erika asked the bartender for a third drink and a basket of chips and salsa. "Health regime be damned tonight," she thought. She was walking home anyway, so a little tipsy wouldn't matter a bit. Ironically, she didn't resent Ann for her freedom and success, not one bit. Ann was the one person in her life that she felt she could rely upon, the one person in her life who was always there when she needed an ear or a shoulder, the one person who would shoot straight with her no matter what. She was, in fact, proud of her sister for laying such solid claim to the life she wanted. Erika bit down on a chip as her cell phone buzzed and tried to wriggle away. She grabbed it and flipped it open.
"Hey, sis. I'm stuck on 2, but it's starting to move, so I should be there soon."
"Oh, good. I kind of figured that might be what had happened."
"Yeah, I would have been there in plenty of time, but I made the mistake of stopping at Ma's to pick up the clothing donation. You know how she can suck me into a pointless conversation about the unambitious life of a novelist." Erika heard her sister's sigh of exasperation.
"Oh, don't I know," Erika replied with a laugh. "Try being a dance instructor and then you can come and bitch to me!"
Ann laughed in return. "Touché. I'll see you in a few."
"Okay. I'm just sitting in the restaurant bar, waiting."
To read more about Ann, Erika, their mother and others - all of which are exerpts from my upcoming novel - click here, here, and here.