She said, “I double dare you to put that salt shaker in your pocket right now. Take it home; a little souvenir.”
It was a weighty thing made from cut crystal, expensive enough to be sitting on the starched white tablecloth of our table. She was the kind of woman who still said things like ‘I double dare you,’ and she liked to challenge me by testing the limits of my morality.
“I don’t want the salt shaker, Anna,” I said, setting it back down, my gaze never leaving hers. This made her smile and squint at me. I’d dodged her attempt by claiming indifference. She rolled her eyes. She was the kind of woman who still did that, too, and somehow made it seem charming. Not a disapproving look but a playful one. I shook my head, grinning. Anyone observing from nearby tables might have guessed we were happy then.
But the moment couldn’t last. Not for us.
“I’m headed to the courthouse early tomorrow morning,” she said, suddenly serious. Her teasing me about petty theft brought her attention back to the reality of her father behind bars. “Maybe they’ll let me see him.”
“Do you want me to come with you?” I asked. I knew she didn’t, but I wanted things to be different. I wanted to be there for her. I wanted to hold her hand and be the shoulder she chose to cry on. But I could see from her expression that I’d said the wrong thing. We both knew that the bored, bland-faced jurors would return a guilty verdict the next day. Joe Church would finally serve time, if not for the many murders over the decades, then for this one of a 12-year-old boy.
Anna looked at me but didn’t speak. She reached for her bag instead, opening her wallet to fifties and hundreds and a license whose picture was eight years old but still the perfect reflection of the doe-eyed woman across from me. I didn’t reach for my wallet in a pretend show of chivalry– Anna always paid her own way.
“Take care of yourself, Sam,” she said. Her expression was sad but resolved. We both knew this was goodbye.
Before I could protest or offer another drink, she stood, dropped two fifties on the white tablecloth and made a swift exit. The glint of street lights caught her bright red hair as she stepped outside into the cold, leaving me yet again to my regret. She wouldn’t admit it, but she loved me. I loved her too, but I let her go because I knew that her alliance would always remain with her father, a criminal, and not with me, the cop who put him away.