“These sweet potato fries are the best! Oh my goodness,” Jake said, carefully placing a small fry inside his mouth.
“Tell me about it,” Fran said as she stuffed a mouthful in her face. Her Brooklyn accent was present even as she chewed. Jake and Fran sat next to one another as they continuously grabbed more fries. Ofelia sat on the other side of the diner table in the side booth next to a large window. She carefully picked one and nibbled it. Jake and Fran paused for a moment while they chewed and looked at Ofelia, perched at the edge of her seat with a radiant, expectant smile.
“You gonna get in on this, or what,” Jake said with his mouth full of food.
“I already ate,” Ofelia said with a smile.
“Come on, O,” Fran said after swallowing. “It’s not often we’re all back at home like this. Let alone all of us at Vinny’s Diner.”
“Yeah. We always get sweet potato fries. Our favorite,” Jake chimes in.
“I’m not hungry,” Ofelia said with a quick shrug.
Fran and Jake looked at each other and shrugged before resuming their chow fest, remarking between chews and breaths on how delicious Vinny’s fries are. Occasionally, a puff of steam shot from their open mouths because it was right off the stove.
“So… notice anything different about me,” Ofelia said after a moment of silence and chewing.
“Yeah,” Jake said without making eye contact. He swallowed. Then rose his pointer finger while still staring at the fries. “You on a diet, right?”
“No, Ofelia said coyly, wiggling her head, making her brown curls bounce across her shoulders.”
“Alright, what gives,” Fran said, throwing her hands in the air and letting them slap the surface of the tabletop.
“Guess,” Ofelia said with a challenging smile.
“I don’t wanna,” Fran complained. “You know I hate guessing games. Tell me what’s going on.”
“Oh… I don’t know,” Ofelia said as she subtly combed her hair with her left hand. Her ring finger adorned a tiny sparkle.
“New hairdo,” Jake said, pointing at her curls with an assured tone.
“No,” Ofelia said, shaking her head.
“New hair,” Fran said.
“What, O? What?” Fran had lost all her patience.
Ofelia arched her back forward and placed her fingertips on the surface of the dining table.
“Manicure,” Fran asked, cocking her head back in confusion.
“No,” Ofelia said in an exaggerated manner
“You’re a hand model,” Jake said in the same manner of confusion.
“NO!” Ofelia lifted her left hand and pointed to her ring finger.
“Oh my God,” Fran whispered with her mouth agape. Jake leaned in and studied it as he twisted his head to get a better look at it. Fran held her hand softly to study the tiny ring. “You’re married,” Fran asked.
“No,” Ofelia said as her smile grew.
“You’re engaged,” Jake said with a nod.
“No,” Ofelia repeated in a different sing-song tone.
“You went jewelry shopping,” Jake asked.
“O, would you just spit it out already?” Fran’s Brooklyn accent was coming in thicker as she grew more frustrated.
Ofelia sighed. “It’s a promise ring.”
“A what,” Fran spat.
“You mean a… pre… pre-wedding ring,” Jake said as he squinted.
“Well… he said that he wanted to get me the ring. He likes having me around,” Ofelia said as her fingers danced across the surface of the table. Her eyes remained fixed on her ring.
“So, not a promise ring,” Jake corrected. “So, a pre, pre, pre-wedding.”
“What is this? High school,” Fran interrogated. “I know 15 year olds that have bigger balls than this.”
“Guys, I thought you’d be happy for me,” Ofelia said with a little voice.
“Happy?” Fran shouted. “First, of all who is this ass that is literally wasting our time?”
Ofelia bowed her head and stared at the aisle. Fran pushed her head forward, waiting for the answer or eye contact. Their waitress walked back to their table hesitantly, waiting to be noticed, but Ofelia stared at the floor. “Is everything okay?”
“Nothing you can fix, lady,” Fran said without skipping a beat.
“We’re fine,” Jake whispered to the waitress.
“Hello? I’m waiting for an answer. Who’s the idiot,” Fran asked.
Ofelia’s shoulder dropped in surrender. “It’s Harold.”
Fran and Jake sighed in unison. “Harold,” they both asked in sync.
