They are eating sandwiches at the diner, the peeling dilapidated town-center diner that has burned down even a few times, but there they are eating sandwiches, and she has a black eye. Only one. Her left, and the bruise is hooked spreading, down over the bones of her cheek, and it tails out almost to the place where her hair comes, and he is eating a thick sandwich, with turkey and ketchup and lettuce.
They aren't speaking. Outside the marquee lights are switched off and the nondescript name is dully flashing chrome in the late sun. He puts down the last few bites of his thick turkey sandwich, and she is still thoughtfully chewing, and he is really checking to see if it hurts her, to eat. She sees his eyes and smiles while swallowing. It is not a particularly brimming smile.
"It's actually really nice here. The food." he says and his shoulders roll back in an unconscious shrug.
"Not bad at all." she agrees. She takes a drink of her soda. The glass is heavy and dripping condensation against the inside of her hand.
He is not really thirsty.
"The swelling…" he stops. Swallows. "Should go down real soon."
"Oh I know." she isn't that concerned. She smiles at him again, this time trying at least to force up some sort of reactionary expression, something like thankfulness, or maybe even quiet pleasure, but it is an empty smile again, and the soda has made her teeth oddly cold.
He wishes he had a menu to talk about, something to read off which would take the place of everything he should really be asking. He is not any taller than she is, but his hair is beginning to gray, and that is something of a disappointment, but it had been so even before he had known her. And to all hell, he doesn't know her now, not beyond the bruised eye and frozen soda.
She wipes her mouth with a cloth napkin.
"Thanks." she says (from behind the napkin of course)
He looks up with a sudden magnetized appearance.
"Well. What else could I do?" he replies lamely, still feeling as electromagnetic as the polar caps.
"Walked away I suppose, or you didn't have to take me out. To lunch, rather." her voice is small even when the napkin is placed back upon the table.
"I wouldn't have walked away." he says. This is also quiet. He had only seen her a few times before, taking sips of water from the fountains in the hallway, or laughing to her daily classes. He had seen her once stare at him as he walked up the stairway in front of her. The next morning she had walked past again and he had shaken his head slightly, shaken it 'no' in a bleary 'no', and she had really only smiled, and stared at him again. Then there had been this afternoon and her quick hard gasps from the tile, and her big eyes up on him, standing not that tall.
"I know." she says.
They are quiet again, and he takes his sandwich up and he finishes it in one final bite, wiping his mouth even though he is a careful eater, and he is only drinking water. She has half a sandwich left, and it is ham with cheese on wheat bread. She makes no move to finish it, and she doesn't touch her soda again. She watches him eat. He looks at her above his napkin, and she is suddenly quite pensive.
"What?" he asks putting down the napkin atop his empty plate.
"If the administration gets involved, you're going to get in trouble for this." she says.
"They don't have to be involved." he says. "He won't touch you again, I don't think."
"No. No, he only hit me before because of what I said." she smiles a third time, and it is suddenly brimming and she laughs. She laughs fully over her half-eaten sandwich and icy soda, and he laughs too although he has no idea why, but it is all right to laugh, and he wishes he had never shaken his head 'no', and he prays maybe there is time to do something about it.
"What did you say?" he leans over his elbows on the table. Forego manners. She is seventeen and he is thirty and he is married and he stopped a black-haired boy from beating her in the high school hallway. Now he is staring at her across a peeling formica table in a nondescript diner. She is laughing. She has a black eye and she is laughing. He suddenly feels he should have a passport, because this is a different country, one with hanging gardens and crusaders' palaces.
"I said I read somewhere that Hemingway was a homosexual." she is still laughing.
"My God." he says, and he takes hold of her sleeve, to keep it from dangling in the coke. He is laughing too.
"Yes." and they are both suddenly quiet, and he asks for the check and leaves the rolled-up money on the table-top.
She stands and touches her eye tenderly. Then she smiles and he leads her out of the diner, paying no mind to the peeling dim marquee, and he takes her to his car, and she realizes that he paid for her, and she is not in the least guilty.
They drive off, the diner marquee reflecting across their eyes for a brief moment, but it lolls off in the manner of most refractions, and they are alone with quiet hands and her black eye.