Storms Like These by Zoe Nelms

Her father was already waiting at the table when Veronica got there. The juvenile, kitschy decor of the restaurant made it look like he was sitting on doll furniture, his lanky legs barely fitting under the pastel table. The dichotomy would have been charming if not for the look on his face —awkward, hesitant, nose scrunched up and mouth twisted, perpetually unshaven and hungover. John gave her a crooked smile as the hostess led her to the table. She realized immediately that she was overdressed. She didn’t have time to change after work and figured that rushing back to her apartment to change before last minute dinner plans wasn’t worth it. Now her heels clicked too loudly against the tiled ground, her skirt suddenly too constricting, her dark blazer feeling inappropriately formal. As if Veronica was begging him to notice her newfound maturity and growth, lipstick streaked across her mouth in an obnoxious declaration. Veronica sat down across from him, looking under the table for a place to tuck her umbrella. There was none—his legs took up the entire space. Resigned and irritated, she hung it on the back of the chair. Before she had the chance to open her mouth, a waitress rolled over to them, wobbling in her flowered roller skates. Butterfly-shaped menu delivered, she rattled through a list of specials before zooming off to serve a posse of prepubescent girls and their exhausted parents. He had already ordered her a frosty mason jar of root beer, her beverage of choice when she was six. “How long has it been since we were here?” he asked, overly satisfied with himself for somehow remembering her favorite childhood restaurant. As if it were an impressive feat for him to recall this very familiar tableau of the two of them sitting there with their drinks, making small talk as they tapped their feet to saccharine Top 40 pop. “I don’t know, it seems like forever,” Veronica said, forcing an obligatory smile. He shoved the sleeve of his jacket up before jerking his stubbly chin at the scar on his forearm. “I could never forget, you know, what happened.” A little dent in pale, dark haired flesh, looking like barely even a paper cut. He had slipped on a puddle of lemonade in the restaurant and slammed his forearm on the sharp bar counter. The days after the incident occurred she used to mock him for his clumsiness, pelting him with balled up straw wrappers, hurling insults in her squeaky, childish timbre. “Me neither.” Veronica kept her gaze on the menu, scanning the lists of sugary confections and meals attempting to replicate the familiar taste of Mom’s cooking, fried monstrosities that could easily feed a whole family for a month.

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