“Again with this? I thought this was over,” Jake said, throwing his arm over the back of the seat of the booth. His voice started to rise and draw attention of the diner too.
“We always talked,” Ofelia said simply.
“Oh, right! And the time Harold did NOT cheat on you when he wasn’t WITH you… just talking to you. That was fun,” Fran said sarcastically.
“He’s stringing you along,” Jake finished.
“O, you’re 28. You’re too old for this,” Fran reasoned.
“He’s the one I want,” Ofelia said defensively.
“And you’re the one he wants,” Fran asked back quickly without hesitation.
Silence filled the space between them.
“Ow, you hear that,” Jake asked, putting his finger in his ear in pain. “No? Sorry, I can’t. There’s so much quiet in here. I can’t even hear myself think.”
“O, you know I care about you,” Fran said much softer than before. Her accent had disappeared almost completely. “More than I care about my own brother and sister. But baby, I haven’t been to jail and I don’t intend on going, but you’re not making this helpful when you say things like Harold gave you a promise ring.”
“This means something,” Ofelia said, pointing at her ring.
Fran’s eyes lowered halfway. Her loud, sarcastic mode turned back on, “A promise ring from Harold is like a Christmas card from the collection agency! It’s a nice thought, but they’re a pain in the ass!”
“You know what? Forget I said anything,” Ofelia said, throwing her hands in the air before folding her arms in her big, puffy brown jacket.
Fran saw Ofelia sit back and push out a big sigh. “Alright,” Fran started after she blinked, processing her new path. “Maybe we are being too harsh.”
“We are?” Jake blurted out.
“Yes, Jake,” Fran said forcefully, elbowing Jake’s sides. Jake’s huffed, trying to catch his breath. He had a lot of fries and a jab from Fran could push all the fries out. “We are. Maybe. We’ll leave it alone.” Ofelia nodded, still not meeting their eyes. “So… what did your dad say?”
“Oooh,” Jake said, pouting his lips together. “Hook, line and sinker.”
“My dad doesn’t know… yet,” Fran said finally, looking at them.
“Why am I not surprised,” Jake asked.
“Does dying multiple deaths mean anything to you,” Fran asked.
“No need to exaggerate, Fran,” Ofelia said.
“Yes, O, I do,” Fran responded. “Because you don’t seem to understand that keeping your dad out of the loop is deceitful.”
“Look Fran,” Jake started, staring at the uneaten plate of sweet potato fries. “How about this?” Jake grabbed a fry and nibbled at the end. He dropped it at the edge and stuck out his tongue in disgust. Cold sweet potato fries were the worst. “Tell me how Howard got you the ring. Clearly, Fran knows your dad in a way I never could and–”
Fran snorted, interrupting Jake. “Sneaking out. Window escape. July 8th. 2006.”
“Fran,” Ofelia warned.
“You’re telling me you want to forget the weekend after July 4th,” Fran asked with a smirk. “Chris’ Block Party? We never looked as dumb as we did then.”
“Those thigh high boots,” Ofelia said, smiling to herself.
“Exactly,” Fran said, slapping the table.
“My dad was so mad when he found us,” Ofelia said, reminiscing.
“Like I was saying,” Jake said in a loud tone, steering the conversation back to order. “Fran knows your dad’s anger too well. Especially since he’s so protective of you. And I happen to know Howard fairly well.”
“It’s Harold,” Ofelia softly.
“Whatever,” Jake said, now as loud as Fran was. “What I’m saying is tell me how you got the ring and then we can see what you see.”
“So the both of you can tag team reprimanding me,” Ofelia asked. “No, thanks.”
“O, trust me. We don’t take pleasure in reprimanding you. We want you to be happy,” Fran said softly in her thick accent. That meant she was still angry, but her soft delivery showed care.
“We just don’t see how that’s possible… with… Howard…”
“Harold,” Ofelia said simply.
“How did H-man give you the ring,” Jake asked.
Silence sat on the table.
“O?” Fran called out.
“Oh no, baby,” Jake asked sympathetically. “Did you take the ring from his apartment?”
“No,” Ofelia said, chewing her lip.
