ice cream on the way home

Sometimes at parties, they would make eye contact with each other from across the room. Jesse would tilt his head in a gesture that Mora would read as “Are you okay?” and Mora would either nod or wince as if to say “Not really. I’m feeling a little tired. I’d like to go home and watch a movie. Maybe we can get ice cream on the way back?” Sometimes, when Jesse was deep in conversation, Mora would watch him entertaining others and imagine that he was her boyfriend. She would picture him inviting her over into the group, putting his arm around her waist, and whispering something to her that no one else would ever hear. 

On the ride home, they would exchange information they had learned. Bryan and Kennedy weren’t engaged anymore. Tyler was transferring to Colorado. Brittney and Jackie were moving in together. Their roommate, Richard, wouldn’t be home. He always spent weekends at his girlfriend’s house. Mora would turn on the lights and Jesse would kick his shoes off at the door. While they watched TV, Jesse scrolled past online dating profiles and Mora played sudoku. He would turn his phone to her every once in a while. 

“What do you think?”

“She’s cute.” 

“She’s an accountant.”

“Do you like accountants?”

“I could.” He would lean back and she would stare at him for a few more seconds. Jesse had never given her a reason to think he was interested in her. She had contemplated telling him how she felt on multiple occasions, weighing pros and cons and wondering if those factors even mattered or if it would be best to act on impulse. Her mind stopped her from the latter. Her consensus was that their lives, although intertwined in many ways, expected different outcomes. 

Mora meets Eric in September and Jesse is the first person she calls after their first date. Eric puts his arm over her shoulder at parties and talks about architecture with Jesse at dinners. Mora teaches him how to do logic puzzles and Eric drives them to Julian for apple pies. When Jesse meets Kayla, the four of them go bowling on double dates.

At Kayla’s twenty-fifth birthday party, Mora and Eric stay close to each other and make observations and inferences about the other guests, creating backstories for every stranger. Mora sees Jesse nodding along, listening to one of Kayla’s friends from college talk about her job. Another girl walks up to them and Kayla’s friend greets her with extreme enthusiasm. Jesse looks around the room and meets Mora’s eyes. He tilts his head slightly, smiling at her from across the room. She smiles back and nods lightly. When Kayla’s friend requests Jesse’s attention again, Mora leans into Eric. His arm moves around her and he asks how she’s doing.

“I could go,” she says. They say goodbye to Jesse and Kayla, wishing her another “Happy Birthday.” They get ice cream on the way home.

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