I exit the bathroom and head back toward the booth, disappointed to still see the back of my father’s head. I was hoping he would have had some kind of emergency and been required to leave while I was in the restroom.
It’s sad that I’d rather be greeted by an empty booth than by my own father. The thought almost makes me frown, but I’m suddenly sidetracked by the guy seated in the booth I’m about to walk past.
I don’t usually notice people, considering they do everything in their power to avoid eye contact with me. However, this guy’s eyes are intense, curious and staring straight at me.
My first thought when I see him is, “If only this were two years ago.”
I think that a lot when I come across guys I could possibly be attracted to. And this guy is definitely cute. Not in a typical Hollywood way, much like most of the guys who inhabit this city. Those guys all look the same, as if there’s a perfect mold for a successful actor and they’re all trying to fit it.
This guy is the complete opposite. His five o’clock shadow isn’t a symmetrical, purposeful work of art. Instead, his stubble is splotchy and uneven, like he spent the night working late and actually didn’t have time to shave. His hair isn’t styled with gel to give him the messy, just-rolled-out-of-bed look. This guy’s hair actually is messy. Strands of chocolate hair sweep across his forehead, some of them erratic and wild. It’s like he woke up late for an appointment and was too hurried to bother with looking in a mirror.
Such an unkempt appearance should be a turnoff, but that’s what I find so odd. Despite him looking like he doesn’t have one iota of self-absorption, he’s one of the most attractive guys I’ve ever seen.
This could just be a side effect of my obsession with cleanliness. Maybe I so desperately long for the kind of carelessness this guy exhibits that I’m mistaking jealousy for fascination.
I also might think he’s cute simply because he’s one of the few people in the last two years who doesn’t immediately look away the moment my eyes meet his.
I still have to pass his table in order to get to my booth behind him, and I can’t decide if I want to break out in a sprint in order to get his eyes off me, or if I should walk in slow motion so I can soak up the attention.
His body shifts as I begin to pass him, and his stare becomes too much all of a sudden. Too invasive. I feel my cheeks flush and my skin tingle, so I look down at my feet and allow my hair to fall in front of my face. I even pull a strand of it into my mouth in order to block more of his view. I don’t know why his stare is making me uncomfortable, but it is. Just a few moments ago, I was thinking about how much I miss being stared at, but now that it’s happening, I just want him to look away.
Right before he’s out of my peripheral vision, I cut my eyes in his direction and catch a ghost of a smile.
He must not have noticed my scars. That’s the only reason a guy like him would have smiled at me.
Ugh. It annoys me that I even think this way. I used to not be this girl. I used to be confident, but the fire melted away every ounce of my self-esteem. I’ve tried getting it back, but it’s hard to believe someone could ever find me attractive when I can’t even look at myself in the mirror.
“That never gets old,” my father says as I slide back into the booth.
I glance up at him, almost having forgotten he was here. “What never gets old?”
He waves his fork toward the waiter, who is now standing at the cash register. “That,” he says. “Having fans.” He shoves a bite of food in his mouth and begins speaking with a mouthful. “So what did you want to talk to me about?”
“What makes you think I wanted to talk to you about something in particular?”
He gestures over the table. “We’re having lunch together. You obviously need to tell me something.”
It’s sad that this is what our relationship has come to. Knowing that a simple lunch date has to be more than just a daughter wanting to see her father.
“I’m moving to New York tomorrow. Well, tonight, actually. But my flight isn’t until late and I don’t officially land in New York until the 10th.”
He grabs his napkin and covers a cough. At least I think it’s a cough. Surely that news didn’t make him choke on his food.
“New York?” he sputters.
And then . . . he laughs. Laughs. As if me living in New York is a joke. Stay calm, Fallon. Your father is an asshole. That’s old news.
“What in the world? Why? What’s in New York?” His questions keep coming as he processes the information. “And please don’t tell me you met someone online.”
My pulse is raging. Can’t he at least pretend to support one of my decisions?
“I want a change of pace. I was thinking about auditioning for Broadway.”
When I was seven, my father took me to see Cats on Broadway. It was the first time I had ever been to New York and it was one of the best trips of my life. Up until that moment, he had always pushed me to be an actress. But it wasn’t until I saw that live performance that I knew I had to be an actress. I never had the chance to pursue theater because my father dictated each step of my career and he’s more fond of film. But it’s been two years now since I’ve done anything with myself. I don’t know if I actually have the courage to audition anytime soon, but making the choice to move to New York is one of the most proactive things I’ve done since the fire.
My father takes a drink and after he sets down his glass, his shoulders drop with a sigh. “Fallon, listen,” he says. “I know you miss acting, but don’t you think it’s time you pursue other options?”