Jake covered his mouth with his hands. “Oh my gosh! You’re stealing his identity and chopped him into pieces and wearing his skin as a body suit,” he said, commanding tears to his eyes.
Fran rolled her eyes. “What Jake is implying is the way you imagined getting the ring is probably not Harold actually gave you the ring.” Ofelia’s eyes strayed to the aisle once more. “Look, I don’t care how many times you asked Howard to be with you. What I am saying is, out of the two of us, you clearly got the looks. You can have anyone on the planet! There’s six billion people on the planet right now!
“Seven,” Jake corrected.
“What?!” Fran punched Jake’s arm and then pinched his thigh. Jake yelped in pain. “How many times do I have to tell you not to interrupt me when I’m on a roll! There’s flow happening.”
“I bet there’s flow happening,” Jake mumbled to himself as he rubbed his bruises.
“Like I was saying,” Fran continued. “Seven billion people. You can find your person.”
“Why can’t Harold be my person,” Ofelia asked, resting her head on arms on the surface of the table.
“Because Harold is a lunatic, baby,” Fran said in a motherly voice, rubbing Ofelia’s head.
“Is everything okay here,” the waitress returned with her question. Jake was still in pain from Fran’s attack.
“Fine, sweetie,” Fran answered. She looked over her shoulder to Jake. “Don’t mind him,” Fran said, waving him off. “He’s so sensitive. Aren’t you,” she asked Jake.
“Call the police, Jake whispered to the waitress. “I’m a bruised and battered husband. She beats me with a sock with soap inside!”
“Can I get you the check,” the waitress asked, happily ignoring the scene.
“Please,” Fran answered.
“All together? Separate or individual,” the waitress asked.
“One is fine,” Fran answered with a smile. The waitress left. Her eyes returned to Ofelia, whose head was still resting her head. “O, are you hearing me?”
“Yes. I hear you just fine,” Ofelia answered in a mumble.
“Do you understand me,” Fran asked.
Ofelia sighed. “Yes. I understand everything you tell me.”
“Well, I don’t want you acting out of desperation.”
“Easy for you to say,” Ofelia replied, raising her head up to meet Fran’s. “You’re married with kids.”
“You think kids mean happiness,” Fran asked forcefully. Brooklyn Fran was back. “Let me tell something, O. Kids are little leeches and they think they are so smart, but they’re not!”
“But they are,” Jake said.
“But they…” . Fran bunched her lips together and raised her clenched fist, forcing Jake to cower in fright in the corner of the booth.
“Here you go,” the waitress said when she returned to their table, handing the check to Jake.
“Wait a minute,” Fran said to the waitress, blocking the path of the check. “Why did you do that?”
“What,” the waitress asked nervously.
“Why did you hand him the check,” she asked carefully. “Why wouldn’t you hand me the check? I asked for the check. Not him.”
“I’m sorry,” the waitress said, fumbling over her words. “I assumed you two were together.”
Fran blinked in shock. She armed her pointer fingers as weapons. “Okay, first of all, you will not assume because that makes an ass out of me and no one makes an ass out of me. Understand? Second, the last time Jake saw between a woman’s legs was when he was born,” she yelled, waving her pointers in the air as if they were guns.
“It’s okay,” Jake whispered as he waved her off. “She’s just passive aggressive. It’s a condition. Just leave the check in the center.”
The waitress scurried away.
“The nerve,” Fran said, shaking her head. “Like I was saying,” she continued to Ofelia. “Kids don’t equal happiness. Neither does a man.”
“I wouldn’t mind the company,” Ofelia answered resting her chin on her hands.
“So? Get the company. Join a church or a band or whatever people do to meet people,” Fran suggested. “You’re one of the good ones, O. You will not be tarnished by Harold. Okay? I’m in your corner.”
“And so am I,” Jake said with a reassuring smile. The three held hands. Ofelia felt comforted that she had support. The ring on her finger felt heavier, but she kept it on in that moment as a reminder. She never wanted to feel less than. Even though her friends were away, she knew she had support
“By the way, rude,” Jake said to Fran. “My mother’s a wonderful woman.”