A Nice Look
Nice and sweet are words that Clara uses with gay abandon. Do the words mean anything?
She had been so animated, smiling so brightly. Only a phone conversation, but she seemed so friendly. He hated it. He glanced away from the movie to look at the girl sitting beside him. She was not smiling now—just watching, her attention absorbed by the screen ahead. He looked back. Was she bored? He had thought that she would like to watch a movie. That it would be fun. Was he mistaken?
The movie made a joke and they both laughed. He made eye contact. She smiled. He tried to return the expression, but his jaw felt too tight, too rigid. When she looked away, he relaxed. Oh, he thought. Thank God. He supposed he shouldn’t be worrying. He was her boyfriend, and he—not the man on the phone—had the privilege of seeing her smile. Still—if the smile came slowly, what did it mean for him?
He knew there was nothing to be jealous of. She had a job at a charity running communications with donors. But her connections seemed disproportionately male, and the knowledge that she conversed daily with men whom he had never met disturbed him. She seemed familiar, comfortable without him in a way that he could not replicate.
The notebook was an itch. To better keep track of her connections, she wrote down her impressions in a small notebook. That was what she had told him when he asked. The notebook lived in her handbag. He wondered what she thought of them—if she found any of them more interesting than him.
She was looking at him now. He turned.
“Hey, I need to use the restroom,” she said. “Would you pause the movie?”
He nodded, pressed the button. She left.
His eyes found their way to the place she had been sitting. Then he noticed her handbag—lying on the couch, left in plain sight.
He thought about looking inside. The notebook. It wouldn’t be hard. She would never know. And he would have the other half of the conversation. The one he was missing. He would finally learn what she thought of these men who could make her smile or laugh without seeing her face. But—no. That would be a breach of privacy. He knew that. He could ask her to look at it. He could find some less intrusive way to find out. Or he could just try to make her smile wider, brighter.
Something settled in her bag, and it tipped, fell, and landed softly on its side.
The notebook was just peeking out the mouth.
His hands were moving before he realized he had made a decision.
He opened it to the first page.
“Calman Davis,” it read. “He seems nice. Friendly, too. He doesn’t donate in large sums, but he donates pretty often.”
He stared at it for a few seconds. These were appraisals, he decided. Values. He was about to move on when he remembered her smile. He paused. Nice—he was nice, right? She had said he was nice. But friendly? He frowned, wondering whether she thought he was friendly. He turned the page.
“Samuel Dalford. He’s really honest. Loves to talk about his kids. He wants to make sure the charity is actually working before he makes any donations, but once I show him what we’re doing, I’m sure he’ll open up.”
The word ‘honest’ chafed, reminding him briefly of what he was doing, but he kept reading. Then he came across one that chilled his blood.
“Lester Milton. He’s so nice! He’s made several large donations and I think he cares a lot about the cause. We talked at the fundraiser, and I think he must be the funniest man I’ve ever met. A lot of fun to be around.”
Funniest man she’s ever met, he thought. A lot of fun.
The words echoed in his head. His eyes would not come unstuck from the page.
He’s so nice, he thought. Nice. Who’s nice? Am I?
I must be blind. She’s going to leave me.
He blinked again.
He flipped the pages again. The word “nice” chased him through the notebook.
Sure I’m nice, he thought, so is everyone, so is everyone she knows, she knows everyone’s nice. Am I fun? Am I friendly?
“Steve Oberin. He’s such a charmer! All the single girls at the gala were fighting over him.”
He wondered if she thought of herself as single.
“Malcolm Evers. I thought he was just quiet, but it turns out he’s smart. And compassionate! He can really talk when it comes to helping underprivileged communities. Like he was delivering a speech. Big donor, too.”
Was he smart? He thought so. Did she? Compassionate? He didn’t know.
He heard a toilet flush and closed the notebook. His hands were shaking as he returned it to the handbag.
A door opened.
“Thanks for waiting,” she said.
Waiting, he thought. For what? For you? Out loud, he said, “You’re welcome.” She sat back down. A moment passed. He had the remote. She looked at him.
“Clara,” he said, searching her eyes for something—an answer? “I love you.”
She blinked, then smiled. “You’re so sweet,” she said, and he un-paused the film.
He wondered what she meant by sweet.