Worth Keeping

Short Story

We planned it the day before. Coffee and then yoga. The pairing sounded awkward even over text. I wanted to, but restrained myself from suggesting a cup of tea or smoothies instead of coffee before a yoga class. I imagined myself in downward dog next to him, palms gripping the earth, toes scrunched, and feeling the urge to throw up. Not a good pairing. Not a zen-ful experience. I started typing. I crafted and deleted the text message over and over until it dawned on me that, if he is worth keeping, he’ll have the right mind to suggest this alternative in person. 

We planned to meet at 6:30 the next day. He suggested the time saying that it would give him enough time to stop home after his shift at the hospital and enough time for us to talk before the yoga class at 7:30. I agreed. I didn’t have a job or shift to influence the hour we met. I didn’t need to stop home. I would already be home. I would be in my pajamas researching secondary sources for a paper on religion and morality as it pertains to the Victorian era in Bronte’s Jane Eyre. I would be sitting Indian style on the couch all day with my laptop heating the upside of a pillow. One time my mom told me that resting a laptop directly on your skin causes cancer. She read it out of a Prevention health magazine. Now I use a thick pillow to separate my thighs from the laptop’s radiation. 

I do have a job but it doesn’t feel like it. I babysit for a few families in the area. One hour here. Two there. Sometimes, just to keep me busy, I think about applying to the Italian restaurant I worked at in high school. I couldn’t be a host again. No. If I applied I would want to be a waitress with a red bow tie. The servers were always on their feet and busy. I liked the idea of constantly walking for work. It was like going to the gym and making money at the same time. I remember one of the waitresses had an excellently toned butt. A small waist too. Her arms were full and womanly. I watched her from my host stand. Her legs plunged her forward. If I were to apply, I would only accept a position as a waitress. But then I think about the ten hour shifts and weekends and the desire falls out of me. Working in a hospital probably requires a lot of walking. Showing patients to their rooms. Retrieving paperwork and proper vaccines. In all the hospitals I’ve seen there is always a big staircase with an elevator beside it. I would use the staircase everytime. 

“Do you take the stairs or elevator?” I asked with a styrofoam cup of water in front of me. We were sitting in a booth, directly across from each other. He seemed to be leaning forward a lot. I pressed my back against the booth’s cushion.

“Stairs, definitely.”

“Why?”

“Because it’s faster.” He began to stir his smoothie with the straw and took a long gulp. I watched the lump in his throat bob up and down as he swallowed. I was impressed by how closely he had shaved. Maybe that’s why he had stopped home.

“What about you?” he said.

“I wouldn’t have asked if my answer was elevator.” His lips formed a silly pout. I laughed.

We walked down the street to the yoga studio. On my shoulder, I carried a canvas tote bag with a sports bra and leggings inside. He was already dressed for class. Cotton shorts. A sweatshirt and a bottle of Fiji water in the side pocket of his backpack. I considered wearing my yoga attire as well but then I thought about how we met in yoga. He’s never seen me in jeans, I thought. I took the liberty of selecting an outfit for the occasion. I stood in my bedroom for a while, pajamas thrown on the floor, and contemplated which shirt and pant combination would make me look thoughtlessly put together and a little sexy. The pants were easy. I wore black Levi jeans from the Salvation Army. They were snug but comfortable. Shoes were easy as well. White platform sneakers from Converse. I paid real money for those; they were irresistible, displayed in the mall like a prize. I couldn’t decide on a top. Something short sleeved seemed appropriate since my legs were covered. I liked how this seemed balanced. But what if it was cold in the coffee shop? I couldn’t take the risk of exposing how my dark arm hair stands erect in a chilly room. Maybe I could bring a cardigan? I fussed like this for a while. Shirts and sweaters piled on my bed, gradually turning into a heaping mound. In my discouragement I went downstairs to my parents’ bedroom. I opened my mother’s drawers. The first shirt I saw was long sleeve and black. There was a pattern of faint white stars throughout the torso. I think it was a pajama shirt with its soft waffle-like material. I put it on. It felt right. 

 

I spotted him the moment he walked in. I knew it was him, it had to be. He looked puzzled and kind of excited. His shoulders slumped. His eyes scanned the room. I felt nauseous all of a sudden but it didn’t worry me; nausea is a symptom of designating part of your day to a stranger. A symptom of hoping my hair doesn’t look greasy, of hoping we have something to talk about. I looked down when I saw his head swing in my direction. I pressed the home button on my phone, checked the time. It was 6:28. He set his backpack down at a small round table for two. He started looking for me. I lifted my head and stood up. How uncomfy, I thought. I hate this part. The initial meeting makes me want to roll myself in bedsheets and pray that no one ever asks about me again. I moved closer. 

He moved his backpack to the booth where I was sitting. I fumbled with my jacket for a moment, checking the pockets for no reason, trying to keep myself busy. I stopped moving so much and began to relax. He asked if I wanted anything. He seemed to be leaning forward a lot. I pressed my back against the booth’s cushion. My shoulder blades scraped the cushion. My neck felt warm, perhaps feverish. 

“A water would be great,” I said. We both got up. It felt stupid for him to bring me a water. I asked for the water cup myself and filled it. He ordered a strawberry smoothie. I waited for him to order a coffee. I waited for him to offer me a cup. He never did.

“We’ll call your name when it’s ready,” the cashier said. We walked back to the booth. I walked in front of him for the last two feet. I wondered if my waist looked small, if my butt looked toned. I wondered if he had even observed me at all. It saddened me for a moment, thinking about him not thinking about me. I convinced myself that this was the case. If only I had wider hips or a fuller frame. 

As we talked I thought less and less about my body. I noticed that our eyes seldom met. He looked past my shoulder when he spoke. I wanted to turn around and see what he was looking at. When we did make eye contact it didn’t last long. It was jumpy and brief. I started counting the seconds. One. Two. One. Two. Three. One. One. Two. Our record was five whole seconds. I had only done something like this once before when I attended a Catholic middle school. On Wednesdays the whole school walked to the church next door for mass. During the priest’s homily, I counted the seconds between his sentences. The moments he was silent, not talking. The dead moments. We are called to be servants of the Lord. One. Two. It is our duty. One. Two. Three. We must live in Christ’s image. One. Two. Three. Four. Amen. 

“Do you take the stairs or elevator?”

“Stairs, definitely.”

“Why?”

“Because it’s faster.”

“What about you?”

“I wouldn’t have asked if my answer was elevator.”

 

I went to the bathroom right away. After the tall styrofoam cup of water, I had to pee badly. My urine sounded like a healthy kitchen faucet. A steady, warm flow. I washed my hands and began changing. I don’t know why I felt rushed but I did. I had worked up a baby sweat from the brisk movements. Taking off my shirt. Unclipping my bra. Peeling socks off my feet. Once I had finished, I shoved my clothing into the tote bag and made sure that my underwear was locked somewhere in the middle of it all. 

We unrolled our mats next to each other. The floor was damp from the previous class. It could reach up to 95 degrees in the room. Sometimes the heat was too much for me and I would find child’s pose while the rest of the class held four arm plank. He brought a bath towel to class. It was folded into a neat square as if it were just removed from a linen closet. Instead of a towel, I used my shirt to dab the sweat off my face and neck. I never remembered to bring a towel. And a shirt worked fine anyway. The room was quiet except for the sound of water rushing through the pipes every time someone used the bathroom. I looked to my left. His body was flat against the mat. His shirt removed. I wanted to ask him something but I laid down instead. I tried to ignore my bladder’s second urge to pee. It felt like someone had set a paperweight on my crotch. The pressure. The filling up. I couldn’t take it. I went to the bathroom again. 

By the time I finished, class had begun. I walked through rows of motionless, spandex covered bodies to get back to my mat. The instructor, a tan pregnant woman, was dimming the lights and challenging the class to empty their mind. Deep inhales. Cleansing exhales. I could never empty my mind. Most people probably can’t. I thought about my empty bladder. I thought about the walk from the coffee shop to the yoga studio. We had walked side by side, talking the whole way. He kept his hands in the pockets of his cotton shorts. The strings on his sweatshirt bounced against his chest. At this point the nausea had settled. I felt frustrated instead. I felt like I was playing a character of myself. My words sounded foreign. My tone sounded morphed. My sentences were hard to recognize. How could he know? He didn’t. To him this was me. For all I know he could have been feeling the same internal frustration. Maybe I don’t know who he is either. 

I heard the instructor’s voice. Focus on the strong breath in the room. I thought about my bed instead. I imagined curling into my bed sheets and forgetting that I have a name or face. 

 

The class ended. Pools of sweat drenched the floor like a soupy marsh. I rolled up my mat and put on my shirt. Looking to my left, I saw that our movements were synchronized. He was wet with sweat and breathing heavy. It seemed intimate to see him like this. 

“Tough class,” he breathed. I nodded my head. 

“We should do this again,” he added. 

“We should,” I said. 

“But instead of coffee, why don’t we plan for tea?”

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